In My Daydreams

Trees & Shields: Part 4

In My Daydreams

Jaclyn blurred, punching five of them before anyone else had a chance to respond—at least that’s what I saw when I replayed the moment with my implant later.

In the moment, I was too busy to watch what she was doing. Two soldiers landed in front of me, the first grabbing for my arm before I could back up to avoid it and beginning to pull me in.

Knowing the strength of my armor, I’ve always been worried about facing people capable of ripping it straight off me. Travis was one of them and these soldiers had the same powers. With nothing else coming as an option, I did what Lee had taught me to do when that was a possibility—punch them hard.

Before the one my right could react, I punched the one that had grabbed me—the one on the left—directly in the front of his helmet. The Rocket suit generates tons of force and unlike at home, I didn’t hold back at all, punching deeply into the soldier’s face, denting the helmet.

He died. I didn’t need to scan him with the sonics to know that for sure and didn’t. The goo flowing out of his helmet was enough of a clue—that and how he fell backward and lay there unmoving.

I didn’t pay attention to that either because I still had the other one to deal with. Twisting to throw the first punch had already “loaded” the second punch and I threw it even as the first body fell.

The second soldier had seen what happened to the first and raised his arm either to block my punch or to grab. He had a problem though. He wasn’t anywhere near as fast or as strong as Travis would have been able to grab me and control my arm, guiding my body to the ground.

This guy’s arm, despite being encased in armor, shattered with the strength of my blow, hanging at an angle that an unbroken arm couldn’t.

Trained to follow through, I threw another punch as he stumbled backward, hitting him in the head. He went down.

I’d almost never used the Rocket suit’s full strength and in this moment, I understood why. I’d known it intellectually and my grandpa had told me about using it during World War 2, but some things you had to experience first hand to get them.

In that moment, I understood in my bones that the Rocket suit didn’t need any weapons on it at all.

I’d killed two men and they lay on the ground ahead of me, one of them still jerking and twitching.

Off to the side of me, Dalat shot one soldier and Geman finished it off as it lay on the ground. After a couple shots, it stopped moving.

On my other side, Marcus knocked one soldier and then another into Tikki’s field where she aged both of them into dust.

I took a breath and reminded myself that I’d killed before. I’d even killed this exact type of genetically modified human during the invasion of Earth where we’d killed Katuk’s father. That had been mostly with lasers and bots though. Punching them to death felt more personal somehow.

Turning their heads to goo felt more personal somehow.

My suit flashed “COLLISION ALERT” in my HUD, something it normally did only while flying and I looked up, pointing my laser in the air, and firing as I saw an Ascendancy soldier above me.

The laser could cut through a battleship’s armor. It cut through his chest as if he wasn’t wearing any armor at all.

He fell to the ground, making no attempt to land on its feet or to roll. It hit and lay there motionless.

I checked above to see if there were more and there weren’t. I called back some spigots and stationed them around the top of the shields so that we’d know if this happened again.

While the bots moved to their new positions, I took a quick look around us. All the Ascendancy soldiers were dead—the ones that made it over the shields anyway.

More interesting, there appeared to be a lull in the fighting around the shields. It wasn’t that no one was firing, but before the shields had been impossible to see through as they deflected blast after blast.

It was almost as if someone outside wanted to see how we handled the troops dropping in on us over the shields.

As I thought that, the Ascendancy forces started firing again. I had a bad feeling that we’d find out if my suspicions were correct all too soon. In the meantime, I decided to watch the top of the shields and tell everyone else.

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In My Daydreams

Trees & Shields: Part 3

In My Daydreams

I flipped from screen to screen in my HUD. The Ascendancy had sent a lot of troops. My gut said it had to be hundreds. According to my implant (which had noted the distance between the bots, the number in the pictures, the probable distance between them and made guesses about areas the bots didn’t cover), the number was more like thousands. Specifically, it was than I thought had landed.

At any rate, that was the implant’s estimate. The number it had seen was 750—which was still an awful lot.

Around that time, beams of light appeared in the woods around us, accompanied by the screams of Human Ascendancy soldiers.

That would be the Xiniti that escorted Jadzen here. We’d been told that they’s retreated in the woods to reappear when they found it useful.

Here they were forcing a large force to divide in order to attack them as well as us. Not only that, but they’d just ruined the Ascendancy’s best chance to catch us unawares.

All in all, it had to drive the Ascendancy’s commander crazy. The Xiniti were mobile enough that even as I watched their beams would appear in one place, stop and reappear somewhere else.

For all that, the Ascendancy’s troops kept on coming. I wasn’t sure that I wanted to call it bravery. Even if it wasn’t the only reason they moved forward, they had motivators whispering in their ears through their communications systems.

Also, there were an awful lot of them. So a small number of roving Xiniti caused chaos, but the Ascendancy had enough people that they could devote a part of their  force to watching for the Xiniti and firing whenever they saw any hint that they were there.

It worked well enough for them, I guess, in that they could keep on moving forward, but because the Xiniti could run past the edges of a loose formation and start firing at the group from inside it, the Ascendancy had to change to a  tighter formation.

By the time they reached the clearing, they were marching in a long, rectangular shape. It didn’t mean that they were immune to the Xiniti’s attacks, but it did allow a lot of people to fire back at once.

It seemed like the entire right side of the group responded as we watched, blasting holes in trees, starting small fires, but not killing any Xiniti that we saw.

That might have been reassuring except that they only stopped firing for a moment before the whole formation charged us, splitting in half so that one side went to the right of our position and the other side went to the left.

We didn’t just let it happen. Captain Tolker ordered everyone to fire. Of course, we weren’t the only one firing. As the Ascendancy’s troops charged, they fired on us, blasts of energy hitting the shields and blazing with light.

Blasts hit trees and branches fell to the ground, sometimes hitting people. Tikki stopped a large one that threatened to hit the hand to hand fighters as well as knock over a shield generator pole. Her field slowed the branch enough that Marcus and I could throw it out and over the side.

The other defenders weren’t sitting still. Cassie’s gun killed any soldier it hit, burning holes through their armor and dividing the formation further back than they had at first, seemingly to avoid running headfirst into her fire. She divided the rest of her shots between the streams of troops going to the left and right.

It reminded me of nothing more than the invasion by alternate universe dinosaurs—except that the Ascendancy’s troops had better armor and could dodge better.

At the same time, Katuk fired a white beam that incinerated whatever it hit. It didn’t penetrate as deeply, but it burned away armor and skin just as well.

By that time, I’d begun to feel useless, but I was okay with it. This was the kind of fight that could kill any of us, and surviving untested wasn’t bad.

This is the sort of thought a person someone probably shouldn’t have in combat as the world appears to go to extra work to make sure that you know that you’re  wrong.

The Ascendancy soldiers had broken into two groups, each going around either side of the shelter’s shields and meeting on the other side to surround us. Because of the trees and the colonists’ ability to return fire without getting shot, they couldn’t get too close.

That must have been the origin of their next plan. Just like Travis and Haley, the Ascendancy’s soldiers were effective climbers, able to swing and leap through a forest. It wasn’t a surprise that a group of them jumped into the trees, leaping from branch to branch in an attempt to leap over the shields.

I saw it through my bots and warned everyone, even firing up at them, but they still landed in the middle of us.

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Semicoop

Wanna play?!

Semicoop

I think this has happened multiple times in the last few years. 😉

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Semi Co-op (@semicoop) on Dec 8, 2018 at 1:28pm PST

Last week, we received another package of our Secret Santa! It was Dinosaur Tea Party! Yeaaaah… I mean: “Oh jolly, I was anticipating on adding that fabulous looking game to our collection ever since I first laid eyes on it!” The game itself basically is a fancy version of Who is it?, only this is way more fun in my opinion. The game works best if everybody at the table wants to go along with the theme and speak with an accent and behave like posh dinosaurs. If you just want to play the game for what it is and don’t want to play along “in character”, the game might be a bit dull. But for most of our playing groups, this will work just fine as a nice opening or closure game on game nights.

So this year’s BGG Secret Santa was another success! Now we just have to give our target a good experience as well. Looking forward to that!

Last week we played fewer games than the week before, also due to a busy weekend. We played Ruthless, Cerberus and Dinosaur Tea Party. And that’s it! Hopefully, we’ll have a bit more time this coming week.

We also did a test run of the kids RPG system we’ve been working on since this Summer, it’s not finished yet, but if you’re interested, we’ve posted a small report on Twitter – click here to read it.

ICYMI, these are the extra comics that we published, sponsored by CoolStuffInc.com:

Extra comic #005 – Werewolves
Extra comic #006 – Rainy Day

 

Are you participating in a board game Secret Santa this year?

The post Wanna play?! appeared first on Semi Co-op.

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In My Daydreams

Finishing Tomorrow

In My Daydreams

Hey folks,

Sorry to do this, but because I don’t want to fall asleep at work, I’ve recently decided that if I can’t finish before 3am, I’m going to have to finish the next day.

