First chapter possible book

I’m tempted to write an action book similar to David Drake’s work or John Ringo’s Kildar series. The main character is a bit larger than life and the action fast and rough. The language is coarser without going totally nasty, but it appeals to a different audience. Don’t expect the people to be exploring their inner self in long thoughtful self examinations while the bullets crack by.

Her is my idea of opening a book with quick action and minimal scene setting. Tell me if it is too graphic or not enough. More gun porn or less?

Chapter 1

            Looks are deceiving. Garret looked as relaxed as a big cat sprawled in the chaise. He was reading a new novel, but his eyes left the page frequently and scanned the surroundings. Hypervigilant was the official diagnosis he’d received leaving the service. In his case it would have been an accurate assessment when he’d entered training if they had only tested him then. Three tours in the sandbox left him in a mental state the Psychologist could not really imagine. He was attuned to the slightest noise, the smallest scuff, insignificant dislodged pebble, or a tiny glint off metal or lens a kilometer away.

That was why he was alive and so many of his companions weren’t. Given the choice he couldn’t see being aware of his surroundings as a bad thing. It beat cold and dead. He’d been discharged and back home a year now. Logically it was time to relax a little, but the human brain is a funny thing. It yields a proven survival mechanism very reluctantly.

His house had a very good security system. Most people would have turned it off during the day and set it at dusk or even bedtime. It was on now even though he was out back by the pool. In fact it had sensors along the property edge  and spaced around the grounds in a pattern that would be very difficult to evade. His father had a basic system in but he’d augmented it.

The sensors included cameras on the walls and poles along the property perimeter looking in as well as out. What appeared to be sprinkler heads in the lawn were not. They were heat and proximity sensors. The Bluetooth earpiece he had on occasionally gave him a false alert from a stray pet or bird, but he preferred that over a  system set for only an aggressive intrusion.

A tall glass at his elbow was dew speckled halfway up with ice still in it and a twist of lemon to flavor it. Clipped inside his jeans on his left hip was a 10mm Ed Brown. The new one with thin grips to allow a double stack magazine for the new Hornady 10mm Magnum rounds.

Garret took a sip of the cool drink after he flipped a page and got his thumb back in the spread. He had an e-reader, but he also had quite a collection of classic paperbacks.

Two things happened at once. He’d just looked up to examine his surroundings and a flicker of movement took his focus to the glass patio doors. Simultaneously there was  warning buzz in his ear that he had an intruder on his security system. The reflection in the glass was a dark human shape silhouetted against the white west wall of his property behind him. The shape definitely had a helmet on and he landed with that slight flexing of knees you saw in a gymnast that made a perfect dismount at the end of his routine.

Garret rolled off the chaise on the open side opposite the table and glass. He looked up just in time to see the figure pixilate and vanish from sight into the background, almost. There was a bright specular reflection of the sun on the man’s visor that didn’t quite disappear, and he still cast a partial shadow although it was faint as it got further away from the feet.

A bright line split the air with a crack and the back of the chaise blew out with a spray of cushioning material and a flash of vaporization around the hole that materialized. Some of the hot fragments cut across the back of his left hand and he felt a couple pepper his cheek.

Garrett already had his pistol pointed in the right direction and didn’t give the man a chance at a second shot. He laid the sights just under the bright point that still pinpointed the helmet faceplate and squeezed gently. The trigger broke just like a day at the range, sharp as a glass rod cracking. For eight thousand dollars it damn well should.

The outline of the man reappeared instantly, his head thrown back and a cloud of chunks and spray behind it that indicated there was an exit wound. The masking device failed spectacularly flashing a coarse pattern of pixels of all colors and brightness. His arm was extended from firing at Garrett, but at fifteen meters he could not make out a weapon.

Garrett had just had three tours in hell. If there was one thing his hind brain could process it was tactics. If he was facing somebody who could materialize out of thin air the next place for one to appear would be – behind him. He rolled over to the stub wall against which the BBQ grill was set and sat up looking back at the house. He waited bracing his pistol on a raised knee and almost gave up on a second appearance after thirty some seconds. Then there was a faint violet flash in a distinct circle in the air he’d missed the first time and two black clad figures dropped from the air between him and the house back to back.

