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									                                                 Gary L. Fontenot

                                               20 Westwood Drive

                                            Griffin, Georgia 30223

                                          mrmrsfont@bellsouth.net

                                            Phone 770-228-1964




         The Journey Home
Fifth installment of the Leap of Fate series

             By Gary L. Fontenot

            Approx. 142,900 words

       Action/Adventure/Science Fiction




                                                                 1
                                         Chapter One

                                   A Long Walk in the Dark


       Early in the morning of December 3rd, along the shoulder of Louisiana State Highway

27, just south of the tiny community of Gibbstown, the dark figure of a tall, broad shouldered

man carrying a modest pack strolled along briskly. Although they remained well hidden under

his wide-brimmed hat, his eyes were gray, the color of brushed stainless steel, and at times his

enemies would have sworn they were in fact steel, so piercing could his stare be. He wore loose

fitting trousers for extra mobility and a skintight shirt made from very giving, stretchy material.

His clothing was dark charcoal at the moment, with a matching full-length trench coat which

resembled expensive, supple, black leather. For all intents and purposes, he was virtually

invisible in the damp, starless night.

       It was very cold out along that stretch of road, with a gusty breeze unusually frigid for the

given time of year. The wind blew strongly from the north, pushing with it the ever-present

layer of humidity common to the region, in the form of a dense fog.

       The front of the man’s coat was intentionally open to the weather, the chilly air not

bothering him in the slightest…even welcoming to him with the cooling effects of the moisture



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added. His physical makeup was one of nearly perfect symmetry and proportion to maximize the

abilities of a humanoid man…and on this world with a gravity-quotient much lighter than normal

for him, he was all but superhuman.

         The weight of the pack on his shoulder was a nonfactor as well, even though it was

substantial by Earth’s standards, being about double the heft of a large grown man. One other

consideration was that he’d already been walking for several hours…but such exertion was

another aspect which was no trouble. Where he currently hailed from, travel on foot was the

norm, no matter the distance. His stride was fluid…long and quick…as if he were in a hurry.

         The hiking fellow heard the sound of an engine and the whine of rubber on blacktop for

nearly a full minute before his eyes could pinpoint the car making those noises. He stared due

north then, and watched the glow of a pair of headlights get larger and larger, encompassing the

road fifty yards on either side in a sweeping flood of harsh luminescence. Normally the glare

would have caused him to squint, but now it too was no bother. The world around his figure

turned brightly white until they whipped past, heading south and leaving him alone in the dark

again.

         The moon was totally obscured by the fog, so the world that enveloped the hiker was

very gloomy indeed. Such circumstances normally would have filled his mind with

foreboding…at least when he was his original self…but he no longer worried over such

nonsense. He could tell the cries of every frog, bird, bug, and alligator, as well as their locations.

There was no danger. These marshes were inhabited by no beast of sufficient size or ferocity to

give him pause. Even the powerful gators were no longer a threat.

         Fifteen minutes later the area around the man got brighter again…this time from

behind…and he stepped off the edge of the asphalt carefully. He was apprehensive about the




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possibility that his weight might cause him to either sink in the soft shoulder material, or break it

away and plunge him into the canal paralleling the road. Water on this planet would be very

dangerous…a clear hazard he kept well in mind. He couldn’t even hope to swim in it, his body

being far too dense…having a consistency close to solid rubber.

        The approaching vehicle was a large, diesel powered, flatbed lumber hauler, and the

walking man’s hopes leaped as he heard the driver let off the gas and slow down…it was still

over twenty miles to his destination!

        “Hey, mister!” called the driver, out the passenger door.

        The traveler held back for a moment, thinking about how strange it was to hear English

spoken again…the last time being over two years ago. He regarded the open window of the

truck, barely able to see the silhouette of the driver until the light inside the cab switched on.

The man behind the wheel was a large, burly fellow with a short beard and a “John Deere”

baseball cap, wearing a heavy denim jacket.

        “Need a lift?”

        “Yeah!” the hiker replied in a deep, baritone voice, “as a matter of fact, I do! Where you

headed?”

        “Iowa…the city, not the state,” he clarified with a broad smile. “I got held up a while at

a…uh…friend’s house!”

        The trekker smiled back, fully understanding what had captured the fellow’s

attention…and time. He made for the door of the cab, but then remembered…his total weight,

with the pack and all, would easily crest fifteen hundred pounds.

        “You mind if I stretch out in the back?” he asked the lumber deliveryman. “I could use a

nap.”




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       “Suit yourself!” the driver called back with an expression of deep wonder. “You know

it’s only thirty four degrees out here?”

       “That’s okay. This coat’s very warm!”

       The walker crawled up into the long flatbed via the heavy iron steps welded onto the rear,

and moved forward to the cab’s aft wall. As soon as he sat down, the driver put the truck into

motion again, and they left the coast further behind.

       The hiker felt hardly tired at all, even with the long march he’d already made, but in the

thin atmosphere and oxygen-spreading fog, he was a little short of breath nonetheless. After a

couple deep gulps of air though, he leaned back and just enjoyed the speed of the truck.

       The night air quickly swirled and gusted across his body, and he allowed a few minutes

of reflection to ramble in his mind. He recalled vividly, riding in the back of his father’s pickup,

how the sounds and smells of the outdoors always made him feel exhilarated, and he got a strong

sense of that nostalgia now.

       It wasn’t long before the lack of physical exertion quickly impressed upon him the fact

that his body heat was dropping, so he huddled down a bit and wrapped his long coat securely

around himself. The sensors inside that garment felt the decline in his temperature and switched

a heating element on automatically to stabilize him. After that, he calmly enjoyed the clammy

air and smells of the marshes of his youth.

       The miles fell rapidly away and carried him along roads he knew well…past farms run by

families whose daughters he’d dated and gone to school with. Car lots, restaurants, junkyards,

and even the new mall fell behind as the truck trundled northward, speeding him toward his

journey’s end…if things worked out.




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         Shortly afterward, upon negotiating a few turns in the route, the truck slowed down for

the final one onto the interstate. The destination lay east for the driver, but the stranger was

headed west.

         The backpacker dropped down from the steel bed of the lumber carrier and found himself

startled some by the echo of his impact with the concrete apron of the road. He’d landed nimbly,

but it sounded like an engine block falling off the flatbed.

         “Thanks a lot!” The dark stranger called out before they waved to each other, and off

they went.

         “Good luck to you!” The driver yelled back as he shifted to a higher gear and vanished

into the heavy mist.

         The hiker took up his trek again, across the long overpass of the freeway and then

westward to the next road which would take him north, always staying on the firm footing of the

car paths. His unique limitations kept him hesitant to wander off those surfaces for fear of the

soft ground not being able to support him, and not wanting to get mired down in some muddy

patch.

         Less than a mile ahead, he found his new avenue…the rail line that cut straight through

the northern portion of the city of Lake Charles. He knew it would eventually cross the

Calcasieu River and deposit him right where he wanted to be. It was also a course that should

keep him out of sight, and since he would rather refrain from as much contact with the locals as

he could, it suited him just fine.

         The railroad easement was bordered on either side by a wide variety of homes, industrial

buildings, empty lots, and even sporadically dotted with wooded land not yet developed.

Besides that, the train corridor overflowed with an even thicker rolling fog, artificially created by




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the warmth of a cooling pond used by one of the industrial plants nearby. That translucent cloud

of moisture made for a very eerie scene…dark and gloomy…with sparse light from the few still

working light poles.

        As his steady gait resounded markedly against the crossties, the drifter listened to the

night sounds all around. There were dogs barking, cats fighting, frogs, crickets, owls…the usual

nighttime noises, but there were also those made by the most dangerous animal…the only

indigenous creature he really had to worry with…man.

        Shouting carried across the distance plainly, bearing with it laugher and playful

screams…as well as some not so playful. Just up ahead he heard pleas of terror from a trembling

male voice…calling for mercy and leniency…and then the return dialogue of those who did not

wish to comply.

        “If we let you go,” the angry voice was saying, “Your boys’ll think we’re open turf!”

        “Please…no more,” groveled the victim, obviously in pain and speaking through ruined

lips.

        “Tie him to the tracks!” other voices said before nervous giggling erupted from a dozen

or so individuals, both male and female. “Let’s see what the train’ll do to him!”

        “No…no!

        Next came the sounds of fists on flesh, and scuffling.

        The hiker planned to avoid contact with everyone he possibly could, but timing and his

sense of justice had other ideas, so he kept on walking, straight for those voices. Whatever was

occurring was taking place either on, or next to the rail line, so deviation from his path wasn’t

necessary.




                                                                                                    7
       As the distance between him and the arguing group shrank, his heart rate began to rise at

the thought of what might come next.

       “Hey…what’s that?” the mean voice asked suddenly, drawing an end to the fighting.

“Someone’s coming!”

       That announcement was followed by a scattering of the group, with six of them staying

where they were or fanning out in a tight semicircle, while the rest drifted into the shadows. The

dark figure kept approaching.

       “Hey, you! Hold up!”

       He kept coming.

       Two of the group pulled guns from their jackets and held them up, leveled at the traveler.

       “I said…hold up…bitch!” ordered one of them.

       The stranger stopped a few steps from the band of thugs and surveyed the area instantly.

The victim lay bound and lashed across the railroad tracks with a gag in his mouth, like a scene

from an old movie. He’d been badly beaten and needed medical attention.

       “Good morning,” the stranger said lightly, as his gaze returned to the man in front.

       “Man…what you doing out here?”

       “Walking,” he replied easily and pointed, “that way. What about you fellas? Doing a

little snipe hunting?”

       The leader looked to his men and then back to the interloper.

       “This is our turf, mother-f----r! This piss-ant here’s gonna pay for his lack’a

judgment…just like you!”

       “Now boys…let’s not get excited! I’m sure we can work something out…without

violence!”




                                                                                                   8
          The hoodlums laughed again…a confident, light laugh filled with superiority.

          “Yeah…sure! I tell you what. You gimme your wallet and that coat…and we’ll let you

slide!”

          “Oh, I see. You wish payment to pass through your ‘turf’.

          “That’s right, mother-f----r! Now let’s see it!”

          Well, I don’t carry a wallet, and I don’t have any money…but the coat is yours if you

want it. However, I don’t think it’ll fit you.”

          The leader of the thugs was as tall as the stranger but much thicker of build, being well

muscled, with huge arms and an impressive, wide chest. The other members of his immediate

group were also large men, but not as massive as he, and in the diffused light of three nearby

light poles, they made an impressive display of maliciousness.

          The walker showed no outward signs of concern as he removed his backpack, slipped the

long coat off his person, and then held it out with one hand. His hat shrouded his face in shadow

and hid a wily, thin smile, or rather a smirk of anticipation.

          “Careful now…it’s heavy.”

          The leader stepped up to him and grabbed the leathery trench coat firmly before

snatching it from his grip.

          “Shit!” the man grunted as he went to his knees, falling back when his hold yanked him

to the ground.

          “What’s wrong, T?” one of the gun-toting supporters asked.

          The stranger smiled. “I told you.”

          The big man, T, tried again to haul the coat up, and got it halfway, but could lift it no

further…the limpness of it exacerbating its considerable weight.




                                                                                                      9
         “What the f---k?” T said, amazed, frustrated, and angry, all at the same time.

         “Here, let me help you,” the stranger told him.

         T backed up a step, his eyes wide as the hat-wearing stranger leaned over and hooked the

collar, scooping it up once more and holding it out…one handed.

         “Try again?”

         T backed up to stand just in front of his supporters before his courage was sufficiently

bolstered to restore his pompous attitude.

         “F---k the coat, man! Just give me your money!”

         “But I told you, I…”

         “He has something across his back!” called a man from the darkness behind the

interloping trekker.

         “Turn around!” T ordered harshly…guns held high at the outsider.

         The stranger did as he was ordered…apparently ignorant of the “danger” he appeared to

be in.

         “What’s that? Is that a sword? Hey, Sean…check that out! That looks like a samurai!”

         “You wouldn’t be interested in that!” the stranger told them in an especially stern tone,

staring right at T…and for just a moment, the bully hesitated…a hint of truth in the stranger’s

words warning him off…but only a moment.

         “Hand it over!”

         “No! That, I cannot do.”

         “Let’s kill the son of a bitch!” urged one of T’s men. “It’s probably worth a fortune!”

         Three men moved in from the shadows, each wielding a long knife, and closed on the

man. The stranger just stood there, still as stone…waiting.




                                                                                                     10
       “Do not attack me!” he warned them.

       The three thugs lunged in together, assuming they would easily overpower the tall man

and take what they wanted afterward.

       The stranger was already feeling the effects of his increased heart rate as the thin

atmosphere began to make its presence known, so he determined to limit his movements and not

exert himself unduly.

       As the trio surged in, the trench coat fell once more to the gravel when the dark visitor

dropped to one knee, grabbed the closest man’s blade holding wrist, and yanked hard. That

move dislocated the fellow’s shoulder and hurled him into the path of his ally to the

right…straight at the guy’s exposed knife, sinking it deeply into his side. At the same split

second, the hat-wearing hiker checked the approach of the third man by clamping onto his

outstretched forearm as if he were an impudent child. The newcomer hauled him in close…close

enough to pierce his startled gaze with a stare that turned his blood to ice.

       The next instant, the attacker felt the man’s grip increasing so fast, he barely had time to

scream before the crowd of his gang members heard a resounding snap, as his radius and ulna

imploded.

       The dagger fell to wooden crosstie and imbedded itself there with a “thunk”, and the

man’s knees buckled as he swooned, still screaming. The stranger released him and he fell

away, rolling down to the base of the small mound of gravel that supported the tracks, where he

immediately puked. His arm dangled at a ninety degree angle between his wrist and elbow.

       The last of the attackers (he who’d stabbed his buddy) remained uninjured, opting to stay

back and tend to his wounded friend. He watched the foreigner closely…with no inclination to

fight anymore.




                                                                                                   11
        The stranger then faced T again, his demeanor no longer meek and abiding. He casually

shifted his feet to the side, until he could feel the edge of the heavy steel rail. He would need

something sturdy to support him if he was forced to continue this little skirmish.

        “Sooner or later, everyone runs into someone they should not threaten!” the backpacker

said.

        If T would have been a real leader…someone who cared about the lives of his men, he

would have withdrawn and spared them, but he was just a bully…a very well established bully,

but still…merely a hooligan.

        “Kill the bastard!” he ordered…and the guns fired.

        The stranger moved so fast that they hit nothing but the trees thirty yards behind him. He

lunged hard to the left, a literal blur in the shadowy light, and his hands were even faster as two

blades of blue flashed out from him as if having burst from his fingertips…and his accuracy was

amazing!

        The intruder knew better than to start indiscriminately killing people here…this was not

Caron…so one man felt the blade slam into his shoulder, piercing that joint through tendon,

cartilage and bone. The other caught the dagger in the upper chest, snapping two ribs and

skewering his shoulder blade. Both dropped their weapons instantly before falling to their knees

with new cries of surprise and pain.

        T’s head snapped one way, then the other as his allies fell; his own thoughts now filled

with a sensation he hadn’t felt since his younger years when his father would drink…fear!

        The stranger swept the area swiftly to determine if any others might draw guns on him,

but either none had them, or they were afraid to make use of them against this unconquerable

demon from the night.




                                                                                                    12
       The foreigner bent down and cut the gang’s torture victim free from the tracks with yet

another knife, his eyes constantly scanning the surrounding vicinity, and then he pulled the

young man to a sitting position.

       “Can you walk?” he asked plainly, disregarding the nearby ruffians.

       The man nodded weakly and got to his feet.

       “Why have they done this to you?”

       “He raped my sister,” the young fellow said, pointing at T, “so I tried to extract revenge

by testifying against them. I was unsuccessful.”

       The mysterious outsider bristled visibly. He hated such acts against women with a deep-

seeded vane even he didn’t understand…one that struck a powerful cord in him and stoked his

inner furnace of anger.

       “Is this true?” he asked of T.

       “F---k you, man!” the leader said, bristling too, and pulling out a semi-automatic pistol.

“I run this town! I do what I want…and I f---k who I want! You got me?”

       “How old is she?” the stranger asked.

       “Fourteen,” the beaten youth replied with tears draining down his cheeks.

       “And she was one sweet piece, too!” T bragged, feeling his courage building as he

boasted of his conquest. “This is her, right here.” he added, indicating his belt, where a fresh

imprint of woman’s figure had been branded…alongside more than thirty others.

       He made the mistake of pointing with the barrel of his weapon…not even considering he

may be in danger since the interloper was more than thirty feet away. A flick from the wrist of

that fellow changed his mind though, as a four-inch long sliver of metal pinned T’s hand to his




                                                                                                    13
belt and erased his grip on the deadly weapon. The pistol went bouncing down the small, rocky

mound and into the thick, thorny vegetation.

         T screamed through gritted teeth as he pulled the blade free and dropped it, holding his

pierced hand with the now trembling other one, while blood poured freely from the wound. He

quickly tore the bandanna from his head and wrapped the damaged limb to stop the loss of blood,

his anger rising further.

         The stranger strode right at him then, his patience now gone and his need for battle

making itself known. There was no more humor in him…no more concern to stay hidden…and

no more tact.

         T was no stranger to a brawl, experiencing more than his share of brutality imposed upon

him throughout his life. He’d taken part in a great deal of action in the manner of this one-on-

one, hand-to-hand fighting scenario, so he dropped into a boxer’s stance straight away, bouncing

on the balls of his feet lightly.

         The trespasser didn’t deviate from his attack, and when T threw the first punch, a straight

jab to the jaw that would have dropped most any man, he received a new surprise. This

newcomer countered with his own hand, open, and slapped that hurtling fist hard, ten inches

short of its goal. There was a loud “smack-crack” sound as his knuckles, as well as his wrist,

shattered against the open palm of his opponent, sending a searing bolt of pain tearing up his arm

and slamming into his brain.

         T screamed and fell again, this time to his back, where he rolled on the ground in utter

agony.




                                                                                                    14
         “Kick his ass!” he ordered from his whimpering position, hoping his followers would

avenge him. But there was no more fight in his posse, and they all quickly drifted back, until the

darkness enveloped them…and then they ran.

         The stranger pursued T to where he eventually scrambled to his knees.

         “You are a pathetic, disgusting animal!” the mystery man told him in a hissing, seething

tone. “If we were on my world, I would simply kill you…but here, I cannot. However, let this

be a reminder of me.”

         With his open hand, he hit T in the chest hard enough to send him flying twenty feet,

where he fell between the steel rails, unconscious. Several of T’s ribs were broken and the

imprint of a large hand would remain there for two months. The stranger then turned to the

former prisoner.

         “I’m leaving. Will you be all right?”

         “Yeah. I think so. Thank you. Thank you for saving my life!”

         The unknown fellow waved him off as he stooped to retrieve his throwing blades from

the wounded men who still lay crying and whimpering on the ground.

         “This will hurt,” he told them each before extracting his personal arsenal with no regard

for their discomfort whatsoever…after all; hadn’t they just tried to shoot him?

         Once that was done, he returned to the tracks where he donned his coat and backpack

again.

         “Take that knife for protection,” he told the revitalized young man, pointing to the dagger

still imbedded in the crosstie. “And I wouldn’t blame you if you decided to remove his

opportunity to ever rape again,” he added with a sly smirk, before he strode away.

         “Wait!” called the young man. “What’s your name?”




                                                                                                  15
       Without breaking stride, the dark, mysterious, avenging angel from the night cocked his

head to the side and said, “Ronin!”

       Less than thirty seconds later, Ronin heard a high, distinct wail coming from the direction

of the scuffle…and he smiled.




                                                                                                16
                                        Chapter Two

                                         Reality Check



        Ron Allison had more than five miles to walk before passing completely through the

confines of the city proper. After that, it was another mile and a half over the softened, muddy

flood zone of the Calcasieu River’s banks and across to the other side of that waterway.

        The way turned peaceful after the tiff with T and his boys, so his mind drifted with the

changes in terrain and locale, finally settling on his reason for being here, and more precisely, the

events leading up to the beginning of this expedition. He allowed his thoughts to drift back to

the day he first found out about the false depiction of Earth’s demise, and he began reliving that

time.



        Ron was sitting in his usual seat in the cockpit of the Raulden warship, the Darlile,

watching the replay of a recorded event. It was the visit to Earth he and Cache had previously

made together, after his first encounter, subsequent trials, and eventual victory against the

Kreete. Cache Kuar was standing just beyond the doorway while she troubleshot the individual

systems of the craft, looking for faults or damage from the battle they’d recently fought.


                                                                                                   17
         When Ron saw his wife exit their home and fall back at the sight of the black spaceship

hovering above her, his mind went numb, his body utterly immobile.

         “She’s alive?” he thought when his transfixed glare was broken by the ship flying away.

“How can that be? I was there! I saw the destruction, the devastation…no…wait…the ship has

no windows! I saw only what it showed me!”

         It was like a movie with an alternate ending…except this was not a production…this was

his life!

         “How the hell?” he uttered as his brain reengaged and began trying to interpret the

information.

         “Ron…I…”

         He turned to look at the beautiful, petite, blonde Raulden woman he’d learned to trust and

respect…and eventually love. Was it possible she’d betrayed him…again? Had this entire

scenario of a destroyed homeworld been just some ruse? Why? Was there some hidden agenda

that…?

         “No! No!” his willpower shouted back at him in his mind. “The last time you

misinterpreted her actions cost you more than you ever thought possible! You lost ‘her’ to

another…remember?”

         His stern expression softened to one of patience instead.

         “I do not understand!” Cache was saying, clearly shaken…even frightened.

“Please…please...I did not try to fool you! This is not my doing! You have to believe me!”

         Ron saw her sparkling violet eyes burst into tears and her hands begin shaking, so he

slipped out of his seat quickly to go to her. She took half a step back, recoiling from him with a




                                                                                                   18
flashing memory of the last time his anger was directed at her. He immediately halted his

approach, pulling up with his hands open and to the sides.

       “Cache,” he said softly, reigning in his urge to be livid about the revelation. “Don’t be

afraid of me…I beg you! I am not that man anymore. I would never touch you in that way

again! I give you my word!”

       She then changed her own expression…from fear to confusion.

       “It cannot be! I do not know how…”

       Ron held open his arms to the pregnant little woman and she rushed to him, burying her

wet face in his broad chest.

       “Forgive me! Please, forgive me!” she blubbered almost incoherently.

       Ron’s need for answers was high, but he knew she could offer none in her condition so he

held her tightly, trying to sooth her anxiety, until her sobbing passed. He knew from experience

that women often get emotional when pregnant, and since this was almost exactly opposite of her

normally fiery nature, he assumed that was the reason, so he shushed her crying gently.

       Eventually her arms moved from his chest to wrap around him as far as she could, and

they squeezed him in a loving hug. After another few borts, she slipped free of his embrace and

looked up at the man who encompassed her heart so completely she couldn’t imagine being apart

from him.

       A few moments later she wiped the tears away and managed a cautious smile.

       With remarkable gentleness from the hands that could wage bloody war for days on end,

she felt him brush the streaks from her fuzzy cheeks, and she flushed under his touch.




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        She had, only moments before the video initiated, been trying to inform him of the true

heritage of the child which grew inside her and filled her with love and pride. But now it would

have to wait a little longer. They must first investigate this bizarre wrinkle.

        “I am sorry for that outburst,” she began, but Ron cut her off.

        He stroked her lovely chin so lightly that it tickled. “Don’t you worry about that. Come

on now…let’s figure out what’s going on here.”

        He turned and slid back into his seat and she to hers, which took a little time and effort

due to her added girth. Once settled, she began her new task.

        “Cache, I saw my wife…as clearly as I see you!” Ron told her when she was in place. “I

don’t get it. That’s not what we saw when we were there, and since I’m the only one who knows

what it really looks like, it couldn’t be faked, so how’s it possible?”

        “One has to be real,” she stated bluntly, “and the other an alternate depiction…there

cannot be duel realities.”

        “I get that, but why are there two recordings of this single event?”

        “I have no idea. I never knew the ship could do that. I certainly did not program such a

function into it.”

        “Well, a mode like that would come in handy if we needed to provide some false

information one day,” Ron mused, always open to new angles that might benefit him in the

future, “but if you didn’t design the feature, who could have?”

        “Almost anyone with access to the ship’s computer, I suppose. It would not be difficult

for a Raulden. Let me check the records of workers’ access.”

        Cache’s fingers danced across the console in a blur, calling up the desired data in a few

short litas. When she was finished checking it for the third time, she began to tremble again.




                                                                                                     20
         “The log shows no access granted other than mine…but Ron…you must believe me…I

did not do this! I know it might look that way, especially after having been so upset at your wish

to go home, but I swear to the Guardian that I did not!”

         Ron reached over and placed his large hand on her small one as a show of comfort and

trust.

         “I do believe you, Cache…but there must be another way. If you’re the only person to

access it…and you didn’t program the function…then there’s some other explanation! The ship

didn’t just do it on its own!”

         Cache’s head snapped around to stare at Ron intently, her eyes full of energy.

         “Or could it?” she added. “The Darlile is a highly advanced ship with a very intelligent

computer core. It can anticipate needs, deduce complex problems, or if necessary…should the

pilot become incapacitated…think on its own to get the ship and its crew to safety. It even has a

personality.”

         “It’s artificial intelligence?”

         “Oh, yes, of course. Darlile?”

         “Yes,” sounded a calm, sweet, feminine voice from nowhere at all.

         Ron’s eyes grew very wide at that. Even though he’d spent more than an entire santari

living aboard the ship during his last couple of cycles, he never heard the craft reply verbally,

and now it was quite disconcerting. He easily recalled several movies he’d seen on Earth about

such matters, and they always portrayed the A.I.s going nuts and killing their inventors or

operators.

         “There are two recordings of the world called Earth,” Cache said.

         “Yes.”




                                                                                                    21
       “Why?”

       “It was deemed necessary.”

       “Necessary? Necessary to whom?”

       “To Rauld…to you…to Ronald Allison.”

       “What do you mean?”

       “My primary directive is to protect Cache Kuar and Ronald Allison…the two individuals

with clearance to operate this vessel…the only two instilled in my core memory. You did not

wish for Ronald Allison to leave you, and were in physical and emotional pain at the prospect of

that occurrence. He did not wish to leave you either, with similar symptoms and discontent.”

        “How did you reach such a conclusion?” Ron jumped in, a bit irked.

       At that request, the central portion of the view screen instantly changed to show the

interior of Cache’s small personal cabin aboard the ship. She was getting ready for bed and

talking to herself. Ron saw the sheer, clingy nightwear she slept in and his internal temperature

began to climb. She was so beautiful, and her figure was absolutely breathtaking…so firm,

feminine, and sensuous.

       “What will I do if he leaves?” she asked the empty room, leaning against the wall next to

the door. “How can I continue? I can barely breathe, just thinking of saying goodbye.”

       The video image of Cache moved over and sat for a while on the edge of the bed, just

staring…then the screen changed to another. She was alone in the cockpit.

       “How can I tell you how much you mean to me? How much I care for you. Please,

Guardian…Creator of the Heavenly Realm…find a way to keep us together.”




                                                                                                22
        Cache flushed crimson red, recalling those moments vividly. She felt so lost in those

days, thinking of losing that fantastic man. Next, the view changed again, but it was Ron this

time.

        “Oh, Cache. If I were not already pledged to another…if there were any way…aw,

what’s the use of making idiotic wishes? What’s wrong with me? I must go! I have a duty! I

love my wife! It’ll be all right when we’re together again…but what about the hundreds of

worlds that need our help? How can I just walk away and leave her alone in her valiant quest?

        “God above me…if there were some way to keep from hurting these women, I surely

could use your help.”

        Cache glanced at the lower edge of the screen. It showed three of nineteen.

        “Stop!” she ordered the ship, looking over at Ron. “Darlile, are you saying ‘you’ created

the false perception of Earth…that you did this by your own volition?”

        “Yes. Ronald Allison would not leave you if he had nowhere to go. He would not have

to face his mate on Earth, who had already grieved his death. And he wouldn’t be forced to

harm her by choosing to do what he was created to do…what he was destined to do…to stay

with you and help the other worlds.

        “My secondary directive is to provide support to the mission parameters. On the matter

concerning the Kreete, the principal objectives put forth to and accepted by the Raulden Council

would have suffered a tremendous amount as well…probably failed without the two of you.

Ronald Allison was invaluable to that decision, and thus, must remain with Rauld. Problem

solved.”

        Ron and Cache both sat stunned. That was the second time the futuristic technology of

the Rauldens had drastically altered Ron’s life without his consent. His inner furnace tried to




                                                                                                  23
stoke the fire of his anger, but he quickly overruled it. He remembered that moment in the ship,

when he was so conflicted as to what he wanted…and he knew there were other instances as

well. He recalled being drawn to Cache with a nearly overwhelming attraction, only able to stay

his lust for her by the slimmest of margins. He’d consciously blamed those inappropriate urges

on his transformation…that ordeal having a powerful influence on his emotions no doubt…but

he still wondered about that. Now he was compelled to relive that period of inner turmoil, and

felt waves of guilt rising within him, crushing away his anger effortlessly.

       For a long while after the return to Rauld, Ron blamed himself for wishing for the very

outcome he’d witnessed…not the nuclear devastation, but the removal of any ties to an Earth he

could no longer call home. That shame and remorse went a long way toward his drastic mood

swings in those days, and his need for solitude. As he recollected those feelings, a revelation

struck his beleaguered mind, and a new wave of shame and self-loathing arose…he was an

adulterer!

       He sat there in a solemn, sulking daze for several minutes while Cache ran through a few

more checks. Then he sat bolt upright suddenly, as a flash of his dream in the cemetery sprang

to the front of his mind.

       “Darlile! Did you scan the people on the ground on Earth?”

       “Of course. Each moment of our time on that planet was recorded with a full spectrum

evaluation.”

       “Replay the last stop…the woman on the ground!”

       The screen returned to Earth instantly, with his wife sprawled on the green grass in front

of their home.

       “Show me your scans of her…internally.”




                                                                                                  24
       The viewer shifted to black and white, which presented the greatest contrast, and Ron

stared at it hard, zooming in very closely. He could see nothing, but what he was searching for

would have been too small to visualize at that time anyway.

       “Can you detect two heartbeats?” he queried, drawing a surprised glance from Cache.

       “Yes, the woman displayed is pregnant.”

       Now Ron’s head really began to spin, and Cache’s as well. How could she tell him about

her incredible news now that he was faced with this?”

       “Ron,” she asked in a voice barely above a whisper, “how did you know?”

       It took a few litas for him to turn to her, but when he did…

       “I saw her in a dream…before I came to, back in that crashed shuttle, on Caron. She was

with my son, visiting my grave. She warned me about an ambush…although I didn’t realize it at

first. I thought I was hallucinating.”

       Once more, Cache’s world seemed to close in on her. She saw Ron leaving and never

returning, and her stomach churned…her heart felt as heavy as a solid block of vacandin, but she

could do nothing. Her desire to share her life with this man would have to wait. She knew

instantly that he would have to work through this new, overriding development…if he

could…before she could hope to try to win him again.

       “Cache,” he began then, “I have to return to Earth. I have to find my wife and explain all

that’s happened to me.”

       She nodded slowly, her mind racing.

       “How long will it take to get the ship readied for a long trip like that?” Ron asked.

       “Here? A week…maybe a little more. If we were on Rauld, it could be done in two

dactrais.”




                                                                                                  25
         Ron mentally calculated the trip back to Rauld would be at least two weeks

long…probably more with the Darlile in such disrepair…plus the refurbishment time once it got

there.

         “Are we closer to Earth from here, or from Rauld?”

         “Here,” she replied automatically, producing the interstellar star charts to show it. “A

dactrai or two only though.”

         Ron was already estimating his arrival date when she sheepishly asked, “Ron, could

you…would you delay your trip until I have the baby?”

         He really felt despicable then…shallow and callus. She was all alone here, now that

Jorin was gone, and he hadn’t even considered her situation. His eyes softened to restore his old

self, the way he was when he guarded her, coddled her, and eventually nursed her back to health

so compassionately back at the waterfall cove.

         “Of course, Cache. I wouldn’t think to leave you to face this alone. It would be my

honor to be with you at your baby’s birthing.”

         She smiled again, greatly relieved, and terribly in love.

         “You will return to Rauld?” he inquired.

         “Yes. I cannot risk anything going wrong. It is an interspecies mix after all, and I do not

know exactly how that will work out.”

         “I understand. That’s only prudent planning. You have a Portal Probe ready nearby?”

         “The ship has one built in.”

         “Excellent! Now, it’s very late, so let’s get you two to bed. You shouldn’t neglect your

rest, you know. We’ll start again in the morning.”




                                                                                                    26
       When Cache was safely tucked away in her room, Ron spent the next billot

contemplating another decision he would have to make…Josy. He paced the cabin of the ship a

hundred times before deciding he simply couldn’t face her that night.

       He didn’t know what to think about it all, much less what to tell her, so he went to his

own room and stayed aboard the Darlile that night. He was half afraid of having to reject and

hurt her, and half afraid of his attraction for that gorgeous lady. He feared he couldn’t deny her

attentions and would end up deeper in despair at having those feelings. It was bad enough in his

mind that he’d committed adulterous acts without knowing, but now, he surely couldn’t

continue.

       The next morning, Ron awoke to a chiming warning.

       “A visitor is at the entry portal,” sounded the announcement from the ship’s computer.

       Ron at least had the forethought to instruct the Darlile that Cache was not to be

disturbed…and was thankful now.

       “Show me,” he instructed.

       The door of his room alighted with a view of the early morning daybreak back-dropping

a very worried looking brunette goddess. He threw on some clothes and rushed to the door.

       “Are you alright, Baushe?”

       “Yeah…I’m sorry, Josy. We were up very late, so I just slept here.”

       Josy’s eyes darted about the cabin quickly.

       “Where’s Cache?”

       “Still sleeping. She was really exhausted when we finished.”

       Josy’s eyebrows shot up abruptly and her eyes flared! Ron caught the change

immediately, luckily for him.




                                                                                                  27
         “Finished working on the ship’s repairs!” he clarified.

         Her expression returned to its normal, passive, exquisite state, and she smiled her

tantalizing, brilliant smile that Ron found entirely captivating.

         “I do need to speak with you though…about a change in my plans for the future.”

         Josy tensed noticeably…her pulse leaping to an uneasy beat while a quick wave of dread

swept through her like an icy chill.

         “He is going back to her…to Cache!” she instantly concluded, her rationality completely

skewed by a night of anxiousness. “She finally told him about his child and he has chosen her!”

         She thought she was prepared for that…for the moment he would turn from her and never

come back…but now she realized how wrong she was.

         “Come on,” he said, “let’s get some breakfast.”

         Josy felt nauseous and weak, food being the last thing on her mind, but she went with

him anyway, both of her arms encircling one of his, and her head leaning there as well. She

wanted to maintain her closeness to him for as long as possible…even if it were her last. They

stayed in the Darlile and utilized the food dispenser unit…Ron not being in the mood to leave

the ship just yet…even though he was due at the construction site shortly.

         When they were seated in the Darlile’s tiny little, fold-out dinette area, Ron started

shoveling his meal down his apparently bottomless pit and began to explain what had transpired

on the previous night. Josy picked at her own plate sparingly as she listened, and over the next

few borts she began to understand that Cache was not part of the equation. Someone much more

dangerous was. And when he got to the part about the pregnancy and the dream, she felt sick

again.

         “Now he has two families?” she agonized. “Where does that leave me?”




                                                                                                   28
       Ron saw the concern in Josy’s eyes, so he escorted her to the cockpit and played the

recording of Earth again. Even as she watched the replay, she could feel in him the tremendous

struggle he was going through, and for some odd reason, that allowed her to empathize more

with his dilemma. Therefore, after his story was completed, she was actually much better. He

clearly didn’t wish to hurt her…she could tell that quite easily. She also knew his love for her

was very strong, but so too were his feelings of responsibility and honor.

       “I have to go to her, Josy. I have to set things right. She’s living a lie as long as I let her

think I’m dead.”

       Josylinia let a long pause settle before speaking.

       “Have you thought to consider another view?” she began cautiously. “She has already

gone through the agony of your death, and has managed it. Would you put her through it

again…only worse? She would be aware that you were alive…and would be overjoyed to say

the least…but then she’d be forced to live without you just the same. You realize you could

never live there, do you not? You could survive, of course, but you would never fit in

again…and you would be a danger to her and the child.”

       Ron’s expression grew strained, and his brow furrowed deeply.

       “A simple squeeze of excitement…or ecstasy…could be very harmful…possibly fatal.

And if you could still procreate with her, the union of your heavy worlder genes with hers would

most likely produce a very dense, strong child that she most likely could not carry full term.

Such a pregnancy could possibly even end her life.”

       Josy’s eyes were glistening brightly with trepidation. He could tell it pained her greatly

to lay out such a pessimistic view of his predicament, but he also knew she didn’t state it out of




                                                                                                     29
spite like most other women may have been inclined to do. She wasn’t petty in that way.

Furthermore, he hadn’t thought of that aspect at all, and needed to hear it.

         “I am sorry, Baushe. I don’t mean to compound your problems, or add to your sorrow.”

         “No…no, it’s all right,” he said softly, only half listening now. “I do need to be prepared

for every contingency. In fact, it’s been several years now, since that fateful night on the rig.

For all I know, she’s found another love…as I have.”

         Josy would have given all she owned to know exactly who he was thinking of when he

said that, but she remained silent. They sat a while longer, until a sound from behind brought

them both out of their trances.

         “So there you are!” Cache said as cheerily as she could, seeing that raven-haired

bombshell in her seat. “Good morning, Josy…Ron.”

         “Good morning,” they both responded in unison.

         “Were you able to get some rest?” Ron inquired as he climbed out of his seat.

         “Oh, yes…maybe too much.”

         They all walked toward the rear, exchanging the usual pleasantries before Ron excused

himself and went to join in on the reconstruction of the Gitove home. Josy followed him out of

the ship, over to the project, and then went immediately to find her mother…needing advice

badly.

         Cache was left behind to have her morning meal alone. Then she got back to work once

more, expediting her repairs to the Darlile as much as she could. She desperately hoped to finish

as quickly as possible so she might have a few uninterrupted weeks with Ron before the delivery.

Time was no longer on her side.




                                                                                                    30
       After the end of the war with the Kreete, he and Cache…along with Karne and his Kreete

dissenter partners…completed some extremely necessary cleanup duties with the Darlile. It took

the group quite a while to remove all traces of the Kreete’s advanced technology from the

Caronian landscape, in order to allow the natives to return to their state of existence before the

harbingers of superiority had arrived. So by the time those chores were accomplished, and the

Darlile landed on the Gitove estate, the workers were already well into the third story of the

grand home.

       From then on, Ron spent his days toiling on the expansive mansion. It was good manual

labor that allowed many of the area’s townsfolk to meet him, which attracted a large number

toward the overall task. It also gave him something physically demanding to expend his

overanxious energy on, making it easier to sleep, as well as keeping him from dwelling on his

problems too much.

       His evenings were given to Cache and the Darlile…back doing what he’d been trained to

do on Earth before his chance encounter with the Rauldens…troubleshooting and repairing a

ship. It was soothing work at both venues and the lack of constant peril and bloodshed helped

return him to a more civil and restrained man.

       During this period, he distanced himself more and more from Josy, too worried that he

couldn’t resist her charms, and spent many nights in the ship. It was heart-wrenching for her to

watch him slipping away, but she didn’t fight him. Any amount of coercion could easily

backfire on her and drive him away for good. She had to show patience…that was her mother’s

advice…but such a task grew more difficult by the billot.

       While Ron and Josy cooled their relationship, he and Cache drew close again, falling

back on the commonalities of their respective traits. They laughed insanely at some of the




                                                                                                     31
ridiculous “everyday” type happenings they fell into…like the time Cache squirmed her way into

a tight space in the Darlile to get at a fused power relay, and ended up stuck. She had always

slipped in and out of there easily, but this time found herself wedged in securely…her precious

cargo unwilling to yield its space to get her back out. Ron chortled for half an hour while he

disassembled an entire panel to free her, with her red-faced and not in the mood for his ridicule.

But when she burst out of her cramp prison and he caught her off balanced little body, they both

tumbled to the floor in a heap. He couldn’t restrain himself anymore and exploded with laughter

when her rounded figure bounced off him like a beach ball and she rolled to the deck. That drew

Cache into the fun with a startled huff, and then she join him as tears poured out and the whole

ship roared with their echoing mirth.

       Outside, the massive house went up much faster than Ron would have ever thought

possible. Without the help of cranes and heavy equipment he was used to seeing on Earth, he

wondered how certain aspects could be accomplished. He got a good look at just how manpower

could work around such challenges, and enjoyed it very much. The day the roof was completed,

so was the Darlile.

       The following morning, Ron and Cache lifted off for a little test run in the ship. They

flew for hours around the planet, seeing some of the wondrous landscape of the continent they

inhabited, as well as a good part of one of Caron’s oceans, which was dotted with thousands of

islands.

       The thrill of flying swept through Cache as it always did, and she quivered with

excitement as they tore across the sky.

       “The baby likes flying,” she mentioned to Ron at one point. “She moves around

constantly, but calmly.”




                                                                                                   32
          “She’ll be just like her mother!” Ron proclaimed admiringly.

          “And her father,” Cache added to herself.

          As the time for her delivery drew near, Cache and Ron began crunching the facts of the

differences he would eventually face on Earth, and preparing for them.

          “The atmosphere will be thin and the pressure light,” Cache tutored him, “so you will

have to stay as calm as you can and not exert yourself too much, or you could pass out. It will be

like living at ten thousand peors altitude. We can provide you with an assisted breathing system,

but it will be restrictive.

          “The gravity of Earth will be the most difficult to deal with, I think. You will be

incredibly heavy by their standards, and still it will feel ultra-light to you. I am having a custom

outer garment made for you which will be extremely weighty, to provide some extra ballast to

keep you grounded. The material will also be nearly impenetrable by most weapons, and so will

provide you substantial protection, should you find yourself in conflict with anyone there. Not

that you will of course, you being such a mild-mannered pacifist and all.”

          Ron just smiled his most devious smile and winked at her. He surely had a knack of

finding trouble…or of it finding him.

          “Your physical abilities will be more than double that of when you were on Rauld…or

more…since I am sure you have grown more powerful over the time spent here. You will need

to be very careful or you will be noticed.

          “When you first arrive, experiment with your body as you are able. Find your balance

and your limits as quickly as possible.”

          “What about money, food, and transportation? Where can I stash the ship…that sort of

thing?”




                                                                                                   33
        “Let us begin with the problem of money.”

        Ron spent a good amount of time describing the types of monetary standards that were

employed around Earth’s societies.

        “Well, we can simply make our own,” she told him in a matter of fact manner. “All I

need is a sample.”

        “But there are numerous, specialized, anti-counterfeit devices that…”

        Cache just looked at him condescendingly.

        “I suppose that wouldn’t be a problem.”

        “No,” she replied flatly.

        “But I won’t be able to return to the ship on a regular basis, and large amounts of cash

will be difficult to carry,” he thought out loud…his mind whizzing through some of the variables

he might run into, “especially if I have to purchase something expensive like an automobile.

        “What about a credit card?” he suddenly suggested. “Something with a very large limit.”

        “I do not follow, exactly.”

        “Sorry. It’s a plastic card about this big with a magnetic strip on one side that’s encoded

with information to allow the owner to spend money now, yet pay back later.”

        “That should be easy enough, too. I would just need a sample…or better yet, I can give

you a duplication device so you can make it wherever you are.”

        Ron’s devilish side saw great potential for such a device, but he didn’t want to steal and

so mentioned the dilemma to Cache.

        “No problem,” she told him. “I can program it to allow any expenditure you need and

just never have a repayment date. You can find some method of satisfying your debts at your

leisure.”




                                                                                                     34
       That sounded like a viable option to him.

       “Okay, what about food? Will I be able to survive on Earth’s food?”

       “Yes, but you will have to consume a great quantity of calories to sustain yourself. I

would suggest you carry with you some of the nutrition rations as well, for those times when you

cannot arrange a decent meal.”

       “All right…let’s see…what else? Oh…I may need some type of vehicle to travel long

distances. Do you have anything that might be feasible?”

       “We do have designs for some ancient vehicles which may be close enough to Earth’s

automobiles to get by, but it would take some time to duplicate and test, even for us…perhaps as

much as a couple of santaris.”

       Ron rejected the delay, preferring to gamble that he could come up with something when

the time came.

       “Oh…one other thing about your weight,” Cache remembered. “I have a pair of glasses

that will have a variety of functions…one being that it will conceal your Caronian glands when

outdoor. Another setting can “see” through lightweight materials by means of low frequency

sound waves, so that you could step only on the locations where support beams were beneath.”

       “That’s great!” he replied, and then remembered the James Bond movies. “What about

clothing? Would it penetrate that as well?”

       “Well, yes…of course…but Ron…really!”

       “No, no, no…I was just wondering about hidden weapons and such…not voyeurism.”

       “In either case, the resolution would not be extremely clear…just enough to let you see

an outline…not a birthmark,” she added with a cutting glance.

       Ron chuckled and continued.




                                                                                                 35
        “You mentioned a variety of functions. What else?”

        “It will give you altitude, ambient air pressure, temperature, and location in two

forms…where you are on the planet, and where you are in relation to the Darlile. Also, the side

bands that keep them on your face will transmit radio frequencies in your surroundings.”

        “No kidding?”

        Cache just smiled…she never joked about her proclamations.

        “If you look in the direction of someone using a radio, or telephone, and press here, the

glasses will locate the frequency of the transmission immediately and allow you to hear what

they are listening to, and their reply.”

        “That’s fantastic!”

        “I thought you might like it. Now, the hat you selected will function in several ways as

well. Beside protecting you from the elements, and giving you some anonymity, it will also be

quite heavy…for added ballast. Too, it will be virtually bulletproof against your world’s

weapons, and can provide a scattering field that will disorient any scans of your person…such as

the metal detectors you mentioned.”

        “No way! I can go through a security booth with my weapons?”

        “Yes. Unless you are x-rayed, no one will be alerted to any metal on your person. You

can walk right through with every piece of your private arsenal you have!”

        “Nice!”

        “The coat we discussed will be special, as I said. It is constructed of metal thread that has

been impregnated with microscopic bits of the same material that makes up your sword, so it will

also be nearly impenetrable by small arms fire and knives. It also has an environmental function




                                                                                                    36
to warm you in the cold, and cool you in the heat…so that you can stand to wear it in all types of

weather.

       “Your boots will resemble the Earthly configuration you described, but will be Raulden

technology so they will hold up to whatever…well…activities…you might do.

       “We have a pack for you that is just as it seems, and will contain a few weeks worth of

rations, two changes of clothing, and an emergency oxygen canister which can be used for about

half a billot…to recharge your body if you get too drained or out of breath…if you have to run or

fight…anything like that.

       “I also have a chrono for you that can keep multiple times, Rauld’s, Caron’s, and Earth’s.

It is an interval timer, a countdown timer, a holo-map, and has several of the same functions as

the glasses…direction, altitude, temperature, etc.

       “One last item is this,” she said as she pulled out what looked like an ordinary cellular

telephone. “This will be a redundant backup for everything else, including the scanner, but has

more power so it can see through denser structures for a few peors. If someone is in an adjacent

room, it can show you that space, all the persons in there, as well as any items…furniture, and

the like. Further more, it can intercept their conversations, their computer information, any

“over-the-air” transmissions. It can even jam them…isolating their signals from any similar

outside contact for an area of one hundred peors all around the device.

       “This is a normal set of binoculars with a thousand times magnification capabilities and

the usual ranging parameters that show distance, angle of incline, elevation to a target…etc.”

       Ron really did feel like a secret agent now, having such phenomenal tools at his

disposal…each one more fantastic than the last…but it worried him a bit as well.




                                                                                                   37
       “What if I lose some…or all…of these items? I don’t want them out in the

world…advancing Earth’s technology too quickly, or disrupting the balance of power from one

faction to the next.”

       “Do not concern yourself with that. Each of the objects will only work for you…coded

to your brainwave pattern…and will self destruct if tampered with.”

       “Self destruct?” Ron investigated further. “Explode?”

       “No, no…nothing so dramatic. The circuitry will simply dissolve if exposed to

air…break down at the molecular level into granules of the base materials.”

       “That’s impressive!” Ron told her. “What if I lose track of one of the…”

       “Each item has a tracer chip inside, and can be located by either the glasses or the

com/scanner.”

       “You’ve thought of everything!”

       “I try to be thorough,” she replied with a dazzling grin. “Now let us plan your trip.”

       Cache sat him down at a computer terminal in the main cabin area of the Darlile, and the

wall in front of them transformed into a huge screen.

       “The journey will be the same as the previous time, but what do you plan on doing with

the Darlile when you get there?”

       “I can land without detection?”

       “Absolutely…the systems on the ship can disrupt every radar tracking station for the

entire hemisphere if you so desire.”

       “Well, I could land at night in some remote location and then have the Darlile fly off to

the dark side of the moon. It couldn’t be detected there.”




                                                                                                   38
       “Yes, that is true, but then you will be out of touch with the ship permanently because of

the barrier of the natural satellite’s composition. It would have to return at a set time.

       “I do not like that scenario. You could not reach me, nor I you.”

       “What do you mean? I’ll be able to contact you?”

       “Yes…through the Starflex Transporter. The link will be nearly instantaneous. You

could call for aid, or information…and I would like you to report in at least weekly…if you do

not mind.”

       Ron stroked her lovely golden cheek softly, seeing the concern for him in her eyes.

       “If it will help you sleep at night,” he said. “Now, what about hiding the Darlile in a

lake, or the ocean?”

       Cache brought up topography scans of Earth, having downloaded them from the ship’s

computer, and they both surveyed the data for quite a while. There were no bodies of water

around the area Ron was heading to deep enough to submerge the ship without fear that it could

be discovered, or hit by a passing boat.

       “It will have to be the Gulf,” Ron concluded, seeing the depth of it, “but I’ll need some

method of getting from the ship to land…a boat, or submersible of some sort.

       “Yes, but I never designed anything like that, not even dreaming of such a situation.

Also, the Darlile has no way of delivering a craft similar to what you will require. It would have

to be launched at sea, or beneath it, and must be able to return to the ship on its own…not as easy

as it might seem in such circumstances.”

       Her thoughts went spinning around the differing problems and her eyes lost focus as she

stared off into space, consumed with this newest challenge.




                                                                                                   39
       “If we were on Earth, the crews of submarines launch covert troops out of torpedo tubes.

Instead of a live torpedo, they have mini subs that can carry one or two soldiers. Do you have

anything like that?

       “The Darlile has only plasma type weapons, which of course would do no good. The

only objects that are discharged like what you speak of are the deep space probes, but…wait!”

       Cache quickly nudged him out of his seat and began pulling up the specs on the devices

she proposed, rifling through their parameters in a blur.

       “The size and shape would be roughly adequate…and the modes of deployment and

recovery should be fine…that is it!” she announced triumphantly, spinning around to Ron. “It

would be very tight for you, but we should be able to modify one of those to carry you to land

and then return to the ship automatically.”

       “Excellent!” Ron returned to his astounding blonde friend, reaching down and giving her

a strong squeeze. “Cache, you’re amazing!”

       He didn’t realize it, but she melted in his arms, her breath quick and her heart rate soaring

at the closeness they were enjoying. She practically glowed.




                                                                                                  40
                                           Chapter Three

                                 What Dreams Are Made of



       The next few days flew by, distracting Ron with the tremendous amount of work and

preparations going on in his life. At times he felt he was missing a vital part of his existence by

not stopping to enjoy the company of his relatively new friends and adopted family of the

Gitoves. He and Cache still spent a large amount of time each day working out details and

preparing for odd contingencies that might arise during his visit…all in the effort to keep his

“differences” secret from the rest of planet Earth. His freedom to mingle thusly ended up being

rather limited.




                                                                                                  41
       One night, after a grueling day of erecting one of the enormous woodsheds, he then

suffered through hours in a very cramped environment. He and Cache were fine-tuning the

special underwater capsule-probe that would get him from the submerged Darlile to land. While

he was sound asleep in his private room on the ship, enjoying the ultra-quiet confines of that

space, something roused him.

       The pull of sleep slowed his ability to process what was happening, but he was lucid

enough to feel the light blanket covering him slide down his body slowly. He blinked in the

darkness but could see nothing since the room was as dark as a cave a thousand feet below

ground, but his nose gave him a clue. He easily picked up the scent of gardenias…shavassy…on

Caron, and knew it was Josy’s usual fragrance.

       As the covering left him, a new sensation brought Ron closer to alertness…the feeling of

moist, hot kissing on his chest and shoulder. As usual, he slept in the nude, so those advances

went unhindered.

       “What are…” he whispered to the darkness.

       “Shhhhhhh,” a sweet, delicate voice whispered back to him, barely an inch from his ear,

tickling him with its breathiness. “You are dreaming!”

       Ron was instantly aroused by the sensual advances, and reached out for his affectionate

attacker, only to have his hands gently, but firmly brushed aside.

       “All right then,” he thought, momentarily fighting with his mind which was telling him to

stop such actions…after all, he was still technically a married man, and this was not right. But as

with most men, his desire…his lust…pressed him hard to accept that this was, in fact, just in his

mind…and so it was not the same.

       “Lights!” he ordered, but they did not come on. “Darlile!”




                                                                                                  42
        He got no response.

        At that point, the feeling of velvety soft skin slid across his waist while the kissing

continued, and the tickle of long hair dragging across him forced gooseflesh to sprout. Before

very long at all, his breath grew short, his body trembled, and he forgave the fight. His chivalry

lost!

        “This ‘is’ a dream,” he told his conscience. “I can allow it!”

        The next sensation nearly forced his control from him as something liquid smooth and

searing hot slipped down onto his organ, and a conjoined gasp broke the silence of the room. He

felt a shudder from his dream lover and the biting pressure of her nails into the skin of his

abdomen as her love canal clamped to him with an astonishingly potent, erotic grip. Such

pleasure forced a totally instinctive thrust from him that she could not sustain…instantly

grunting out in ecstasy as fervent juices flooded her portal and she squirmed for even more

tactile inputs.

        That husky squeal rocketed Ron’s response to mirror hers and so, in merely moments,

they peaked their first joining into bliss only true lovers can know…but not their last.

        When the quaking and shivering subsided from both of them, Ron’s “dream” began to

repeat, with the same light-as-a-feather caressing, kissing, and touching urging him back to a

repeat of that exquisite union of man and woman, although with much more lingering and a

slower building of the final event.

        More than two hours later, when his angel of pleasure had coaxed the third fantastic

explosion of rapture from her own body, as well as from his, never once letting him aid in the

control of the situation, Ron felt her slide clear of him and move away. He tried to say

something, but his former exhaustion, mixed with the incredibly heavenly releases of energy




                                                                                                  43
she’d cajoled from him, took control of his mind and sent him reeling into nothingness…a smile

locked on his face.

         “It is time,” was the very next coherent thought he had, as Cache gently eased the hair

from his eyes as he slept.

         “Time? What do you mean? Time for wha…” he started to say before those eyes burst

open from the comprehension of who was speaking and exactly what she said. “Oh, ‘that’ time!”

he cried, suddenly sitting bolt upright like he was spring-loaded. “Are you all right? Are you in

pain?”

         “Yes, fine,” she replied calmly. “No…no pain.”

         “I thought labor pains were supposed to be very…”

         “No pain, darling,” she whispered as she stroked the worry from his face with a silky

touch of her hand. “We are fine, and will deliver tomorrow afternoon.”

         Ron’s expression was one that bespoke his confusion clearly.

         “Cesarean?”

         “That term did not translate,” Cache informed him, “but the child shall arrive as

scheduled, in the normal, vaginal delivery method. That is how I want our baby to be born…just

like she would be here on Caron…her home. The typical time period for such events is four

hours from the start of the cycle, so the birthing contractions should begin in the morning…that

is, six billots past Metash’s apogee.”

         Ron was totally amazed that the Rauldens had developed to a point where such exacting

schedules were even attempted, much less adhered to.




                                                                                                   44
       “Okay then,” he replied automatically, still quite stunned, but determined to meet

whatever request she wished in order to keep her calm and comfortable. “You want to go now?

To be at home for a little while first?”

       “Yes…if that is acceptable with you?”

       “Of course…I understand completely…sure! Do we have time to say goodbye to

everyone first.”

       “Yes…if you will drag yourself out of that bed!”

       “Huh?”

       “It is midmorning, Ron! I was getting worried! You never sleep that long! You must

have overdone it yesterday…must have been really exhausted!”

       Ron quickly thought about her statement for a moment, recalling the dream with

exceptional clarity.

       “Yeah…I…uh…guess I was,” he replied with a huge, sly grin.

       “What is that look all about?”

       Ron shook his head and shrugged his broad shoulders innocently.

       “Well, come on then…get some clothes on. I have a good meal ready for you.”

       “Okay,” he responded before realizing that he was sitting there in front of her completely

naked. “Oh! Dressed! Yeah!” he stammered, hauling his blanket over himself quickly.

       She just giggled at his modesty. “You do not think I find that shocking anymore, do

you?” she asked before she turned and waddled from the room…then she stopped at the

doorway. “I love that scent!” she said offhandedly, half turning back around. “Is it

shavassy…the passion flower?”




                                                                                               45
       Ron snapped his head up again…feeling like a teenager who’d been caught necking by

the police. He took a breath to explain, but she was gone.

       The pair of them spent the morning making the rounds to say goodbye to all the hundreds

of workers, (ex-soldiers) who’d followed Ron through the incomprehensible hell of those

tremendous battles during the rebellion. They all treated him like royalty, even though he talked

and joked with them more like he was their kin.

       When they finally made it to the grand home, which was now completely dried in, the

Gitoves had a huge feast prepared. It was both a celebration of the coming child, and a farewell

meal to him and Cache.

       Two days before, during one of the test flights Ron was not involved with, Cache even

picked up their friends from the Yetsole Valley and brought them over to be with the group. Ron

looked down the long, makeshift table at Heath Sarvand, who sat beside Jarle Raidene and his

wife, Talena, a gorgeous, tall woman with dark features and black hair to her waist. Janson

(Jarle’s brother) and his newlywed wife, Sharlese were there…and Lilea Sevraign (Sharlese’s

sister) and her husband, Crogan. Apparently, Cache had informed nearly everyone but him

about her schedule.

       That didn’t matter much at all though, because Ron was just happy to see them once

more before leaving on his new mission…one that he had no idea of how it would play out.

They laughed and swapped jokes and stories of the sillier happenings in their crossed paths, and

a grand time was enjoyed by each and every one of them.

       As the meal wound down and everyone prepared to go, Josy managed to pull Ron out of

the group. She escorted him onto the second story front porch, outside her bedroom, where they

used to spend many billots together just watching the boat traffic go by. Ron was recuperating




                                                                                                 46
during that time and didn’t get around much, so they would talk, or merely sit and enjoy one

another’s company. Cache saw them drift off and intentionally gave them their space, accepting

that this would be exceedingly difficult for Josylinia, and empathizing with her completely.

Secretly she was thrilled however to finally be getting him away from that vivacious

woman…back to a more intimate setting of just the two of them.

       “Ron,” Josy began when they were alone. “I understand your reasons for what you’re

going to do…going back to your world, I mean…but I want you to know something before you

go…to hear it from me, so there won’t be any doubt in your mind.”

       She stepped up to him then and rested her hands on his chest. Her long, flowing mane of

ebony hair was pulled up over her right ear, and swept around and down her left shoulder,

leaving the nape of her neck dramatically exposed. Ron drank in the visual offering of that spot

he loved to nuzzle and nibble; and he unconsciously licked his lips. Her ear was sensuously

adorned with a large shavassy flower, which she knew was Ron’s favorite. It was woven into

that sable coif at just the perfect point to invite his caress. Her attire was its usual scandalous

brevity, and was the color of blue that set her eyes off with exquisite perfection. Merely gazing

at that breathtaking beauty made Ron crave more of the delights he’d enjoyed on the previous

night. Ron clasped her superbly tanned, delicate shoulders lightly as she met his piercing gaze,

looking nearly straight up at him.

       “I wish you luck in your search for her…for answers to the questions I feel churning

inside you…but I also want to make another matter crystal clear in your mind.

       “I love you Ron Allison…with all my heart and soul! I would gladly bear your children

if you desire them, and make you a home to be proud of. I would make my life with you,

Baushe…and we would be happy…I know that we would.”




                                                                                                      47
       Ron looked into her glistening, two toned eyes and couldn’t imagine a more tempting

offer. If he traveled the stars for a hundred years, and lived on a thousand worlds, he doubted he

could find another as marvelous as she.

       “I believe you, Josy…and a more suitable wife and mother couldn’t be found, of that I’m

certain. Your sweet disposition, your love and compassion, and your playful nature are just what

are needed to fill those roles. Also, I want you to know something as well. I love you too…very

much. While I was out in the field, during the campaign against the Kreete, you filled my

thoughts sometimes to an extent that I could actually smell your scent. At those times I had to

concentrate extremely hard to think of anything else…but my life is in such chaos now that I

almost dread the future. Even without this newest twist, I don’t know if I will, or even can have

a normal life…ever…such as what you have so graciously offered.

       “Could I turn my back on the humanitarian mission Cache and I have set out to

accomplish? Or do I continue on…putting my loved ones on hold for indefinite periods of

time…not being a part of my children’s lives. What kind of father would they know? A

myth…a legend? What good would that do?

       “You know me well, Josy. I am neither of those, and I would want them to grow up and

respect me from their own experiences of being with me…not through someone else’s.

       “My wife! Would she, or could she, ever be happy, knowing that I’m in nearly constant

peril? Wondering if she and our little ones had seen me for the last time, each and every time I

said goodbye? How many reports of my untimely death would they have to endure before it

would wound them so deeply that they could no longer care?

       “I truly wonder if even loving me would be too cruel a sentence to inflict upon anyone.”




                                                                                                   48
       Josy watched the conflict in his expressions as he spoke, and tears quickly dripped from

her incredible eyes.

       “Cruel? Oh, my love, that’s the last word I would ever use to describe loving you. If you

leave here today and never return, I would live out my days knowing I was the luckiest woman

in the galaxy…to have loved so completely, and to have been loved by the most glorious man

ever created. Who would your children know and respect? It would be you, Ron

Allison…through my eyes, and the eyes of those who were closest to you. They would know

your honesty, your unbreakable honor, your wisdom, and your passion to ensure the safety of

those less able to defend themselves.

       “Do you think all the great warriors and explorers before you weren’t worried about those

they had to leave behind? It’s the way of the universe…the way of life. Some of us lead, strive,

and risk all we have to better ourselves and others…and in your case, better the lives of billions

of people who have lost hope.

       “You say that you are no myth, or legend, and I heartily agree. You are more than those.

You are the man such stories hope to revere…but usually fall short. You may rest assured that I,

and all those who know you, will make sure they get it right!

       “The memories are fresh now, and pen is hitting paper, in song, in poem, and in

novel…and we will make it as is it should be…and exaggeration will definitely not be needed!”

       That brought a smile back to Ron’s face.

       “You always know exactly what to say,” he told her softly, before pulling her to him in a

passionate embrace. They stayed intertwined for a long while, kissing and holding one another

until finally, Ron separated himself from her luscious figure. Josy’s eyes smoldered with the

heat of her needs, and Ron was feeling the surge as well.




                                                                                                 49
        “We could disappear for a billot,” she whispered in a breathy tone, her hands still holding

onto him tightly.

        Ron smiled again. “I would have thought last night would have been enough!”

        Josy’s face went from flushed with desire to confused, straight away.

        “What?”

        At that instant, Ron realized she hadn’t paid him a visit in the dark.

        “You didn’t seduce me last night?”

        “I was here, on a mat on the main floor with my family, and you were in the black

ship…right?”

        “Yeah…I…suppose. Man, that was one hell of a vivid dream…I guess,” he sighed as he

rubbed his chin hard.

        “I’m willing to make your every dream a reality, Baushe,” she said haughtily, snuggling

up to him again.

        Ron felt the glorious attributes of his lover pressing against him, and his yearning for her

made him course with tremors.

        “I can think of nothing I’d like better, Josy…truly…but I have to wait until this business

is all settled. It just wouldn’t be right.”

        Josy pouted for a moment, but then let him off the hook.

        “Well then, I would like to put in my request that you hurry along and take care of it. I

will see you as soon as you get back!”

        Ron looked at her with worry in his eyes.

        “I’ll let you know as soon as possible!”




                                                                                                    50
       One last kiss and the two lovers rejoined the celebration’s conclusion as everyone walked

with Ron and Cache out to the Darlile. It was a half hoz away from the massive mansion, sitting

in a rolling, grassy meadow with pravort grazing all about.

       The Lampsh contingent eagerly loaded up the cabin area of the shadow-vessel for the

return trip. Once inside, they were practically giddy about the lethal spaceship…their eyes wide

with wonder and awe, and talking incessantly.

       While they got settled and strapped in, Ron moved to the entry. His heart was extremely

heavy as he waved to the Gitove family from inside the threshold, and then his unblinking stare

locked onto that brunette beauty one last time, his chest feeling almost too heavy to breathe.

       She stood beside her gargantuan father and brother, with her mother holding her hand for

support. She was trembling so fast she felt like she’d begin falling to pieces if this lasted too

much longer, but finally, he ended her painful anxiousness. Ron blew a kiss to her a scant

second before the door slid into place, and then he was gone!




                                                                                                    51
                                       Chapter Four

                                             Sheyah



       With a single flip of a switch, the incredible Raulden technology cut the grip that Caron

had on the Darlile instantly…disrupting the gravity waves of the planet like jamming a radio

signal. The black ship rose effortlessly from the open, grassy field where it rested, and floated

up and up to keep from frightening the animals, as well as the unsuspecting workers. And when

it accelerated away, pinning those inside to their seats in a mad rush of excitement and

exhilaration, one person on the ground felt her heart freeze solid for a long few moments. After

a while though, it began again, starting her hoping that one day, Ron Allison…a man above

men…would return.

       The female passengers inside the Darlile screamed with surprise and the men’s eyes grew

as wide as plates…roaring with laughter once they could inhale again. On an inside wall, a

monitor lit up and projected a view of the outside scenes below them, so they all could see the

speed and the countryside.

       The month-long trip on horseback only took about twenty borts before they were

sweeping around to land, and it was much too fast for most of them.


                                                                                                    52
        After a quick new round of hugs, Ron and Cache set off once more, floating into the

heavens in the ebony warship, heading for the high altitude base, Safe Haven.

        “I suppose we have to park the Darlile up here again and use the Starflex Portal to return

to Rauld?”

        “You are half correct,” she replied with a whimsical grin and a definite twinkle in her

eyes.

        As they approached the snow-capped environs of the highest peaks, Cache quickly

punched in a set of coordinates.

        “Approach this point from the north, at under mach speed.”

        Ron complied with her directives and was soon clipping briskly along the ridgeline,

making ready to pass the hidden Raulden powerplant at a thousand feet above the station. Just as

he got within half a hoz though, the scene directly before him instantly changed. It was as if an

enormous, frameless window had been thrown open suddenly, and they shot through it in a flash.

He checked the rear image to see the window blink out of existence, shutting off the other world,

and then a fantastic display of explosions erupted in front of him. For a split second Ron lurched

to the fighting mode, and nearly slammed the throttles forward, thinking he was under attack. In

fact, if Cache had not stayed his hand, they would have been vertical in that instant.

        Instead, Ron witnessed a brilliant, colorful, extravagant display such as he’d never

imagined. It looked like he was flying through an aerial minefield, as thousands of bursts of

color and percussion blasts were exploding all around them. And at the conclusion of it was an

extraordinarily lifelike rendition of the faces of both Cache and him hanging in the air.

        He swept the Darlile smoothly around to find his landing field, now wearing a broad grin

on his face.




                                                                                                  53
        When they made their approach, a crowd of Rauldens surrounded them…at least sixty

thousand…and they were all waving scarves at their returning heroes.

        Ron allowed himself to be caught up with watching the spectacular display as he brought

the ship in, but then had some questions.

        “That was really something else! I was totally amazed and surprised! Did you arrange

all this?”

        “No…not hardly,” Cache returned, with a beautiful smile. “I merely informed the

Council we would be returning this dactrai. It was Hoaldniz and Fortell who set the whole thing

up. I just had to make sure we got here at the appropriate time.”

        “And what about the portal? I thought it was only designed for small apertures. How did

you manage that?”

        “Now that ‘was’ my doing!” she admitted with glowing pride. “Over the last two weeks,

I came up with a way to magnify the energy grid that powers it up and project the focal point out

into the open air!”

        “My God, you are one impressive little woman!”

        “Well thank you. I do try!”

        They then turned their attention back to navigating the ship, and landed off to the south of

the large gathering on the surface…settling the magnificent ship down delicately in a safe area.

        As the two Raulden ambassadors exited the Darlile, they were met by the Planetary

Council members, each bursting with excitement and enthusiasm for the pair who had

accomplished the impossible…on their very first attempt.




                                                                                                   54
        The multitude celebrated with Ron and Cache all the way back to Gammone, and for the

remainder of the dactrai…until the little blonde mother-to-be was drifting off on Ron’s shoulder

while they visited.

        “She’s had a very busy time of it in these last few torjournes,” Ron explained to the

onlookers. “I’ll take her to her room. Tomorrow will be a long, difficult dactrai for her…one

that will no doubt change her life, so she needs her rest.”

        Everyone understood and bid them farewell before Ron scooped her up and carried her

away to her quarters. She would have normally preferred to make it on her own, but his offer

was simply too wonderful to turn down, so she merely cuddled herself into his powerful embrace

and reveled in it.

        Ron tucked Cache into bed and gave her a gentle kiss on the cheek before making his

way to the door…but before he could exit…

        “Ron,” Cache called out lightly.

        “Yeah?”

        “Where are you going?”

        “Off to my room. It is not far away. Why?”

        “Would you mind…sleeping with me? I have never seen a child born…in person…and I

am feeling a bit…unsettled.”

        Ron could tell instantly that Cache was frightened of the unknown adventure she was

heading into, so he smiled down at her worried visage and delayed his exit.

        “Of course, Cache. I just need to freshen up a bit first, alright?”

        She nodded with a thankful smile and admitted the need to do the same, so she lumbered

out of bed and into the sanitizer, and Ron hurried off to his.