So, that’s what I’m doing. My apologies. I suspect this will happen sporadically until I manage to adjust my writing schedule to avoid it.

Jim

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In My Daydreams

Trees & Shields: Part 2

In My Daydreams

Nick, Shelter 454

We waited for the Ascendancy troops to arrive. Captain Tolker, the guy who led the briefing, turned out to be a mercenary who the resistance hired, but then became notorious enough that the Ascendancy decided that he was a resistance leader. In the end, he found himself here with everyone else.

I didn’t know where had he been before, but he spent the wait getting acquainted with those of us he didn’t know and encouraging those that he did. Though I’m no authority on leading troops, he seemed good at it.

I’d assigned myself to be behind the front line amid the melee fighter whose purpose was to jump in if a shield or tree went down and handle things until they could get a shield working again or have everyone fall back.

He stepped up to me, still larger even though I was in armor, and looked me up and down. “You’re one of the human Xiniti. I’m sure you’re very good, but tell me what you can do so that I know you’re in the right place.”

“My suit protects me, increases my strength, allows me to fly, and controls bots and weapons. My standard ammo doesn’t do much against Ascendancy armor except when using multiple rounds per soldier. My laser punches through, but it’s got limited shots. My sonics will stop big groups but only for as long as the sound continues.

“So,” I continued, “I decided I was best off as backup.”

He nodded. “That sounds right. I may have a mission for you later. Jump when I call you.”

“Sure,” I said, wondering if I should have said something that sounded more military.

Captain Tolker didn’t appear bothered, nodding and moving on to talk to Jaclyn. I didn’t hear much of what he said to her except that I did again hear, “… tell me what you can do, so I know you’re in the right place.”

As they talked, I checked my bots. I’d released the observation bots and the spybots, figuring that an early warning would be better than no warning.

I didn’t see anything special moving in the woods through a few of the bots had to dodge birds as well as small, raccoon-like predators.

So, nothing.

I hoped that I’d designed the pattern to be tight enough. It’d be sad and pointless to send out the bots and leave a hole open that an army could walk through.

Out in the night though, small animals chased each other, but so far nothing else.

“I’m still surprised that this is everyone,” Marcus stepped up and stood next to me. “Wasn’t Crawls-Through-Desert supposed to be here or something?”

“I know. I get the impression that he’s gathering more people and he’ll show up with them when he shows up.”

Marcus’ mouth twisted. “Yeah. I’m hoping that happens before we get attacked instead of after afterward. I mean, it’d be awesome and all to be saved by them  at the last minute, but we’d have to survive through whatever happens before that.”

I thought about that. “Almost dying that way would probably be less fun than it would be in the comics.”

“Yeah. Exactly. That or Lord or the Rings. Thing is, you read the books, right?  Tolkien made it clear that every battle in those books was hard won. People died even in the easy battles.”

I nodded. “Tolkien fought in World War I. I’m sure it was miserable every step of the way. I think he was in the Battle of the Somme and I don’t know much about it except that I guess it was particularly bad.”

Marcus nodded. “I think I read that somewhere. Hey… I’ve got a totally different question. What did Tikki do to me? I know she healed me, but I feel like it was more than that. She’s been a little different since then. I don’t know how.”

I glanced over at her. She stood next to Jaclyn, talking. Both of them stood behind Cassie next to one of the force shields.

“You’re right,” I said, “but it’s way too complicated to get into right now. She’s going to tell you later, probably after the battle when there’s time.”

Marcus looked at me without saying anything for a moment. “I hope it’s not anything bad. Anyway, you should take a look at this.”

He pointed to a force shield to the left of us. Standing next to it with guns were Dalat and Gemman. Standing next to each other in combat gear, Dalat still looked small next to Gemman’s bulk.

“They were going to do their best to remove anything from their heads whether it was implants or motivator suggestions…” I tried to sound optimistic.

“Yeah,” Marcus said, “Maru was—back when Alyssa could mess with his head. People have to know about them, right?”

“Jadzen does.” I glanced in their direction again.

Dalat appeared to be deliberately controlling his breathing, taking in a little breath and letting out a long one. Gemman stared at his gun, opening sections of it, inspecting them and closing them. Then he closed the last and stared out into the darkness, practicing how he planned to stand while firing out of the hole in the shield.

They weren’t the only ones doing things like that. We were all waiting for hell to be unleashed in our general direction.

I considered asking Jadzen or maybe asking Kals to ask Jadzen what was going on with those guys, but in that moment one of my bots caught sight of the Human Ascendancy soldiers crawling through the woods.

Hell was on its way.

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In My Daydreams

Trees and Shields: Part 1

In My Daydreams

Four Hands, Bridge of the Human Ascendancy Flagship: Glorious Victory

Four Hands could have followed the progress of the battle in full immersion through his implant, but didn’t need the distraction. The flaghip’s admiral had summoned him to the bridge even though full immersion could have handled that as well.

Knowing the Human Ascendancy, Four Hands knew that this could be because the admiral wanted to see him killed in person. They knew he’d met with the human Xiniti recruit. He’d included it in his report, if only because he knew the soldiers would.

On the other hand, the admiral might want to congratulate him personally. It wouldn’t be the first time he’d turned treason into a commendation.

He walked across the bridge, ignoring the crewmen, many of whom appeared to be sleeping at their consoles, but instead were managing the ship, remote drones, or parts of the fleet through their implants.

That was the long outer circle. The bridge’s inner circle held six, two person console rigs, all of them filled with staff, awake, and staring at holographic representations. There to communicate to the fleet as well as personally protect the admiral, the inner circle needed an awareness of the real world and the bridge at the same time.

As much the admiral’s bodyguards as bridge crew, they watched Four Hands walk in as one of their screens showed Xiniti ships dealing the final blow to a damaged battleship.

Admiral Makri Tzin sat in the middle at a command console that had the height and bulkiness of a throne. On top of it, the admiral wore the silver, pressurized, uniform of the navy, making the bulk of an Ascendancy soldier even more impressive.

As Four Hands came before the chair, the admiral shouted, “Abase yourself.”

Four Hands knelt with his head to the floor until the admiral grunted. Then he stood up.

Admiral Tzin looked down at him without saying anything, bushy eyebrows arched and arms across his chest.

“All have spoken well of your accomplishments and leadership on the surface, particularly on how you rescued the mission from the agent who killed our people and lead the mission to utter disaster. Now I know that you weren’t able to capture the colonists either, but you were able to drive them out of the caves and into the woods, and all of that with a force that had been mostly destroyed.

“It’s another brilliant addition to an already impressive resume. I only have questions about one small part of your actions. You spoke to a human Xiniti recruit and then allowed him to leave your presence alive. Why did you choose to make these decisions?”

Inside Four Hands’ head, his main implant reported that the admiral was using a motivator’s tones and that it had scrubbed them from his perception without alerting his official navy implant.

“Your Excellency,” Four Hands said, “the Xiniti recruit exhibited skills similar to my own as well as an impressive competence as a combatant. I thought I might try to recruit him to our side if I could.”

“And?” Admiral Tzin grunted.

“He’s loyal to the Xiniti and couldn’t be recruited.”

“Hmmn,” Admiral Tzin leaned forward, “And why didn’t you have him killed when you had him?”

“As I’m sure you’re aware, fleet policy is to respect flags of truce if there’s any possibility that not doing so would come back to hurt us. I judged that we might wish to meet with them later and there was no reason to end that potential now.”

Admiral Tzin nodded. “Understood. Your caution is appreciated. Our current plans are to capture and suborn the human ‘Xiniti’ recruits along with the colony’s leadership. If that proves impossible, we plan to cleanse the colony from the planet.”

Giving a nod, Four Hands said, “Yes, sir.”

“Good,” Admiral Tzin said. “We are now in battle with the Xiniti fleet or I might send you back to the planet to assist in finishing what you started. Instead, I’m assigning you to guide your own people in coming up with ideas for breaking into and subverting the unusual technology that the Xiniti recruits appear to possess. Kamia expresses difficulty with it and that’s an impressive statement on its own.”

Then the man dismissed him with a wave of his claw.

On the way out, Four Hands thanked the universe for the machines that saved him from influence as well as the admiral’s stereotypical assumptions about his skills that sent him to his own people. It wasn’t inaccurate in his case,  but little of his military record showed it.

It was time to plan his next move.

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In My Daydreams

Planet in the Middle: Part 20

In My Daydreams

I’d be lying if I didn’t say that seeing people there ready to fight gave me some hope. My mind noted that hope or not, the Ascendancy troops almost had to outnumber them.

We crossed the clearing, walking instead of running, giving them time to recognize us even though it was still dark. A few of them pointed at the dog, but no one shot at us.

Outside along with them stood Jadzen Akri, some members of the Council and more  colonists I didn’t recognize, all of them watching us as we came closer.