The far one landed slick as the original intruder and the near one landed a little off balance crouching deeper and touching the patio tiles with a spread hand to recover. His first round went over the crouched figure taking the far one in the back of the helmet. It didn’t penetrate like it had on the faceplate, but it snapped his head forward and staggered him. He had just caught himself against the shove by throwing his arms up and taking a bracing step when the second shot went in the gap opened up between his helmet and collar.

They near man had recovered and was half way vertical again. His suit was starting to react to the environment and make him vanish, and he was swinging a large carbine around on a harness strap to bring it to bear on Garrett. They were much closer, around four meters away and he could have hit him with a brick, much less an Ed Brown.

He wanted this one alive if he could and shot him just above the knee. It didn’t get through his armor he could tell, but it made his leg buckle and he caught himself again with the left hand spread on the tiles, dropping the muzzle of his weapon.

Garrett took slow careful aim and put a round in the back of the man’s left hand shattering it. Support gone he rolled on his left side. He tried to bring the weapon up again but he was laying on the harness strap and it was too short to swing away from his body. He rolled on his belly and tried to do a one handed pushup to clear it. Garrett shot him through both buttocks. With a little luck he’d busted the hip bone somewhere.

He could not believe the man still managed to pull a knee under him and plant the right hand flat on the ground to try to get up. He carefully shot the other hand, but this round hit further back and blew out the wrist almost severing the hand.

The man must be on some kind of drugs, because he was pawing at his chest trying to do something with the shattered left hand. He was sideways to Garrett now and he aimed at the helmet knowing he couldn’t punch a hole through it, but he could rattle the man’s brain by brute force if he absorbed enough foot-pounds in the helmet. He shifted his aim off center just a hair, not wanting to break the man’s neck. The shot gouged a furrow in the helmet and slammed the man’s head back. He crumpled in a limp pile finally, dead or concussed Garrett didn’t know.

It took a bit more than a thirty count for these two to show. He rushed forward and grabbed the near man by his harness and dragged him back to the short wall. He dumped him there and got his pocket knife out rolling the blade open with his thumb. Two slashes freed the carbine from the harness, and cut his chin strap so he could tilt his helmet off.

The man’s face was nothing special. Some sort of southern European Garrett would guess. Slightly olive and a blocky wide peasant face. Hair black and slightly wavy. But there was a band of tattoo crossing his face from ear to ear, straight across the nose. It was an intricate band of tiny geometric shapes, deep blue with tiny triangles of red and green, abstract art instead of representational, like the trim Arabs used to decorate things.

He retreated to the end of the stub wall where he could duck behind it either way for cover. He wondered if the thirty second interval was something their equipment dictated, or if it represented how long it took somebody to make command decisions.

But nobody new appeared at about the same thirty second interval. He scrambled back to the man and cut his belt that held a pistol and knife as well as several cases. He didn’t seem to have pockets. There was some kind of electronics on his chest and he cut that loose. He could see the man was still alive from the bleeding, it didn’t seem as bad as it should have, especially the shot through his wrist, it should have been a nasty squirter and there was just a tiny pulsing dribble that stopped as he looked at it. He looked down and the man’s blood was smeared across his wounded hand. Shit…He hoped he didn’t have hepatitis or any of a dozen other nasty things.

The carbine was lighter than a firearm, but still substantial. It had a recessed two position switch on the left side and a similar paddle switch with four detents on the top rear where you could work it with your thumb. He checked all that out and looked around again even though his security system was giving him an all clear again.

He lifted the weapon and pointed it down into the pool. When he pulled the trigger it drew a white line with a crack and a big puff of steam boiled up into the air. He pushed the switch on the left down and tried it again. Nothing happened but the holographic sight had a yellow light flash in it. That had to be the safety.

Another look around saw no hostiles, and he flipped the safety off and thumbed the top switch from second to third detent.  He fired into the pool and the crack left his ears ringing and the reflections of the shock wave slapped him in the face. The water rolled back so hard it sloshed out of the pool at both ends. When he recovered he discovered the beam had punched through the opposite wall of the pool and the tiles were all bulged up from below in a line a couple meters past the edge of the pool.  The last power detent had to be a real bitch he decided.