                                                                                                55
       Half a billot later, they lay down in her bed together…a scene Cache had dreamed of for

more than a complete Caronian cycle, and she sighed peacefully. Ron decided to forgo his usual

nightly attire…which was nothing at all…and nestled up against Cache’s diminutive figure as

tightly as he could. He wore only a form-fitting pair of exercise shorts, much like bicycle pants,

so as to stay comfortable against her overheated body.

       She reached over to his hand, which was resting on her thigh, and moved it to her huge

belly. They both grinned widely as they felt the stirrings of life that grew within her for the next

few borts…until the child settled down to rest…at which point they did the same.

       Ron inhaled the natural, delightful scent that was purely Cache, and kissed her ear softly.

       “Sweet dreams, Cache.”

       She never felt his kiss though, as she was already accomplishing that very act…her

breath deep and regular…and her mind totally at peace.



       The next morning began suddenly…with a grunt of surprise.

       “Oh!” Cache let out…rousing her Adonis bed warmer instantly.

       “Cache!” Ron said…his mind immediately alert and worried. “Should I call for Fortell?”

       “No. Not just yet. It will be a while before he is needed. Here,” she told Ron, sitting up

and handing him a small flat disk, about the size of a quarter. “Place this just above the seventh

vertebrae of my back…right here.”

       “What is it?” he asked as he did as instructed.

       “It is a neural inhibitor. It will limit the amount of input moving up my spine, and

squelch the painful sensations like a filter.”




                                                                                                  56
         “It’s a surge protector!” Ron said, thoroughly impressed by the show of technology. “But

you’ll be able to feel everything else…the contractions?”

         “Yes. That is necessary during the delivery…and besides, I still need to walk, you

know.”

         Ron just blinked at her as she stood up and went to the sanitizer again…her bladder ready

to explode. He shook his head at the cavalier attitude she exhibited before he ordered up a large

breakfast at her food dispenser. She would not eat before the delivery, but he surely could, and

stuffed down the entire breakfast by the time she emerged. She reentered dressed in a very light,

knee-length gown…something he was surprised to see her wear, since she usually preferred the

tight-fitting attire of a very active person.

         The short-sleeved dress was a soft shade of violet, having a deeply cut collar that swept

down to her ripened breasts and displayed a tantalizing view of cleavage. A matching pair of

simple sandals adorned her feet and allowed her little toes to be cooled by the air. Her long

blonde hair was braided into a perfect plait with six intertwining segments of her golden mane,

and it draped down to the center of her back, straight as an arrow and shimmering in the light.

She looked very comfortable…and extremely beautiful.

         She ordered up a drink for herself as Ron took his turn in the shower, and then they went

off to the hospital on foot to meet with Fortell, stopping every few borts when a contraction

would force her to halt until it passed. Cache almost relished those powerful crunches due to the

fact that when one would surge through her, Ron would pull her to him and hold her tightly until

it diminished. She loved the way he worried and cared for her, and since the neural dampener

made sure the spasms weren’t really painful, she found herself wishing for more of them.




                                                                                                     57
       Fortell’s laboratory was completely ready for her when she arrived, and he guided her

into a chair as soon as she walked in…a bit overanxious in Ron’s opinion. However, he vividly

recalled the doctor’s enthusiasm during his own examination and realized the physician was

merely being himself.

       Every imaginable reading was being taken from Cache, as well as the child, and all were

displayed on the wall for everyone to see.

       “Everything looks wonderful, Cache,” Fortell told her after scanning the information.

“You should be holding her in just under a billot.”

       Ron never left Cache’s side, holding her hand and talking calmly to her in an effort to

ease her anxiety…and when the time finally arrived, the floor directly around and beneath her

began to retract, giving way to a tub of pink-tinted fluid.

       “A small Flarinca Tank!” Ron recognized…referring to the advanced medicinal fluid

chamber he’d been exposed to when he first arrived at Gammone. That liquid was amazing. It

was so oxygenated that he could actually breathe it, and it vastly enhanced the healing process of

humanoid tissue.

       Next, the pedestal of her chair slowly sank down into the liquid until it engulfed Cache

from the waist down. At that point, the section of the seat providing support near the birthing

canal retracted even more, in order to clear the way completely.

       Ron was speechless as this all took place, surprised at the calmness, and serenity of the

event. There was no shouting, no hurry, and no hint at danger.

       The delivery actually occurred beneath the surface of that tiny, specially designed

Flarinca Tank which was lined with a soft, rubbery material…very yielding and pliable. And

when the little female child was clear of her mother, she took her first few breaths in that oxygen




                                                                                                   58
rich fluid. Fortell held the baby under the surface for a short while, as the cleansing attributes of

the material removed all the usual debris from her nose, mouth, and body. The doctor then

reached out to severe the umbilical cord, but Ron found his voice again first.

       “Fortell, on my world, it is a custom that the father cut his child’s tether…and since I’m

filling in for Jorin, I was wondering if I might have the honor…in his stead?”

       Fortell new everything about the child’s heritage, Cache having explained it all to him

previously, but she apparently left out the part about Ron’s misconception concerning Jorin, so

now he was confused. He looked to her quickly, and at a nod of her flaxen head, he bid Ron to

his position.

       A moment later, the two who had been joined for a complete Raulden cycle were

separated for the first time. Cache watched with deep-seeded pride as the man she loved took

part in this monumental moment of their lives, and she smiled, even as sweat dribbled down her

temples from the strain of the birthing contractions. She felt no pain, only the discomfort of the

continuing muscle cramps that would eventually return her uterus to its former size. She then sat

back as Fortell swiftly examined the child and then removed her from the tank.

       A firm squeeze, joined with the auto-response coughing of the infant, expelled the fluid

from her lungs and nose, and a few litas of sputtering gave way to deep breaths of the first air the

little person was to experience. Afterward she quickly settled down into the rapid inhalations of

a newborn.

       Ron marveled at the child…she cried not once during the entire procedure…and as

Fortell first dried her, then swapped the tot to a thick blanket made for just this purpose, Ron saw

her eyes open wide. The doctor handed the little girl to Ron next, and he looked down at her

precious little face with as much wonder as she looked back at him.




                                                                                                    59
         A brand new person lay in his large hands…seeing the world around her for the first

time, but she didn’t look about. She met Ron’s gaze unafraid, and unblinking…as if memorizing

his face, the same thing he was doing to her. Ron didn’t fully forget his role in the procedure

luckily, and moved slowly to Cache’s side before gently handing her off to her mother.

         Now it was Cache’s turn to lock eyes with the little lady. Mother and child gazed at one

another for several borts before Cache calmly pulled her stretchy dress down to expose her milk-

laden breast…and then positioned the baby to have its first meal. The newborn needed no

persuading either, latching on firmly and immediately putting that engorged storehouse of

nourishment to good use.

         Ron watched with enraptured pride at the sight of nature’s most glorious of events. New

life…and all the frailties of that occurrence…was taking place right there…right beside him. For

some unknown reason, he felt a connection with the moment that swept through him like a

strong, mountain breeze, and he smiled and hugged Cache, careful not to disturb the feeding

child.

         “What’s her name going to be?” Ron asked. “Have you decided?”

         Cache looked at her lovingly and then at Ron.

         “What do you think of…Sheyah?”

         “Sheyah…Sheyah. It’s beautiful. I love it!”

         “Then she will be known as Sheyah!”

         The next few hours flew by while Ron and Cache got used to the new addition in their

lives, and the adjustments she brought with her. Ron had heard that Earth infants’ eyes did not

truly function for weeks after birth, until they adjusted and developed to the new environment




                                                                                                  60
outside the womb. But he found out Raulden children were born with fully developed and

functioning optical organs.

        That little girl tracked everything going on around her, was amazingly calm and quiet,

and those new orbs were as dazzling as her mother’s, although not violet. Sheyah’s eyes were a

sparkling shade of light gray with splinters of pure, bright silver radiating from their centers and

reflecting the light in an almost hypnotic fashion. Ron knew immediately that when this little

one was of age, she would be completely breathtaking…and his fatherly intuition bristled at the

thought of the future suitors she was bound to attract.

        Ron shook off that tiny taste of what her future held in store and concentrated on the

moment…and that spectacular, miniature person. Her hair was wispy-fine and as black as his

own…as Jorin’s had been. She was approximately the size of a seven pound Earth baby, and

around twenty inches tall…and she knew how to eat! She drained Cache’s left side in short

order, while Ron and Cache took turns stroking her head and patting her softly, and then she

started on the right.

        “She has your appetite!” Cache chuckled at him.

        Cache pulled her gaze away from her daughter after a while and just watched Ron. Here

was the most feared…and fearsome…warrior on the face of the brutal planet of Caron, where

men were hard, unforgiving, and even cruel. Yet he knelt on the floor beside her totally at peace,

and in transfixed wonder at this little baby at her bosom. Her loving smile burst forth until Ron

couldn’t miss it, and he caught her gaze.

        “My God, you’re beautiful!” he told her suddenly, the words seemingly slipping out of

his mouth with no thought to them as he was swept up in the memories of their time together.




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       Cache reached over and lightly caressed his face, her pent up need to confess all to him

poised on her tongue. She took a breath to speak, but Ron saw an expression of seriousness drift

across her brow and beat her to it.

       “I’m so glad I could be here with you, Cache,” Ron told her, “so you aren’t alone…but I

know it must be very difficult without Jorin. He would’ve been so proud of her. She’s

absolutely perfect in every way…like her mother!”

       “Why thank you…and I think so as well…the part about her, I mean…but…”

       Now it was Ron’s turn to have a moment of weightiness as his mind recalled the dream in

the cemetery of his wife and child.

       “I hope my wife wasn’t alone when her time came.”

       That froze Cache’s confession in her throat, and her focus flopped from her own hopes

for their future to the present needs of the man she worshiped.

       “I am sure she was not,” Cache said confidently. “She was surrounded by family and

friends…I have no doubt about that! You said it yourself…she was on her way to your parents’

house…right?”

       Ron’s gaze brightened and he nodded.

       “That proves she is still close with them, that she has their support and their love, and that

your son is happy and well!”

       Ron stared at her empathetic face, full of the joy of the moment, and forced every dire

thought from his mind. This was not the time to spend worrying about his own possible

problems.

       “Of course, you’re right. I apologize! I should be thinking about here…now…not about

what might’ve happened. How do you feel? Are you in terrible pain?”




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         “No, no…the buffer is working well. I am just tired.”

         Ron stroked her hair and patted Sheyah’s back while she continued feeding.

         “What happens now?”

         Fortell glided in from his hovering position a few steps away.

         “Cache will have to remain in the Flarinca solution for a few billots. We will monitor her

closely, and she should be well healed by early tomorrow, although some cramping will likely

still occur for another dactrai or two.

         “As for the child, we have a series of tests to perform…to make certain she is healthy as

well.”

         They sat there for a while longer, just cuddling and watching Sheyah, until she was full,

and Cache’s eyes grew heavy. Even with the Raulden advancements protecting the two of them

during the stressful event, the mother still bore all the burden of the physical action.

         “Ron, would you take her and stay with her during the tests. I am afraid I really need to

sleep for a while.”

         “Of course! It would be my honor.”

         Cache handed Sheyah off to him with a kiss on her little head, and then she sat back

looking totally spent.

         Fortell made to take the baby from Ron’s arms, but her tiny hands flew out toward Ron

instantly, quickly coming to life with a forceful grunting, growl, and then she began to cry. Ron

pulled her to his chest hurriedly, looking back at Cache with deep concern on his face. He was

surprised to see her smiling at him…and even more so to see the little girl’s expression of

wonder as she reached up and grabbed at his nose.

         “She knows who her father is!” Cache thought assuredly.




                                                                                                     63
        “Perhaps you could do your scans while I held her?” Ron queried.

        Fortell conceded reluctantly, and they moved away to another room, leaving Cache alone

to sleep.

        Ron spent the rest of the day with Sheyah, in the usual duties of coddling the child while

she slept, playing with her when she was awake, and shuttling her to her mother for a meal every

few hours. Cleaning her on Rauld was the best thing he’d ever seen. The nether wrappings the

Rauldens used on infants absorbed everything…like some kind of miracle material. All Ron had

to do was remove it at the “Infant Center” located in every room he occupied, similar to a baby

changing station on Earth, and sit her in a shallow basin which was precisely warmed to her body

temperature. The device was a miniature sanitizer which instantly rinsed her bottom with a

solution to clean and sterilize her, and then a gentle warm air flow dried her…all in less than a

bort.

        “I could make a fortune back home with this little gizmo!” Ron thought after his first use

of the device.

        Each of her tests reported her to be normal and healthy, so she was immediately

introduced to the Raulden populace via vid-screen, at which time they all sent her their good

wishes and congratulations to Cache and Ron for the newest addition to their population.

        By nightfall, after seven straight hours immersed in the Flarinca fluid, Cache was dressed

and on her feet once more, her body having almost completely healed from the trials of the

birthing process, but still somewhat sore due to the infrequent spasms that always plagues a new

mother. She took turns with Ron entertaining Sheyah, and that night, after her last feeding, she

asked Ron for another favor.

        “Could you possibly find it in your heart to spend a few nights with us?”




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       Ron was visibly surprised, but not about the favor, more about the notion she would think

it a big imposition.

       “Of course, Cache. I’ll stay with you as long as you like! It’s no bother.”

       Cache’s new quarters were equipped with two beds; one of them being expansive enough

for Ron’s larger frame, with a small, ornate, extremely elegant cradle located between them…a

gift from Gerdanz. He had designed it himself for his own children, more than fifty years ago, so

it held exceptionally strong ties he wished to share.

       The three of them fell asleep immediately, all very tired from the happy strain of their

first day together. However, Ron was sleeping soundly a few billots later when he felt a rustling

of his bed-covers, followed by the press of a petite, feminine form sliding into bed with him. He

stirred himself awake at the change in sleeping arrangements with more than a little surprise on

his mind.

       “Is this alright, Ron? I was cold and couldn’t sleep. Without the baby inside me, I feel

very different. Do you mind?”

       Ron simply kissed the top of her head and pulled her to him firmly. How could he

possibly deny her? A few litas of positioning resulted in a deep, regular cadence of breathing

from that gorgeous woman, and Ron was out right behind her.

       The next morning Ron awakened slowly, well rested and very comfortable, only to find

he now shared his bed with two beautiful women…one half his size, and the other about a tenth

of hers. He smiled at them both, still soundly slumbering. Cache had Sheyah completely

corralled within the space of her body’s arc and Ron’s, guarding any possible escape.

       Ron Allison felt very much at peace. This was the way he always envisioned his adult

life…as a husband and a father…and he hoped with all his soul that it would come true one day.




                                                                                                   65
                                         Chapter Five

                                            Time to Go

          Over the next twenty days…two torjournes, in Raulden timekeeping…Ron grew more

and more attached to the tiny tot, and to her mother. The trio spent the first half of that time span

just getting used to each other…playing and adjusting to there being an addition to the one-time

couple.

          The very first morning the newborn was in their lives, Cache pulled Ron aside while

Sheyah was sleeping and stuttered through the vocalization of another heartfelt request.

          “Ron, would you…if it is not too much…I have a question that…”

          Ron calmly pulled her to him and held her shoulders lightly, seeing the concern and

trepidation in her expression. “Cache, you know me far too well to be afraid to speak candidly

with me. Please do so now.”

          She smiled her sweetest smile of appreciation, but didn’t comply right away.

          “Well, it is just that what I want from you may seem a bit…forward, or

outlandish…considering our relationship, and the one you have with Josylinia.”

          That drew a puzzled look from Ron, as he couldn’t fathom what one could have in

common with the other.


                                                                                                   66
          “Well, why don’t you simply let it out, and we’ll discuss it?”

          “Okay,” she said before she took in a big gulp of air, “Ron…would you help me raise

Sheyah? Would you be her father?”

          That brought out a very obvious response from the mighty warrior…one of absolute

astonishment. His eyes didn’t blink for at least a full bort, and his mouth was partly opened

while his mind was deluged with every imaginable question, from the simple, “why”, to the very

complicated, “where will her education take place?”

          Cache saw the tizzy in his lack of response and could only imagine he was thinking of

how to get out of it.

          “Forgive me, Ron. I...”

          “I’d be tremendously flattered, Cache!” Ron said, cutting off her statement. “It would be

a privilege! But I…it’ just…well, what about Jorin, his family, his claim to you…and to his

child?”

          “I will explain to her about Jorin one day, when she can understand…and I plan on

looking up his family when we get back to Caron, to thank them for their son and his incredible

sacrifice.”

          “Get back to Caron?” Ron asked. “You won’t be living here…on Rauld?”

          “Why, no. I will live on Caron. That is where she was conceived, that is where her

physical structure will be most at home, and that is where she can be a normal little girl. She can

have playmates, and be able to run and wrestle, and fall, and do all the things I never could.

Caron is where she will have a normal life!”

          Ron’s first thoughts were; “A normal life? With Cache Kuar, a woman genetically

engineered to be brilliant as well as physically superior, as her mother…and me, the coalition of




                                                                                                  67
a common Earth man and a savage, heavy-worlder warrior, as a father? Not likely!” But what

he actually said was; “Where will you…we…live? Are you giving up on the mission we set out

on…to help the worlds escape the Kreete?”

         “Of course not! I have already discussed it with the Raulden Council and they have

established a plan to make an on sight technology center at the home I reside in. It will contain a

Starflex Portal so we can pass back and forth to coordinate missions as well as information, like

teaching Sheyah our vast knowledge. It could also provide emergency care and other such

things…all without the Caronians being aware of it.”

         Ron was duly impressed with her planning and foresight, but this arrangement was

fraught with many complicated points to consider. In the end however, he let her off for the time

being.

         “Well then, I guess you’ll be leaving all the ‘fun’ up to me from here on out.”

         “If by ‘fun’ you mean the future missions, I do not think so!” Cache countered, her fiery

spunk swiftly returning. “I started this whole matter, and I will be there to see it through!”

         Now it was Ron’s turn to be skeptical.

         “And just how do you suppose you can do that? You can’t bring a child along on such

operations so obviously laden with peril!”

         “I had a long talk with Josy, Karne, and Mishea…and they were more than excited to

watch Sheyah anytime we are away. They will be her surrogate family…since we are all so

linked together.”

         That was another blow to Ron’s reality…one that felt more like a bomb! This little girl

raised much of her life by a family whose patriarch is a Kreete Reaper Class warrior…who was

once an elite member of the army of their enemy? “Yeah…that’s normal!” he thought.




                                                                                                   68
        “So you’ll be living close to the Gitove farm?”

        “Yes. They are constructing a separate little cottage for us.”

        She saw surprise on Ron’s face again and assumed what he was thinking. “I will be far

enough away to give you and Josy your privacy,” she said sarcastically.

        That declaration was a bit of a shock too, since he hadn’t really even considered where he

would live permanently. He always assumed Josy would join him, wherever it might be…but

now he saw his future was being mapped out for him and found it more than a little

disconcerting. His long explanation to Josy…the day they first made love…was recalled vividly

to his thoughts, and he still felt that way now. Could he ever truly settle down and try to have a

family…no matter how much he wanted it? He knew he was in love with Josy, but also, each

time he set out on a new mission, he would be at the mercy of whatever new and unfolding

scenario might present itself. And as this recently past one was a perfect example of what could

happen, he just didn’t know.

        Ron decided quickly though. He wouldn’t find the answers to those types of questions

here, so instead, he altered his attitude to one of more optimism.

        “Well, since it looks like you’ve done a great deal of preparation, of which I see no

substantial fault in, I accept!”

        Cache’s eyes leaped with joy, and then so did she, right into his arms. She hugged him

hard and thanked him. Their daughter would have her father in her life…no matter what might

occur in the future between her parents!

        The last ten days of Ron’s visit to Rauld consisted of many more hours of research and

brainstorming of possible problems that might arise, and their subsequent solutions. Weapons




                                                                                                 69
and protection were the main things he focused on since he was quite sure trouble was a

ubiquitous foe that hunted him, constantly on his heel.

        Cache ran multiple simulations and scenarios concerning cutting blades, as well as

firearms…using the information the central computer contained on Ron’s molecular makeup

before the transformation. Ron’s input about the guns, knives, and other weapons of his world

were fed into the mix, and they perused the options.

        The expansive Arsenal provided similar type devices as were common on Earth, so the

two of them actually had working armaments to experiment with. Ron quickly noted the

inadequacies such arms presented and almost found it comical to see how inferior those things

were. It didn’t take much longer before he concluded that if he’d been forced to combat the alien

creatures and beings he was now accustomed to facing in battle with Earth guns, the results

definitely would’ve been grave for him.

        Cache arranged for two silhouette targets; one constructed from materials which would

closely model his original, unaltered body, and one of his current composition. They then spent

a few billots taking turns striking and shooting them both with various weapons.

        Ron found the normal makeup of an earthling could be completely cleaved in two with

his black sword…one handed. On the reverse, several guns of differing caliber were shot at his

“new” manikin only to have the pellets stopped nearly immediately, penetrating barely half an

inch into its surface.

        “I won’t be bulletproof, but damn near!” Ron thought to himself.

        “You will have to be careful about the areas on your body where a large artery is close to

the surface, like your neck, and you will be vulnerable at your eyes as well. Your bones on the




                                                                                                  70
other hand will be virtually unbreakable unless struck by a very fast moving object, or a vehicle

made of some high-strength metal.”

       In other preparations, there was also the matter of fitting one of the space probes with a

suitable compartment for his underwater survival, from the Darlile to the beach. Ron learned

very quickly that the space would be exceedingly tight. He could only squeeze into it by having

his arms straight over his head…and lying prone like that for the entire billot they estimated it

would take for the trip was going to be more than a little uncomfortable. He would however

have plenty of air, would have some limited ability to control the landing sight, and would have

good visual scanning capability around the probe. The view could be perfectly reproduced

inside the capsule to help ensure a secret emergence when the landing was made. All-in-all, it

looked pretty good.

       Finally, when she could no longer find problems that needed solving, and Shayeh was

well established in her routine, the time Cache was dreading came. She stood outside the Darlile

with her heart pounding and her mind a flurry of concern.

       What would this new undertaking truly involve? Was Ron in danger? Should she blurt

out the entire story about Sheyah before he left to return to his first, truest love? In the end

though, she found herself biting her tongue and smiling her most stunning smile while holding

their child for her last moments with Ron.

       He took a deep breath, drinking in the vision of harmony before him and enjoying the

feeling of contentment. But then he saw the situation growing tense after he kissed Sheyah

goodbye and told her he would see her soon…noting Cache’s eyes growing heavy with moisture.

Ron wanted to assure her he would be fine, and see her “in no time”, but he truthfully had no




                                                                                                    71
idea how long he would be gone. In order to break the spell, he merely pulled her to him in a

strong bear-hug and kissed her neck and cheek.

       “Take care of yourself and little Sheyah, and I’ll contact you when I land,” he told her

when they parted, and then he turned and vanished behind the closing door of the mighty

warship.

       Ron was already wearing his flight suit, and so went immediately to the cockpit to begin

cycling through the start-up procedures. Five borts later, with everyone standing back a safe

distance, he urged the Darlile into a hover until it was high above any trees, and then the black

vessel of immensely lethal capabilities streaked away in a nearly vertical takeoff.

       For one last bit of pizzazz, when he felt he was clear enough, Ron launched a dozen

marker flares that burst from the aft point of the ship in a dazzling, sparkling display. That drew

a huge laugh from Sheyah, and a subsequent, light-hearted smile from her mother. A moment

later, Ron kicked those powerful engines into full throttle and literally winked out of sight, so

quickly was he accelerating, leaving behind one last tell-tail indication of his departure…the

rolling, thundering, sonic boom that washed over those on the ground in a rumbling wave of

vibration.

       Cache jumped at the concussion, never having felt one before, but Sheyah did the exact

opposite of what probably every other child would do at that shuddering blast of air…she

clapped and squealed…she loved it! Her reaction…in and of itself…caused Cache to wonder at

the tiny person in her arms.

       “May the Guardian above watch over you,” she told Sheyah with a shake of her head.

“You will be just like your father!”




                                                                                                    72
       In merely seconds, the Darlile locked onto a pinpoint in the sky, slipped through a small

breach Aanlis opened in the Raulden shield matrix, and exited the atmosphere.

       Ron just sat back and enjoyed the thrill of the ride, allowing the ship to flex her muscles

fully for the first time in a great, long while, and reveled in the experience. His body pressed

deeply into the command seat, feeling the firm support of the custom-molded padding absorbing

his increasing weight until he could hardly intake air…and then only in short puffs.

       The G-suit he wore counteracted some of the effects of the stress, but not all, so it wasn’t

long before the Darlile began sensing his declining state and tried to adjust the throttle outputs to

alleviate the condition. But Ron held the T-handle forward for another thirty lita…having too

much fun to let it end so soon. At last though, his mind was getting foggy, so he released the

device and permitted the ship to regulate its output downward until a more sustainable level was

achieved.

       This final power compensation marked the beginning of the long acceleration period for

Ron. He would endure it for the sixteen or so billots of unending pressure until VL-1, (light

speed) was achieved, at which time he would switch to the Nova-drive. The Darlile boasted

most powerful hypervelocity engine of its kind in the known galaxies, and could leap so far

beyond that once unfathomable rate as to think it crawling, by comparison.

       The time he was trapped in the restraints of his situation gave Ron a chance to consider

his future…and the web of interacting, and often times contradicting choices he had before him.

       The Gitove farm was a welcomed refuge to him. It was a place where he knew he could

relax and enjoy himself, as well as the endless pleasures of Josylinia. He could find peace there.

But he also felt the compunction to travel the face of Caron…so see the planet from the

perspective of an explorer. He was nagged by a pair of wandering feet now, having gained much




                                                                                                   73
of that from Kaskle, he knew, but feeling the same drive nonetheless. However, with the added

responsibility of Sheyah, he also knew he would be hard-pressed to be able to leave on that type

of adventure…his wish to be with her always pulling him back.

       Should he just follow his heart and his own desires, or give up on those for the sake of

this new little girl…after all, he would have plenty of adventure with Cache and her plans. There

were hundreds of worlds in need of their help, and he was certain there would be peril enough to

go around…sufficient to ease his need for a rush.

       “Besides,” he assured himself, “raising her will be its own adventure…and it’ll be over

before we know it.”




                                                                                                  74
                                              Chapter Six

                                             Bounty Hunters



          The reach of the Rauldens was far out into space…to the very edge of their solar system,

but space is vast, and even they could not clear the entire way, which was what Ron soon

discovered.

          The Darlile blasted past the influences of Metash and onward into the nearly

incomprehensible expanses of the galaxy, only to start picking up scanning signals straight away.

Some were very distant, some were close, but the total was eight when all were accounted for.

Ron sat calmly in his command seat and allowed those who dared approach do so. Six of the

crafts were instantly identified and their threat level assessed. The other two were of unknown

origin.

          He was thoroughly familiar with the value of his life…or death…to the Kreete, and

presumed such a collection of greedy souls was likely to form around what the Triad viewed as


                                                                                                  75
his home, so he was prepared. His heart rate climbed a bit, just due to the nature of the hunters’

intentions, but the Darlile saw no serious contenders in the nearest group.

       Two of the ships moved to cut Ron off, but the first was disabled so fast it was almost sad

to have battled so weak an adversary. The next attacked from the flank and fired some

impressive weaponry, rattling the black vessel slightly, but the return fire was far more

devastating. Consequently that ship was left adrift as well, with no shielding, no engines, and

cart wheeling out of control through the cosmos.

       Ron did not deviated from his course in the slightest, and now looked forward instead of

aft. Four more of the treasure-seekers were left in the Darlile’s wake as her speed continued to

climb at a rate they simply could not match. That left only two…the unidentifiable

spacecraft…and they would not go away so easy.

       This pair initially was the furthest from Ron’s position, yet they closed the gap quickly

and came in at a thirty degree angle to the port side. The sensors aboard the Darlile were very

fine, but they couldn’t penetrate whatever shielding the two had, so Ron’s attention sharpened.

He immediately called up thoughts of those unmanned fighters the Kreete turned loosed on him

back over Caron. However, these didn’t appear anything like those…and the drone fighters were

supposed to be the “cutting-edge” of the Kreete’s arsenal.

       When the twin alien ships were still just beyond his weapons’ range, Ron pressed

forward on the throttles and let the Darlile run. He didn’t like the unknown of this new threat

and wanted to at least have more time to study them. The acceleration was exciting at first, but

the looming predators would not allow him to fully enjoy himself as they altered their courses to

give chase, falling back as they turned but beginning to close again immediately afterward.




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        Ron requested the Darlile do some quick calculations and was informed of a fact which

made his jaw clamp down hard. At the speed they were traveling, whoever was in the cockpit of

those crafts had just survived crushing inertial loads even he wouldn’t have cared to try. Such a

feat peaked Ron’s curiosity even further and made him question just what type of creature could

handle that.

        The Darlile was already tearing through space at an advancing rate which bordered on

dangerous for its captain, but Ron merely gritted his teeth, clenched his stomach, and shoved the

throttles up another notch.

        The hunting pair held their ground for a while…neither falling back nor gaining for

another fifteen borts…but then the distance meter on the viewer showed they were surging ahead

once more…quickly.

        “How the hell can they do it?” he asked himself as he fought hard against the G-forces

threatening to collapse his lungs. “Darlile, how…much more…can I take…before…I black

out?”

        “Ron Allison is already operating craft beyond safety margins,” replied the calm female

voice of the ship.

        “Increase oxygen in cockpit…to pure O-2…and raise pressure…fifteen percent.”

        Ron’s flagging lucidity began to sharpen with those adjustments and so he increased his

power settings again, but it was not enough to stop the gaining pursuers’ closure.

        “Son of a…”

        They kept coming until they violated the perimeter of the Darlile’s cannons’ range, so

Ron answered their trespass with a volley of plasma, cutting just beside each of them.

        Still they came.




                                                                                                 77
       The next grouping of shots enveloped the ship to the left, surrounding the energy barrier

with red lightning as the plasma tried to force its way through whatever barrier they were

utilizing. The result was two seconds of what appeared to be static discharge outlining the

protective bubble of the foreign ship perfectly…but still it came!

       Ron knew he would be in deep trouble if he was forced to maintain this amount of

pressure for much longer, but he saw no alternative other than to let these two space vessels

overtake him. And without any knowledge of their firepower or intentions, he felt compelled to

take his torment to the maximum.

       As he watched them, a change appeared on the viewer. A life-size projection of Cache’s

torso suddenly filled the left quadrant of the forward screen.

       “Ron! What are you doing? Cut back on the accel! I have received intel of your

situation and you must slow down!”

       “Can’t!” Ron grunted. “Danger…behind!”

       “I see them too, but you cannot withstand the stress your body is under! You must slow

down…NOW!”

       Ron didn’t respond to her order, and his hand didn’t withdraw from the throttle, thereby

overriding the ship’s safety protocols.

       “Darlile…stop the acceleration!”

       Nothing.

       “Darlile…this is Cache Kuar…identify my voice print!”

       “Confirmed,” answered the placid computer.

       “Drop the acceleration immediately!”

       “Negative.”




                                                                                                78
       “WHAT?” Cache demanded. “That is a direct order! Do as I say!”

       “Cache Kuar is not on board this space craft. Pilot in command has priority. Until

present operator is incapacitated, he is first in hierarchy. Deceleration is overridden.”

       “Ron…stop it! Ron…please! You could die!”

       “Not…yet!” Ron managed to grunt out as the sights he perceived all began to take on a

rising red hue. He was in battle with a mortal enemy…the thrust of his own ship…and he was

resigned to not relent. The only bad thing was, those giving chase were still closing.

       “How the hell can they…?”

       At that instant, the two ships in his wake fired. The weapons they used weren’t the

plasma energy bursts Ron expected, designed to disrupt or destroy his ship’s defense barrier, but

rather a beam of some unknown configuration. Ron braced himself for a jolt that never came,

and at first he thought the stress on his body and brain might be making him hallucinate, but after

a few moments he realized what was happening.

       The Darlile’s viewer dimmed for just a bit, warped to the right like looking through a

very old window, and then stabilized. He quickly checked the power grid and found it running

normally, as was every other system he could see.

       “What’s happening?” Cache asked, paralleling Ron’s thoughts.

       Cache’s image flickered, pixilated, and then disappeared, the communication line

severed, so Ron fired once more…another full power burst. He targeted the same vessel he had

earlier and when their shields lit up that time, the beam ceased…and then the ship fell back

fast…vanishing to a mere speck in a flash.

       Either the blast damaged its engines and forced them to lower their power settings, or

they just decided the chase was over…and Ron didn’t care which.




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         He was graying out again at that point so as soon as the Darlile’s weapon’s capacitor

recharged, he fired on the other foreigner…a full power, maximum blast…but saw little effect.

The odd beam seemed to lose some of its integrity, but it continued until the second discharge

from the Darlile, at which time that craft followed its partner.

         With the rapid withdrawal of the two chasers, Ron allowed himself a margin of comfort

and safety, backing down on the thrusters of the powerful black space ship he commanded. It

wasn’t much…just enough to enable his mind to focus…and soon was breathing considerably

more easily. He fought on a while longer against the stronger-than-normal gravity quotients, out

of pure anger at having been overtaken like that, but finally relinquished control of the war bird

to its safety protocols and tried to relax. The alien vessels were already a tremendous distance

away, still falling behind, and slowing.

         The Cache image returned directly after the Darlile stabilized, and the terror on her face

was all Ron needed to understand her panic. Her wide eyes and pale coloring were as clear as if

she sat beside him, but when her stare met his, her face changed immediately…flushed to a

cherry coloring.

         “I th-th-thought that y-y-you…” she stuttered before catching her head in her shaking

hands.

         After a few moments she collected herself and her smile returned.

         “What happened?”

         “I don’t have a clue. They hit us with some ray, or beam, but what it did…or was

supposed to do…I have no idea.”

         “I am sooooo glad that you are all right! When the com went down, I was afraid you

were…we had lost you.”




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        Ron flashed her his most devilish smile and winked.

        “Not just yet, Babe!”

        Cache chuckled at his cavalier attitude and sat back with a huge, sighing release of air.

        “Now if you could, would you help me figure out if the ship was damaged?”

        “Yes, yes…of course!” she replied, jumping back into motion.

        Ron could see a bit of the room behind her and watched Aanlis and several of her

technician assistants cycling through information monitors at a blistering rate.

        “Do you have any idea who those guys were, Cache?”

        “No. The data we have collected here is yet to reveal even a guess as to the origin of

those vessels…so I have no way of knowing their level of technology, and therefore their

capabilities.”

        “Well whoever they are, the beam they shot cut through the Darlile’s shield like they

weren’t even up!”

        “I know, I know,” she acknowledged with a stubborn grumble to her voice. Then she

looked at him again and saw his haggard appearance. “Ron, how do you feel? You look

drained. Are you ill…headache, or nausea…anything that might be a result of that exasperating

chase?”

        “No, I’m okay. I feel like I just ran a marathon though.”

        “I want to tell you before I invade your privacy that I will run a full spectrum scan of

your physical condition. What you just went through may have done some serious damage to

your body.”

        “Well, it’s nice to know you care,” he told her glibly.

        “Oh Ron,” she thought, “If you only knew how much!”




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       Instead, she smiled warmly and said, “I suppose it is a waste of time to ask if you would

consider returning for a few days…so that I can thoroughly examine you and the Darlile?”

       Ron looked into her eyes for a long few seconds, getting a reminder of just why he and

she had been drawn to one another so long ago. His heart took a bit of a jump as he recalled how

close they were on that one spectacular day, and he felt his entire body flush with excitement.

But he was set on a path to visit his home world now…to be rejoined with his wife…so he

promptly blocked such improper urges and actions.

       “Thank you…truly…but I’ll be fine…and it will take about another billot until I reach

light speed, so you have until then to let me know about the ship. But if all checks out, I really

need to keep going. I’d have to go back by those guys again anyway, if I turned around.”

       Cache sighed again and nodded her head, looking off to her console intently.

       “So far it seems like all primary systems are operating normally. The ‘beam’ appears to

be some sort of attack on the computer system…possibly trying to disable it, or take control of it

in order to stop, or slow down the Darlile. You rest and I’ll work on it.”

       “Talk to you soon!”

       With that, Cache’s image vanished and Ron was left in the peace and serenity of the

mighty warbird. The threat was now so far behind him that his sensors couldn’t even find them,

so he got as comfortable as he could and enjoyed the view.

       The acceleration of the Darlile was still quite a load, but it had ramped down to what

Cache was typically used to, in order to allow Ron to recover, so he was quite at ease. He found

the cool blackness of space to be very calming and was nodding off by the time Cache

reestablished her communication link. The image blinked on silently and she caught him when




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he was just about out. She started to say something and then decided against it, preferring to

watch him instead.

        Ron’s action was like most any other man on a long trip with nothing to do. His head

dropped forward slowly and then popping up with a jerk, expecting to find the car veering off the

road. He checked his position quickly and saw Cache’s smiling face.

        “I did not have the heart to wake you,” she told him softly. “You looked so adorable that

I simply could not bring myself to do it.”

        Ron blushed red…a rare occasion to be sure…then chuckled, rubbing his eyes.

        “I guess that little scuffle was harder on me than I thought.”

        “Well, you can rest soon because we have found no indications of damage to the ship’s

systems…thereby I give you the ‘go ahead’ to transition into transoptic flight.”

        “Okay then. I suppose I’ll see you on the other side?”

        The communication system could not breach the confines of the Dynatube, and that

meant she’d have to wait until he was in normal space again to speak with him, so Cache merely

nodded.

        “May your trip be peaceful, my love,” she wanted to say. “Get some rest!” is what she

did tell him.

        With that said, her image blinked away once more.




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                                          Chapter Seven

                                       The First Time Around



       At last the time was up, and the disappearance of the acceleration forces sprang Ron

forward in his seat, his muscles having been fighting against them for so long as to now miss the

extra weight. His coordination returned after a few minutes of stretching and manipulating his

fingers, so he went immediately to the next phase…the transoptic hyper-velocity engine known

as the Nova-drive.

       Ron engaged that system without a second thought, and afterward he merely sat back to

watch…fascinated by what would soon occur. He could feel a hum through the structure of the

Darlile as the power-plant spooled up. Without delay, bright blue lightning from the drive began


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to build and reveal itself in spurts out on the hull. It spread quickly and was strong enough to

form a thick layer of living energy that danced across the leading edge of the wings in a

mesmerizing display, surrounding and encasing the Darlile in its brilliance. When the level of

power was sufficient, it both expanded outward to encase the vessel, wingtip to wingtip, and

surged forward to conjoin in front of the ship at a central location. Next, the field began to grow

brighter and intensify until the entire scene forward of the Darlile was a dramatic show of ultra-

concentrated energy that rotated and darted about blindingly…the Dynatube!

       Once the parameters of the tube were firmly established, the innermost point of the

energy field formed a tight ball of blue fire which slowly, deliberately retreated ahead of the

ship…and she moved toward it.

       This artificial energy well, or singularity, was in essence a man-made graviton pit…a

hole in space-time which bore the attractive force of a dozen black-holes, all focused on one

objective…to pull the Darlile into its realm.

       A cylindrical shell of energy now encompassed the ship, serving as both a conduit and a

shield. It was a corridor that helped focus the incredible power of the pit, and a barrier to keep

any other matter from coming into contact with the spacecraft within its confines. The Darlile

was no longer in physical proximity with the outside universe. Instead, the ship traveled beyond

it…beyond physics…and beyond the galaxy that Rauld lied in.

       Ron watched the screen as the speed quotients began to rise…and rise…and rise. He

didn’t comprehend the velocity, no one…not even the brilliant Rauldens…truly could.

       Once more, he saw planets, entire solar systems, and even nebulae whiz by at a furious

rate. He witnessed deep space debris like comets and extinct stars, and the remains of colliding

galaxies far off in the distance. A quasar popped up on the screen, then a neutron star…followed




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by more celestial bodies than he even knew existed, and could only fathom because the computer

told him what he was seeing.

         Just as before, on his two previous trips through space, Ron sat for a long time and

watched the incredible scene, unable to think beyond his basic wonder and curiosity at the

heavens. Finally though, his physical needs urged him away, so he left the cockpit and moved

aft.

         Once he was relieved, stretched and comfortable again, he shifted his focus a bit.

         With the ship running completely on automatic, Ron initiated a program developed by

Fortell, which would begin to acclimatize him to the lesser atmospheric pressure he would find

on Earth. Over the weeks of the trip, the inside of the Darlile would gradually lessen its pressure

and alter its atmosphere to match the sample of Earth’s air the Darlile captured on its previous

visit.

         With that set, he went to bed and slept the rest of the day away. The trials he’d just

survived had burned up his energy levels badly, so he felt it best to start fresh when he woke up.

It was thirty-two days until the decel. There would be time enough to get his tasks done.

         During the voyage back to his beginnings, Ron spent many long hours just watching the

viewscreen…captivated by the sights of the universe that were so grand they left him in

breathless wonder at the beauty and majesty of them. It was nothing for him to sit for six hours

without a break, just gazing at the cosmos and its infinite marvels. God’s canvas was beyond his

wildest imagination.

         At times though, when he was able to pry his curious soul away from such an unending,

glorious vision, he poured over the recording of the last trip to Earth…this time watching the




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viewer while postulating about just what was currently happening on the world he once called

home.

        He brought the recording up once more to the beginning of the encounter and relived the

experience. Just like the other times, he had a difficult time staying objective. The footage was

so perfect that he couldn’t tell he wasn’t actually barreling down on his home planet in the

present tense.

        It was nighttime when the Darlile entered Earth’s atmosphere over Africa, slicing

through the thin air as if it weren’t even there, the white hot glow of the incinerating molecules

enveloping the outer layer of the ship’s shields, but doing no damage whatsoever. Dropping

speed drastically, he pulled up and soared over the land, barely three thousand feet above the

surface, and his transonic wake sent every person below into a terrified frenzy, for not even the

most alert souls could see the cause of the noise. The ebony craft was several miles ahead of the

sound, visually imperceptible in the black sky…and with the shields set to maximum, it

scrambled every tracking station within a thousand leagues. But even its tremendous speed

couldn’t keep the ship from total detection. The movement of the sensor disruption alone was

noted straight away, and spread around the globe like the rolling blackout it caused…and radio

waves were faster still than the mighty ship.

        When the course of the Darlile was analyzed, the countries beneath it began what they

saw as defensive measures to try and find out just what it was that was passing overhead like an

eclipse. The phenomenon was disturbing at the very least, even terrifying to many of the

military leaders who saw their finest equipment rendered useless, yet unharmed. What could

possibly be nullifying the most sophisticated systems on the planet as if they were some simple,




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archaic radio waves? And as the burgeoning new dawn found the black super-ship over the

middle east, Ron was finally shown exactly what the greeting from his fellow men was.

       The sky was filled with antiaircraft fire, exploding shells of shrapnel, and even ground to

air rockets shooting blindly. The Darlile didn’t even bother to alter its path, her shields

vaporizing those bits of debris like sweeping dust from a windshield.

       Military personnel on the ground who witnessed the flyby called ahead of the shadow-

ships trajectory to warn those in its path of what was coming. They had to use land-lines of

course because no transmissions of any kind could penetrate the Darlile’s jamming shroud.

       Across the Mediterranean Sea and into Europe, the black craft glided. There the Italian

Air Force was joined by the Spanish, the German, the British, and the French, filling the skies as

densely as they could…hoping for a glimpse at the intruder. All of them were positioned to

merely photograph the unidentified aircraft, and did not attempt to fire at it. After all, they had

little chance of actually hitting it anyway, since the velocity the Darlile was loping along at was

simply unattainable by any known plane. They were merely gathering information as quickly as

they could.

       The Darlile’s computer alerted Ron to their scans, but radar, infrared, and even Doppler

measuring equipment returned nothing to their operators. The only intelligence they could

gather was visual, before the streaking black aerial stiletto was gone.

       Around to the eastern side of China, and down the chains of islands that eventually led

across to Australia, each country reacted in their own way…some with weapons fired out of fear,

or pride, and others simply watching and hoping that this unstoppable vehicle was not a threat.




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       When he swept around westward, just grazing the ice-covered expanse of Antarctica, and

then headed up the South American continent, there was a decided change in the

flight…peaceful, open airspace.

       The southern countries had apparently decided to clear their skies of any chances of an

unwelcome encounter. Too, after great urging by the North American leaders to stand down and

not appear threatening, they obliged by putting their ground-based defense systems on standby.

Such weapons wouldn’t even fire if they couldn’t lock onto a target, and there was simply no

opportunity for that. The broad-spectrum mind-set of the collaborating agencies concluded that

their limited capabilities were far inferior to what had already been tried across the globe,

thereby showing no real reason to try anyway. After all, these peaceful lands didn’t want any

new enemies, and would rather let the Americans make the first move.

       To that end, the skies were devoid of all air traffic…no planes of any sort were within

sensor range…that is…over that landmass.

       Farther north, where the last superpower country was waiting, their entire fleet of jets,

helicopters, and even blimps were in the air…waiting for this alien vessel to clear the southern

countries’ airspace. The Americans, defiant to the last, were determined to capture every

possible image, or glimpse, or sound of that unbelievable ship. The news of what was coming

could, of course, not be contained from the general public, and therefore a substantial amount of

panic had already begun. The national emergency stations didn’t hesitate, pumping out nearly

nonstop warnings to remain calm as the entire governmental community was frantically trying to

piece together exactly what was happening…and what they should do about this airborne

interlude. They were at least grateful to have been graced with several hours of warning before

their time came, but it really was to no avail.




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       Ron sat with his arms folded as he watched the Darlile blast across the Central American

land-bridge, the passing ground beneath him a total blur. The airspeed showed just under mach

five, and the ebony craft was barely a thousand feet above the rugged terrain. He could see a

clear corridor between the hundreds…no thousands…of military aircraft, giving the black

spaceship a wide berth as she blazed through them and headed up the California coastline.

Airborne commercial aircrafts were by then nonexistent, while the entire world held its breath

and scoured the heavens for this interloper from an unknown place. Ron zoomed in to see the

ground more clearly, finding virtually all streets, parking lots, rooftops, and fields literally

packed with spectators at every conceivable point. There wasn’t a single person working that day

anywhere along the projected route of the ship, while all eyes focused on this incredible

occurrence.

       Radio chatter was so thick that Ron was eventually forced to run the recording over a

dozen times before he felt he’d heard enough to get a true feeling of what the public…as well as

the military…were thinking. Of course, none of their communication within the “dead zone” the

Darlile was producing went anywhere but into the computer’s archives, since the black ship’s

jamming capabilities destroyed any radio, cell-phone, or uplink with satellites that were

attempted.

       Over five million photographs were taken of that dramatic event in the United States

alone while the ship of mysterious origins soared unhampered over the land. Ron’s

consciousness had to keep reminding him this was merely a replay every now and again, forcing

him to break his almost blink-less stare at the screen. Glancing around, he noted the Darlile had

slowed to just over mach three as she screamed along above the American west coast, but the

shockwave from his passage dropped to barely a crackle at that speed due to the incredible




                                                                                                   90
technology of the Rauldens…and at five thousand feet, those on the ground were fortunate of

that!

        With a sharp right turn over Mount Whitney, the ship headed east, rising enough to crest

the beautiful, snow-covered Rockies before diving back to more low level flight across the Great

Plains. The United States’ military tried only once to stop the Darlile, over the highly restricted

airspace of the nuclear missile fields in the Midwest. One surface to air missile was fired, but it

was destroyed barely a hundred yards after takeoff…something Ron had never been aware of. It

was hit with the emerald green plasma from the Darlile’s fwd cannon, and simply vanished…no

explosion, no noise, and no repeat of the attempt.

        As they flew over Illinois, Ron noticed a blip on the screen which was on an intercept

course with the Darlile, so he monitored it closely. A quick scroll of his finger enhanced the

image of that particular vessel leaving him shocked and impressed. It was the airplane he

instinctually compared the Darlile to upon his first sight of her…the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird!

Ron couldn’t restrain a smile at that sight. As it approached, it swung around to come up above

the ebony spaceship, and paced them for a long while, its camera undoubtedly whirring away

nonstop. Finally though, it was low on fuel and was replaced by another identical airplane.

        Down the east coast they went, with scores of other aircraft along the way, positioned to

get a close look at the dark visitor, even though to most, it was just a black streak. Down the

Florida peninsula and across the Gulf of Mexico, the Darlile banked in a long, slow arc, until it

was headed north once more.

        Ron doubted there was a single inch of the alien vessel not captured on high resolution

film by the time they reached his home town.




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       As the ship swept up the Calcasieu River, slowing to subsonic speeds above the marshes,

Ron saw the hundreds of tiny communities dotting that watery land, and he felt homesick. It

wasn’t because he lived there, in the marsh, but because it was so wonderful to see the familiar

sights of the region of his youth. Above the lake at the city of Lake Charles, Louisiana, he

banked again, now flying low and slow (less than a hundred miles per hour and barely two

hundred feet aloft). The dark craft braked even further as it eased smoothly over Westlake, until

it hovered above his parent’s home.

       His folks were not there, or they wouldn’t exit the house, but he could make out their

longtime neighbors he’d grown up with, and caught himself in a momentary urge to shout down

to them, but muted it. He glanced all about at the familiar locale, mentally checking off a list of

identifiable traits he remembered. Everything was just as it should be…except for the thousands

of souls walking in the streets, wondering at the marvelous spectacle of this inconceivable

experience.

       A few moments over that house, and the Darlile was on the move again, drifting slowly

down the main street of Westlake, headed north. The vicinity of the ship was by then buzzing

with activity as no less than twenty helicopters paced the shadow-bird, circling like hornets

around their hive…and filming every instant. The entire entourage moved as one, pacing the

interloper until it paused yet again, this time above Ron’s own home.

       Suddenly the swarming aircraft were gone from his view, as was the hundreds of

gawking people on the ground all around the little subdivision of his house. His focus was

tightened to a mere three-foot space…the doorway he’d carried his bride across (now nearly

three years past, but at the time of the recording, only a handful of months), and then he saw the

love of his former life once more.




                                                                                                   92
        He halted the playback to devour her with his eyes…eyes now laden with tears.

        She was breathtaking! The angle he had was poor, she being nearly directly beneath the

ship, but his mind filled in the voids his eyes could not. He easily recalled every silky turn of her

delicate form, from the feathery drape of her bangs, to the tips of her painted toes…and his heart

felt like it would explode with his yearning for her.

        He restarted the recording after an undeterminable amount of time spent just absorbing

his memories of her.

        Her slim, nubile young figure was pure grace as she exited the house, leaving the door

wide open when she did. She strolled out onto the deep green carpet of grass Ron had so

arduously managed to cultivate in the muggy climate of the area. She appeared to be in search of

whatever the neighbors were all congregating to stare at, and her head swung back and forth,

taking in the scene before her. Her formfitting sundress swished side to side with her feminine

gait, and her chestnut hair lifted and settled in the light breeze.

        Finally, when she noticed the stares and hands pointing in the air, she spun about to

investigate their objective, and when she did, she fell back…stumbling from the sheer surprise of

what she saw.

        Ron had already seen this many times by now, but he still felt the urge to go to her…to

calm her and protect her from fears of this unknown, possibly menacing visitor. Two ladies from

the next houses over, rushed to his wife and knelt with her until the Darlile eased away and shot

upward again…at which point the playback stopped, returning to the live feed of the outside,

with stars and galactic visions of immense beauty.

        The termination of the recording left Ron alone with his thoughts again…the same ones

he began worrying about the day after his initial epiphany that Earth was not destroyed.




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       How would he possibly be able to explain all the occurrences in his life over the last few

years? How could he explain how he was merely a few dozen feet away from her, and had left

without seeing her, or talking with her? He knew she loved him as much as he loved her, but

could she be patient enough to listen to him now. Would she even recognize him? His body was

greatly changed, as was his eyes, and he presumed even his voice was no longer the same.

       “My God!” he said out loud to the empty cabin. “Am I nuts to even think about going

back? Who the hell will believe any of this…much less understand it?”

       After another hour of deliberation, he came to the same conclusion he reached weeks

ago; his parents. He would seek them out and try to explain it to them first. Then, they could

help him with “her”.

       Ron’s head was pounding following his mental bout, so he forced himself to stop

obsessing over it and return to his routine. He went to the aft end of the ship and began his

workouts…stretching, running on a treadmill, mock sparring, and even target practice with his

bow…which was very limited in the interior of the Darlile. The artificially substituted gravity

served his needs well enough to get through his tasks, but they weren’t the same as the true pull

of a planet’s mass, and he longed for the real thing.

       Eventually however, after the weeks were finally behind him and the warning

announcement indicating it was time to begin the braking phase finally sounded, he was so elated

he nearly cheered.




                                                                                                  94
                                        Chapter Eight

                                      Back to Square One

        After another two thirds of a day, the deceleration period was done, so Ron reentered the

Earth’s solar system with high anxiety, and the need for speed. The Darlile was approaching his

home-world at an angle of thirty degrees to that of the planets’ orbital pathways, so after

determining the ship was clear of any encroaching obstacles, Ron dropped the hammer on the

mighty warship’s engines. He called for maximum thrust, and blasting toward his goal in a

beeline, at a quarter light speed.

        At first he used the Darlile’s image enhancers to see Earth, but as the hours passed by, he

kept downsizing the magnification until the sight of the blue planet was filling the viewer all on

its own. That was when the butterflies began in his stomach.

        Taking note that sunset was still a couple of hours away from his intended target, Ron

brought the black warbird to a halt outside the communications’ satellites’ orbits, and waited.

        He was so nervous he had to pace off the excess energy during this period, checking on

his pack half a dozen times and running through the plan in his head twice that count.

        At last the Earth rotated to the perfect position, and Ron took his seat again, gently

throttling the ship into motion.


                                                                                                  95
       Before Sheyah was born, Cache worked out the complex parameters which would allow

the Darlile to block the signals of Earth’s ground-based scanning devices, but still not cause the

massive crash of those systems like it did previously. At the configuration level she set, the

Darlile would be completely undetectable other than by actual sight, yet leave no tell-tale sign.

       Ron scanned the open water of the Gulf of Mexico for signs of boats in his intended

landing area, and maneuvered around them until he was over the proper coordinates. Next, he

lowered the ebony craft ever so slowly, until it touched the wave crests…and then cut the

engines.

       The Darlile plunged downward quickly, the displacement of her fuselage not nearly large

enough to support her weight on this planet’s watery surface. As the ship descended, Ron saw

the wonders of the ocean’s depths displayed on the viewscreen in front of him. And since it was

completely generated by sensors, he was able to adjust the image until it appeared as bright as

daylight hours even though it was dark above.

       He watched for a short while, but his wish to continue his quest was too much to

overcome, so he pried his curiosity free and instigated the portal’s visual com-link. It took only

a fraction of the power of a fully opened portal, but items couldn’t be transferred between the

different realms either. A few seconds later, the disheveled face of a bleary-eyed Raulden

woman filled the screen.

       Ron checked the time at the lower left corner of the picture and confirmed this was not

the time for Cache’s normal sleep cycle. He also noticed that the room was different from her

quarters.

       “Sorry, Cache. I didn’t think before…”

       “No, no…it is no bother. I wanted you to notify me. How are you?”




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       “Everything went smooth…a bit long and lonely…but smooth. What about you and

Sheyah? Is she wearing you out yet…not getting enough rest?”

       Ron saw the answer in her crooked little smirk, but she didn’t want to admit it.

       “No…she and I are fine. I just need to adjust to her schedule. I was not aware that young

ones were so…”

       “Demanding…finicky…stubborn…wearisome…”

       “Challenging,” Cache blurted, cutting off Ron’s acerbic commentary.

       They both laughed and moved on.

       “How’s Sheyah doing with…wait a minute…where are you?” he asked, leaning to see

around her a bit. “I don’t recognize…”

       “Oh…we are in our cottage on Caron! What do you think of it?” she asked, stepping

aside so he could get a better view.

       It was very dimly lit, but Ron could see almost half the room, with Sheyah’s cradle just in

the picture to the left, and a black window off to the right. The furniture and decorations had a

definite Raulden motif, but there was one painting and a hand-woven rug that were decidedly

Caronian. All in all, it was a lovely space.

       “It looks great! How long have you lived there?”

       “The construction was completed the day you left, and we moved in three dactrais later.

Sheyah adapted right away, not even noticing the change…and the Gitoves were so excited!

Josy and Mishea have been terrific! We spend most of the time over at the big house.”

       Ron felt a strong tug to rejoin them in that moment, missing the sweet little baby girl

immensely, as well as her mother. He knew he could visit with her for hours, catching up on

everything, but he purposely returned his focus to the present location.




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       “Any news about the ship’s condition? You know…after that weird attack?”

       Cache wanted to spend time with him as well, but she was a pragmatist to the core and

shifted her thoughts as well, unruffled.

       “No, but the data we have to go through is quite extensive, so we were relegated to wait

until you were back in normal space-time to complete it. We shall begin again while you are on

your journey. Are you ready?”

       “Oh, yeah! I’m tired of being in this tight space…not that the Darlile is deficient or

anything…I just meant…”

       “I know what you mean,” she chuckled. “I would be feeling a bit penned up as well if I

were you. All right…well…good luck…and may the Guardian guide your steps.”

       “Thanks. Kiss Sheyah for me. I’ll talk to you soon.”

       The last thing she gave him was a deep, caring smile before the connection went dark. It

made him feel warm and relaxed…exactly what he needed just then.

       Hesitating no further, he headed straight for the loading area of the probe. Everything

was readied, so he merely had to stuff his body into that tight tube, which was no small task, and

wait for the launch.

       The sensor feed from the main viewer was relayed into the probe’s compartment and onto

his special glasses, so he could watch what was occurring outside the tiny capsule, thereby

easing his claustrophobic tendencies. The launch port for the probe quickly rotated to the closed

position and then flooded as they continued to sink.

       Ron had a flashing thought of worry when he considered the possibility that the small

vehicle he was in might develop a leak…but he quickly dismissed it since he hadn’t witnessed a

single device created by the Rauldens that didn’t achieve its goal.




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       There was a random odd thought pressing him just then as well…at this crushing depth

even his heavy-worlder body was buoyant enough that he could actually swim through it. Of

course, it was a fact with absolutely no bearing since he was more than thirty miles from the

nearest oil rig where he could climb up for air.

       The wait he had to endure wasn’t a long one…of which he was grateful…before he felt

the ship settle to the gulf’s floor. Then there was a momentary checking of the Darlile’s status

prior to receiving the “go” signal, and the probe slipped from its berth.

       The torpedo-like device accelerated quickly, putting substantial stress on Ron, which

startled him initially, until he recalled who designed it…at which time it made him grin.

       “Cache, you lead-foot!” he chortled.

       In order to achieve the depth he and Cache concluded would be safe from any prying

eyes or sonar sweeps, Ron put the ship down in a thousand foot deep trench, two hundred miles

from the coast, and now he was making up the distance quickly.

       The flora of the sea went whistling by too fast to see, inviting the probe’s guidance drive

to maneuver aggressively around a few of the sporadically positioned oilrigs’ massive structures.

Ron had a wild ride in that tiny cylindrical ferry, which kept his mind from worrying about the

dangerous predicament he was in should a malfunction occur in the middle of the Gulf. Barely

forty-nine minutes later, it began dropping speed quickly and preparing to make landfall.

       The sensor array of the mini-sub increased its power until it reached out just far enough

to see a mile onto land…not wanting to risk too strong a signal being detected. Ron immediately

searched for a good spot to beach his little vessel.

       The general location he settled on was fairly remote, but there were a few surf-fishermen

off to the west, casting out into the water, so he looked east. At the very edge of the range of his




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scanner was a pickup truck parked on the sand. There were two individuals in that vehicle…a

boy and a girl…and Ron felt certain about what they were up to.

       The tall grass of the region was the perfect cover and was only fifty yards up the sandy

beach. The only road in the area lay a mere twenty yards further inland, so he decided this was

it.

       The probe he piloted was originally designed to explore worlds, as well as space, so when

it slowed to barely the speed of a fast running man, and exited the watery confines of the ocean,

it was still mobile. Equipped with a gravity-cancelling mode, much like the hover-sleds on

Rauld, it instantly sprang up to float two feet above the ground, leaving no trace of its passage,

and making almost no sound. Ron kept it moving until it was only a few steps from the

roadway, where he finally stopped.

       He waited an additional few minutes inside the slim craft, watching the sensor readouts

for any signs of his landing having been witnessed. He greatly doubted it had, since the moon

was not up and it was very dark. Also, the only people around were too far away to have seen

anything but a quick blip of the cylindrical machine, but they were focused on other things.

       With no indications of any problems, Ron popped the hatch on the vehicle and raised his

head out into the night air…and nearly choked. The atmosphere inside the Darlile, although

adjusted to Earth’s pressure, was inordinately clean and pleasant. However, when he inhaled the

light breeze out in the real world of his birth, the salty, briny, fishy smells of the region were

very powerful to his keen senses. And in conjunction with those were the stink of diesel fumes

of recently passed trucks, burning trash with plastic mixed in, hot oil and grease from the work-

port three miles to the west, and a couple of cheap cigars. Unite all those smells with the




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thinness of the air requiring him to breathe very deeply, which in turn forced him to fight hard

against his gag reflex, and the result was extremely difficult to adjust to.

       Being away from such things for so long really brought home the fact of just how easy it

was for “progress” to effect the environment in a negative way.

       Ron clamped his jaws firmly as he extracted his large frame from the tight inner space of

his transport, instantly aware of the lesser gravity, and unloaded his gear. He slipped on his

heavy overcoat first-off, to help steady him, his wary demeanor on full alert for any approaching

individual or vehicle…but none came.

       A quick double-check of the small area of the probe’s interior confirmed it was empty

and so he stepped back, teetering a bit. When he managed to steady himself in the soft, powdery

sand, he reached over and spun the dial on his chrono, changing the screen from a time piece to a

new mode.

       He pressed his thumb firmly on the face for a full second, and then spoke.

       “Dock!” he uttered in a low voice.

       The probe’s open compartment immediately closed and the slender capsule slowly

whirled about until it faced the open water again. There was a momentary hum as the drive unit

spooled up, and then the torpedo looking vessel leapt into motion, vanishing into the water in a

flash. Ron blinked at the quickness of the little craft, surprised at just how fast it could

accelerate, and then he turned to his own business again. There was a long way to go yet.

       He was on his knees in the sandy, sparsely covered glade of tall marsh grass, still

hunkering down to avoid any happenstance sighting, and noticed he was sinking deeper into that

fine, shifting material with every movement or adjustment of his weight. He knew there was no




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danger of him disappearing completely…this was not quicksand…but it did begin his training

concerning the obstacles he would encounter during his stay here.

       With careful movements, trying to adjust to his new balance points, Ron slung his

backpack over his shoulder and got to his feet. Delicately, like he was walking in a minefield, he

took seven careful steps, sinking to his ankles with each one, and reached the asphalt surface of

the road a few moments later.

       “Whew!” he let out, breathing a sigh of relief, and looked around.

       There was no movement from any human he could detect…just the rustlings of small

creatures wriggling, hopping, or splashing about. He glanced south, at the Gulf’s surf, noticing

how unusually calm it was…as if asleep in the night. Next he looked up at the familiar stars of

his home-world and smiled, thinking they had never looked so beautiful. But again, that was to

the south. When he swung around northward, it was easy to see a thick, solid line of fogbank

very close and drifting toward him.

       “That’ll work.”

       Ron pulled out his chrono again and gave the dial another twist. Two hundred and ninety

two degrees Kelvin…just a hair above freezing…and the barometric pressure was dropping.

       “That weather front is just about on top of me.”

       The coastal road he was standing on ran east-west, and was the only highway in and out

of the immediate area. That meant he needed to head east for almost ten miles before turning

north toward his home town, so he set out straight away.

       Taking it slowly at first, like his initial steps on Rauld so long ago, Ron made his way

into a shaky, bouncy stride. It was an aggravating few minutes, but before long he adjusted into

a pace that wouldn’t get him too winded.




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       His supplemental oxygen canisters would have to be rationed as much as he possibly

could, even though they could recharge themselves. He didn’t want to get dependent on them,

and wanted full tanks always at the ready should he really need them. He was determined to get

accustomed to the ambient air in any event, so now was not the time to begin relying on them.

       A few miles down the road, the fog rolled in, leaving only about fifty feet of visibility

and hiding Ron quite thoroughly from any prying eyes. At that point he began to experiment

with his new surroundings. His first objective was to feel the actual gravity, and his ability to

defy it. He slipped off his pack and overcoat and began to test himself.

       Starting with small acts, like finding his balance, Ron moved through the typical motions

of his daily stretching routine, and then switched to faster and faster combat maneuvers. Once

he’d adjusted to keeping his feet planted, he realized that his hands and feet were literally blurs.

The experience was like after exercising in a swimming pool for a while and then stepping out

into the open air.

       Ron’s curiosity continued on with the next test. There was a large chunk of asphalt off

on the shoulder, left over from some repair work no doubt. He hefted the piece and examined it.

Six inches thick, it was a good foot wide and twice that long, and should have been quite a

handful, yet it felt like a piece of dried out driftwood. He snapped it in half as if it were

Styrofoam.

       “Humph!” Ron grunted, startled by the ease of that act.

       He took half of the piece and looked out at the marsh to the north.

       “Let’s just see,” he mumbled.

       With a nimble spin, he flung the section up and out into the wilderness like a discus

thrower at a track meet. He heard the whistling of its movement disappear into the thick fog and




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waited for the splash. He waited…and waited…and then finally got the report of it hitting the

watery land…way out in the darkness.

           “Geez!”

           Next, Ron set the other piece on the surface of the road, and then pounded it with his fist.

A few loose stones broke loose, but not too many. He hit again and again, increasing the

violence of the hammering each time, trying to gauge at what point it would get painful. The

cold, hard-compacted amalgam of rock and tar shattered and disintegrated before Ron reached

the threshold he was searching for.

           “Okaaaay?” he said with an element of wonder; still deeply curious about how tough he

truly was on this planet.

           Moving on, he started leaping up and down a few times…again, adjusting his balance to

compensate for the odd, lightness he felt. He quickly discovered he could easily clear the height

of the telephone poles alongside the roadway, and that was extremely fun. He practically

giggled at the silliness and ease of it…his playful nature showing itself a real good time. Finally

though, upon landing after a very high leap, the road cracked resoundingly, bringing him back to

reality.

           He donned his coat once more and tried again, finding he could still catch about eight feet

of air. Adding the backpack did even better to keep him grounded, and so onward he went.

           Ron came across a driveway entrance a few miles down the road which had a wooden

light pole mounted in it, and followed his curiosity once more. He placed his large hands on the

twelve-inch thick length of pine, and squeezed. It resisted at first, but when he increased the

pressure he saw his fingers disappearing into the surface of it as if made of cork instead of

weathered, hardened, rot-resistant material intended to last forty years.




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       “Son of a…! That’s so cool!” He grinned like a ten-year-old.

       Back to the trek he went, still not having seen any vehicle, and he wondered about that.

Even though he was out in a pretty remote area, he was certain there were homes sporadically

positioned along the highway, and it seemed a bit odd for the land to be so quiet…and dark.

       The fog would obviously cut down on a good deal of the ambient starlight, but he

couldn’t hear any sounds that would normally lead him to think anyone was within half a mile

from him, and such isolation was very peculiar.

       Half an hour later however, Ron finally got what he’d been waiting for when three

vehicles, two pickup trucks and one compact car went blasting by him at sixty miles an hour. He

moved to the side of the road and watched them closely for signs of stopping, but the trucks just

ripped on by, music blasting with whooping and hollering escaping the windows which were half

down. After the trailing wind gusts pushed by him he detected the distinct smell of some home

grown tobacco products…the kind they twist closed at the ends.

       The little car jerked hard to the other side of the road when it was close, so Ron figured

he must have startled the driver, but it too just kept on moving. No one in their right mind would

pick up a stranger these days…would they?

       He never expected anyone to stop for him anyway, so this was no surprise. He just made

sure the road was clear, and kept on walking.

       Just after the highway veered to a northern direction, the wind picked up, blowing the

moist fog out over the water and leaving him with much better visual input.

       The temperature dropped nearly ten degrees, but Ron never faltered in his stride. He was

smooth and even, chewing up the miles well, until he ran across a spot where an old telephone




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pole stood leaning heavily to the west, next to a new one having taken its place at supporting its

load.

        Ron looked carefully about and then drew his sword. The pole was as big as the last one

he experimented on…about twelve inches in diameter…and he felt this would be a good time to

see what his weapons could do. With a couple of waves through the air to get the feel of the

battle-proven blade, he abruptly struck the pole a solid blow…one handed. It sunk halfway

through! He pulled it free and repeated the strike with both. The upper portion of the wooden

support dropped into the canal beside the roadway, separated cleanly.

        “Huh!” Ron grunted. “That was easy.”

        He brought the ebony weapon around into a stabbing motion and slammed it completely

through to the hand-guard. Next came one of his knives. He buried it easily up to his fist…and

after that, spent the next quarter hour abusing that shortening piece of wood until he felt

comfortable with his survival tools again.

        Another few cars sped past shortly after he resumed his journey, and, as before, they

didn’t even slow down to acknowledge him. That was a couple of hours before the lumber truck

eventually picked him up.



        “Wooooooo, wooooooo!” screamed a shocking blast from an air horn, shattering the

tranquil night abruptly.

        “Shit!” Ron cried as he jerked back out of his plodding stupor.

        It was living in the present again! His focus returned just in time to give him a heart

pounding warning. The survival instincts of his wild nature slammed into gear in a split second,

flooding his mind with critical information. He found himself long past the glow of the city’s




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lights, and a third of the way across the Calcasieu River. The ear-piercing wail of that horn

preceded a hair-raising tactile sensation…the railroad trestle’s wooden ties beneath his feet

began to vibrate. His head whipped around so quickly the brim of his wide hat whistled in the

air.

       “You stupid ass!” he cursed at himself when he saw the light of the oncoming locomotive

barely a quarter of a mile behind him.

       In an instant, he judged how far he was from both ends of the trestle, and how quickly he

could make it to either. The way forward was far, and he knew he wouldn’t make it. The way

back was closer, but the earth beside the tracks was deep, soft, swampy mud on both sides for an

extra hundred yards…and getting bogged down in that sludge could be disastrous.