As we came near, Kals said, “Mom, I didn’t know you were coming here.”

Jadzen nodded. “We weren’t, but then we met a runner from Crawls-Through-Desert. The runner said that he’d been told to get people to gather there. The plant wanted to set up a big target, one that would draw the Ascendancy in because it was too big to pass up.”

Kals frowned. “Mom, you don’t have to be here.”

Unblinking, Jadzen said, “I do. That’s the one thing I most have to do. I’m good at inspiring people and encouraging them to come up with their own ideas about how to resist the Ascendancy. I’m not good at running a war. But I know that the plant’s better at it. Somehow, he found out about our last contingency plan, the one where the best fighters take their chance, and he decided to use it early—when there’s still a chance to save something. Those who can’t fight are hidden and most of the Council with them.

“I’m here because if I’m here, they’ll come for me. We have many more people coming, I hope, but if it turns out not to be enough, I have my backup plan.”

Kals expression flattened. At that Jadzen held her hand to Kals’ cheek.

“I’d like you to go with the Council if you can find it in yourself that you can. They’ll need a replacement for me. You won’t have to lead—just be there, remind them of me, and give them hope. The Council will do the work.”

Kals shook her head. “I’m staying.”

Nodding, Jadzen said, “I wish you weren’t, but I’m glad you’re here.”

Then she pulled Kals in and hugged her. They held each other for a moment. As they pulled away, I noticed a glistening  under their eyes.

I couldn’t blame them. They were facing death or being re-educated into a puppet. I wasn’t sure why I didn’t feel the same, but I supposed I might feel differently if I were staring my mom in the eye right now.

I glanced over at Rachel. She had a good chance to live even if I didn’t.

Catching my look, Rachel said, “Don’t worry. We’ll survive.”

“I know,” I said. “We’ll do our best.”

Behind me, Marcus grinned. “Exactly. Remember the team motto, ‘Try not to die’.”

Kals whipped around to stare at him, “Is that really your team motto?”

Glaring at Marcus, Jaclyn said, “It’s not.”

Tikki bit her lip as Katuk turned his head toward Marcus. “While a sensible sentiment, it sounds defeatist.”

Cassie folded her arms across her chest. “He ripped it off from a comic book team.”

Marcus sighed. “It was a joke.”

Shrugging, Cassie said, “Yeah, well, use it back home and Marvel’s going to sue.”

With a hint of a smile, Jadzen gestured toward the soldiers and a few council members. “Come and join us as we plan our defense.”

A big, scarred man in form-fitting armor explained their plans. “We know they’re coming from the other side of the clearing, but it’s not impossible they’ll come around behind us. It’s the smart choice. We’re going to watch from all directions, and station people with guns behind trees. Those of you who can beat Ascendancy soldiers hand to hand should initially stay behind the people with guns until there’s a hole in the line. When they try to break through, fill the hole, but don’t get too far out. You don’t want to be surrounded on their side of the line.

“Be aware, everyone, that their motivators will likely try to overwhelm our voice countermeasures. We’ve done what we can to amplify your defenses and our own motivators will be doing what they can to keep you safe. In the end, some may get through anyway. Remember your training and you should be able to resist.”

That was training we didn’t have. I hoped that our suits’ defenses worked. While I thought about that, the man continued.

“The Xiniti that escorted Jadzen here are hiding in the forest, waiting for the right moment to attack as will more of our troops and the Xiniti main force. So all we have to do is survive until they arrive and we’ll have help and a real chance to live. Watch for them and try not to shoot them. Remember, we’re not here to be heroes. We’re here to last. We’ll have force fields too. Our people are setting them up now.”

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw them put up the poles, followed by the creation of a blue shimmer than spanned the distance between them. They had holes for guns. Also, they didn’t go all the way around. There were gaps, but there were trees in the gaps and soldiers standing behind them.

It made me feel a little better. The meeting went on longer than that, but that was the gist of it. When it was over, we got into position and waited.

I hoped the shields lasted. Without them, it would be harder.

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In My Daydreams

It’s In Process

In My Daydreams

I spent much of the last two days sleeping (though I did work from home today) due to feeling sick.  Actually, I didn’t feel that sick but my body made it clear that I definitely was.

So I’m writing now, but I make no promises regarding updating tonight. The story will most likely update tomorrow–though I’m still unsure as to whether I’ll be at work or working from home tomorrow.

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In My Daydreams

Planet in the Middle: Part 19

In My Daydreams

“So in your opinion,” I asked Hal, “where would the best place for us to go?”

Hal responded without any hesitation. “That depends on your purpose. I’ve simulated multiple versions of the upcoming battle. Judging from the Ascendancy’s soldiers movements, their goal appears to be first of all to capture or kill the leadership and then to move on to destroying the rest of the colonists.

“I don’t know where Jadzen Akri and the Council will be with certainty, but I know where the battle between the Xiniti and Ascendancy forces will be. The probability is that the battle will be fought at a clearing roughly one mile west of here. I believe there to be a shelter there, but since their shelter are designed to be hard to detect by Alliance and Ascendancy technology, I can’t be sure. Were you to go there, you’d be in an excellent position to defend the colony’s leadership.

“In many of my simulations, the colony’s leadership is destroyed or captured because Kamia is singularly effective against them. Your group is effective against her as well as her compatriots. However, that will not help very much in protecting the rest of the colony. The Ascendancy forces are searching for the colony’s shelters and destroying them as they find them. Should it be impossible to capture the leadership and the spaceship battle returns to the area of space around the planet, they will simply bombard anywhere they suspect colonists might be hiding.”

Kals made a small noise somewhere between a grunt and a moan and looked me in the eye, talking into my helmet. “You’re saying that even if we save my mom, they still might destroy the colony? Is there any way we can prevent that?”

Hal responded in the same calm voice he’d been using. “There is a small chance that by sending a small number of people into space with me, I could direct the Xiniti into a more efficient way of destroying the fleet. Alternately, the capabilities of this ship in combat might swing the battle towards the Ascendancy’s defeat or distract them from attacking this planet.”

“What kind of chance?” I asked. “When you say a small chance, is it small, but worth pursuing or small in the sense of don’t waste your time?”

“The probable futures do not include decision points that lead to this ship becoming essential to the survival of the colony. Intervention by the Cosmic Ghosts or additional Xiniti or Alliance ships is the most probable salvation for the colony.”

“Okay,” Jaclyn said. “We don’t go up in the ship then.”

Keeping her voice low, Rachel asked, “What are the chances the Ghosts arrive soon?”

“I don’t have enough data on the Ghosts to predict their actions. The Ghosts act without being observed. In many cases, it’s not even clear that they’ve been in a place except that some action has been stopped.”

A thought struck me. “Would it help if you regarded Rachel’s abilities as examples of a young Ghost?”

“Nick,” Rachel met my eyes, frowning. “I’m pretty sure they like being a mystery.”

Hal said, “It would give me more data, but not the kind that I need to predict where they will or won’t appear. It is useful information.”

Jaclyn looked around and the group of us and then said, “Alright Hal, how long do we have until we lose our chance to protect the leadership?”

“It varies, but the sooner you arrive, the better your chances of success.”

Jaclyn nodded. “That’s the way it always works. We’ll need directions. Can you send us a map?”

“I can direct you with the GPS.”

Jaclyn looked over at me. “We didn’t put any satellites in orbit, did we?”

I shook my head. “No.”

Hal said, “The planet has the standard Alliance system set up. I can translate between it and your systems.”

Thinking about that, I said, “I wish I’d known that earlier. I was pretty sure we didn’t have access to GPS at all… That said, we probably ought to go.”

The map appeared in everyone’s HUD. It wasn’t far away—which was good because Tiger wasn’t as fast as the rest of us. Going slow enough that he could keep up wasn’t a problem, but it did make me feel a little weird about bringing a puppy into a big fight.

I hadn’t come up with a better alternative by the time we reached the clearing.  As we reached it, it wasn’t much. On the one side of the open, grassy area, there were trees. On the other side, there were more trees. Even I could tell they were a different type.

A shelter stood on the far side, but this was different from any other I’d seen in that there were more than one hundred colonists around it, all of them armed with guns and wearing armor that adjusted to match the scenery around to the point that they were almost invisible.

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In My Daydreams

Planet in the Middle: Part 18

In My Daydreams

Marcus cocked his head. “You know, I don’t think there is much of a choice here. I’m not sure we have much of a chance to find the plant. I mean, how would we do it? Jaclyn could run around the area looking for it, but she’s not at her best, so they might take her out. The rest of us aren’t really big information gatherers. I mean, Nick can do some of that, but his bots are short range, right?”

“Not exactly. The observation bots and the spybots are longer range, but they’re only useful if I either know where to place them or if I have so many that and I can put them everywhere. Right now, neither of those is true. So, you’re right that I need more time or more bots to be useful.”