So far he’d made a lot of noise. As far as he knew nothing had reached outside his fenced back yard to tell anyone where all the noise originated. He knew how hard it was to assign anything but a general direction to a big boom. But he had a feeling he couldn’t just sit tight and hope the police would drop the matter once the shooting stopped. He was almost certain they would do a hot house to house without waiting for warrants. And he had two bodies and a prisoner to hide. No way he could get them all hidden in time to pass a walk through. It was time to bug out permanently.

Another violet circle formed between him and the house, but vertical this time, angled a little toward him and part of the glowing edge was actually below ground level. It seemed a bit taller than wide, an oval. Apparently they changed the insertion format when they failed. He was still holding the unfamiliar weapon, but had no time to switch. He wished he’d counted again. It must have taken them a good three minutes or more to open the third hole from wherever…

He aimed too high as the first armored figure came out of the hole in the air in a dive and rolled. He corrected and followed and triggered the weapon. It ablated a huge chuck of armor off and rolled the man away, but he was still moving before he even came to a stop. That didn’t leave him many options. He thumbed the top lever all the way to the fourth detent and fired again.

The beam was the same except it didn’t pulse. It stayed on as long as he held the trigger down and after less than a half second it ate through the armor and the man disintegrated in a messy steam explosion. He just had a brief and not too clear image of limbs flying and he had to shift his aim to the next person emerging holding the trigger down hard.

He was off again, low this time, the man running out instead of diving, carrying a canister of some sort cradled in his arms. The beam cut him off just below the knees and his swing carried it to the open oval and the third fellow emerging ran full tilt right into it and went down too. He reversed burning the last man to emerge in the head which wasn’t as spectacularly messy as the first.

The fellow with the canister had one end open and was fumbling with it. Garrett cut both his hands off at the wrist with the beam and zig zagged the beam across him several times awkwardly as he fell back. He didn’t blow up but he was a charred ruin. The barrel of the carbine was hot now the air over it shimmering.

He was pretty sure the canister was something nasty, some sort of demolition charge, and he rushed forward carbine at ready and looked in the hole in the air. It appeared to be a corridor inside the glowing ring, not like a normal building, but more like a ship with metal bulkheads and artificial lighting. He could feel the air flowing out of the hole so it was at positive pressure on the other side.  Where the oval was in the ground was a step down from his patio. He laid the carbine down so he could grab the canister.

The end cap on the canister was hinged back and there was a knob set about half way in an arch of strange symbols. The symbol its pointer was turned to was showing in a small screen steady and not changing. It was a timer and the loop handle beside it had to be the initiator. He’d used satchel charges not too different himself. Question was, how fast was the timer? Long enough to let them get back to safety he’d guess. He checked the corridor again. Nobody coming but there was a bend in it about three meters back.

Well if they wanted to play rough he’d take a chance. If they kept pouring people into his back yard long enough they’d overrun him. There were twelve calibrations and the knob was set half way. He grabbed the pull loop and yanked. It yielded a little like it was a plastic material. It resisted until it got about a hand’s width away and then ripped out.

He lifted the can in both hands and heaved it for the bend down the hallway. It wasn’t that heavy, maybe eight or ten kilo and he saw it hit and bounce around the corner. He snatched the carbine and ran to get out from in front of the opening counting and dove to the pavement behind the strange portal, opening his mouth and covering both ears.

When he got to the nine count the ground smacked him in the face and even through closed eyes he was dazzled by the flash. He had to have passed out briefly, because he woke on his back but he didn’t remember landing. When he rolled over he looked and the oval was gone. Overhead there was a second sun just starting to shrink. It was far enough from the normal sun that they cast weird double shadows.