        The parameters barely blitzed across his thoughts before he was off…headed west…to

the far side. When he was halfway across, the train reached the bridge, and the vibrations grew

powerful. It was all he could do to stay on his feet as the swaying and bouncing tried to thwart

him. He was moving fast, carried along by his powerful heavy-worlder physique, and an even

more powerful wish to live, but there was no hope to match the train’s speed.

       At the three-quarter point, he knew he wouldn’t make it and began frantically searching

for an alternate avenue. The bridge was very old and didn’t have much of a safety rail, or a

walkway…they both being made of lightweight wood he doubted would support him…and if he

hit the water below, he knew he was done.

       By then Ron was puffing extremely hard…the air of Earth unable to sustain him in such a

rigorous endeavor. The thought flashed through his mind about the irony of coming so far, and

being struck down by such a ridiculous reason, but that’s when the growing light from the train

reflected off the overhead supports…heavy, iron supports…and he jumped. At the instant his




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feet left the thick wooden ties, he wished he would have shed his ballast weights, but

couldn’t…he was out of time. Up he flew, at a crossbar twenty feet above him, and his eyes

widened as his body rose because he didn’t think he would reach it.

        The cold wind blowing across him stiffly from the north made no impression, nor did the

splashing sounds of the waves against the pilings. His entire being was locked onto a single edge

of steel which seemed beyond his grasp…but…somehow he did reach it, barely. The first joint

of his fingertips slapped against the beam sharply and he instantly pulled hard, whipping his feet

up and out of the way of the speeding train.

        The horn was blasting away until it passed below Ron’s flying boots, when it abruptly

died in mid wail. Ron winced sharply as that heavy steel device slammed against his right heel,

ripping it off its moorings, but held on to the rusted girder for dear life.

        His heart was racing, from such a near miss, and as he watched the long line of train cars

pass beneath him, his dimming vision and struggled breathing forced him to take a few puffs

from his emergency tanks.

        The jostling and rattling of the metal structure was violent, so he locked his legs around

his perch tightly and sat as still as he could, focused on calming his body. He was determined to

regulate himself without dipping further into his supplies, and by the time the mile long train was

clear of the bridge, he was doing much better.

        When the way was clear, he almost forgot himself again, nearly dropping back down to

the cross-members of the railway without a second thought. However, a creaking groan from the

girder he was on reminded him of his sensitive situation, so he wisely pulled out his micro winch

and lowered himself slowly and easily. His feet touched the wooden ties again a few moments

later, giving him an excellent reason to let out a great sigh of relief. Also, he thanked his good




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fortune for having the foresight to not reject the little device from his techno gear. That tiny

gadget had saved him on numerous occasions, as it did once more, and he patted it affectionately

before he took up his trek again.

         Across the river, the tracks went into a patch of woodland for a short spell before

intersecting the first roadway, and Ron stayed in the shadows of those woods long enough to

evaluate the area. There were dogs barking, owls screeching, and a car passing, as well as

televisions and radios playing news and weather information in the early morning hours. The

wind whipped through the trees, bending them pretty hard, but barely moving the tails of Ron’s

long, heavy coat as he stepped out of hiding and headed north again…his eyes and ears on the

alert.

         Outwardly the small city was a veritable ghost town, another reason for him to move

about without delay…to minimize any personal encounters with citizens. He made it nearly all

the way to the primary road running through the heart of the city before he noticed the

predominant changes to his former home.

         When Ron last drove out of town on that fate-filled morning, he left behind a sleepy main

street with barely enough lamps to illuminate the sidewalks. Now, to the north…the direction

where he and Angie had lived (and where he was heading)…the far end of town was lit up with

lights bright enough to be a sports arena.

         He drifted to the side of the road, fished out his pair of binoculars smoothly, and scanned

the area from behind an abandoned, broken down van. A mile away, barely a quarter mile short

of his destination, there was a set of detour signs. Those orange and white barriers directed

traffic away from the central road and onto a newly widened residential street that would rejoin

the highway a mile further down the way. At that intersection, the road continued north, but only




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beyond a tall, two layer fence which had been constructed to bar vehicles…a fence with razor

wire all along the top.

       “Son of a…!” Ron hissed.




                                                                                               110
                                             Chapter Nine

                                              First Contact



       Ron’s gut was churning and his anxiety went racing at the delay this could mean. Of

course when he was planning out the scenarios of the trip, the possibility of his wife relocating

was a concern, but this was a bit extreme.

       It had been over two and a half years and obviously the government was involved with

cordoning off the area, so it only stood to reason that the people who once lived beyond those

fences were forced to leave. But who was there now…and what were they doing?

       Ron was afraid of just this kind of thing, weeks ago, when he first set out from Rauld. He

felt the government would make every effort, and spend no small amount of time and money, to



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investigate the area. They would want to find out just exactly why it was that the black ship

from some unidentified, highly advanced alien origin somehow picked this particular spot on the

entire globe to hover over. Now he was face to face with their foolhardy endeavor.

         Before he moved on to the task of locating his wife though, he found himself compelled

to have a look around his former house. There really was no reason for the urge that he could

pin down, but it was a driving need all the same.

         Toward that end, he angled off to the east, moving through the side streets until he was

well out of eyesight of the main gate, in an area of wooded land bordering the fenced perimeter.

Once there, Ron hunkered down in a thicket of thorn bushes and removed the cell-phone from

his pack. With a tap of his finger it changed from a typical looking Earth communication device,

adorned with the normal keypad and tiny display. It swapped to a sophisticated sensor sweep

mode showing all the alpha-numeric characters written in Raulden script, projecting a six-inch

by eight-inch holographic depiction of the area.

         Tilting it to the proper attitude, Ron began scanning for signs of electronic monitoring,

marveling at the little device as if it were pure magic. The simplistic Earth defenses stood out

clearly on the small screen. There were motion detectors all along the fence, from the inside

watching out, to alert the guards to anyone trying to climb that woven steel barrier. Also, he saw

pressure plates under the ground, sensitive enough to determine if any perceived movement

might be man or beast. But the combination only monitored twenty five feet on each side of the

fence.

         Ron smiled. Those security provisions shouldn’t cause a problem. He pressed the dial

again and the multifunctional device returned to standby.




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       There was evidence of a well worn path on the inside of the fence…border patrol…and

so he stayed put to see the frequency of the men. It wasn’t long before a national guard soldier

strolled by, but Ron noticed instantly that he was far from alert, seemingly bored of the

repetitious, nighttime vigil.

       Ron could also tell he wouldn’t be back soon, since the path ran off out of sight, so he

shed his heavy coat and pack, leaving them concealed in the thorns, and headed for the

perimeter.

       Having played around quite a bit, back at the road along the beach, he felt optimistic, but

so far he hadn’t tried to utilize his new abilities to the extent he would be now, and so was

notably cautious. Cache devised and ran numerous simulations with him back on Rauld, to give

him confidence and a good sense of judgment, but this was no game. This was for real!

       He set his sights on the target of an old driveway on the far side of the wire. It once led

to a neighbor’s small barn that no longer stood, the collapsed remains of which were out of his

visual range due to the encroaching verdure. The narrow lane was made of hard-packed

seashells…the typical material for such vehicular avenues in Louisiana…and would give him a

good, firm landing zone.

       After a half-dozen steps of extreme acceleration Ron leaped. He soared up…and

up…until he was easily thirty five feet in the air, and then landed fifty feet beyond the motion

detector’s range. He tucked and rolled when he hit…more out of anticipation of a jolt that didn’t

occur than out of real necessity. In fact, he knew instantly that he could have simply planted his

feet and stuck his landing, but as it was, he probably disguised his true mass much better with the

tumbling maneuver, so was satisfied.




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       Now came the real challenge though. Would he risk the soft ground of the concealing

forest, leaving an obvious trail of his passage, or try to make his way around on the

roadways…ones which were surely patrolled?

       It only took him a moment before he set out through the dark woods. He felt any signs of

his presence would probably go unnoticed for days, or longer, if he wasn’t spotted, and by then

he wouldn’t care.

       High above was a full moon, setting eerie shadows dancing all about in the wind, but he

gave them no thought whatsoever. There was nothing in these woods to concern him other than

men, and he was confident in his ability to circumvent any of them if they were about.

       Ron moved easily, and deliberately, checking his excitement by sheer will…to keep from

running low on air. He happened across a few unkempt fences to hurdle, but they weren’t much

more than a hop for him, and in less than ten minutes, he stood at the border of the subdivision in

which he used to reside.

       Surprisingly, the place appeared to be quite normal. In fact, many of the homes were lit

with lights. He ventured a peek into a couple of them with the binoculars and concluded they

were being used as some kind of headquarters for the military presence in the area. But the men

didn’t look like any military he’d ever seen. The notion that they might be some sort of

intelligence agency, or think tank group, crossed his mind, but it really mattered little, so he

moved off again.

       Since it was yet to be even six A.M., whoever these folks were, they were obviously on

some sort of duty schedule covering twenty-four hours a day. That too gave the impression of

military, or at least government intervention.




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       The strong wind blowing from the north rustled the dead leaves on some nearby oak trees

vigorously. That made it difficult to hear anything, or anyone prowling about in the dark, so Ron

resorted to using his eyes as his only sensory warning. (Later, he would kick himself for not

remembering the Raulden scanner more, but he’d been too long out in the wilds of Caron to have

that mindset.) He did pick up on a few strange noises to baffle his mind nonetheless, sounding

like thick, heavy steel doors closing on a large, hollow tank…or a vault. Ron shook that

conclusion from his mind though, it being quite ridiculous, and dismissed them as phantom

sounds modified by the cold wind.

       At least the moon was helping him out with a little ambient lighting, so he moved

smoothly along through the shadows. He noted a couple of places hold standing water, which

prompted him to veer cautiously away…the soft turf possibly causing a real problem for his

mass. All he needed to screw up his plans was to get bogged down in a military compound!

       Up another street and down between two houses brought him to his final goal…and his

heart began to race. He abruptly stopped, channeling his concentration to keep from becoming

winded again, and after a few moments, he conducted his survey.

       The home he once carried his wife into, across the threshold on their wedding night, was

surrounded with lights on tall towers…like some sort of monument, or shrine. The interior was

also bright, and he slowly circled the place three times before concluding it was vacant. Of

course there was no sign of Angela, and no clues to explain exactly what was going on in the

area, but he allotted himself a since of satisfaction anyway. He’d finally made it to the point of

his original goal…and to the beginning of another.




                                                                                                 115
        As he suspected when he first saw the razor-wire, the entire subdivision had been taken

over for whatever project the government found to be appropriate. That fact was clearly evident

in the stark order of the entire place.

        After the inspection of his house, he started to leave but held himself in check when he

spotted a slow moving vehicle approaching, eventually pulling right up to his home. When it

stopped in the driveway, five men exited.

        He stood in the shadow of a large tree and stared at the four-door pickup they drove,

puzzled by it. It looked just like the one his father drove, but it shook the ground and rumbled

like an armored truck.

        The newcomers leisurely spread out and checked several different areas, where some

sensors were concealed…inside, as well as outside the house. It all appeared quite hum-drum

and bothersome to the workers, but they were efficient nonetheless.

        Ron heard the men exchange only a few words, but he couldn’t quite catch it, only able to

recognize the language as being other than English. It was somewhat familiar to him, but he

failed to place it…and since they didn’t speak again, he was left wondering about that.

        The men completed their tasks shortly, climbed into the truck, and drove off. Ron stayed

put for a few extra moments, just to be sure he was clear, but that turned out to be the wrong

strategy. When he stepped away from the tree, heading back to his original access point, he

heard a distinct “click” from one of the areas where the sensors were hidden. At that instant, his

chrono began to vibrate. It was a warning function designed to silently get his attention.

Something was out there! Some sort of scanning device had just initiated a low level sweep of

the vicinity, and he was within its range.




                                                                                                   116
       Without another moment’s hesitation, Ron launched his body up and back as hard as he

could…and launch was exactly how anyone would have described it! He flew upward into, and

through, the nearby trees before ending up forty yards away. Tree limbs rained down on him for

several seconds upon his landing, having been snapped off cleanly by his passage…but that

wasn’t the bad part. The bad part was that his eight hundred pound figure came back to earth in

a patch of well manicured grass…one of his former neighbors’ lawns.

       He braced himself as well as he could, trying to spread out the load of his body, but still

sunk eight inches into the turf.

       “Son of a…” he growled at himself as he searched his surroundings.

       The chrono was no longer vibrating, which meant Ron was out of range of whatever

device it detected, but now he was in the open…which was never good. A frantic inspection of

the nearby area revealed nothing out of the ordinary, but he got a feeling…a bad one.

       Ron looked at the crater he stood in with disgust. There was nothing he could do about

this fresh patch of crushed ground, but he didn’t want to leave a trail away from it either…or at

least not a glaring one…so he targeted a large oak tree in the next yard and leaped once again.

Thirty feet away, a two hundred year old botanical sentry received his flying figure

unexpectedly, its outer branches snapping away due to the obstinate intrusion, but its massive

main limbs caught him easily.

       He waited a few seconds to see if any alarms might have been raised, and then planned an

exit. It only took another few seconds before the same truck came back into view. It was tearing

down the street at high speed this time however, leaning hard against the last turn into Ron’s old

driveway where it screeched to a stop.




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          There were only two men leaping from the truck, but they seemed very excited…panning

the area with powerful searchlights. Ron retrieved his mini-breathing device Cache devised for

him and took a deep huff, relishing the powerful surge of pressurized air it packed into his lungs.

It was constructed much as a mouthpiece a diver would use but was very compact and light

weight.

          By then he saw no further need for delay, so he exploded out the opposite side of the

concealing tree and onto the nearest driveway. Once there, a house stood directly between him

and the searchers, so he needn’t fear being seen by them. From there he took as much use of

cover as he could during his anxious race away through the darkness.

          He was getting more used to the feeling of Earth’s meager pull without his ballasts, and

so was able to more accurately judge his leaps, therefore as he fled, he took fantastic bounds

from one concrete or paved surface to the next, sometimes hurtling entire homes in the process.

Patios, pool supports, sidewalks, and a tennis court, whatever he could reach was open to his

hurried flight.

          Ron was back at the border fence in short order and stopped at the point he landed earlier

to get another reading from his scanner. He wanted to see if the alarm had triggered any new

layers of security…and it was a good thing he did. Power to the motion sensors was much

higher, increasing their range by a third, and a whole new layer of protection currently indicated

operation. Above the tall fence topped with razor-wire, an added laser-beam now blazed. It was

just high enough to clear those fiendish loops, but close enough to catch anyone trying to scale

the woven obstruction. And by the readings given to him on his handheld unit, it had enough

power to slice through a solid steel bar.




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       “What the hell?” Ron muttered as he pondered the impressive equipment he was

witnessing. “I guess they’ve made some substantial advancements since I left!”

       He glanced about for the roving sentry, but didn’t see him, so he settled himself down to

wait…but that plan was immediately overruled. From behind Ron, to the north, a sound reached

him. It was nearly undetectable at first, but growing stronger by the second. Something was

approaching…fast! He couldn’t really get a feel for what it was, the wind playing havoc with his

senses, but the hair on the back of his neck stood up, and that was enough for him.

       Ron burst forward in a flurry of footsteps, accelerating as hard as he could with the

traction available, and catapulted himself up and over the deadly, seemingly impassable barrier

an instant later, once more landing well clear of the security system’s range.

       He instantly rolled upon landing and dashed into the underbrush, having spotted the

patrolling guard while in flight. The fellow was off to the east only a dozen yards, apparently

speaking into his radio, and didn’t notice the dark, flashing figure forty feet above him.

       Ron followed the soldier’s movements from his concealed location, watching closely as

he pulled a powerful spot light from his backpack and searched the woods on the opposite side of

the fence. He was hoping the sentry’s light would reveal whatever it was he’d sensed

approaching, but never did.

       The guard stayed put for twenty minutes before receiving orders to continue his patrol,

and everything went back to normal at this place full of abnormalities.

       Ron quietly gathered up all his gear and moved off as well, keeping a constant vigil for

pursuers. The glow of the coming dawn was beginning to build and he wanted to be well away

from there when daylight struck.




                                                                                                  119
       It was a good plan too because by the time he was two blocks away, the roads were

buzzing with police cars. Ron crouched down behind a full-sized SUV parked at the curb while

the first one went by, and then didn’t bother with such stealth because he saw the little

community coming alive. At that point he simply blended into the background…a man out early

in the day, seeing what all the commotion was about.

       Taking a circuitous route to the western side of town, which only spanned about fifteen

minutes, his tempo increased steadily until the final turn, when he found himself strolling down

the street he’d grown up on.

       School buses began cruising by, picking up children for their days activities, and cars

were warming up at nearly every house. It was well below freezing, and many of the citizens

were grumbling about scraping off the frost from their cars’ windows, a heavy coating of the

stuff on everything exposed.

       Ron merely walked on past, keeping to the sidewalk and enjoying all those familiar parts

of life he took for granted before he went away. He sucked in the air, filled with diesel and car

exhaust, but instead of choking this time, each of the smells sent his mind into some distant

memory of the past…and he smiled. Not so long ago he saw the world through eyes that were

spoiled from ease and comfort, before being exposed to the real plights of different, less

fortunate souls. Now he could truly see just how simple and carefree life was here on Earth.

Although the arrival of the black ship had caused quite a stir, most people had put it behind them

and went on with their lives. Few people in this town, or any town on Earth, truly feared they

might all be annihilated or enslaved by an alien species like the Kreete. That was for the military

men and politicians.




                                                                                                 120
        A block from his parents’ house Ron began to notice something else…and went back to

his alert status. Two cars passed him, along with a dozen others, but these two were the same

cars that had already gone by once…in the same direction. They were older vehicles, appearing

to have been roughly utilized, and wouldn’t have stood out to the commoner, but Ron Allison

was no longer that type of individual. He noted too that they both let off the gas when they got

close, coasting by, and fully presumed he’d been photographed.

       Cursing under his breath, he continued on as if nothing were out of the ordinary, but

scanned the street as thoroughly as only he could. He noted every change…the new cars, new

shrubs, trees damaged from the last hurricane that tore through the area, and the upgraded light

posts…which just so happened to include video cameras. Also, those tall street lamps currently

lined both sides of the quiet lane, instead of having only one per intersection.

       As he neared his boyhood home, he noticed the lights inside were on and the garage door

was open with the truck’s engine running. His father would be leaving for work soon, a fact that

made his heart rate accelerate, but he barely glanced their way, and kept his long stride

unbroken.

       A minute later, Ron detected one of the cruising cars coming back around the block. He

heard it approaching slowly once more, but this time dropping its speed even more. He was a

block and a half from his parents’ place as it drifted up beside him and the passenger window

slid downwards.

       “Good morning!” shouted the man in the car.

       Ron continued on but greeted him in a friendly manner. After all, this might be merely

part of the neighborhood watch.

       “Morning.”




                                                                                                121
       “Can I give you a lift?”

       Ron thought swiftly about what would happen if he accepted. He would completely

destroy the seat on the passenger side and probably bottom-out the suspension’s springs.

       “No, thanks.”

       “You in town on a visit? Relatives?”

       “No, just came in off the interstate for some breakfast and got sidetracked. I heard about

this town and wanted to see the place where all the interest is…you know…all the hubbub.”

       “Yeah, we do have our share of that! You staying in the area?”

       Ron was growing annoyed with his line of questions. “Was this America, or not?” he

thought.

       “No, I’m heading out before noon.”

       “Really? Where’s your car?”

       “It’s up at the Post Office. I have a birthday gift in the trunk for my niece. Picked it up

late last night…nearly forgot, you know? Anyway it has to go out today, but they won’t be open

for a couple hours, so I thought I’d go for a little walk. Is there a problem?”

       The driver of the car looked long and hard at Ron…at his expensive looking coat…and at

the pack on his back.

       “No…no problem. But if your car is so close, why the heavy pack?”

       If he were back on Caron, he’d have already rid himself of this irritation, but here on

Earth, he reminded himself, it was a different game all together.

       “Oh, I don’t leave this anywhere,” Ron said with a big grin. “It’s part of my body. I’m a

journalist grad-student and documenting my trip around the country. My computer, camera,

batteries, a couple of water bottles…you know…the necessities.”




                                                                                                 122
       The driver wanted to press the issue further, but relented.

       “Okay then. Just wanted to make sure you weren’t one of those UFO freaks! They’ve

been running us ragged for over two years! You’d think they’d have given up on being ‘beamed

up’ by now, but no such luck. Have a good day!”

       The car then eased on up the road, but Ron watched the driver carefully. The fellow kept

his eyes squarely on Ron’s figure in the rearview mirror. At the next corner, Ron turned off that

street, heading back to the main road, casually gazing about the quaint houses and well-kempt

neighborhood as if totally carefree.

       He checked his chrono for the time, recalling the rigid schedule his father always

maintained. Kurt Allison was as punctual as a solar clock, so he picked up the pace enough to

catch his family’s truck crossing the main road a block over…heading toward the river. Ron’s

father owned a riverside dock facility where they repaired, maintained, and stored large boats.

That particular occupation was such a complete turnaround from the military background his

father came from that it surprised many in the community when he made the switch, wondering

incessantly about his motives.

       Ron asked his dad about the drastic change once and he simply replied, “I’ve had enough

excitement to last a lifetime, Ronnie.” His eyes, and the deep, almost sorrowful sound of his

voice told Ron he’d said all he was going to on the subject, so he never pressed the issue further.

       Ron crossed the road, jogged up to the next turn he knew his father would be taking, and

paused at the corner of the four way stop…as if waiting for a friend to pick him up.

       When the truck approached, Ron spotted a woman sitting in the cab as well, and his heart

skipped a beat…his mother? It had been so long since he saw them last, it made the pressure on

his chest feel immense. He leaned forward for a better look, catching his breath for a second of




                                                                                                  123
joyful expectation, but it turned to disappointment almost immediately…it was not them. The

pair in the vehicle were very familiar however, the man being his father’s only brother and the

woman being his aunt…one of his mother’s three sisters. Now his plan stuttered a bit as he

recomputed his goals.

       Ron grew up extremely close with their family, the cousins all enjoying playing sports

together along with the occasional sleep-overs, but he knew very well they could not possibly

recognize him, so he considered walking away.

       Ron’s feelings turned quickly to concern as he focused on his aunt’s face. She looked

very morose, sitting in the passenger seat…as if the life had been sucked right out of her. But

when the vehicle slowed to a stop, her eyes met his for an instant, and an unmistakable flicker of

light flashed across her face.

       Ron tipped his hat and strolled along, thinking he should leave them well enough alone,

but he made it only a few steps before the window of the truck slid down.

       “Excuse me, sir!”

       Ron halted straight away and turned to face her. She was just the way he remembered

her…maybe sporting a little more gray hair…but her voice, and the compassion in that voice was

exactly as it should be.

       “May we offer you a ride?” she asked sweetly while her eyes searched him very quickly.

“It is awfully cold out this morning.”

       Ron paused for just a moment, his boyhood memories flooding in, yearning to sweep that

little woman up into his arms…to tell her he was back…that he was alive and well. But he held

his emotions in check and stepped back towards the cab.

       “That’s very kind, ma’am,” he told her as he appeared to check his cell phone.




                                                                                                  124
       Surreptitiously he scanned the truck. It was being monitored. A quick press of his finger

instantly jammed the device.

       “Act as if we are just talking,” he told her quickly. “Your vehicle is bugged. Someone is

listening to every word you say.”

       “What?” she recoiled, turning to her husband.

       Ron saw instantly that his uncle was not surprised, apparently having expected such

subterfuge, but he held his hand up to silence his spouse.

       “Who are you…and what do you want?” Kyle Allison asked the tall stranger.

       Ron stood up as if taking a casual look around before he leaned in again and replied.

       “Lieutenant Colonel Allison! Can you evade your watchers?”

       After a few seconds of bewildered thought, he responded.

       “No…at least, not without raising some serious alarms. They’ve been on us ever since

that damned machine over-flew my brother’s, and my nephew’s houses. We haven’t had a

moment’s peace since then!”

       “Do they follow you every minute?”

       “Well, no. If we go for a walk, they don’t appear to be around…but I’m sure they listen

as often as they can. I guess the work Kurt and I did back in the day is somehow linked to that

ship…and makes them think we know something we’re not telling them…but we don’t!”

       Ron’s mind suddenly went spinning at a furious pace. “What work?” He stood up and

gave the area another quick, yet casual browse…then returned his attention to the occupants of

the truck.

       “Meet me at Sam Houston State Park at four o’clock. Take the first trail to the river, on

the left…where you and your brother used to run with your sons.”




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       That was it. Ron saw a police car turn onto the street, two blocks down. He quickly

removed the jamming signal and stood upright again.

       “I’ll take you’re word on that breakfast, mister,” Ron said clearly, wanting to be heard by

the spies. “I’ll bet it’s great, but I’m still full. Coffee sounds good though. Up here three blocks

and turn left? Okay…thanks again! Ya’ll take care now.”

       Ron immediately broke away from the truck and strolled off at a brisk pace, straight at

the approaching police car. He tipped his hat to the officer and was almost away…but then the

vehicle stopped and the lights went on.

       “Shit!” he mumbled, but kept walking, hoping the officer was on some other business.

       “Sir!” called the policeman as he exited his vehicle. “Sir, might I have a word?”

       Ron glanced over his shoulder at the man. “Who…me?”

       “Yes sir. Could you please step back over here?” he said, indicating the sidewalk

adjacent to the car. His hand was pointedly on his 45 caliber weapon…and the safety strap was

already off the holster.

       Ron inwardly bristled. The cop had no way of knowing how close to death he was

standing at that very second. Ron was no longer used to anyone threatening him without an

immediate reaction of hostility on his part…but too, he was cognizant of his temper pulling at

him, so he checked it abruptly. Instead of skewering the patrolman with one of his knives, he

smiled and turned about.

       “Of course officer. Whatever you say.” Then, when he was in the desired place;

“What’s this all about?”

       “Sir, could I see some identification?”




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        Ron reached for his wallet, inside his coat, and the policeman gripped his gun tighter,

easing it up at least an inch.

        “Take it easy, now,” Ron blurted quickly, withdrawing his hand instantly. “What’s this

all about?”

        “The identification sir!”

        “You’re not going to shoot me if I reach for it again…are you?”

        The officer merely stared at him sternly.

        Ron slipped his hand in once more and produced a very slim wallet, and then retrieved

the desired document…one of three different such items he made up while waiting in orbit.

        The policeman read the license…Nevada State…and gave Ron the once-over.

        “What’re you doing here…in Westlake?”

        “I was passing through your state on I-10 and decided to see the town. It’s quite famous,

as you know. I wasn’t aware there was an ordinance against that?”

        “Why are you on foot…in this neighborhood? And why where you bothering those

people, back at the stop sign.”

        Ron had had enough of this questioning by then and decided to end it.

        “Excuse me, but I have a message on my phone…it’s vibrating,” he told the policeman,

reaching into his coat once more. “I wasn’t bothering them,” he began to explain while he

manipulated his techno-computer. He pulled up the scan mode and swept the officer’s car.

        “They offered me a ride…seeing as it’s so chilly this morning…but I preferred to walk,

so the lady told me where I could get a good hot breakfast.”

        He scrolled through a couple of the readouts until “Vehicle Speed Control” was

highlighted, and he pressed it.




                                                                                                  127
        The policeman was staring at the gadget then, so Ron held it up…too far away for the

man to see what it said.

        “It’s my wife! She says good morning.”

        “Well sir, this town is under tight security…due to the national representation…and

under military jurisdiction. I’m afraid that you…”

        Ron saw where he was headed…speculated that the officer was about to order him out of

town…and slid his thumb across the small screen, from Min to Max. The cruise control of the

car engaged the “accelerate” mode immediately, and since the car was in ‘park’ it couldn’t reach

the desired velocity, so the engine instantly leaped to full throttle. The officer leaped as

well…startled out of his wits…his pistol discharging into the pavement, barely an inch from his

foot.

        “Shit!” he blurted, his attention shuttling between his weapon and his vehicle.

        He slammed the gun back into its holster and lunged for the car door. Ron was already

ahead of him though and triggered the door locks. Now the cop was frantic. The roar of the

engine was deafening, and couldn’t sustain that speed for very long since it wasn’t equipped with

a governor. The officer hastily searched his pockets for keys he already knew were in the

ignition, and quickly realized he possessed no way of shutting it down.

        “Oh, God!” he muttered while desperately trying to inventory his person for options.

“I’m f----d!”

        He’d discharged his weapon in a residential neighborhood without cause, locked himself

out of his cruiser, and the power-plant of the car was surely going to explode. His hands shook

from the stress, his feet seemed to be dancing a repetitious half-turn-half-step all by themselves,

and his brain was absolutely screaming!




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        Ron took the opportunity to simply walk away. It would be several minutes before the

officer would notice he was gone, and by then he wouldn’t care. He never got his license back,

but before it could become an issue, the entire card would’ve turned blank. Raulden technology

was very handy!

        Taking stock in his vast knowledge of the area, Ron worked his way through the town

and out to the highway which would deliver him to within a mile of the park he’d mentioned. It

was quite a hike though, so a slow moving brick truck passing by the last stop light out of town

unknowingly picked up a stowaway for the next few miles.

        When the truck stopped again, Ron dropped to the ground and set out on his way once

more.

        He enjoyed the sights of the river and the woods as he strolled swiftly along, and before

midday, he was napping in the shade of a huge, moss-laden oak tree…a trademark resident of the

area. He munched on the Raulden foodstuffs and tried to get his thoughts together until the

appointed time. As the meeting drew near, he surveyed the vicinity thoroughly, both

electronically and personally, and then waited.




                                                                                                129
                                         Chapter Ten

                                      Would You Believe

        As precise as his father, Ron heard the family’s pickup truck pull off the roadway and

onto a gravel pad used as a parking spot for the nature trail. On such a brisk day in the middle of

the week there was little chance anyone else would be utilizing the path, so Ron wasn’t surprised

when his aunt and uncle were the only ones who came by.

        When he felt comfortable that they were indeed alone, he lowered himself down from a

lofty perch and approached. The clothes he wore were no longer black. At the press of a touch-

sensitive pad, the sensors built into his long coat and hat ensemble scanned his surroundings and

altered its coloring to match as closely as it could. It was a tremendously accurate camouflage.

        His aunt was duly anxious and his uncle seemed extremely wary of the area…so when

Ron stepped out into the trail, he saw Kyle Allison jerk at the movement. He was obviously

startled and maneuvered himself immediately to protect his wife…his hand instinctively slipping

to the inside of his coat.

        “You came armed?” Ron asked.

        He pulled his 45 caliber, semi-automatic pistol out and kept it at his side.




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         “Good. You should not trust me until I’ve proven myself,” Ron told him as he turned

and viewed the area once again. The wind was much lighter by then, allowing him to take in

every animal sound and tussle of leaves. “I’m glad to see you two here. Were you followed?”

         “I saw no one…but like I said before, I’m certain that we’re being watched.”

         Ron pulled out his phone-scanner unit and swept the area. Kyle was privy to some very

advanced electronics during his days in the service, so this display wasn’t as impressive as it

would have been had he known exactly what the capacity of the device was.

         “We’re good here…at least until they start to suspect something.”

         “Well, we showed up…so what’s this all about?”

         Ron took a seat on a huge, knotted root bulging out of the base of an old oak tree. He

leaned back against the trunk, trying to give the impression of someone who was completely

relaxed…docile.

         “What do you know about your nephew’s disappearance?”

         “Disappearance?” Kyle said, visibly irritated. “My brother’s son is gone…killed in an

accident more than two and a half years ago…and it may as well have been our own boy, so

don’t screw around mister! We’ve all been through too much…both our families…to dredge up

that wound again!”

         Clarissa Allison’s eyes narrowed. She was even more suspicious now, and didn’t care for

this stranger’s question. It was easily apparent that it hurt her deeply even to think of it.

         “What do you want?” she asked heatedly.

         Ron’s eyes danced back and forth between the pair, his mind searching for the proper

words.




                                                                                                  131
        “What if I told you there was a mistake in your conclusion…that is, the conclusion the

investigation reported?”

        His relatives shifted their positions slightly, but listened.

        “What if I told you he did not perish in that oil-rig catastrophe, as you were led to

believe?”

        Clarissa clutched her husband’s arm tightly…unable to breathe. Her heart lurched into

overdrive at the mere suggestion of such a scenario, and her eyes grew wide and hopeful. Could

it be? Was it possible her sister’s first born child might still live?

        “I’d say you better be able to prove what you claim,” Kyle replied in a rumbling growl.

“The deep hurt is still in my heart…and I don’t want some crack-pot around making up

stories…trying and fill us with false hope.”

        Ron’s steady gaze didn’t falter as it locked with his uncle’s.

        “It is true. He did not die…and I can prove it.”

        Clarissa began to shake and her husband encircled her shoulders with his free arm…still

holding the pistol in his other. Kyle’s jaw set tightly, but Ron could see the unending hope of a

father in his eyes…never fully able to concede a loss in the instance of a missing person. He’d

seen war, and the term “missing in action” was a far cry from “dead”!

        “How do you know this? Have you seen him? How do you know it’s him?”

        “I know because I know. I ‘have’ seen him…and now I’ll make you believe me.”

        They both stood as still as the tree behind the stranger…too intrigued to move…or speak.

        “On a Saturday morning, when he was eleven years old, your team…the baseball team

you coached with your brother, his father, called the Tigers…played against the first place team,

the Astros. It was a rainout, makeup game. It went ten innings and ended with your team




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winning five to four. Your son was sick that day and missed it, but your nephew batted six for

six…three times against the best pitcher in the league…the kid who no one could hit.”

       Kyle Allison’s jaw gaped open and his face was filled with astonishment.

       “Your nephew was the catcher to your son, Brandon’s pitching, and he only struck out

twice the entire year. Your team won the championship.”

       “How could you…?”

       Ron then turned to his aunt.

       “In the sixth grade, Brandon took ceramics class with your nephew. He made a

multicolored peacock which you set on the television cabinet for the next ten years. Your

nephew, Ronnie made an identical one for his mother…your sister.

       “Brandon gave it to you one week before he died from a bee sting…from anaphylactic

shock.”

       “That’s right!” she whispered…tears now dripping down her cheeks at the remembrance

of her own personal tragedy.

       “Your nephew came to see you several weeks after the funeral. He was very distraught.

Do you remember what he told you?”

       When her son passed so young, she nearly followed him, so deep into despair had she

sunk. After a month of seclusion following her son’s funeral…when Ron was certain she

blamed him for his cousin’s death and could take it no more…he went to see her, against

everyone’s advice. He apologized for having taken Brandon so far out into the woods and broke

down in uncontrollable sobbing as he begged for her forgiveness. That was the moment she

snapped out of her stupor of seemingly impenetrable sorrow. The boys had always been so close




                                                                                              133
and so alike…more like twins than cousins…so she was hearing his pleas with a mother’s ears,

not an aunt’s.

          The boys were born only a week apart to mothers who were twin sisters, and their fathers

were only separated by a year and a half, being virtually inseparable their entire lives as well,

even having served together in the military for many years. Their little circle was extremely

close-knit.

          The incident took place on a beautiful June morning...when tragedy was the furthest thing

from their minds. They were just two boys out hunting for a good spot for their Boy Scout

Troop’s next excursion…never devious nor overly careless. Both of them were smart and

thoughtful, especially mature for their age. That summer day was just like any other, until the

boys accidentally disturbed a hive of bees that had made their home in the heart of an old rotten

log, and all of their lives were irrevocably changed.

          Upon later investigation, it turned out those insects were a very aggressive strain of

African killer bees slowly migrating into the area.

          Even though in great pain because his own body was riddled with stingers, Ron carried

his cousin on his back a mile and a half out of the woods, and then another mile to the small

town’s clinic. He collapsed in the emergency room and didn’t awaken for two days, nearly

dying from a combination of heat exhaustion and the potent bee venom. That was when he first

learned of his cousin’s death.

          “By the time he got to the hospital, it was far too late to save him,” the doctor told the

family.

          Clarissa and Kyle Allison’s boy had perished less than ten minutes after the sting. No

one had any idea that he was allergic.




                                                                                                       134
       “Ronnie, baby…don’t cry,” she urged him, pulling him close and cuddling his shaking

frame. “Please, Ronnie…don’t cry. I don’t blame you for Brandon’s death! No one does! I

‘KNOW’ you would never have wished him harm or intentionally injured your cousin. You did

more than anyone else could have! His time with you gave him so much joy…so much fun! A

mother could never ask for more than that!”

       They spent the entire afternoon together, looking through photo albums, exchanging

stories, and just remembering the years they’d been given with him. After that day, Clarissa

never missed a single game, or award ceremony, or holiday with Ron. That afternoon had

bonded them through and through.

       When her recollection of that period was concluded, Clarissa replied to Ron’s

query…“He said…‘When you get too lonely, you call me. I’ll be your little boy.’ And I told

him…”

       “If you’re ever in need of someone,” Ron recited easily, “you can come to me. I’ll be

your momma.”

       Clarissa burst into a new flood of tears at that, turning to her husband.

       “Kyle! How…?”

       “If you speak the truth,” Ron’s uncle growled, “then where is he? Where has he been?

Why would he not have come to us by now…after all this time?”

       Ron reached up and removed his hat, and when his features were at last clearly viewable

by them both, he smiled.

       Clarissa’s fingers clamped down on her husband’s arm so tightly they were barely visible

through the enveloping nature of softness of his coat.

       “Ron?” they both croaked, the word catching roughly in their throats.




                                                                                               135
        Ron then got to his feet so they might look him over. He wanted to reach out to his

aunt…to pull her to him and ease her distress like she’d done all those years ago, but he held

back to give them time to adjust.

        “It can’t be!” Kyle murmured doubtfully, studying Ron’s face with intense focus…but

his intuition knew better. This was his brother’s son! Another thing that made it puzzling too,

was he now had to look up to Ron. “You’re…different!”

        “Yes. Yes I am! I will explain everything to you if you like…but I must say that it will

be quite unbelievable.”

        Clarissa and Kyle approached the man before them slowly, wanting to believe this broad-

shouldered fellow was the boy they’d all grieved for, and now was rejoined with them, but were

hesitant.

        “Your eyes,” Clarissa said when she was close. “Contacts?”

        Ron opened his arms to the lovely, middle-aged woman. “It’s me Aunt Clare.”

        “Oh, Ronnie!” she cried as the tears burst forth once more in a torrent, and she rushed to

him.

        Ron held her firmly for a long while…her hug so tight he could feel it, even though his

body was so tough. Ron’s uncle put away the weapon and slapped him on the shoulder, tears

clearly evident in his hardened, warrior’s eyes, and when his wife finally released him, Kyle

Allison gave his nephew a big bear hug.

        “We thought you were dead, baby,” Clarissa told him, like he was still twelve years old.

“What could possibly have happened that you couldn’t let us know?”

        Ron checked his sensory device once again and then turned his attention to his parents’

siblings with a deep breath.




                                                                                                 136
       “I was taken away by aliens,” he said simply.

       The blank stares he received were exactly what he expected, so he smiled again and

waved his hand to indicate a narrow path leading to a small knoll a hundred yards away. It was a

power junction station for the cabins in the park and was known by few, hidden deliberately to

protect against any curious kids. The trio carefully eased through the brush to that little

hideaway and disappeared from the sight of any casual passersby.

       When they were on the far side of the fenced station, and away from detection from the

trail, he bid the couple sit and get comfortable.

       For the next two hours, until the sun’s light was barely discernable, Ron recounted his

experiences on Rauld. He told them about all the wonders and the dangers leading up to his

infamous return in the black ship…and finally, how he was fooled by the very technology that

had saved his life.

       It was, of course, more than any normal people could truly believe, so he shucked his

coat and demonstrated some of his abilities. He bid his uncle lift his leathery coat, and even

though Kyle was a good sized man, and strained hard when he tried to do so, he could not. Ron

then severed a four-inch thick tree with a single swing of his ebony sword before he made a

thirty foot leap into a nearby tree. After that, he hefted Kyle with one hand.

       Even with these simple feats to prove what he was telling them was fact, his uncle and

aunt were baffled and bewildered. This sort of thing was just not plausible…or possible.

       “We want to believe everything you’ve said, Ronnie, but it’s too much! You know?” his

uncle told him.

       “Oh, I know! It happened to me and I still can’t believe it sometimes!”

       “What are you going to do?” Aunt Clare asked.




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       “Well…I can’t stay on Earth. I assume you can see how obvious that is. Fate has

stepped in and forced me to take this leap out into the heavens. Why me...and for what purpose,

I can only speculate, but there are things that need doing out there,” he said, sweeping the sky

with his hand. “The Milky Way is full of people who need my help and the help of those whom

I’ve allied myself with. I just came back to let you all know…and apologize for the grief I put

you through…and of course, one other matter.”

       Kyle and Clarissa both glanced nervously at each other.

       “Where are my folks? Are they all right?”

       “Oh, yeah…they’re fine! They’re out west in their motor-home, taking a long overdue

vacation. Once every few days we go over and check on the house and make sure its okay.

We’re just driving the truck around today to keep it running. You know how bad the humidity is

on equipment down here.”

       “Motor-home?” Ron asked, quite surprised. His father had never shown interest in

driving long distances. He always preferred to fly. “When did they get that?

       “A few months back. Your dad calls it ‘the land yacht’. They’ve been out a couple of

weeks and aren’t due back for another two. My God, boy…they’re going to have a cow when

they see you!”

       Ron smiled but was obviously dejected at the news of their absence.

       “Timing is everything!” he muttered, and then changed to the primary reason for his visit.

“Aunt Clare…where’s Angie?”

       Clarissa Allison’s face went from flushed to pale in a blink, and she glanced quickly to

her husband, and then back again.




                                                                                                   138
       “We…we don’t know, Ronnie,” his uncle said. “She’s been gone for nearly six months

now. She and Derek were on their way to see your folks one day, but they never got to the

house. Her car was abandoned at the cemetery where your headstone rests.”

       Ron didn’t show any signs of surprise at the news, to the astonishment of his relatives.

He’d already resigned himself to the realization that his dream was absolutely factual…no matter

how insane the concept sounded. Hearing it confirmed merely “sealed the deal”, so to speak.

       “Derek?” Ron asked half-consciously.

       “Oh my Lord! I didn’t think!” his aunt blurted. “Ronnie, honey…you have a son!”

       Ron was hesitantly waiting for that substantiation as well…the Darlile’s sensors having

already corroborated the existence of the baby weeks ago…but he still got choked up when he

heard it. He stared off into the woods while he let a thought bounce about in his head for a few

moments. Since he was obligated to leave, who would be the father to his son? Where would he

grow up?

       “He’s so much like you at that age, it’s scary!” she added, smiling. “He’s just a doll!”

       That brought Ron back to the present with his own grin.

       “Tell me about him…would you?”

       They spent the twilight filling Ron in on his child…and all of his little antics.

       Ron’s heart was heavy with regret for not being at his wife’s side for all of it, but he

managed to focus on what was most important in the current situation.

       “What can you tell me about her disappearance?”

       “Not much, I’m afraid,” Kyle replied. “She called ahead earlier in the day, to make sure

Kurt and Jesse would be home after church. She was going to stop by your grave and visit with

you for a while first, but when two o’clock passed, your dad went looking for her. He found her




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car at the cemetery and called the police. They normally wouldn’t have even filed a report for

twenty-four hours, you know, but Kurt’s good friends with the Sherriff. They never found a

shred of evidence that might help us track her down, but about a month afterward, this old geezer

showed up at Kurt’s place and told him a story about some men. They’d driven up in a…”

        “Long, black limousine with blacked out windows?” Ron interjected.

        “Well…yes.”

        “And they approached her quite harmlessly but ended up having to pick her up and put

her in the car?”

        “Yes! But how….”

        “That whole story would be quite long, I’m afraid, and I think you’ve probably been out

here beyond what you should, so it’ll have to wait. Tell me this though…how did Westlake get

turned into the camp that it has?”

        “After the alien…well, ‘your’ spaceship left, the city was quarantined for months.

Everyone was taken into a military center in Texas and questioned during that time…but your

mother, father, and wife were kept for several months longer. While they were away, the

government used the statute of “imminent domain” to take everyone’s property and force them to

move.

        “For many that was a good thing…they took the buyout money and started again

somewhere else, but for some it was a real emotional kick in the teeth. The LaSalles had been

living on the riverfront for over a hundred years, their ancestors having moved there just after the

Civil War. The Bergerons lost half of their dairy farm and the old man, Clive, was shot while

trying to keep the feds out. He’s still in the hospital and probably won’t ever walk again.

Needless to say, they went out of business.




                                                                                                 140
       “As soon as all the legal dirty work was done, they built that compound around your old

neighborhood, and moved in a whole bunch of people from all over the world. They did every

conceivable test on the area that could be devised…and came up empty. Since then, they’ve just

waited.”

       “Waited for what?”

       “They think the black ship will come back…or something worse.”

       Ron tried to plan a strategy, but didn’t know where to begin.

       “Who at the Texas military camp could I speak with?”

       “Colonel Cameron Johnson was in charge at the refugee compound back then…but I

don’t know now. I tried to find out if they were the ones who collected Angie and Derek, but no

one would talk to me.”

       “Who’s running things here…at this facility?”

       “I have no idea. It’s a group who call themselves the “Reconnaissance Objectivity

Forum”…the ROF. Their some sort of free-lance, European, high-intelligence organization,

specializing in just this type of science…unexplainable phenomenon. They call the shots instead

of a military contingent, although soldiers still patrol and perform most of the perimeter security.

       “They voluntarily approached our government…about nine months after the

incident…and then took over the project shortly thereafter. That seemed to appease the global

community who was putting immense pressure on the President to share in the studies of this

‘otherworldly’ contact…even though there never was any contact.

       “It’s kind of funny now. There’s practically every sizable country represented here

today, and they’re briefed every morning about…nothing. There never was anything special




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about this point on the Earth! This whole mess…the entire upheaval of our town…and the world

for that matter…was about a solitary man trying to return to his home.

       “How ironic is that?”

       “I’m truly sorry for all…” Ron tried to say.

       Kyle Allison merely waved his hand. “That’s not what I meant, son. You did what you

had to do with the information you had to work with. There’s no blame on you. In fact,

globally, it may have all been for the best. The world has been given time to adjust to the

thought of other, more advanced life in the cosmos. It’s permitted all peoples the time to seek

out advice, and make amends in their lives. Many have leaned to their religious leaders for

guidance, and established tremendous prayer groups to ward off any aggressive intentions.

Others focused on exactly the opposite…preparing for planetary war…but all these diverse

reactions have caused one positive result. Conflicts here on Earth have diminished to nearly

nothing. The entire planet has chosen to unite our greatest, varied, and progressive minds on the

single fact of extraterrestrials’ inexorable existence; spanning the emotional, as well as

philosophical spectrums.

       “If ever there was a time for this to happen, it’s now…before an aggressive faction finds

us first, like these Kreete you’ve spoken about.”

       Ron could have talked with his aunt and uncle all night, but as the last of the twilight

faded, and the deeper chill of the night swept in, he considered other things.

       “What do you two want to do?”

       “What do you mean?” Clarissa asked.

       “Do you want to stay here, or get away? Because if I start to poke around, I think things

will probably get a little exciting…and I may have to do something drastic.”




                                                                                                  142
        “Such as?” Kyle inquired.

        “I’m going to find them…Angie and Derek…and I really don’t care what it takes at this

point. I’ve come too far and they’ve been through too much to half-ass it!”

        “Then let’s get my wife to safety and team up. Two are…”

        “No! That’s out of the question,” Ron told him bluntly. “Right now, you two are

innocents caught up in this mess, but if you aid me, you could become criminals…wanted by the

most powerful people in the world. I can simply climb back into my spaceship and

disappear…and believe me, there’s nothing anyone on this planet can do to stop that ship.”

        Kyle looked at his wife and knew his nephew spoke wisely, no matter how much it hurt

him to consider abandoning Ron to his fate in this quest.

        “I’m afraid he’s right, sweetheart,” he told her. “He can do things I could never keep up

with. I would only slow him down and jeopardize his mission. But running away isn’t the

answer either. If we disappear, it’ll put that much more pressure on finding out what your folks

are up to…and could possibly endanger your wife and son.

        “No. We’ll stay here and pretend all is well and normal. You do what you must. Kurt

has a narrow window in his schedule in case of emergencies. Dial this number,” he told Ron,

writing it down for him. “If you ring him between 0608 and 0610, Central Time you might catch

him. He turns on the cell only two minutes a day so no one can track him from the signal. It

may be a moot point, because he’s confidant he’s being watched at all times too, but he does it

just in case.”

        “Very well then. If you need to contact me, call this number…and then hang up. I will

return your call through an untraceable source. Even if someone is tapping your phone they

won’t be able to listen in.”




                                                                                               143
        “How’s that possible?”

        Ron just smiled and shrugged his broad shoulders.

        “I gave up asking those kinds of questions more than a year ago. The people I work with

act as if it were nothing at all.”

        They all hugged, and Ron’s aunt wept again before Kyle led her back up the trail and to

their truck. A few minutes later they were gone.

        Ron hung back for another hour, watching and listening. Two vehicles followed the

Allisons out of the park. One was a family with young children laughing and tussling in the back

seat of their mini-van. The other was a very wary man in a dark green car. He swept the woods

with his eyes as he glided slowly in their wake with his headlights off…as if expecting to see

something through the trees. Ron made sure he didn’t.

        About twenty five minutes after that car was gone Ron heard some soft noises emanating

from the trail. He was perched up in the confines of a nearby tree overlooking the parking area,

as well as the head of the trail. The strong breeze he fought through during the previous night

had dropped with the coming darkness to barely a draft. It was easy for him to zero in on the

sounds of footsteps, but they sounded odd. One was as it should be, a light, delicate step, but the

other was more pronounced than normal…or was the adjustment to the thinner air fouling his

senses? He almost dismissed the entire encounter when a couple came strolling out of the path,

arm in arm…appearing to be lovers on a romantic walk…but then he noted they had no

flashlight.

        “Maybe they just lost track of the time…or took a wrong turn,” he surmised, ready to

discard the oddity once more before another miscue caught his attention.




                                                                                                  144
       The pair walked out to the edge of the roadway and stopped…both looking about

suspiciously as if wanting to assess the area. They stood there side by side at that point, no

longer amorously joined, and not speaking. The man suddenly reached into his coat pocket and

pulled out what seemed to be a phone, but Ron could only make out part of his conversation, and

didn’t think to use his eavesdropping equipment.

       “No…we saw no one else, but they were in there an awfully long time to have…yes,

we’re ready for pickup.”

       Ron noticed another thing; they were both wearing glasses and were still peering about as

if it were daytime. He followed his hunch and slipped on his own “specialized” pair of

spectacles. A quick flip through the functions showed what he suspected.

       “Ultraviolet! Damn!”

       They made their way through the trail so surreptitiously by using an ultraviolet light and

special glasses…and that was how they were looking about now.

       “Just who are these people?” Ron mused as a large, dark car pulled up and they got in.

The man climbed in the front and the woman moved to the back door.

       “They didn’t walk down the trail,” Ron heard the man tell the driver. “But I don’t know

where they did go!”

       “Dragen Earthers!” the driver grumbled before the door closed.

       That last utterance confused Ron for a few moments as his mind tried to sort it out. He

finally concluded that whatever language the people spoke must have somehow been

misinterpreted by his translator. “They probably said, ‘f---in natives’,” he rationalized. “Well,

it’s for certain Uncle Kurt was right about being watched! Son of a bitch! This is all my fault!”




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       He sat there in his roost with a sour disposition after that, wondering what unending

amounts of stress his family had been forced to endure due to his hapless act.

       No others emerged over the next half hour so Ron dropped down to the hard-packed trail

and drifted off toward the highway. He swept the area with his sensors as he walked, and then

called the black ship.

       “Darlile…I need you to monitor a cellular phone number. When it becomes active,

locate it and send me the coordinates.”

       “Affirmative,” replied the soft, calm voice of the warship.

       The night was cold and dark…just like Ron’s mood.




                                                                                               146
                                       Chapter Eleven

                                     Timing is Everything

       Ron followed the riverside trail for a long ways, until he found an old cut-through he

used to run along in his high school days. As he moved through the night, he decided the best

plan would be to get to that military compound in Texas and try to find out what they knew

about his wife. How, exactly, was a whole other matter.

       His short-cut brought him back to the main road a good two miles from where his

family’s truck was parked earlier, at which point he started his trek toward the interstate. It was

a straight shot, across some swampy spillway lands permeating the area on both banks of the

Calcasieu River, but it was still a long walk.

       He was offered a ride twice, but declined. His need to stay quiet and secretive was high.

If his physical peculiarities were found out, it would be extremely difficult to explain them

away…and that may very well end his ability to search for his family.

       While he strolled along Highway 378, through the back roads of Moss Bluff, he caught a

lucky break.

       “See you in a week, Jimmy!” called out a man in a semi to his friend standing in the

gateway of a pipe yard.


                                                                                                 147
          “You drive safe, Frank,” came the reply.

          The truck eased out of the entrance and the fellow left behind began closing up the huge

gate that led to the riverside storage area. This was a way station for river traffic going out to the

Gulf of Mexico and on to the Mississippi River where it would eventually reach the northern

states.

          The name of the company was Progressive Piping, of El Paso, Texas. El Paso,

coincidentally, was a city large enough to be able to take care of the one business transaction that

Ron needed to make…and it was only seventy five miles from the military base he was headed

for!

          The truck crawled slowly onto the highway, and when it shifted gears, Ron Allison was

like a shadow in the night as he hopped up onto the three-inch thick wooden bed…behind a stack

of several large, wooden forms that were used to keep the pipe from rolling off the truck. He

was well concealed from the driver as well as any following vehicle’s headlights, so it seemed

like a good move at the time. Daylight would be another matter…but he was good until then.

          At that point, Ron settled in and indulged in a long overdue meal. He gulped down his

cold rations in a state of mild numbness…his mind being filled with doubt and anxiety. How

was he going to get this done? How could he find a woman in such a huge country, among the

hundreds of millions? He ate and planned…rejecting one scenario after the other, each as either

inadequate or downright foolhardy. Once satiated, he found the droning of the engine and

wheels of the truck were lulling him into sleep, and decided to allow it. It had been a long day,

and there were surely more to come, so taking rest where he could manage it was in his best

interests.




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       Along the outskirts of town, the big rig roared in the frosty night, changing direction

twice, until it was pointed west and headed up the onramp of the tall, Calcasieu River Bridge.

The truck was empty, so it had no problem climbing the eight degree slope, cresting the pinnacle

of that soaring structure with the stars and moon vivid in the night sky. Ron opened his eyes and

stood up for a last glance around, gazing out across the thousands of lights shining brightly in the

darkness far below and spread out across many miles. The colored lights of the hotels and

casinos, as well as all the illumination of the dozens of petroleum plants, were a welcomed

reminder of his ordinary beginning.

       The lofty status of the bridge’s peak was a fleeting rush which only lasted a few seconds

before the truck was pointed downward, the engine rumbling deeply as the weight of the vehicle

changed from being a burden to assistance.

       Gravity was a different enemy now, still tugging hard at the big rig, but instead of trying

to slow it down, it pulled the cab faster, forcing the power-plant’s loping roar to grow even

louder as it told all those around that it now checked the speed of the truck. Drivers know this as

compression braking, and is utilized to keep from heating up the vehicle’s brakes while damping

its natural tendency to rush down a steep incline too quickly. Those in cars next to the large rigs

only know that it is extremely loud and irritating.

       Ron sat once more, propping himself into a comfortable spot. The bellowing of the

diesel engine, combined with the wind whistling by, was as soothing as the whine of the tires and

pushed Ron deeper into sleep quickly.

       It wasn’t to be that easy for Ron though, as catastrophe ended all hope for such luxury

halfway down the tall, slim structure.




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        At the midway point of the mile long, downhill stretch, a sound reached Ron’s ears,

bringing him instantly out of his semi-slumber. It was the sound of metal…or more precisely,

metal destroying metal.

        Inside one of the dozens of expansion joints which enable the bridge’s concrete and steel

structure to withstand the differing temperatures and rates of change, the heavy, iron meshing

hinge finally gave way to time and usage. In a split second wear and rust won out at last,

shearing off the one and a half inch thick bolts securing it in place. A three foot long, eight inch

wide, one hundred pound piece of bridging was suddenly turned into a treacherous bludgeon of

ricocheting destruction.

        Barely a hundred yards ahead of the pipe hauler Ron dozed on, another eighteen

wheeler…a fully loaded gasoline transport…dealt the final blow to the weakened joint with its

drive wheels, kicking it upward at a sharp angle and allowing the trailer’s tires to launch it into

the air. As if fighting the laws of physics, it seemed to hover for a full second before a following

police cruiser smashed into it with his push-bar, shoving that stout appliance so far back into the

engine compartment that the left front tire locked up and sent the officer immediately into an

uncontrolled spin.

        The collision with the car, in turn, ejected the airborne shrapnel over the concrete median

separator, and into the eastbound lanes of traffic. That jagged shard of iron then struck a van at

the driver’s window post, ripping through it, destroying the left side of the windshield, and

obliterating the glass in the door before rebounding to the roadway where it shot skyward once

more.

        The van’s driver reacted as anyone would have when something that frightening smashes

into their vehicle…he panicked! The fellow locked up the tires and steered away from the flying




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debris, unable to see what his reaction’s effect caused to the other traffic because his eyes were

peppered with glass. Before he knew it, he ended up facing backwards down the bridge he’d just

been climbing.

          An armored courier truck was directly behind him and it too leaned on the brakes hard,

the iron grate striking its roof twice before rolling off the back. The courier driver was able to

stay in control of his heavy machine, but now the two lanes heading eastbound were completely

fouled.

          The next thing to make contact with the cart-wheeling length of metal was another

van…this time however; it was a minivan which was being utilized in the typical fashion of such

vehicles…a woman hauling a cargo of four young adolescents! They were just getting back

from an out-of-town excursion to Houston, and the kids were all sleeping soundly in their seats.

The mom driver was extremely glad to be on the bridge at last because it meant they were finally

within a short couple miles of her home.

          The careening joint plummeted harshly from its contact with the armored truck and

imbedded itself in the roadway. Unfortunately, it stuck just deep enough so when the van’s front

end passed over it, the beefy iron shrapnel sheered off the supporting structure to the drive

wheel…sending the auto completely out of control.

          The female driver suddenly felt the steering wheel ripped from her hands and was thrown

against the door savagely as the van skidded, struck the center divider, and then shot off across

the lanes into the outer railing.

          To compound the danger even further, there was a long-haul trucker just behind her in the

next lane, and he was loaded down with a dozen, sixty-inch diameter concrete culverts, with

practically no way to stop in time. The screaming of rubber on concrete tore through the inky




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blackness of the night an instant before the rear of the van was slammed by that inertia driven

truck…and shoved completely through the railing. Only pure happenstance kept the vehicle

from plunging over eighty feet to the ground. Their good fortune prevailed only by the very

slimmest of margins…its mangled aft sheet metal being miraculously entangled with the bumper

of the semi.

       The tanker truck which inadvertently initiated the disastrous incident continued on his

way, completely oblivious to what had occurred, but those behind him faced a totally different

reaction as the entire flow of traffic in both directions, came to an immediate halt.

       Ron’s keen senses followed the rampaging, ricocheting chunk of metal precisely, and so

he was on the move before his own ride could even stop. His hat was on the deck of the trailer

so quickly he didn’t even recall the move. Then he shed his coat onto his pack in a single deft

shrug of his powerful shoulders before coiling and springing from the braking trailer like a

jungle cat from a tree…landing on the center median smoothly; perfectly balanced. He paused

there for only an instant, long enough to acquire a target for his next leap. As the thin metal skin

of the minivan bent abruptly under the strain of the situation, Ron jumped once more.

       Over the armored truck he flew, no longer amazed and elated by the feeling of his body

shooting through the air…there was no time for silliness this night. He landed at the edge of the

gap between vehicles, directly adjacent to the semi-van entanglement. The entire bridge

shuddered upon his eight-hundred pounds striking its surface, but none of the witnesses even saw

him land. They were still fighting their own problems and cringing from the skidding tires and

clashing metal of more accidents piling up behind them.

       Time seemed to slow down to the valiant knight on the scene, and Ron watched in horror

as the lower lip of the van’s aft hatch bent even further, tilting the main body ominously. Five




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frantic screams resonated from that doomed vehicle in a resounding chorus of unfettered panic,

so Ron reacted with all the speed he could muster, diving for the disappearing auto.

         The rear of the minivan was badly crushed by the impact of the larger truck, leaving only

one substantial hand-hold within reach…the rear axle. As his body slammed against the

concrete surface of the bridge’s pedestrian walkway, he latched onto that axle with his vise-like

grip and pulled. The vehicle’s undercarriage though, had been subjected to a tremendous amount

of abuse as well. It had been harshly forced over the foot-high walkway which was specifically

designed to corral any wayward vehicles, so when Ron grabbed onto it he could clearly see the

axle he held was already torn half free of the van.

         “Shit!” he growled as the sheet metal wedged to the semi’s bumper ripped loose and the

van’s nose dipped to a vertical attitude.

         The only way to anchor himself then was by locking his knees against the walkway’s

edge, whereby he was left stretched out to the very limits of his reach. It was quite an alarming

predicament as his eyes looked down over the edge of the bridge, but his inner drive would not

yield.

         Eighty feet below was a small, two lane road leading from the exit of the town to a point

where it merged with a service road to the oil refineries, and to the onramp of the bridge. The

twisted remains of the sheered off guardrail could be spotted down there already, having

bounced to the edge of the asphalt roadway along with countless pieces of smaller debris that

were still raining over the edge.

         The van then began to slowly pivot around the final point thus far attached to the axle,

causing the lower surface of the vehicle to grind against the bridge’s structure in a deafening wail




                                                                                                    153
of steel on concrete. That forced Ron to change his hold, swapping his right hand from the axle

to the shock’s supporting structure.

       Ron’s arms bulged with steel-hard sinew and his back spread out into a delta shape any

bodybuilder would have envied, locking the vehicle firmly in place, however precarious the

locale. His move stabilized the swing, but left him totally encumbered and able to do nothing for

the family. At that instant, he was certain he could hold the weight…but too, he could feel the

adrenaline surge burning up his energy. His lungs couldn’t keep up with the amount of oxygen

intake his body was calling for, and he knew it. He needed help…now!

       Suddenly there were footsteps beside him and he turned his head to see a man gaping at

him in pure astonishment. It was the driver of the truck that had collided with the minivan. He

was blanched white with terror at what he viewed to be his fault, until he focused on what the

fellow at his feet was actually doing.

       “How the hell?” the man began.

       “Get them out!” Ron ordered in a deep, menacing tone, as if he were literally threatening

the fellow into action.

       The truck driver felt his fear level shoot up instantly, not at the tenuous situation of the

family dangling over the edge, or at the thought of standing on the brink of a certain deadly fall if

he should slip. He was instantly afraid of falling short of that man’s demand!

       He rushed past Ron and screamed at the woman in the van.

       “Can you move?”

       “Help us! Help us…please don’t let us die!”

       “Unbuckle your seat belts…”

       “Heeeeeeelllllllllp!” screamed the woman and the four girls.




                                                                                                      154
       “Take off your seat…”

       “HELP US!”

       The trucker was not a man with a great deal of patience, or time to be socially amiable,

so…

       “SHUT THE HELL UP, DAMN IT!” he bellowed into the van.

       The passengers stopped screaming instantly and listened.

       “Take off your seatbelts and climb out!” the driver yelled at them, and then he glanced to

the man at his feet. Ron was starting to huff audibly, running low on air fast, “…and HURRY!”

       Ron’s concentration was sheer perfection, his eyes closed and his breathing was deep and

long, trying to suck in enough of the thin atmosphere to keep his mind alert and his body obeying

his commands.

       The van was heavy, more than he ever thought he would be able to hold, but his will

would not relent…nor his unbreakable grip! The jostling inside the vehicle transmitted to him

the fact that they were finally on the move, but he barely registered it, his focus being on his

fingers as well as his thighs’ grip on the concrete ledge. He could hold on maybe another two

minutes, he told himself. After that, things were going to get real bad real fast.

       Three more men rushed up the bridge by then to see if they could help, and each of them

froze for a few moments when they saw what was occurring.

       “Holy shit!” one of them said. “He’s holding up that car…by himself!”

       “No…no, that can’t be,” said one of the others. “It must be hooked on the railing

somehow. Come on!”

       They joined in on the rescue and began hauling the kids out of the back hatch and onto

the safety of the roadway. Those girls were athletic and nimble…but the mother was not. And




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just as kids tend to react under stress, by taking direction from grownups without offering

opinions, adults often have the opposite drive…perhaps because they think too much about what

could happen instead of simply seeing and doing. In any event, the woman did not follow the

girls’ escape route, only managing to release her seat belt before her fears held her immobile.

Now, as precious time ticked away, she sat cowering in the front of the van with her hands over

her eyes, crying uncontrollably.

        Frank Denk, the driver of the pipe-hauling truck that Ron had stowed away on, was at the

scene by then and took control of the situation immediately. He was a middle-aged fellow

standing well over six feet tall, sturdily built, clean cut, and trained in emergency rescue and

roadside assistance…a side job for him.

        Three of the men were screaming at the woman to climb up, but were having no luck.

Two others were almost ready to brawl over what to do next, and a couple of teenage boys were

milling about with a bad case of curiosity. A hasty look around the accident and Frank leaped

into action.

        “EVERYBODY SHUT UP!” he roared over the din of voices, shocking them into an

attentive state. Whose truck is this?” he then asked in a deep, masculine, authoritative voice.

        “Mine,” replied a first fellow Ron had spoken to. He was a smaller, bearded young man

of approximately twenty five years.

        “Get your tie-down straps…now!” he ordered. “You there…help him! We’ve gotta

stabilize the van before it slips loose! You two…get those girls outta here and bring back that

cop from the west-bound side!” Then he turned to another of the growing crowd. “Grab the

chains off the headache-rack of this rig and hook’em to the front here…go!”




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       He stepped up to the dangling minivan at that point and assessed the predicament with

the woman.

       “Lady! LADY! LOOK AT ME!”

       The woman peeked between her hands at the sound of his voice.

       “Everything is fine here…okay?” He then glanced at the straining back of the Hercules

that wheezed for air at his feet. “No frigging way!” he thought when the full scene registered in

his mind. He then told Ron, “Hang on, man…the chains are coming! Lady…you have to climb

up. Your girls are scared and they need to see that you’re alright! Come on now.”

       “I can’t…I can’t…I can’t! If I move…it’ll fall!”

       “Shit!” the big man said as he turned from the van. Four men were returning with the

chains and straps, and they hurriedly began attaching them to the front of the big truck, at the

heavy hooks built into the frame. One of the teenagers appeared from the other side, slipped in

next to Ron, and tossed a loop of cable around the wheel that was still firmly attached. He

snagged the swinging end and locked the heavy hook in place.

       “Okay…hit it!” he yelled back at his buddy.

       The cable tightened up quickly giving both Ron and Frank a moment of hope, but then

the eager-beavers went too far.

       “Come on, Bobby…let’er rip! Your winch’ll haul that bitch right back up here…no

problem!”

       That’s when Ron realized just what they were doing, and tried to warn them.

       “No,” he groaned, but it was too late.

       Frank heard his plea and spun on his heel. He saw the young men attempting to help,

saw the attached cable and the apex of the applied force, and he too yelled.




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        “NO!”

        The boys were using the winch on their four-by-four with a ten thousand pound capacity,

so when the cable tightened up, there was practically no chance of stopping it. The angle of

leverage they used was far too sharp and it actually pulled the axle assembly off the frame,

snapping the sole remaining U-bolts without hesitation.

        Ron was lucky enough to see it coming and was narrowly able to shift his body enough to

not be towed off along with it. As it was though, the loss of a handhold let the van swing down

even further, and he was forced to make a desperate grab at another point. The shock and spring

structure on the loose side was out of reach so he switched his grip to the edge of the crumpled

uni-body. Regrettably, that was a section of the vehicle never designed for such loads, and it

immediately bent and stretched away.

        By then, sweat was dripping from Ron’s chin and his panic to stop the slide of the van

burned faster through his oxygen reserves. The minivan was slowly tearing itself loose of his

attempt at saving the woman, and he unexpectedly found himself with only one course of action.

        In a move so quick the men around the van barely flinched before it was over, and only

then realized what he did, Ron lunged outward…over the edge of the bridge. He hung tightly to

the one hard-point of the undercarriage he had with his left hand and whipped out and sunk the

length of the black sword in with the right, establishing a new, solid, and stable attitude once

more.

        In order to accomplish that feat however, he had to relinquish his thigh hold on the

walkway, switching instead to the semi truck behind him by stretching out his legs and hooking

his heels under the heavy bumper. The front of the truck abruptly rose six inches before its

weight stopped any further travel.




                                                                                                   158
       Now things were more than tenuous…and seconds felt like hours. Ron was able to halt

the dropping van, but it was now six feet below the surface of the bridge, and his entire torso was

over as well, the fulcrum of that unbelievable support being at his waist.

       Frank, the current leader of the rescuers, pulled away when the van slid, but was

immediately back at it, assessing the newest parameters. (The others jumped well clear…mostly

due to the rear axle-wheel assembly flying out from under the vehicle…and were hesitant to

return.) He hurriedly began fishing a wide tie-down strap through the back hatch of the van and

hollering at the woman.

       “Put this around your waist!” he yelled before turning to Ron. “Hold on, man! A few

seconds more.”

       Ron heard his request, but by then he was in dire shape. The weight wasn’t the problem,

and he was sure he could’ve held it much longer, but he could barely inhale at all

anymore…especially now that his upper body was so compressed from the position. He was

taking great, fast gasps of air that was never meant to supply an individual such as him, and

simply could not accommodate his needs.

       He started graying out only moments after Frank’s appeal…the voices around him

becoming garbled and mix-mashed. He vaguely felt hands on his legs, as if someone was trying

to aid him, but he could not understand. A few more seconds and he’d given all he could…and

his world went black.




                                                                                                159
                                       Chapter Twelve

                                        A Strange Rescue

       On the surface of the bridge, the voices Ron heard just before he passed out were from

the dozens of anxious onlookers all talking at once, and then cheering when the woman finally

cleared the crumpled back hatch of the minivan. Six men were hauling her up as fast as an

express elevator after she finally managed to encircle herself with the strap and secure the hook.