Giving a quick nod, Marcus said, “Alright, but I’m at least right that we don’t have much of any way to find the plant, right? Because I can’t see one.”

Jaclyn sighed. “That’s what I was thinking, but I’d hoped that I’d missed something. If Marcus is right, we need to figure out what else we’re going to do. The best idea I’ve had is to go back to Jadzen. That, or leave because if we’re going to stick around, I want to be useful, I don’t want to get drawn into a fight that doesn’t help anybody.”

Cassie spoke before anyone else. “My gun would take any fight over no fight, but it doesn’t worry about the future. If we go into a fight, we could end up like Maru or any of those guys—”

She pointed to the dead people on the ground. “So yeah, let’s make it worth it.”

Kals looked over at Cassie. “Don’t get the idea that I think you’re wrong. I want you to make a difference, but don’t be too choosy. The colony and everyone in it could die—or worse—tonight. You’ll find a fight that’s worth fighting for everywhere.”

Cassie folded her arms over her chest. “I want the fight where we fix the problem and not the one where we win a fight with the Ascendancy, but everyone dies a few hours later when they get reinforcements. I’d rather leave than that.”

Kals’ mouth tightened as if she might want to argue, but she said, “I want to fix the problem too, but I can’t let my people die if I can do something about it. I’m with you because I thought you’d have a better chance of getting into the middle of it. If you’re not going to try, then I should go back to my mom.”

Cassie’s jaw muscle had twitched as Kals spoke. “I’m not saying we shouldn’t try. I  just don’t know what we should try yet.”

Before she could continue—she looked like she would—I cut in. “I’ve got an idea. It’s not foolproof, but I think we could get some direction. I’m going to ask the ship what it’s been seeing. With all the violence, it’s got to be seeing a pattern, and if it’s seeing a pattern, then it might have some suggestions.”

“Tell you what,” Cassie said, “loop us all in. We’ll leave our helmets open and Tikki, Kals, and Katuk can listen too.”

Rachel smiled at Cassie and Kals. “That sounds better than arguing.”

I wondered if they’d be able to understand anything. Our implants translated anything that we heard, or anything we were about to say, before it came out. With the possible exception of Katuk, I doubted that their implants could translate into English, but I decided not to argue.

I waited until everyone was ready and called Hal. The connection registered and I said, “Hal, what’s your analysis of the situation on the ground?”

Hal’s calm, tenor voice came over the connection, “At present, there are three forces on the ground. The Xiniti force is smallest and is advancing generally in the direction of your position. They appear to be the best armed. The Human Ascendancy’s forces arrived in the forest and the area around it before the Xiniti. They appear to be losing wherever they face the Xiniti directly, but they are only facing the Xiniti in a small number of places. The third force appears to be the largest, but the least well armed and organized. The colonists appears to be gathering into units based on direct word of mouth. They are not presently engaging with any force.”

“I’m not understanding any of this,” Kals told me. She stood next to me, listening. I’d sent the entire conversation to my helmet’s external speakers.

Before I could reply, Hal said, “I’ll repeat and continue the conversation in the Human Quarantine’s common language.”

When he did, Kals said, “Crap, someone’s decided that fighting’s our only chance.”

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In My Daydreams

Planet in the Middle: Part 17

In My Daydreams

In the big picture, it didn’t matter if we were going to closer to the main action. The important thing was that we met up with Crawls-Through-Desert to find out what he wanted to do—stay or leave?

So we followed Katuk through the forest, all of us running quickly and as silently as we could.

Before we left the scene of the battle, a white beam speared two Ascendancy soldiers that emerged from a group of trees. I’d been about to turn toward them  myself, but then the beam hit and a Xiniti appeared to fire a second shot at the two soldiers as they lay on the ground.

Then, sure that they were dead, he disappeared into the trees.

If Katuk was happy to see another Xiniti for the first time since leaving K’Tepolu, he didn’t show it. He glanced in that direction, said nothing and continued to run. I hoped he wouldn’t get in trouble for coming with us instead of leaving like we were ordered to.

I had gotten permission after a fashion, but all that I’d heard about our own military back home indicated that no branch had a sense of humor about completely ignoring orders.

We made it to the next shelter ten minutes later. It wasn’t a good scene. The first hint of that came as Katuk said, “It’s over this hill.”

We crested the hill, slowing to make it easier for them to recognize thet we weren’t Ascendancy soldiers, but the first glimpse of the shelter gave us a glimpse of a smoldering fire in the woods.

The shelter had been hit many times by energy beams, burning holes in the walls  and the bodies of the people in front of the building. None of them were alive.

As we got closer, I failed to recognize any of them, but noticed that they were all adults, male and female. They all held guns in their hands and there were only ten of them.

I couldn’t know for sure, but it felt like they’d known the Ascendancy would be coming, and sent out people to distract them from capturing anyone. They’d died, but wherever the survivors had gone was Ascendancy free.

Alternately, they might have died further away from the shelter, killed as they retreated to a safer place.

As we came to a stop near the shelter, Cassie pulled out her gun, using its senses to scan the area. I did the same with the Rocket suit’s HUD.

Hints of footprints let away from the shelter, disappearing into the forest. I knew I couldn’t follow the little that the HUD reconstructed and I would have left that to anyone with skill in tracking except that I didn’t think that we had anyone.

Walking toward the footprints, I decided to take a shot at it anyway. The obvious footprints led out from the shelter and into the forest, disappearing some fifty feet away from the shelter where the ground turned hard.

Well, I hadn’t thought I’d be able to follow the footprints.

As I stared out into the darkness, wondering where they’d gone and hoping that the plant was with them, Rachel appeared next to me.

“I hope you don’t walk away from the group in situations like this often.”

I probably should have jumped, but more than two years into knowing that Rachel might do that at any moment, I checked behind myself toward the shelter. Everyone else was still there, checking inside or around it.

“You know I don’t. Besides, you’re the one who was taking chances back home.”

Rachel crossed her arms. “My ‘taking chances’ was sneaking out the window to go drinking after Mom and Dad went to bed. It wasn’t walking away from your group at the site of an ambush in the middle of a war.”

I thought about that. It wasn’t likely that someone was laying in wait out here, but it wasn’t impossible.

“I’ll walk back, but you know there’s no one out here. Besides, it’s not like I can tell where they went anyway.”

“No one that you can see, and lately I’ve become more aware of how much I can’t see and haven’t seen.” Rachel pursed her lips. “I’m sorry if I’m being a pest, but the Ghosts dragged me across hundreds of light years because you were in danger.”

“The Cosmic Ghosts,” I said. “So, what’s that like?”

“Weird. They’re not human. They don’t explain anything directly, but at the same time there are moments where they remind me of Grandma Vander Sloot. I don’t know why, but it’s more than powers.”

We reached the damaged shelter as Kals stepped out. “No one’s inside. They got away.”

I said, “That’s what it looks like. I followed tracks that way and didn’t see any signs of fighting. I also didn’t see any signs of them. I couldn’t follow the tracks any further.”

Everyone else gathered around. Jaclyn looked over the group. “It looks like we’ve got a decision to make. Do we keep on trying to find the plant or do something else?”

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In My Daydreams

Planet in the Middle: Part 16

In My Daydreams

“Mostly good,” I said. “The Xiniti are here and the first of the Cosmic Ghosts are here. In fact, technically we’re done. The leader of the unit that came to Jadzen Akri’s shelter told me that we’d done what we were supposed to and that we could go. He didn’t want to risk us in this fight—the Ascendancy has fresh troops and ships.”

Katuk froze. “I’ve missed a great deal. The unit leader said we should withdraw? It makes sense. The Xiniti nation prefers not to waste lives. As inexperienced as we currently are, we might prove to be a drag on resources due to our lack of experience in war.”

He stopped talking and his suit absorbed his helmet. Then he looked at me. I’d reformed my own helmet before the run. I had my suit absorb it again once his came down.

“They told us to drop you off in K’Tepolu.”

He blinked. “That… seems unsatisfying.”

“I know. I told him that we had to go find you and Jaclyn’s dog and Crawls-Through-Desert before we could consider leaving. He seemed okay with that, but I don’t know if he thought through how long that could take. I didn’t say it might take hours before we find everyone, but it might.”

I watched Katuk for his reaction.

He watched me with his wider than human eyes. Then he nodded. “It’s a difficult task in this situation. Crawls-Through-Desert isn’t here. He’s at another shelter. We separated when our groups when to their respective spots.”

“Do you know where he is?”

“Yes. He’ll want to know about the new arrivals. I saw some of the ships earlier when they fought, but I hadn’t known about the Ghosts’ arrival.”

He looked at Rachel who was still floating. “Are you one of them?”

She said, “Kinda? Think of me as an intern. I can do a lot of what they can do, but I’m not trained on most of it and what their powers are subtle. So training matters a lot.”

I broke in. “This is my sister, Rachel. Rachel, this is Katuk.”