The bodies that were in front of the opening were gone, except there might be a burnt smear in the fused dirt that extended from the middle of his patio to the house. It just caught the corner and sheared it off. The shock wave had knocked the rest of his bedroom into the center of the house. His east fence was down flat except for a section that was just gone where the grass was vaporized off the dirt in a straight lane. The street was slick and steaming shiny black where the line of destruction crossing it had melted the pavement. The house across the street caught the blast square on and was knocked flat into the back yard and burning pretty good already. The rubble of his corner had a couple wisps of smoke already. It would be in flames in minutes.

Everything hurt when he got up. He didn’t have much time. He was surprised he couldn’t hear sirens already. He grabbed the unconscious soldier and stuffed his com and pistol in his belt and dragged him one handed by the harness to the garage. The other hand had the carbine and he wasn’t sure which he’d keep if he had to lose one.

Inside the garage his pickup was parked pointing out. He raised the tonneau cover and stuffed the man in the rear. He had no time to fuss with him and he had stopped bleeding on his own, which was freaking weird. He turned to his cabinets and withdrew two big soft carriers and tossed in after him. The weapons he put in the cab.

It was insane, but he ran in the house. There was already smoke crawling along the ceiling out of the hallway. He ran in his study and the safe was set to open by turning to the final number. He hefted the heavy ruck off the floor of the safe and unhesitatingly grabbed just his best rifle. When he slammed it shut he spun the dial for all the good that might do. He really doubted he’d even get back to open it. The smoke was much thicker when he cut through again. He walked fast leaning over holding his head down out of it, eyes burning.  It was hotter too. He knew he’d pushed too close to disaster. The back couple rooms might have already flashed over.

The ruck and rifle went in the cab even though it was illegal and way too visible. He wasn’t about to put them with the guy in the back even as badly hurt as he was. He started the truck and reached up and hit the garage door opener. He was rolling the window down even as he went down the drive.

He could hear sirens now in the distance. He turned in the driveway of the third house down and cut around the house on the grass. Into the neighboring yard behind and out on the next street. The ground was dry and he hadn’t even engaged the four wheel drive. When he looked back there was no obvious ruts across the lawns, just a couple lines of pressed grass. He kept his speed down and left the other subdivision turning north away from town and all the fuss.

When he stopped on the outskirts of town to top off his tanks he could see a column of smoke billowing up from his old neighborhood. It was a shame, he had grown up in that house and was attached to it. He doubted there was much that could be saved from what he’s seen. And when they got there they’d have the house across the street to deal with too. At least he knew the Zimmerman’s both worked and wouldn’t have been at home. Not that it was his fault. He’d been attacked and he had no idea why.

He got past the cashier into the rest room without showing his face. Only one customer looked at his bloody hand and face and turned away with that vacant look that said it was none of his business. After he cleaned up he bought some bottled water and a couple sandwiches he settled in for a drive. His one buddy had a cabin north almost into Oregon, and he intended to go there without checking in a hotel along the way, even if he had to drive through the night.

Eight hours later his main fuel tank was empty. He didn’t like dipping into the auxiliary, so he pulled in a truck stop. He was past Sacramento and he could go east and follow mountain roads now if he needed to. He had fuel to make his buddy’s cabin, but wanted full tanks when he got there if he could. Taking the back roads would use more fuel too.

His commercial Diesel permit was tied to his credit card. He was  limited to ten gallons at full price if he paid cash. He’d stop and make another purchase to fill the tank and again and before he got too close to his friend’s cabin. He wanted a shower, but worried about the prisoner in the bed. He didn’t want to come out and find the cops investigating why somebody was pounding on the inside of his hard tonneau cover.

He pulled to the edge of the lot and parked where the floods would shine in the bed when he opened it up. He put his hand around his pistol under his jacket and unlocked the cover left handed. He was prepared for the prisoner to be dead or to attack him, either way.

The man was laying on his side back against the auxiliary fuel tank that occupied the front quarter of the bed. He had gotten a bandage from some pocket and wound it around the really severely injured left wrist. It looked to be elastic. All Garrett could figure was he used his teeth to open it and help wind it on. He should have searched the man but he never had time.

The man was conscious however, eyes alert and watching him. He had a big scab on the hole blown through his right hand. That was simply impossible. It would have needed surgery to close it up and then skin grafts and a month of healing to look like it did now. The fellow made no effort to sit up or speak. He wasn’t dressed that outrageously. Except for the armor because it was impossibly thin and the tattoo he could have been county SWAT in black tactical.