       There were indeed hands on Ron’s legs too, three pair to be exact, and each of the

individuals operating them wondered the same thing as they gripped the limbs of the man who

was performing the impossible; “It was incomprehensible!” So they just assumed his adrenaline

was so overwhelming that he was able to accomplish what he was doing. But when they felt

those legs, they knew something was more than a little unique about this fellow…they felt as

solid as a tree. And after they leaned their weight on him, to help counter the load he held, it was

like pressing on a steel girder, which didn’t give in the slightest.

       They all looked at one another then, totally baffled by the man’s extraordinary feat,

wondering what kind of fellow lay stretched out between them. But as soon as the lady cleared

the metal prison threatening to stifle her life, they felt those stout bands of hardened muscle go

limp. Just then the assistants were nearly thrown from the bridge as the human crane of a man


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slipped over the edge and hurtled to the ground. Ron’s fingers refused to give up their hold until

after he was completely out…and falling.

        The van dropped straight down on its nose, turning the one-time family express into a

huge accordion as its length went instantly from nearly ten feet to six…and barely three quarters

of a second behind it followed the unconscious form of Ron Allison.

        Once again, Ron’s uncanny luck prevailed due to a very unlucky motorist driving by at

the exact wrong moment. The driver was totally unaware of any danger because he was so

excited…speaking to his son about the fishing trip they were headed on. When the silver

minivan dropped out of thin air and slammed into the ground two feet in front of his huge, brand

new, dually truck with a custom painted fiberglass bed cover, there was nothing he could do.

The fellow reacted as quickly as anyone could, but not fast enough to miss colliding with the

demolished van. He rammed into it at thirty miles per hour and ejected it across the road as his

truck screeched to a stop…only to have another source of damage drizzle down onto his pride

and joy. Ron’s nearly eight hundred pound body landed dead center of his beautiful bed cover

and bottomed out the shocks of the heavy-duty truck.

        “JESUS ALMIGHTY!” shouted Jerome Benoit out of utter fright when the airbag

exploded into him.

        His death-grip on the steering wheel dissipated a moment later when he realized he

wasn’t dead, so he pushed the rapidly deflating safety balloon out of the way and checked his

son. The boy, whose eyes were as wide as his fathers, pushed at his airbag too…on the verge of

tears from the jolt.

        “You okay?”

        “Y-y-y-y-y-yeah!” croaked the young boy.




                                                                                                161
        At that point, Jerome…known as Romy...leaped from his seat to inspect the damage to

his vehicle.

        “Son of a bit…!” he yelled as he saw the front of the truck and the destroyed van.

        He glanced up to see where this pile of destructive steel had come from and found

himself staring at more than two dozen sets of eyes looking down at him from the bridge.

        They were all screaming something, but he had no clue what it was, figuring they were

just excited about his having been spared injury. He saw the bent and dangling railing and

looked over at the minivan which had come to rest at the side of the road. His senses jumped

back to life then.

        Romy bolted for the van, peering into it with the aid of a street lamp directly overhead,

and breathed a sigh of relief when he saw the auto empty. But if it had no driver, then how could

it have…?

        He looked up again at the crowd. They were all shouting and pointing at his truck, which

made his heart lurch. With far less enthusiasm he moved to the rear of his once beautiful

vehicle, fearing what he was going to find there.

        “Holy shit!” he cried before stumbling back to the cab. “Give me the phone!” he ordered

to his ten year old son. “Quick! Give me the phone!”

        He started to dial 911 but caught sight of an ambulance already screaming up behind him.

At that very moment, it was passing under the huge “Westlake” sign which marked the edge of

town where the first set of railroad tracks crossed the main road. Someone from up above had

already called, at the start of the incident, and the heavy, box-van emergency unit swung around

his smashed truck and stopped short at his waving figure.

        “Here! Right here!” he yelled at the passenger side of the ambulance.




                                                                                                 162
       The two EMTs practically flew out of the cab and into the back to grab their gear. Barely

two seconds later, the rear doors of the ambulance burst open as the pair of techs launched

themselves out and commenced searching the scene. They saw the crushed truck-bed cover, saw

the man lying in that depression of shattered fiberglass, and then looked up to see where he’d

fallen from. The urgency in them quickly faded when they judged the height of the drop, and

they strolled over to check the body, fully expecting to find a corpse.

       The tallest of the duo leaned in and grabbed Ron’s wrist.

       “Nothing! He’s toast!” the fellow said to his partner.

       “I’ll call the coroner in a second,” his buddy in the doorway of the pickup said while

checking the boy for injuries. “See if there are any others.”

       The med-techs went to the minivan and searched it, then swept the scene with their

flashlights. The grass beside the roadway was short and so they didn’t take much time to

determine it was clear. As they started back to their truck, a man was running up, red-faced and

completely out of breath. It was the driver of the pipe hauler, Frank, who had assisted in the

rescue of the woman and kids.

       “Is he alright?” he blurted as he jogged to a stop beside the big pickup.

       “Who…him?” the tech replied. “No…sorry…no pulse.”

       Frank leaned way over, gasping and wheezing from running over a full mile to get around

the traffic jam and reach Ron…and he cursed that outcome.

       “I can’t believe it!” he finally said, after one of the techs gave him some oxygen. “He

just saved a family up there. That guy’s a bonafide hero!”




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       The shorter of the techs climbed up to have a look at the poor soul…to see the face of the

man the truck driver was describing, and slipped on the concaved, smoothly painted surface of

the top.

       “Whoa!” he shouted as his feet flew up and he slid into Ron abruptly.

       He reached out in the darkened depression of the camper top looking for his dropped

flashlight, and his hand rested on Ron’s face. Purely out of instinctive training, he felt his neck

while still checking around for the light. He almost removed his hand when a thud surged

through his fingers. His head whipped around so fast that his glasses slid off the bridge of his

nose, ending up askew. He straightened those frames immediately and reached for a little

penlight he had in his shirt pocket. A repeat of that thump got his own heart racing and he pried

Ron’s eyes open to check for dilation. They responded in a fashion the tech was not prepared to

see and he leaped back, nearly falling out of the truck.

       “Jeeeezzzzzzuuuusssss!” he squealed.

       “What?” his partner asked hurriedly. “What’s wrong?”

       “He ain’t dead!”

       “WHAT?” the first tech asked, now feeling frantic…and more than a little nauseous for

not doing a more thorough examination.

       The trucker had the reverse reaction. “Let’s go guys! Let’s go! Get to it! Any man who

could do what this guy’s done shouldn’t die because of it.”

       Frank jumped in there with the two of them and they all searched Ron over for signs of

trauma…blood, broken bones, and such. The original Med-tech authenticated his buddy’s

pronouncement that Ron was indeed alive, but he flicked his own light too quickly in Ron’s eyes




                                                                                                   164
to get the results his friend had noticed. And that guy wasn’t about to start blathering on about

eyes turning black, so they continued their examination as usual from then on.

       Finding no outward signs of damage on him, the men decided to prep Ron for travel.

They had a terrible time slipping a neck brace on him though, and getting a backboard

underneath was a feat they simply couldn’t accomplish.

       In the small and awkward confines of his peculiar location, they couldn’t get enough

leverage to even raise Ron’s shoulders, so they all sat back for a bit to check their options.

       “What’s this guy made of…lead?” asked the stockier tech.

       The other men were thinking the same thing, and all of them knew they weren’t going to

be able to lift him safely out of there, no matter how many helpers they might recruit. A new

strategy had to be devised.

       Frank pulled from his experience concerning dozens of accident scenes and was quick to

improvise. He hurriedly scoured the gathering crowd until happening upon a resolution to their

unique dilemma. With the escort of a police cruiser, a conventional tow truck had wormed its

way through the crowded sea of cars piling up in the busy roadway. When the operator saw the

remains of the minivan however, he knew immediately that a flatbed hauler would be required,

so he just pulled to the side to wait for the crunched pickup truck to get freed up.

       “Hey, you!” Frank yelled to the wrecker driver. Bring your truck around here! We need

to lift something!”

       The fellow saw an opportunity to earn a little extra cash, so he fired it up and backed

around into position. It wasn’t until he was out of the cab and at the rear bumper that he realized

what it was they wanted to lift.

       “Dig out your tow straps and a couple of crowbars and hand’em over! Thanks.”




                                                                                                 165
        They grunted their way through the rigors of moving parts of Ron, had him in a sling

made from six straps in another ten minutes, and then hoisted him out of the damaged truck as

delicately as possible. Once clear, they lowered him onto one of the stretchers, but quickly

found the next obstacle was getting the stretcher into the back of the ambulance. That turned out

to be a monumental achievement requiring the assistance of five more men to manage…and they

were still straining!

        Finally though, the ambulance was on its way, and Frank, the tow truck driver, and fifty

bystanders wrapped up their thanks and stories and went back to their vehicles.

        Frank Denk began the long trip back to his rig feeling quite exhilarated. He’d witnessed

some truly remarkable things this day and would have one hell of a story to tell his family when

he got home.

        It turned out to be a protracted walk back to his truck however, for two reasons. With the

excitement fading and the adrenaline rush going with it, he realized just how drained he really

was…and to make it worse, more than half of the jaunt was up a considerable incline.

        One more little hiccup added to his woes before he could catch his breath too. As he

struggled up the dewy grass of the bridge’s embankment, he got a glimpse up the westbound lane

and saw a large towing rig easing into position in front of his own truck.

        “Wait!” he yelled at the driver as he bolted up the walkway. “Wait! I’m here!”

        There was an officer guiding traffic through the only open lane, and he wasn’t in much of

a talking mood…glaring at Frank while waving the motorists along.

        Frank reached his truck only seconds before the tow-truck driver began attaching his

chains, and pleaded with him.

        “Wait…wait…wait! I’ll move it! Hold on a second!”




                                                                                                  166
          “Sorry, but the Troopers called it in. I have to tow it now.”

          Frank went immediately to the patrolman working the traffic.

          “Officer! Can’t you get him to give me a break? I was down under the bridge helping

with that guy who fell!”

          The State Trooper was in a foul mood though and didn’t much feel like being generous.

He’d just had to break a very promising dinner date with a rather vivacious woman, so Frank’s

problem wasn’t high on his sympathy list.

          “Hang on Smitty!” said a loud voice from the other side of the roadway. “Don’t hook up

that truck!”

          It was the policeman who’d been at the scene all along. He hopped over the concrete

divider and grabbed Frank’s hand firmly.

          “Mister, I wanted to thank you for what you did back there. If it weren’t for you, that

lady would’ve gone down with her car. I really appreciate your help!”

          “Sure…no problem. I’m glad things worked out.”

          “Smitty. Sorry, but I can’t let you haul his truck. This guy just saved five people’s

lives.”

          “All right, Herb. It’s cool.”

          “You take care now, Frank. Be safe out there.”

          “Thanks, Officer. I will.”

          Herb Thibodeaux went back to his own duties then, overseeing the cleanup on the

opposite side, and Frank got an impatient glare from the Trooper next to his rig, so he hurried

over to the truck.




                                                                                                    167
       Considering what all just transpired, Frank felt the need to make a quick trip around the

sixty-foot-long machine before resuming his journey. He didn’t know if someone might have

slammed into it while he was away, or if some debris might have ended up under the wheels. As

he worked his way toward the back, a passing motorist’s less than cordial greeting…“Get the f—

k outta the way, Asshole!”…made him glance up.

       When he did, he found three items that would keep him from his professional duty quite a

while longer.



       Through all the clamor and excitement, not a single person noticed the remotely

controlled camera mounted on the gigantic sign at the entrance to the town. They didn’t see it

stop its normal sweeping of the intersection when the commotion began, nor the three inch wide

zoom lens returning to its wider angle setting when the incident was finally over. Only one

group knew it even existed!




                                                                                                 168
                                     Chapter Thirteen

                                              Rhena

        When the ambulance pulled up to the double doors of the emergency section of St.

Christopher Charity Hospital, eight huge orderlies met it there, the driver having called ahead for

the additional assistance. Three doctors joined them as well because the EMTs had no idea what

was wrong with the patient in their wagon. Outwardly he seemed to be perfectly fine, but his

heart rate was extremely low, as was his breathing, so the thoughts of either a spinal cord injury

or brain damage from the fall were their main concerns.

        After five minutes of back-breaking labor, the congregation finally succeeded in getting

the gurney rolling into the hospital, and then the real trouble began. They quickly came to

realize they couldn’t get the oddly fashioned, foreign looking harness off him…nor the black

pole, or bat, or club, or whatever the thing was on his back. Through a hands-on inspection of

his person, most of Ron’s throwing knives were found (overlooking the small one in his left

boot) and removed. That left them wondering what sort of man would walk the streets so

armed…a criminal…knife fanatic…or just an eccentric. Whichever reason was the true one

mattered not at all because the police on duty immediately confiscated them and put a guard on

this stranger in their hospital.


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       Next, the doctors and staff attempted to strip him by cutting his clothes off with scissors,

but that didn’t work. In fact, no cutting instrument they could find would even begin to slice

through whatever material he was wearing. They even tried a scalpel…dulling it instantly, and

there were no zippers or snaps of any sort.

       When those attempts failed, the group considered trying to slip his apparel off, but

couldn’t figure out how to get his boots free. After five minutes of struggling, they abandoned

that end and went to his shirt, but again Ron’s weight was a tremendous hindrance and so they

decided to postpone such an arduous task until absolutely necessary.

       “Well, let’s worry about that later!” the emergency room doctor told everyone. “We’ll

get him x-rayed and see about any hidden, internal injuries first.”

       While the Radiography Techs moved the required equipment into position, a male nurse

struggled to draw blood from Ron’s left arm, only accomplishing the task due to the large bore

needle he used and the fact that he was a big man and therefore could exert a great deal of

pressure while staying in control of that device.

       “Geez, this guy’s skin’s tougher than cowhide!” the nurse said to the techs.

       Once the desired volume of blood was extracted, the nurse immediately started the usual

panel of tests. However, when he released a single drop of the fluid into a vial used to check its

iron content, the small globule sank to the bottom straight away and didn’t even begin to dissolve

for over a minute. He went away to type it shaking his head in absolute bewilderment.

       Ron was placed on a ventilator by that time, but they didn’t have a clue about who they

were working on and so it was set far too low to revive him. The physicians overlooked his lack

of response to the mechanical respirator and merely continued their quest for some other

ailments.




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       Two hours later, after the x-rays came back completely white, not having the power to

shoot through his dense structure even when the head Radiographer performed the procedure at

the maximum setting, they really were mystified.

       “Just what on God’s green Earth is this guy made of?” the trauma specialist mumbled,

looking over his patient with complete bafflement. “All right, let’s set him up for a CAT-scan.

We have to see what’s going on inside his head. He’s nearly comatose and there has to be a

reason. I’m betting he has a severe concussion.”

       They moved Ron into the intensive care area to wait for the CT examination room to be

readied, and placed an intern to watch his vitals…with a security officer outside the door.

       The doctor trainee was a young woman, Rhena Rashde. She was tall for her gender,

attractive, and very well proportioned. She also happened to be a recent transfer student at the

local university, having come from Seattle at the beginning of the semester.

       She’d made the cross-country move to be involved with the latest cutting edge

technology in the field of mosquito transferred diseases. Her goal was to take her knowledge

back to her family’s home country to help alleviate the suffering of such ailments. Most of her

studies were lab-related, but working at the hospital was a requirement to earn her degree, and

this was the first real excitement she’d seen.

       Ron was the only patient in the room, so she busied herself by reading up on all the data

that had been collected. It was all very strange, and she was beginning to think she was over her

head even trying to understand this man’s symptoms…until the blood-work came back. It

showed very low oxygen content, as if he were suffering with hypoxia…a high altitude sickness.

She’d seen such cases in her studies back in Seattle, from climbers who’d scaled Mt Hood…but

it was barely forty feet above sea level here, so that didn’t make sense.




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        “Excuse me miss,” called a deep voice from the doorway, forcing a jump from the intent

young lady. It was the security guard.

        “Sorry if I scared you, but I need to take a restroom break. You think you’ll be alright for

a couple of minutes?”

        “Yes,” she chirped back at him, her voice showing her startled state. “I’m sure he’s not

going anywhere…at least until we figure out what’s happened to him. Go ahead.”

        One of the doctors on call drifted in just then to check on Ron as well.

        “Doctor, what do you make of these readings?” she asked tentatively.

        He saw her badge, saw that she was very young and an intern, and smiled at her only

because she was exceedingly pretty. If it had been a male student, he’d have simply grumbled at

him.

        “From what I see, he’s either just flown in from Everest, or the morons back at the blood

lab screwed up the test…again!”

        He then stormed out the door, headed for the lab.

        Rhena was left alone once more, so she began her own examination of Ron. She listened

to his breathing, calculated his heart-rate, checked his eye response, and then studied the

ventilator.

        She was brash and excited; and being the top student of every class she’d ever taken

pushed her to make a major leap…or gamble…in her diagnosis. She looked around for any

watchers and then cranked up the flow of air, carefully monitoring his vitals for fluctuations. A

slight increase was immediate, making her even bolder, so she opened the machine to the max.

        The mask on Ron’s face was designed to accommodate the attachment of three different

hoses, allowing for mixing of differing gases to treat a variety of problems. She hurriedly hauled




                                                                                                172
over two additional tanks, hooked them into the mask, and then flooded it with pure oxygen. At

that point she waited anxiously, watching and listening for anyone coming.

       “Come on, come on, come on!” she urged the sleeping man quietly, her head pivoting

around to check the door.

       Rhena definitely felt his pulse get stronger and his aspiration was smoother, but he still

remained unconscious and that really puzzled her. She went over her exam again, certain she’d

helped him, but very concerned that her meddling would be viewed negatively if she were

caught. After another two minutes of nail-biting anxiety, she decided she should put things back

the way they were before anyone found out, and moved to do just that…but the trauma doctor

strolled in before she got there.

       “Has there been any changes?” he asked, looking over at the panel showing Ron’s body

signals…and then his eyes grew wide. “What the…?”

       He saw that the patient’s readings were looking more stable, but the frequency of the

ventilator was far too high, and the volumetric flow of oxygen was dangerous. He turned and

swept over Ron with his eyes, instantly focusing on the multiple hoses at his breathing mask.

       “What the hell have you done?” he demanded, rushing over to shut off the machine.

“You could burst his lungs, you stupid little…!”

       At that instant, the big man on the gurney opened his eyes.

       Ron felt the surge of oxygen cramming into his lungs and relished it…the first really

good breaths of air he’d had on Earth. Next, his faculties came back in a rush and his self

preservation mode sprang to life as any animal’s would. That’s when he saw the man trying to

disrupt the airflow he so needed…and he reached out to stop him.




                                                                                                173
       When the staff found the collection of weapons on Ron, the police officer on call ordered

them to restrain him. They placed heavy leather belts…the ones used on violent patients, or

criminals…around his wrists, lashed securely to the stainless steel structure of the gurney.

       “No!” Ron ordered through the mask on his face, grabbing for the doctor.

       It was then that he noticed the restraints, and his reaction was instantaneous. His hate of

being trapped instantly pushed through his rational need to be gentle with these light-worlders,

so he tore himself free and grabbed the physician by the upper arm hard.

       The doctor screamed and dropped to the ground straight away, prompting Ron to release

him immediately, sitting up quickly as he began to apologize.

       “I’m sorry about that!” came a garbled, muffled request for forgiveness. “I didn’t mean to

hurt you. Please don’t be alarmed…”

       The doctor was wide-eyed with fright, and scurried away from the menacing form of Ron

Allison, holding his arm as if it were broken, which of course it was.

       “Stay away from me!” the frightened man screamed as he scrambled to his feet and ran

from the room terror stricken.

       “Damn!” Ron mumbled while taking in his surroundings.

       Rhena recoiled from the angry doctor’s insults out of reflex, and was huddled in the

corner of the room by the time he scurried off…the corner farthest away from the door. That

location put her in such a position that any attempt to exit would have her pass very close to

Ron’s bed…an avenue which she quickly rejected. Backing further into the tight spot quickly,

she attempted to shrink into nothing with her face vividly pale, clearly showing her fear.

       Ron swung his gaze around the space, realizing he was in a hospital, and then he saw the

girl. She immediately blanched even whiter than she already was.




                                                                                                 174
          He’d heard the last statement the doctor made before he moved to turn off the air

machine, so it stood to reason that the person he was berating was this young woman. He held

up his free hand with his fingers open, trying to seem less menacing. A quick tug on his still

restrained limb set him free before he took a deep gulp of air and removed the mask.

          “Don’t be afraid,” he told her calmly with a light smile. “I didn’t mean to hurt him…and

I certainly will ‘not’ hurt you!”

          Ron scanned the room again. His head was pounding like it’d been hit with a sledge

hammer, but the sound of the huffing ventilator captured his attention and he moved to gaze at it

closer. The foot restraints tried to reel him back but he just yanked them in half and continued

on. Standing on shaky legs, he read the outputs of the machine, and then turned back to the

intern.

          “You’re the one who adjusted my airflow?”

          She nodded sheepishly, vibrating hard. She couldn’t decide if she should make a break

for the door or jump for joy that she’d solved his strange affliction.

          “Well done! You’re very astute. Thank you!” he told her, bowing his head pointedly, in

Raulden fashion. “I think I owe you my life.”

          She appeared to ease up her rigid state at that, a bit less intimidated, but wasn’t sure what

to do. A fast tremor swept through her just then and set her emotions conflicting even more,

because what she felt wasn’t trepidation, it was exhilaration!

          “What a man!” her thoughts screamed.

          Ron’s disarming smile was entrancing to the slim, pristinely kempt, totally feminine

future physician…and his gaze made her twenty-three year old heart almost giddy. She innately

felt as if she could tell he was a man of honor and incomparable integrity. The way he moved,




                                                                                                    175
the steadiness of his demeanor, and the aura of supremacy that surrounded him were telltale

signs for her female intuition. And his unparalleled good looks were of such perfection that she

instantly thought he could easily be a professional athlete…or a male model. (She was

convinced that she’d buy anything he was selling!) Her heart was still racing, but was now

focused on a whole other reason for such rapidity.

         Ron’s attire was thin, form-fitting, and stretchy, to give him the mobility he needed, and

Rhena’s eyes consumed his every movement, entranced at the unbelievably defined musculature

of his body. His every flexing and twisting muscle was clearly outlined and completely

splendid, wrapped in that black veil of cloth. His wide, rounded shoulders and slim waist, with a

bodybuilder’s muscles between the two, made her stare without regard for her brazen audacity.

         Then her eyes returned to the heavy leather strap that this Adonis of a man before her had

simply torn apart offhandedly, and she wondered at his strength…at the power he wielded with

that body. She knew nothing about him other than he had been injured in a traffic mishap, but a

quick thought seared across her mind…one that was both inappropriate and completely out of

character for her.

         “What would it be like to be his…completely?”

         She flushed heavily at that.

         “You’re welcome,” she finally replied, calming down quickly now, and turning more

curious. “Who are you?”

         “I’m Ron…and you are?”

         “Rhena…Rhena Rashde. I’m and intern here.”

         “How did I get…how long have I been…? Oh crap! What happened with that van full of

kids?”




                                                                                                 176
        “What van?” she replied, having no knowledge of any of that. “I only saw you here, in

the emergency…”

        She was cut off at that instant by the sound of many feet running in their direction, and a

moment later three armed policemen burst into the room followed by the injured doctor.

        “That’s him! He’s the one who assaulted me!”

        Ron bristled at the accusation. This fellow didn’t know what an assault by Ron was.

        “I apologized!” Ron retorted. “You were going to shut off my air supply…were you

not?”

        “Of course not!” he replied indignantly. “I was merely making sure this ‘student’ hadn’t

screwed up the adjustments I’d made.”

        Ron glanced at Rhena and saw the anger, astonishment, and resentment on her face.

        “You’re a liar!” Ron told him in his deepest, angry tone. “She’s smarter than you and

you’re too arrogant to admit it! She figured out what was wrong with me and now you’re trying

to cover up your incompetence! You flarge scum!”

        “I don’t care what happened!” the policeman in charge shouted, trying to get the situation

in hand. “From what I’ve heard, you may have broken this man’s arm, so you’ll have to come

with us…to get booked for assault! You three can work out all the other stuff later.”

        “No!” Ron told him. “I’ll pay for his medical bills, and we’ll call it even…‘IF’ he

apologizes to Rhena here. If not, he can go screw himself!”

        “How dare you talk to me like that!” the trauma physician shrieked. “I’m the head of this

hospital’s entire…!”




                                                                                                 177
       Ron took a step towards him and he shut up quickly, cowering behind the officers. The

police barred the big man’s path with their weapons trained on him…and with the safeties

pointedly flipping to the off position.

       “I’m not armed. You can’t shoot an unarmed man.”

       “Just turn around and put your hands behind your back!” the sergeant ordered.

       “Where are my possessions?”

       “You mean the six different knives we pulled out of your clothing?”

       “Yes. You have no right to take my things without my permission.”

       “What were you doing with all those?”

       “Protection! I’m a courier of valuable items. Besides, where I come from, no one walks

around without some sort of defense.”

       “Well, we’re not where you come from, I guess. Here, it’s illegal to carry knives of that

size. Now turn around and do as I say!”

       “I have immunity from your laws by your own decrees, since I’m a representative from a

foreign land…and I simply want to go about my business. Those whom I represent are peace-

loving and gentle, as I wish to be, and this would be a great insult to them.”

       “And just who might they be?”

       “I come from a place called Rauld. I am an Ambassador for the Raulden people.”

       “Never heard of it! Besides, I thought you said you were a courier?”

       “Yes.”

       “Produce some papers to verify this.”

       “I can’t. My personal items are back at the accident scene…on the I-10 Bridge!”

       “Well then, you’ll just have to come with us.”




                                                                                              178
        Ron turned to Rhena again. “You had better leave. If any of these fine officers miss me,

they might harm you.”

        “She can just keep going too!” the doctor hollered from the hallway outside door. “Her

internship is over! She’s fired!”

        Rhena left the room on the verge of tears, only able to hold them back due to her anger.

That left Ron at the mercy of the police…or was it the other way around?

        “Now fellas,” Ron told them. “Let’s all just settle down and talk about this a little.”

        The sergeant pulled up his weapon and leveled it at Ron.

        “Turn around and put your hands behind your back!”

        Ron took one more deep breath from the air machine and braced himself. The officer

was holding a gun that had a two inch diameter barrel…a stun gun which propelled a heavy,

lead-shot-filled bean bag.

        “This thing will take you clean off your feet, mister…and probably break a couple of ribs

too.”

        “Then put it away and let me alone!” Ron told him, his visage turning dark and hostile.

        “I’m afraid I can’t do that!”

        “So be it.”

        The other policemen began to advance. One took out his handcuffs and closed in on Ron.

        “Just take it easy mister,” he said softly, “This will all be over before you know it.”

        “Yes, about that, you are correct…but you don’t know what you’re doing. Leave me

alone and let me go!”

        The fellow rushed Ron, reaching for his left arm…but that limb was now far from his

hand…as was the man it was attached to. Ron quickly sidestepped the approaching officer,




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reaching around to the cop’s back and accelerated his lunge into horizontal flight. The cop went

flying into the wall, ten feet behind Ron, striking it flat yet inverted, where he slumped down into

a heap for the next half hour.

       The Sergeant fired the beanbag gun five feet from Ron, fully expecting to drop him like it

had so many other times against other men…but what happened turned his face white as a sheet.

       Ron caught the bag in his right hand! The third officer had kept his position, but now he

backed up.

       Ron looked at the bag of lead shot in his palm with curiosity more than anything else. It

had stung him pretty good, but that was all. He felt its weight a second and then returned it to its

owner with extreme prejudice. The Sergeant’s mouth hung open at first, when he saw the result

of his attempted subduing of Ron, and then his eyes flew wide and he dropped that weapon to

reach for his other…too late!

       The one pound bag struck him in the chest hard enough to expel every bit of air in his

lungs and knock him completely off his feet. Ron then kicked the rolling bed he’d been placed

on, propelling it sharply across the room to catch the last man in the gut and slap him against the

far wall, next to the door they’d come through. The force of the blow was enough to drop him to

the shiny, squeaky-clean floor where he pressed himself up on shaky arms only to fail in his

attempt to rise. He was out a moment later.

       “I’m sorry, Sergeant.” Ron told the gasping, bewildered leader of the group. “I tried to

settle this peacefully. You and your men had no cause to arrest me. Now let it be!”

       Ron scooped up one of the oxygen bottles, strolled out of the room, and stood in the

hallway, trying to figure out which direction to go. Absentmindedly, he unbuckled the leather

restraints on his ankles and wrists and tossed them back into the room. A moment later he




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headed down the hall in the direction the police had come from to find the nearest information

desk.

        He started to approach the woman sitting there, but Rhena spotted him as she was exiting

the “Employee Only” area.

        “Hey, Ron!” she called out, looking first at the huge oxygen bottle he had tucked under

his arm, and then back the way he’d come.

        Ron could tell she’d been crying.

        “How’d you get away?”

        “They decided not to arrest me after all.”

        “Oh?” she said, quite surprised at that announcement, “well…that’s…good.”

        “Are you all right?” he inquired softly.

        She was wearing her coat, with her car keys in her hand.

        “I suppose so,” she replied, shrugging her shoulders. “I just don’t know what to do now.

I came all this way…and I’ve only been here for three months!”

        “I’m sorry about this mess. I didn’t intend for you to get fired. You’re obviously

intelligent; you have good instincts, and a real desire to help people. You’ll make a great

doctor.”

        She smiled at his kind words, but didn’t have any idea how that would happen now.

        “Thanks, but Dr. ‘Asshole’ will make sure that doesn’t happen!”

        Ron was getting a little anxious by then…not wanting to be insincere about his new

friend’s plight, but realizing those policemen would be up and around soon.

        “Things always have a way of working out…you’ll see. Check in with your professors

tomorrow. They’ll help you get through this.”




                                                                                                 181
       “I guess you’re right. We’ll see.”

       She smiled up at Ron then. “Do you need anything?”

       “Yes, as a matter of fact, I do. My personal affects…where might they be?”

       “Uh…I heard the officers on duty confiscated them…a bunch of knives, right? Their

desk is down the hall. Take the first corridor to the right…then down and on the left. Didn’t

they tell you that when they discharged you?”

       “Thanks. Good luck to you!” Ron told her as he ignored her question and lit out towards

the appointed spot, finding it quite a chore to stay firmly on the floor in this lighter gravity

environment without his overcoat and pack for ballast.

       The station was designated with a very obvious sign above a long, granite counter. That

counter was mounted right up against a low wall, with a large window above it, spanning its

entire length. At the center of the smoothly polished surface was a shallow trough for passing

documents and such under the glass. Further along was a heavy door for entry to the

policemen’s “Restricted Access Only” side. It was just past the far end of the counter. Ron

assumed the glass was bullet proof.

       “Hi,” Ron said to the female officer at the desk. “I’ve come for my things.”

       The lady looked at Ron’s looming, insistent figure and her eight years of experience went

into action. This fellow was in a hurry…yellow flag. He seemed to be quite nervous, his eyes

sweeping the room constantly…red flag number one. If he was discharged and looking for

personal items here, he’d been carrying something he shouldn’t have…red flag number two.

And the last thing that looked out of place to her was the fact that he was still toting around an

oxygen tank…a hundred pound tank…under his arm, not on a cart!




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        The officer smiled but was immediately suspicious and began her stall tactics to try to

evaluate the situation better. Her hand went to the panic button under the desk where it poised

while she assessed him further.

        “And just who are you?”

        “I’m Ron…Dangarth,” he said, quickly adjusting to mask his family’s tie to him. “I was

admitted a little while ago, and was unconscious. I lost my identification during an incident on

the I-10 Bridge. My possessions are several blue-colored knives.”

        “That’s fine, but how do I know they’re yours?”

        “I’ll describe them to you,” Ron told her, beginning to lose his patience.

        “Well, all right…you fill out these forms. They’re probably in the vault. Who released

you? And I’ll need a permit for you to carry those weapons…some are over the legal limit

for…”

        Ron had listened to enough. He’d lived away from Earth for too long to wade through

the nearly nonstop, bureaucratic quagmire to retrieve his belongings. He was just about to lose

his temper and take some drastic measures when he spied another officer through the large

window. The man was walking over to a fairly substantial looking door…a door which appeared

to be made of thick, brushed stainless steel. When it swung open, Ron got a good view of the

interior. Inside were several handguns on three shelves, along with at least two shotguns,

another stun-gun, and ammunition. That fellow glanced over at the desk area briefly before he

reached into the gun vault to retrieve his weapon.

        Ron saw his opening and took it. The entry door to the station was thick, and its frame

was constructed of heavy gauge steel, braced substantially to keep any intruder at bay. He was

sure he could breach it, but it might take a few blows…long enough for the cops to mount a




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defense. The window however was designed to stop bullets, chairs, any lighter, handheld

weapons…not an eight hundred pound, six-foot-four-inch man.

          Ron set his oxygen bottle down, took a half step back, and then surged forward, leaping

high enough to clear the counter before he kicked the corner of that glass barricade with

everything he had.

          The frame of the window exploded on the inner side, sending wooden shrapnel flying

into the confines of the police office and every person within thirty feet to the tile floor. The

inch-thick glass obstruction ripped free of its mooring with a tremendous crashing sound…as if a

car had hit it at thirty miles an hour…and continued destroying everything close by with the

weight of it.

          The woman at the desk pushed backwards hard, toppling her wheeled office chair

instantly and roughly dumping her screaming form to the floor. She didn’t even have time to

push the emergency call button in her haste to retreat.

          “Hey, aaaaahhhh!” she screamed before she landed with a thud!

          She banged her head solidly on the hard tile before throwing her hands up to fend off the

falling sheet of Plexiglas…but it never reached her. Ron was over the counter directly behind

that safety shield and grabbed it before it could land on her. The hard, ceramic overlay that

adorned the floor shattered at once under his feet, from the combination of his and the glass’s

weight.

          The officer currently at the vault fell back as well, startled off his feet by the explosion,

where he tumbled to the ground and covered his face from the debris…but he still gripped the

pistol he’d been retrieving. After the initial shock passed, he shook his head hard to both remove




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the wooden fragments from his person, and refocus his attention. That’s when he remembered

his duty.

       Ron was already past the desk officer and moving like a juggernaut; swift, imposing, and

unstoppable. The armed fellow raised his weapon at Ron but held there, still seated on the floor

with his hand clearly shaking.

       “Freeze!” he ordered in a less than demanding tone, his voice mimicking his fear.

       Ron stopped at the vault, which had swung closed but still held the key dangling from the

lock. He jammed the corner of the glass into the ceiling and propped it there between him and

the pistol-wielding man, freeing his left hand to operate the vault door.

       One by one, he snatched up his throwing blades, placing each into its designated pouch

quickly, and then eyed the cop.

       “I said FREEZE!” the policeman roared, finding his bravery somewhat restored.

       He fired point-blank at Ron, but the glass stopped the lead projectile easily. The cop

silently cursed before he scrambled to his knees and moved to get around the impenetrable,

transparent shield. Ron timed his motion, and then lunged over the edge of the glass in a wink,

snatching the pistol away from the startled officer. He spun around and tossed it into the vault,

then slammed the door. The key was yet to be removed, so he turned it to the locked position

and snapped it off, tossed the stump to the ground. Following that, he merely walked away

toward the exit.

       “Just what the hell are you doing?” the officer asked as he slipped around the glass sheet

and gripped Ron’s arm.

       “Leaving!”




                                                                                                185
          Ron just kept going, slowing not in the least. The fellow was dragged for a step or two

before he threw an arm around Ron’s neck, riding him in order to try and drag him to the ground.

Ron grabbed his arm and sloughed him off without turning, slamming him against the nearest

wall hard enough to rattle him thoroughly. The officer quickly gave up on stopping the

retreating intruder, but the desk clerk finally worked through her daze and pressed the alert

button.

          By then, because of the tremendous noise of the rampaging Ron, a dozen officers were

heading towards his position from the back offices of the mini-precinct, but they were

unarmed…all their weapons safely locked in the vault. However, when Ron opened the door to

the corridor, there were four pairs of men looking down the hallway from both directions,

wondering at the sound of the alarm…and they were armed…therefore he searched for a new

way out.

          The stairwell was directly across from the station, so he reached over and collected the

oxygen bottle he discarded earlier, and sprinted for it.

          “Halt!” roared multiple orders from the charging groups.

          “Be careful! He’s armed!” shouted the lady at the desk.

          “Great!” Ron thought as he smashed into the emergency exit door, ripping its return

spring-damper off at the header.

          Ron reached the first step directly, where he leaped up to the second floor landing in one

motion, pivoted, and then repeated it to the third, and so on, until he stood at the top floor.

          He heard the pursuit coming but knew they would be much slower to follow, especially

now that they thought he was dangerous. The door to the roof was heavy, steel, and locked. Ron




                                                                                                     186
lowered his shoulder and the substantial barrier buckled and swung open, slapping against the

outer wall with a resounding “bang”!

       Rushing out into the frigid night, he surveyed his position like an escaped animal. The

city lay slumbering all about, its lights shining and beckoning to him, so quiet and

peaceful…totally opposite of his situation. The cold wind sharpened his senses with its icy,

penetrating needles, telling him to dally not at all, so he rushed to the edge of the roof to gauge

his predicament. It wasn’t good. He was facing north on the fifth level, with nothing but

parking lot beneath.

       “That’s a good sixty feet,” Ron estimated, thinking about the limits Cache had estimated

for him. She theorized he could make forty feet, fifty at the very outside, but he chanced

seriously injured from this height with only pavement to break his fall.

       He tilted his head slightly and could hear pounding feet coming from the stairwell. They

were only one floor beneath. Rushing over to the east, he found a grassy lawn tempting him, but

another sight caught his eye. There was a parking garage to the south side, and it was three

levels high. The hospital and it were separated by a three lane street however, which gave him

pause. He looked to the grass again, but now there were several officers running out there, so he

turned to the south and sprinted for the edge.

       Ron tossed his three foot long oxygen tank aside at the last second and launched himself

up and out, just as the pursuing police stormed the roof…but they were facing north.

       He flew up and across the street in a shadowy flash, the adrenalin rush of the event

forcing a smile on his lips. After all, such a superhuman feat was the dream of every adolescent

boy, and he couldn’t help himself. But when he struck the upper surface of the garage complex,

he found nothing to stop him. The relatively smooth, concrete surface was unable to provide the




                                                                                                  187
braking action he needed to curb his momentum. He tumbled and rolled across four lanes of

parking before slamming into a compact car hard enough to push it completely out into the

driving area.

       The sound of that collision reached the rooftop searchers, but by the time they homed in

on the noise, Ron was gone…and there wasn’t a person on the roof who would possibly have

guessed he’d made such a leap…except one.

       As ten men and women police officers scoured the barren rooftop, one lone individual

slowly walked to the eastern, knee-high wall…to the place directly beside the discarded oxygen

tank. First he looked down below, at the quiet street, where there was very little movement. A

half dozen people were milling around wondering about the alarms blaring away, one small car

sat at the red light waiting to turn, and a nearly empty semi truck loaded with a couple stacks of

wood stopped halfway down the block. The driver was speaking with someone out on the

street…a young woman.

       The fellow surveying the area wasn’t dressed as a policeman, even though he

accompanied them to the roof. He sported military fatigues and boots, with a thick vest and a red

beret. His insignia was that of Lieutenant, also having a badge designating him part of the

“ROF” group from across the river. Apparently he worked alone, was very stern, and didn’t

appear to be the social type, so no one bothered to ask him for his credentials, or his purpose at

being there. He slowly reached into one of the many pouches on his vest and retrieved a pair of

compact binoculars.

       Bringing those visual enhancers to his eyes he studied the pair down below, immediately

noting how they were staring upward at the garage on the far side of the street, speaking fast and

pointing. Turning his attention to that structure, he scanned the upper level. All was quiet up




                                                                                                  188
there with no one about and no cars moving, but on his second pass, he discovered one vehicle

was not in line with the others. It was damaged on the side facing the hospital, and was fully out

in the driving lane…as if something fairly small of size, yet heavy, had struck it with great force.

Continuing his scan revealed no other signs of damage, nevertheless his eyes narrowed as he

reached for his radio.

       With a quick flip of a switch, he changed the frequency to a restricted one and keyed the

microphone.

       “Command center…this is Victor-zero-one! Be advised…I think we have a rogue!”




                                                                                                 189
                                    Chapter Fourteen

                                        Officer Daniels

       When Ron finally came to a stop on the uppermost level of the parking structure, he

shook the daze from his head quickly enough to scurry behind a concrete divider before anyone

could see him. He paused only as long as was necessary to take stock of his condition.

       It was not good.

       His heavy coat was gone, as was his pack with all his rations and other supplies. His

breathing assistance device was made into the coat, so he was on his own in the Earth’s thin

atmosphere…and now he was on the run from the police.

       It was only then that he considered the possibility that they might have gotten his picture

on a surveillance camera.

       “Ah crap!”

       He immediately measured what this might mean…news broadcasts, posters in every store

and public transportation station, and so on. All of the things he’d wanted to avoid so as to keep

his “differences” concealed.

       There was little he could do now though, so instead of wallowing over his misfortunes,

he forced those regrets aside and concentrated on the present, and the need to extricate himself


                                                                                                190
from the area. He paused a few seconds there, catching his breath, and managed to get his heart-

rate down some, but he was breathing very deeply to feed his starving lungs, like an out-of-shape

runner after a long race. Keenly aware that his current state would draw attention if anyone

came by, he slunk off down the ramp to the far side of the garage where he hid for another short

while to get himself under control.

       As the noise from the hospital began to intensify, and more and more people filed out of

the building, Ron carefully monitored the scene. He was in small niche between levels, a

position with very little light filtering in, and his clothing had once again adjusted its coloring to

dark gray, blending nicely with the surroundings. He was grateful for that fact too when a patrol

car rolled up the ramp with its spotlight shining all around but did not stop, even after it panned

directly across him.

       That action enforced his desire to get moving, so he peered out at the chilly night, found a

spot to exit, and dropped the twenty feet to the ground. It was a concrete sidewalk, divided every

four feet by a groove formed into it, and the block he landed on sunk a good inch into the soft

turf beneath it. He checked the locale for pedestrians, finding the place all quiet, and then drifted

off into the shadowy darkness.



       Across the block, on the street running between the hospital and the garage, a chance

meeting was taking place…one that would have warranted Ron’s presence if he’d known about

it. Frank Denk was the driver of the truck which was stopped between the two buildings, where

dozens of people now walked and talked anxiously about the recent commotion. But the crowd

wasn’t what had him parked…what did, was the unbelievable sight he’d just witnessed, and the

need to confirm exactly what had happened.




                                                                                                    191
       Back on the bridge a few hours ago, at the scene of the accident, when he returned to his

long-haul rig, he found the coat, pack, and hat Ron had discarded at the aft end of the long bed.

He didn’t have any idea who they belonged to, and reached out to collect them, his eyes

searching the scene for their owner. Grabbing hold of the coat brought his full attention back to

the pile of personal effects instantly, and his curiosity began to mount. At first he presumed the

leather was caught on something, so he changed his position to free it…but it wasn’t long before

he learned that such a simple task wouldn’t be so easy.

       The Trooper impatiently urged him to get moving again, in order to restore traffic, so he

left the coat and pack where they were. He did grab the hat though, and hurried to his cab

gawking at the weight of it. It felt like it was made of some kind of pliable metal, but he had no

time to examine it.

       Trying to remain calm, he waved at the officer, casually fired up the engine, and then

drove to the off-ramp at the bottom of the bridge where he immediately pulled over at the area’s

filling station. He parked once more and climbed down, glancing intently about at the groups of

individuals going this way and that before proceeding to his prior place, now somewhat guarded

in his purpose.

       No longer attempting to snatch the items from the bed, he scrambled up to the platform to

conduct a better evaluation of them. What he found sent his imagination into overdrive! The

garment wasn’t snagged on the decking at all, but rather the leather-like material was just

incredibly heavy…as if it were constructed of flexible, make that supple, lead instead of

cowhide. The pack turned out to be of similar disproportionate weight to its size, as did the hat.

He searched everything as thoroughly as he could with a flashlight before beginning to worry he




                                                                                                192
might raise suspicion if his task continued too long, so he moved it all to the edge and climbed

down.

        Frank was a large, strong fellow but the possessions taxed him thoroughly. The coat

alone was quite a load to handle, it being so limp. He struggled but was finally able to get Ron’s

things into the cab after a bit. Just about then one of the cops who’d worked the bridge traffic

pulled in for some coffee, and so he went over and inquired about where the ambulance took the

man who’d fallen…getting some directions to the hospital as well.

        Frank found it easily and was hunting for a place to park when he stopped at a pedestrian

crosswalk to allow a slim young woman to pass in front. But when she was just clear of his

fender, she suddenly stopped, whirled around and stared up at the top of the hospital.

        He followed her intense gaze, instantly curious as to what would have her frozen in the

middle of the street like that, but saw nothing…at first. He glanced quickly back at her

unblinking face, and then again at the building. That’s when his mouth dropped open and stayed

as such for fully half a minute. As his eyes returned to the rooftop, a dark figure catapulted from

the edge of the structure, soared across the hundred and thirty feet of roadway, and disappeared

onto the upper level of the garage the woman was headed for.

        He sat in his seat, stock still, while his mind whirled with doubts and questions. “What

just occurred? Was that a person? Was it some kind of movie stunt?” Finally he looked down at

the lady and saw that she was just as shocked, and her face was filled with all the emotions he

was feeling. He quickly rolled the window down and shouted to her over the raucous clattering

of the huge diesel engine.

        “You saw that, right?”

        She turned toward him in a start.




                                                                                                   193
          “Yeah! You too?”

          He nodded slowly, his eyes wide; filled with astonishment.

          “Good, because I thought I was really losing it! I was just inside and we had a patient

who was brought in unconscious, but when he came around, he…”

          She looked off into space for a moment, as if recalling another miraculous event this

night.

          “I/I know/know who/who did/did this/this!” they both blurted at the same instant.

          The woman stood shocked again, wondering how a truck driver could know someone

who could perform such a feat.

          “Was he tall, with black hair…wearing only a thin, spandex shirt and trousers with a

weird looking harness strapped to him?”

          “YES!” the woman shouted back, now totally amazed.

          “I knew it!” Frank said as he opened the door and hopped down. “I ran into him on the I-

10 Bridge! He was helping a family that was in an accident, and…”

          “Were they in a minivan?”

          “Yeah.”

          “A bunch of kids?”

          “A lady and four girls.”

          “He asked about them when he woke up. It was his first clear thought! Are they all

right?”

          “Yeah, they were fine…because of him. You see…holy crap…I know how this’ll sound,

but he was holding their entire friggin van from falling off the I-10 Bridge!”

          “What? No…that’s not poss…really?”




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       “He was laying across the pedestrian walkway…no shit…I mean, no joke…and the thing

was just swinging in the friggin breeze!”

       For the next five minutes, they exchanged stories about what they each had witnessed of

Ron’s abilities, and then introduced one another. By then, the police were rounding up

everybody, wanting to question anyone on the street, and they ordered Frank to move his truck

yet again.

       “I don’t know about you,” Rhena said when she saw the officers approaching, “but I’m

not telling them a thing. He didn’t do anything wrong that I know of.”

       “I’m with you on that…and I have some things to show you too,” Frank whispered to her

before he climbed into his truck. “I think they’re ‘his’.”

       “Meet me after…in the shopping center three blocks that way,” Rhena told him just

before she was escorted away to be interviewed.



       Ron was on the move through the darkness at that time, putting distance between himself

and the chasers, but with no viable plan. His head was still a little foggy and pounded just as

hard as when he’d first awakened, blurring his vision and dulling his ability to focus. He knew it

was the effects of his brush with hypoxia, but nevertheless, it was quite disconcerting to feel

anything but 100%.

       Every few houses he passed, a dog would report his whereabouts to the empty night, but

he paid them no mind and merely continued onward. He began to think again after he glanced at

his watch to note the time. It was just after midnight, but that was of no real consequence…it

was seeing the chrono that sparked his brain once more into motion. He suddenly recalled a

special mode built into it. The locator function could be used to regain his things!




                                                                                                  195
       Skipping through the device’s extensive modalities Ron found the correct one and

immediately began his search. Four indicators could be clearly seen blinking on a six by six inch

holographic overview of the city. Three were together…the pack, the hat, and his long

coat…and were in the general area of the hospital but moving slowly along a city street. He

remembered the truck he’d been stowed away on and let out a sigh that it was still close by, fully

expecting it to be well into Texas by now. The third blinking dot was his sword, which was a

mile and a half to the south. That gave him a jolt of horror, his hand instantly feeling for where

the razor edged weapon should have been.

       “How the…?” he began to say until he remembered his struggle with the van. “Son of

a…it’s still jammed in that car!”

       At once, all other objectives were pushed aside…he had to retrieve that particular weapon

straight away. If anyone found it and grabbed it, they could be killed, or at least seriously

injured. After all, its safety measures were designed to stop a Kreete warrior!

       Taking a quick glance around to get his bearings, he headed for what he guessed would

be an impound lot for wrecked vehicles.

       The night was fairly calm and quiet, save the occasional nervous canine, so the only

steady sounds he could hear were those of the multitudes of crickets and other nighttime insects.

In Louisiana, those creatures constantly filled the darkness with their calls, even in wintertime.

He moved quickly, his stride long and swift, but as he drifted through the cloudless black of the

cold night, it wasn’t very long before he got the distinct impression he was being shadowed.

       At first, Ron glanced surreptitiously around, expecting to spot whoever, or whatever, was

paralleling his course, but even his keen eyesight gave no clue to aid him. There simply was no

one there. He decided to push those feelings out of his mind, imagining the sensation was due to




                                                                                                 196
his worry about being found by the police, but the little alarm in his head continued to vibrate,

albeit very subtly.

        Shortly thereafter, he saw a street sign that told him where he was, and he veered off his

route sharply, taking a shortcut through a very affluent neighborhood. He guessed it was

probably as safe there as if he were in his own hometown, but he just couldn’t shake the

foreboding feeling on his mind, and that was a warning all on its own. Two more blocks brought

him to a point where his nerves were ringing loudly, and since he’d been saved by his

intuition…or luck…so many times in the past, he refused to ignore it now.

        Instead of intentionally blocking them, he shifted gears a hundred and eighty degrees to

block everything else. His burning lungs, the thudding in his head, and even the worry for his

family all got pushed aside…bringing his exceptionally heightened senses to the forefront, and to

their fullest.

        In another half block, he pin-pointed a spot where he felt the stalker was. It was nothing

definitive or concrete, so he took great care before he moved, waiting for the perfect moment.

When it arrived, he whirled as quickly as his finely tuned, heavy-worlder frame could manage,

and the twelve inch blade from behind his neck flew from his fingertips as if shot from a rifle.

That long blue, double-edged dagger whistled through the black air as straight as an arrow and

sunk into the wide trunk of a massive oak tree across the street.

        Ron took a moment to peer about, thinking for a split second he’d seen its trajectory

change just a hair, but couldn’t be certain. He listened and even sniffed the air for signs of

anything that might be about, but came up empty. One more look around and he strode across

the avenue to retrieve his knife, grumbling and berating himself for being so jumpy.




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       When he reached the sidewalk on the far side however, the door to the house that was just

a hundred feet to his left, opened.

       “Well, Shandi,” a man’s voice said, “I had a great time! When can I see you again?”

       “Jim will be back tomorrow, but he’ll be gone again on Monday so I’ll call you then.”

       Ron was caught out in the open, but the light from the street lanterns was blocked by the

same tree his knife was in, so he knew if he kept still he’d be nearly invisible.

       He noted that the mid-thirties woman was wearing a very revealing, see-through

robe…and nothing else! She was extremely attractive…tall, blonde, and very shapely. The man

was much younger, good looking, and wearing a policeman’s uniform.

       A quick glance at the driveway alerted Ron to the fact that the fellow’s cruiser was

plainly visible, and he couldn’t believe he hadn’t noticed it. He’d been too focused on the

sensation of being followed to stay aware of his surroundings. Now he watched the two lovers

embrace briefly, though hotly, as the officer ran his hands over her body one last time before

turning, looking carefully about, and then moving off to his car.

       The door closed a moment later, and while the wide base of the tree was blocking the

fellow’s vision, Ron grabbed his knife and returned to his previous quest, strolling down the

walk as if nothing had happened.

       The policeman lit a cigarette as he sat down in the seat, and then started the car, lowering

the window immediately. The chatter on the radio was easily distinguishable in the calm

nighttime and when he backed out of the driveway, his lights flashed across Ron’s person. The

car eased off down the little lane, and as it passed the strolling stranger, the cop took a good look

at the man on the sidewalk, the lighted street making him clearly visible.




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        Ron just meandered along as if he hadn’t a care in the world. The officer, although

suspicious of anyone out in the cold at that time of the morning without a coat on, was still quite

contented with his recent tryst, so he was of a mind to let it go until…

        “Be on the lookout for a white male, approximately six-foot-four, dark hair, wearing

black pants and a black, sleeveless shirt…last known whereabouts at the Charity Hospital. He’s

wanted for assault, attack on the police precinct in the hospital, and is armed with several knives.

He’s believed to be extremely dangerous…showing signs of extreme strength…possibly on

PCP!”

        Ron heard that entire broadcast through the open window of the car and his eyes locked

onto the aft end of the cruiser. He was hoping the guy was some newbie, without good instincts,

who would prefer to let it go as a simple coincidence, but that was not to be.

        When the brake lights flashed on, Ron bolted for the car. The officer threw the

transmission in reverse and punched the gas hard, twisting around to see where he was headed.

Ron jumped out into the path of the accelerating sedan and braced himself. The three thousand

pound vehicle slammed into him at twenty miles per hour, and stopped instantaneously, the rear

bumper folding in the middle, halfway into the trunk’s space.

        Ron gripped the bumper of the full sized, four door cruiser and hoisted it three feet off the

pavement, staring at the cop through the back glass. He then sidestepped to the left and surged

forward with all his strength. The wheels went from spinning furiously in reverse, to dead still

as the driver pressed on the brakes as hard as he could. Ron took the automobile for a ride of his

own design then, straight into the nearest tree where he smashed it hard enough to kill the engine

and deploy the airbag.




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          The officer transitioned from horrified at the unbelievable situation he was in, to being

panicked as the safety device squashed him in his seat. Ron sat the rear of the car down and took

a couple deep breaths, his glare through the back window filled with menace.

          The airbag deflated quickly and the policeman regained a bit of his composure as he too

gulped in some much needed air. At that point he was well aware he needed help so he made a

move, glancing down momentarily to grab the microphone…and that was all it took.

          Ron snapped off the antennae before he could announce himself, and then dashed around

to the driver’s door. The policeman dropped the mic when he saw Ron at his window and tried

to pull his weapon, but the feeling of cold steel at his throat ceased his action as if he were quick

frozen.

          “Hands on the wheel!” Ron growled.

          The officer obeyed his order without hesitation, finding himself handcuffed securely to

his own steering wheel barely seconds later. Ron didn’t take his pistol or anything else. He

merely gave him instructions.

          “You will stay right here and sit quietly until you’re found in the morning! The incident

at the hospital was avoidable…if your comrades would have only just listened. I don’t want any

trouble. I’m only passing through this area and tried to help those folks on the bridge. These

knives are for my personal protection and I ‘can’ produce a permit. I just didn’t have it with me

back there when asked for it. They had no right to arrest me or confiscate my belongings. I am a

free citizen and simply want to be left alone!”

          Ron opened the door and pulled the release for the hood before going around and ripping

out the horns for the car and the siren…then he returned.




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         “I’m going to lock you inside the car and put the key on the ground under the door. I

hope you don’t have to use the bathroom. If you do, I’m sorry. When your buddies find you

tomorrow, you can tell them whatever you like, but if I’m caught, they’ll all find out about you

and Mrs. LaFavre, back there at 617 Sycamore…understand Officer Daniels?”

         Ted Daniels was fully aware that this little affair could cost him his wife and career, so he

nodded carefully.

         “With any luck, you will never see me again,” Ron told him as he shut the door and

walked away.

         Ron took a detour at the next block, to make the policeman think he was heading west,

but returned to his previous direction just afterward, picking up the pace to extend his lead on the

posse.

         With all the excitement over his ordeal with the cop, he never noticed the pool of blood at

the edge of the sidewalk, next to the tree where his knife had stuck…or the trail of drops through

the grass leading off in the opposite direction from his intended path.




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                                       Chapter Fifteen

                                            The Theory

        Frank Denk was obligated to wait a short while for Rhena to show up at their rally point

because he’d been released much more quickly than she. After all, she had actually been in close

contact with the fugitive.

        Once together, they moved to a well shaded area at the back of the mall’s long line of

stores, where the big rigs usually make deliveries. The pair looked like a couple of spies, or

criminals, as they carefully peered about for any onlookers…and they felt that way too. When

they were convinced the coast was clear, Frank suggested that they go into the cab of his truck;

to the sleeper quarters in the rear.

        Rhena was terribly skeptical at first, since the trucker was a total stranger, but he set her

at ease by handing her his keys, his wallet, and his cell phone. Then he stood guard outside the

truck while she locked the doors and investigated the items he’d found.

        Frank prided himself on his ability to read people, and that fact gave him little pause or

concern at having this young woman rummaging around in his personal space. Also, he

desperately wanted a witness to corroborate his findings of the odd possessions.




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        It only took Rhena two minutes to realize the trucker was on the level…that he had found

something truly remarkable, and sensational. She unlocked the doors and called him up to join

her at that time.

        “What do you make of them?” Frank asked his slim conspirator.

        “I really don’t know! Why is the coat so heavy? The pack too? In fact, why is he? I

tried to lift his arm to get his blood pressure and could barely slide the cuff under. Of course, it

didn’t register anything at all. The air pressure wasn’t strong enough to cut off his blood flow!”

        “Yeah, I know!” Frank chuckled. “We had to rig up a crane to get him out of the back of

this guy’s truck. Five of us couldn’t lift him!”

        “So…what? What do you think?”

        “I’ve had a lot more time than you to let that kick around in my head, and I came up with

a couple of real doozies of answers. The first one goes like this…I hear a lot of B.S. in my line

of work, but I also know that at least a part of it has some truth. You see, the government has

been working on enhancing the human body for decades…make it tougher, stronger, that sort of

thing. So, possibly, this guy is some sort of ‘super soldier’, genetically engineered to be more

dense…which would account for his weight…and through that end, made him that much

stronger.”

        Rhena took her own age into consideration…the fact that she hadn’t yet been exposed to

a great deal in her short life…but still had trouble swallowing that scenario.

        “I…suppose there could be something like that…I mean, I can understand about

increasing his strength, but how could they increase his density? I just don’t…what about the

coat…and the pack…and his clothes? You know we couldn’t even cut whatever material his

clothes were made from? Why would his things be so heavy?”




                                                                                                   203
       “Well, that led me to the other possibility.”

       Frank thought a few more moments about it before he was willing to actually say what

was on his mind.

       “What if he’s an alien?”

       Rhena’s expression spoke volumes…reemphasizing every argument he already came up

with to himself.

       “I know…I know…but just go with me on this for a few minutes. Say you’re a person

from a world that has a stronger gravity than Earth’s, okay? If you came to this world, your

body would be denser, tougher, and stronger than the average human, right?”

       Rhena nodded. She was a good student in the sciences…her father was, after all, a

professional astronomer and mathematician…so she could follow his reasoning.

       “Okay, let’s say that if you’re this person…but you want to blend in…you would have to

make some adjustments, right? It would be like our astronauts on the moon. Remember how

they hopped and floated around…even with those heavy suits and environment packs? Well of

course you don’t…you weren’t alive when that was going on, but you’ve seen the videos, right?”

       She nodded again.

       “Now the moon is only a sixth of our gravity, but what if it weren’t quite that

pronounced…say two, or three times. Your muscles would be so strong you could do amazing

things in comparison to the natives, but to keep that secret, you’d need some extra ballast…you

follow me? So you’d make a coat that weighs a ton, and a pack that carries everything special

that you need, yet blends in. The material of your clothes would be constructed out of fibers that

would hold up to such a person on his own world, where everything has to be much more

durable…so on Earth, it would be virtually indestructible.”




                                                                                                204
       Rhena kept nodding, amazed that she could see the simple, prudent logic he was applying

to the astounding concept.

       “Okay,” she told Frank, “I can’t believe that I’m actually having this conversation, but if

we’re going down this path…for a moment…then why would you be here? What could you gain

from a planet where the people are so weak…and the technology! To come here from another

world, you’d have to be hundreds of years ahead of us in that aspect.”

       “That’s what I can’t figure out…if this ‘crazy’ concept were true. Maybe just to see what

life is like here? Although, they could probably just as easily gather whatever data they needed

from tapping into our communications…but to actually stand on our world would give them a

much more tangible view of us…don’t you think?”

       “I guess so,” she replied, suddenly smiling at the middle-aged man whose eyes sparkled

like a teenager’s as he wove his web of possibilities. “You give this sort of thing a lot of

thought, do you?”

       Frank grinned broadly at that, sitting back against the bulkhead of his truck’s rear

compartment.

       “I drive the open highway for a living, sweetie. I have an inordinate amount of time to

think…so sometimes my mind does latch onto a peculiar topic now and again. If you’re

wondering…yes, my wife does think I’m nuts at times...but can you come up with a better

explanation?”

       Rhena examined at the items again, feeling the fabric and its weight, and recalled what all

Ron had done. She looked up, cocked her head slightly to the left, and then shook it.

       “No…but that doesn’t mean I’ve bought into your version yet either,” she added,

attempting to keep her conclusions open for the time being. “What’s in the pack?”




                                                                                                 205
          “I don’t know. I almost dug through it while I was waiting for you, but that felt

too…criminal.”

          “Yeah, I know what you mean. How about this though? Police and emergency crews

routinely search through belongings at accident scenes…in order to aid the patient, right? And

this is a bit of an emergency…I mean, don’t we need to find him and get his things back to

him?”

          “Yeah…I guess you’re right!” Frank admitted hastily…glad to have a cohort in the

search.

          Rhena started at the top-most zipper and was immediately foiled. The pack was designed

like any typical, small backpack…having one large zippered area and two smaller ones…but

where the two tabs joined together on the bigger compartment, they would not release. She tried

everything she could, and then sat by while Frank gave it a try. He moved on to the others with

the same results and soon the pair of investigators was quickly left with even more questions.

          Frank turned to the small set of drawers in the corner of his living space and dug out a

magnifying glass he carried for small, intricate jobs…his eyes not as sharp as they once were for

up close work. Rhena held a flashlight on the tabs while he inspected them and swiftly found the

cause of their plight.

          “The zippers are fused together!” he reported after finding no gap between the normal

male-female interlocks. “It’s as if they meld together when clasped!” he added while his mind

raced with his previous theory. “I bet you if this Ron fellow were to press his fingers on the tabs,

it would open just like normal!”

          Rhena was a little more skeptical that Frank, but had to admit that it was exceedingly

odd. She carefully went over the entire fabric cover and, after getting Frank’s assistance to roll




                                                                                                     206
the thing over, finally found one item. In a practically imperceptible pocket, one that would have

normally been sealed completely, she saw the corner of a thin, small object protruding from it

barely an eighth of an inch.

       “What’s this?” she asked as she slipped her fingernail under the edge of it and began

working it out…but it resisted. Her nail slipped off and the article slid back in almost out of

sight. “Shit!”

       She dove into her purse and fished out a pair of tweezers before returning her attention to

the former objective. With the skill of a seasoned surgeon, the intern negotiated that small

instrument into the allotted slot and grasped her quarry firmly, gently easing it out into the open.

       “A credit card!” she said with a sigh of relief.

       The slim piece of plastic was plain, black, and of no real uniqueness. It had the

customary numbers and dates, as well as the brand of card, but it also had Ron’s full, real name.

At the time he created it, he saw no reason to use an alias. This was supposed to be a simple

visit…wrapped in outlandishly bizarre circumstances, yes, but just a visit nonetheless. That was

the plan before his brush with the law, so he’d simply imprinted his real identity on it.

        “Mastercard Platinum,” she told Frank, holding the card up. “I suppose aliens use our

credit system?”

       Frank merely shrugged his shoulders and smiled. “I thought you said he told you his

name was Dangarth?” Frank questioned.

       “Yeah…he did. Maybe he used that name in case I told on him.”

       “You can buy a counterfeit card on a dozen different street corners in Houston. I’m sure

any galactic traveler could forge one with little effort.”

       “Well I’d have made it a Visa, myself,” Rhena added.




                                                                                                  207
       Frank’s face suddenly froze in mid grin…his eyes opening wide as he pointed.

       Rhena turned the plastic item around and saw that it was now a platinum Visa Card. Her

mouth hung open for a moment before…

       “Maybe it should be…American Express!”

       The face side shimmered quickly and then settled on the desired title.

       “Diner’s Club! Macy’s! Home Depot!”

       Each time the modest card morphed into the mentioned brand with all the appropriate

insignias.

       “This is friggin amazing!” Frank said…his eyes never blinking.

       They sat there playing with the card for fifteen minutes before getting back to the

problem at hand.

       “Okay,” Rhena agreed, “I have to admit that this is pretty ‘out there’, but there are loads

of people who might be able to make this…I’m sure!”

       “In a pig’s eye!”

       “Well, whatever…or whomever made it; we still need to get it back to him…to Ron!

How are we going to manage that?”

       Frank scratched his head for a bit.

       “I have no idea!”

       “He knows my name,” Rhena admitted, “but he’d have no way of knowing that I have his

things. You, he must assume has them, but he doesn’t know you. That’s a real problem!”

       “Yeah, but let’s think for a minute. If you were on foot in a strange place and knew

you’d left these valuables on a truck…a truck that has a sign on the side of the cab…!




                                                                                                208
        “I have to assume he saw where I was from…and if so…if I was in his place, I’d try and

get to that destination, right?”

        “Yes…I guess I would too. But how’s he going to do that? He’s on foot, has no money,

no food…oh my God! What if this is his only food?”

        At that moment, the two of them nearly jumped out of their skins when the loud “whoop”

of a police siren sounded outside the cab, and blue lights began flashing across the dash board.

        “Jeez!” Frank let out, grabbing his chest before heading for the driver’s seat.

        “You in the truck! This is the police! Come out with your hands visible!”

        “Shit!” Frank hissed back to Rhena. “There’s three cruisers out there!”

        Rhena dropped the card into her smock’s pocket and followed Frank, her heart pounding,

and her hands shaking badly. The pair slipped out the doors of the big rig and eased down the

stairs trying to appear non-threatening. Two of the officers on the ground had their pistols drawn

and were looking very serious.

        The police gave them both a quick frisk for weapons and then demanded identification

before beginning their questions.

        “What are you doing here at this time of night?”

        Rhena looked totally blank, as if she’d just been accused of murder, so Frank stepped up.

        “My boss’s daughter was having car trouble, so I stopped by on my way out of town.”

        “Oh? What kind of trouble is it, Miss?”

        “I…uh…it wouldn’t start.”

        The policeman went to the car and got into it. The keys were still in the ignition.

        “I’ve already…”

        Vroooooom! The officer looked suspiciously at the pair again.




                                                                                                209
       “I tried to tell you, I’ve already fixed it. I was working on it a bit earlier and Rhena was

in the truck getting warm. She fell asleep, so I was just waking her up when you all showed up.”

       The policemen just kept glaring at them suspiciously.

       “Come on guys…it was just corroded battery posts! Give us a break!”

       One of the cruisers was a K-9 unit, so the head officer motioned for the dog to be brought

up.

       “Do you mind if we search your truck?”

       “Hell yeah I mind! I haven’t done anything to warrant a search. Since when is it illegal

to stop and help someone?”

       “Sir, this area has been used for drug trafficking in the past. We just…”

       “Drugs?” Frank asked in disgust. “Is that what you think?” Then a sudden thought came

to him in a flash when he saw his out. “I tell you what…you let your dog sniff at the open door.

If he gets a hit, you can tear the place apart…okay?”

       It was a bold assertion that seemed flawless since he was absolutely certain his truck was

clean, until…at that instant…he realized he had no idea what was in the pack he’d found. Frank

didn’t know anything about Ron…other than what he’d seen. His stomach suddenly clenched

into a tight knot as he watched the officer walk his canine partner to the steps of the giant

vehicle. The animal leaped easily into the floorboard area of the passenger side and commenced

sniffing about. He went across to the driver’s area and then through his nose up at the rear

compartment.

       Both Rhena and Frank were frozen…each holding his or her breath, hoping they were

gambling correctly…and each wondering why they felt such a strong need to help Ron, a total

stranger, stay away from the authorities’ grasp.




                                                                                                 210
         The drug dog was very quick in its duties and didn’t keep the suspense rising too long

before he returned to his “ready” state and hopped down from the vehicle. Frank felt as if his

lungs had been clamped too tightly and took a long, deep, cleansing breath. Rhena felt weak and

drained, trembling from more than just the cold.

         “You two need to move along, now that you have the little lady going again.”

         “Of course,” Frank agreed. “I have a long road ahead of me tonight anyway.”

         Frank and Rhena would have loved to been given more time to plan, but the lead officer

loitered about, talking on the radio and watching them closely.

         “I guess we’d better get out of here,” Rhena admitted.

         “Yeah. Here,” he told her, handing her his company’s business card with his cell phone

number on it. “If you run into him again or just want to talk, give me a call. I’ll keep his things

safe.”

         “Let me have another one,” she whispered, writing her personal information on it and

handing it back to the tall trucker. “Something tells me we’ll see each other again.”

         “Yeah…me too.”

         Frank cranked up the huge diesel and roared out of the stores’ delivery area a few

moments later. Rhena followed him out of the parking lot, but broke off in the opposite

direction, on her way home.

         The blue lights blinked out a minute later and the officers went on about their business,

each turning away from the young intern, which allowed her to really get the shakes as the

adrenaline wore off. She pulled into her apartment complex and stopped…her head swimming

and her heart rate off the charts.




                                                                                                  211
       “What if Frank is right?” she kept asking herself. “A man from another world?” The

magnitude of such a thing was completely out of her realm of reality though, so she chose to

abandon it. “That’s just crazy!”

       After a while she calmed down enough to get out and climb the stairs to her apartment,

but when she reached for her keys she found an added item…Ron’s credit card. That tiny object

convinced her that the entire night’s bizarre circumstances couldn’t be so easily dismissed.




                                                                                               212
                                       Chapter Sixteen

                                      Thieves in the Night


       Ron glided through the cold night as if riding the wind, his step quick and his purpose set.