He turned to examine me. “Your sister. You must both have Ghost DNA.”

I shrugged. “I suppose. It doesn’t help me in any way I’m aware of.”

Jaclyn’s dog broke away from her to stand up on its hind legs, put its paws on my chest, and give me a series of licks that dripped with dog spit.

That’s the kind of thing that made me wish I’d kept my helmet up—that and avoiding being shot in the head, but dog spit was the current risk.

As it dropped down to all fours and ran back to Jaclyn, Katuk said, “If you want to find Crawls-Through-Desert, we should go soon. Do you know what the Ascendancy’s current plans are?”

I thought about it. “I don’t, but I’ve been thinking about it. The battle left this part of the system, but they left soldiers. If they wanted the colonists dead, they’d have dropped a nuke or something like it on them. So the question is, ‘What do soldiers do better than bombs?’ I’m guessing that they’re here to capture anyone they can—the higher up in the resistance the better. Then they’ll brainwash them.”

Jaclyn looked up from petting the dog. “That’s what I was thinking. They’d have some people who know how to get around protections against motivators like Kals did against you that time. Or you know, they might have put as many motivators in as they could find and hope that numbers alone will get them what they want.”

Kals took in a long breath. “I think I may have told Nick this before, but that’s what we’re all afraid of. It’s one of the reasons that a resistance exists. We don’t want our heads remade to serve the Ascendancy and catch and betray other resistance members. That’s why some of the older people carry poison pills for themselves and their families.”

“Are you saying they’d give them to kids?” Cassie stared at her. “That’s so messed up. I’m not saying I don’t get it, but that shouldn’t be necessary.”

Katuk looked into the darkness. “If we want to find the plant, we should go.”

We agreed and followed him into the night, running through the forest and wondering how long that would last.

It didn’t. About ten minutes into it, blasts of light turned into explosions and burning trees. Shouting Ascendancy soldiers fought an enemy that was silent except for the sizzle as their beams found targets.

I never saw them, but I felt sure that they were Xiniti.

“We should go around this,” Katuk led us to the right of the firefight. In the distance, tree branches cracked and fell, many of them burning. Soldiers screamed in pain and I smelled burning flesh.

I wondered if we were going closer to or further away from the main battle.

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In My Daydreams

Furnace

In My Daydreams

Hey folks…

I don’t want to do this again, but I’ve just realized that our furnace is trying to turn on, but isn’t quite doing it.  As it’s winter where I live, I can’t let this go. So I’m going to go try a couple things and then call somebody if I have to.

I’m going to finish this as soon as possible. It’s most of the way done, but heat is important too.

EDIT: I’ll finish it tonight (as in Thursday night, one day late), but on the bright side, my house is warm.

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In My Daydreams

Planet in the Middle: Part 15

In My Daydreams

Rachel looked toward Cassie. “You’ve got a plan? What is it?”

“No,” Cassie shook her head. “We don’t have a plan, but I’m assuming that whatever plan we have will turn out to be more complicated than we expect.”

Shrugging, Rachel said, “That’s how plans go. I don’t want to slow you down. Let’s go find whoever it is you’re going to find. And while we’re at it, I should meet the new people.

Marcus reached back to put his hand around Tikki’s waist. “This is Tikki. She just joined the colony. She’s trained as a life support engineer and she can control time, but not all time—the time in a bubble around her. She’s more powerful than you’d think with that.”

Tikki smiled. “I’m not that powerful, but you must be. I didn’t know the Cosmic Ghosts took new members from the outside.”

Rachel smiled. “I didn’t know they existed until they showed up in my dorm room and told me they needed my help to save my brother. They didn’t explain anything until we got into space. After that, they told me a lot more—including how to speak this language and a lot of things I can’t talk about at all.”

Glancing over at me and then Rachel, Kals said, “I’m Kals. My mom is one of the colony’s leaders. I’m glad you’re here. I don’t know what the Ascendancy is doing now, but they’re probably planning the best way to kill us all. You said you flew in with the fast response team, what are they doing and when are the rest of the Ghosts arriving?”

Turning to meet Kals’ look, Rachel shook her head. “I have no idea. I’ll sense it when the main force comes through and I’ll tell you, but I’m not in on everything. I know they’ve got a plan, but it’s not my plan, so I’ll be waiting along with you.”

“Oh,” Kals looked at her the way the might if she’d been a small child and Rachel had told her that Christmas had been rescheduled.

Nodding, Rachel said, “I know it’s a disappointment, but it’s the best I can do. That’s just the way it works.”

Ten minutes later found the group walking through the woods. Rachel floated next to me as I walked. I did my best to describe what we’d been doing since we left Earth. It wasn’t exactly a short story, and I could only guess what Lee had been doing since he’d left us—though Rachel filled me in on how he’d been fighting some species called the Issakass as well as members of his own kind, destroying some planet’s moon in the process.

“The Ghosts have observers all over and almost no one knows it.” Rachel floated alongside me as the group followed Kals toward the shelter where Katuk had ended up.

She frowned. “I’m a little surprised they didn’t have anyone here. Jadzen Akri and the resistance against the Human Ascendancy are important enough that someone should be here, but maybe they went beneath the Ghosts’ radar too. The Ghosts told me that Akri’s people were good at working around powers.”

Kals turned back to look at her. “We are, but it’s because we use our motivators to keep them underestimating us and never quite sending enough people to the right places. If you get the right motivator into the right place, they’ll never know how badly wrong they are about you. We probably have people on the ships up there, but between Kamia and losing control of the ansible, communicating with them hasn’t been possible.”

The trees thinned and we ran through the woods, using our suits’ sensors to watch for Ascendancy soldiers, animals, and tripping hazards in the dark.

Kals, Cassie, Jaclyn and I ran, easily making twenty miles per hour most of the time. Marcus shapeshifted into a long legged catlike form. Tikki activated a shimmering bubble of time manipulation around herself, accelerating the time flow until she could keep up.

If I didn’t know what she was, I’d have been worried that she might age herself to death, but I knew that wouldn’t happen.

“We’re getting close,” Kals said. “It’s over there.”

She pointed at a small hill. My HUD showed that the hill was a few degrees warmer than the land around it—with a door-sized spot glowing a little warmer than that.

That wasn’t all. A growl from a nearby clump of trees made me notice the shape of Tiger, Jaclyn’s dog, which darted from behind the trees to run toward Jaclyn, barking, jumping and randomly licking her and anyone in reach.

Rachel, still floating, said, “That’s a dog?” as Katuk stepped out from behind the trees as well.

He didn’t try to hug any of us, but my implant helped me interpret the looser, less precise movement as relief.

“I’ve continued to keep my implant’s connection off because of Kamia. What is the news?”

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In My Daydreams

Not Finished

In My Daydreams

I’m doing my best to get this done on time, but it’s not working. I’m not going to finish the update tonight. I will be done late tomorrow night.

My apologies. It’s been a busy weekend–the kind where I have managed to produce the right number of words on schedule in the past, but only by the skin of my teeth.

It didn’t work this time, but I’m knocking out as many as I can before my body informs me that sleep is happening whether I want it or not.

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In My Daydreams

Planet in the Middle: Part 14

In My Daydreams

Kals looked Rachel up and down. “Your sister?” Then she said, “It’s not that I’m not pleased to meet you, but how did you get here? Have you been staying on the ship?”

Rachel glanced to the right and left, barely moving her head. I couldn’t give her a full costume like I had everyone else, but I had been able to improve hers. That glance had been enough to use her HUD to check around nearby.

“This isn’t the sort of thing you should tell people about, but I have to tell you and this is as good as anywhere. You called for help from the Cosmic Ghosts and it turns out that Nick and I are indirectly descended from the Ghosts through Grandma Vander Sloot.”

“Indirectly?” I thought I knew the answer, but hoped she’d confirm it.

Rachel shrugged. “The Abominators used some Cosmic Ghost genes from when they took they took human form. Even weirder, we’ve got genes from Lee’s people in our family and they mixed with the Ghost genes. In fact, they filled in some of the gaps. So I’m almost a Ghost—not quite, but closer than I ought to be.”

“It’s weird that Lee’s people’s genes mix with the Ghosts at all,” I offered.

Rachel met my eyes. “I know. I asked them about it and they told me that the Ghosts are related to Lee’s people somehow. It’s kind of like us and Neanderthals—if the Neanderthals survived somewhere else. And it’s not like it’s the first time either. The way I understand it they were uh… cross-fertile.”

I thought about the implications of that for a second. There were far too many and they led in too many sometimes contradictory directions.

I didn’t even get very far in when Marcus stepped up next to me and said, “What are the Cosmic Ghosts all about and how did you get here? I’m glad to see you but it’s pretty weird to have you show up.”

“Tell me about it,” Rachel said. “I was in bed sleeping when they  told me you all needed help. When I agreed to help them, they showed me how to use my ability to turn intangible to fly faster than light. You know how I can slip into alternate realities? It’s like that.