Well, if he could bind that wrist up he could drink out of a bottle. He broke the seal on a bottle of water and took a drink to show him what it was and that it was safe.

The cap he put back barely finger tight and rolled it across to him. It came to a stop right against the man’s chest. He picked it up right handed, fingers all working which was freaky. He took about half the bottle down at once and made a gracious nod, turning his head slightly.

“Gaz,” he said softly. There was no hint of a second syllable.

” Lei è italiana?” Garrett asked.

“Italian? No, I speak,” he hesitated and looked genuinely dismayed. “My prime language is similar to Spanish. I speak a little English but not well, and not your idioms.”

“I’d like to talk to you, that’s the only reason you are alive. However, if you make it difficult I will dump you on the roadside. Make it really difficult and I’ll kill you. You want to get out and walk away here or continue with me?”

“The others are dead then?”

“All dead. Even the ones above in your ship.”

“Caquetá! How could you possibly?”

“You picked the wrong bad ass to invade. They put three more through after you. Apparently they figured it was going to hell and sent a fellow through with a bomb to clear a landing zone. I left the timer set and tossed it back through that opening in the air. It bounced around the corner into your ship and – BOOM. I saw the fireball up above. I assume that was at an orbital level? It was sort of obvious. I toss a bomb in here – it goes boom above. Suitcase nuke I assume?”

“I don’t know your names for them – but a bomb, yes. That was to clear the area of any of our machines. Rule one is you don’t leave behind samples of advanced machines. If they sent three after me and you killed them…” He seemed to make it a question.

“I did,” Garrett affirmed and gave a nod to familiarize him with the gesture.

“Destroying the ship will delay things. We have not lost a ship in centuries. They can’t slip time in small sections. It will be a delay to note the ship does not report and send a new one. The team with the bomb would not have set it off if they had recovered our equipment. But now I think they will just pop a bomb through set to explode quickly. A big bomb because things might have been moved already by the locals.”

“You had a box on your chest. Will they detect it and pop a bomb on it?”

“Yes. It can be turned on remotely too. If you have it you must remove the battery.”

“I don’t know how, and how can I know you won’t just call for help with it?”

“You don’t. But if you don’t trust me with it please throw it away here and start driving again as fast as possible. When an operation goes this bad they will not try to recover me. All they will care about is cover your ass.”

“You got that idiom just fine. I’m an idiot, but I’m giving you the radio. If you look like you are using it instead of pulling the power I’ll shoot you. Understand?”

“Yes, I understand.”

“Come on up to the cab then,” he said reinforcing it with a hand gesture. “If you don’t want to walk away no reason to ride back here in the dark. Can you make it on your own?”

“I think so.” He was stiff and a bit wobbly. He came over the side and was slow to let go. He held on with his right hand and held the left tight against his chest, protecting it. The door was a struggle to open and he couldn’t slam it hard enough to close it. But then he shouldn’t be able to walk. By right he should have bled out. Garrett closed the door for him and walked around to the driver’s side.

The fellow was leaning his head back, taking deep breaths.

“You hurting? You want something to help with the pain?”

“I have little machines in my body. They make pain medicine for me. But if you have something that doesn’t slow down my breathing I’d welcome some.”

“Here, these are Naproxen. They don’t suppress the breathing reflex. Take them and finish off the water.”

When he had the pills in him Garrett dumped the radio in his lap. “Pull its teeth.”

That got a brief grin. “That’s a new expression for me. Here, see the latch I am sliding to the outside? Do the one on your side. My left hand is useless.” The entire bottom edge of the radio popped out about a half centimeter. The soldier held the latch with his thumb and got a finger in the opening. The battery when he rolled it out was triangular and had a large contact plate on each end.

“Don’t, uh, I don’t have the word. Don’t bridge from end to end with metal. It will get really hot.”

“Don’t short it out. No problem.” Garrett stuck it in the center console.

“There were no lights on. It had not been turned on remotely. We can go without needing to run for our lives.”