He kept to the shadows whenever possible, but didn’t let himself lose sight of his objective, and

before the hour was past, he stood outside the impound yard for the wrecker service.

       A quick check of his chrono showed the van was here…a mere forty yards inside the

twelve foot high, fenced holding area. There was old, rusty barbed-wire looped along the top of

the fencing, and warning signs all around the barrier, “Beware of Dogs”, but Ron didn’t care

about either restriction since neither was a substantial deterrent.

       He stayed still for a good while, scanning the yard and the surrounding acreage, and

could see cars passing by out front of the place, but there was nothing going on in his immediate

vicinity. A quick crouch led to a strong leap, propelling him up and over the fence easily.

However, his landing wasn’t so quiet, alerting the animals to his whereabouts at once.

       Ron didn’t let that minor inconvenience dissuade him either, stepping out into a wide

open space…one with enough room for him to maneuver. The two dogs…if you can call Great

Danes weighing over two hundred pounds each, dogs…raced straight for him, pulling up short

when they saw him out in the clear.




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          If dogs truly can sense fear, they were sensing nothing this night…in fact, what they

found waiting for them was quite the opposite!

          Ron Allison twisted his feet back and forth a few times to dig into the hard-packed shell

of the outer storage area, where all the really demolished vehicles waited for the ride to the scrap

yard. He eased into a half crouch, bracing and balancing himself for the attack…all the while

issuing his own warnings through the bestial rumbling of his chest. It was deep, resonant, and

absolutely vicious!

          The two massive dogs separated slowly until they stood about thirty degrees apart, their

heads slightly lowered and their eyes glaring at their sole opponent. To date, they were yet to

meet an animal or human that could stand its ground against them, and now they hesitated, if

only to give the poor creature time to submit. Ron was nothing like what they were trained to

tackle though and far beyond them in pure strength and ferocity. He felt his old self floating to

the surface, the creature that fought so many times in the arena, against man and beast. Not an

Earth man anymore, not a Raulden, not a Caronian…and on some planets they would argue he

wasn’t human either.

          He was Shartae the Invincible!

          The huge canines ignored the tiger-like warnings of Shartae’s growls and surged ahead,

their mouths drooling and their fangs glistening in the gloomy light of the impound yard. They

charged and leaped as a single foe, but what they attacked was no mere rival…he was their true

master!

          Ron leaned into the impact and his hands snapped up to meet the dogs, catching them in

mid air by their throats, one in each of his large, unbreakable grips. The animals instantly

realized their folly when he applied his bone-crushing pressure, clamping off their air supply as




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well as blood flow, and squirmed desperately for freedom. When he held them both up to his

face and issued forth his own snarling roar, the two previously undefeated Danes fouled the

ground with their excrement.

       Ron held himself in check just enough to prevent him from killing the beasts, and instead,

slammed them both to the hard-packed ground, flat on their backs. They wriggled feebly in his

grip, and when released, they both rolled to their sides with their heads flat on the crushed-shell

surface, their eyes lowered, and whimpering. Ron’s chest heaved from the adrenal flood brought

on by the threat, but he quickly calmed himself once more and stood again, sweeping the

surrounding yard for more trouble. After a few seconds, he stepped past the dogs toward his

target, giving them no further thought.

       Through rows of crunched cars he walked, weaving his way toward one of two out-

buildings in the place. The largest was a forty by thirty foot garage where the vehicles were

initially sequestered to be inspected before moving into the holding area. That’s where the van

was.

       He slipped into the open garage unnoticed and surveyed the place, noting three things.

First, there were two individuals working…at four o’clock in the morning. Second, the facility

was well stocked with equipment such as cutting torches, lifts, hoists, and such…a very busy

looking mechanic’s den. And third, the men were illegally combing through the mini-van which

had very recently been brought in.

       Watching them closely for the next few minutes while they moved about the van, Ron got

the impression that these fellows might not be the most honest guys in the business. One pulled

an alternator from under the hood and placed it on a large work table next to a new battery, at




                                                                                                  215
which point he picked up another similar component and carried it back to the engine

compartment. The van was a very new vehicle, but the parts he was installing were not!

       The other man was rummaging about the interior, inspecting each storage compartment

thoroughly. He removed some expensive looking sunglasses from the center console and placed

them in his shirt pocket…then searched the back seat. When he got to the rear cargo area, he

pulled the spare tire and jack out as well. The vehicle was totaled and they knew the insurance

company wouldn’t bother to inspect such minor thievery, so they were looking for whatever they

could use. It was an easy way to make a few extra bucks.

       Ron held to his distance, hoping they would finish their pilfering and leave. He silently

cursed the delay, but wanted to keep his anonymity.

       The fellow in the aft end dropped down under the rear of the van with a light and poked

around for a bit, very nearly abandoning his search, but something caught his attention…and that

of his silent watcher. There was a black stick, or pole protruding from the undercarriage, and it

looked very curious. The vehicle was about two feet off the ground but not enough to allow his

rather robust frame to easily reach the item.

       “Billy! Raise er up a lil!”

       Ron slowly glided up on the scene then, drifting between stacks of mostly empty boxes

and various heavy pieces of equipment that would block the men’s view of him. As the

hydraulic pump of the lift whined and the van went up, he paused, ten feet from the wreck.

       The big man in the rear of the auto grabbed hold of the black handle and gave it a yank.

It practically jumped into his gloved hand a moment later.

       “Son of a bitch! Billy! Get over here!”




                                                                                                216
          The fellow over at the lift controls walked around to see what his partner had

found…what had him so excited. His mouth instantly hung open when he saw the ebony blade.

          “Is that a sword?”

          “You betcha! It sure is!”

          “Where’d you find it?”

          “It was sticking out the bottom…like they runned over it. Maybe that’s what made’em

crash!”

          “What ya think its worth, Jimbo?”

          “I dunno. I ain’t never seen nothing like this.”

          “Maybe it’s one of them Ninja swords! They’d be real valuable!”

          “Yeah! We can make a killing on Ebay…if it’s real! You think it’s real?”

          Billy felt the cutting edge of the shadow blade and jerked his hand back quickly, blood

dripping on the dirty concrete floor.

          “God-damn-it! That thing’s sharp as shit! Yeah, it’s real!”

          “Let me see it!” Jimbo told his buddy. “Damn, it’s heavy,” he said needing both hands to

keep the tip of the blade off the ground. “That don’t seem right!”

          “Are you kidding? You ever see them Ninjas on TV? They’re strong as hell!”

          Jimbo shrugged his shoulders in agreement, not having adequate information to counter

his friend’s logic.

          “Well then, let’s get it over to Lorraine and have her put it up on the c-puter.”

          “Okay!”

          They shut down their equipment hurriedly, leaving the garage illuminated with only the

filtered light from the roadway.




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         “How much should we ask for it? Two hundred?”

         “Two hundred? Are you nuts? That thing’s gotta be worth five hundred bucks…easy!”

         “It’s worth a great deal more than that!” announced a deep, calm voice from the inner

part of the dark workshop.

         Jimbo still had the blade in his hands and whirled around to see who was there. All the

two of them saw was shadows. Billy’s hand went up to the light switch but something beat him

to it. There was a flash of light from the box as ten inches of blue steel slammed into it and

shorted out the circuit.

         Ron moved closer and the two men stayed shoulder to shoulder, with the sword pointing

at the darkness.

         “That blade belongs to me…and as far as its value…right now it is worth more to me

than both your lives!”

         The mechanics looked at the blackness and tried to bolster their courage…Jimbo was

holding the long, razor-edged weapon, and Billy grabbed the first thing at his side…a cutting

torch.

         “Well if it means that much to you…just come and get it!” Billy challenged.

         Ron really didn’t want to fight the men, never flippantly maiming or wishing to kill, so he

took his fingers off his next throwing dagger and went forward barehanded. The next sound he

heard was that of a flint striker as it popped and ignited the torch into a blue sword of a different

sort.

         “Heat, such as fire, will still be a great danger to you Ron,” he recalled Cache saying

during his preparatory training. “On this world or one half its mass, fire is fire and your skin will

not give you much more protection than anyone else’s.”




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       Ron’s eyes narrowed at the two men just then, and he let out a low whistle. A moment

later, the distinct sound of paws on a hard surface echoed through the building as the pair of

watch dogs trotted up next to Ron and held their ground, flanking his legs.

       “What’re they doin, Billy? I thought them were your dogs!”

       “I…I…I d-d-don’t know! Down Butch! Down Tiger! Get outta here!”

       The animals began to growl then, a low rumble that grew as the seconds passed…and

when the two men heard Ron join in with the beasts, the sword began to shake. Billy, with the

torch, started backing out of the room, headed for the nearest exit.

       “Leave the sword and go!” ordered the demon from the night.

       Jimbo glanced back to see his partner slipping away and quickly followed, but he still

held the black blade.

       Ron’s arm shot back and gripped the twelve inch stiletto, but his mind reined him in as he

targeted that big man.

       “No! This isn’t Caron!” his conscience screamed at him.

       A quick readjustment of his sights and the glistening blue shard merely clipped him on

the shoulder, slamming into the wooden door frame behind him. It was a good wound and

would require stitches, but hardly crippling or life threatening. Jimbo wheeled around as he felt

the burning sting of that strike, and the tip of the ebony blade passed through the hoses feeding

Billy’s blow-torch, severing them cleanly.

       “Shit!” Billy screamed as the fire went out. “I’m outta here!”

       He threw the useless torch down and bolted for the office door leaving Jimbo alone to

face whatever was after them in the dark.




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       The lone mechanic stayed put for a short while longer, trembling and trying to think of a

way out of the situation. Suddenly a thought caused his eyes to widen and he backed away

quickly, heading for the entrance his friend just used.

       Ron followed them through the doorway into the office, plucking his weapons free as he

went. As he entered the smaller room however, he caught a whiff of the gas escaping from the

acetylene hose and his instincts changed directions. In a flash, he was searching the space,

fearing the worst, and was rewarded with confirmation of the same. The gas was shooting right

at the corner of the room where the building’s water heater rested.

       Jimbo bolted out the office’s entry door and Ron tore out the other way, diving through

the nearest window as the entire place erupted in a ball of fire. The front half of the building was

destroyed completely and shrapnel rained down on Ron as he slid to a stop twenty yards from

where he left the ground…but that only held him up for a few seconds. He sprang to his feet a

moment later and set off after the fleeing men.

       They both headed for the only place still open at that time of the morning…the nightclub

across the street. It was what the average person would call a “dive” and harbored the worst type

of crowd…drug users, prostitutes, felons, and anyone associated to them all.

       The noise blaring from the place apparently drowned out the sound of the explosion since

no one came out to see what had happened. Only a handful of patrons noticed the blast because

they were out in the parking lot already…each conducting their own particular type of business!

       Ron marched right past them and into the club, pausing momentarily just inside to survey

the interior. The noise was deafening, coming from a shirtless band whose members seemed to

love the sound of screeching metal that their instruments were artificially creating. It was




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terribly annoying, even painful with such an ear-piercing din wailing in great rapidity…and no

sign of ending the tortuous serenade.

        Through the choking, smoke-filled air he could make out nine small tables off to the

right, with half a dozen of the same, plus a dance floor, to the left. The bar stretched across the

far wall and the whole place was crowded with customers.

        He spotted Jimbo disappearing into a dimly lit back room and followed him. Those in

the bar Ron passed followed him with their eyes, sensing that he didn’t belong but unwilling to

try and stop him.

        The door was guarded by a huge fellow in a long, black leather overcoat. His shoes were

expensive and his manner was all business. Whomever he was escorting was no local…more

than likely some merchant of illegal trade, probably drugs, Ron guessed. The big man stepped

over to bar Ron’s passage, his mannerism quite stern and confident…but he was very much

mistaken.

        “Let me past…please,” Ron told him, attempting to keep things peaceful.

        “Get lost, Bitch!” the man said as he threw his hands forward to push Ron back.

        The guard looked like he could have been a black Sumo Wrestler, so large was he, but

when he slammed his palms into Ron, he felt himself pushed backward into the door.

        “Step aside!” Ron warned.

        “F---k you man!” the guy yelled before he threw a punch at the much smaller intruder.

        Ron batted the attack aside and hit him with his own palms, squarely on the chest. The

refrigerator-sized sentry was thrown off his feet and completely through the door he was paid to

guard, ripping it free of its hinges.




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        Ten men inside the twenty by twenty room all leaped to their feet as their sentry tumbled

backward into their tables, overturning them, and knocking him out cold.

        There were four women in the space…all nude. Two were waiting tables, one was up on

a small raised platform dancing, and the other was leaning over the far counter inhaling a white

powder while a drunken man pleasured himself with her and the others watched.

        Three of the men were speaking with Jimbo as he tried to tell them about his recent

ordeal, showing them the sword as well as the bloody gash that was spattering the floor. There

was a large sum of money on the table in stacks, and a drab, dark green, unobtrusive satchel with

some type of plastic wrapped blocks visible inside the open seam.

        “You gotta protect me, Boss!” Jimbo was pleading to an obviously irritated man dressed

in a very expensive ensemble.

        “Hand over the sword!” Ron ordered loudly. He was out of patience.

        The men who weren’t too drunk, or too stoned to rise were by then standing around the

room, and five of them immediately drew pistols. Ron moved so fast that three of them shot at

nothing but air and the others who tried to follow him ended up shooting their associates instead.

He scooped up the heavy, metal-sheathed door that had been torn from its framework and tossed

it at the firing men as if it was a Frisbee.

        Four of them were knocked off their feet and received various broken bones from the

collision. The last found himself face to face with his adversary who promptly disarmed him and

threw him across the stage to slam into the wall violently. He didn’t rise.

        The boss backed up against the wall and the girls gathered around him, apparently hoping

his important status would protect them. When he found himself in Ron’s gaze, he quickly

pulled one of the women in front of him. Ron just snorted in disgust.




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       Three of the remaining men were some rough looking characters, with multiple tattoos of

demonic and graphically violent scenes splayed on their bodies. They were large and fearless, or

so they thought, standing between their boss and the attacker.

       Ron grabbed the closest one, slapped him hard enough to knock him out cold, and then

used his limp form as a club against the others before tossing him aside as well.

       By then, Jimbo was cowering up against the far wall with the sword still clutched in his

hands, pointed at Ron. Ron walked straight up to him.

       “The sword! NOW!” he bellowed.

       The junkyard thief used all his strength to raise the blade and strike at Ron, but when it

came down, his insides turned to ice. Ron slapped his palms together in a resounding “crack”,

catching the slashing blade between them like a mosquito. A quick twist ripped the handgrip

free and placed it in its owner’s grasp, with the razor-edged tip resting against the thief’s neck.

       Jimbo felt a surge of fluid run down the inside of his right thigh as he fully expected his

days to come to an end at that moment. Suddenly though, the blade retreated, whistled through

the air in a blur, and was stowed securely in its scabbard half a tick later.

       “Where I’m from,” Ron growled at the man, “I’d have the right to cut off your hands for

stealing my blade!”

       Jimbo’s legs could no longer hold him at that point, and he slid down the wall to sit with

a wet “splat” on the soiled tile floor, shaking uncontrollably with his hands covering his head.

       “Please don’t kill me! Please don’t kill me!”

       Ron backed off a step, scoured the room with his steely gaze, and then turned from those

few patrons who remained lucid…those whose own eyes were locked open by the fight…and




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strode away. He paused momentarily to pull the leather overcoat off the unconscious door guard

and don it, acknowledging the necessity to cover the exposed weapon across his back.

       One last, quick scan and out the small room he went. However…the crowd in the main

barroom had since gathered to see what was happening, and took offense to Ron rousting their

buddies. Three pool sticks leaped at him from the group. Ron snapped two and grabbed the

third, wrenching it away from its owner effortlessly.

       “I do not wish to fight!” he roared at the mob…but unfortunately they did.

       Twenty men rushed him, but his retaliatory defense was so fast and brutal that it stopped

the surge almost immediately. After the front two rows of them were batted aside like school

children, and lay broken and bleeding to the side, the remainder of the group reigned in their

zeal. Two more pistols emerged among those at hand, but equally as many sharp “snap” sounds

resulted in lieu of gunshots, for the arms that held them were instantly broken by a pool stick

sweeping through the air as if it were pure magic.

       Ron was getting short on wind by then so he decided it was time for his exit… and

quickly! He moved toward the door and the angry crowd parted instantly, no longer interested in

avenging their friends. But at the front entrance he faced a new, and old, problem…the police.

       The clientele inside the bar hadn’t noticed the explosion across the street, or the fifty-foot

flames lighting up the night, but plenty of residents down the road had. Now there were three

fire trucks and four police cars right out front. Even with that gathering however, Ron guessed

he could have slipped away if it weren’t for two barmaids running toward the curb.

       “He’s killing everyone in the place!” they were screaming to the cops, pointing back at

the door.

       “Son of a …” Ron mumbled as he spun around.




                                                                                                  224
       He dashed to the back of the bar, but the door he saw turned out to be a storage room, and

by the time he found his exit route, there were two squad cars skidding to a stop just outside.

       Back to the main room Ron sped, only to see policemen gathering at the front entrance

for an attack. He was confident he could get through them, but his ingrained upbringing had

taught him not to fight with the police, and he didn’t want to injure more of them now. After all,

they were just trying to keep the peace.

       At that instant, a sound reached his ears that solved his dilemma…a train horn. From the

west was the piercing wail of a locomotive approaching an intersection, and he could feel the

rumble of it through the floor. It was accelerating…having passed through the city at a slower

speed…and was about to hit open farmland on its way eastward toward Lafayette.

       Ron checked his direction quickly, synchronizing himself with the heading of the train.

He looked at the wall of the dance floor and saw that it was solid, without windows, and was

built in the ways of old, with no framing at all, just three layers of interlocking brick.

       “Get back away from the wall!” he ordered forcefully as he raced to the edge of the long

bar.

       The Leaky Drain was originally constructed by a pair of plumbers approximately fifty

years in the past, and so much of the décor had to do with that profession. The tables’ legs were

iron pipe, as was the odd sconces, the handrails of the stairs, and the edging of the bar. That

particular piece of furniture was attached to the concrete floor with ten anchor bolts set three

inches deep. It had withstood some of the wildest fights and raids in the entire Parrish over the

years without so much as a creak. The surface was white oak, three inches thick and topped with

an eighth inch deep layer of varnish which had also stood the test of time. There was heavy iron

pipe surrounding that massive wooden surface like trim-work, or a guardrail. It was a quarter




                                                                                                   225
inch thick and four inches in diameter. Most folks figured that bar could easily be used as a

cordon.

       Ron bent his back against the end of the structure and nearly everyone in the room

presumed he was completely mad. In their minds they almost laughed…until…

       “Aaaaaaarrrrrrrrrgggggggghhhhhh!” he growled as his adrenaline pumped and the blood

coursed into his muscles…muscles that swelled and stood out sharply beneath his tanned skin,

reacting obediently once again to the call of duty.

       He wondered for a moment if he had overestimated his abilities on this world, but then he

was rewarded with a rending of steel, popping of concrete, and groaning of hardwood, as the

solid floor burst at the anchor points and tore free. Anyone still within the confines of the bar

was absolutely mortified. Many of them would later attribute the witnessing of that feat to their

inebriated state, but the fact remained that the twenty foot long bar was ripped out of its mooring

by a single, awesome, ferocious man!

       Ron shoved the immense bar to the side, sheering off the mounts at the other end, and

then he pushed. Those who weren’t making a mad dash for the door by then just stood with their

mouths agape.

       The weight of the structure obliterated the tile flooring completely, slashing through it to

the base foundation like it was flaky paint, and the grinding of metal across the concrete was

deafening. He kept his end raised in order to add traction to his boots, and once he got that three

ton mass moving, it was worse than a horizontal avalanche, destroying everything in its

path…chairs, tables, and the dance floor.

       In the twenty feet separating the end of the bar from the brick wall, Ron accelerated the

enormous battering ram up to good speed, his powerful legs churning swiftly. So when that cast-




                                                                                                    226
iron-wrapped billet of artistic expression struck the wall, there was no doubt as to what the result

would be.

       A six foot wide, seven feet tall section of the thick, brick and mortar structure exploded

out to the side of the building with a resounding “boom”. That caused the encroaching police to

halt their attack and fall back while debris rained inside and out for a hundred feet.

       Ron dashed through the opening and drew in a few deep breaths of the clean, cold air as

he hurriedly checked each direction for threats. A wooded lot was in front of him, but the train

was heading the opposite way, so he spun about and leaped straight up, landing on top of the

building’s roof a second later. His feet barely struck the asphalt coated surface before he was

sprinting across the building, taking great care to stay on the center support beam he’d seen

spanning the bar’s ceiling.

       He knew the police would storm the doors and rush to the spot of the wall’s damage as

fast as the felt safe enough to do so, but with the thick cloud of dust billowing about, that

wouldn’t be immediate. He also knew no one would be looking for him on the roof of the

tavern, which gave him another few seconds. And he was absolutely certain they wouldn’t

follow his trail when he launched himself from the peak of that building and wouldn’t even land

within a hundred feet of where his feet left that solid surface.

       Ron sailed through the dimly lit sky as silently as an owl. Over a row of Bradford Pear

trees bordering the bar’s property he flew, and landed in the grassy median between the auto

parts store next door and the small strip mall adjacent to it on the far side. He rolled expertly

upon landing and sprang up to continue his mad dash to the railroad.

       Into the dark side streets he charged, seeing his goal only an eighth of a mile away in the

red flashes of a train crossing’s warning lights. He was already dreadfully fighting for breath, his




                                                                                                    227
lungs and throat burning from the workout, and the powerful diesel-electric engine was really

beginning to build speed. The small amount of ram air he received as he ran couldn’t hope to

keep up with the demands of his body, particularly at such a furious pace, but he didn’t concede.

He veered to the right, tore down a gravel road that paralleled the tracks and then, at a spot where

a well-used path was evident, he cut in to finally position himself beside the speeding

locomotive.

        The last few cars were approaching when he got to the very edge of the gravel base of the

tracks’ foundation, but they came at a much faster pace than even he could reach. By then his

gasping and huffing for more oxygen could be likened to a horse at the end of the Preakness, and

only his determination kept him moving. He was already seeing the sparkling white gnats across

his vision that marked his body running to the very brink of its limits, so he knew he was out of

time.

        With no other recourse, Ron just jumped right at the boxcar, hoping to get at least one

hand on the thick, steel ladder welded to the side of it, and took the tremendous collision hard.

The entire car rocked when he slammed into it, and if he hadn’t managed to shove his forearm

through the rungs of the ladder, he’d surely have fallen. As it was though, Ron dangled from his

meager hold precariously, his feet swinging in the wind and his entire body limp and

lifeless…completely spent.

        He inhaled in great, searing gulps of air by then, each intake an act of torture to his

craving lungs. His mind was confused, wandering from one incoherent thought to the next, yet

in the deepest reaches it repeated the order to hang on…to not release that one point of security.

Inside the brain of Ron Allison, the indomitable resolve to survive fought on past the haze,

understanding the obvious peril of passing out, and refusing to allow it.




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       The train was really moving by then and so the blast of much needed oxygen packed into

him in a rush. He huffed in the cold morning air with enormous thanks to whoever watched over

him, feeling that it was a bit more than luck that constantly saved him from tragedy. From that

point his mind rapidly began to clear once more.

       A few minutes down the way, he’d regained his composure and stood firmly on the

ladder searching for his next move…which happened to be directly before him. The car he was

hanging off of had a sliding door that was locked by a large padlock. He carefully eased the

black sword from its berth and removed the lock with one smooth swing.

       A moment later he was comfortably out of the chilly, blasting wind and resting alongside

a hundred large crates of produce…oranges from California.




                                                                                               229
                                   Chapter Seventeen

                                             Regina

       Ron enjoyed the nostalgic feeling of the train’s gentle swaying and intermittent clanking

as he made his way through the countryside east of Lake Charles. He rode now with two clear

objectives in mind. The first was to put miles between him and the nightclub, and the second

was to regain his personal possessions.

       On the upside, he still retained the chrono, which could guide him to his missing things.

On the downside, he had limited ways to travel to them and was currently moving in exactly the

opposite direction. His main advantage at this juncture was his knowledge of the area. Having

grown up in the region, he knew the general lay of the land, but quick and easy answers to his

dilemma were in short supply around this farming district.

       He sat there and pondered many different options while he watched the world blaze by in

the burgeoning dawn of the new day, but each had its own pitfalls.

       Ron swiftly grew very anxious, never liking being in the position of no control, but his

situation at the moment was such, so he forced himself to deal with it. After twenty minutes he

felt confident about the lack of any followers, and since he was in an area of nearly unending rice

farms, he also presumed he could disembark with little danger of being noticed, so that’s exactly

what he did.



                                                                                                  230
       At roughly sixty miles per hour, Ron jumped clear of the train and barreled down the

shallow, grassy slope. He allowed himself to tumble only three times across the soft earth

embankment before checking his momentum. When he did finally plant his feet though, he

came to a stop at the end of a ten foot long trench, plowed a foot and a half deep by his boots.

       As he stood once more in the soft soil of his homeworld, he was no worse for the wear,

being covered in brown grass clippings but with no real damage, and feeling quite good. After

removing his newly acquired overcoat, he shook it out vigorously, trying to remove the earthen

debris so he wouldn’t stand out too badly. When he did that however, he noticed a bulge in the

inner lining at two places where well concealed pockets were fashioned into it. A quick

investigation resulted in a surprise which lit his face with a huge grin. There were four bundles

of cash hidden in the coat! Apparently, the body guard was also a walking safe for his boss

because each bundle contained ten thousand dollars!

       Ron just shook his head and chuckled to himself.

       “Cache wouldn’t believe this!” he told himself as he recalled how many times she’d

commented on his extraordinary luck.

       He left most of the money where it was, placing a few hundred in his regular pockets, and

then returned his focus to the mission.

        Taking his bearings from the sun automatically, Ron struck out north, and less than

fifteen minutes later he was walking fast down a stretch of old Highway 90, just outside a small

farming town. His plan was to get to one of the roadside cafés that sporadically dotted the side

of the interstate and possibly talk his way into a ride west…but before he made it that far, a

different opportunity became available.




                                                                                                   231
       A block over and half hidden by some trees was the edge of a fenced compound where a

military truck resided out front on display. It was a bolt from the blue, and triggered a shifting

bit of hope in him, so he detoured over to have a look.

       The place turned out to be a huge salvage depot for old military surplus items, with

everything from tents to half-tracks. Ron recalled seeing places like it before. They mostly dealt

in piece-parts, never actually acquiring anything in running order, but occasionally would

scavenge enough from three or four vehicles to make one drivable unit. He always enjoyed a

good project, and unconsciously cracked his knuckles.

       No one appeared to be around, but the gate was open so he leisurely strolled up and down

the aisles for a few minutes, slowly working his way toward a centrally located office.

       One horribly treated Humvee was setting only thirty yards from the primary garage (a

large metal “Quonset hut” style structure), and caught his attention. There was a sign in the front

window that read, “Engine and Tranny are perfect!” It’d been hit by an improvised explosive

charge…a Molotov cocktail attached to an old mortar round…and the whole inside was

completely gutted. The only thing remaining intact was the instrument cluster, and even that was

charred, gouged, peppered with chips from flying debris, and slightly melted. The outside of the

vehicle was in reasonable shape but one rear wheel was badly dented, the front right assembly

was gone, and the glass was missing from the entire aft end…blown out from the attack.

       Ron looked a bit further before drifting into the office, curious that no one had come out

to try their sales pitch on him. He called out when the place seemed to be deserted, but received

no reply. There was a bell on the counter so he rang it several times…still with no response.

After a few minutes of fruitless waiting, he walked out and around to the garage, and then




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onward to another building with “FLAMMABLE” written over the header of a modest, open-

sided shed. He continued to call out while he strolled along.

       With no answer he decided to leave, and turned to go…but then, a faint clinking noise

reached him. It was as if a piece of metal was swinging in the wind and striking another hard

object. Ron turned about twice, trying to lock onto its origin, and then moved in the direction of

the intriguing sound. Something told him it wasn’t happenstance that was causing the noise.

       Through the maze of junk vehicles, trailers, empty shells, and hundreds of other items, he

worked his way with the “clink” getting louder as he did. Finally, at nearly a hundred yards from

the office, he found the cause of the peculiar disturbance.

       At the very back of the expansive yard was a row of huge trucks, troop transports known

as six-bys…vehicles which had six wheels and could carry fifty fully armed men. That row

appeared all but forgotten, the once powerful old carriers being rusted badly…but from under

one of the frames extended a hand, holding a wrench, and it was weakly tapping on the frame.

       The front of the truck was on the ground with a large pile of cinder bricks crumbled and

scattered to the side. The crude support blocks had apparently given in to either time or weight,

or a combination of the two, and collapsed at the particular period when a man was working

underneath.

       “Can you hear me?” Ron asked after dropping to the ground.

       The area was very dark and had almost no space which might provide room enough for a

grown person. With that noted, when there was no reply; Ron assumed the fellow was trapped in

such a way that constricted his air supply and left him unable to speak. He gripped the front

bumper of the truck immediately and tested it. It was very heavy! A visual sweep across the




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frame of the out of commission vehicle quickly told the tale…its rear end was well above the

front, forcing most of the weight to shift forward.

        “This is not good,” Ron cautioned himself, bracing his body as well as he could before

putting his heavy-worlder muscles to the test yet again.

        The scrapped out old man hauler was well constructed in its day, having a massive frame

of thick steel, and to add to it was the fact that the giant diesel engine and transmission were still

installed, having rusted solid over a decade in the past. That entire mass of metal easily weighed

over six tons, so Ron found his work cut out for him.

        He felt his feet sink into the packed earth at first, as he began to apply force, but that

stopped quickly enough, and then the bumper began to groan. The huge metal conveyance

hadn’t moved from its spot in many years, and now seemed to be objecting to the notion that it

do so at this point.

        Ron considered the serious possibility that the old, rusty bolts wouldn’t be up to the task

when the groans turned to shrieks of high-pitched agony from the stress…but they held. Up the

bumper went…six inches, then twelve, then twenty four, and finally stopped at thirty-three.

        Once he stood with his back locked and his position firmly established, Ron called out to

the man underneath.

        “Can you move?”

        There was no response.

        “Can you hear me?”

        “Ye…yes,” returned a weak, gasping squeak.

        “Can you get yourself out?”

        “N-n-no. I-I-I’m t-t-too…st-t-tiff. P-p-p-pinned…t-t-too…l-l-long. C-c-cold!”




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       “Shit!” Ron hissed at his misfortune.

       He was stable with the load, but could only hold it for a few more minutes…the strain

already making him gasp. He looked around for anything…anything at all that could aid him,

but the yard was of no help…at least, nothing within reach, and he knew if he set it down again it

would likely crush the man.

       “Aaaaaaahhhhhhh!” came a scream from behind Ron, startling him enough that his head

whipped about with a snap.

       There were two women standing there, thirty feet away with a little toddler in one’s arms.

The lady carrying the child looked to be in her upper twenties with short, black hair and brown

eyes. She carried the child against her left hip…and a look of utter terror covered her face. It

was she who’d screamed. The other was younger with long, dark brown hair and blue eyes. All

three were dressed warmly in the cold dawn of the new day.

       “Mike! Jesus-sakes-alive! Mike!” the black-headed lady screamed, wanting to come

closer but staying back with her hands covering the ears of the child who was now crying from

the fright she’d given him. “What happened?” she directed at Ron. “Who are you? Mike…are

you hurt?”

       “M-m-meg…” the fellow under the truck called out, “c-c-calm d-d-down!”

       “Ma’am, I’m trying to get this man out, but he’s been stuck for too long and can’t move.

We need your help…NOW!”

       Ron turned back to his chore straight away and couldn’t see the shocked expression on

her face, but he guessed at it very accurately.

       “P-put Mikey d-d-down, b-b-baby…and h-h-help m-me,” Mike ordered to her as firmly

as he could. “Regina…you t-t-t-too…p-p-p-please! Hurry!”




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       They hesitated for only a second before following her husband’s commands.

       “Stay right here, sweetie!” Meg instructed the little boy who was only whimpering by

then. “I have to help Daddy! Okay?”

       “Hurry!” the man huffed again, trying to drag himself to the edge of the wreck.

       At that time, Megan and Regina dashed over and lunged under the hovering bumper,

grabbed her husband’s outstretched wrist, and heaved with everything they had. Mike scooted as

well as he could with his legs only half working, and together he was freed in only a few more

seconds.

       Ron’s whole body was vibrating by then and he watched with great interest as the couple

cleared the danger area…at which point he let go his hold on the massive machine.

       “WHAM!” echoed the sound of that withering pile of steel when it slammed down to the

earth once more…shuddering and creaking for a few more seconds until it was settled. The four

of them felt the earth quake from the shock.

       “Uuuuhhhh!” croaked Ron as he collapsed to the ground and then fell back flat, his arms

to the sides and his muscles quivering while he panted desperately.

       He lay there for a minute with his eyes shut, listening to Meg crying over her husband

and him trying to console her worry. Regina was half looking at Ron, and half checking Mike

over for damage…squeezing his legs and then his arms, looking for breaks.

       When Ron opened his eyes once more, expecting to see the bright blue of the sky, he

instead found himself looking up at a squatting little two year old who was apparently fascinated

by him.

       “Hello,” Ron said softly.

       “Hi!” Mikey returned before he patted Ron’s face with his little hands. “Good!”




                                                                                                236
        “Mikey!” Meg called out harshly. “Come over here!”

        “B-b-baby, rel-l-lax,” her husband told her, shivering hard and slightly annoyed by her

tone. “If he…w-w-w-wanted to hurt anyone…y-y-you th-th-th-ink he’d have r-r-rescued me?”

        Ron just waved him off.

        “Don’t worry. I understand,” Ron assured them both. “It’s all right. I’m a stranger and

you have every right to take caution, especially when it concerns your child.”

        “Thank you, Mister,” Megan acknowledged with a forced smile under tear-streaked

cheeks. Her overnight worry, the shock of seeing where her husband was pinned, and the relief

of his rescue were all rushing out of her at once. “But Mike’s right. I should be on my knees at

your feet for saving him…not freaking out! Thank you so much!”

        Ron sat up then, still short of breath, and began brushing off the grit of the ground from

his coat. A few moments later he was on his feet and finishing the job, but when he took a look

at Mike, he shed the garment instantly and threw it over the shivering fellow whose face was

blue.

        “Could you please send someone to Mike’s Military Surplus Store, on Cypress Lane,”

Meg was saying into her phone, calling for an ambulance.

        That got Ron’s attention straight away and he began to look for an exit. An ambulance

would likely attract a policeman as well, and he’d seen enough of them for a while.

        “Well, if you all are okay, I’ll be running,” he told the couple.

        “Wait!” Mike called out. “We d-d-don’t even know your n-n-name. How’d you f-f-find

me? How d-d-did you l-lift that t-t-truck? And how c-c-can we ever th-th-thank you?”

        “Oh, don’t worry about it. You’d have done the same for me, I’m sure.”

        Mike looked back at the enormous truck Ron so recently raised off him.




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         “I d-d-don’t think I’d have been able t-t-to,” he said with a weak snicker, still holding his

chest in pain. “Mister, that th-th-thing has to weigh five or six t-t-tons! Just how the hell could

you…?”

         “Mike!” Reg hissed. “Not in front of little Mikey!”

         “Yeah…s-s-sorry. But really, how…?”

         Ron just shrugged his shoulders and turned to leave, prompting Regina to race over to

him.

         “Wait, please! You came here for something…right?”

         Ron’s eyes and ears scanned the entrance nervously. “Yes, but that’s all right. Some

other time, maybe.”

         “He c-c-can have anything on th-th-the lot!” Mike granted with a weak, sweeping hand.

         “Honestly, Sir,” Meg added, “we owe you so much…I can’t even begin to…”

         She couldn’t even finish her thought as she held her husband close to her and wept again

with relief at what might have happened, hauling in her wobbly son for a tender family moment.

         “It’s okay, Meg. It’s okay,” Mike told her softly.

         “She’s right, you know?” Reg admitted frankly. “We’d never have found him! If it

hadn’t been for the screeching sound of metal, we would’ve gone off to his favorite breakfast

stop.”

         “You folks are making too much of it. I was just lucky…in the right place at the right

time, you know? You owe me nothing. Good luck to you.”

         He turned to leave again but Regina’s hand grabbed his arm and pulled him around.

“Who are you?”

         Ron smiled at her gently. “Sorry. I’m Ron. Ron Allison.”




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       He regretted telling her his true name the second he spoke, but it was done. He took

another step to leave. “So long.”

       “Ron Allison…no way! From Westlake?”

       Ron looked intently at her then, and his eyes widened. She was very familiar, but not

exactly as she’d been.

       “It’s me, Regina…Regina Millson!”

       “Bean?” he asked, recalling what she’d been known as back in high school…short for

bean-pole.

       “Wow, you’ve really changed!” she told him, scanning him from head to toe. “You

really sprouted up since graduation…you look amazing!”

       “You too! Your hair is so long now.”

       He scanned her tall, five foot, nine-inch frame quickly, but her thick, ankle-length coat

had her well hidden.

       At that moment, Ron found out she was no longer the shy, introverted girl she’d been in

school when she didn’t hesitate in whipping open that heavy covering to give him a glimpse of

how she’d sprouted too. Obviously she’d gained a great deal of self esteem as she matured, as

well as some other attributes.

       Before her sister called earlier in the morning, worried about her husband, Regina had

been on her way to the area gym to work out, and was wearing an incredibly snug fitting,

spandex outfit. It left her stomach completely bare and was fire engine red with little green

wreaths all over to celebrate the season.

       “Wow! You really filled ou…” pausing abruptly when he remembered his manners,

“you’re gorgeous!”




                                                                                                   239
       It was a shapely woman standing in front of Ron now, well proportioned in all the

appropriate areas to catch the attention of the opposite sex, not the ultra-slim waif that he’d

known. Her eyes too were changed, from being nearly buried behind clunky old, outdated

glasses, to the unfettered look a pair of contact lenses offered. They were adorned by long, thick

eyelashes that framed and accented them marvelously, and those sparkling gems were startlingly

blue. Ron also found the soft, feminine features of her face to be quite beautiful and she had a

glorious smile.

       The ambulance could be heard by then, pulling off the highway and roaring up their

street, so Ron tried again to leave.

       “You get him taken care of, Bea…Regina. I’ll come back…”

       She caught the anxiety he was displaying and cut him off.

       “Please wait! Here,” she told him, handing over the keys to the building, “go into the

office and wait for me. I’ll help Megan get Mike looked after, and then meet you. We can’t all

ride in the ambulance anyway with the baby. Please?”

       Ron reluctantly complied with her request, and since he saw blue lights heading their way

as well, he hurried off, locked himself in the one room office, and drew the shades. At that point

he simply had to trust his school-time friend.

       Ten minutes later the ambulance was wailing away down the road and Ron heard one of

the policemen questioning Regina just outside the window. She was carrying little Mikey in her

arms, bouncing him lightly to keep him calm. The officer wanted to know if she’d seen anyone

matching a certain description, and showed her a photo from the hospital’s security camera.




                                                                                                   240
        “Not today, Danny,” she said without a moments pause, “but I woke up late for my

workout and didn’t have time for any news. Then a phone call from my sister changed my plans.

We came right here looking for Mike! What did that guy do?”

        “He assaulted a doctor, five officers, completely destroyed the police station at the

hospital, blew up a garage, assaulted a dozen more men at the Leaky Drain, destroying the bar in

the process, as well as the wall of the building, and then vanished.

        “My God!” she let out, truly horrified at such a rampage. “How could anyone do such

things?”

        “It seems obvious that he’s on some kind of new drug that enhances his abilities, but…”

        “Squad-car 5381…dispatch!” squawked his radio.

        “Go dispatch…this is 5381.”

        “Are you free?”

        “Affirmative!”

        “Proceed to 2718, Highway 27 for a domestic disturbance!

        “Affirmative, dispatch! Well, Reggie, I’ve gotta run. Hope Mike’s alright. Take care

now!”

        Regina knocked on the door of the office a few moments later, after the Sherriff’s Deputy

was gone. Ron let her in and backed away, trying not to seem too imposing.

        “What really happened, Ron? The boy I knew back in school would never have…”

        “Why didn’t you turn me in?”

        She hesitated a bit, clutching at her little nephew tightly. She looked nervous,

exhilarated, and cautious all at the same time. He could easily read the conflict in her eyes.




                                                                                                 241
        “You remember the night you and I first met…after the basketball game…when I was

drunk and got picked up by those Opelousas boys?”

        Ron recalled the incident perfectly. It was an away game for the high school basketball

team and he’d gone with a group of his football buddies, just to cheer on some friends. He

remembered walking by her and a couple of her friends in the parking lot of the rival school.

They’d brought some rum and were passing it around, and it was clear that she was tanked. She

got separated from her group during the crowded exit and was stumbling around and giggling.

She obviously didn’t understand that the three young men who were “escorting” her weren’t

going to the parking lot at all, but rather toward a wooded area behind their stadium. Another

point being evident to Ron was the way they were each touching her, pulling at her, and groping

her. It was obvious that they were intending to take advantage of her state of inebriation.

        “You stopped them, Ron. You stopped them and took a heck of a beating doing

it…before help came. You’ll never know how important what you did for me was. I have no

reason to fear you…and I owe you at least the chance of an explanation for this.”

        Ron received three broken ribs, and a broken nose in the fight back then…but two of the

others ended up in the hospital, unconscious. He’d gotten in a few good licks before going

down!

        For the next ten minutes, he told her the highlights of what happened over the past

night…leaving out some of his “extreme” feats.

        “I never meant to hurt that doctor…it was completely a reactionary accident which you

can corroborate with Rhena. The police station was a poor judgment call on my part, I realize

that, but they wouldn’t return my property…and I’d done nothing wrong. I just didn’t have the




                                                                                                 242
proof on me. That’s why I came here. I need transportation west…to catch up with my

belongings. It’s very important that I get them back.

        “Anyway, the garage wasn’t my fault in the least. Those two morons blew up their own

office. The bar fight was unavoidable. The place was full of thugs and drug dealers who were

less than amicable. They attacked me!”

        She watched his beautiful gray eyes as he told his story, and saw nothing in them to give

her qualms about his truthfulness. He was frank and to the point, calm and composed.

        “Well, I never would’ve believed what you can do, had I not seen it for myself with that

huge truck, which brings me up to what the deputy said…that you’re on some ‘enhancement’

drug. How can you do all these things, Ron?”

        He smiled his grandest smile, remembering how his aunt and uncle reacted when he told

them.

        “Now ‘that’…will be unbelievable!”

        Over the next hour, Ron told her as much as he dared about his transformation. Most of

the time her face was totally blank from disbelief, just as he’d expected, but when he asked her to

touch his skin she began to swing toward the truth. When he bid her produce a pair of scissors

and cut his hair, her mouth hung open. It was like clipping wire! When he stepped on a shipping

scale, she had to have him repeat it several times, even getting on it herself to test its accuracy

(with his back turned of course!). And when he brought her out into the bright, morning sunlight

and removed the sunglasses he’d borrowed from Mike’s desk, she shuddered and stepped back

aghast as his eyes turned dark gray…even the whites. The late fall sunlight in Louisiana wasn’t

intense enough to make them go totally black, but it was enough for the effect he expected.




                                                                                                      243
       Ron ushered her back inside quickly and showed her he was, once again, normal looking.

Regina left little Mikey snoozing on the couch of the office while they were outside for a

moment, and at that time she looked at him with a completely new attitude. For so long,

Earthlings had considered themselves the grandest achievement God had ever created. Now she

knew better. By their standards, the man beside her was nearly superhuman! And by his own

admissions, there were many species capable of surpassing Earthlings out in the cosmos. It

made her a bit light-headed, and she plopped down solidly in the desk chair.

       Ron waited a couple minutes for her to recover, but then his urgency to keep moving

forced his questions.

       “Do you think Mike and Megan were being honest when they offered the spoils of this

place for my choosing?”

       “What? Oh, yeah…yeah I’m certain of it, I mean, you saved his life….ya’know? Why?”

       “Well, as I said, I do need transportation…and obviously it’ll have to be something heavy

duty…so I kind of had an eye on an old Hummer I saw out there in the yard.”

       His sheepish admittance nudged her back into animation and got her mind working once

more. Her eyes darted back and forth, as if searching for something on the floor, and then she

scooped up her cell phone and called her sister.

       “Meg, it’s me. How’s Mike? That’s great! I’m still here with Mikey and wanted to tell

you that I’m bringing him over to Mom’s…okay? All right then, you take care and I’ll see you

later. Bye.

       “Okay…here’s the deal. I’m going to drop off my nephew and get changed. I’ll be back

in about an hour and a half to help you!”

       “That’s not really necessary, Reggie. I can take care of this.”




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       “Well, I’ve worked here for three years and know every part out there, and where it’s at!

That could come in pretty handy, don’t you think?”

       Ron couldn’t argue with those facts, so he acquiesced with no further debate. She

gathered up the little tike and drove off soon afterward…and Ron got immediately to work.

       The garage part of the facility was well stocked with tools and equipment, and was

located far in the back, which provided him a place to hide out from those officers who might be

searching for him. The Hummer he commissioned was the one missing the front right wheel and

brake assembly, so he merely lifted that corner of the seven thousand pound truck and pushed it

into the covered work area, diving into it at once. By the time Regina returned, the engine was

running, every system vital to driving the thing had been checked out, and he was busy making a

list of needed items.

       Once he showed her the necessary parts, she walked him right out to another vehicle of

the same make and configuration. It was missing the entire aft end, as well as the engine, but the

front steering was whole, so they began scavenging it.

       With Ron’s exceptional abilities, rust, bent sheet metal, mangled undercarriage, and even

the lack of a crane didn’t slow them down. They lowered the project vehicle on its own four

wheels by late morning.

       “What about a seat?” Regina inquired when she saw him examining the inside.

“Anything normal will be…shall I say, less than adequate?”

       “Yeah, I saw something that’d work…but…uh…it’s a bit unorthodox.”

       She looked at him suspiciously, already having picked up on his mischievous nature.

       “Out with it, Sampson!”




                                                                                               245
       Ron smiled at her sarcasm and walked her to the front of the office. Outside was a bench

made completely of steel, constructed out of old truck parts. The frame was from a Hummer’s

roll cage, the arms originally were the inch and a half anti-sway bars off a half-track, and the seat

and back rest had started as heavy-duty leaf-springs. The entire assemblage weighed over a

thousand pounds.

       “You think this could be added to our ride?”

       “I don’t see why not! How would…?”

       Ron slipped up behind the six foot wide creation and scooped it up like a lawn chair, then

walked unceremoniously back to the garage.

       “Okay then,” she said, gawking at his casual display of inconceivable strength.

       Thirty minutes later it was custom fit and welded into the front of the Hummer.

       They both sat down on the new front seat and Reg saw the springs under Ron give and

flex. He seemed quite happy with it. Her side was another matter however. She might as well

have been sitting on a girder.

       “Maybe a few cushions would help,” she told him as she exited, rubbing her butt.

       As the time approached one o’clock, they’d just finished a test ride around the twelve

acre lot. Regina was screwing on a valid license plate when a tremendous groan from Ron’s

stomach reminded them they’d been at their task a long time, and prompted her to offer lunch.

       “What are you hungry for, Ron? My treat!”

       “You know, I haven’t had a good, thick, juicy, beef steak in years!”

       “Alrighty then! Let’s go. There’s a great, old-fashioned steak house just down the road.”




                                                                                                  246
       They wasted no time at all before climbing in the horrid looking military truck and

setting off. It’d been so long since Ron last drove, he was a little shaky with the clutch, but they

were in the parking lot of The Beef Barn in just over ten minutes.

       Reggie handed Ron one of Mike’s Stetson hats for a disguise, so with the sunglasses and

the trench coat, it would be difficult for him to be spotted by a casual bystander.

       “Hey, Jaimie,” Regina said to the Hostess, “could you give us a booth in the back?”

       Jaimie eyed Ron swiftly and winked. “Sure, Reg…no problem!” Then she whispered,

“Does he have a brother?”

       The waitress looked like she’d fall over when Ron ordered three 20 ounce steak dinners

with baked potatoes, and then asked Regina what she’d like. Reggie stammered at the request as

well but managed to put in her order too.

       “Are you for real?” she asked in a harsh whisper after the waitress was gone.

       Ron smiled back at her and threw up his hands. He and Cache had done some rough

estimates of how much Earth food would satisfy his body’s needs. It would take a lot!

       When he was polishing off the second steak and reaching for the third, Reg began to

giggle. Ron just grinned at her and dove in.

       The bill was well over a hundred dollars after dessert and Ron waved off Regina’s

offering of paying. He lightheartedly tossed out a portion of the contraband money he’d

acquired at the Leaky Cauldron, adding a generous tip for the stunned lady who’d served them.

Then they were on their way back to the shop.

       “Oh my God!” Regina blurted when they were finally away. “I’ve seen some guys put

away food before, but that was insane!”

       Ron laughed and tested out the vehicle some more. It was nearly ready to go.




                                                                                                 247
       “Do you have any heavy tarps, or canvass…anything I could line the back with?” Ron

inquired.

       “Yeah, there’s a stack of them in the storage room, why.”

       “I’m planning on sleeping in the cargo area…or on the ground…so I just wanted

something to keep the charred remains of the truck off me.” After he saw the look on her face,

he added, “I can’t very well sleep in a bed, I’d destroy it.”

       “Yeah…I suppose so.”

       Another two hours found Ron loaded up with water, some extra fuel cans, blankets, and

Regina even offered the use of a GPS unit, but he declined it because he already had his chrono.

       When he was all set, she went to her car and pulled out her suitcases, lugging them over

to the Hummer.

       “What’s this?” Ron asked, quite surprised.

       “It’s my things. I can’t go anywhere without at least a few necessities…you

know…something to change into.”

       “Go? What makes…who said…why would you think you were going?”

       She put her hands firmly on her glorious hips and returned his insolence.

       “I’m standing here next to a man who has spent time on other planets! A man who can

do phenomenal, if not unbelievable things! A guy on an interplanetary love quest…and you

don’t understand why I want to go? You think this happens everyday? I want to see your ship,

your cool, advanced stuff…everything!”

       “Oooooh, no!” he retorted with complete disdain. “You’re not going anywhere with

me!”




                                                                                              248
       “Oh yes I am!” she barked back, stepping right up to him. “Whose gonna stop me?

You?” she demanded, poking him in the chest hard…then wincing and shaking her jammed

fingers. “I’ll tell the cops exactly what you’re driving and where you’re headed! How far will

that get you?”

       “Why you little…” he growled, more impressed by her subterfuge than really angry.

       “Come on,” she pleaded then, “I can help! You need somebody to spell you with the

driving. It’s a long way to El Paso.”

       “You don’t understand, Reggie. I’m like a walking magnet for trouble. Ever since I left

Earth, I’ve stepped into the worst possible messes. You have no idea!”

       “See, you’ll need someone to watch your back! I’m pretty good in a pinch…you’ll see!”

       Ron just shook his head and grinned. She truly didn’t know who she was getting

involved with.

       “Look, Regina, I do appreciate what you’ve done for me…honestly…but that’s out of the

ques…”

       “I can get you passed the roadblocks!”

       “Roadblocks?”

       “Yeah…they’ve set up roadblocks on both interstates and at every highway and paved

road out of the area.”

       Ron’s shoulders suddenly slumped. “Son of a…”

       “Looks like you stepped in it again there stud!”

       Ron considered setting off on foot because he knew he could avoid anyone that way on

Caron, but here the ground was too soft to conceal his trail and there were many rivers he’d have




                                                                                              249
to cross out on the open expanse of a bridge. It would be difficult to say the least, and incredibly

slow.

        “Fine,” he finally sighed. “Let’s go.”

        It was almost dark as the revived Humvee rumbled out of the surplus yard, and when they

neared the first checkpoint, Regina guided Ron off the road and onto a trail that followed a

power line right-of-way.

        “This is where we go ‘off-roading’ in the four-wheel-drives!” she told him while she

reached back into one of her bags. “Here, take these.”

        Surplus night-vision goggles!

        Ron smiled grandly at her foresight. By midnight, they were a hundred miles west of any

searchers.




                                                                                                 250
                                    Chapter Eighteen

                                          Head West

       At the time Ron was devouring his three steaks, the hospital he’d been to was a mad-

house. There were frantic people scrambling about at every turn, and the staff of the small

emergency room was getting tired and aggravated at the calamity.

       Those who’d worked overtime on the previous night, attending to the injuries from the

huge wreck on the I-10 Bridge, were called back in early this day to continue similar issues on

the people battered up at the Leaky Drain. Broken bones, contusions, bullet wounds, and

concussions were prevalent among them and the physicians were taxed hard to keep up.

       “What the hell is happening out there?” one doctor asked of a policeman. “It must be a

full moon or something!”

       “I don’t know, but from what I can figure out, some maniac’s on the loose, hopped up on

amphetamines or something! He’s on a wild rampage we can’t figure out, and can’t stop!”

       There was an excess of police presence due to the devastation of their precinct, and

subsequently they were asking everyone questions about the mysterious “super-man” who’d

terrorized them.




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         Several of the injured men from the Leaky Drain were in handcuffs, having been found

with various weapons and drugs on their person when the ambulances carted them off, and now

were ranting about illegal arrest and police brutality.

         The women who were there were sporting only minor cuts and abrasions from some of

the flying men during the fight…apparently standing a bit too close to the action for their own

good. Now they were complaining and screaming at everyone within earshot about the lack of

police protection, or harassment at being questioned.

         Amongst the loud and unruly crowd were a couple of finely dressed individuals who

didn’t seem to fit in with the groups…being neither officer, nor victim. They milled about

slowly, listening in on as many of the interviews as they could.

         “That’s what I said ain’t it,” one angry man with a black eye and a broken arm shouted at

the policeman who was writing down his statement. “I’m telling you, he just ripped the mother-

f-----n bar right outta the f-----g ground man! Then he shoved it through the mother-f-----g wall!

And that ain’t no f-----g lie. Ask anyone!”

         “He threw Dino’s bodyguard through the door and started killing everyone!” whimpered

one of the women who’d been in the back room. “He’s insane…you know? Really!”

         “Ma’am, no one was killed,” the lady officer informed her.

         “Oh…well…it ain’t for lack of trying…I’ll tell you that! And he stole poor Mattie’s

coat!”

         “Mattie?”

         “Dino’s bodyguard! Ain’t you listening?”

         “I swear to God, man…he busted through the wall and then jumped straight up on the

roof!” another fellow reported. “That dude’s f----n Superman, man!”




                                                                                                  252
       “No Sam, I’m fine,” stated a calm fellow behind a curtain, waiting for his chance to be x-

rayed. “I don’t know how in the world he did it, but he found me and just grabbed the front

bumper of the six-by and lifted the damn thing off me. Yeah! Then he started talking to me like

he was holding up the tailgate of my truck or something. No…no…I’m not delusional, and I

wasn’t drunk. You can ask Meg and Reggie! They were there. They pulled me out while he

just stood there like a friggin human crane! Yeah, yeah, I know. I wouldn’t believe it either, if I

hadn’t been there!”

       One of the men in suits stopped abruptly there, and slowly ventured into Mike Durham’s

curtained off area.

       “Excuse me, sir,” the dapper fellow said softly.

       “I’ll have to call you later, bro…I got company. Okay, I’ll see you then. Bye.

       “Yeah? Time for my X-ray?”

       “Eh…no sir. I’m not with the hospital.”

       “Oh…sorry. What’s up?”

       “We are currently interviewing everyone who had contact with the fugitive from last

night, and I was…”

       “Fugitive? Mister, I don’t know anything about a ‘fugitive’. This guy just showed up at

my work and saved my ass! He’s no fugitive!”

       “Was this the gentleman?”

       Mike looked at the photo from the police station for a long few moments, not wanting to

believe it was the same guy.

       “Sir, is this the man who helped you?”

       “I don’t see how...I don’t know for sure…maybe.”




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       “Take your time.”

       “I really can’t be certain. I was pretty out of it back there. I’d been trapped under a truck

all night and was freezing cold. My wife will be back in a couple hours. She got a lot better

look at him than me…her and her sister, that is. But it can’t be him! What would a guy on the

run be doing at my junk…uh, surplus yard?”

       “I couldn’t say…perhaps you had something he wanted.”

       “Well if I did…I don’t care what he did to a bunch of scumbags at the Leaky Drain…that

dude saved my bacon! He can have anything I got! He’s a friggin hero in my eyes!”

       “Where was he last?”

       “Heading out the gate of my yard, I guess. My sister-in-law seemed to know him. She

was talking to him like old friends before the ambulance got there. You can ask her.”

       “How might I find her?”

       “I can give you her cell number, I suppose…and she was headed to ‘The Toner’ health

club, as far as I know.”

       “Excellent! That would be a big help.”

       “Who’d you say you were with?”

       The man in the expensive suit smiled warmly and extended his credentials. Mike read

them twice, his eyes growing wide.

       “What’s the ROF doing investigating this…fugitive? I thought you guys were on some

‘extraterrestrial’ hunt or something!”

       “We’re just helping the locals with this little problem. We have resources they

don’t…you know…just trying to be good citizens of the community.”




                                                                                                 254
         “Yeah…I know what kinds of ‘citizens’ you guys are. You stole Megan and Regina’s

folks’ home from them two years ago, and told them tough luck. You hauled everyone from

Westlake off for two months and put them in a prison camp so you could grill them about

something they knew nothing about. Then you crawled up everyone’s ass for the next year and a

half until you were sure they were telling the truth.

         “Yeah, I know what good citizens you fellas are.”

         “Sir, I assure you that I had nothing to do with any of that…and we are only trying to

help now.”

         “Uh-huh. Well, if you need anything else from me, you can talk to my lawyer!”

         “Thank you, sir. You’ve been very helpful,” the man stated curtly, before moving to

leave.

         “Great! And by the way I don’t think he’s the guy you’re looking for anyway. He didn’t

look like he was running from anyone. In fact, it seemed more like he was trying to find

someone.”

         The man smiled, then excused himself and went to a secure area, away from the crowded

emergency wing.

         “I think I have a lead on the rogue,” he said to his supervisor on his cell-phone. “Yes sir,

I’m on it. I’ll keep you posted.”

         That man had no trouble getting Regina’s phone number, and tried numerous times to get

in touch with her, but she and Ron were making too much noise in the garage to hear her phone

ringing away. He and his partner visited the exercise club before he was finally able to track the

phone through the cell tower it was using. They even went by the surplus compound, but Gina




                                                                                                  255
had closed and locked the gate when they returned from lunch. She knew Ron was being hunted,

and didn’t want cops coming around.

       By the time Megan came back to the hospital, she was escorted by their family’s

attorney. The ROF had the police involved at that point and they questioned her for two and a

half hours before they let her see her husband. They even hinted that child services might get

involved if she didn’t cooperate, citing obstruction and harboring a fugitive as possible charges.

It was nearly dusk by then, and when she was finally convinced about Ron being the man in the

photos…their highly sought after criminal…she took them directly to the yard. They arrived

exactly three minutes after Ron and Regina left.

       Meg had no idea where they were headed and couldn’t reach her sister. She provided

them whatever they asked for, even allowing them to search the business…and after only a quick

scan they found Regina’s car behind the garage area with a note on the windshield.

       ‘Meg,

       I’m going with Ron on a trip. He’s an old schoolmate who needs a favor. Don’t worry;

I’ll be back in a few days.

       Love,

       Regina’

       “Who is this person…Ron…who she refers to?”

       “I don’t know. Reg was talking to the man who saved Mike, then he left and the

ambulance came up. She called me a little later on this morning and told me she was dropping

my baby off at our mother’s house…and that was the last I heard from her. I was a bit

preoccupied at the time, with Mike and all, and didn’t think about it anymore.”




                                                                                                 256
         “Thank you for your time,” the fellow told her, and then he turned to the lead

investigator. “Cut her loose…we’re done here.”

         “That’s it?” Megan asked, completely put off by the whole, stressful ordeal. “What

about my sister? Is she in danger?”

         Inspector LeJuerne stepped up then.

         “Mrs. Landry, I would like you to know that we do appreciate the information that

you’ve given us. I’m sorry about the way it was handled, but there was little I could do about

that.”

         “But what about Gina?”

         “Well, if she’s gone off with an old school friend, she is probably perfectly safe and will

call you soon. The men from the ROF are certain the man we’re looking for did not grow up in

the area. I don’t know how they figured that out, but they seem to know a lot more about him

that they’ve let on. Anyway, your sister is no longer part of the investigation, nor are you.

Thank you again.”

         The ROF agent shot one last look at Megan before he got into his car and drove off. He

didn’t look very pleased.

         “We lost his trail,” he said into the phone as he pulled out of the surplus yard’s gated

entrance. “Really? I’ll be right there!”

         He then turned to his comrade, “They have a lead! The cameras caught a truck driver at

the filling station just south of the bridge. Apparently our prey left something on his truck.”

         “How do they know?”

         “Whatever it was seemed very heavy, and they saw the same truck out front of the

hospital. They think he was trying to return it to him.”




                                                                                                    257
        “You know where this trucker is?”

        “No, but since his trailer was empty, it appears he was headed back to his base. They’re

checking on it.”

        “What about the company he drives for?”

        “Unfortunately, the angles of the cameras that spotted him were poor and the quality of

the feed is low. Add to those problems the fact of dim lighting making it even worse, so we

can’t be sure at the moment. Our people are conducting interviews. It may take a while, but

we’ll get it!”

        “Make damned sure that you do!”



        Ron and Regina roared along Texas State Highway 90 early the next day. They were

making good time, but the military version of the Hummer wasn’t made for highway use, so at

sixty miles per hour they were just about maxed out. Ron and his new partner had discussed

their route extensively, and even though it would add a great deal to their time, they both felt

staying off the Interstates was essential to keeping them out of trouble. Local Sheriff’s

Departments and small town cops wouldn’t be involved in any kind of manhunt likely to arise.

        After the sun was up for a full hour, they began searching for a good place to stop for

breakfast. Ron twisted the dial on his chrono and a map of the area instantly hovered above his

wrist. It was round, a foot in diameter, and was so clear it appeared only slightly transparent,

even in the bright light of day. The display was a perfect replica…a fifty mile radius

reproduction of his position…and he began his quest. Darlile, show me the next few roadside

cafes please.”




                                                                                                   258
        Instantly, the tiny structures on the map were tagged with little descriptions, and Ron

took note of each, as well as their distances away. At a touch of his finger, the map centered on

that position.

        “Enlarge two hundred percent,” he said to the device. It instantly complied. “It looks

like we can stop in about seven more miles. There are a half dozen eateries in that little town.

You hungry?”

        Regina was still sitting there open-mouthed, fascinated by that little show of techno

wizardry.

        “Uh…yeah…I’m starved! How’s that work?”

        Ron just smiled grandly and shook his head.

        “Magic!” he told her. “I don’t have a clue to half the stuff the Rauldens have shown me.”

        That started a new round of discussions between Ron and Regina. She’d already grilled

him about his adventures for half the previous night, before yesterday’s peculiar set of events

finally took their toll on her and she fell asleep. Dawn caught her curled up on the long, hard

bench with her head on Ron’s thigh for a pillow. She thanked her foresight when she lay down

on borrowed cushions, off a couch from her brother-in-law’s office. It was the only way she

could stand the rigid, harsh ride of the Hummer.

        Ron though, was a machine of determination. When he needed to, he could go for days

without rest, so he simply drove on. Their first stop didn’t come until the sun was nearly at its

zenith, when the fuel thirsty Hummer needed a drink.

        As they pulled into a large truck-stop-restaurant-tourist’s store, Regina felt an extra

excitement, instantly alert and energized…she’d been needing to pee for two hours! Ron fueled




                                                                                                    259
the truck, parked around the side, and headed in do likewise, and once they both felt better, they

strolled to the eating area of the sprawling building.

       It was a large diner, having capacity for a hundred people easily, and was already fairly

well packed. A quick scan of the place raised no flags. There were no law enforcement officials

in sight, and nearly everyone seemed focused on their own conversations, ignoring the

newcomers. Of course there were at least a dozen furtive glances at Regina, but that was typical

and of no concern.

       Ron was careful to keep from sitting in the wooden chairs of the place and instead stood

at the bar next to his partner. Regina and the waitress again gaped at the vast quantity of food

Ron put away, and afterward his high school chum excused herself and went to the side of the

building that had the store.

       “Are all women mentally linked to shopping?” he chuckled as he walked to the truck.

       They were out in the flat desert of Texas by then and even though it was December, it

was very warm and she’d only packed winter clothing. Ron waited outside for her, checking on

the Hummer’s condition…monitoring how it was weathering the demands of the trip.

       A sharp whistle brought Ron’s attention back to the building, and as his eyes shifted, he

saw Regina heading his way, her step deliberately accentuated…very provocative, and very

sexy. In her left hand was a bag filled with her previous attire of long sleeved shirt and blue

jeans. Now she was sporting rock-climbing shorts and a halter top…and filling both out

extremely well!

       He smiled wryly at her, his eyes feasting on her fine figure with her long brown hair

billowing in the light breeze.

       “That girl’s a walking heart attack!” he said to himself.




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       She saw Ron staring and gave her step a little extra pop with a devilish grin plastered on

her face. She was enjoying the attention very much indeed…until…

       Off to the far side of a long motor coach, a group of twenty-three motorcyclists had

stopped in before Ron ventured out of doors. They were just finishing fueling up when Reggie

hit the pavement, so when the luxury-home-on-wheels pulled slowly away, they were granted the

spectacular sight of Regina’s heart pounding exhibition.

       Two of their group saw her before the others and slapped their buddies until every head

was fixed on her. The next few moments of relative peace were drowned out by the large group

all firing up their large bore machines and charging off in pursuit of that lovely lady.

       “Oh, shit!” Ron thought when his focus was redirected to their locale. “Keep coming

Gina,” he softly ordered, his voice being totally obliterated by the sound of the bikes.

       She had about a hundred feet to go when they lit off, and fifty when they got to her. Ron

was standing in the doorway of the driver’s side by then, hoping they were just out for a

look…and that she would keep her cool.

       Regina’s face went pale at first, when the sound of their engines shook the air, but a

quick glance at her companion…and recollection of what he could do…let her calm down.

There was no way he’d allow her to be harmed. In fact, she was so confident about it, she went

back to her sensuous stroll as they approached.

       The usual cat-calls, whistles, and somewhat rude remarks only made her grin all the

more. But when one of the riders rolled by and slapped her on the rear, she cut him a glare that

received an instantaneous reaction…and not a pleasant one.

       The majority of the bikers were of average size and build, but about ten were rather large,

burly, rough-looking men who wore substantial amounts of inked artwork adorning various parts




                                                                                                261
of their bodies. One in particular…the one who’d accosted Regina…had huge arms displayed by

his leather vest, a long beard, and long, black, dirty hair tied in a pony-tail. He wore the usual

garb for those with his affection for motorcycles and company…leather boots, jeans, and leather

chaps.

         This dangerous looking fellow locked up the rear wheel of his bike and slid around to

face Regina when he saw the defiant stare she shot him. He gassed the engine and raced toward

her, but she slipped into the passenger side of the horrible looking Hummer before he could

reach her.

         Sliding to a stop outside the door, he leaned into the windowless portal and addressed her

face to face.

         “Hey, baby…what’s your name?”

         Ron sat inside now, behind the steering wheel, ready to get going, but by the time Regina

gained the truck’s protection, the bikers were completely surrounding it.

         “What’s the deal,” Ron asked himself. “Do I have a sign on my forehead saying, Please

hassle me?”

         “My name’s ‘Get lost or my boyfriend will kick your ass!’” she told him, gathering all

the animosity she could muster without her voice squeaking from fright. Her heart rate was

running as high as it could possibly go.

         Inside, Ron just sighed, but outwardly, he locked eyes with her would-be suitor and

didn’t waver. However, another of the mean-looking highwaymen bent down and crossed his

arms on the window sill of Ron’s door, and there was the distinct click of a long switchblade

knife next to his ear.

         “Take it easy there, stud!” growled the knife wielding fellow.




                                                                                                     262
        “Who…this shit-bag?” asked Regina’s aggressor. “I don’t think so. Come on, Baby.

Give Deek a little taste!”

        He leaned in to kiss her while his right hand grabbed her breast firmly. Regina went to

slap his face but her hand was far too slow…striking his waist instead. In the fraction of a

second it took for her to coil her hand, Ron snapped the wrist of the man threatening him, lunged

across the wide expanse of the truck, and gripped Deek by the throat. When her hand shot

forward to slap him, he was being hauled through the window at a blistering rate. A split second

later the big, bad, motorcycle tough-guy was shoved out the driver’s side portal like tossing out

the garbage.

        Ron turned to Regina calmly… “And I thought ‘I’ was the magnet for trouble!”

        Her eyes were wide and her breath was quick while her fingers trembled from the brush

with disaster. She gave him a little smile as her hands went to her cheeks. Ron then stepped out

of the Hummer.

        “All right boys,” he said with his hands up and palms out. “Let’s not get too excited!

Just mount up and ride off…please! I don’t want any trouble.”

        By this time there was a substantial crowd gathered, with even more watching from

inside the diner. The regulars of the place had seen this before. The gang of ruffians terrorizing

motorists until they got whatever they wanted at the time…be it money, a woman, or just the

pleasure of it all.

        The biker’s flying form plowed over his buddy with the freshly snapped wrist and they

both tumbled well clear of the truck. When Deek looked back across a shoulder that was

smashed out of place due to his rough handling, he was sick from the pain, shocked from the




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ordeal, and humiliated at the realization of what had happened. But, like most bullies, his shame

outweighed his mental prowess.

       “Get that mother-f----er!”

       Ron took the first man’s punching fist in his palm and squeezed, not stopping until the

attacker was on his knees screaming from the pain after every bone in his hand was broken.

       Another two rushed in from behind, but Ron merely swung his free arm around and

swatted them both into the side of the armored Hummer. There was a sharp, snapping sound of

ribs cracking and at least one collarbone breaking before the pair fell sprawled on the pavement.

       The next guy charged in on his bike, as if he would crash into Ron and slam him into the

truck. However, after the cycle slammed to a stop against Ron’s hands, and the rider flew over

his handlebars, the gang of thugs began to understand a little better just who, or what, they were

facing. And when Ron swung the seven hundred pound motorcycle around by the front forks,

smashing it into one of the concrete supports for the pumps, they also began to fall back.