“So I flew with one of their fast response teams. They’re scouts. The main force is behind us. We just have to be ready to tell them what’s going on when they arrive. They’re not always an army, but they are when they have to be. The  Ghosts think of themselves as a police force that defends against Lee’s people and whatever else shows up. I don’t think they’re as powerful as any one of Lee’s people, but they are more of them.

“I’m here because they think I’ll do a better job of communicating with you than some random Ghost.”

“Sure,” I said. “We’re more likely to listen to you than someone we don’t know.”

Marcus laughed. “You know what you are? You’re a Green Lantern. You’re part of a big police force that’s also an army. You can fly through space. Basically, you’re a Green Lantern. Do you have members from all kinds of different planets?”

Rachel shook her head. “Not really. There are a lot of us, but it’s not like everyone’s from a different planet. I think more of them are fully Ghost, but I’m not the only one from a more recent race.”

“That’s all pretty strange, but, I’m glad you’re here. We need one more voice of reason in this crowd,” Jaclyn stepped up and gave her a hug. Rachel let her, growing fully solid for the first time since we’d seen her.

Kals turned to me. “Your sister is a Cosmic Ghost and you didn’t know?”

I shrugged. “Our world has a lot of people with unpredictable with genes from just about anywhere. I feel like the Abominators were using our planet as some kind of big experiment where they threw in everything they knew how to do and waited to see what would come out on top.”

She laughed. “I wouldn’t put it past them to do that for real.”

Marcus, meanwhile and stepped in to talk with Rachel and Jaclyn. Tikki had stepped up and stood next to me. She watched Rachel with undisguised interest. Noticing that I’d seen her, she said, “She is quite close to a young Ghost. She reminds me of many that I knew before our peoples fully diverged.”

Kals frowned. “What did she say? I missed it.”

Tikki grinned and stepped forward to put her hand on Marcus’ shoulder.

I shook my head. “I don’t know. I missed it too.”

Meanwhile, from the other side of Kals, Cassie said, “Hey Rach, I’m glad to see you too, but we ought to get moving. We were going to go find a couple of people and go try a plan that we’ll probably regret immediately.”

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In My Daydreams

Planet in the Middle: Part 13

In My Daydreams

I raised my eyebrow. “Because you think we’re going to fix this?”

She shrugged. “Maybe? The Xiniti and the Alliance have been fighting the Ascendancy for ages. You may not be able to find them alone, but at least you’ll be trying something different. I’m sure none of them tried making a deal with Four Hands and I’m not sure he’d have tried with anyone but you.”

“That’s a weird thought. I think you’re right because he kind of said that, but  we aren’t exactly best buddies. I feel like he’s loyal to his people and no one else—maybe even to the point that he trusted me because I might be distantly descended from his people.”

Kals shook her head. “I told you that we don’t feel like we know the four-handed or we’d have brought them into the resistance.”

We kept on walking, not saying anything as we walked through the dark, stepping around trees as Kals pointed us in the right direction even though we couldn’t see a trail.

“You want to know one more reason I’m here?” She turned to me as we rounded an almost hill size stand of trees, all of them growing so close together that we’d never have gotten through without destroying them.

“What?” I pushed a branch away from my face.

“We’ve only got one option left. If Mom gives the signal, every half-way decent fighter pulls out whatever weapons that still work and joins up to attack whatever she points them at.”

She frowned and continued to walk.

“Voluntarily?” I asked. “It’s not a command?”

“We’re not the Ascendancy. Of course it’s voluntary. It’s a waste of life—suicide with a small chance that we’ll win.  We can’t match the Ascendancy’s troops. It’s a last chance to feel like we’re doing something, but even if it succeeds, we’ve lost the people most likely to keep us alive here.

“If we run across a new animal, a hard winter, or we can’t fix the force fields, we’ll die.”

I followed her between two smaller stands of trees, squeezing between the branches and listening as Jaclyn, Cassie, Marcus, and Tikki did the same.

“What is it? Some kind of symbolic last charge?”

Kals looked back at me. “Oh no. They’re trying to be smart. I’ve asked Council members about it and they told me it was our last defense, but it can’t work. Even if you win, you still lose afterward.”

I thought about it. “It doesn’t sound like a good idea, but it could be worse. For a second as you were talking about it, I thought you might have some kind of final weapon—like, I don’t know, a bomb that blows up the planet and makes it unlivable or something.”

She stared at me. “What would be the  sense of that? That’s worse. The only good thing about it is that it would at least be cleaner than what we’ve got—a last stand followed by starvation.”

From behind me, Jaclyn said, “Your last stand might not be a bad idea now. You’ve got a few thousand people. If half of them showed up with weapons, it might be enough to kill the Ascendancy troops.”

“Right,” Kals said, her voice getting louder, “but only if the Ascendancy fleet leaves and never comes back. What are the chances of that?”

Keeping her voice even, Jaclyn said, “Good—at least if the Xiniti win. If the Alliance shows up and the Cosmic Ghosts appear, the Ascendancy won’t have much choice but to retreat.”

From behind her, Cassie laughed. “She’s got you. Now you have to get everyone together to get shot.”

Further back, Marcus groaned. “This is a lousy time to get into an argument. Seriously, it’s the worst time.”

Kals sighed. “Tell me about it. The Ascendancy might be out here. Xiniti who don’t know who we are might be out here. But those are the good possibilities. They might talk to us. There are things in the woods at night that won’t talk to us. They’ll try to eat us.”

Not sounding scared, Jaclyn said, “I think we’ll be okay, but I do think that we should think about doing a last stand. We don’t have to charge. We could set a trap.”

Kals glared at her. “We could set a trap. Let’s leave everyone else out of it. They’ve done enough.”

Not liking where this was going, I tried to interject an argument that would shut all of this down until we found Katuk. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the argument worked out before I opened my mouth.

“Um…” I began and stopped because I felt something weird. It wasn’t mental. If it had been a telepathic attack or even a contact, I would have known it. No this was different, but familiar.

A voice I knew almost as well as my own spoke, “She’s right, Jaclyn. You wouldn’t believe everything in this forest.”

With that, my sister Rachel materialized in front of us. All white in her Ghost uniform, she floated above the ground, trees visible through her. I’d have suspected that she was an illusion except that she’d appeared in my comm contact list as “active” when she materialized.

That made a fake unlikely even if it didn’t explain how she got here.

Kals stared at her and then at me. I said, “Kals, meet my sister Rachel. Rachel, this is Kals.”

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In My Daydreams

Planet in the Middle: Part 12

In My Daydreams

“I think we will leave,” I said, “but our obligation to Katuk, Crawls-Through-Desert, and uh… Jaclyn’s dog might mean it’s not instantaneous.”

Looking out of the corner of my eye at the Xiniti, I added, “Of course, we’ll go, but as I said, we can’t just leave people hanging.”

Kals smirked. “Got it.”

I pulled out the disc Four Hands had given me. “Give this to your mom when you have the chance. Even the Xiniti can be outnumbered. This will call mercenaries who owe me a favor to come and help her. Just have her explain that I’ll consider their debt to me canceled if they help her.  I’m going to guess she’ll know how to use it.”

Kals looked down at the disc. “That? Everybody knows how to use one. You can give it to her yourself, though, because I’m going with you?”

“Home?” I must have sounded as confused as I felt about that.

She shook her head. “No. To find Katuk and the others.”

We’d all let our suits absorb our helmets by then. So, I didn’t miss Cassie’s snort and found myself wondering what amused her. I hoped Kals wasn’t attracted to me. It didn’t seem likely. In terms of looks, she was out of my league. Besides, she knew about Haley.

“Okay. I’ll give this to your mom then.” I walked over to where Jadzen, Iolan, and other council members talked with the Xiniti who’d been talking with us—the unit leader.

Holding the disc in my hand, I stood next to Jadzen who stopped talking. “I’ve got one more thing to pass on. We won’t be here to help you, but if you find yourselves in a desperate situation, you can use this. Waroo mercenaries feel that they owe me a favor. I won’t need it. You can collect on that debt on my behalf. With everything going on her, you and the rest of the council will need all the help you can get.”

She took the disc and looked at me. “I don’t think that you understand the worth of what you’re giving away, but thank you. From what I’m learning about the current battle, we will need it.”

“You’re welcome,” I said, stepping backward and out of the conversation. “I’ve learned a lot from serving you.” To the Xiniti, I added, “By the way, if you didn’t know already, Kamia is here, so you can expect direct attacks on your mind and any AI in reach.”

The Xiniti nodded at me. “We are aware, but thank you for the warning.”

I murmured a few more words and got away from the group, rejoining Jaclyn, Kals, Cassie, Tikki, and Marcus. “I guess we should go get Katuk.”

Kals nodded. “I was telling everyone I knew where the next shelter is. I’ll show you the way there.”

“Is your mom going to be okay with that?” I asked.