Garrett drove out of the truck stop and merged back on the expressway.

“You are not afraid to be within reach of me?” the fellow asked.

“Don’t get too full of yourself. The only reason you are alive is I wanted a prisoner to question. If you decide you can finish the job I can do without the talk. I’d say my twelve year old niece could finish you off, shape you are in. I’ve taught her to take care of herself and she’d shove a number two pencil in your ear right flush if you got frisky with her. Right now if you take me up on walking away I predict you will be dead or in Federal custody before the sun comes up.”

“I am instructed.” The fellow said. Sounded like he meant it.

“Trading me for the Feds is a bad bargain. They will interrogate you with drugs and pain. You heal fast but I bet you can’t breathe underwater, and those boys can inflict pain I doubt even your little machines can cancel out. I won’t torture you. If I figure you are bullshitting me I’ll just dump you in the desert and see if you don’t cook in the sun without water like anybody else, and feed the buzzards and coyotes fast enough.”

“How can you trust what is told to you to stop pain?”

“I can’t. But the Feds have instruments that will read your brain patterns and they will know if you are lying or if you plain don’t know.”

“We had no idea you were that far along.”

“Bit off more than you could chew huh? That explosion in space is going to put everybody on alert. Nobody will admit it was theirs and they are all going to be on a hair trigger for anything threatening their satellites and space stations. If you have another ship show up they will likely have three or four countries shooting at them.”

“Where do you imagine I’m from?” the man asked with renewed interest.

“Well, I read a bit of science fiction, I can make a better guess than most.”

“What is science fiction?”

“Writing about possible futures. Speculating, guessing about what new technologies will be invented and how people will live with them. Trouble is our world changes so fast by the time you write a story and predict something half the time somebody is selling it before you can get the book printed.”

The fellow looked horrified. He seemed to be on the edge of saying something and decided against it shutting his mouth with a visible effort.

“No way you come from another world in our universe. That pretty much leaves you coming from our future, or from a parallel world very similar to ours.”

For an instant Garrett thought he was choking, then he realized the man was laughing so hard he couldn’t get his breath. The tears rolled down his face and he took a long time to gain control again. It took several false starts before he could speak.

“If my commander could hear you say that so, so, it’s just so. He would simply soil himself. You understand?”

“Matter of fact is our expression. If your commander heard me say that so matter of fact he’s shit himself. The second is not a polite expression, but what most folks would say.”

“Yes,” he agreed nodding vigorously. Was that natural or had he picked it up already?

“Science Fiction is illegal in our culture. Fiction even about the past is frowned on. It is officially viewed as lying and deviate behavior.”

“Well they don’t ban it for us,” Garrett pointed out. “So if I was you I’d have to ask, What sort of things do they know are possible they don’t want anyone speculating about among their own people? My take on it is once you have the concept something is possible the rest is just engineering.”

They rode along for some minutes in silence as he digested that idea.

There were scattered clouds above in the night, something Garrett knew by the light of the moon and the lack of stars in patches. Suddenly the bottoms of the clouds and the ends toward them were illuminated by a flash that faded away. After a minute a dull red sun climbed

over the south horizon behind them.

“Shit, they just killed a couple million people to cover up a couple weapons and radios? They could have negotiated with us before. Now there will be no quarter.”

“What does this mean? No quarter?”

“The way I let you live? None of that. Not even if you surrender with your hands up.”

“We are trained not to surrender. If my commander captured me now he’d gather the whole assembly and kill me in front of everybody. I didn’t fight to the death and worse I let you capture my equipment and kept them from tracing it.”

“So why didn’t you?”

“It’s stupid. It’s always better to live. I’m a soldier not a, caquita!, I don’t have a word again.”

“Shit, I recognize that from Spanish, and I think fanatic is the word you are looking for.”

“I thank you for the water, he said changing the subject. “I don’t mean to complain, but my injuries are making me very hungry. Would it be too great a favor to ask to be fed?”

“Actually, by the laws of war I owe you certain treatment, including food, shelter, medical care, and to pass on any packages and communication from your family. That is if you give your parole and agree to stop fighting against me.”