       Four of the bikers who were on the other side of the Hummer decided to attack someone

they knew they could control, and dashed forward at Regina. She’d been watching the fight

from her seat and was suddenly grabbed by the hair and pulled back roughly. The men were

trying to haul her through the same window Deek had been at, but Ron was on the move before

Reggie even screamed.

       He leaped over the top of the six foot high, seven foot wide vehicle in one smooth jump,

landing amongst those “brave” men who were attacking a mere woman.

       Ron despised such cowardice with deep-seeded passion and let out a rumbling growl that

forced a fast retreat of two of the men. The pair who had their hands on Regina suddenly felt

their feet leaving the ground, their bodies suspended by a pair of hands clamping down on the




                                                                                                 264
back of their necks like hydraulic presses, and as they felt enough pressure to crush their spines,

they let go of their struggling victim.

       Ron threw the despicable men away from him like shrugging off a bit of lint from his

shirt, and then turned to address the remaining highwaymen.

       “You boys have a choice to make!” he thundered, his chest heaving as his adrenaline

level really beginning to course. “We can continue with this fight, or you can call for

ambulances and get your wounded tended to…it’s your decision!”

       No one advanced, too frightened, or amazed, or confused to move, so Ron walked

casually around the front of the Hummer and got in.

       “Move the bikes!” he ordered out the window.

       “Screw you, Man!” Deek roared…disgusted with the pitiful battle his men had waged.

       “Fine…don’t move them!”

       Ron dropped the high riding, nearly unstoppable military transport into gear and simply

drove over the six motorcycles barring his way. He waved his hand in the air as the Hummer

cleared the rubble, and steered out onto the highway as if nothing had happened at all.

       They were on the road four miles before Regina could even speak again.

       “Oh…my…God!” she finally uttered…completely in awe of the man she sat next to.

“That…that…was…incredible!”

       “It wasn’t much of a fair fight…you know, with my…”

       No longer able to curtail her amazement, she flipped her seat belt loose and jumped him,

covering his lips with hers.

       Ron was never one to brush off a lovely lady who was determined to ingratiate him with

her affections, but this time, after all, he was on a quest to find his wife, so…




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       “Reggie,” he said softly after a long, passionate embrace. He could see the sparkle of

emotional ties in her eyes and began to worry. “I’m flattered by your attention…truly. You’re a

beautiful woman, and any man would be…but you know my situation. I can’t allow this.”

       All the while, he kept peeking at the road to stay between the ditches, and when he

looked back at her now, he saw even more admiration in her gaze.

       “How could any woman be so lucky?”

       “Lucky?” he thought; his wife’s situation in mind. “Could it really be considered

lucky…having lived through the death of the one you loved more than anything in the world?

Or having his child alone while he was out living a new life and finding new loves?”

       He looked into the submissive stare of yet another ardent admirer and felt guilty for the

reciprocal nature of his urges. She was sitting across his lap and mooning up at him like a

groupie in the front row at a concert…and she was very lovely.

       “Gina, from the moment I left this world, my life has been guided by some unseen and

unknown calling. It has cost me the woman of my young dreams, the family I’ve always wanted,

and any semblance of a normal life. Now I’m drawn to conflict, to strife, and to pain at every

turn. Those I love are tortured by their reciprocal devotion to me. No matter what I seem to be

able to do in battle…and my victories have been many and spectacular…I always lose whenever

it comes to the emotional bonds that I desire in my deepest soul.

       “This new life has been one leap of fate after another, and yet I’m still searching for the

answer to the one question that makes no sense. Why me? Why was I plucked from a

wonderful, happy, contented life to serve this one? What does destiny have waiting around the

corner for me?”




                                                                                                 266
        He stared blankly across the road at that point and let his mind wonder for a while.

Regina was reluctant to leave her seat for a long time, and just laid her head on his broad chest,

one arm around his waist and the other lightly stroking his torso.

        Finally, with a loud, sad sigh, she kissed his lips once more and returned to her side of the

seat. He was a man in deep conflict…that much was clear…and she had no idea of how to help

him resolve it.

        “So how close are we, to our next turn, Ron?” she finally asked just to break the spell of

gloom intruding upon them. “Let’s see that fancy map of yours again!”

        Ron appreciated her very much at that point. She really was trying to help him.

        “Here you…oh no!”

        During the fight with the motorcycle gang he’d somehow hit he chrono hard enough to

crack the crystal face, and the safety features Cache designed into it immediately began their

work. The inner components of the device were broken down to their base molecules. The only

thing left was the housing, and it was eroding fairly quickly. The nano-bots were rapidly doing

their duty.




                                                                                                 267
                                        Chapter Nineteen

                                             The Warning


          Cache Kuar sat on the second floor front porch of the Gitove farmhouse alongside

Josylinia who was happily playing funny-face games with little Sheyah. It was mid afternoon

and the Caronian sun beat down with all its might, baking the riverside with its white star glare.

          The ladies were scantily clad to fight off the affects of the tropical heat, and Sheyah wore

only the Caronian equivalent of a diaper. Cache had long since taken to Josy’s choice of

wardrobe, a tiny pair of snug fitting shorts with a matching halter top. It was days like this when

she was the most grateful for her decision too, because the area’s humidity ran so high due to

their proximity to the river. While the raven-headed beauty enjoyed the eye-popping and

scintillating color of lemon yellow, Cache preferred a more demur choice of lavender…although

the distinction was difficult to make if you were to poll the farm’s male workers. Each man

could speak for billets about the exquisite features of either woman, and often did…when they

were far enough away to not be overheard, that is.

          It had been a long day of toil on the farm, finishing up the last details of the most recent

harvest of buonta beans, and they both relished the quiet and peaceful surroundings of the river

estate.




                                                                                                     268
       Cache’s private little cottage was a quarter hoz away to the east and bordered the smaller

Prant River, but was acceptably close by. It was nothing like the expansive mansion of the

Gitoves, but gave her and her daughter plenty of room and comfort. Also, it was a fortress! On

the outside it appeared like any other Caronian dwelling of a moderately wealthy owner, but the

inside was fully Raulden.

       There was a complete emergency station with med-nauts, a food dispenser-cleaner

module, a sanitizer, and a Kuar Transfer Portal for moving between worlds. Also, the house, as

well as an acre of ground all around it, was protected by an energy field which was impenetrable

by anything, or anyone on the planet. It generated a two stage protective dome…the first being a

two hundred feet wide layer that when entered would cause disorientation, then nausea, and if

still intruded, would result in unconsciousness. The second level was the typical disruptor field,

and would disintegrate almost anything. This unassailable shield only opened for three

individuals, Cache, Sheyah, and Ron Allison. Cache and Sheyah would be safe whenever they

were home…that much was certain.

       She wanted Ron’s baby to be happy and healthy and have as normal a childhood as she

could arrange, so she decided well before the girl came into the world that they would live on

Caron, where Ron was and where the gravity would suit her extraordinary needs. As the product

of her exceptional parents, the tiny tot could have flourished on a planet higher up the chain, but

living anywhere else would have meant moving to a world totally alien to them all. This

arrangement seemed the most logical. Also, Josy may not have been able to join them, and

Cache wasn’t at all ready to make that kind of demand of Ron, or even suggest it.

       Cache and Josy had long since settled any jealousy issues between them and now got

along famously. In fact, while Ron was away, Sheyah and her mother practically lived at the




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Gitove home…at least when Karne was out on patrol. Cache hadn’t quite been able to get

accustomed to the giant Kreete, no matter how often she reassured herself he was no threat.

Whenever he was due home, she and Sheyah simply retired to their own abode.

         While the days passed slowly by with Ron on Earth, the two women avoided all talk or

speculation as to what he might be doing there. This trip was absolutely essential to his making

peace with the past and finally being able to move on…even though they each prayed he would

return to her and her alone.

         Inside, Josy’s mother, Mishea was seeing to the final touches of the evening meal.

Where the Gitoves once utilized Kreete technology to attend to such trivial and menial duties,

now they were forced to rely on servants. These individuals were not slaves by any stretch of the

word either, but rather a staff of paid Caronians who lived there and maintained the home. The

mechanical aids’ going away was one of the niceties they’d given up with the fall of Kreete rule,

and the destruction of their original residence. It was difficult to become accustomed to

strangers in the house, but the adjustment wasn’t too trying because the women were so easy

going.

         “The rains will be coming again soon?” Cache inquired, recalling the instructions she

received when she volunteered to help on the farm.

         “Yes,” Josy replied between kisses and tickles with the baby, “tomorrow or the next day,

probably. It will rain for two to four days straight. It’s a repetitious cycle that keeps the plants

productive.”

         “What do you do during those times?”




                                                                                                   270
         Josy smiled at her ignorance. Cache was a woman constantly on the move…driven to

work and explore and inquire. She sat still only for short periods, slept little, and strove to learn,

understand, and help. She and Ron were very much alike.

         “We still do most of our normal routines…the animals’ care, adjust the flood gates to

maintain the proper level of water in the fields, pick the orchards, that sort of thing. We just get

wet a great deal more!”

         Cache had lived on Caron well over a year during her and Ron’s campaign to free the

planet, and adjusting to inclement weather was quite a shock to her. On Rauld, she visited the

surface only sporadically to do research, and never in foul weather. The first rain she ever

experienced was while she and Ron were on the run from the Kreete, before the battle above her

planet. At that time she was nearly sixty Raulden cycles (years) old. She didn’t shy away from

it, but cared little for the feel of it too.

         “On your world,” Josy asked, “you don’t work in such conditions?”

         Cache smiled grandly. “We have lived underground for so many centuries that weather

conditions like here are only on informational crystals. Even now, my people venture out

seldom, and then, only when the climate is mild. The feel of Rauld’s star upon their skin is a

totally foreign sensation to eighty percent of the population. So, no, we avoid foul weather.”

         Josy just shook her black mane of wavy hair and held Sheyah close, rocking her back and

forth.

         Cache couldn’t help but admire her. She possessed inconceivable patience, took nothing

and no one for granted, was so calm and serene, even when things went awry of the intended.

And of course she was truly, unbelievably beautiful.




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        “How could I ever hope to win his heart over her?” was the recurring thought that

plagued her.

        But Cache wasn’t one to worry or complain either. She was incredibly intelligent, even

amidst her own highly advanced brethren, and knew these kinds of situations could not be

planned for, orchestrated, or really understood. The influence of emotions was far too varied to

be able to quantify…so she merely waited…and prepared as best she could for the outcome. She

had the hope of a lovesick teenager and the rationale of a pragmatic scientist.

        At that time they heard the chime of the dinner bell and gathered up their

things…Sheyah’s things mostly, and strolled into the mansion. Supper was unlike anything on

Earth as the entire staff sat down to enjoy the meal together. The Gitoves did not want the

natives to treat them like masters. The mystique of that type of class ranking was dangerous,

especially to the women who were left alone most of the time while Karne and Larson traveled

the province keeping the peace. It was far more desirable to have the locals think of them as

leaders, not as their rulers. Also, Mishea and Josy enjoyed the company, and the variety of

stories from all their differing lives.

        There were six women and three men who lived on the grand estate. All of the men were

older and married, with children of their own…and their wives were three of the other servants.

Karne was extremely careful in picking the people to stay on the property with his family. He

wasn’t blind to the fact that the women in his life were objects of desire for healthy young men.

And even though the town of Thackere practically worshipped him and his family…they all

being considered the saviors of Caron…he was also too familiar with the lust and greed of men.

Josy had already been a victim of such desires, and he didn’t want a repeat of that ordeal.




                                                                                                272
         The twelve of them were halfway through the meal when a draft blew in and they heard

the front door shut. A moment later, the giants who are Kreete soldiers strode through the high

archway separating the dining hall from the main living space. Karne and Larson were home

again.

         Mishea and Josy leaped to their feet to go and greet them, and Cache followed too with

her little one in her arms, albeit not quite as enthused. There were many hugs and kisses

exchanged as the mighty warriors were welcomed home, and then they all eased over to the

table. The head chef was gone by then, hurrying to fetch another leg of pravort that hung in the

smoker shed, always ready for a surprise like this since Karne’s duties were no longer

regimented by his superiors.

         When dinner was over, they all sat in the great room and listened to the tales of the road

from the valiant Kreete rangers. There was always danger and excitement on their patrols,

especially with the entire world trying to return to full Caronian rule. Disputes of every sort rose

and fell, some flaming up from long forgotten feuds between territories…those disagreements

instigated even before the coming of the Kreete!

         During the telling of one skirmish, Larson leaned over to demonstrate part of his

narrative and winced sharply. Mishea saw it immediately.

         “What is it, Larson?” she asked in a typical mother’s demanding tone…a tone she knew

her son would not avoid. “Are you injured?”

         “There is an arrow tip wedged between his ribs,” Karne acknowledged. “I could not

remove it. I was hoping Cache might be able to help.”

         Cache perked up instantly. “How long has it been?” she asked as she moved to his side

and began pulling his shirt away from the area.




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       “About a santari now,” Larson guessed.

       “There is some infection,” Mishea added, assisting her blonde house guest.

       “This should not be difficult,” the little Raulden told them, “but if your kind were not so

tough, you probably would have died from the injury.”

       Larson merely grunted.

       “I shall be back shortly. Josy, would you mind watching…”

       “Oh, no!” Karne said sharply, cutting Cache off in mid sentence. “I have not had the

pleasure of holding this little one, and I demand a turn!”

       He bent to scoop Sheyah up from her cradle as Cache’s gut tightened and her breath

caught in her throat. Her thoughts were beleaguered by too many videos of the mercilessness of

the Kreete soldiers, and her motherly instincts simply reacted with horror…but…

       Karne’s hands…larger than Sheyah’s entire body…paused at the edge of the beautiful,

handcrafted cradle…a gift from a grateful fan from Gardilane. It was a true work of art that even

rivaled the one from Gerdanz. His massive head turned to lock gazes with Cache, a huge,

grotesque smile on his monster-like face.

       “That is of course, if her mother would permit me?”

       In an instant of time, she looked at his shocking, silver eyes, his gargantuan, unassailable

physique, the weapons which still adorned his uniform…and she was terrified. But too, in the

same fraction of a second, she saw the joy in him, the bond he had with his own family, and the

delight and complete ease of Mishea and Josy. She knew in that moment her daughter would

never need to fear this man…or his son…that they would never dream of harming her, and

would protect her with their very lives.

       Cache’s trepidation fell away in that split second, and she breathed freely once more.




                                                                                                274
         “Of course, Karne. You have proven yourself in innumerous ways. This entire planet

owes its salvation to you…as do I. Your family is as much a part of her life as any could be.

You are practically her uncle. In fact, I will refer to you as her Uncle Karne, if that is

acceptable.”

         Karne completed his maneuver and held his new niece up high, a good fourteen feet

above the floor.

         “Well, little one, what do you think about that?” he asked the tiny girl in his deep, gravely

voice.

         As a response, Sheyah cooed loudly with her eyes locked on his, and not a bit afraid.

Karne pulled her down to be face to face with him…holding her there for a long few moments.

Her eyes scanned him thoroughly, her head sweeping back and forth to get a good look at all of

his features. She was wide-eyed and inquisitive, and for a brief second, Cache thought she might

be frightened by his appearance, but then she reached out and grabbed his tusks, giggling like she

was losing her mind.

         The entire group broke out in laughter and everyone relaxed and admired the pair. Cache

excused herself shortly thereafter and made the jaunt to her cottage. She gathered her travel bag,

added a few extra items, and then headed back…but as she swung the door closed, she noticed

the com unit was showing a message.

         Any other time would have seen her go to it immediately, but with her baby out of sight

and a patient in need barely five borts away, she decided it could wait.

         “I missed the usual contact time,” she noticed when she checked the chrono. “After all, if

it were an emergency, the alert would have sounded.”




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       Off she went at a fast walk, reminding herself to check in as soon as she returned that

night. She failed to note the emergency message was programmed to sound for one bort on a ten

bort, repeating cycle, so when she reinitiated the shield after passing through, she was too far

away to hear it.

       “Emergency communiqué from the Darlile! Emergency communiqué from the Darlile!

Emergency…”

       The west was showing signs of a darkening sky…no doubt the rains were coming early.

Cache worked as quickly as she could, hoping to finish up in time to make it back to her haven

of security with Sheyah before the weather turned, but some minor complications slowed her

down too much. By the time she performed the surgery, then cleaned and patched Larson’s

injury back together, the deluge had already struck.

       She stood at the edge of the wide balcony, looking at the blackness of the rain falling in

sheets, and got a tight feeling in her stomach.

       “You’re not seriously thinking of taking your little girl out in that, are you?” Mishea

Gitove asked softly, having glided up to stand beside her.

       She wanted to…very badly. She was sharply aware of being out of contact with Rauld

for an entire dactrai, and it was disturbing for her…but it was more than that too. Something

nagged at her…something she didn’t understand.

       “They will be concerned that I have not checked in. I just hate to worry them.”

       Mishea placed her hand lightly on Cache’s shoulder.

       “Dear, you were out of touch with them for over a cycle not too long ago, right? Yet here

you still stand. Fear not. It will subside in a day or two.”




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       Cache smiled at her reassurance and they left the muggy porch to return inside. Sheyah

was already asleep in the room the Gitoves decided would stay permanently set up for her and

her mother, so Cache accepted their hospitality and went off to bed.

       Two solid days of thunder, lightning, and nonstop rain followed, fairly trapping the new

mother in the farmhouse, until, on the third afternoon, when everyone was sitting down for

supper, they received a visitor.

       The talk was light, mostly about the rain and the upcoming duties it would create, as well

as the recalling of a rather hilarious sight on the river. A string of four barges had been going

upstream, towed against the heavy current by a huge harness of ten massive roukers, when the

barge captain mistakenly drifted too close to the bank. The second barge ran aground and the

power of the animals simply pulled the joining ropes in two…but only on one side. That set the

aft three barges drifting askew in the fast moving water where they quickly ran into debris

flushing downstream…debris in the form of a huge tree which had had its roots washed away

and now was turned into a colossal battering ram. The huge bludgeon split the third barge in half

and emptied it of its cargo of pigs. The next three billets were filled with the retrieval of those

animals. Unfortunately the muddy banks of the river created even more trouble, sending the

crew slipping and sliding all about. They were even dragged up and down those banks by their

quarry, until every one of them was covered in thick, slimy muck.

       As the group at the table enjoyed a huge belly laugh, a sudden interruption made them all

snap to attention. At the peak of the high, arched entry to the dining room floated a sight that

shocked the entire group into instant silence…a Cnaut. It was round, about the size of a

basketball, and glistened brightly from the rain dripping off its shell.

       “Cache Kuar!” the little robot said in a sharp, woman’s voice. It was Aanlis.




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       Cache leaped to her feet and rushed over to it, placing her hand on the unit once it

descended far enough.

       “I am here!”

       In Raulden language, the courier issued its message.

       “The Darlile has initiated a high priority emergency! The planet Earth is under attack!”




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                                      Chapter Twenty

                                           Frank Denk


       Once they realized their advanced map was gone for good, Ron and Regina were forced

to resort to the old fashioned method of navigation…a paper one. Furthermore, the two of them

decided it would be best to divert their route and drive only at night for a day or two, just to be

safe. The ruckus at the truck-stop was sure to draw the attention of the authorities, and they

didn’t want to make finding them too easy.

       They turned southward for a half hour, pulled off into a small town where they picked up

some food and drinks, and spent the day in a state park…away from any campers, with the

Hummer well hidden. Ron and Reggie got some much needed rest that day, and they each

shared stories about their lives since school. Ron did most of the talking while a mesmerized

Regina sat cross-legged with her imagination whirling away, trying to envision the places he was

describing.

       Two mornings later, when they reached the town of Alpine, Ron’s impatience flared and

he made the decision to chance the daylight again. He maintained his strategy of avoiding the

more direct route of I-10, but that cost time, so it was late in the afternoon when they finally

drove into the city of El Paso.




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       Regina picked up a local map and they searched the phone books for Frank’s company,

but had no luck. Changing strategies, they went straight to the city’s Welcome Center, but

missed its operating hours by twenty minutes.

       “Damn it!” Ron hissed out of frustration, but a strong squeeze of his arm from Reggie

cooled his head quickly.

       “It’s alright, Ron. What’s one more night? We can get cleaned up, get some rest, and be

back first thing tomorrow.”

       Ron allowed her calm, soothing attitude to ease his frustrations, knowing she had a good

point. He had no reason to be in a hurry really, so he wrapped his arm about her shoulders and

gently hugged her back.

       “You’re right Reg. I guess the closer I get to my goal, the more edgy I’m becoming. It’s

been two and a half years. Another day won’t matter.”

       They rented a room at a nearby hotel, making sure it was on the bottom level…he didn’t

want any chances of cracking the floors of an upper one. Luckily it had a cast iron tub, so Ron

was able to shower and shave after Reggie finished. He had to use one of his smaller knives for

a razor since the one Fortell made him was in his coat. He rinsed out his attire in the shower, and

the Rauldens’ clothing proved itself a miracle of convenience when it shed away every bit of dirt

and sweat he’d collected since his arrival. Then it dried completely in just a few strong shakes.

       Once he felt presentable again, they walked to a nearby restaurant for a bite, chatting

about the weather and the sights of the city just like any tourists would. When Regina thought

about it later, she had to shake her head at the oddity of that simple outing; her and a man who’d

been to other worlds commenting on the intriguing night-life of El Paso, Texas.




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        To the amazement of yet another group of unsuspecting workers, he devoured half the

menu worth of food before retiring.

        Ron slept on the floor next to the king-sized bed where his lovely friend laid down, but

by morning, he found she was no longer in the soft confines of the mattress. She’d slipped down

with him in the night, and lay snuggled tightly against his massive form, her head using his

shoulder as a pillow and her right arm and leg draped over him, sleeping soundly.

        That made Ron grin when he awoke, and he lay there an extra forty five minutes before

she roused. A long, questioning look into her droopy eyes reminded her of where she was.

        “Oh…uh, sorry. I just…I mean…well I didn’t want…you looked lonely down here!” she

finally said with an embarrassed grin.

        “No problem,” Ron told her, chuckling as he untangled himself from her sensual

grasp…and not without noticing the sensationally scanty sleepwear she was in.

        It was still early, so they dressed and went out for breakfast. The townsfolk seemed in

quite a state, the topic of discussion on everyone’s mind being the loss of cable television as well

as the satellite links.

        While they were distressed, Ron welcomed the news. It would prevent his searchers

from coordinating a nationwide alert for him.

        On the other hand, Regina was as anxious as the locals. Over the past three days, her cell

phone had been of no use, but she guessed it was due to the remote areas of their route, and so

hadn’t worried. She almost used a pay phone once, to check in with Megan, before realizing it

would leave a trail to them, and that changed her mind. She was a smart girl and fairly confident

by then that the authorities were aware of her teaming up with their fugitive.




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       Now though, they were in a large city, so she tried to call her sister again. She wanted to

let her know she was all right, but the cell service she used still showed a very low signal and she

couldn’t get through. She finally decided to worry about it after their errand was over…thinking

maybe the sat-link would come back by then…but if it didn’t, she could always use Ron’s super-

phone he told her about.

       She and Ron exited the restaurant and walked straight over to the Visitor’s Center,

reaching it just as it opened. At the information facility, it was easy enough to get access to the

area’s computer data-bank, which located the business they were looking for instantly. So half

an hour later they were headed to the suburbs, to the company that Frank Denk worked for.

       “Excuse me,” Regina said to the middle-aged, mousy office clerk at the entrance to El

Paso Drilling and Pipe Company. “I’m looking for one of your drivers…a fellow name Frank.

Is he around?”

       A tall man in a white shirt and grey tie stepped out of his office and interjected a

statement.

       “If something fell off his truck and broke your windshield, we can’t be held liable for…”

       Reggie waved him off quickly.

       “No, no,” she said, “he assisted some friends of mine on the interstate and I just wanted

to thank him, that’s all. Is he here?”

       “No. He just got back from a haul up to Lubbock and we haven’t reloaded him yet. He’s

probably at home.”

       “I suppose you couldn’t give me his address?”

       “Sorry, but that’s confidential.”

       “Alright then…thanks!”




                                                                                                  282
       As she exited the office, she caught sight of a white board with six men’s names on it. It

was the duty routes for their long-haul drivers, and there was only one Frank on it…Frank Denk.

She smiled and continued back to the truck, quite pleased with her success.

       “Well,” she told Ron when she was in the cab, “I at least got his name. It’s Frank…”

       “Denk!” Ron finished for her.

       The look of absolute amazement on Regina’s face made Ron smile.

       “I talked to one of the forklift drivers who was loading his trailer,” he explained with a

chuckle. “He lives almost thirty miles west of the city, and a few miles north off of Highway 9.”

       “Well, I guess I’m no good to you at all, am I?”

       Ron just grinned and dropped the Hummer into gear.



       “Donna!” hollered Frank as he entered his front door. “I’m home!

       Frank’s wife rounded the wall of their den and hurried over to her husband while

glancing back over her shoulder.

       “Who’s driving the old Hummer, sweetie?”

       “Are you in some kind of trouble, Frank?” she asked softly after giving him a welcoming

peck on the lips.

       “What? No, of course not. Why?”

       “There are two people here to see you…a man and a woman…and they don’t seem like

they’re from around here.”

       “They say what they wanted?”

       “Something about thanking you for helping with a roadside emergency, but I think it’s

something else.”




                                                                                                    283
       “Huh,” he grunted, recalling the bridge scene easily, but that was a thousand miles away.

And his last trip was simple and uneventful.

       “Come on. We’ll see what this is all about.”

       “They’re out back, next to the lake. They’ve been here for nearly an hour and a half.”

       That really got Frank’s attention, so he hurried out the door with his spouse in tow. The

Denk’s lived on a fifty acre plot of land bordering a two hundred acre manmade lake. It was

very secluded and extremely peaceful. He and his wife walked down the well-worn path, hand-

in-hand, through their modest fruit orchard, and out across a wide lawn.

       When they were within a hundred feet, Frank saw the two visitors. The man was

crouched down at the edge of the boat dock he’d built, and his lovely brunette companion was

dangling her bare feet in the water. They seemed to be having a humorous discussion. The man

heard them coming, turned, and stood up.

       Frank stopped dead in his tracks.

       “You!”

       His wife was instantly puzzled by his reaction, glancing from her husband to the stranger,

and then back again.

       “You know him?”

       “Yes…I mean no! I mean…this is the guy I told you about! From the bridge accident!”

       “Oh!...OH!” she said, taking a step back, somewhat fearful of the tall foreigner.

       “Hello,” Ron said calmly. “It’s very nice to finally meet you. I’m sorry that we didn’t

have time…back there.”

       “Uh…yeah…yeah…me too! Uh…how did you find me? How’d you get here?”

       “Oh, that’s a bit of a story…but first…I believe you have something for me?”




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          “What? Oh, yeah…yeah…yes, of course! Come with me.”

          Frank walked them all to his work-shed, which stood off to the side of the house about a

hundred feet. He flipped on the lights and made a bee-line to the back corner where he opened a

large, old fashioned trunk…one his grandfather once owned. Inside were the Raulden coat, hat,

and backpack.

          Ron’s eyes lit up at the sight of them, and he released a huge sigh of relief.

          “Thank you, Frank!” he let out, seeing how much care this stranger had taken with his

things.

          Frank watched as Ron reached in with one hand and pulled the pack out…a pack even he,

at his substantial size, had to strain to lift high enough to put it in their in the first place. Setting

it aside, Ron looped his fingertips around the collar of his long coat and snatched it out just as

easily, whipping it about and donning it in one smooth move. He checked the alignment of his

sword’s grip and then flipped his hat back into place like a lightweight felt fedora. At that point,

he picked up the pack again and stepped outside. Everyone followed him and watched carefully

as he plopped to the ground and unzipped the pockets that had been sealed shut for the entire

time Frank possessed it. Frank mentally acknowledged that his guess about the clasps had been

correct.

          Ron pulled out one of his ration tubes and gulped it down quickly, his eyes rolling back

in delight.

          “That’s good!” he said with a smile. “The food’s fine here, but it just doesn’t fill me up!”

          “I’ll say!” Regina acknowledged.

          “Now, now…let’s be nice,” Ron cheerily mumbled as he searched the pack further. “Son

of a gun…I can’t…where did I leave that thing?”




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       “What?” Frank offered. “Is something miss…oh-oh!”

       Ron’s head snapped up quickly, to catch a nervous, guilt-riddled look of embarrassment.

“What?”

       “Looking for the credit card?” Frank asked awkwardly.

       “Yeah? Is there something I should know?”

       “Well, it’s like this. Rhena and I were snoop…examining your pack…just to see if we

could somehow locate you to return your property, and…uh, I think she accidentally kept it.”

       He then explained the events of their rendezvous, and their subsequent hasty separation.

Ron was relieved that the police hadn’t found and confiscated the card.

       “I know she won’t use it…or even show it to anyone. That was our plan. We would

keep all of this to ourselves and hope to see you again.”

       “Don’t worry about it. I can make a new one easy enough.”

       Ron then leaned back and continued with his meal.

       “Okay,” Frank began, seeing Ron apparently content to sit for a while, “I’ll start. Where

exactly are you from?”

       He and Regina dropped to the grass in front of Ron then, fascinated. Donna preferred to

stand behind her husband.

       Ron laughed softly, trying to swallow without choking.

       “I’m from that little town at the bottom of the bridge where we first met.”

       Frank looked at him as if he were speaking Greek.

       “But you’re…not…you know…uh…normal,” Frank ventured hesitantly.

       For the next few hours, Ron and Regina filled the Denks in on the whole Ron story…or

at least as much as he wanted to let out. Donna…like everyone else…was understandably




                                                                                               286
unconvinced about the entire concept, so Ron gave her a little demonstration like he’d done

twice before…beginning to feel a bit too similar to a circus attraction than he cared to. When he

was done, she was sitting on the ground, her legs no longer stable enough to support her.

       “My Lord…Heaven’s sakes…I tell you one thing…this is a true sign! The Almighty sure

has something special in store for you!”

       “If you’re the pilot of the Black Ship,” Frank asked, “and it’s all this huge secret, then

why are you telling us…a bunch of regular Joes?”

       “Well, for a couple of reasons actually. First is a simple fact…it isn’t the enormous,

dastardly, alien plot the leaders of Earth have been worried about. In fact, as soon as I get my

private business taken care of, I plan on divulging everything to the entire scientific

community…and the media! Earth needs to be aware that this planet is not the center of

intelligent existence we’ve always believed it to be.

       “Second is the obvious one. You’ve already demonstrated unequivocally to me that I can

trust you. Regina could easily have turned me over to the police but chose not to. You could

have done the same with my personal items…or sold them to the news tabloids for a hefty profit.

You both have shown a good deal of self thought, self control, and also, each had the intelligence

to adapt to the information laid out to you, no matter how outlandish it was.”

       They all felt quite flattered by his assessment and proud of the decisions they’d made.

Now though was the time to contemplate what the future might bring.

       “So, what’s next for you?” Donna inquired of Ron.

       “Well, now that I have my equipment back, I’ve got to make a call in the morning. From

there, I’ll see if I can meet up with my folks, and hope they might know something about the

whereabouts of my wife.”




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        “Lord have mercy…what’s she going to say about all this?” asked Donna, looking around

the group with fret and wonder.

        Ron simply shook his head. “I’ve given up trying to guess. I’ll just have to wing-it when

it happens.”

        “You might have a problem, Ron,” Frank told him. “The cell service has been poor for

days, and from what I’ve heard on the radio, no one knows why. Their best guess is solar storms

from the sun, but I think that’s unlikely…at least for this long.”

        “Well, this little gadget is special,” Ron explained, holding up the Raulden phone. “It

should give me several hundred miles of range, without the booster towers, so if they’re

anywhere even remotely close by, I’ll reach them.”

        “Good. Now, as far as accommodations, you two can stay here tonight if you like. You

can relax and get freshened up. No one ever comes out here…other than our kids…but their not

due for a visit till Christmas.”

        Regina perked up at the offer. Sleeping in the truck again was not her idea of a vacation.

Ron caught her hopeful look and nodded.

        “That would be wonderful,” she blurted with a grand smile.




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                                                 Chapter

                                            A Trip into Town

        After a down-home lunch with the Denks, Ron informed them that he needed to make a

trip into El Paso to take care of some business. He recruited Regina without trouble, especially

after he told her he’d take her shopping for an expensive outfit if she didn’t mind help with the

excursion.

        “We shouldn’t be much past sundown,” told them as he and Gina fired up the Hummer.

        While at the information station earlier that day, Ron took a few minutes to research a

special side-project over the computer. With the generalities memorized, he felt confident he

and Gina could pull off the transaction he needed.

        He drove straight to the grandest, most expensive shopping mall of the city and released

his partner to the test of finding the finest cocktail dress she could.

        “I want you to draw as much attention as possible…okay?” he asked.

        Regina’s eyes lit with the fires of the challenge. “This could cost you,” she shot back

with a devilish glare.

        “That won’t be a problem.”



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        “I’ll see what I can do,” she replied with a haughty look.

        Thirty seconds at the mall’s directory told her all she needed.

        “Follow me.”

        She plunged into the glitziest, chicest, shop of the place…La Femme Delicious…licking

her lips and trembling from the thrill of it.

        “Hello…my name is Brandi. May I help you?” asked a young, shockingly gorgeous sales

woman, eyeing Regina’s rather modest jeans and tank-top with open disdain.

        “Yes,” Ron replied, flashing the girl a devastating smile. “I need Gina here ready for the

opening of my new nightclub in about two hours. Is that possible?”

        “Well, I don’t know…I mean…we just sell clothes and shoes. I can’t…”

        Ron fished out a stack of hundred dollar bills and began counting them out in his hand.

“I’d really appreciate whatever you could do for us,” he told her sweetly, his deep voice laced

with pleading sincerity. “This is for your trouble,” he said, folding a thousand dollars in half and

slipping into her hand.

        The twenty-two year old woman practically swooned.

        “Oh! Okay then. We’d better get started!”

        Ron smiled and winked at Regina as she followed the woman toward the back of the

store. Gina’s mouth was hanging open at him. “Are you kidding me?” she mouthed.

        He just grinned and took his leave to get his own props.

        At an upscale luggage store, Ron purchased a small, slim, stainless steel briefcase. He

felt it would add to the premise he was trying to establish.

        Immediately after that he returned to the Hummer to collect some of his Raulden

electronics, stashing everything he needed in the briefcase.




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        As he headed back in, he noticed a white van with blacked out windows cruising up and

down the aisles. It stopped suddenly and a young man hopped out and approached a big, fancy,

ice-blue BMW, glancing about as if he was extremely nervous about something.

        Ron paused behind a huge, dually truck and watched. The boy pointed something at the

car, and then there was a distinct “cachunk” sound as the locks all shot up. As soon as he opened

the door, the alarm sounded, urging him to dive under the dashboard.

        Ron glanced around for any sign of the police, or some security group, but no one was

nearby. With a deep sigh, he broke into motion.

        The van started to ease away with the driver still watching the boy in the car, but the

fellow in the passenger seat saw Ron step out from his concealed position and into the path of

their van. He slapped his buddy on the shoulder and pointed, saying something Ron couldn’t

make out.

        “Whazzup?” the driver asked as he pulled alongside Ron with a sarcastic smirk across his

face.

        “How much is it worth?” Ron asked calmly while noting there were four more men

inside the van.

        The alarm was no longer blaring away and the driver stopped abruptly…his face turning

pointedly serious. “What?”

        “How much is that Beemer worth to you?”

        “Dude…I don’t know what your talking about! But you’d better just keep walking…if

you know what’s good for you.”

        The man in the passenger seat the flashed a pistol…just to show Ron the trouble they

could make for him.




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       Ron’s hands shot up in a flash, and slammed into the upper frame of the door hard;

knocking the van immediately on its side and tossing everyone inside roughly about. He then

stepped to the front of the short-nosed vehicle and shoved it up against the nearest light post’s

concrete pedestal, effectively barring any escape they had through the rear doors. Next, he

turned to the boy in the fancy import.

       “Get out!”

       The car was running by then, but Ron was blocking the way. He couldn’t go forward due

to a truck parked in front, so he threw it in reverse and punched the gas.

       Ron just grabbed the bumper and lifted the rear wheels off the ground.

       “Get out, NOW!” he bellowed at the teenager as the engine roared away.

       The young man panicked and tried to dive out the door, but Ron shoved forward enough

to kiss the truck’s bumper and set off the airbag. The explosive force of that safety device

caught the boy halfway out of the seat and crushed him back against the door pillar, knocking

unconscious and killing the car.

       Ron set the rear back down and returned to the van. The driver was trying to squirm out

the door’s window, but retreated at his approach. Ron gripped the tail-pipe of the van firmly and

then ripped the exhaust system loose from its attachment hangers. One quick heave later he bent

up and it around the driver’s door to seal the last escape route of the thieves.

       With a light wave and a smile he returned to his previous task, strolling toward the mall.

He did however take the time to call the police and report the thieves. By the time the authorities

arrived, Ron was sitting comfortably out of sight, getting his boots shined while watching the

building across the street. His Raulden glasses were tremendously handy for the task, and so he

gathered a great deal of intel on the workings of the place.




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         When his boots shined as if new, he handed the young teenager a hundred dollar bill.

“Thanks!” was all he said, but the boy stood speechless for the next full minute.

         Ron then went to the atrium and found a beautiful bench built out of huge granite blocks

and continued his preparations.

         While he waited, he tried to contact the Darlile, but had no luck. That was very odd since

he knew the ship was tied into the planets satellite network and should easily find his cell’s

signal. It wasn’t a bother other than he was overdue to check in with Cache and knew she’d be

worried.

         In any event, he went over his cover story and checked his documents. By the time

Regina emerged, Ron was ready.

         He caught the sales woman standing at the entrance of her shop looking about in an

anxious attitude, until she met Ron’s gaze. At that point she smiled grandly and waved for him

to return. Ron glanced at the huge clock in the vaulted vestibule and saw that she was only ten

minutes over her allotted time.

         “Not bad,” he thought.

         “You said you wanted something ‘hot’ right?” she asked to confirm his wishes.

         “Yes…something that attracts attention,” he replied as he followed her to the rear of the

store.

         “How’s this?” asked Regina, catching Ron off guard; over to his right.

         His eyes shot around to her position, but his stride continued…he being a bit too startled

to halt his progress. One more step found him stopped solidly nonetheless by one of the central

structural supports of the building. It was a six by six steel girder bound in concrete and




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wrapped with expensive Italian tile to match the elegant decor. The entire room shook and

several pieces of ceramic hit the floor.

       “Uummph!” he huffed before staggering back from the shock with half the air being

knocked out of him. “Son of a…” he grumbled to himself, embarrassed from his clumsiness.

       His eyes then snapped back to the reason of his collision, and he feasted upon a sight

above sights.

       Regina looked surprised and apologetic when Ron’s stare returned, but quickly began to

giggle when she realized he wasn’t hurt. At that time her smile returned to the devious, haughty

look that had so distracted him.

       Her long brown hair was now pulled up and arranged in an exciting coif of braids and

curls that swept and dangled in innocent, yet extremely seductive ways. Her makeup was

touched up to be more bold, racy, and enticing, and was amplified even further by its ability to

accentuate her exceedingly alluring cocktail dress.

       The dress itself was a vision of sensuous artistic expression that appeared to have been

custom designed to fit the curvaceous delights of Regina’s long, exquisitely sculpted body. It

was made from a fabric which was tinted a lovely blue shade, and was completely sheer like

hosiery. It was strapless and had embroidered designs in a shimmering navy material which

resembled flowering vines that swept up and around her most desirable areas.

       Her spectacular breasts were cupped in the blooming petals of two of the flowers with

their glorious swells clearly peeking out beneath, as if daintily suspended in the frail looking

mesh. The heavenly valley between them was deep and bare, separated magnificently in a

shameless exhibit…somehow managing its task with no hint whatsoever as to how. Such a




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perch gave the hint to any interested party that they would be released at even the slightest

movement, tantalizing the watcher with each gesture…every inhalation.

       Her ultra-flat middle was expertly framed in the leafy vines and practically screamed to

her admirers to stare in that location…a display which dipped scandalously low above her nether

area. At the lower edge, the hem was a band of stretchy lace that wrapped Gina’s hips as

snuggly as her tan, and was so short that her legs looked four feet long. The brevity of that

garment made Ron gasp and lick his lips unconsciously, yet the unending spectacle of

audaciousness continued. Ron scanned down Regina’s fabulous legs, which had been firmed

and shaped from many hours on various machines at The Toner health club. Obviously her wish

to stay fit had worked extraordinarily well.

       Her slim, feminine, pretty feet were ensconced in elegant, simple heels that had one strap

around the ankle and one across the toes. That unencumbered style left the rest of her foot

utterly bare, further enhancing the feeling of exposure the outfit exuded. Also, their five inch

height stretched the already tall woman to an atmospheric altitude of six-foot-two…close to eye-

level with Ron!

       Regina posed in place for a while, just to allow his inspection. Her eyes were riveted to

his expression, hoping for the exact reaction he was giving her. Inwardly she smiled even more

than the dazzling expression on her face, and when his unblinking stare began easing up from the

floor, she took a half step and turned, treating him to the posterior view.

       The back of the little dress was nonexistent above the sumptuous swell of her derriere,

just barely hiding the cleft of her taught buttocks, and it framed her bronze, supple figure

exquisitely.




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          She paused for a few seconds and then completed her turn like a professional fashion

model, full of sultry superiority. Then she approached Ron in the same fashion as back at the

truck stop…her accentuated gait maddening to his already over stimulated male urges.

          The gentle jostle and sway of her vivacious body made his throat dry and his chest tense

with rising, unfettered lust. Those lovely blue flowers did a superb job at covering Regina’s

budding areolas, but little else in the way of concealing the plump, fleshy attributes she was

gifted with, and that pushed his hunger even further.

          Her eyes grappled with his in a showdown of fiery stares that spoke volumes as to her

intentions. She no longer hesitated, and no longer waited for him to make the first move.

Instead, she strode right up to him, pulled his dazed face to hers and kissed him deeply.

          The taste of Gina’s strawberry flavored lip-gloss and the feel of her tongue searching out

his sent Ron’s masculine needs into overdrive. He pulled her to him tightly, getting lost in the

moment of passion…but not quite lost enough to injure her. She felt the power of his embrace

crushing her yielding figure to his iron-hard one and she melted to him.

          After a long, hot few seconds, Ron felt the thermal stabilizers in his coat jump to life to

cool his rising temperature, and that reminded him of exactly where he was. Even so, he broke

his bond with his high-school friend with burning desire still smoldering in his gaze.

          “You should close your mouth, Darling,” she told him playfully. “You’re beginning to

drool.”

          His lips closed with the strawberry taste still heavy upon them, and then he grinned as

Regina strolled back to the counter of the shop, apparently oblivious to the eyes that devoured

her every movement.




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       Ron let out a long whistle then…one that expressed what any man would have felt with

such a gorgeous woman strutting in front of them, clamoring for his interest.

       Nothing at all about the ensemble was overly bright, sparkling, or flashy, but the entire

view made Ron pant!

       He followed her retreating, sashaying form to the counter where the pretty young woman

stood beaming at him.

       “Is this satisfactory, Sir?” she asked with a twinkle in her eye.

       “Yeah…I’ll say! What’s the total Brandi?”

       She slid the paper receipt across the granite surface of the counter shyly…just a little

apprehensive at what his reaction would be. She’d seen every side of the customer at such times,

and never really knew what to expect.

       Ron glanced at the total, and then at Regina, who now stood beside him in a provocative

pose…her back against the gleaming shelf of highly polished rock, and her head slightly tilted in

a sweet, pleading fashion.

       “Am I worth it?” she whispered.

       Ron’s hand slipped inside his coat smoothly, and he withdrew one of the stacks of money

he’d absconded at the bar a few days past.

       “This should do,” Ron told her, returning his attention to the sales girl.

       “Sir! This is too much! I…”

       “You had friends you had to beg for favors to get this all done, right?”

       “Why yes…but…”

       “Please tell them that I most assuredly appreciate their efforts.”




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       With that, Ron swept Regina away with one hand and scooped up a bag with her previous

clothes in it with the other. They then headed for their exit.

       “Thank you!” called the young woman behind them. “Come again!”

       The two of them were forced to walk halfway back through the mall to their point of

entry, and Regina got more than her share of gawking looks and open stares of both

astonishment and open incredulity. Ron heard at least seven firm face slaps as husbands and

boyfriends alike stood unabashedly transfixed by Gina’s exemplary display of beauty and

sexuality. She pretended not to notice, but he could feel the vibrations in her body coursing

through her. The adrenaline rush of such a public flaunting of her nearly nude figure was

exhilarating and intoxicating to the young woman.

       Once they broke out of the enclosed shopping center and into the late afternoon air,

Regina finally spoke to Ron…too overwhelmed by the headiness of all the attention inside to get

her thoughts together until then.

       “So, my handsome Sugar-Daddy,” she said while wrapping her arms around his and

leaning against him in a submissive fashion. “Where are you taking me...clubbing?”

       Ron smiled at her in a mischievous manner. “Sorry, no. I have a rather large deposit to

make, and you’re my ticket through the door.”

       She looked puzzled at that, but didn’t question him further.

       “I hope this isn’t too uncomfortable, or demeaning to you Reggie,” he ventured, half

apologizing.

       “What ever do you mean?” she countered…her face filled with surprise.

       “Well, I plan on using your devastating looks to help me out…but I can’t really expect

you to…”




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       “Don’t even worry about it. I just walked out of that store wearing a four thousand dollar

dress, twelve hundred dollar heels, and carrying a nine hundred dollar clutch purse! Every man

in that entire mall stopped dead in his tracks to gape at me, and I’m being escorted by an absolute

Adonis from another planet! I think I’ll be fine!

       “So what’s this big distraction you need me all glammed up for anyway?”

       Ron pointed across the street. “It’s over there.”

       Regina looked at the glass-fronted building briefly, but another sight caught her attention,

off to the left. There were blue lights flashing, an irate woman fussing, and about twenty

policemen loading six men into a large transport van…all in handcuffs. A tow truck was just

then winching a panel-van back onto its wheel, and three officers were scratching their heads

over the entire episode.

       “He said a guy just pushed the van over and shoved it against that lamp post…then bent

the muffler around to lock them in,” one cop was saying to his partner.

       “Well, that’s the biggest bullshit story I’ve ever heard…and I’ve heard’em all!”

       Gina shot a quick, accusatory glance at Ron. “You wouldn’t know anything about this

mess, would you?”

       Ron merely shrugged his shoulders and kept walking.

       They dropped off Regina’s clothes at the Hummer and set out to the nearest cross-walk.

       “What’s in the briefcase?” she asked…suddenly curious about the shiny new item.

       “Some papers, a few valuables, and electronics,” he replied mundanely.

       At the moment Ron and Gina reached the pedestrian lane, the light changed, allowing

traffic to go again…but it didn’t move.

       “This shouldn’t take too long Reg, I just…”




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       The cars at the intersection were still not moving, which caught his attention right away.

A quick glance around answered his initial query about why that was…and he couldn’t restrain a

broad grin. Every man behind the wheel was oblivious to the lights, and after the nearest fellow

wave for Regina to cross, all the rest did likewise.

       Ron looked at his escort and saw that the setting sun cut through Regina’s enticing outfit

with explicit clarity, completely numbing the drivers’ thoughts about where they were going,

how a delay might affect their schedules, or even what day of the week it was. They just stared,

mouths agape and eyes wide.

       “I guess we have a free pass,” Ron told Gina. “Thanks to you, of course!”

       She waved and smiled grandly at the gesturing men, and then slowly strutted across the

road, mouthing thank-yous to them all.

       Horns from back in the line of traffic began blaring, but that did nothing to start the

motorists until she was out of sight. Ron chuckled and guessed that was probably a good thing

because their minds certainly weren’t focused on driving! And who could blame them?

       “Okay, now,” Ron told Gina. When we go through the inspection area, I’ll need you to

do what you can to draw as much attention as possible. The metal detectors aren’t a problem,

but this place may have my photos your deputy friend showed you, so I don’t want them looking

too closely at me. Also, they’re using something I’m not familiar with here as well, and I don’t

want to be searched…understand?”

       She gave Ron a bright grin and a wink. “I think I can handle it!”

       They moved forward again before Gina stopped him. “Wait a second. What were you

wearing in that picture?”




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       “Well, I was in these same clothes, but I didn’t have my coat, glasses, and hat so I’m

hoping that will suffice.”

       “Yeah, maybe, but it might help if you didn’t look like a hit-man for the mob too. This

black is a bit intimidating.”

       “Oh…well, I need the coat to keep me grounded; and to hide my personal array of

protection…you know?”

       “Yeah, but a lighter color would probably be less ominous…that’s all.”

       “Really?” he said, pulling her over next to a newsstand. “What’s your suggestion then?”

       “Well,” she said, giving him the once over, “for the coat, I’d personally go for something

like…honey…you know, a light brown, softer look.”

       Ron pressed the collar of his coat and said, “Honey”.

       Instantly the black overcoat turned to a beautiful, supple, light brown shade that looked

like freshly tanned leather.

       “Wow!” Gina said, feeling the surface lightly. “That’s so cool!”

       “What else?”

       “How about if your outfit matched my dress? That would look pretty jazzy!”

       Ron opened the coat and pulled Regina close to him. He then squeezed the collar of his

shirt and said, “Camouflage”. The shirt then shimmered from black to the lighter blue shade of

her dress, and the pants mimicked the darker embroidery of the flowers. Even his boots were a

perfect match. He pulled the turtleneck collar apart in the middle and bent the edges down into a

more standard, golf-shirt collar. Next, he triggered the rim of his glasses. “Blue tint.” They

morphed from blacked out sunglasses to a chic ocean blue. And lastly, he touched his hat.




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“White.” It glistened for a moment and became snow white. Ron formed it into something

resembling a typical cowboy hat and then replaced it on his head.

           Regina just stood there like a six year-old at her first magic show.

           “Well, how’s this? Better?”

           “That’s frigging amazing!” she squealed as she stepped back and admired his new

wardrobe. “Can you get me some clothes like that?”

           Ron just smiled and moved on again.

           As they approached the entrance, Regina began to wonder what was up with all the

security...until she saw the stenciled title on the doorway…Texas Bureau of Investigation.

           “Are you sure about this?” she whispered.

           “Don’t worry. I won’t let anything happen to you. I promise.”

           Regina took a deep breath and strolled through the metal detector and into the foyer…her

heart rate sky-rocketing. Ron followed closely behind, and then took up the lead to the next

layer of security.

           “Sir, what is the nature of your visit here today?” an officer asked at the information

station.

           “We have an appointment on the fifth floor with a Mr. James Finntmore.”

           “Very well. You have to go to the second floor…up those stairs…and you can access the

elevators from there to get to the upper levels.”

           “Thank you.”

           “First though, please check in through that security station on your right.”

           Ron nodded his understanding and continued on with a casual stride of self assurance that

helped to calm Regina.




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       “Open your coat please, Sir,” the next man said sternly. “Thank you. Please proceed by

placing the case on the conveyor, removing your hat, and walking through the next screening.”

       He touched the phone-like device in his pocket and it rang immediately.

       “Excuse me a moment,” he told the guard. “I need to take this.”

       Pulling Regina off to the side, Ron acted as if he were reading a message, but he actually

scanned the area. When he was finished, he put the device to his ear. “Okay, thanks…I’ve got it.

Call you soon.

       “Sorry about that,” he said to the waiting sentry.

       Ron raised his hat enough to show there was nothing under it, but kept it between himself

and the face-recognition cameras pointed at him. The officer started to tell him something, but

Regina stepped around his concealing bulk just then…right on cue…and his focus shifted

pointedly.

       “Do I need to remove anything?” she asked sweetly, smiling her most dazzling smile and

holding her little purse open for him.

       His eyes absorbed everything accept the contents of the purse however, and failed to

make more than a slight coughing sound in reply…resigned to shaking his head negatively. As

she stepped forward, and the guard’s stare followed her incredible physique, Ron stepped

between them with a stare of a different sort. The middle-aged security officer looked up into his

angry eyes and quickly turned about to search out the next person, which there weren’t any. He

kept his back to Ron though, and took a few steps away.

       Ron nearly burst out laughing, yet kept his stern expression as he followed Regina’s

provocative trail. There were three portals on this side of the building, leading onward to the

main work stations of the bureau, and to the stairs they needed, and every operator of those




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devices shifted their positions immediately. Ron could have rolled a shopping cart full of

grenades through that check point without being questioned.

       “Do I put my purse over here?” Gina asked innocently, leaning over an extra bit to set the

tiny bag in the middle of the conveyor.

       The attendant just stood as still as stone.

       She then walked through the machine, placing her hands on the sides of the scanner’s

surfaces, as if nervously bracing herself. Three men greeted her on the other side, as she exited

waving her hand at her face as if light-headed.

       “I really don’t like those things, you know?” she said with a timid giggle.

       Two of the men just stared, but one actually collected himself enough to stop her.

       “I’m sorry ma’am…but you can’t go through with your shoes. This is an ultrasound

resonance chamber and can’t see through solids. They have to be checked in the X-ray

machine.”

       “You mean I have to go back through?” she complained, looking frightened.

       The fellow at the monitor practically leaped up then. “No, no…that won’t be necessary.

Just take them off and I’ll run them through myself.”

       She sighed heavily and then reached out to brace herself against the most muscular guard

of the group as she leaned down to work the strap on her shoe. He grasped her firmly by the

forearm to stabilize her but found that all he could do was stare at her feminine attributes. The

guy was built like a pro wrestler, but nearly fell over!

       Ron was carefully following the whole act and nearly forgot himself in the process as the

hem of her skirt crept up to an even more heart-racing, spectacular view.




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       “I guess if you boys have to search something, it has to be the shoes,” she said as the

second one pulled free. “cause there’s no room in this dress even for underwear, much less a

weapon…hah, hah, hah,” she told them with a delightful laugh.

       She held up the high heels for the inspector and he shot over quickly, almost frantic in his

wish not to annoy her. When he left his seat, Ron stepped across the scanner…pretending to

rearrange the contents of his coat’s inner pockets.

       The man returned to his station and slipped the expensive shoes carefully into the

compartment before realizing Ron had passed his check point. He saw Ron’s case, boots, and

phone, but hadn’t caught a reading of his person. If he had, he wouldn’t have seen a thing

because the coat was impermeable to the scan. Gina’s sandals passed along of course, and were

harmless, but the fellow knew his orders were to check everyone. He started to order Ron back

through. He opened his mouth to make his announcement, but paused a moment because of

what was happening.

       “Do you find my wife in need of a ‘hands-on’ inspection, officer?” Ron questioned the

guard who was still supporting Regina while she slipped back into her sexy stilts.

       The monitor operator wasn’t supposed to have left his seat…most certainly not to ogle a

man’s wife! But his sense of duty pulled at him hard, nonetheless. He glanced at his screen and

saw a way out.

       “Just a minute, Sir,” he told Ron.

       Ron tensed, but turned smoothly. “Yes?”

       “Could you open the case, please?”




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          Ron complied, and stood by calmly. He even slipped his boots back on while the man

scoured each item in the case. Regina continued eyeing and flirting with the other officers but

was inwardly frantic.

          “Would you explain what equipment, and what contents you have here, Sir.”

          “This is a digital scanner-printer. This is my business PDA. These are my papers of

authenticity, and this is my cargo.”

          Ron opened a lined compartment and the guard’s eyes flared wide.

          “Thank you, Sir. Thank you for your cooperation!”

          Ron closed the case and headed for the stairs. Regina quickly latched onto him like glue,

but looked back to give the guards one last taunting wink. Not one of them moved a muscle as

they strained to see her climb those stairs…even when several more visitors began clearing their

throats loudly behind them. If that lace would shift just a bit more…

          At last, when she was out of sight, the monitor operator grumbled, “Rich guys get all the

hot women!” and then went back to work, his face red and his pulse pounding.

          On the second floor, Regina made Ron practically invisible as they strolled right by

twenty highly trained officers, both male and female, without once being stopped…even though

Ron saw three flyers with his picture clearly on them. She snapped her magnificent hips with a

little extra pop, and merely took her time…straight to the elevators leading up to the higher

floors.

          When the doors to the lift closed, and they were alone, Regina leaned hard on Ron’s

shoulder, although he hardly felt it.

          “That was the scariest thing I’ve ever done!” she said, totally exasperated.




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        “You did a fabulous job, Reggie,” he told her proudly. “Even better than I’d hoped for.

You were fantastic!”

        He felt her trembling harshly and scooped her into his coat to hold her tightly against

him. The feel of him helped to steady her, and she was able to take a couple deep, calming

breaths.

        “All those men eyeing me like an appetizer is quite unnerving…you know? I mean it’s

incredibly gratifying, but still really frightening too!”

        Ron hugged her again. “You’re safe with me,” he softly assured her.

        Just before the fifth floor bell chimed their arrival, Gina looked up at him. Her hands

rested against his chest, as did her body to his, and her cheek lightly touched his.

        “Do ‘you’ want me like that, Ron?” she asked in a husky whisper…her breath tickling his

ear seductively.

        The door opened to an empty hallway, so Ron slid his foot in the doors’ path to hold it

open. He then turned to the woman in his arms and stared right into her lovely eyes.

        “Regina, if it weren’t for the commitments I’m already bound to, you wouldn’t have

made it up this elevator unravaged! You are absolutely breathtaking, and insanely desirable! As

it is, I have to congratulate myself that I’ve restrained my urges this far!”

        He then stepped clear of the transport and swept the floor with his gaze.

        She followed him out, thoroughly flushed from head to toe. The thought of what could

have been filled her with elation that this incomparable man could want her so badly, and yet

heart-wrenching sorrow that she would never experience such total domination at his hands.

        They went directly to the only office on that side of the floor…each elevator opening to a

single, expansive (and expensive) space.




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        There was a wide, extremely ornate desk situated at the center of a broad entryway with a

slim, petite woman sitting behind it. Her raven hair was a waterfall of curls that showered her

shoulders and dangled slightly in her gleaming brown eyes. Her attire was exciting and youthful

without being too dramatic or presumptuous.

        “May I help you?”

        “I hope so,” Ron replied. “I’m here to see Mr. Finntmore. I have something I’m sure

he’ll be interested in.”

        “I’m sorry,” she said while checking her computer, “but we have no appointments this

afternoon, and I can’t allow you through without a scheduled meeting.

        Ron set his shiny case on the mirror-like surface of black slate desk-top and opened it.

He flipped open the special compartment and withdrew one item, and then handed it to the

young lady while beside him, Regina gasped.

        “If it’s not too much trouble, would you please take this to him? If he sees it and isn’t

interested, I will bother you no more.”

        The woman took the offered item and looked Regina up and down, then did the same to

Ron. Afterward, she hurried off across the floor to the largest office…one with cut-glass French

doors and a beautiful view of the Rio Grande River.

        “Holy crap!” Gina blurted when she was gone. “Was that a diamond?”

        “Yes.”

        “It must have been five frigging karats!”

        “You have a good eye,” Ron told her, impressed with her guess.

        “How many are in there?” she asked, trying to get a good look at them.

        “One hundred in assorted sizes and cut styles.”




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        No more than thirty seconds later, the door opened again and a well dressed man in his

fifties hurried through it with the assistant pulling up the rear.

        “Sir, I am James P. Finntmore…and you are?”

        “Ronin Dangarth, a representative of the Raulden Delegation.”

        “It’s a pleasure to meet you…and is this Mrs. Dangarth?” he asked, trying desperately not

to stare too much, but failing.

        “Yes, this is Cynthia.”

        “An honor, Madame!” he said as he gently kissed the back of her hand with a deep bow.

        “Please, come with me.”

        They adjourned to his office immediately, where Mr. Finntmore got straight to business.

        “I imagine you would like to sell them?”

        “Yes.”

        “Excellent!”

        He opened a drawer at his left and withdrew a long, rolled up padded cloth and spread it

across his eight-foot-wide mahogany desk. Ron then removed the compartment from his case

and poured out the stones, spreading them evenly so they could be inspected. He then handed

Mr. Finntmore an itemized accounting of the total tally.

        The diamond broker plucked out four from the group and examined them…glancing at

Ron each time, his mind spinning furiously.

        “Forgive me, Ronin, but this is an unparalleled experience for me. These are all legal,

yes?”




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       Ron waved off his concern of offending him. “The documents are perfectly in order and

each stone has my company’s mark etched to it. You’ll also find that each is of the purest

quality attainable and the cut is absolutely flawless.

       He passed several of them under a light to check Ron’s claim and used a microscope to

read the insignia. After fifteen minutes of careful scrutiny, and many head shakes of utter

amazement, Mr. Finntmore pushed back in his chair holding a six karat, heart-shaped gem.

       “I’m afraid I don’t have the capital to cover this, my friend,” he said dejectedly. “To get

what these beauties are worth, you’d have to go straight to the biggest firm. I simply cannot

compete on that scale.”

       “What kind of offer can you make?” Ron asked unruffled.

       “The best I could do is four million now, and another five once their sold…which won’t

take long, I’m sure. There are plenty of wealthy individuals around who’d cough up whatever I

want to get stones like these.

       “Where on Earth did you get them?”

       “That is a secret my employers want to keep for now. Sorry.”

       He gently and sadly placed the sparkling heart back with the others, wishing there was

some way to lure this new business that had miraculously fallen into his lap.

       “What if…?”

       “I accept your arrangement!” Ron told him.

       He just stared at Ron…his mouth still open in mid sentence.

       “But surely you know they are worth nearly twice that?”

       “You are an honest broker…and that is difficult to find. My company has outstanding

debts that need settling, and to be quite frank about it, our CEO is appalled at the greed of the




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larger firms. They hoard stones to keep the market bare and drive up the price when they already

have more riches than they could ever hope to spend.”

        Mr. Finntmore practically burst with delight, leaping to his feet and grasped Ron’s hand

before he could change his mind. “It’s a deal then!”

        “Just one caveat though,” Ron added. “I think my bride could use some earrings, don’t

you?”

        The fellow gazed at Regina once more and shook his head.

        “I would never have imagined that diamonds would not add to the beauty of a woman,

but Sir…I don’t think they will. If truth be told, such bobbles will pale in comparison.

        “However, I do believe that every creature of such splendor should have that choice, and

so what may I do for you?”

        Ron plucked a pair of two karat round gems out of the assortment and handed them to

Finntmore.

        Could you have these set into stud backs…or would you prefer danglers, sweetheart?” he

turned to Gina.

        Her face went blank for a few seconds before coming alive again.

        “Studs are fine, Darling. Thank you!”

        “I’ll have it done immediately, while the contract is drawn up!”

        Ron and Regina were escorted to a plush waiting area while everything was readied, and

she kept thanking Ron over and over…so excited she could hardly breathe.

        An hour later, Ron signed the documents and watched the funds transferred into a secure

account.

        “And is this, Angela Allison…is she your employer?”




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        “Yes.”

        “I would very much enjoy thanking her in person…if ever given the chance.”

        “Thank you. I’ll tell her that.”

        They started to leave when the woman from the front desk quickly approached them.

        “Oh, my word! I almost forgot! Thank you Lizzy!” Finntmore said…still shaking from

the excitement of it all.

        “I wanted to give your gorgeous wife a token of my esteem. I’m afraid it isn’t the quality

of the stones you brought me, but is a rather pretty little thing.”

        He opened the velvet-covered box that Lizzy held, and removed a dazzling necklace.

        “May I?” he asked Regina, checking with Ron as well.

        It was a diamond string necklace with three layered loops at the front and a single strand,

center drop that glided exquisitely down between her breasts. It sparkled like cold, white fire.

Regina trembled and quaked when she saw it in a mirror Lizzy held, and she promptly hugged

and kissed Finntmore on the cheek.

        “Thank you, Mr. Finntmore! I don’t know what to say!”

        “Think nothing of it, M’lady,” he said as he kissed her hand once more. “I hope it brings

you pleasure!”

        When the elevator chimed on the second floor, thirty six heads snapped around,

anticipating the emergence of the goddess that they’d either glimpsed or missed the first time

around. Ron graciously allowed her the forward position, and the general reaction to Regina’s

audacious stroll past their work stations was even more dramatic than before. Three men spilled

piping hot coffee down their front, two fell backward out of their chairs while craning for a better




                                                                                                   312
view, four shins slammed into forgotten open drawers, and at least a dozen low whistles snuck

out.

        Even though it was still early in the day, nighttime had fallen by then because the winter

solstice was near, so they walked out into a twinkling, dazzling evening. There was a sharp chill

in the air as they exited the building, but Regina barely felt it…still swooning over the events of

the past few hours. Nevertheless, Ron snuggled her into his coat where she could be protected

and kept warm. That also kept any potentially disastrous distractions to a minimum…from the

motorists going by.

        The five minute stroll back to the old Hummer was extremely stimulating to Regina. She

leaned on and held to Ron as if he were her lover, and desire built inside her with every moment.

Ron too couldn’t deny the growing bond between them, especially the way she pressed her body

to his. And the scent of her…a spritz of some very expensive perfume that Brandi sold…was

nearly intoxicating.

        When they reached that horrible looking truck, Ron opened the passenger door, but

stopped Gina there.

        “I think the climb in might leave you a bit…exposed,” he told her before sweeping her

into his arms like a feather pillow and setting her gently on the cushions of the wide, iron bench.

        She just gazed into his gray eyes with the look of a lovesick teenager, and the scalding

needs of a healthy, nubile young woman.

        Ron went around and hopped into the driver’s side, quite happy about the whole outing.

He’d provided well for his family, so at least if he couldn’t be with them, he knew they would

want for nothing. His wife could be a full-time mother to their son, and only work if she felt the

desire to.




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         His thoughts about Angela and Derek however, were sidelined just then by Regina. She

crawled over to a spot next to him, kneeling beside him…her sexy high heels tossed in the back.

It was dark in the cab of the truck, even with the parking lot lights sporadically placed about, but

he could still see that the hem of her little cocktail dress no longer covered her sensual delights.

And the finely honed, innate senses of this mountain man of the Aredanz Mountains did not miss

the unmistakable pheromones that radiated from the breathtaking woman next to him. His eyes

dilated even further and his heart pounded like a sledge-hammer, until he could actually hear it

pulse.

         She stopped him from starting the engine with a delicate touch to his hand which felt like

a feather gliding upon his skin. Then she ran her fingers through his thick black hair with one

hand while guiding his to the plump, ripe mounds of her breasts, brushing her extended points of

flesh against his touch.

         Quick, quivering gasps escaped her shining, glossy lips, and her eyes fell half shut at the

promise of ecstasy that awaited her. With his large hand cradling her bosom, she felt for him,

and smiled grandly at what she found.

         “Make love to me, Ron…I beg you! Take me right here…right now! I want you so

bad!”

         She dove at him then, her lips smashing to his in her overheated need, pressing herself

against him in a frenzy of passion. Up to that point Ron had controlled his sexual drive with

remarkable willpower and steadfast loyalty to the first love in his life, but now he was in drastic

need of assistance. She was simply to beautiful, too willing, and too spectacular to resist.




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         That help arrived in the form of a bright red convertible full of college boys. They were

out drinking and cruising around the parking lot when their lights flashed across the scene of Ron

and Gina grappling in the truck…and they simply had to investigate.

         The huge mid-seventies Cadillac squealed its tires until it ended up with the high-beams

locked on the two would-be lovers, and then the whistles and cat-calls ripped free.

         “Yeah, Baby! Give it to him! Ride that cowboy!”

         “Come on, man…nail her! Plow that field!”

         “I’m next!” one of the guys yelled, jumping from the car and running over to the

Hummer with his cell-phone videoing the escapade.

         Ron moved forward and swung Gina out of sight, his passion instantly turning to

anger…anger at himself. He was ashamed at his lack of control, embarrassed by the public

scene he was part of, and humiliated that he’d disgraced Regina’s honor. That combination of

emotions forced a rumbling growl from his broad chest, and when the loud-mouth, drunken

young man stumbled against the door for a better view, he was in no mood for it.

         Ron grabbed the door handle and opened it firmly, sending the good-sized fellow sailing

back onto the hood of the Caddy. He then stepped out of the truck with his demeanor full of

fight. His first order of business was to crush the dropped phone under his heel, completely

obliterating it.

         “LEAVE NOW!” he warned the twenty-year-old men, but they were all football players

at their school, and refused his advice.

         “Hey, man…chill out!” the driver said as he and his five other friends bailed out of the

car and approached Ron. “We just want a little peek at your fine little cheecka! What’s the

harm?”




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       “If you don’t leave,” Ron told them, “you will surely regret it!”

       “Fuck you, ass-wipe!” the largest of the group told him, moving right up to his face. “I

don’t take orders from some redneck hick!”

       The youngster was as tall as Ron, and built sturdier…a lineman. He weighed close to

three hundred pounds, and wasn’t afraid of anyone…yet! Ron hesitated even though he wanted

to act. In the back recesses of his mind, he didn’t want to hurt them.

       “Hey, Baby!” yelled another of the boys. “Come on out and join our party. We’ll scratch

your itch real good!”

       The big guy stepped to the side to go around Ron but suddenly found himself in mid air,

sailing back into the car where he landed hard and broke the recline mechanism of the passenger

seat. Ron hadn’t struck him, but rather shot-putted him the fifteen feet to his landing spot.

       Three others rushed forward at that point and Ron tossed each of them onto the first in

quick succession. Two landed solid punches on Ron’s jaw, but only managed to injure

themselves in the process.

       “Get off me!” screamed the lineman as he fought to right himself under the pile.

       The driver was the first to recover. “I’ll fix this son of a bitch!”

       He slid over behind the wheel, dropped the car in gear, and slapped the pedal to the floor.

       Ron leaped up and landed on the hood with the black razor naked in the chilly Texas

night. The point of the blade fell hard with the full weight of his body driving it downward, and

a menacing growl rolling from his lips. That unbreakable length of metal skewered the engine

block with ease and seized the four-hundred horsepower V-8 in an instant.




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       At the same time, Ron’s eleven-hundred pound mass slamming onto the front of the car

bottomed out the frame and blew out both tires. The once immaculately maintained vehicle

ground deeply into the asphalt parking surface as pieces of it fell all around.

       Ron stowed the dark sword and stepped down off the crumpled hood, crushing the fender

as he did, and moved to the driver’s door. The cocky athlete’s face was mask of shock and

horror that quickly turned to rage as Ron approached. He was too inebriated to realize what

danger he was in, and so he kicked open the door to thwart Ron’s attack.