Kals shrugged. “She won’t need me with this many Xiniti and Waroo mercenaries for backup.” Then she smiled. “Trying to get rid of me?”

“No. I’m still surprised you’d go with us instead of staying with your own people.”

Kals looked us over and then glanced over to where the Council and the Xiniti talked. “We should start going if we’re going to get there soon.”

Following her into the forest, we stepped over or around the bodies of Ascendancy troops. I hadn’t been aware of how many we’d killed. Passing one after another made me understand why Kamia and Neves chose to run instead of organizing a final charge. Noting how many lay near the shelter and Marcus and Tikki’s position, I also realized that I’d missed most of their part of the fight.

On one level, I felt like we’d done the right thing in defending them, but when I saw all the bodies, I couldn’t help but think that they’d mattered to somebody, whoever they were. If what Kals had told us about was the norm, they’d been bred from unpowered humans of a particular type and then taken away to be raised as soldiers. It didn’t sound like a great life and we’d provided them an end for it—whether they’d been looking for one or not.

I couldn’t say I was proud of it, but it was closer to the right thing to do than let the colonists get killed.

When we were out of sight of the shelter and couldn’t hear people anymore, Kals slowed, walking next to me. “You’re not going to leave even after you find Katuk, are you?”

I shook my head, “No. I was assuming everyone would want to stay until it’s all over somehow. Plus, if we’re not trying to by the Council’s bodyguards, we might even be able do something that matters in the big picture.”

Kals nodded. “That’s why I’m here.”

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In My Daydreams

Planet in the Middle: Part 11

In My Daydreams

Kals sheathed her knife. “If you think they’re going to come back, we need to get my mom and everyone out of here. I just wish I knew where to send them. We don’t have anywhere left that’s more secure than this.”

Taking a breath, Jaclyn said, “Your mom said she would have evacuated to your nearest neighbor if they had the time. Wouldn’t that be better?”

Kals frowned. “Well, it wouldn’t be here, but it wouldn’t be any more secure.” She glanced back at the shelter. “You know what? I think that’s the best we’re going to do. I’ll tell her.”

She walked toward the shelter as Marcus, Tikki, Jaclyn, Cassie and I came together in a circle. Marcus looked over the group. “So what do you think? Are we going with them? I feel like we have have to unitil they’re safe, but at the same time, we’re not fixing anything, you know? We’re waiting for something bad to happen and hoping we can handle it. This fight could have gone either way. There were a lot more of them than there were of us, but they had now way to expect that Cassie’s sword could cut Kamia’s shield or that Jaclyn would recognize Neves’ powers and have Nick shoot him.

“Now they know, and they’re going to swamp us with numbers or something, right?”

I thought about it. “That’d be one way to do it, but if they caught us while escorting Jadzen’s people, they could ambush us with less people as long as they grabbed a few hostages.”

Glancing my direction, Jaclyn shook her head. “That’s an awful and God, you’re right. Hostages would throw us off, and guess what? We’re about to escort them through the forest.”

I turned that around in my head, wondering how we’d get them to the next shelter safely and realizing I didn’t even know where the next one was. As I began to think about good tactics for walking through the forest with civilians, Cassie said, “Do you see something over there?”

We all looked. I took a quick mental inventory of my options for a fight, not liking them much. It wasn’t as if I was out of everything, but if it was Neves and Kamia leading the Ascendancy’s main force to us, I’d have to activate the disc and call in my one and only favor from the Waroo.

Scanning around us though, I didn’t see any sign of the Ascendancy and after the last fight, I knew what to look for. Adjusting the suit’s options—sonic, radar, and infrared—I didn’t see anything at first. A few adjustments in, I caught images in the trees. Even though a combination of my options plus computer generated speculation gave me transparent shapes, I recognized them. Shorter than human, but with larger heads and skinnier arms and legs, they walked between the trees in groups of six.

As they came closer to us, their forms became clearer. They were Xiniti—which didn’t surprise me. I’d known that when I saw the shape of their bodies.

One group walked up  to us and stopped. One of the Xiniti stepped up to us, his body hidden inside his sleek, silver armor. “Congratulations, young soldiers. You’ve successfully completed your mission and more. You escorted the ship back and have successfully protected the colony’s leadership even in the face of an Ascendancy invasion. Consider this mission a success and yourselves full members of the Xiniti nation. We suggest you take your starship and remove yourselves from the planet. We are anticipating a larger battle for control of this system than you’re currently seeing and don’t wish to lose promising young soldiers.”

Another of the Xiniti asked, “Where is Katuk?”

I answered, “We escorted different groups away from their last hideout. He went with a different one. We can’t leave without letting him know.”

“Appropriate,” the two Xiniti said in unison. “Find him. Notify him, but then leave him at our K’Tepolu embassy. Given the current situation, we can’t tell you to leave him with our battleships here.”

“I have an idea of where he might be,” said a voice from behind us. I checked my helmet’s peripheral vision to find that Jadzen Akri, Kals, and much of the surviving council.

Jadzen stepped up to the group. “After you asked me if I’d seen him, I told you I didn’t know where he was, but later, one of our people told me that she had seen him as well as the plant and that dog. They were with a group that was supposed to go to a shelter ten miles north of here.”

Jaclyn looked over at the rest of us. “I’d like to go. Things got busy and I left Tiger with him.”

I turned to the Xiniti. “We’ll go get Katuk. And thanks for letting us do it.”

Looking at me with his wide, unblinking eyes, the Xiniti said, “Requesting to collect a member of your unit rather than leaving him is an appropriate attitude.”

Then the Xiniti stepped up to Jadzen Akri and started talking to her. I caught a few words, but not enough. Kals stepped up to me as they talked. “So, you’re going to leave?”

I struggled to find words for my reply. I didn’t want to say so in front of the Xiniti, but I didn’t want to leave before this was over.

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In My Daydreams

Planet in the Middle: Part 10

In My Daydreams

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Cassie cut into Kamia’s shield again except this time she wasn’t alone. With Neves out of sight, Jaclyn blurred, running up to the shield and hitting on the line where the shield was reforming after Cassie cut it with her sword.

For a moment, the blue glow of the shield disappeared and I could see Kamia’s eyes widen. At the same time, she grabbed for her belt while turning to run.

By itself, that wouldn’t have done her much good against Jaclyn or Cassie. What did help was that the shield reformed around her, but much closer to her body. If that had been all, she would have died, but it wasn’t.

A bullet-shaped bolt of force from the direction that Neves disappeared hit Cassie, knocking her over. A second bolt, glowing yellowish-red around the edges, flew toward Jaclyn, but she moved to the side, avoiding it.

In that moment I felt a painful pressure in my head. It didn’t feel like when Daniel got into my head. To say that it felt alien didn’t cover it. It felt orderly and emotionless. It broadcast pain, but without any feeling of anger or animosity.

For a moment it felt as if it might try to go deeper into my head than surface thoughts. In that instant, I felt more than the smooth, almost artificial presence it had shown so far. The being on the other end of the mental connection quailed and squirmed as it pushed deeper.

Daniel had set up defenses in my head—first one that hid information from an invader and later he’d set up a trap that used imitations of Lee’s mind. One attacker had literally gone mad after trying to probe my mind. In retrospect, it might not have been so effective if Daniel wasn’t working with me—someone descended in some way from Lee’s species.

But that wasn’t the most important thing on my mind then.

In the moment that the mental presence made contact with Daniel’s trap, warped as it might be by my association with Lee and my heritage, the contact recoiled and the connection ended.

I became conscious of my surroundings again, noticing that I wasn’t the only one who had been attacked—Cassie and Jaclyn stood with their eyes glazed over as I came to and jerked into consciousness a little after I did. Behind me, Marcus, Tikki and Kals didn’t seem to have been affected.

Kamia, though, had started running and the Ascendancy soldiers followed her, aiming their weapons at us to buy time for their escape. Cassie managed to dodge behind some trees as a hail of bright beams burned the ground and trees around her, sometimes hitting her armor.

Jaclyn and I were in much the same situation except that Jaclyn could still act. Even I could see her stumble from whatever injuries she’d taken before we met up, but every soldier Jaclyn hit stayed down. Kamia retreated behind a phalanx of Ascendancy soldiers, all of them firing weapons.

Even with my armor and Jaclyn’s speed, she’d still be hit enough to get past the armor, given time. Jaclyn wasn’t suicidal, taking out small groups and stragglers that hadn’t moved fast enough to join the main group.

As they disappeared into the woods, Cassie asked, “What do you think? Should we follow them? I mean look, I know it sounds crazy, but they’re going somewhere and it’s probably to join up with fresh troops and then come back. If we could take them out before they got back there, they wouldn’t get back.”

Kals wiped her bloodied knife on the body of a dead soldier. “Could you take them out? Because if you can, I think you should.”