“Rules for war? I’ve never heard of such a thing. Why would you even have such a thing? How can you have such a thing? Don’t you just fight until you win or lose?”

“Once upon a time we could. When we got to the point that the weapons were so terrible they could destroy cities we had to limit things. Now we have rules about targeting civilian populations and treatment of wounded and prisoners. They are what they call the Geneva Conventions and the Hague Conventions mostly. Otherwise I’m sorry to say my people can get pretty ugly.”

“And how long have you needed this law of war?”

“Well now, there were actually rules of war in the bible two thousand years ago. You were prohibited to cut down all the trees around a city. Especially the fruit trees and olive trees. You were not permitted to kill all the kids and old people and sell the women off as slaves.”

“The modern rules of war came about after war was mechanized. Aircraft and artillery throwing fire and explosives and poison gas and biological agents all can get carried away. Then nuclear explosives – well if that isn’t what you guys used  there behind us it is pretty similar in effect. Those modern rules have been in their fourth update for about the last hundred years.”

“You can make a bomb like you saw go off behind us?”

“Yeah. They stopped making them so big. They really aren’t very efficient. Better to drop three smaller ones than a huge one.”

“You have so many?”

“Oh sure. Some of the big countries have the makings for thousands even if they don’t keep them assembled. They have hundreds mounted up and ready to deliver anywhere in the world in about twenty minutes. Even some of the tiny countries have hundreds. That’s why we need to keep a lid on it. If they start flying we could glass over a small country in a couple days.”

“Glass, like this?” he touched the windshield.

“Yeah. Some of the small countries. They mess with you they could end up a green glass parking lot. You know? They’d glow in the dark a thousand years.”

“How do I give this ‘parole’ to be your prisoner?”

“Just agree to stop attacking me. Does your word mean anything to you?”

“I am third generation of a conquered world. My grandfather fought the Overlords. We still speak privately of such concepts beyond just winning or I would be dead now. I advice you not to regard our Overlords as capable of such acts. They will think you a fool and kill you first chance they get.”

“Not more than once.” Garrett said smiling.

“Your uh, payback, is harsher if your rules are violated, right?”

“Got it in one.” Garrett admitted.

“I give my parole then. I think I understand it. I’m almost sure.”

“Hell of a concept to absorb huh?”

“My command has a doctrine to grab a group of hostages and interrogate then when finding a new world of man. That’s what we were going to fan out and do from your home. There were about twenty people we could detect at home in the sub-section of houses yours was in. They do not do a slow, time eating survey to see what they are dealing with. Not even when we find satellites like we did here. Am I right in thinking by bombing behind us they have already broken your rules of war?”

“Yes, they have. We’d have talked before, now it’s going to be a matter of retribution.”

“Another word I don’t know.”

“That’s Okay, I think they are starting to show you,” Garrett pointed into the sky. A couple pulsating  bright dots were headed south west faster than he was used to seeing a satellite move. Another hotter dot came down from the north east to intercept them. Four small sparks climbed away from the first pair at incredible acceleration to meet it.

“Look away!” his passenger warned.

The warning was perfect. He looked down and blinked. The flash was incredible. It had a double component so at least two of the missiles detonated. He slowed down a bit. If a flash blinded him temporarily he didn’t want to run off the road at speed. He held it at forty-five mph so he could feel the edge of the pavement and run off the shoulder if needed.

One after another a series of missiles lifted to their left and climbed away to their rear. The angle changed as each lifted tracking some unseen target until they were cutting across their front to the east. Dawn was starting but a steady flickering lit the scene like a steady strobe as warhead after warhead silently detonated. Finally a huge flash lit them from high and behind them. He had flash blobbies in his vision, but not so much he couldn’t guide the truck off onto the shoulder. He had no choice as the engine ran rough and then quit.

“That last big one fried my engine electronics. Man I bet it fried half the continent. That was a big sucker.”

“I imagine that was our ship dying. They can defend themselves from a certain number of missiles. But we have never had to fight anyone who throws one after another in the air like I just saw. I can’t imagine the wealth we just saw fired into the air.”