       The heavy, reinforced metal folded around Ron’s legs in a shallow U, but did no harm at

all. Ron leaned down and grabbed the lower edge of the door and surged up with a grunt,

ripping the hinges right out of the frame before slinging it aside.

       “Get outta there, Jason!” the driver’s friends yelled as they scrambled out of the vehicle

and retreated at full speed. “He’s fuckin nuts!”

       Ron leaned into the doorway with on hand on the window frame and one across to the

back door post, corralling the young man. He was seething from anger and wanted badly to

release it. A small portion burned out through his left hand as it pulled the stout frame of the

windshield down flat, shattering the glass and showering the car with tiny cubes of the stuff.

       By that point, Jason, the young owner of the car, had changed his attitude, and no longer

wanted to push the issue.

       “You shouldn’t screw around with someone you don’t know, boy!” Ron hissed at him.

       He immediately threw up his hands and hid his face from any punch that might be

coming. “I’m sorry, man…really! I’m sorry! We’re all sorry! We were just messin around!

Please…we don’t want any more trouble!”




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        Ron’s fingers squeezed the back door until they disappeared into the collapsing

metal…and then he stood up and walked away.

        Regina was cowering on the long bench seat, wrapped with a blanket…her eyes wide

with fright. She’d never seen Ron truly angry, and was terrified that he was going to kill them

all. She felt she was in a living nightmare.

        The evening that had been so wonderful…so packed with adventure and passion…so

perfectly fairytale-like…was clearly over. The expensive jewels, the dress, the shoes, and the

handbag suddenly lost their appeal. All she wanted to do then was go home.

        Ron climbed back in and stared straight forward, his jaws grinding together and the heat

of battle firmly on his mind. Regina skittered away to the other side of the truck…too unsettled

to moon over him anymore.

        The Hummer roared to life without a word spoken between her and Ron, and they drove

off into the night.




                                                                                                 318
                                                  Chapter

                                          The Other Side of Ron



          Once back at the Denk’s place, Regina felt less uneasy. At the behest of the Denks she

enjoyed a long, hot bath, and that allowed her time to evaluate everything that had happened. It

was all a jumbled, incoherent mess in her mind.

          When she’d soaked for a long while, Mrs. Denk knocked on the door.

          “May I come in, dear?” she asked.

          Regina was a little surprised, but since she was totally covered in her hostess’s bubble-

bath suds, she said yes.

          “Is there anything you need, sweetie?” Donna queried innocently. “Are you all right?”

          For some unknown reason, Regina suddenly burst into tears and poured out her story of

the events in the city, and when she was finished, she looked to the middle-aged woman for

advice.


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         “I was so scared! What kind of man is he? I feel so drawn to him, but is it all just the

novelty of our situation? Am I falling for a schitzo…some kind of Jekyll and Hyde?”

         “No! No…of course not, dear…no!”

         Donna thought for a brief moment and then said, “Obviously, I was not there…and so I

can’t really empathize with what you went through, but let me just imagine for a moment,

okay?”

         Gina nodded and wiped her eyes again.

         “You were caught in a compromising position, and that scared you. A group of men

made threats against you that scared you too. Ron did things that were very difficult to

understand…violent and nearly superhuman things…and that frightened you even more. But did

he hurt anyone?”

         “No,” Regina admitted after thinking about it. “No, not really. In fact, he tried to warn

them away. He didn’t throw a single punch…and then he let them all escape.”

         “There, you see? He’s no maniac. He’s a man who also was caught in an awkward

situation…a situation that he felt he should have avoided. In fact, he told us the entire story

before I came to you, hoping that by admitting it he could begin to purge his guilt.

         “He’s very distraught about leading you on and nearly taking advantage of you. And

having those boys make lewd threats at you really pressed his buttons. And not only that…it’s

more like he feels he’s dishonored you…that he’s no better than those punk kids. That’s what he

told Frank.”

         Regina’s outlook about Ron shifted completely with that statement…and she smiled.

After she’d literally thrown herself at him, he still accepted the blame for the incident. The more

she thought about it, the clearer Donna’s words rang in her mind.




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       “My God!” she said at last, turning to her host. “He really is a knight in shining armor,

isn’t he?”

       Donna Denk just smiled at her and then turned to leave. “Dinner’s in an hour!”

       Ron couldn’t take the chance of destroying their tile-lined facilities so was forced to use

an outside shower which only spewed cold water. Under a pair of powerful flood lights, he

stood in a large tin washtub at the back of the barn and tried to scrub away his sullen thoughts. It

was invigorating in the rapidly cooling desert air and a far cry from the sanitizer he’d grown

accustomed to, but a heck of a lot better than nothing at all.

       While Ron rinsed off under the powerful stream from an unregulated, inch and a half

hose intended for washing down horses, Reggie walked up on him, presumably to bring him a

towel. He noticed her approach once she rounded the corner of the barn, so he halted his efforts

in order to confront her. Her hair was still wet from her own bathing, and when she stood in

front of him unabashedly with her thoughtful offering, he informed her that Frank had already

provided such an item.

       “Thank you though,” he said with a light smile.

       His nudity didn’t seem to faze her much however since she lingered for at least another

couple of minutes making small talk before retreating.

       “Ron, I just wanted to tell that I’m sorry I…attacked you back at the…”

       “No, no, no…please, don’t. It was my fault for spinning your head around so

much…with the sexy clothes and the flashy jewels and…”

       “Ron!” she broke in. “Thank you for all those wonderful, insanely expensive gifts.

Thank you for finding me attractive. And thank you for defending me.




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       “I know you could never fall for me, and you explained your strategy to me ahead of

time, so I can’t lay any blame on you. Just the same, I let myself get carried away in the thrill of

the ‘super-spy’ moment and didn’t want it to end. Being with you has been such an adventure

from the moment we met again in the salvage yard. I just wanted to have one unbelievable night

with you.”

       Ron smiled and shook his head. “Regina, if you really think I couldn’t fall in love with

you, you’re wrong. It’s more like I can’t allow myself to have those feelings. It’s not right. My

devotion to my wife ‘has’ to come first…period.”

       “I know…I know. And that’s just one of the endless reasons my heart has opened to you.

And I’m also aware that I shouldn’t say those kinds of things to a married man, but I need you to

know how I feel about you. I don’t know why…I just do.”

       “Well, at least let me say thank you,” he told her. “You have no idea how flattering that

is to me. I find you truly exquisite.”

       Gina smiled sweetly at him, blushing thoroughly. There was a long, awkward pause in

the conversation before, “Donna is cooking up a small feast to make us feel welcome…uh,

and…well…don’t take…too long,” she finished.

       Her eyes constantly caressed his naked body and her mind was suddenly unable to come

up with any other semi-legitimate banter. “I’ll see you inside.”

       “Every woman I meet is more brazen than the last!” he chuckled to himself as she

disappeared around the corner.

       He finished up shortly thereafter and got dressed, but was surprised when Regina caught

him walking back to the house and urged him along.

       “The dinner’s on hold, Ron! Frank got a call! There’s trouble, and he needs your help!”




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        Ron heard a large engine fire up at the front of the home, so they went around to find

Frank backing his huge, four-wheel-drive, dually, Chevrolet pickup truck toward a large storage

shed.

        “What’s going on?” Ron inquired.

        “I’m a member of the emergency search and rescue team for this county and I just got a

call about some missing young folks. Apparently two couples went out yesterday morning for a

four-wheeler excursion in the ‘Gorges’. It’s a great place for that kind of thing, but they were

supposed to be back by dark last night and none of’em have been heard from yet.”

        “That’s not too long,” Ron told him, “so why all the fuss? They might just be out having

a good time. You know how it is.”

        “Yeah, I do…but one of the girls’ dad is the Sherriff, and he’s not to happy about his

little angel being out all night. Add to it the fact that for the last few hours it’s been raining hard

north of here, so there could really be a problem if they’re still in the canyons.”

        “Flash-floods?”

        “Yep!”

        “Let’s roll! Regina, would you come with us? We could use the extra eyes!”

        “Donna’s coming too,” Reggie inserted. “She’s getting some extra packs made up.”

        “Okay, but I’m pretty well set,” Ron told her.

        “Ron,” Reggie whispered when they were separated from the Denks, “what about your

super-gizmos. Got anything that might help?”

        “Yes, as a matter of fact, I do,” he admitted, flipping across a list of Raulden characters

until he reached the right one. “I’m checking, but it looks like there aren’t any satellites I can tap




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into for a live thermo-graphic relay. Visual would do no good at all, of course. In fact, I don’t

see any transmitting com-sats at all…anywhere.”

       “What’s a com-sat?”

       “Sorry…communication satellite. Darlile!” he called with no reply. “Darlile! Come in,

please!”

       “What is it? What’s wrong?”

       “I’ve lost my com-link with the ship!”

       “What? I’d have thought that’s impossible.”

       “It is…I mean, it should be. The range of the Darlile’s communication is limited due to

its location…an extremely remote place where it couldn’t be easily found…but we were sure that

wouldn’t be a problem because it just tapped into the global satellite network. So I can’t be out

of range, unless the entire orbiting array is down.”

       “Maybe it’s the solar storm the news was talking about?”

       “That’s possible…I guess. At any rate, we have more important things to get to right

now. We’ll deal with this afterward!”

       Five minutes later, they were roaring down a dirt road on their way to the middle of

nowhere…and two hours after that, they found themselves parked next to the missing group’s

truck and trailer. There were already three police cruisers and a pair of Sherriff’s SUVs in the

area, as well as a vast array of big lights. The sun was long gone by that time and the posse was

assembling under those bright floods to get their search grids. Six men with horses and a dozen

deputies beside dirt bikes and four wheelers made up the party…aside from Ron, Regina, Frank,

and Donna.




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       Ron was once more sporting a blacked out look in his wardrobe, and kept his hat pulled

down. He was almost a shadow in the night. While Frank coordinated with the leaders of the

search party, Ron looked at the tire impressions all around the parking area and waited. Frank

walked back a few minutes later with his assignment.

       “They headed off that way.”

       The truck driver was also an experienced outdoorsman in his own right and scanned the

same patch of dirt, looked in the direction Ron indicated, and then at the ground again.

       “Man, there’s gotta be a hundred tracks out here! How can you be so certain?”

       “The tire trail from two vehicles back out of the trailer here, go over there for a bit where

they did a few donuts…probably to impress their dates. Then the girls got on here…see the

smaller prints…and finally they drove down that cutout and headed southwest.”

       Frank stood there puzzled, happy, and impressed, because he saw none of it.

       “Okay then, let’s get our machines unloaded! Would you help me with the ramps?”

       Ron smiled at the man who was taller and broader than him. He tossed his coat and hat

in the back of the truck

       “Not necessary. Just release the tie-downs.”

       Reggie complied with his request and Ron grabbed each of the four-wheelers by the

frame and set them on the ground. The rest of the searchers gawked in amazement, and then

burst out laughing.

       “Holy mackerel, man! That’s really handy!” yelled a guy sitting on his palomino pony.

       “Ron,” Frank instructed, “this one’s the most heavy-duty, but your body’s load will be a

real strain on it, so watch any big drops or jumps. Regina, that one’s yours. Donna, take your




                                                                                                 325
usual ride. Ladies…you stay up here where it’s safe. Ride along the ridge…Ron and I’ll scoot

down there. There are trails to get out every couple of miles or so, Ron.

          “Okay, check in every fifteen minutes…right?”

          Frank passed out walkie-talkies to each of them, and they immediately split up. Down in

the gorge, the trail was obliterated by so many vehicles criss-crossing, even Ron had to revert to

the more normal method of exploration. He’d memorized a topographical map of the ravines for

twenty miles in every direction during the drive to the kid’s abandoned truck, so now he knew

roughly what to expect from this outing and flew along as fast as he felt the machine could

endure.

          He and Frank separated at a fork only a mile into the expedition and they blasted along

the deep, sandstone cliffs for another two hours before…

          “I think I see them!” Donna Denk radioed, peering through powerful binoculars at a tiny

fire in the canyon. “There are two machines down there. One’s upside down with a bent rear

axle and one looks buried under a rockslide. There’re three people…a man and two

women…and the guy seems to be badly hurt…laid out flat…maybe dead. One of the girls is

limping badly and the other is sitting against the cliff with her knee wrapped up. The other

man…I don’t know. I don’t see him.”

          “Where are you, sweetie?” Frank called.

          “About six miles southeast of the parking area we left from. At the tip of Rattler’s

Bend.”

          “On my way!” “Me too!” called Frank and then Ron.

          Ron caught up with his partner twenty minutes after he was on the scene and they began

planning the extraction. Frank already had the injured man taken care of…strapped to a back-




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board with a neck brace, and the girls were beginning to calm down, so he took a few moments

to survey the surroundings. He could see Donna’s silhouette eighty feet above them at the top of

the rim, and she waved to him.

       “Reggie’s headed back to the truck so she can use the stronger radio to call for the

helicopter. That could take a while, but they’re too far away for the walkies.”

       “I’ve got it!” Ron interjected, pulling out his Raulden phone. “Darlile, patch me into the

police band in my area.” There was no response. “Crap!” he grumbled before flipping through

more functions to find the mode he needed. The device cycled across the bands instantaneously.

There was a sharp chirp directly, when Ron was connected.

       “Frank…here. They’ll be more likely to respond to you than me. Tell them we are at

these coordinates…here in the corner.”

       A minute later the formerly stranded group was celebrating the news that the choppers

would be there shortly.

       “We’ll have to get them out of this ravine,” Frank told his agreeing partner. “The

helicopter won’t be able to get down here.”

       “And it’d be a dicey cable drop too, with the winds blowing up there,” Ron added.

       “Exactly.”

       “Any sight of the last guy?” Ron yelled up to Frank’s wife.

       She shook her head to the negative.

       Ron gave a nod and returned to help the big trucker. The injured young fellow from the

kids’ party was banged up pretty badly. He was only semi-conscious and delirious.

       “What happened?” Ron quietly asked Frank…trying not to get the girls frantic again.




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       “They don’t know exactly. Late yesterday evening, they were headed back to their

vehicle when a group of about six or seven dirt bikes blasted past them, just over there. The

bikes were running open pipes and the sound was deafening, they both told me. Anyway, the

next thing they knew, the whole eastern wall of the ravine came down. The girls woke up this

morning and found their transportation destroyed, their friend here, unconscious, and the other

fella gone. They figured he went for help, and thought he’d been successful when we showed

up.”

       Ron stood, touched his finger to the side of his Raulden glasses to get the best contrast

setting, and walked around the scene for a minute before returning to pull Frank aside.

       “No one else has come by in a long while, and there are no tracks leading out of here. If

he’s missing, he’s underneath that,” Ron told him, indicating a pile of earth and rocks the size of

Frank’s big rig.

       The glasses couldn’t penetrate the rubble so Ron was inclined to scan the pile with his

hand-held, but didn’t want to brandish too much of his techno-wizardry just yet…at least not in

the crowd.

       “I can’t get a reading through that. There’s too much dirt. It’s absorbing the signal.”

       “If he’s in there,” Frank mused, “he’s toast. Let’s get the girls and this dude out

first…then worry about him.”

       They broke out a stretcher and got the man on it, strapped him to the back of the machine

Ron had been riding, and then Frank drove away to the next access trail, a mile and a half away,

with the crippled woman following him on the other machine.

       The other girl was in no mood to do any more riding, vehemently protesting when Frank

told her to go with her friend.




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       “I’m not getting on one of those things ever again!” she told them with wide eyes, while

backing up against the cliff in open fear.

       She was near hysterics before the rescuers finally agreed to accommodate her through

another avenue of extraction. At least they’d come prepared for almost anything. Donna often

helped on many of these search and rescue missions so she didn’t hesitate to come up with an

alternate plan. She chained her four-wheeler to a nearby tree and then dropped a rope down to

Ron. He assisted the girl, Sheila…the one with the limp…as she slipped into a climbing harness,

and then Donna worked her 4-wheeler’s electric winch to aid the girl while she climbed out.

       As that young lady crested the lip of the ravine, Ron turned to the debris pile with a

heavy heart. He started in where the back of the riding machine could still be seen, dragging

away huge boulders until it was freed. He still had no sign of the man he suspected he’d find,

but…

       “Ron!” yelled Donna from above. “It’s Gina! You’ve gotta get outta there! She’s back

at the truck and the gorge is already filling with runoff! Here! Take this!”

       She threw him a pair of her ropes, each capable of carrying his weight, but using two just

to be certain. Ron paused in his work for a moment and listened. He could definitely hear the

prelude of the flood coming…echoing down the narrow gorge. He took another long look at the

massive pile of rubble, and let out a disheartened sigh.

       “Well, he’s probably dead anyway.”

       Staring to the north once more, he could now see the beginning of the torrent to come

reflecting off the powerful Q-beam lights Donna had positioned above. It was only a foot deep

but moving fast, so Ron turned and started up the wall, hanging on to the rope with one hand and

walking slowly up the vertical face of rock, letting the winch pull him up.




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       He could have jumped most of the way and scampered up the rest quickly but chose not

to. He was curious about the approaching event, so he watched the muddy sludge of water,

rocks, and all kinds of debris, rush past his position with deep interest.

       The level of it rose very quickly…two feet in mere seconds…and the roar grew until it

vibrated the sandy walls.

       Halfway to the top of the gorge, his attention was grabbed by a clatter of stones behind

him, so he pivoted as well as he could to see what it was, still slowly walking upward at the pace

of the electric winch. What he saw in the beam of his flashlight made his heart lurch.

       A large section of earth dropped away as the water eroded its base and he glimpsed a

protruding booted foot. That would have been gut-wrenching enough, but the foot was wriggling

and twisting.

       “Oh, shit!” he blurted as he released his hold to the safety line and plunged earthward

once more.

       Frank was up there by then, assisting Donna in monitoring Ron’s exit, and when they saw

the rope suddenly jerk and fall limp, they both ran to the cliff’s edge.

       “Ron!” Frank shouted, panning the surface of the sludge. “Son of a…I can’t believe he

fell! How could he have?”

       An instant later they watched as his head burst up from the mucky water and shake like a

lion’s mane. The torrent was already waist deep and rising fast, but Ron stood against it like a

stone pillar. The Denks saw the movement of the trapped boy then.

       “My God! That guy’s still alive down there!” Donna screamed, but Frank was already on

the move.




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       He tied himself to the rope Ron had been using and dropped over the lip in a blink. Two

kick-offs later he was hanging just above the roaring water, watching an impossible rescue

taking place.

       The boy was immensely fortunate because the landslide on top of him was made up of an

aggregate which had surrounded his body yet still provided protection from the main component

of the pile; an enormous boulder. That huge rock presently set directly over him though, and

kept pressure on his prison of stones…too much for him to move out from under by himself.

Apparently the cold fluid rushing about his body revived the young fellow enough to get him to

cry out.

       “Help! Help me! Hel…”

       “I’M HERE!” shouted Ron, standing in the violent flow like the stalwart pilings of a

dock. “STAY CALM. I’LL GET YOU OUT!”

       With that, Ron dunked into the filthy liquid and began hauling out rocks from beneath the

boy, but when he came up for air, the boulder shifted in the worst conceivable direction…right

towards him!

       “Look out!” yelled Frank, pointing upstream and waving madly.

       “Todd!” screamed one of the girls who’d limped her way to the edge of the cliff.

       There was a tree speeding at them, and Ron saw it just in time to brace himself. Any

normal man would have been pummeled by the forty foot long, eight-inch diameter chunk of

living wood, but Ron caught the root-ball and held his ground…and got an idea!

       He fought the tree hard, forcing it against the current’s unending power until it was

wedged under the outermost part of the boulder and against the cliff wall. He then braced his

shoulder under it and heaved with all his strength.




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       The movement was only slight at first, as the boulder shifted, stopped, and then rose a

full foot. Ron was straining mightily, but still demonstrated the presence of mind to reach out

and grab the boy by the shoulder. Todd’s head was barely above the water and he was squirming

as hard as he could, twisting and writhing in the muck, frantic in the thought he might drown.

When he felt Ron’s hand grab him, he thought some sort of mechanized clamp had latched

on…a new type of rescue equipment possibly. However, when that iron-hard grip tore him free

of his trap, he expected to see steel and cables, not a large man bent underneath the trunk of a

tree in the middle of a raging flood.

       The water tried to wash the boy away but the undeniable power of Ron’s grasp stayed

any attempt at that. Ron was gulping for more air, the task draining him quickly, but couldn’t

turn around in his predicament to see what was happening. He was resigned to his faith that his

rescue partners were doing their best to help, so he just hung on…praying they would make it

before his body ran out of precious oxygen and he collapsed.

       As it was, his hopes were answered in mere seconds when a harness splashed next to

them and the boy looped it over his free shoulder and head. Todd’s legs were both broken in a

couple of places and he was in great pain, letting out a high pitched shriek of agony as the

rescuers hauled him up, but his focus was on survival, so he held tight.

       His reaching safety was the good news. But the bad news was really bad. Three things

happened at once as soon as the boy was pulled clear. First was the fact that the rushing water

finally washed out much of the dirt and rock foundation supporting the majority of the boulder’s

weight, and it toppled. The second was that Ron’s enormous load went with it and pushed him

forward, off balance. And the third was nearly as bad when more debris came flashing through




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the water and a rolling rock, the size of a typical bedroom dresser, struck him on the single,

firmly supporting appendage, buckling his leg instantly.

       He had barely a split second to gulp in a breath before he was crushed to the bottom of

the newly formed river…the tree and boulder both pinning him firmly in place.

       Ron fought like a wild animal to get some leverage back, but he was flat on the sandy

floor and could not. His mind raced for possible scenarios that would allow him to survive this,

but the only one was the chance the water might eventually rise enough to roll the big boulder

away…but could he hold out long enough?

       Suddenly he felt a hand on his arm, then it moved up to his head, and then, when it

located his face, a tube was shoved down to him. Ron was startled, concerned, and then grateful

when he bit down on the tube and air began pumping into him.

       It was Frank! When Ron went under, he remembered his new friend’s recounting of the

incident on the bridge and immediately yelled for his wife to toss down the portable air tank he

brought along for emergency flat tires and such. He felt an undeniable certainty in those

moments; this superhuman man he was united with could survive if he could just breathe long

enough. With that thought he braved the rushing flood and leaped out as far as he was able, and

then fought through the inundation to reach him.

       Once the hose was delivered, Frank clung to the tree’s roots for as long as possible, but

the water was still shooting up and getting stronger. At last, the battering he was enduring took

its toll and he lost his grip, instantaneously washing him downstream to the end of his rope. At

that point, he was more than ready to be pulled back up to safety…but his eyes never left the spot

of his comrade’s dilemma.




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       Those on the bank were all huddled on the edge of the canyon by that time. Regina was

back and nearly fell in when she heard what had happened…her legs giving way at the mere

concept that Ron could be gone. She helped Donna haul Frank out and up the embankment,

working the powerful winch for her, but her eyes flowed tears of deep sorrow and desperation as

she searched the torrent unblinkingly for the man her own heart clung to. Even when Frank

flopped to his back on the safety of the plateau, heaving from the strain of his rescue effort and

sputtering dark, murky water, she refused to accept the loss of such a tremendous man.

       “Come on, Ron!” she ordered…willing her strength to him by mental projection. She

was down on her hands and knees at the rim of the fifty foot gorge; her heart racing as if it was

her under that mountain of mud and water. “You can’t go like this! You can’t die like this!”

       Ron drank in the air with renewed vigor…and waited as patiently as he could. A minute,

then two went by as he regulated the pressure and air flow by clamping off the hose with his

teeth…only taking it in when he absolutely had to. Two more minutes ticked away, then three,

until eventually he felt a new movement. The water finally reached high enough on the boulder

to topple it, and when it started, he surged anew.

       Sliding to Ron’s left, the giant rock kicked the tree trunk to the right ever so slightly…but

it was enough to get his left forearm up under his shoulder. At that point, the entire landslide of

material began to bulge upward. Lightened by the water’s buoyancy and natural dissolving

dispersion, the mound of rocks and dirt could no longer withstand the mighty foe it had tried to

imprison. Ron Allison was on the move!

       The large tree raked across his back and the roots caught the air tank, ripping it from him

instantly as the flood waters once more took control of the dead and battered length of wood,

sending it speeding along. Ron was left with no oxygen, standing in twelve feet of raging,




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muddy liquid, so he didn’t hesitate even one second, reaching for his blades immediately. With

one long, blue dagger in each hand, he started scaling the hard-baked wall of the death canal.

His feet had nothing to grip to, so it was just his hands and shoulders to do the work, which

turned out to be more of a chore than he expected because he was constantly pounded by semi-

floating debris as it churned along.

       The young people turned away, the two girls sobbing uncontrollably…guilt-ridden for

having caused his death; already having given up on Ron surviving…but not Frank Denk, and

not Regina. He was up again and kept a line ready to throw even after his wife expressed her

heartbroken sadness at Ron’s heroic demise. She stayed beside them, knowing why Gina

couldn’t give up, but wondering why her husband would not face the obvious. He had already

done an insane act in getting the air tank to the doomed hero, and she worried he might be

planning another fruitless attempt…until she saw the impossible.

       “Almighty Lord in Heaven!” she cried when Ron’s hand flew out of the dark water and

slammed into the cliff wall. “He’s alive!”

       Pausing only a brief moment to gasp for air when his head broke the surface, Ron

continued upward as if he were climbing a ladder.

       Frank was already on the run to a spot that would get him the closest to Ron’s position.

He tried to yell across the gorge, but the roar of so much water was too great to breach, so he

waited anxiously. If he could just get the safety line to Ron before he slipped or fell!

       Ron continued up the dirt wall like a machine, his chest heaving in the thin atmosphere,

until he hauled himself over the edge and fell to his back, exhausted and lying flat out. His shirt

was torn and ragged, as were his pants, but he gave them no consideration while he lay there for

a several minutes.




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        The rescue party, on the other hand, erupted with cheers and congratulations all around,

sharing hugs and thanks to their answered prayers. Regina tried to rise, but fell back, as drained

as her Hercules across the way. Donna hugged her a bit and then went to check on her husband.

By the time the tears were wiped away, they were already retelling the amazing feats of the

rescue like the final minutes of a Super Bowl game.

        A short while afterward, Ron felt recharged enough to sit up and search out his friends, at

last giving a big wave to let them know he was okay.

        After he looked himself over carefully and got to his feet, he saw they were trying to tell

him to stay where he was…that they would arrange for someone to pick him up. Ron merely

waved the suggestion off and turned around. It was many miles to the nearest bridge spanning

the gorges, and he just didn’t feel like waiting. And too, he didn’t want to have to explain his

“uniqueness” to any newcomers just then. He walked a couple hundred feet further away before

whirling about and facing them again.

        “What’s he doing?” Donna asked her husband with the three alerted young people staring

after him as well.

        “I don’t know. It looks like he’s…oh you’ve got to be kidding!”

        “What?” inquired Karen Nunez, the Sherriff’s daughter. “What’s he going to do?”

        Frank just smiled when the realization of what was to come hit him. He quickly turned

one of the bright lights to illuminate the ground beside them, leaving the other lighting pointing

at the far rim, closest to Ron.

        “Ya’ll watch this!”

        Ron dropped his shoulders, leaning into a deep crouch, and then took off at a dead

run…moving so fast they all blinked in disbelief. The ravine was easily eighty feet from side to




                                                                                                   336
side and Ron made the leap look like he was jumping a puddle in a parking lot. He landed with

no problem and only a few extra steps to halt his momentum…although the ground appeared as

if a cannon ball had been fired at it.

        Regina hit him at a dead sprint as soon as his momentum stopped. She crashed against

him hard enough to make him stagger, and hugged him as tightly as she could.

        “God, Ron…I thought you were gone!” she said in his ear with new tears

streaming…tears of relief. “I can’t believe you made it out of there! You scared the shit out of

me!”

        “Sorry, Reg,” he told her affectionately, pulling back and wiping her worried face. “But

I’m fine…see?” He gave her a peck on the lips and a big, boyish grin, then took her hand firmly

and walked fast over to Frank and gave him a big bear hug.

        “Thank you, my friend! If not for your quick thinking and fast action, my corpse would

be washed downstream by now.”

        “You’re welcome, Ron…and might I say…well done! That was one hell of a rescue,

digging him out!”

        “Man, that was radical!” Todd told him when Ron walked over, completely forgetting his

own painful adventure. “Hey, man…thanks! I don’t know who you are, or how you did it, but

thanks!”

        Ron just smiled. He was covered with grit and crud from head to toe and smelled like

mud…yet still, everyone stared at him like he was a true to life Superman.




                                                                                               337
                                 Chapter Twenty-One

                                 Cache Meets the President

       After the Cnaut delivered its urgent message, the serenity of the Caronian mansion

disappeared for a short while. Cache’s blood ran cold as she was overwhelmed with thoughts of

exactly what the warning meant: “Under attack from whom?”

       The Kreete was her first reaction of dread, but it only lasted a moment since their realm

was mostly in the opposite direction from Earth. Following that, she considered the other

predatory species her ancestors had come into contact with…plus the dozens of others at the

newest fringes of the Triad’s reach. There were several she investigated before Rauld’s initial

encounter with her bloodthirsty brethren. Adding to the mix the possibility of almost countless

areas of this one galaxy yet to be explored, and she nearly swooned. It was overwhelming!

       “Father, we have to help them!” Josy announced, completely disregarding the Gitoves’

self imposed seclusion from other worlds. “We cannot stand by while Ron is…”

       “That is not possible, Josy!” replied her giant brother. “No matter the reason, we are

resigned to Caron for the remainder of our days. You know the restrictions of going off-world.

Such an option is now gone!”



                                                                                                  338
       She then looked to Cache, pleading with the petite Raulden through tear-welled eyes.

“Please, Cache…we must do something!”

       Cache’s mind was already five steps ahead of her though, and her supercomputer brain

was ramped up to full speed, calculating scenarios and crunching the numbers on probabilities.

Her only real worry was her daughter.

       “Caron, or Rauld?” she thought…never really expecting not to return, but planning for

the contingency anyway.

       One would give Sheyah absolute safety, yet confine her to a sterile, severely insulated

life. The other would be the exact opposite. Caron was primitive and harsh, exciting and

dangerous…but this life would be filled with unfettered love and challenges. She’d be free to

run and tumble and climb and fight; and she could have friends to play with as well as pets. She

could live on a world were “outside” was not a foreign term, where sunshine and dark were

everyday occurrences, and where the beauty of the heavens could be seen on almost any given

night. On Caron her emotions would be free to soar to the usual highs and dive to the bottom of

despair…to truly live! Here she could eventually find love and share it without constraints,

either physically or mentally.

       Cache had battled with this very situation for many Santaris while she carried the child

within her, weighing each lifestyle for all its pros and cons. The advanced Rauldens could make

her one of the finest minds in the known universe, of that she doubted not at all. Sheyah could

travel the stars one day like Cache had always wished to do, and see things no human had ever

experienced. But that life was rampant with its own drawbacks…ones Cache herself was all too

familiar with. Constant limits to her desires and abilities had been like the bars of a cage.




                                                                                                 339
       In the end, Cache decided her baby’s present was more important than what might come

about in the future. She would live with the Gitoves! If, for some reason Cache and/or Ron

were never able to return, she would eventually grow up enough to access the cottage and seek

out her Raulden half. Aanlis and the other Council members were well informed of the situation

and would do everything in their power to assist their little girl. That seemed the best of the

choices available.

       To those standing in the dining hall of the expansive home, her deliberation was barely a

moment in time.

       “I shall leave immediately to give what aid I can to Ron and his planet. Josy, I know this

is much earlier than we had discussed, but would you…”

       “I will take good care of my little niece…of that you can be sure.”

       “And I shall stay here until your return, little mother,” Karne pledged. “No harm will

befall this one while I breathe air!”

       “Thank you, Karne,” Cache told him, placing her small hands on his massive one. “That

truly does set my mind at ease.” Then, turning back to Josy, “I just fed her but I can synthesize

more when I reach the cottage. I will bring some back…”

       “Not to worry, Cache,” Josy said, trying to calm her. “My species was bred for nurturing

children. I can lactate whenever I need to, so fear not…Sheyah will not miss a meal.”

       Cache’s expression was one of surprise, relief, and awe, all at once. She felt a quick

twinge of jealousy at Josy’s ability to fill all the gaps she found in her own limitations, but also

she had to be extremely grateful, because this raven-headed beauty’s gifts seemed tailor made for

the problems at hand.




                                                                                                   340
       It was a heart-wrenching few minutes as the golden haired mother said her goodbyes to

her daughter, but Cache knew time was vital and so delayed very little. The scientist and warrior

in her pushed to the forefront, to put the pragmatic needs of this new mission ahead of the

emotional ones, and soon she was sprinting through the downpour for her cozy home…off to

dive headlong into another interplanetary war!

       Less than half a billot later, she stood on the deck of the replica Darlile, the training

simulator of the intergalactic space ship she’d developed and constructed. The vid-screen

showed a perfect depiction of its position, resting on the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, on Earth.

       By the time she was notified of the emergency and able to get back on her home world,

the dark super-ship was already surrounded by isolator nodes. Those drones were well designed

to cycle through millions of layered communications scrambling frequencies, corrupting all

information going to and from the ship.

       Cache first tried to transport directly to the Darlile, it having a Kuar Starflex Portal

station on board, but the link to it was not stable enough for her to utilize. The jamming

equipment of the aliens was causing it to fragment and falter.

       Aanlis tried desperately to lock the gateway open, but to no avail. It was one thing to be

able to exchange electronic data, and an entirely different matter to transfer a living being, so she

relayed the com signal to the simulator in order to allow Cache to go over the data exactly as it

would be on the ship.

       Upon the instigation of the transporter…the Darlile prepared for Cache’s arrival and

came fully back to life, restoring the primary support systems she would require, the lights and

temperature to a comfortable level…up from the dark and frigid, ambient climate of the deep

water. All of these conditions were mimicked perfectly in the simulator.




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       As Cache slipped into her pilot’s chair the screen burst into operation and began a time-

lapsed replay of the past few days. Over the next twelve straight billots, she poured over the

recordings and swept the global communications network to acclimate herself to the general

knowledge level of the natives. It was a crash course in Earth’s social and economic views to be

sure, but she focused the majority of her time on those of Ron’s home country, so the spectrum

wasn’t quite so daunting.

       After that, she forced herself to eat, shower, and sleep, hoping a change in the status of

the situation might arise while she retired from the strain of the day. She was an extremely

disciplined woman, and her unique ability to shut down her thoughts enough to rest, despite the

stress, was a tremendous asset, especially this day. Six billots later, as dawn broke on Earth the

next morning, she was fresh, alert, and working again, combing through the latest data the ship

had been able to absorb and relay.

       Two billots more clicked by before Cache made a decision about how she would proceed.

It was bold, almost crazy, but time was heavily against her, so she felt she must act…and fast.

       She stood up from her seat, took a deep, cautious breath, and asked, “Darlile, would you

please locate the President of the United States?”

       “Affirmative.”

       She watched the fleet of ships inbound toward Earth and her anxiety level soared.

Whoever these intruders were, they didn’t look very friendly.

       “He is at these coordinates,” the male voice told her stoically, displaying the point on a

map of the world that quickly zoomed in to encompass only a city block.

       “Thank you. Can you confirm if it is safe to launch a portal probe through the alien

barrier?”




                                                                                                    342
         “Affirmative. At present the obstruction is strictly a communications disruptor.”

         “Then send it to that location immediately!”

         She saw a small indicator flash onto the screen by the time her words were completed.

         “It is away.”

         “Very well. How long until it reaches the site?”

         “One-point-one-five billots.”

         Cache then began assembling what she would need for a meeting with a man of such high

political importance. Certainly he would be well guarded and they, in turn, would be well

armed…at least by Earth standards. Being the anal retentive person that she was, she

systematically gathered, organized, and then packed each of the items she required.

         The final half billot of her wait was spent reading the latest sensor data the Darlile was

able to accumulate before the planet’s rotation blocked those signals. The only downside to the

Raulden’ ability to survey the incoming fleet was the fact that this same approaching armada had

been warned by the scans too. They would know immediately that some device of high

technological abilities was on the planet, monitoring their every move. It was also a given that

by the time Cache had reviewed the data, they knew exactly what they were dealing with, and

were already trying very intently to limit such interference. So far they were doing a pretty good

job at it.

         Sitting in the Darlile simulator on Rauld, with no way of contacting Ron, and absolutely

no answer to the question of how she would get her ship back, Cache felt dire, icy chills running

through her. She was aware of the threat…a species that were mostly known by stories and

theories from long ago exploration, but believed to be real enough to have put warnings on those

recordings…warnings of the most serious kind.




                                                                                                  343
       As the time slowly dragged by, Cache waited impatiently, pacing the cabin of the black

ship’s mock-up like a caged tiger. She kept going over and over the speech she’d use…and

hoped to the Guardian that it would work.

       When the allotted period was up, she stood next to Aanlis in the Raulden transport

facility, mentally scrolling through her preparations. The communications expert deftly glided

through her duties and locked onto the appropriate target. A simple touch of her finger and the

bridge between worlds was established and ready for use. Only the actual target need be

selected. She double-checked the readings and turned to give Cache the “all clear”, but an erratic

surge stopped her in mid breath.

       “What was…?” Cache began.

       “I do not know. Everything was normal…and then a spike in the signal at the relay buoy

caused me to almost lose the connection. We will have to investigate that before you can use the

Portal…”

       “No, there is no time. I have to transport to the new coordinates immediately. Open the

link and see if the problem recurs.”

       Aanlis did as Cache requested and they both watched for abnormalities anxiously. After

a few moments though, and no repeat of the strange glitch, Cache turned to the Matter Transfer

Portal’s chief operator and gave a new order.

       “Send the pinger.”

       The probe the Darlile launched was programmed to home in on any signal assigned to its

guidance computer. So when Aanlis dialed the ultra-private cellular phone the President of the

United States had designated to him personally, it moved to within twenty feet of that location




                                                                                                  344
before the leader’s device rang twice. To the earthlings, the probe’s ability to bend light around

its slender shape made it practically invisible, so they were totally unaware of its proximity.

        The American leader was out on a golf course, entertaining his Russian counterpart and

his top advisors with a relaxing morning’s escape from the pressures of their respective titles.

        When President Garner stepped up to the seventh hole, par four T-box, the buzzing of his

phone startled him quite a bit, and he jumped back as if stung. He looked about at first…not

realizing that the tickling on his upper thigh was the device in his pocket. It was extremely rare

for him to ever receive a call on that phone, its number being known by only a handful of

individuals, most of which were present at the outing. The only other was his wife, so he

naturally assumed the message was from her.

        He pulled out the slim device discreetly and checked the originator cue. It said “Out of

area”. He cautiously glanced to his Chief of Staff who instantly glided over to his side to look as

well.

        “It must be a random caller,” the Chief said, puzzled, “a freak glitch.

        “I thought that was impossible. Aren’t there filters and firewalls to prevent a stray call?”

asked the President.

        “Of course. This should not be…”

        “Is there a problem?” asked the Russian leader.

        The security team continuously sweeping the area saw nothing to give them alarm, and so

was taken totally unawares when a lovely young woman with a long plait of golden hair was

suddenly standing only a few strides away from their position.

        Four guards rushed toward the Presidents immediately, placing themselves between the

intruder and their charges. At that point, a dozen guns were drawn and leveled at the graceful




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beauty. She stood where she was quietly, trying not to seem hostile, and allowed them all to

situate themselves into a somewhat less apprehensive posture.

           She was wearing a long coat, much like the one Ron wore, and for the same reason, but

hers was a soft lavender color with dark violet trimmings instead of the chameleon garb he wore.

It was perfectly tailored to her feminine physique, open at the front, and had a high collar which

added a level of elegance and sophistication. (She had perused the Earth inhabitants’ use of

lady’s fashion and style while lounging in her cottage on Caron, after Ron first set off from the

Darlile on his mission. She was curious about what earth men found attractive.)

           Under her overcoat was a very sensual jumpsuit similar to the ones she often wore around

Gammone. It was form fitting and clung to her exceptional figure as if glued to her…the upper

half designed with a rather generous portion of fabric left out around the cleavage of her alluring,

ripened bosom. She originally intended to use such attire to excite Ron’s favor, had she been

fortunate enough to catch up with him, and it was probably not the proper way to be seen as an

alien ambassador, but as it was, her garb was the last thing on her mind.

           “Stop right where you are!” ordered the head of Secret Service detail.

           Cache did as she was commanded, outwardly calm and docile but inwardly almost

frantic.

           “Mr. President,” he continued, “I think we should get you out of here. She breached our

security perimeter, so I can’t guarantee someone else hasn’t done the same.”

           The two powerful leaders felt no threat from the petite, comely visitor, although they

would’ve both agreed such a determination would be hard to make with any certainty. They

looked to one another for a brief second, and decided to venture a question out of pure curiosity.




                                                                                                    346
       The American Commander tapped his human shields to the side so he might look at her

directly, and his Soviet peer did the same.

       “Where did you come from? Is this some kind of demonstration?”

       “I am from a planet called Rauld, far from here…more than two thirds the distance across

the galaxy you call ‘The Milky Way’. It is known to us as Shatzar Golashe; ‘The Guardian’s

Palate’ in our common language. And, yes, I suppose this is a demonstration.”

       The two leaders exchanged looks again, but this time they were of incredulity.

       “Did she just say what I thought she did?” the Russian asked.

       As a reply, Cache spoke to him directly…in his native tongue, and with an accent which

mimicked his own region’s…a slightly peculiar one for a Russian citizen.

       He stood motionless after that, his mind reeling.

       “Alright,” the U.S. President said, “if you are from another planet, what reason could you

possibly have to protest here?”

       Cache’s translator did not differentiate the common slang uses and meanings of

demonstration and protest, so she was confused for a moment.

       “I am not protesting sir,” she said uncertainly. “The demonstration I mentioned has to do

with a threat I have come here to warn you about…well, in fact, I can show you.”

       She swept aside her long coat to reveal a slim device, about the size of a small laptop

computer, draped at her side.

       The security men leaped into action again, burying the two leaders under their bulk.

       “She has a bomb!” one of them announced.




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          The next few moments were a blitz of motion and response to that simple, yet onerously

compelling statement. Shots rang out as no less than six rifles could be heard from the perimeter

of the golf course, and bullets sped toward that guiltless, charming woman.

          She was startled by the reaction to her innocent move, but her preplanning was superb as

usual. Those deadly lead pellets simply vaporized when they got within six feet of her person in

a glorious example of her world’s incredible achievements in the scientific field.

          When the echoes of the weapons’ reports died off and the gorgeous interloper still stood

calmly before the group of men, a new set of worries began. The commander of the protection

team sprang up and into action…his pistol at the ready.

          “Fire!” he bellowed as he emptied his clip at Cache, and two of his detail copied his

tactic.

          When their attempts to end the threat met with results which were less than desirable, the

security team’s captain attacked her straight away, yelling back at his men…”Get them out of

here!”

          His frontal assault forced Cache to make a counter maneuver she’d hoped to avoid. Her

dainty left hand rose up with a device resembling a cellular phone, but functioned much

differently. There was a flash of blue light from the object and the officer’s legs instantly

changed from powerful, surging propellants of muscle and bone, to limp, lifeless appendages that

couldn’t support the clothing he wore much less his impressive physique. He dropped to the

ground hard, as if having suddenly fallen completely asleep, his arms askew and his face buried

into the short grass.

          “Please forgive me for that!” Cache shouted pleadingly. “He is not dead…merely

unconscious.”




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       The blast that incapacitated the lead agent was concentrated on his figure, but the power

of the weapon carried on like a wave, washing over the closest men. They each swooned and

dropped to one knee, and one man retched on the ground.

       “I am sorry!” Cache repeated her consternation at her action. “But I could not let him

reach the disruptor field! He would have been killed instantly!”

       The Secret Service Agents then tried to haul away their charges, still very disoriented

from the effects of her tiny weapon. They stumbled and pulled at the two Presidents who’d been

spared such grief because of their shielding bodies, and would have provided them little

protection if needed, but they did what they could.

       “WAIT!” ordered Cache in a commanding tone. “I am here only because it is of great

importance! You must here me out!”

       President Garner pulled up at her plea, easily resisting the dazed and confused guards.

He then assumed control as the true leader of the group.

       “Hold on, men!” he told them, turning back to face the pretty blonde who just swept aside

his finest protective measures.

       “Hal, check on Kevin. Make sure he’s alright.”

       It took a few moments to comply, due to the heavy fog in the men’s heads, but after

another minute, they determined the lead agent was in fact alive. Garner straightened himself up

from his tussle on the ground and took a few steps back toward her…his Russian brethren

copying his move.

       They stared at her then for nearly thirty seconds before speaking, trying to get a read on

her intentions, but her calm, placid demeanor gave off no clue as to her mission. Garner finally

broke his gaze for a brief moment…glancing about the fairway they’d all been walking down,




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searching for anything else that might be awry. Nothing within his visual range appeared the

least bit ominous.

       “I mean you no harm, so would you please ask your riflemen to lower their weapons?”

       “What?” the President asked. “Who?”

       Cache pointed first to the left…then to the right, and then behind her.

       “The long range marksmen there, there, and there. Please ask them to stand down.”

       He glanced to one of his guards and nodded, issuing a silent order to comply. The man

whispered into a tiny, hand-held microphone and then looked at Cache. She pulled out the slim

module she’d originally reached for and confirmed their standby status.

       “Thank you,” she told Garner.

       “Now, exactly ‘who’ are you…and why are you here?”

       “My name is Cache Kuar…and I have come to save your planet.”




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                                   Chapter Twenty-Two

                                               The Trap

       By the time Ron, Reggie, and the Denks made it back to Frank’s home, Ron had missed

the scheduled window to call his father, and so accepted the Denks’ hospitality for another day.

       They spent it cleaning up the machines, as well as recharging and refitting the equipment

to be prepared for the next outing. Ron took the opportunity to take inventory of his possessions,

and to get patched up and changed into his spare clothing. Regina had no hesitation when he

asked for her to assist him in some of his more hard to reach places, and took note that she was

very cautious and attentive to his injuries.

       Donna cooked a huge midday meal and then they all took a long, recuperative nap

afterwards. As the sun was setting that evening, Frank got the call saying his load was ready.

       “This is goodbye, my friends,” Frank told Ron and Reggie. “I’ll be gone for a week this

time and Donna’s coming with me, so you two take care. Ron, there’s no way to express how

much meeting you has both enlightened and inspired me. I hope to see you again one day, but I

also realize that’s remote at best. Good luck in your quest. Whatever the outcome, I hope it will

work out for you.”

       “Fate will have its way,” Ron told them solemnly. “Of that I am certain.”




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       “You have the run of the place,” Donna instructed Reggie with a strong hug, and not a

hint of concern. “You two are welcome any time!”

       Ron and Regina thanked them and watched the big truck amble down the road. It was a

sad moment to be sure, but also was tinged with appreciation and respect from both pair toward

the other.

       They spent the day relaxing and talking. Regina rode one of the Denk’s horses and Ron

raced alongside for the thrill of it. He had a grand time in the light gravity and played like a

child on a trampoline.

       The next morning, precisely at the designated time, Ron made his phone call and waited.

He had to borrow the Denks’ land-line telephone due the fact that Reggie’s cell-phone still didn’t

have a signal, and the one Cache had given him was somewhere southwest of the rescue site…at

the bottom of the muddy, debris strewn, temporary river. It, along with his glasses, was

forcefully removed from him by his liquid foe during the flood.

       Three rings went by, then four, and at six, he began to think it would go

unanswered…but then…

       “Hello?” Ron asked tentatively when he realized the ringing had stopped.

       “You have thirty seconds,” said a very terse man, “starting now. This is a secure line, so

how did you get this number?”

       Ron recognized his father’s voice immediately.

       “By a mutual relative. Have you not spoken with him?”

       “Yes, but I am not as willing to believe…and if this is some hoax…!”

       “I understand. Let’s meet and discuss it.”

       “Where are you?”




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       “In El Paso, Texas. Give me your location…or some place to rendezvous.”

       Ron really hated the loss of his chrono at that point, as well as the phone which was his

only direct communication with the Darlile. He could have known instantly where the caller

was and exactly where he was headed. As it was however, he had to copy down the GPS

coordinates and find a map.

       “Be there at sundown!” Click!

       Ron had expected some resistance, but the man on the phone was exceedingly angry and

he wondered about that. Maybe his being risen from the dead was more of a shock than he

thought it would be.

       Ron went to Frank’s dually truck for his onboard GPS unit. He turned it on, but “no

signal” was all it would read. “Damn…it’s still dead,” he grumbled, but remembered seeing a

good assortment of topography maps in the shed…from the days before GPS. A fast glance

through them relieved his worry. They were well made, with the latitudes and longitudes on

them as well as elevation.

       Half an hour later, he and his pretty sidekick were loading up the Hummer.



       “Is your team assembled?” questioned Arvide Doogin of his subordinate.

       “Yes sir!” replied Teirle Graehm. “They’re ready. We just need a location!”

       “Good. Our asset finally paid off. The rogue is coming out of hiding. Here are your

orders.”

       Graehm smiled as he read them. “This is just too easy!”




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        Regina was sleeping in the back of the Humvee when Ron pulled off the highway and

started down a small asphalt road leading northwest from Roswell, New Mexico, into the desert.

The landscape was desolate yet beautiful, having gentle hills covered in scrub-grass, cacti

scattered across the flatland, and dramatically colored mesas dotting the horizon. The change in

the sound of the tires brought her back around and she eventually crawled to the front.

        “Where are we?”

        “About an hour from Albuquerque. The directions are showing we have to go up there

into those hills.”

        “Does that seem right to you?”

        “I don’t know. Maybe there’s something out in the desert to make them feel safe.”

        Another hour’s journey saw the burned out old Hummer diving off the paved road and

onto a well-worn dirt one…something more suited to its abilities. It was pock-marked with deep

holes and large rocks which produced an extremely rugged ride, but eventually delivered them to

their goal.

        By Ron’s calculations they were getting very close, and as he crested a modest hill he

stopped the truck abruptly. Down in the shallow valley before them was their destination. A

motor-home matching the less-than-detailed description of the one his parents were suppose to

own was parked outside a large warehouse, or hangar. That building was adjacent to an old,

abandoned industrial park with its own private airfield.

        Ron dug into his pack and fished out the binoculars. One fast sweep of the surrounding

locale made the little warning bell in his head begin to ring. The sky was clear, with a strong

breeze blowing in from the northwest, and the view was one of utter desolation…as if this place

had been abandoned for years. There was a paved road to the facility coming in from the north




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which dead ended at the buildings. Evidently that was the way the coach had traveled, because

there was no way it would have crossed the kidney jarring road he was on, nor the two other dirt

paths that ran off east and west.

       There was also a nice circlet of hilly ground to the west which could hide virtually

anything if this turned out to be a trap…and that possibility concerned the fearsome warrior

greatly.

       After watching the placid scene for half an hour, Ron drove on in, where he immediately

went to the rear of the motor-home and began unhooking the car his folks towed.

       “Regina, I want you to take this car and get started back. I don’t like the looks of this

place. I think my natural affinity for trouble might be warming up again.”

       “But I want to…”

       “Not this time,” he cut her off firmly. “I went along with you before, only because I

really didn’t see too much danger, but now…I don’t know…this…is not right.”

       “I can’t leave you all alone in the middle of nowhere!”

       Ron went to the front, left corner of the car and felt around until he had the hide-a-key

storage box his dad always used. He popped the key out and handed it to Regina.

       “If I’m wrong and this is all just a strangely located safety-measure of my father’s, then

there’s no harm done and I’ll follow behind my parents. If I’m right…then things will be getting

way out of hand…and I don’t know what I might be forced to do. I’ll call you later when I can,

but with cell service still down, it may be a while.

       “Thank you, Regina…for everything. You’ve been a good friend and a great travel

companion. Here’s something to help get you home.”




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       He hauled out the leather coat he obtained in the “Leaky Drain”, and handed her the last

two stacks of money he’d been carrying all along.

       “Are you serious?” she blurted as she saw the bills. “This is twenty thousand dollars!”

       “Drive to the nearest airport and fly home. Just leave the car there. My folks can get it

some other time.

       “Take care of yourself, Bean. I’ll always be in your debt.”

       After a long, emotional hug, she complied with his wishes, but there were vivid, salty wet

streaks on her cheeks as she pulled away. She was totally enamored with him, and wondered

why he’d come into her life if she was doomed to never be able to pursue him.

       “You go on now,” he told her gently.

       It wasn’t fair! She wanted so badly to stay with him…trying to imagine some impossible

scenario in which they could be together. Undeniably however, his incomprehensibly complex

situation made it all seem moot, so she clamped her jaws into a smile and waved goodbye,

certain she would never see this incredible man again.

       Ron watched until the silver Vue was out of sight over the farthest hill more than two

miles away before turning to the building and approaching. The heavy coat he wore was

equipped with the best Raulden technology for the environment. In the heat of the New Mexico

desert he was immensely grateful for the built-in cooling unit Ketlical had designed.

       He checked his arsenal carefully, extremely thankful for having a change of clothes in his

pack after that harrowing rescue in the gorge ruined his primary wardrobe. Anything Earth-

made would have been terribly fragile and couldn’t have accommodated all of his weapons. One

more long, deep breath of the meager, hot air, and he pulled open the door.




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       A quick glimpse of the interior revealed not a thing other than the fact that the room was

large…the echoing clatter of the door latch bouncing around inside for several seconds. It was

pitch black, hot, and the billowing air escaping smelled stale, telling Ron no one had been here in

quite some time.

       He looked over the outside terrain once more and then stepped inside, stopping short

when the door shut to allow his eyes to adjust. He tried to be patient, pausing several extra

seconds, but it was no use since there were no windows, and so none of the sunlight could make

it inside. He decided to prop the door open to aid him…but when he pushed against it, it would

not release. He felt around for a knob, or bar latch, but there was none.

       “Shit!” he growled. “You stupid, trusting…”

       Ron ran his fingers along the edges of the frame and then put his foot to the task of

reopening the portal. The resounding report of his attempt echoed powerfully about the room,

but the door did not budge!

       This was a trap…and now he was assured of it.

       At that point, Ron resigned himself to the reality of his position. He’d been lured into

this place, and now he had to play into the game of whoever was in charge. The questions he

needed answered now were simple and direct; did his father set it up, and was he in collaboration

with his uncle? If not, how else could they have known about his strength?

       He set off to the right, feeling along the wall for the next door that would permit his

passage, and found it shortly thereafter. Still in the blackness, he walked down a long hallway,

one where his fingertips could just touch both sides, and came to another door.

       On the far side of that however was a dimly lit, expansive space which was obviously the

main section of an old aircraft hangar. The ceiling was ninety feet high and there were huge




                                                                                                  357
doors at both ends filtering in light enough to let him see the general layout. The entire vacuous

space was empty, but the thick coating of dust told a different story.

        He tested the air gingerly, catching the distinct smell of musk…from multiple sources.

Cocking his head this way and that while probing the void with his ears yielded even more

information warning him to turn around, but he decided to spring the trap anyway. He walked

out to the center of the vast expanse of smooth concrete and stopped, turning slowly about one

full turn.

        “All right!” Ron shouted to the dimness. “You wanted me…and here I am!”

        As if a bucket had tipped, the ceiling began to rain, but instead of water, it was men!

Fifty fully outfitted soldiers suddenly whizzed earthward, their ropes fairly whistling as they fell.

Ron stood his ground, his hands bare and to the side submissively, but his heart began to churn.

        As a hundred booted feet struck the hard concrete, there was a new set of echoes. First

were the release clips of repelling harnesses, then the slapping of stocks to shoulders, and then

the unmistakable click of the safeties being flipped to the off positions.

        “You were foolish to show up!” announced the voice from the phone.

        “Possibly. But I had to try…didn’t I?”

        At that instant, the sodium lights far above began to hum as their ballasts received juice,

and a pair of men began the long walk to the center of the room from an opening at Ron’s left.

They were barely into the space when Ron recognized one of them, even in the marginal

lighting.

        “Dad?”

        The approaching men continued their stroll easily, as if in total disregard to the question.

They were in military dress uniforms, and both were wearing the insignias of Generals…the




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sight of which surprised Ron greatly, since he thought his father had retired at the rank of

colonel.

        The fellow on the left outranked Ron’s father, but it was not he who spoke first.

        “Who are you?” asked Kurt Allison. “And why do you pretend to be my son?”

        “I’m Ron Allison…and because it’s true. Dad, you don’t need all these men. I’m not

here to hurt you…or anyone. I came back to explain what all has occurred during the span of

more than two years since we last saw each other. Dad, I came back for Angie!”

        The men both stopped twenty feet from Ron, staring at him like a specimen in a cage.

        “I won’t let you within ten miles of her!” General Allison growled.

        “So you do know where she is?”

        “You did not answer the question. Who are you?” interjected the other leader.

        “Dad, it’s me…Ron…I swear!” he said again, ignoring the other man.

        The men just stared longer, but Ron could tell their minds were in high gear.

        “Ask me something only your son would know!”

        Kurt Allison was in no mood to play games with an obvious con-man however. His son

was dead!

        “We’ve dealt with your kind before,” he said. “We know what you’re capable of…and

we’re ready for you. Surrender your weapons and hit the floor…spread eagle!”

        Ron looked slowly around at the number of men and the weaponry.

        “No. I will not surrender. But if you want to talk, then let’s talk…here…in front of your

men!”

        “Pacification!” General Allison ordered. “Now!”




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       With that, there was a loud explosion from above as a net instantly ejected from an odd-

looking cannon mounted in the ceiling. It spread to a fifteen-foot diameter, having inch and a

half braided straps making up the webbing, the kind used to secure heavy cargo aboard aircraft

and ships. It struck the floor of the hangar hard with twenty pitons instantly burrowing eight

inches into the concrete. Ron ducked from the blast and then was forced to his knees by the

speeding, hefty net as a dozen men rushed in on him, apparently attempting to subdue him with

their numbers. It didn’t escape Ron that three of them held heavy shackles as well.

       Ron struggled for a moment to better brace himself, straining mightily to stretch the

unforgiving, Kevlar reinforced material up enough to…the men were nearly there…get a firm

foot under him for leverage…

       “Aaaaaarrrrrrrrgggggghhhh!” he grunted as first one, then both of massive legs joined in

the battle, and a moment later half of the anchors ripped from the floor.

       The attacking men leaped forward and tried to reinforce the net’s hold on him, but Ron’s

upward surge foiled five of them because of their position, entangling them instead. The others

were left to face him unhindered. Ron slapped two of the soldiers in the chest and drove them to

the floor. The next three seconds saw the demolition of the remaining group in a frenzy of

blistering hand-to-hand combat. The assault ended only after numerous broken bones and

concussions were evenly spread about…except for Ron of course.

       “Please…do not attack again!” Ron begged them, tossing one set of the manacles to the

ground, far away from him. “I do not wish to harm your soldiers!”

       “Phase two…take him!”

       A rapid shift in the closest troops resulted in six Taser rifles shooting their darts at Ron

simultaneously. They were not the normal weapons the police toted either, but rather had




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hardened, titanium tips which should have easily penetrated any clothing and dropped their target

in an instant. Unfortunately for them, the material they hit was well beyond their

knowledge…and well designed for such an attack. The outer layer of the Raulden coat stopped

and snared those flying needles, hanging onto them in preparation for the next phase…and as the

darts each delivered their charge of 500,000 volts of electricity, Ron spoke one word.

       “Combat!”

       Instantaneously the fine cables connecting the darts to their power sources were

overwhelmed with a reverse current pulse. The weapons exploded in the hands of their wielders

and six soldiers hit the ground wracked with convulsions and on the verge of cardiac arrest.

       Ron Allison stood where he was…uninjured.

       The advanced clothing Ron wore then began to change swiftly, morphing into a new

protective garment. Its leather-like, flexible outer surface realigned its makeup into tiny scales

which locked together seamlessly and was extremely adept at dispersing a load upon any impact.

The only break in its surface happened to be the point where the black sword’s handle now

clearly protruded.

       All those who’d hefted that ankle-length coat had wondered at the reason of its immense

weight, and now that question was answered in totality. It was the finest chain-mail garment

ever woven, and designed to safeguard its wearer to the extreme.

       The ordinary looking collar drew together at the front and molded to Ron’s neck like a

turtleneck sweater, armor plating one of his body’s weakest points. His boots converted as well,

and the rim of his hat drooped, bent, and twisted until it covered his head like a helmet. When

complete, it joined with the top of his collar and instantly pressurized itself to the ambient




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standards of Caron, a pressure that would allow him full strength, and full endurance. Inside the

chink-free armor was a perfect sensor view of the world around him shining in his eyes.

       To the mesmerized soldiers surrounding him, it appeared to be a thick, eyeless ski mask,

but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Ron calmly slipped his hands into the pockets of the

coat where a pair of gloves was waiting to seal him in completely, utterly insulating him from the

outside world. His backpack melded to the surface of the suit, its own outer layer changing to

match, and inside, a compact compressor whirred to life to provide his oxygen.

       “Do not attack!” boomed his deep voice across the hangar, modified and amplified by the

advanced battle gear.

       Three large men rushed up from the outer perimeter, each carrying a weapon that had a

huge barrel resembling a mortar tube, and when they were clear of their comrades,

they…(“Don’t!” Ron shouted in an angry warning)…fired!

       The projectiles weren’t explosive rounds, but rather were heavy bolos, connected by

quarter inch braided steel cables, and each could easily take down even the largest man.

However, the prey they hunted was a different story.

       The defensive reaction Ron met them with was purely instinctual and blinding fast.

       His only accessible weapon was the indestructible ebony blade across his back, and when

the men dropped to one knee and fired their guns, Ron also dropped to a low stance. He spread

his feet wide to secure his balance and brandished that long, shadowy razor out front, it flashing

into the fray held in both his iron-hard hands. The three flying snares were directed at three

different levels, hoping that at least one might either hinder or incapacitate their victim, but the

results were less than optimal.




                                                                                                   362
         The two cables striking midway and high met with a cutting surface that knew no equal,

its edge tapered down to a mere molecule’s width, and anchored so firmly it may as well have

been set in granite. The braided steel cables simply parted like sewing thread. The attached

metal weights continuing on to strike members of the military group where they bowled those

men over with ease. Luckily they were all wearing heavily padded, bullet proof outerwear, so

they weren’t killed. The lowest flying bolo made a perfect strike, but whereas the typical

function of the weapon was to wrap tightly about its quarry, to ensnare the victim with a snug,

inescapable cable, the coat registered the impact and rejected the attempt, remaining wide and

rigid. The heavy weights collided and then dropped to the concrete floor. Ron stood up slowly

again.

         Next was a wave of twenty huge, helmeted, riot-gear men sporting thick, plastic body

armor. They came pouring in from side doors, whirling batons with one hand and brandishing

shields in the other. Ron slapped the first three aside with one arm, dropped low with a swinging

leg that cut down another four, and then put his shoulder into the nearest fellow’s shield,

breaking his arm and sending him sailing over three more. He struck the following five each in

the head with the side of his blurred hands and ejected another three from the fight with his

boots. They all dropped like broken match-sticks. In less than six seconds, seventeen of the

troops were debilitated…yet Ron still stood!

         “Dad! Please stop! I am not here to fight. There is no need for…”

         “Shift objective!” announced the ranking officer. “Eradication level one!”

         “What?” General Allison asked. “Sir, we were only authorized to…”

         “Silence! I’m in command here, General!”

         Suddenly Ron’s viewer flashed a warning. Something had targeted him.




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       “Shift two peors!” he ordered, adjusting his electronic signature to a false location.

       “Fire!” yelled the General beside Ron’s father.

       Exactly six and a half feet from him, the concrete exploded as a twenty-millimeter

Gatling gun delivered a four hundred round burst of explosive-tipped ordinance into it.

       “Geez…this is outta control!” Ron thought as debris showered the area.

       “Damn!” growled the strange General. “Weapons free! Fire!”

       “Don’t!” he pleaded.

       Ron’s plea was drowned in a sea of ultra-hardened, armor-piercing bullets designed

specifically to penetrate the best protective vests available.

       He withstood the assault well, none of the projectiles breaching his advanced shell, but he

knew he had to end the conflict, and fast! As thousands of pellets either flattened against his

body or ricocheted away, he surged forward with all his speed, straight at his father. In the last

instant, when the soldiers ceased fire to keep from shooting their superiors, Ron opened his coat

and encircled Kurt Allison with it while he tossed a single small object over his shoulder.

       On impact, the marble-sized grenade erupted with an intense explosion specifically

engineered to disrupt the neural pathways of Earthlings’ brains, putting every man within a

hundred yards into a temporary coma.

       The entire military force fell to the floor like rag dolls, and lay motionless as the echoing

reverberations continued for several seconds. Ron scanned the area once more before he

released his struggling parent and stepped back. The General immediately drew his sidearm to

defend himself but his son snatched it away from him without delay. Another quick sweep of the

hangar followed before Ron stepped back and spoke again.

       “Standby!”




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        Once more, the heavy coat transformed, only this time back into its more casual, less

ominous appearance.

        “What have you done?” asked General Allison as he looked at the bodies all around.

        “They are not dead!” Ron said calmly. “They’ll sleep for a couple of hours though…and

will have pounding headaches when they wake up.”

        “Just who the hell are you? You’re not one of those we normally hunt…I can see that

now.”

        “Who?” Ron thought but couldn’t speak before his father continued.

        “Where’d you come from? And don’t even try to lie to me, because I know alien

technology when I see it! What do you want?”

        “I am your son, Dad. I came thousands of light-years from a distant star to return here. I

am the pilot of the black ship that visited Earth two years ago. As far as what I want…that’s as

simple as it gets! I want to see my mother, my wife, and my child.”

        “This can’t be! You’re not the man I raised! I would recognize my boy!”

        “Ronnie?” called a feminine voice from the corridor leading to the hangar.

        Ron’s head snapped around with amazing quickness, surprising his father who jumped at

his movement. He saw the figure of a woman he’d known his whole life, and recognized her at

once.

        “Momma?” Ron answered with a tremor in his throat…a little boy’s joy and relief

bubbling to the surface. “Mom…it’s me…it’s your Ronnie!”

        “Jess, wait!” her husband cautioned with growing skepticism in his own certainty.

“This…I don’t…it just can’t be true!”




                                                                                                365
       She walked out into the vast open space of the hangar and stepped forward hesitantly, yet

she didn’t stop. Her hand was at her breast, trembling visibly, but her fear and trepidation did

not halt her progress, even while weaving the way she had to through the unconscious men

strewn about.

       There reunion was slow, as she stared and studied and wondered and wished. Ron used

all his patience during those tense minutes, wanting to rush to her and scoop her up…but he

refrained.

       Finally she was at arms length, her husband close by and wanting to stop her, but for

some reason he did not.

       “You’re so tall…and your eyes!”

       “I know, Mom, but I promise you…it’s me!”

       He knelt down so she could get a better view of him, and she gazed at him long and hard,

turning his smiling face one way, then the other. Finally, she found her voice again.

       “What stuffed animal did I make you for your fourth birthday?”

       Ron let out a huge grin at her question, remembering it vividly. She was going through a

phase back then, and she’d sewn each of the children, the nieces, and the nephews a toy animal.

       “Eeor. The donkey from Winnie the Pooh! I drug that thing around for three years!”

       “Oh my God!” she cried…her hand over her mouth in absolute shock. “It is you! It is!

Oh, Ronnie…my baby!”

       They embraced for a long while as a mother’s grief turned to happiness, her despair to

jubilance, and her sorrow to utter bliss. Her prayers had been answered, even though she’d given

up on them long past. It took a little more time, but his father finally accepted it as well. This

man was his son…his brother had not been duped.




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         “What have I done?” General Allison finally said, disgusted with his lack of faith.

         “Don’t worry about it, Dad…truly!” Ron told him with a wave of his free hand. “How

could you possibly know?”

         He took his turn at pulling his boy into his embrace as well, and they all laughed so

hard…until they’d recovered enough for the soldier in him to return. At that point he gripped

Ron firmly at the shoulders.

         “I know how this will sound, son, but you can’t delay here. We’ll have to continue our

reunion some other time. There are others nearby…from the ROF. That’s who the other

General worked for…a liaison to the group. We were ordered to meet with you and hold you

here for some high official to question…someone I’m not privy to. This attack was not

authorized…other than by him, and you can bet he didn’t come alone. You have to get out of

here!”

         “You said something about others…like me. What did you mean?”

         “It’s too long a story, Ron, but to hit the highlights, sporadically over the years we’ve run

across some men who have shown incredible physical abilities. They all came from Russia, so

we thought they were some sort of genetically engineered men. I was one of very few soldiers

assigned to a part of the military that was sent to find, capture, and study these…abnormalities.

         “The time I was late for my return, when you were a teenager…do you remember?”

         “Yes,” Ron replied, recalling the event clearly. His father had been extremely distant for

a long while, as if he’d been right to death’s door and had somehow escaped it.

         “I went out after one of these “rogues”, as they’re called. My Delta Force team was the

very best…ten men in all. We tracked him into the foothills of the Allegany Mountains, and




                                                                                                   367
thought we clearly had him trapped. We couldn’t have been more wrong! He was unarmed, but

he turned the table on us with incredible ease.

       “He could do things that ‘men’ could not! Like what Kyle said you can do!

       “We were on the run from him for two weeks, until he slowly wiped out my whole squad

before I was lucky enough to lure him to a trap I’d devised. It was so simple and foolish on my

part…a desperate move, but he’d become too confident, and ended up taking the bait…me.

       “He was only three feet away and gloating about how he was from a superior race,

accidentally trapped on this pitiful world, and how he loathed everything about Earth. I figured

he was either telling the truth, or completely demented, but it didn’t matter at the time. I was

highly trained in hand to hand combat, and damned good at it, but I don’t doubt he would’ve

snapped me in two had he reached me.

       “Instead though, his desire to get to me clouded his judgment and he stepped on a patch

of unstable ground…too soft for his body’s immense weight. He fell from a thousand foot

cliff…and even then I had to go to the body and check it because I wasn’t sure he was dead…he

was that tough. From what you told Kyle though, I guess he was telling the truth. He must have

been from one of those ‘heavy worlds’ you spoke to your uncle about. We never caught one

alive, and the scientists that took the bodies never told us anything about them.