“Absolutely not,” Jaclyn put her hand to her head and took a breath. “Normally, I might be able to stop them by myself, but not right now and not with Neves in the group. Next time we meet them, we’ve got to try something different. He absorbs force—like that guy we fought ages ago back home—Payback, right? I didn’t know it before I started fighting him. I thought he was your run of the mill tough guy, and all I managed to was power him up.”

She looked over at me. “That’s why I told you to shoot him. Next time, you or Cassie have to take him on. I’ll go after Kamia.”

From behind us, Marcus said, “I think I could take him—at least if he didn’t have time to power up first. Tikki could too.”

Barely loud enough to hear, Tikki said, “I could have.”

“Me too,” Kals added, “if we can get his helmet off.”

Jaclyn waved her hand in the air. “Okay, okay. I get it. I’m the last person who should have taken him on.”

“Yeah,” Cassie said, “but you should have been the one on Kamia. She’s got some kind of slaved Abominator AI on her that kept on trying to break into the gun and into me through the link I’ve got with the gun.”

That explained the mental attack. Unable to stop myself, I said, “Is that what that was? All I knew was that it didn’t feel like a human telepath.”

At about the same time, Jaclyn stared at Cassie. “You should have told us. I would have swapped.”

Cassie frowned. “You saw the sword cut through her shield. I was so damn close to taking her down I could taste it.”

Jaclyn shook her head.

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In My Daydreams

Planet in the Middle: Part 9

In My Daydreams

Knowing that Kals was handling herself, I could concentrate on everyone else. Cassie had made it across the gap between herself and Kamia and stood in front of her, firing the gun at Kamia’s shield.

The shield held.

I would have targeted it with my sonics, but I didn’t have a clear shot. There were Ascendancy soldiers rushing me and I found myself shooting, punching, and blasting them with the sonics, watching Cassie when I had a second. By the next time, I saw her, Cassie had pulled out her sword and switched her gun to the left hand.

With one strike, the sword cut halfway through the shield. The only thing that saved Kamia from having her stomach cut open was expanding the shield’s size and backing up.

With the sword in the shield’s sphere nearly to the hilt, Cassie had to pull it out. At the same time, Kamia fired one of her guns through the shield. My implant noted that the shield had opened when she’d fired. No doubt there was some way Cassie could use that but I didn’t have time to think it through. I found myself blanketing the soldiers nearest me with sonics with my right hand and narrowcasting the sonic on my left at a group of soldiers heading toward Cassie.

Smoke floated upward from one of the soldiers’ helmets. He threw it off his head, warning Cassie who jumped sideways, putting both Kamia and the soldiers to her left side, allowing her to fire the gun’s bright, white beam at the soldiers. They scrambled to avoid it, some of them getting burned.

Along with them, a couple of the trees nearby burst into flame, but it didn’t seem to be growing and spreading. Still, it stood out in the night.

I tried to find Jaclyn and Neves, but my HUD didn’t make it easy—though you could argue that the problem was less the HUD and more that Jaclyn and Neves moved to quickly to follow.

The HUD represented Jaclyn as a purple blur and Neves as gray. They didn’t stay in the same place, moving between the trees except when one or the other attacked. In that moment trees would crack, breaking in two or falling over because they’d been hit in the side.

As the trees burst into flame, Neves or Jaclyn threw an attack that broke the trunk of a tree in half. The upper half fell—only to be caught in the air by the density of the forest before it lost even five feet in its distance from the ground.

The gray and blue blurs in my HUD clashed again even as it fell—only this time I could see Jaclyn fly backward through the air, smashing into the side of a tree hard enough that the tree seemed disintegrate behind her. Half the thickness of the tree trunk fell to the ground in a cloud of sawdust and splintered wood as she bounced off the trunk and fell to the ground.

As she hit, I could see Neves appear next to her, driving his hand down toward the back of the neck in a move clearly intended to kill. Except then, in a move I recognized only afterward, she rolled back to her feet and instead of attacking him said, “Nick. Laser,” into her comm.

Not sure whey she wasn’t attacking herself, but confident she had a good reason, I aimed my laser at him and fired. It wasn’t an easy shot with all the Ascendancy soldiers on the ground, but at that moment I would have been okay with shooting through any number of soldiers as long as I could help Jaclyn out. She wouldn’t be asking if she didn’t need it.

The shot burned the arm of a soldier and a started a tree trunk burning before it found its target, hitting Neves in the ribs as he turned toward Jaclyn.

Knowing as I did that the laser could melt through the hull of a battleship provided I could stay next to the ship long enough, the most surprising result of hitting Neves was that the beam didn’t instantly emerge from the other side of his stomach. For a moment, I thought it had, but I was wrong. He’d only stepped back from the beam. It had melted through his armor as he gasped, leaving a wide red welt on his skin along with blackened flesh and the melted and charred remains of his costume.

I swung the beam in his direction as he backed away, and burned more trees and Ascendancy soldiers for my trouble, but not hitting Neves.

Neves had gone—which was good because I’d taken the laser’s dedicated battery down to about a quarter in that short time. If I wanted to save energy, I’d have to use it on the pulse setting.

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In My Daydreams

Planet in the Middle: Part 8

In My Daydreams

On “Three,” Jaclyn ran toward Neves, Cassie ran toward Kamia. I turned on the sonics, aiming them at the largest groups of soldiers. My initial blast of sound started as noise meant to distract, turning into sound meant for destroying technology.

As disquieting as fighting soldiers who, for all you can tell, could be cousins of your girlfriend and her brother might be, it had one good point. I knew exactly how to attack them. Lest someone read this as some sort of repressed urge toward domestic violence, I didn’t like it. It was strangely nice to go someplace where nothing was familiar and find that my enemies had the same powers I’d been fighting in training for last three years. The only major difference being that here the owners of said powers fully intended to rip my throat out.

That difference meant that for once I did not at all feel bad about exposing sensitive ears to frequencies that caused them pain.

I wasn’t the only one doing it either. Behind me, Kals opened her mouth in a scream that might not have been as loud or focused but had the added benefit of carrying a compulsion along with it.

My implant translated her command as, “Run!”

They didn’t all run. The Ascendancy had enough enemies with motivators to craft helmet tech that allowed their own motivators’ voices to get through and prevent their rivals’ from doing the same.

As my speakers found resonant frequencies in the soldiers’ equipment, about a third of them turned and ran. Others leaped forward despite crackling noises coming from their helmets, far too many of them deciding that I was the threat that had to be taken down.

If they were doing it because of my armor’s resemblance to the Xiniti’s, I wasn’t impressed, but I had a bad feeling that they’d recognized the synergy between my sonics and Kals’ voice. That, I respected, because they were right.

All of my familiarity didn’t make me immune to fear as Ascendancy soldiers jumped toward me, mouths open and filled with long fangs. I don’t know if humans’ fear of that is instinctive or learned, but whatever the origin, it comes easily.

Having spent as much time training as I had by then, the response is natural enough—fire bots from your right arm and spray sonic destruction from your left. The Ascendancy armor worked against my standard bots, but not entirely.

When the bots exploded (and this was true especially if the soldiers were in the air), they had a solid pushback even if they couldn’t get through the armor. Plus, if your armor was designed to allow you to bite people, that’s a point of vulnerability.

I’d made modifications to the standard bots’ programming during my downtime. First, knowing that the bots couldn’t penetrate, I’d set them to calculate the angle that would force them the furthest off course. That didn’t bother me, but the other one did. I’d set them to aim for the mouth if they had the opportunity. It didn’t make me feel good to do it, but we were at war here and I decided I had to prioritize the lives of the people we were protecting and my friends over the people who were trying to kill us.

So when they swarmed me, the soldiers that jumped for me found bots exploding against their sides throwing them off course and into the trees. Hitting the trees was less due to programming than the density of tree trunks here. It was harder to miss them. Less agile than Travis or Haley, more than one soldier hit the trunks and went down. More managed to redirect themselves by using a tree trunk to change direction again, but it wasn’t easy. Some of them still hit trees.

Of the two changes I’d made, that allowed the kinder possibilities—if you regarded being bludgeoned unconscious or to death as kind. You could argue that was kinder than having your head explode, something that happened at least twice in my sight.

The second time came as I began to use my helmet’s 360 degree view to check on Kals behind me. In paying attention to my peripheral vision, I let one get too close. He raked out with his right claw, grabbing me by the neck and beginning to squeeze.

I brought up my right arm, firing off a bot which whipped past the soldier, turned in a tight circle and went through the mouth opening where it exploded. The soldier died in a burst of blood and fire.

It’s the memory of images like that gives war a bad name.

At the same time, I did get to see how Kals was doing—okay. I knew that she was physically equivalent to Cassie, but tended to forget it. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see her fighting with a pistol in one hand and a long knife in the other. She dodged out of the way of a soldier’s rifle, distracting him, but not stopping him with her voice, and driving the knife into his heart. Then she stepped back, pulling out the knife and firing her gun at the next one.

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