“That was just one base. I’m not sure which one even. Vandenberg back where we started would have been pounding the shit out of them too. I think it would take more than the one bomb we saw to put them out of commission. They probably had multiple locations from here and Japan and China hammering them if they came in from the west like those missiles were tracking. . They likely got hit with orbital weapons and lasers and crap from naval assets. I know damn well San Diego has ballistic defenses for the fleet. Alaska might have been able to reach them too. Maybe even the Russians if they have stuff in Siberia.”

Garrett looked around. There was a big truck and a couple cars stopped going the other way far ahead. The truck had managed to get off the pavement. One of the cars was half off and the other stopped in the left lane. There was no other traffic on their side. The road went down at a shallow grade into a valley and on the other side of a small bridge climbed away. The other vehicles were on the other side of the bridge, perhaps three miles away. The valley was pines and no sign of human habitation. It was the bright light just before the sun came up and the clouds above were clearing.

“I doubt I can walk far. I understand if you have to kill your prisoner,” he said resigned.

“First of all I don’t do that. Second of all if we sit here awhile the computer may  reboot and run. I’ve read they do if you were not too close. If not we can sit for a day or so and let the big boys get through throwing those big ones around and I have a spare computer wrapped in foil beneath the rear seat. I got a junk yard extra just in case this happened.”

“You planned on the possibility of your own people having just this sort of war?”

“Sure did. I don’t want you to think that is common. The government plans on a war. The power companies and data centers and banks and such are all hardened as well as the military against EMP from nuclear weapons. But guys like me? Private individuals who stock up on food and weapons and such. I bet there are not more than a couple hundred thousand of us in North America. Folks prepare for storms or riots or earthquakes, but not usually nuclear war.”

“We are so, so…”

“Short of words again?”

“Do you have a word for painful violent sex inflicted against your will?”

“Ah, we are so screwed, is the idiom. One of the milder ones at least.”

“That, most emphatically.”

“Here, work on this for now,” Garrett have him a granola bar. “You have a name you want me to use?” Garrett asked after a bit.

“One,” was what it sounded like.

“If I use that around others it will seem odd. May I suggest a variation?”

“Please.”

“Juan with a breathy H sound is the closest name in Spanish. In English that would be John. How do those strike you?”

“English is the language of this area, right?”

“Officially. Spanish is a close second, and you look close enough to a Hispanic that nobody would blink at it.”

“But the English speakers are dominant right?”

“Yeah, not like your Overlords, but they have the upper hand it’s true.”

“Upper hand. Interesting. John it is, please.”

Across the bridge the big truck threw a puff of smoke from its twin stacks.

“Let’s give it a try.” Garrett turned the key on. The dashboard lights ran through their usual sequence. That was encouraging. The starter he expected to work. It’s circuitry was fairly robust. The engine did fire however, first roughly and then caught enough it kept going without the starter. He ran it up a few times with the throttle. When he eased off it returned to a normal idle. When he dropped it in gear that engaged just fine too.

When they passed the cars there was one person in the car partly on the shoulder. There was nobody in the one in the passing lane. He wondered if they got a ride in the truck?

About ten minutes later two Highway Patrol passed them flat out. There was no traffic and they weren’t bothering with lights or siren. They didn’t give their truck a glance.

Five exits and a half hour later was a truck stop. His dark grey shirt and pants were unremarkable. So dark he’d thought them black. “If you take that armor off your shirt looks just fine. You just imitate what I do and you’ll be Okay. If anybody asks about your tattoo tell them it is an Indian thing. If they push tell them your family was from Mexico.”

“Mexico?”

“Yeah, that is the country to the south, not all that far away. They have a big Indian population.”

“I need to uh, shit, but I don’t know the polite word.”

“You say, I need to use the bathroom or the restroom. There are stalls in there for privacy. Fasten the latch, and there will be a roll of soft paper to wipe yourself clean.”

“No place to wash?”

“There are basins to wash your hands,” he illustrated with his hands, “but you can’t drop your pants standing at them. It’s firm custom. Here, this is the best I can do.” He produced a small pack of wet wipes. “Use the paper then these. I’ll buy some more in the trucker store, but try to make them last.”

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