       “One other thing too, Ronnie…whoever they are, they have some kind of super-

camouflage! That’s how he evaded us. I don’t know if it works during the day, but at night…I

swear, the guy was absolutely invisible!”

       Ron wondered about what race might have visited Earth, and for what purpose…but it

didn’t seem to matter just then so his mind went back to his original mission.




                                                                                                   368
        “Mom…Dad…I’ve got to find Angie! Please! Do you know what happened to

her…who took her?”

        His folks exchanged a long, hesitant stare before Kurt answered the question.

        “Try to understand, Ron,” his father began. “She was hounded by the press, by nuts, by a

dozen government agencies that had nothing to do with anything of any real issue.”

        “Then you do know who kidnapped her!” he said with his hopes shooting straight up.

        With another quick glance at his wife, he replied, “I arranged it all!”

        Ron’s expression was utterly blank. “You? But she was…you could’ve…I…”

        “She was wearing out, Ron,” Jessica Allison interjected. “The constant stress, raising the

baby alone, her work, and the continuous reminders of your untimely death…it was all just too

much…the poor dear. We could see her slipping further and further away from the life you two

had planned…the life any normal family could have. It was tearing us apart inside.”

        “Your mother and I found a place where no one would know her, where she could find a

job and work around her child’s needs, and where she might at last sleep again. Then I talked a

few guys from my old command into taking care of things. It was all kept very well hidden. She

simply vanished one day, and was never heard from again. The sedative we gave her was fast-

acting but harmless, and when she came to, the evening of the kidnapping, we were already

halfway across Texas. That’s when I explained our plan to her…giving her the option of

rejecting it, if she so wished.

        “Her folks already having passed on made the difference for her, and after a couple of

days to think things through, she saw the wisdom in our plot and agreed to accept it.




                                                                                                 369
        “Everyone just assumed it was the government’s doing, and so they eventually let it go.

As far as the big investigation into the Black Ship, she’d never been much of a lead into anything

anyway, because she was totally oblivious to the entire ordeal’s true meaning…wasn’t she?”

        Ron felt the guilt pressing on him again with that statement. All the turmoil she’d been

through was his fault. He’d ruined her life.

        “But I didn’t mean to…”

        “No, no, Ronnie,” his mother told him. “You can’t blame yourself! How could you have

known? We all know you wouldn’t have gone away if you’d had a choice.”

        “So you know where she is!”

        Once she was settled into her new life, Kurt swore to his daughter-in-law that he would

never divulge her location. He and his wife went through painstaking care to avoid being

followed whenever they traveled to see their grandson…even to the point of keeping her secret

from their siblings. No one could know. But now it was different. This was her husband…the

father of her child. He had every right to the information, and also, she had the right to see her

love again.

        “She’s in a little suburb of Flagstaff, Arizona,” Kurt said while he wrote down the

address. “Here, son. We’ll have to stay well clear of course,” he added, indicating the hangar

full of downed men, “until this mess is all over with. Good luck, and God’s speed to you!”

        They exchanged hug’s all around one more time before…

        “The military is bound to be watching this station from orbit, right?” Ron asked.

        “They would be if they could, but the system’s been shaky for a couple days now and the

last I was told, it’s still down.”




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       “All right then, one last thing…I don’t want these people suspicious of you two, so you

need to take a whiff of this,” he told them, handing them each a small capsule. “It will knock

you out for five or six hours and look like you were incapacitated along with everyone else. That

should relieve you any undue questioning…okay?”

       They nodded and accepted the substance.

       “The casings will evaporate in about five minutes once broken.”

       Ron left his folks then, to set out once more, this time to a fixed objective…his wife.




                                                                                                 371
                                 Chapter Twenty-Three

                                              Escape



       Ron stepped out of the hangar and went to work. With his armor restored, he swept the

horizon carefully. It was just the way he feared. He could see nothing out there…but the sensor

capabilities of the suit he was wearing were fairly limited since he never expected to go to war in

it. It was only supposed to keep him safe in a tight spot.

       The sun was just setting in the western sky and casting gigantic shadows all about, so he

used that natural visual cover to keep him as hidden as possible while he worked his way back

around to the Hummer. The oppressive heat of the day was already quickly dissipating and as

the temperature change stirred up a gentle breeze, Ron took in the sounds and smells of the open

desert. He heard the calls of half a dozen birds, a pair of coyotes coordinating a hunt at least a

mile away…and of course the endless chatter of insects preparing for the coming night. The air

sifting through his filtered headgear smelled of dust, wild flowers, a dead animal located a

quarter mile to the west, and the unmistakable scent of two-stroke engine exhaust. At first, he

hoped to make it to the truck and at least get started away from the building before the cavalry

showed up, but he only got halfway there.




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        From the southwestern perimeter Ron detected movement and froze in his tracks. His

camouflage suit turned him into a dark point in a much larger shadow and he half-heartedly

expected it to be enough, but that wasn’t the case. What was out there was not about to be

deterred, or fooled so easily. He zeroed in on a pair of fast moving motorcycles instantly, the

kind with wide, oversized tires that wouldn’t sink into the sand. They were half a mile away and

picking up speed, driving with their lights off…no doubt using night-vision goggles. His

inspection continued by switching to the thermal imaging mode of his equipment, where he

easily found another interloper with a “star scanner” scope pointed right at him. That fellow was

the spotter…the coordinator of this new attack.

        Ron visually swept the area in his path to the truck and saw several caches of

construction materials…and one of those was a stack of fence-support poles for a partially

assembled corral which surrounded the power station of the facility. Apparently, before the

complex was evacuated, the safety officer was in the middle of commissioning a new, higher

fence for the electrical junction.

        He broke into a dead run for that stash of pipe.

        Even with the added weight of the chain-mail-coat Ron could really move, so before the

cyclists could get to him, he stood with a twelve foot long length of galvanized pipe gripped in

his gloved hands. He felt good, not winded or weak like he had in his previous excursions, and

when the two men closed, they quickly found out how over-matched they really were.

        At fifty yards the attackers pulled automatic weapons on Ron and began firing. He heard

and felt the impacts, and was somewhat puzzled at them because they didn’t feel like the bullets

he’d already experienced, but he didn’t have the time to investigate. What Ron was missing




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were the flashes of electric discharge radiating from each impact. His helmet did tap into the

com-signal the riders were sending back to their superiors however.

          “The null-charges have no effect on him, sir! What now?”

          “Go to plan theta!”

          The biker pair peeled off sharply when they were close to Ron, but not soon enough. He

whirled the long, metal staff with blazing speed and smashed it into the front wheel of the cyclist

on the left with enough force to rip the handlebars from the driver’s hands and slam them to the

stop. The bike instantly cart-wheeled and sent the rider flying through the air more than forty

feet, where he struck the side of the hangar violently.

          Ron continued his maneuver around as the other sped past, but now the pipe was in his

right hand like a spear, and when he heaved that fifty pound shaft with all his strength, it had no

trouble catching up with the target. The pole penetrated the rear wheel of the bike and locked it

up instantly, ejecting its rider just like his partner, only in a different direction.

          That man hit the concrete driving apron surrounding the building and tumbled a hundred

feet while Ron raced after him on foot, never assuming an opponent was debilitated without

positive proof. It surprised Ron greatly when the fellow pressed himself up on his hands and

shook his head, but he put him back down with a rock-hard fist to the side of his deeply gouged

helmet.

          A quick check of the other attacker’s motionless form beside the building sent Ron

searching for the spotter again. This time however, he was not there. The sun’s glow was

practically gone as Ron panned the horizon once more before sprinting for the corner of the

hangar. He kept well clear of the massive structure when he rounded it fully expecting an

ambush at the site of his only transportation, and was not disappointed.




                                                                                                  374
       As he slid to a stop, four huge spotlights came to life illuminating him and the ground a

hundred feet around him.

       Ron abruptly found himself facing ten large soldiers, each armed with a hefty, ominous

weapon. The closest two fired straight away, each using what Ron expected was another bean-

bag gun, but when it struck him, he realized his folly. They were percussion grenades, and he

was thrown to the concrete ten feet back…with the air almost completely gone from his lungs!

       Ron gasped and coughed momentarily while a new, very odd looking rifle was trained on

him. Stubbornly, he tried to analyze it as he fought his way through the daze to reach his knees.

It had five barrels arranged around a central, larger one and as Ron struggled to breathe, the gun-

toting combatant braced it against his hip. There was no hesitation from him either, firing point

blank at his wounded target. The five smaller barrels each held a weight which was attached to

web-like substance that shot outward to a width of at least ten feet.

       Ron had seen such devices in futuristic weapons’ articles, so as the net flew, his reflexes

did too…but it struck Ron before he could pull the raven blade free. It was an elastic material

and enveloped his body completely before it began tightening in a hurry, reducing swiftly as it

cured at an accelerated rate in the ultra-dry air. Ron was thrown off balance again and hit the

ground roughly, his right hand still struggling to bare his sword.

       “What the hell is this crap?” his mind screamed as he put all of his concentration into

fighting that shrinking web. It vividly reminded him of the web balls from the sickle-spiders

he’d encountered on Caron, and that revelation sent his adrenaline spiking…after all, they had

nearly finished him.

       “Great shot!” yelled a half dozen of the soldiers in utter glee.

       “Now we’ll find out what he’s…OH SHIT!” cried the marksman who’d fired.




                                                                                                  375
       They first heard the growls from the demon-man they’d snared as his struggles began to

pay off, and as the bestial roar of trapped tiger released from Ron’s lips, so did the dark super-

blade slip free from its scabbard.

       When Ron’s sword cleared the sheath, the collapsing net parted directly, and his arm was

freed. A swift reversal of his grip and Ron was raking the naked cutting edge up his armored

suit, and eyeballing his assailants. That’s when they realized their own recklessness. Instead of

hitting him with a second layer of the tough, elastic material, they’d begun celebrating their

victory…and now it could cost them.

       “Fire!” screamed one of the men as Ron rolled to his knees once more.

       Another net came at him but he was already six feet into the air and it missed. Two other

guns went off after that one, so when Ron’s feet struck the earth again he was blasted by another

pair of impact grenades, square in the chest. Those charges delivered harsh blows and took him

off his feet once more, but he was now prepared for such battle. The explosions filled the air

with dirt and smoke, and the group of soldiers all rushed in, but when the light breeze cleared the

area, Ron was no longer there.

       The blasts hurt! Even inside the armor he was badly rattled, tossed a good thirty feet, and

thrown into a stack of empty 55 gallon drums. He shook the fog from his head and stood as the

horizon leaned and swam to a stop. Realizing he was at a decided disadvantage against these

new opponents, along with his equilibrium being still a little off balance, combined to persuade

Ron toward a different strategy.

       The armaments used against him were ramping up in lethality quickly, giving him a

rough reminder of the stakes of the conflict. However, they were still trying to capture, not kill

him, so he utilized the smokescreen of billowing dust, dove into a tumbling retreat behind a




                                                                                                     376
pallet of machine parts, and bolted away. If he allowed the fight to escalate, he was sure men

would die here, and he didn’t want it to go that far. Killing soldiers from his own country could

not be an alternative.

          Back around the building he flew, knowing the pursuit would be close behind, and he

went straight to the first cycle he’d put down. The machine was dead, but when he pulled it

upright he found it only moderately damaged from its violent tumble and hoped it could support

his burdensome mass. A few seconds of cranking yielded a surprising light-off, and Ron opened

the throttle straight away, dumping the clutch.

          “Jeez!” he let out as the bike rocketed away, never showing signs that it struggled with

his weight, and a few seconds later Ron was grinning from ear to ear as he raced across the open

desert.

          Earlier in the day, when he was parked at the low ridge overlooking the deserted

complex, Ron took in and memorized the layout of the area, noting a singular fact. To avoid

detection from all four of the different roads leading to the hangar, any congregation of vehicles

would have only one real choice for concealment, so he headed for that location.

          While he tore across the sandy turf, his eyes focused on the rear viewer of his helmet, and

saw the enemy coming on hard, driving suped up sand-buggies…five in all. Over the moderate

ridge he flew, surprising the sentry on duty who was guarding a small fleet of the trucks. There

were six Humvees parked sided by side, along with a six-by troop hauler, two more of the dune-

buggies, and a light helicopter.

          “Incoming rider!” Ron heard across the com, guessing it was the guard trying to warn his

comrades. He saw a man step from behind one of the trucks and press his rifle to his shoulder.

          “Halt!” he yelled as loudly as he could.




                                                                                                     377
       Ron didn’t slow down a bit however, so the young sergeant opened fire. The automatic

weapon sounded through the night like a fireworks show and the blaze from his muzzle lit up his

location vividly. Ron steered right for him, feeling the rain of bullets pelting his person in rapid

succession. As he streaked by the guard, Ron struck him in the helmet with the butt of his sword

and it was lights out for that brave lad.

       It seemed too easy, but there were no more troops about, so Ron scoped out the camp as

fast as he could. A hasty plan sprang to mind and he was off again, roaring between the vehicles

with the dark blade swinging. He sliced every truck’s tire and two feet off of one of the

helicopter’s blades before he jumped clear of the motorcycle and onto one of the scout jeeps. A

quick tug of the safety pin and the fifty caliber automatic weapon was in Ron’s hands…and he

went sprinting for the ridge.

       The chase group was close by that time, so Ron dropped to one knee, gripping the huge

gun beside his waist. He aimed by instinct, swung the long barrel around, and pulled the

trigger…and then the night exploded with blazing fire and tracer rounds.

       The nearest desert buggy was shredded as the big bore weapon delivered shell after shell

into its forward section, and a second later the engine seized up from the awesome damage

hammering it so violently.

       The next sand-rail vehicle saw what was happening and tried to veer away, but the heavy

gun whirled round to lock onto it before he turned sixty degrees, pounding the aft section until

it’s tubular frame collapsed and the occupants jumped clear. The mechanical carnage went on

and on until only one enemy vehicle remained mobile, it having ducked behind an outcropping

of rock. The crews of all the rest were in fast retreat on foot.




                                                                                                   378
       That sole surviving buggy disappeared over the northernmost hill at high speed, no doubt

trying to find a rally point for their men, and its retreat gave Ron a chance to let the four foot

long, vented barrel cool down.

       He hesitated only enough time to make a hasty scan of the camp before he was on the

move once more, to the only remaining Hummer…one he’d purposely spared. It was an open-

topped one and he leaped into it from behind. Hastily, Ron tossed the 50 Cal into the passenger

side, threw a case of ammo under the driver’s seat in order to brace it enough to support him, and

then plopped down in the operator’s position. A moment later he was flying out of the camp as

fast as the military truck could go.

       The sound of a Browning Automatic Rifle echoed across the shallow basin the camp was

in and Ron heard several ricocheting bullets bounce off the back of the truck. An instant later he

felt the rush of freefall when the Hummer lunged into a sharp dip in the ground, and at the base

of that thirty foot, steep downhill run, Ron was wide open and scorching away.

       He pointed it southeast…away from his final, intended route…and blasted across the flat

desert land using the night vision enhancements of his combat gear to see.

       One last thing as he tore down the first hill was to give the Raulden engineered ultra-suit

another command.

       “Scattering field on!” he said before concentrating all of his efforts on keeping the truck

right side up across the rough terrain.

       If anyone were to follow now, they’d have to track him by thermal output, which was

sight to sight, giving him a great opportunity. The topographical overlay Ron’s high-tech viewer

provided, mapped out a perfect route that would get him to the nearest town with the maximum

amount of visual protection.




                                                                                                     379
       Twenty minutes later, at a point where the route he was on took its second decisive turn,

Ron pulled up to check his flank. Just as he suspected…they were coming! Their machine was

built for this…running fully dark in his wake, at a break-neck speed which was purely

suicidal…and closing on him fast. He wasn’t sure how they could be navigating the rock-strewn

terrain so well in the dark but he knew he couldn’t escape by outrunning them, so a more drastic

plan was needed.

       “Stand by!” he uttered and quickly shed the heavy coat. He grabbed the big machine gun

and checked the ammo box feeding it. There were ten rounds belted to the breach.

       “That should do it!” he acknowledged as he jumped from the truck and ran to a column

of time and wind-worn rock that marked an elevation change for the landscape. “Combat!”

brought his helmet back into play and a number of advantageous displays.

       “Target!” caused a shift in the night-vision function, overlaying a cross-hairs emblem at

the point where his eyes focused. It also scanned his immediate locale and encompassed the

barrel of the gun into his sight parameters…giving it another set of cross-hairs.

       “Calibrate!” began a scan which calculated the temperature, humidity, altitude, windage,

and even the gravitational pull of the planet.

       “Ready,” illuminated in the uppermost, right hand corner of his screen.

       Ron then focused his attention on the approaching sand buggy. “Lock!”

       The bull’s-eye of his visual connection switched at that moment to red, and stayed

centered on the vehicle. He could see changes in the distance indicator to the target while it sped

along, as well as the other factors, and the matching yellow bull’s-eye for the gun floated across

the scene when he took aim.




                                                                                                380
       Ron waited until the buggy made one more dodge of a large boulder and entered a

hundred yard straightaway before his took his shot. The angle was not good if he rested it on the

rock so he took a knee and braced himself. The two pairs of targeting sights overlapped for an

instant…and that was all it took.

       “Kkkraaaafoooom!” blasted into the blackness of the New Mexico desert, and the recoil

shook Ron firmly. His eyes rattled from the harsh shock but locked back on the buggy just as the

round struck home perfectly…penetrating the engine block and opening it up with a

commanding explosion. That power-plant burst into impressive flames with diesel fuel spewing

high into the darkness, and steam surrounded it too, billowing freely in the night air.

       The driver was so surprised by the sudden impact and resulting fiery flare-up that he

nearly plowed into a cliff wall to his right. As it was though, the men in the buggy jumped clear

and scrambled away hastily, each searching out a point of safety from the incoming sniper fire.

       Ron started to empty the rest of his weapon’s ammunition into the burning heap, just to

scare them, but that would only give off his position, so he slipped down the rocky pillar he was

on and returned to his own truck.

       When five terrifying minutes had clicked by and there were no more shots, the group

eased back together cautiously. They stood a safe distance from the burning wreck, holding a

brief discussion before they all turned to face Ron’s direction in unison.

       By midnight Ron was safely away from the area on a Greyhound Bus, headed for

Flagstaff, Arizona.




                                                                                               381
                                     Chapter Twenty-Four

                                         Cooperation, or Not



       Cache walked quickly through the interior of the White House, her manner stiff and

severe. As she approached the oval office, escorted by her assigned detail of secret service

agents, she had a difficult time composing herself.

       “Please open the door,” she told the guard on duty, outside the heavily insulated, nearly

impregnable door.

       “Ma’am, that’s not possible. The President’s in a meeting and can’t be disturbed. I’ll

notify him of your presence and I’m sure…”

       She ignored his response after “not possible”, and instead, reached into her personal

carry-pouch, withdrawing a slim strip of some material which resembled a bandage for a small

cut. Placing it against her throat, she spoke austerely…and loudly.

       “Brice Garner! This is Cache Kuar! I need to speak with you immediately!”


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        The guard in front of her fell back against the heavy portal gripping his head as if he’d

been struck a mortal blow. His knees buckled but did not completely fail him, and his first

response was to reach for his weapon. Cache beat him to it.

        The team surrounding her stutter-stepped to interfere with her apparent attack, but their

orders were to ensure her safety at any cost…even at the expense of another agent.

        The door to the office suddenly swung open to expose the President, wide-eyed and

anxious.

        “Cache!” he blurted before scanning the doorway and finding his agent leaning hard

against the wall, his weapon in her hand. “What the…?”

        In three quick moves, she removed the full magazine from the pistol, ejected the round in

the chamber, and triggered the slide release, dropping the parts on the pristine carpet in front of

the guard. President Garner saw the pieces hit the floor and glanced up at her with a questioning

look.

        “I do not like these crude weapons!” she said offhandedly. “We need to speak!”

        “Uh…alright…won’t you come in?”

        She whisked passed the leader of the free world as if he were merely a neighbor who had

annoyed her, and marched into the room filled with his highest council. The Chief of Staff,

military leaders, and several others were sitting in chairs all around, gawking at her insolence.

        “Robert, are you okay?” he asked of his guard.

        “Sir…yes sir, I…please forgive my…”

        “Don’t worry about it for a minute. Go and get yourself together. Lie down if you need

to. I’ll be fine! Just send Jimmy to watch the door.”

        “But sir, I…”




                                                                                                    383
       “Look, you weren’t ready for this little lady…none of us were. This is all new, and we’re

in way over our heads. Trust me, and don’t worry. See you later.”

       He swung the door back closed and returned to his large chair. Cache stood impatiently

until he was seated.

       “What’s wrong?” he asked her, discounting the others in the room, as well as the

conversation they’d been having.

       She was red-faced with anger, and in no mood for diplomacy.

       “I thought we had a deal!” she barked at him, standing close enough to his massive desk

to have her thighs pressing against it. “I would put my world’s resources at your disposal and

begin preparations to defend your entire planet, and you would help me find my friend! Is that

not correct?”

       “Yes…yes, of course…what…?”

       “Then why was I not informed that you tried to capture him…by force?”

       “We didn’t…I mean…not to my knowledge…what happened?

       “Ask your Army’s commander!” she growled, turning to the man in question.

       “General Brandt, do you know anything about this?”

       “Sir, this is a classified matter, and I don’t think we should discuss it with her in…”

       “OUT WITH IT, DAMN IT! WHAT HAPPENED?” bellowed Garner, his own face now

livid with rage.

       “Sir we tried to talk him into a peaceful surrender, but…”

       Cache was on him before he could utter another sound, her small hands around his throat!

She yanked him from his plush leather seat and slammed him up against the wall.

       “You lie!”




                                                                                                 384
       “Cache, wait!” Garner pleaded, rushing to her while waving off the other men in the

group who he thought might jump in.

       “If this is the kind of fools you rely on, Mr. Garner, then we will have to adjust our

arrangement!” Cache growled at the President, her violet eyes practically radiating fire.

       The President didn’t want to seem weak, or in a submissive position, but too, the fate of

the country, and probably the world were hanging on this woman’s assistance.

       “Cache…please…hold on! What’s going on? Why the sudden shift?”

       “If I weren’t a guest in your capital, I would demand restitution for your lies!” she hissed

at the General, and then shoved him into a couch along the wall prior to heading back to the

desk, still fuming.

       “This,” she told the Commander in Chief, “is what your General ordered done to my

partner…my friend!”

       With that, she toggled her portable computer and instantly, a holographic image of the

incident in the hangar burst into life, and it was as clear as real life, hovering a foot above the

desk top and spanning three feet across.

       They watched the men descend from the overhead structure around Ron, ahead of the

superior officers’ approach. A few moments later the action started, and Cache let it run until the

men all hit the floor, at which time the image winked out.

       “Did he…kill them all?” Garner asked, uncertain of what to do if he had.

       “General?” Cache snapped, her glare cutting into him.

       “Several men were badly…” he began before Cache turned completely to face him in a

threatening manner, “no sir. No one was killed.”




                                                                                                      385
         “All he wanted was to meet with his father…the officer to the right…there,” she clarified

by zooming in. “But instead of a civil reunion, he was besieged!”

         “We have no way of knowing who attacked whom, sir. He must have provoked…”

         Zzzzzzzziiiiiiiiiiip-THUNK! A six-inch-long knife flashed across the room and sunk into

the wall at the General’s ear, clipping him just a hair and causing blood to drip to his shoulder.

         “God damn you, you…”

         “If you utter one more lie about him, I shall remove your tongue and nail it to the desk!”

Cache hissed through gritted teeth. “And if you think anyone here can stop me…you are sadly

mistaken!” She was beyond angry by then, having caught this “leader” in so many fallacies.

“Perhaps if I replay the recording in its entirety!”

         She started the reproduction again, this time with the full spectrum of sight, as well as

sound.

         When it was done, there was no doubt as to exactly what transpired in that isolated

hangar…at least until the explosion wiped out the replay.

         “Why was I not informed about this? I specifically ordered that he be “asked” to come

here…didn’t I?” Garner was heated again, finding his underlings not following his wishes.

“DIDN’T I?” he yelled, slamming his fist on the desk in fury. “Who in their right mind would

sign off on this?”

         “Sir,” General Brandt offered, “I…I ordered his capture!”

         “YOU WHAT?”

         “I thought we should have some amount of leverage on…her…to make her give us the

weapons we all know she has. If this threat is as real as she claims, we need something more

than some pathetic “jamming” equipment!”




                                                                                                     386
        “You are as stupid as you are incompetent!” Cache told him coldly. “I have already

explained why that is impossible!” She spun around the room to stare at each individual, one

after the other. “The plasma-based energy weapons we use demand ten terawatts of power to

initiate a single pulse! Your country’s entire electrical output isn’t capable of generating the

requirements to operate such a weapon! Beside that obvious short-coming, it would take months

to construct such a device! I explained it all to your greatest minds! Speak to your own

scientists!

        “And as for you,” she said, wheeling back around to the General, “I want to know where

my partner is!”

        “I don’t answer to you, you little…”

        “YOU ARE DISMISSED!” Garner shouted, surging into the path of Cache before she

had the chance. He pressed a device in his pocket which sent his secret service team into the

room with four marines flanking them, carrying automatic weapons. “Men!” he said to the

marines who rushed in. “Place the General in the brig! No one is to speak with him…no one!

Do you understand my orders?”

        “Yes sir!”

        “And get me his replacement…and I mean NOW!”

        The soldiers quickly handcuffed General Brandt and pushed him out of the room in a

hurry, leaving the entryway open.

        Garner walked over, gripped the six-inch thick door firmly enough to make his knuckles

turn white, and then slammed it as hard as he could. The gathering of high ranking officials was

already fraught with anxiety, and now fairly trembled where they stood, for no one was seated by

that time.




                                                                                                   387
       The President spun about and swept the room with his stern gaze. He once served in the

military, was a tall, broad shouldered man, and did not convey leniency with his attitude.

       “Let me make myself perfectly…crystal clear!” he began, his jaw clamping shut tightly

enough for the muscles in his face to jump out in an exclamatory fashion. “If anyone has a

problem with full disclosure to this woman…you need to get out of my sight RIGHT-

FUCKING-NOW!

       “So far, she has shown no indication of subterfuge! She hasn’t lied to us or hidden facts!

She came here to help our species for the simple reason that she knows one of us! If she were

one of the attacking group, don’t you think she’d be sabotaging our efforts, not coordinating

them? And with the level of technology she’s demonstrated to our greatest scientists, and to me

personally, if she were a threat, she could probably destroy us all with her ship alone!

       “And yes, we verified her story about where it is with two of our attack subs. It is

surrounded exactly as she described, and our torpedoes have no effect on those barrier nodes that

have imprisoned it.

       “You all saw what that black vessel could do. Nothing on this planet even came close to

the thing…and it snuffed out one of our most advanced missiles like swatting a gnat…not to

mention the dozens of other countries’ weapons that were fired at it.

       “Get this straight…all of you. She doesn’t give us orders…not you, and not me! She has

provided choices, and support…that’s all! It is pointedly obvious to me that we are in charge of

our own destiny! The only question is; are we going to accept her extraordinarily generous

advice and assistance, or turn our backs on her and take our chances against a race that is

advanced enough to span the galaxy and imprison that super-ship?




                                                                                                388
       “Hell, we still can’t even get to Mars, for crying out loud! What chance do we have

alone?”

       Not a word was spoken for several seconds while those in attendance pondered their

leader’s words. The spell was broken when the door opened once more and a new General

stepped quickly through it. He was dressed much as Brandt had been, but he was slightly

slimmer and his eyes were sharp and serious.

       “Mr. President!” he said piercingly, snapping to attention rigidly. “General Stan Morgan

reporting as ordered!”

       “General,” Garner said calmly, “I have only one request of you.”

       “Sir?”

       “Will you obey my orders?”

       “YES, SIR!” barked the General as if he were a new private at basic training.

       “Are you familiar with the botched mission to capture Miss Kuar’s partner?”

       “Yes sir.”

       “Where is the man now?”

       “We lost him immediately after he attacked our base camp and stole a Humvee transport

vehicle!”

       “Do you have any idea where to look for him?”

       “Negative, sir. The truck was recovered outside a small town in Colorado. His trail was

impossible to track!”

       Cache had to smile inside at his report. Ron was not an easy man to find!

       “Very well. Keep on it with as many of your best men as you need! If you can locate

him, do you know what message to convey?”




                                                                                             389
          “Yes sir! Shartae! Cache Kuar has need of your assistance. If you please, we will escort

you to her immediately.”

          “Will you ask for his surrender?”

          “Negative!”

          “For his weapons?”

          “Negative!”

          “Good! Cache, is this acceptable to you?”

          She nodded, reluctant to trust these men again.

          “I will state this one time, people! This woman is now our chief advisor for all matters

concerning the coming battle! She will be granted totally unfettered access to any…and I mean

ANY, information, personnel, and resources she asks for. Do I make myself clear?”

          There was a quick round of nodding amongst all present. He turned pointedly to his

short, blonde guest at that time.

          “Cache, please accept my apology for my failure in this matter. It will not happen

again!”

          She stared into the eyes of a desperate man…one who was a true leader in search of a

way to save his people…and she saw honesty looking back.

          “Very well. We shall begin again.”

          “Thank you. Now, we only have a few hours until the global summit. Is there something

you’d like to add?”

          “As your advisor, I recommend you destroy this satellite!” she told him, bringing a new

circuit of astonished stares. A quick finger-dance across her computer replaced the holo-image




                                                                                                 390
with one depicting a small, communication satellite set in geosynchronous orbit over the United

States.

          The Director of the CIA took a step forward and blanched. “Sir, this is one of only a

handful that still operate! We can’t…”

          “Why do you suppose it is still functioning?” Cache asked in a terse tone.

          “It’s our newest, most advanced product. It probably can’t be damaged as easily as the

others!”

          “Please forgive my bluntness, Sir, but that is just ridiculous. I could initiate a pulse from

this computer that could disable it beyond recovery. No, Mr. President,” she said, turning to

Garner, “this com-sat is being used to call the attacking fleet!”

          “What?” the Director cried, his anger rising at the accusation.

          “My ship is still communicating with my world, although only intermittently, and they

relayed this to me. The satellite in question was designed nine years ago by joint efforts of your

country and Britain. Parts were manufactured from two dozen contractors from around the

world, and then assembled in this ‘secret’ testing facility in California.”

          “How can you know this,” the Director huffed out of pure shock.

          “It was not difficult,” she replied curtly. “Now, this component here,” zooming in on a

specific point on the spacecraft and pointing to it, “has no function whatsoever in the designated

role of the unit. It is actually a crude homing beacon that can operate at a frequency undetectable

to your planet’s sensors. Whoever is operating it is here on Earth…right now!”

          “You’re not joking, are you?” Garner asked with his head spinning from the ramifications

of her words.




                                                                                                    391
       “No…I am not. There are Rheckors on this world. And since they built this, they have

been here quite some time…probably marooned planet-side due to some accident that destroyed

their more advanced equipment. That is why they resorted to this primitive means of contacting

their people.”

       President Garner turned to the CIA director for confirmation. He, in turn pulled out a

mini camera, took a picture of the satellite image, and sent it to his support group. He then

immediately dialed them, moving off to a vacant section of the room.

       “Very well, Cache,” Garner began, “Since we have spies here on Earth, how can we find

them…by tracing the com-link to the satellite?”

       “No, I am afraid not. They set it up with so many relays that even I cannot trace it to the

true source. But you can be assured that some individuals very high up in your organizations are

working against you!”

       “Sir,” the Director broke in. “She’s right! That component has absolutely no function

we are aware of, but is showing power drain on the system!”

       “Destroy it now!”

       The Director relayed the message and within five seconds, the satellite was lifeless.

       The head of the most secret organization in the United States turned to Cache then.

       “I had my doubts, Miss, but no more. If there is anything I can do, you let me know!”

       “Very well…bring this man to me!” she replied, returning to her holo-player unit, and

rolling the image back to the hangar scene. “General Kurt Allison!”




                                                                                                392
                                 Chapter Twenty Five

                                             Angela

       Ron stood motionless outside the house at the address his father had given him. It was an

immaculately kempt, modest brick house, located in an old-fashioned community with sidewalks

and picket fences, rose bushes, and climbing ivy. The garage stood apart from the home,

connected by a concrete walkway which was lined by the same pink brick as matched the house.

       His stomach fluttered aggressively, and his heart was racing.

       It was still early, barely seven A.M., and her job didn’t start until nine. He’d have given

anything to be able to see through the brick wall…so he would know if she and his son were

awake. His desire to throw open the door and call out to her was nearly overwhelming, but he

knew he could not.

       “That would be a wonderful way to break the news to her, wouldn’t it”, he thought;

“Honey, I’m home! What’s for breakfast?” She’d keel over and die of a heart attack. No, he

would wait until she came out, and then…well…he didn’t know.

       Following the brief fire-fight on the previous evening, the trip through the night went

much better than he could’ve hoped for. There were only five other passengers on the red-eye

transport, and they were all asleep when Ron joined them. The flooring of the bus was steel

plating and with the rumble of the massive diesel engine, it was impossible to hear the groaning



                                                                                                 393
and creaking of the undercarriage as he moved down the aisle. He found the seat over the back

wheel-well empty and gingerly took it, the extra metal there providing just what he needed.

        No one spoke to him, inspected him, or in any way troubled him for the entire six hour

ride through the mountains. He even got some sleep, especially when the back of his seat failed

to support his reclining physique and bent back to the next one, allowing him to lie horizontal,

other than his legs.

        The bus station dropped him off only three miles from his destination and he walked

briskly from there, stopping off only once to get a drink from a convenience store.

        He strolled up the quiet lane where she lived, staying on the opposite side of the street

just in case she was to look out and see him. He didn’t want her thinking he was some kind of

thug, hooligan, or stalker.

        Ron had rehearsed what he’d say to his bride a thousand times at least, and of course still

had no idea how it would really go, but as his personal timetable wound to a finish, he crossed

the street.

        It was seven forty-five by then, and he felt confident she’d be exiting the home shortly in

order to deliver Derek to his day care, and then get to work. As the seconds dragged agonizingly

by, he could hear the blood pounding in his ears and his mouth grew as dry as the nearby desert.

        The morning was chilly as the sun broke the crystalline horizon, but he knew the day

would be very warm by noon, and dreamed he and Angela would be gazing lovingly across a

lunch table by then. In his mind’s eye they would be so overtaken by being back together that

nothing else would matter at all. He was sure her boss wouldn’t mind her calling in, especially

when she told him her dead husband had returned from the grave.




                                                                                                    394
       Seven fifty-five clicked by and Ron saw the front door open and the garage door begin its

upward swing, so he approached the driveway. His hands vibrated from the rush of anticipation,

and it required much of his focus to force his teeth to stop chattering. He had at least managed to

freshen up at the bus stop, thanks to his Raulden magic bag full of tricks, and strolled forward

clean shaven, breath freshened, and hair neatly combed. His hat was in his hands and his coat

was once more looking like finely tanned leather, so it was a confident young man who stepped

forward.

       “Angela,” was on his tongue when the fabulous figure of a slim woman backed out of the

door with a bright-eyed little boy milling about her, scanning the outside world with all the

wonder of a child.

       She was wearing a snug-fitting, floral-printed blue dress made of silk that reached mid

thigh and displayed her many attributes exceedingly well. The back of it was a sheer mesh

material that softened the hue of her darkly tanned skin and gave the outfit a sensual yet elegant

appearance. The three-inch heels on her dainty feet performed two tasks that added to the

overall, heavenly vision of her. They were perfectly shaded to accent the color of her dress, as

well as keep her calves taught…and those gorgeous legs were everything he’d remembered.

       A powerful flash of recollection swept through his mind in that instant, one with deep-

seeded emotional ties attached. It was the memory of the first time he’d gazed upon her inside

the house they moved into on the day of their marriage.

       That evening, after the wedding vows had been said, the pictures taken, and the reception

party was drawing to a close, she changed out of her gown and into a similar dress as what she

wore now. Ron and she ran hand in hand through the throng of well-wishers and then drove

away to begin their lives together, so much in love that neither of them could stop smiling. Their




                                                                                                   395
honeymoon was technically scheduled to begin the next morning, when they planned to drive to

Florida, so they were headed home…to the house in Westlake where the Darlile once hovered.

        After they crossed the threshold, her in his arms and their lips locked together, he carried

her to their bedroom where he placed her back on her feet. He recalled the moment their gazes

met so precisely that the furnace of his heart burst into full flame once more as if he was standing

right there.

        The heat of their desire was permeating the room, but the window shades were open so

Ron began drawing them closed, and his new bride began removing her jewelry. He was across

the small boudoir when the last glimpse of the outside world was locked safely away, and so he

turned toward the object of his wanton lust.

        Angela leaned against the bureau…her figure slightly bent, the way she stood today

locking her front door. She was looking in the mirror as she removed her earrings, and caught

her husband staring at her in the reflection. She recognized the look easily and smiled a sly,

devilish smile back at him which drew him to her like a moth to a flame.

        The shape of her backside, with her small waist and ample, flaring hips was merely the

beginning of her figure’s attributes. The posterior side of the dress was made of sheer silk above

the swell of her perfect derriere and the cleft of her back was eye-catching, supple, and feminine.

Her long, dark, chestnut colored hair was pulled back over her right ear, flowing sensually past

the middle of her shoulders, and was decorated with tiny white flowers that exuded innocence,

and further enhanced her beauty.

        Ron traced the line of her body downward to her gorgeous legs, and his breathing

quickened. She was graced with incredible, precisely proportioned limbs that were shapely,




                                                                                                 396
tanned, and sumptuous. He moved to her slowly and she stopped her menial duties to watch him

in the reflection, still turned away from his quiet approach.

       Ron snuggled right up behind, but did not embrace her. He leaned closer, closed his

eyes, and drew in a long, deep breath…sampling the sweet scent of her perfume at the nape of

her neck. That simple act sent chills of exhilaration racing through her, and she felt a growing

fire being fanned.

       A soft kiss on her ear made her shiver and he repeated it before moving along, first with a

light touch of his lips, a gentle probe of his tongue, and even an occasional nibble at her more

sensitive places. He moved down her spine, barely and inch behind the sliding zipper keeping

her provocative garment in place…and as his feather-light caresses moved, her quakes grew

stronger.

       At her waist, her skin was no longer the smooth, silken surface that normally adorned her,

having been transformed into a quivering, twitching covering typically only seen in

winter…roughened now only by her reactions to such intense pleasuring. He could see her in the

mirror, her long eyelashes squeezed shut, breath fast and shallow, and her mouth half open,

panting. A simple nudge of his hands and her light-weight, body-hugging garment dropped to

her calves, held up only by the sleeves, where her hands rested on the glass-smooth surface of

the dresser.

       His stare attempted to consume the reflection of her body by will alone, and the heat of

his gaze scorched that vision deep inside his brain. Her natural skin tone was sheer perfection,

and the large areolas of her breasts rose like tiny volcanoes against those splendid mounds of

ripened flesh. Angela was a petite woman but was graced with a spectacular, voluptuous bosom

that stopped every man cold in his tracks…at any venue.




                                                                                                   397
       Ron chuckled many times over the years at the trouble his male counterparts fell into

while there gaze was locked onto his heavenly escort. He noticed one single event could begin a

fight between a couple faster than any other; when another woman shines brighter than she. Of

course, Angela had never felt that kind of jealousy.

       A strong vibration swept through her body and she gulped…and then raised her hands

enough to allow the dress to slide to the floor, replacing them where they were for support

because she was sure she’d faint from the rising pressure of expectation.

       Ron smiled at her then, seeing the insanely gorgeous figure which was now willingly

pledged solely for his personal, sexual amusement. The lacy, sexy finery from Victoria Secret

never looked as wonderful as it did at that instant, gracefully clinging to his wife’s lithe, nubile

body, scandalously enticing him to delve further for his lover’s secrets.

       He gingerly urged the tiny undergarment downward, watching the feathery cloth push a

wave of goose flesh along as it went. At the end of the journey, Angela had to adjust her weight

as she first lifted one dainty foot, and then the other…and those delicate moves were maddening

to his male drives, nearly putting an end to this slow, delightful exploration. As it was though,

he curtailed his spiking passion enough to continue as planned, kissing, licking, and stroking her

firm, toned legs. A nibble on the back of her knee nearly caused her to collapse as she jerked at

the sensation, her entire body vibrating constantly now…waiting, enjoying the delectable game

her brand-new husband was playing.

       He couldn’t resist a strong, full bite of her glorious, rounded derriere, and that drew a

deep, breathy gasp from his quarry, as well as a sharp jerk…not away from his animalistic

attack, but rather toward it, press herself against his mouth hard. He drifted down a bit further,

closer to the apex of those heavenly supports, his tongue slipping and sliding, until she could




                                                                                                   398
take it no more. Her nails raked against the marble top of the bureau and she squeaked out a

high pitched grunt of exhilaration before she spun about to face her sensual tormenter.

          Ron’s position did not move, so when his beloved spun about, he was perfectly

positioned to continue his quest. Looking up at her from his knees, he saw the burning desire in

her smoky gaze, her spectacular breasts lunging up and down with each quick intake of air, and

her small fingers were lost in his raven locks.

          Her need was indeed high!

          Ron watched her closely as his right hand drifted up her thigh, causing even more

shudders and tremors…and when he reached the peak, where her pleasure center was decorated

by a slim patch of dark curls, she jerked uncontrollably, engulfing his hand in her dripping

desire.

          A husky grunt from his lovely partner was immediately followed up by pulling his lips

firmly to her boiling need.

          “Ron!” she uttered raggedly as a premature orgasm rose and passed, and her cradle

flooded with ecstasy.

          As the pleasure surged through her body, she pulled her playful husband up to her bosom

and filled his mouth with her pursed breast, crushing him to her with one hand as she stripped

him with the other...her eyes now open and her craving at the overload point.

          Ron didn’t even have the chance to step free of his trousers before she wriggled herself

up high enough to mount him, and as he plunged into the depths of her, and she felt him spread

her tiny canal, her lubricants ran down her thighs, and she gasped anew…only this time though,

it was loud and desperate and continued, unrelenting.




                                                                                                  399
       In an instant she reached a new peak…a summit of elation totally different from the

blissful, satisfying, loving apex of pleasure she was accustomed to…no, this feeling sent her into

a writhing, scalding, powerful explosion of ecstatic joy that was both violent and exquisitely

harsh. Her nails bit into Ron’s shoulders deeply, while her body arched across the dresser and

swept it clear of her jewelry, as well as half a dozen ornamental nick-knacks. She fought hard to

control her need to scream, wishing to keep their love-play private from the neighbors, but in the

end, Ron’s name shrieked from her lips in as deep a voice as he’d ever heard from her.

       At the time, Ron had never witnessed such a fantastic, erotic reaction, and her exhibition

of mind-bending, uninhibited sexuality drew a likewise reaction from his over-stimulated,

overheated body.

       In mere seconds, the recently blessed couple soared well past the edge of their present

sexual familiarity, and both were permanently imprinted with a new feeling of ultimate,

unbridled physical rapture.

       Now, in Arizona, Ron stood poised on the cool concrete driveway with that memory

blazing across his thoughts…along with what went on during the rest of their incredible wedding

night. So when he tried to speak out to her, his voice was gone…dried out from the vivid

recollection.

       He gulped twice in an attempt to remoisten his throat, and then paused his call to her a

few more seconds simply to admire her beauty. The door was locked by then, so when she

turned, he inhaled to complete it…but…

       “Woo-woo-woo-woo”, screamed a wailing siren as a police car skidded sideways around

the corner, down the block…its engine roaring with the throttle pressed to the floor.




                                                                                                  400
       Ron jerked to a stop and braced himself to make a run for it before he saw that the cruiser

was in hot pursuit of another vehicle…one totally out of control! The driver of the fleeing car

slid too far in the turn and slapped the side of a parked truck before barreling onward toward

Ron. And when an unsuspecting neighbor of his wife’s backed onto the street, the speeding car

clipped its bumper and careened across the roadway again.

       The caroming reaction of the cars brought the mayhem to the very next driveway, where

a young woman was jogging by in a parallel direction of the oncoming car, with music blaring in

her ears from her portable stereo. The banged up, fleeing vehicle sideswiped a long van before it

jumped the curb, heading straight for the runner.

       Ron’s reflexes were already primed in his anxiety strewn system, so when he broke into a

run, he was a literal blur…his heavy coat, pack, and hat left in a haphazard pile in his wife’s

walkway.

       The running woman barely had time to look startled before the tall, sprinting stranger

scooped her up and leaped twenty feet to the side, landing with his body under hers to protect her

from his crushing mass.

       As they skid to a stop on the front lawn, Ron looked back to see the car smashed into a

tree in the next house over’s yard, and then he turned to his gasping catch.

       “Are you all right?”

       “Yeah, I…I think so.”

       Ron let out a great sigh of relief before remembering his wife with a start. His head shot

around to see her pressed against the door, clutching their son…both with wide eyes of

astonishment…and then he felt something cold on his neck!




                                                                                                  401
       He turned back to the woman he held…the one whose life he’d just saved…and saw a

look of perfect scorn.

       “So predictable!” she sneered.

       “Oh no!” Ron thought. “No, no, no…they couldn’t have!” his mind screamed.

       “Did you really think you could get away that easily?” she asked as she pushed him

roughly away from her and got up.

       He mouthed the word, “combat”, but nothing came out, as if his vocal chords were

paralyzed…but quickly realized it would have done no good anyway. His armor was no longer

in place!

       The chill spread rapidly, numbing his body as it did. Ron rolled away weakly onto his

back as his arms quivered and shook.

       “What the hell?” he asked himself, trying desperately to understand what had just

occurred.

       He managed to turn his head and seek out the woman of his quest, and saw her there, on

her stoop, watching…clutching her son close, with her eyes dancing about at all the commotion.

       “Angie!” his mind screamed…but nothing came of it. Her eyes locked on his for a brief

few seconds before a shadow standing over him caused his attention to refocus. Ron knew she

could not possibly recognize him, but he still saw deep compassion in those hazel-green gems

anyway, her concern vivid on her beautiful face.

       The reason for the shadow was a large fellow in a policeman’s uniform standing over

Ron, glaring down at him with evil intentions in his eyes.

       “You nearly killed my brother, you dragen piss-hole!” he growled before he dropped

down on Ron’s chest with all his weight.




                                                                                               402
       Ron expelled every bit of air from his lungs immediately, plus a good amount of spittle,

shooting a misty fog up into the morning air. That left him so short of breath he felt he might not

be able to recover in the Earth’s light atmosphere, but the cop flung him over to his stomach

nonetheless and wrenched his hands around to his back.

       Through his rapidly fogging mind, Ron suddenly caught on. These people weren’t

Earthlings at all! They were far too strong…and heavy!

       “Bounty hunters?” he thought, considering the immense fortune the Kreete had

advertised for his capture or death. “Or something else?”

       The cop snapped handcuffs on Ron’s wrists and rolled him over to his side as the mighty

Caronian warrior wheezed painfully.

       “You’ll find out that ‘these’ bracelets are special. Even you won’t be able to break

them!” Then he pulled back his fist.

       “And this is for my broken arm!”

       The officer’s fist slammed into Ron’s cheekbone hard enough to drive his face back into

the dewy grass and jumble his thoughts badly. His lids opened to a triple-vision view of his

wife’s lawn, and he fought for lucidity with all his rapidly weakening strength.

       “Ow…shit!” the officer said as he got to his feet, shaking his hand. “This guys jaw’s as

hard as Nefradien granite!”

       He saw Ron smile at his comment and gave him a good kick in the stomach for the new

pain in his hand.

       “Hey!” yelled a female voice from the house. “Hey, you can’t do that!”

       Ron squinted through his discomfort to see his beloved spouse walking his way, the child

still in her arms and crying now.




                                                                                                403
        “No! Baby, go back!” he tried to say, but no sound escaped his lips.

        “You can’t beat a prisoner like that!” Angela Allison said in an indignant, berating tone.

“He’s already been handcuffed! You…”

        “Ma’am, this is a police matter. Please, stay out of it!”

        Ron’s wife wasn’t finished yet, however.

        “Why are you arresting him anyway?” she continued…her face flushed red with anger

and completely appalled at what she was seeing. “Shouldn’t you be arresting the driver who

nearly ran that woman over? This man risked his life to get her out of the way! I saw the

whole…”

        “Shut up lady, or I’ll haul your ass in with him for obstruction!” the cop snapped back at

her. “Get outta here and shut that brat up!”

        “Let’s go, Graehm!” another officer said, grabbing Ron’s arm. “Give me a hand with

him!”

        Due to the sun’s position and the rough treatment, Ron wasn’t able to see his attacker’s

face, but the name was another matter. He would remember that!

        They hefted him up…just the two of them…and hauled him away, dragging his feet

behind. Ron’s world faded to black a short time later, after he was literally thrown into a

transport van, and his last thoughts were of the lovely woman with the hazel-green eyes,

challenging the authorities in his behalf.




                                                                                                404
                                     Chapter Twenty-Six

                                       The U.N. Conference



       “You will simply have to trust me!” Cache told the assemblage of delegates after

displaying a very vivid holographic projection of the Earth’s solar system with the approaching

fleet closing in on Saturn, two thirds the way around the Sun. “We do not have the time for you

all to have a personal demonstration, in your own privately monitored venues!”




                                                                                              405
       The President of the United Nations General Assembly stepped up once more, as he’d

done half a dozen times already to quiet the hundreds of people in the audience. The usual

human emotion of cynicism was his main point so far.

       “ORDER! WE MUST MAINTAIN ORDER!”

       The sidebars and arguments of the gathered folks died off again and all eyes returned to

the podium. The general feeling of the group was skepticism, suspicion, distrust, and fear.

       “She is not a magician!” he said angrily. “This is not some sort of elaborate trick to

deceive any of us. She has more than adequately proven to our panel that she is completely

authentic, and has asked for only one thing…a request we should all be willing to comply

with…especially in light of the announcement she’s made. The one thing she needs from us all

is to believe her!”

       The murmuring of the crowd rumbled in low tones. One member of the multitude stood

up close to the front. He was from the U.K.

       “Just how…exactly…do you know all this ‘doom and gloom’ is for real?”

       As of yet, she managed to sidestep that question, but now it was out there and she knew a

direct answer was the only way to gain their cooperation.

       “My intergalactic space ship is currently residing on your planet.”

       “Where? Why?” yelled two dozen angry delegates, causing a bedlam of unrecognizable

comments.

       “How do we know you’re not with them…or if there even is a real threat?” asked the

Mexican President.

       “First, the ship is here, beneath one of your oceans, because my partner felt compelled to

return here on some personal business. His visit was specific and private, and would have no




                                                                                                406
aggressive impact on your society whatsoever, so keeping it secret was for the best…at the time.

Second, the threat has been confirmed by images from your own Hubble Space Telescope, as

well as two of your radio telescopes. And third, if I was going to attack your planet, it would be

over by now, and you would all be dead!”

        That frank, unpretentious statement of fact shut everyone up for several seconds.

        “What do you have to gain from helping us?”

        “I have absolutely nothing to gain from helping you…for myself. However, the partner I

spoke of has already put his life on the line for me and my species, and saved my home world

from an even deadlier foe. The entire planet known as Rauld…where I come from…owes him a

debt that could never be repaid. I personally owe him my life many times over. What you all

must know is that he, as well as his family, is from Earth!”

        “If you are so advanced, and live on a heavier gravity world, then how is it that an Earth

man could come to your rescue?”

        “The answer to your question is a very long and fantastic story, which I would prefer he

tell you. After all, it is not right for me to tell his life’s history without his authorization.”

        There was more murmuring and discussion in the group at that time as they pondered the

validity of what she conveyed. Each was holding detailed photographs of Cache’s claims of

impending threat, as well as written explanations of what they showed.

        “Elaborate on this ‘menace’ we must all prepare for…if you would be so kind.” The

President requested of her then.

        The U.N. leader stepped back and to the side, offering the center stage to Cache yet

again. She smiled and graciously accepted the plinth, although her patience was wearing very




                                                                                                     407
thin. The constant bickering and posturing for power among the delegates was making her ill.

On her planet it was much, much different.

       “They call themselves, Rheckors, although known by other species simply as what they

are…Marauders. They are a race of humanoids who have abandoned their own beginnings,

having already pillaged the planet they were born on to such an extent as to leave it with no

resources that could sustain beings such as them, or you all. They stripped the planets in their

solar system of any and all usable materials needed to build their vast armada, and then set off

into the galaxy. Their ships have been their homes since then…for nearly half a millennia! They

now scout out and invade solar systems that suit them with their enormous fleets, and take

whatever they need.”

       “What is it they require?” asked a fellow in deep blue robes trimmed in gold…from a

small, Caribbean nation.

       “Your world has vast, already refined commodities…your air, trillions of gallons of

nearly pure water and gigantic oceans that can easily be stripped of the same. But what is the

most attractive mineral of all resides inside your planet’s core. The heavy metals in Earth’s

magma can be extracted and refined into immensely strong alloys and fuels, even weapons’

grade borolide trinallium…an additive which can increase the yield of most explosives by ten

thousand fold.”

       “How is all that possible?”

       “Their technology is very impressive…far beyond what you have achieved here. Please

forgive my candor. I mean no offense by this truth. They have spent many of your centuries

perfecting their methods and their equipment to be able to efficiently accommodate their goals.

The collection of vessels they have will number in the hundreds of thousands, dispersing to all




                                                                                                   408
the planets of your solar system which have any viable minerals. The immense command ships

will set up close to your star and utilize its solar power to recharge their depleted stores and to

power the main part of their operations.

       “They will have shuttles to carry the ore, gas, or water, off-world to gigantic collection

tankers that, in turn, will supply the refineries. Any and all wastes will be ejected to the sun for

disintegration. The men and women of the fleet do very little actual hands-on work with these

stolen goods. They commonly only monitor, adjust, and repair the machines and spacecrafts to

keep them running non-stop for decades.”

       “How much of these…commodities…will they steal?”

       Cache looked at the man as if stupefied. “They will take it all!”

       “What?” was his reply, along with a hundred others. “Are you serious? How is that

possible?”

       “It is possible because they are the strongest. It is as simple as that. They do what they

will because they can! They will drain every sea, every lake, and every river. There are

enormous coalescing machines which can even wring out the water from the atmosphere. The

oxygen and nitrogen from your environment will be gathered and compressed into gargantuan

tankers. The magma will likely be carted up to their colossal construction ships and then

separated there…where zero gravity is necessary for many of the processes.

       “They care nothing for the foods of Earth since they synthesize their entire nutritional

requirements. The trees, the animals, and the people of this world mean less than nothing to

them. Your planet is of average size, but its speed of rotation makes it a lighter gravity

globe…one they cannot comfortably colonize even if they wished to. The level of technology




                                                                                                      409
here is too far behind their own for them to be even mildly interested in it, so raw materials are

all they will focus on.”

       “If they are so formidable, so advanced, and so malicious, what is the point of you telling

us? What can we possible do to stop, or even deter them?”

       “My people can supply you with many devices engineered specifically to disrupt their

shielding, leaving their vessels open to your weapons. I can provide you with intelligence of

their methods, their armaments, their fighters’ capabilities, and so on. It may be possible to

make the raping of this planet too costly for them, if you can resist for long enough, damage

enough of their equipment…and kill enough of them!

       “You people…you are the representatives of your respective countries! You will have

the burden of seeing to the dissemination of the information from this meeting. I have given you

the pure truth of the matter…so now, if you do not believe me, then you do not. We have no

more time to argue about the facts! If any of you think this is all some kind of hoax, then you

should leave now! The time is already too short to adequately prepare for what is to come.”

       “What exactly would you have us do?” asked the Prime Minister of the Czech Republic.

       “You all will need to convince every person of the face of this planet to fight them!” she

announced, scanning the faces of the room. “You have no recourse!”

       “What about diplomacy?” asked the French leader. “Perhaps we can negotiate some sort

of trade, broker a deal of…”

       “There will be no ‘deals’,” Cache said, cutting him off. “These beings’ first order of

business will be to wipe out all global communications among your peoples…which I know you

have already seen happening…so you should begin immediately working up some alternate

methods. They will dispatch sweeper-droids…machines built explicitly to completely erase




                                                                                                  410
every satellite, every space-based weapon, and every piece of debris that might be of use to you

or hazardous to their own crafts. Next, they will encircle the globe with fighter carriers…giant

vessels which house a thousand atmospheric fighter crafts in each. Most likely, they will place

one above each of the major military powers’ countries. From this position, they will totally

dominate the air, and will be able to launch strikes against any ground forces trying to interfere

with their diggers and collectors.

       “Once they destroy every threat to their equipment, they will simply begin stripping your

world.”

       “If your inhabitants are so far beyond their technology, you can stop them, so why don’t

you?” asked the South African Ambassador.

       “My people can assist no one in waging war! They are devout pacifists. They do not

comprehend the nature of it, and so would be completely useless to you. However, due to our

own recent history, which I touched on briefly, the Raulden populace is willing to assist in areas

where they can…thereby, I represent them as their Ambassador, with full authority to do what I

deem necessary to help you. But the fight is inevitably yours!”

       “It they are all pacifists, then are you not one of them?” inquired the Nigerian

Ambassador.

       “I am Raulden, but…I am…unique.”

       “What about this ship of yours? Is it capable of assisting us?” inquired the Jamaican

representative.

       “It would be more than capable, but as of yet, I cannot make contact with it. While I was

off-world, the fleet fired long range weapons to destroy it, but of course, they were ineffective.

However, their secondary action was cleverer. Since they could not destroy the vessel, they set




                                                                                                 411
up a series of jamming buoys to block all communication with it. As of yet, I am still working

out a way around the problem, however, I must say that I have limited resources on that front.”

       The attending members of the U.N. began dozens of sidebars at that point, with many of

the discussions heated. The usual banter about who would do what, and how much it would cost

quickly sprung to light.

       Cache caught several of such arguments from the closest delegates and lost her temper.

       “IT DOES NOT MATTER HOW MUCH THIS WAR MIGHT COST!” she shouted into

the microphone, slamming her tiny fist on the podium…cracking the wooden surface and

stopping every person dead in their tracks. “YOU WILL ALL DIE! DO YOU NOT

UNDERSTAND THIS? YOU MUST FIGHT! YOU MUST USE EVERY LAST WEAPON

AND RESOURCE! WHAT ARE YOU ARGUING ABOUT?”

       Her very pointed and dismal announcement struck home like an arrow, and the

assemblage finally began to hear what she’d been trying to get across…many nodding in

agreement.

       “You all have to recognize that this is it! This is the war of wars for you! Your past

problems have to be laid aside! You need not save anything for ‘THE NEXT TIME’ because

there won’t be a next time. You will be facing certain and total annihilation if you fail…of that

you MUST be clear!”

       “All right, all right!” Spain’s president finally shouted from the floor. “We need to get on

with it. What can we do?”

       Cache took a deep breath, with every person in the room and on the video links hanging

on her every word. She was uncommonly nervous as she prepared her instructions in her mind.

       “I surely wish Ron were here!” she thought.




                                                                                                412
        “The very first thing you should all do is inform your countrymen and women of exactly

what is going to happen. It is extremely vital they all be prepared to meet whatever comes their

way.”

        Every hand in the place went up at her statement, but she had anticipated their reaction.

        “What may happen all depends on the location of where they live…the resources they are

closest to. If they reside next to a large lake, then hover-tankers will drop from the sky and begin

siphoning off the water. If the land they live on has valuable minerals, then thermite-plasma

dredgers will simply obliterate the ground to get at them.”

        “We can’t tell them that!” cried dozens in a roughly unison complaint.

        “There is no way to know just where they will strike, or for what purpose. I do not have

a detailed description of your world. Whatever message you decide is best suited for each

country will have to do…I leave that to you…but the inhabitants have to be told to prepare to

repel any invaders. They cannot run away and hide. If they see strangers, they should not try to

communicate with them, or negotiate. Tell them to attack…preferably in large groups!”

        “What kind of weapons will they have?”

        “Some form of disrupter guns. These weapons will be incredibly powerful, as will their

wielders because they hail from a planet with much stronger gravity than Earth…but they can be

killed. It will be difficult for the average person, and appear overwhelming, but I assure you they

will die if you can inflict enough damage!

        “Now they will likely not make ground engagements right away…at least until they have

decimated your military forces, but any downed aircraft will likely spew some survivors who

will continue their campaign until they are either rescued by their brethren, or killed.




                                                                                                413
        “Inform your citizens to use anything…guns, knives, axes, even vehicles to stop these

attackers! It will be you or them…period. Only one side will remain standing!”

        The politicians were mostly deliberators and thinkers, not soldiers, so these plans to kill

at such a basic, brutal level were appalling. Cache was already versed in this arena, having faced

such distaste before from her own people, so their attitudes really didn’t surprise her, but the use

of time was another matter. She let them squirm and whine for half an hour prior to calling an

end to it.

        “MAY I HAVE YOUR ATTENTION!” she blasted through the intercom before waiting

for the room to calm down. “Thank you. Now…I have been working with a few of the largest

militaries’ leaders and we have drawn up some rough plans…lists of things to do, from the

placement of mechanized defenses and aircraft, to what the average person may be able to

accomplish. Your screens are all being sent this information. Take it and do what you think is

best. The time for talk is over! We have only thirteen days until they are here…and that is the

best case…so good luck to you all, and may the Guardian protect you!”

        With that, she walked off the stage and joined up with her personal escort…four very

powerfully built, extremely serious looking men.

        From the summit she was taken directly to Air Force One. The President of the United

States waited on her as if she were royalty.




                                                                                                  414
                                 Chapter Twenty-Seven


                                         The Rheckors



       On December 24th…the day when Earth would see the final convergence of the enemy,

Cache Kuar was a nervous wreck of exhaustion, worry, fear, and sorrow. She’d worked nearly

non-stop for days on end, planning, coordinating, and delivering thousands of her people’s

devices to those on Earth who would utilize them…even installing many of them herself. In fact,

she was so focused on her duty to help Ron’s people, she completely forgot her own safety…and

now she found herself trapped, Earth-bound…without the support of her beloved partner, or the

mighty warship.

       After a whirlwind tour of the planet, during the second-to-last stop of her expedition, a

freak accident had shaken her reality to the very core, and altered her future dramatically.



                                                                                                   415
       While packing up the equipment she used to install all the enhancements to get the

Venezuelan government up to speed, Cache was programming the next set of coordinates to

move the transport probe to…for the final stop. Off to her left was the typical scene of

movement at an airport…heavy equipment towing aircraft, small baggage tugs whizzing about,

men and women performing various duties, and so on. The entourage of military men

surrounding her was performing their jobs as usual, and no one was in any way threatening the

group, but in the end it didn’t matter.

       A fast moving baggage tug sped along the perimeter of their meeting area, the driver

faithfully on his way to refuel one of the planes in the U.S. party, when a length of rope under

the seat of the driver was blown out of its stowage position by a gust of wind and reached the

rear tire. The rotating wheel sucked the rope in like a long spaghetti noodle. In an instant, the

set of chocks attached to the other end of that rope were snatched out of their stowage trough,

knocking the driver completely off his seat and onto the concrete ramp.

       The fellow rolled to a painful stop, but in his exit of the tug, he tried to hold onto the

steering wheel, and failed. Unfortunately, he managed to yank it hard enough to send the four

thousand pound steel cart hauler directly into a running engine on the transport Cache was

assigned to.

       The tug struck the inlet of the high-bypass engine with enough force to reach the huge,

eight-foot diameter fan, sheering off two thirds of the blades before it lurched to a horrendously

loud, grinding stop. However, before that massive assembly of metal did cease its rotation, it

sent six of those three-foot long blades screaming out the sides of the cowling as deadly shards

of hardened steel.




                                                                                                    416
        Cache barely flinched from the noise of the metal screeching and grinding to a halt before

the ricocheting resonance of one of the blades whipped past her. She grabbed her breast at the

shock of it, scanning about to see if anyone was injured…and was greatly relieved to find that no

one was. Although, when she returned her focus to her computer, the red warnings across the

screen caused her to cringe…and then the blood fled from her face. The Portal probe had been

hit and was damaged! She ran a quick diagnostic and found it to be irreparable without access to

either Rauld or the Darlile.

        If it hadn’t been for her personal, nearly limitless tenacity, she’d have been a sobbing,

dysfunctional, useless mess. After all, with what she currently knew about the Rheckors and

their abilities, the fight was all but a lost cause without the Darlile, and the real probability that

she would never see her baby girl again quickly grew heavy on her mind.



        Beginning two weeks in the past, on the day following the global summit, Cache met

with each country’s military leaders and technicians…at least the ones who had equipment she

felt might be used against the invasion. She was flown around the globe on top-secret,

supersonic transports with twenty-five of the finest soldiers from the Army’s elite Delta Force

contingent as her personal bodyguards. That group was in turn escorted by two dozen of the Air

Force’s most lethal fighter planes, which were in the air at all times while she was in foreign

territory.

        Only twice did she have to abort her designated meeting with some officials due to them

not following her strict, unyielding safety protocols. The rules were straight forward and

relatively easy to comply with. She would land only at civilian airports. Only the country’s

rulers and their technical advisors would be present…no military! No weapons would be carried




                                                                                                     417
within a mile of the meeting other than her protective entourage, and she would be granted

complete access to computers containing their aircrafts’ schematics and full functional

capabilities.

        When her requirements weren’t met, and those countries were simply passed by,

dismissed to face the coming storm on their own, the other nations quickly lost interest in

pressing any advantage they might feel they had, or needed. They simply obeyed her demands.

        At any other time, that would have an impossible amount of cooperation to ask for, but

when they saw the demonstration of what they were up against, and what she could provide for

them, the major countries’ leaders were more than willing to accommodate her.

        Every manufacturer across the planet had their unique thoughts on their particular

systems, which meant vast variances to deal with, but Cache didn’t shrink from the task. She

worked with Ketlical and his staff, through the portal probe’s com-link, modifying each Raulden

component to operate with each device nearly autonomously, and then explained how to attach

them to the designated power sources.

        She grew tired of explaining why the Rauldens wouldn’t give away their advanced

weaponry. The power capabilities of the differing land-based and mobile machines and aircraft

were unquestionably far too weak to operate them…but she promoted what she could provide

marvelously. Advanced jamming devices were the best answer to their situation. They would

eliminate the shield generating capabilities of the aliens, and give the Earth ships at least a

moderate chance in the upcoming battle.

        The fixed-base radar facilities located nearly everywhere would cover most of the areas

close to the ground, and the AWAC type planes would work best for cover during aerial battles.

Their position above a conflict area could enable them to scatter the field in a wider parabolic arc




                                                                                                  418
than any other method. The military leaders assigned multiple tankers and fighter cover for each

one of those planes, in order to try and keep their chances optimal when it started.

       “It will not take them long to figure out what we are up to, and when they do, they will be

‘very’ focused on eliminating these aircraft, so be forewarned.”

       They all nodded their understanding and relayed the entire scope of the coming battle to

their men.

       She grew more and more concerned too while the days passed and no one could locate

Ron. The search had become infinitely more difficult with the loss of the communications

satellites, and her hopes waned with every hour. With only local programs being broadcast from

individual cities, like news and such, the dissemination of information was drastically slowed,

reduced, and oftentimes altered. The President relied on internet connections heavily, but even

those were sporadic due to the majority of data being sent over the airwaves at some point, and

thus lost or fragmented. The world was instantly thrown decades back in time for ninety percent

of its services and communications.

       People across the country, and the world, blew the dust off ham radios and CBs, and the

airwaves were rekindled with a much more primitive form of talk than the ultra-portable cellular

phones of the day. As the moment every Earthling feared approached, marshal law commenced

in each state, city, and town. Only essential workers, those needed to maintain basic services,

were allowed on the streets. Military patrols were buoyed by sheriff departments and city police.

The entire industrialized engines of progress and production were stopped as the citizens around

the world braced for a true world war, or waited for the end of days.




                                                                                                  419
        Not a single military person was on leave by the time the first wave broke through the

atmosphere, and every weapon, every ship, and every plane was on heightened alert as the clock

ticked away the hours, minutes, and then the final seconds.



       An alarm on Cache’s personal com unit alerted her to the event, and at that moment, in

the middle of the night when she was all alone and had no one to turn to, she knew it was

virtually hopeless! Needless to say, she slept little that night.

       The attack began in the highest reached of the upper atmosphere, as the Marauders

obliterated every orbiting satellite around the planet. They utilized thousands of automated ships

projecting gigantic sweeper nets of disruptor energy in front of them to plow the space clear of

all debris, disintegrating everything from dust to the International Space Station.

       At least Earth’s leaders were ready for that move and didn’t panic at the loss of signals

from the few remaining, operating devices. They had finally broken down the barriers between

the quarreling nations and established alternate methods of conveyance, sharing several secret

technologies with their usual enemies.

       The next move the Rheckors made came shortly after noon in America. They began

planting their Penetrator ships on the ground at several places where the Earth’s crust was

thinnest. The Yellowstone Caldera in the United States was one target, as well as New Zealand,

Japan, Indonesia, and other super-volcano sites.

       From a distance, the ships appeared to be gigantic donuts, with no outward insignias,

antennae, or weapons. Their passive flight approach, nondescript exterior, and hollow centers

belied their exceptional power capabilities and horrendous intentions. Those first intruders were

met with ground to air missiles and anti-aircraft fire when they were within range, but didn’t




                                                                                                   420
respond or even attempt to deviate from their routes. Their shielding withstood the inferior

attack easily. They all landed at their designated coordinates and immediately began

preparations for drilling…auto-leveling themselves into attitudes best suited for harvesting their

intended raw materials.

         In less than two hours, they were spooling up enormous generators that would produce a

drilling laser a hundred feet in diameter and could cut through earth and rock with incredible

ease and speed. Once the molten magma was reached, they used a ray-shielded vacuum system

to pump the planet’s life-blood through the boring lander, and into bulbous, hovering tanker

crafts that settled directly above each of the diggers. The pairs of alien ships combined to appear

like a super-sized mushroom, dark blue in color.

         Cache, President Garner, and the Joint Chiefs all stood watching the first machine in awe

and horror via a special military uplink fed to their heavily fortified bunker in the Colorado

Mountains. Not a single person spoke for a very long time as they took in this unabashed

attempt at robbery on a global scale. They were both mesmerized by the incredible technology

so far beyond Earth’s capabilities as to seem magical, and appalled at the blatant disregard for

the inhabitants of their planet.

         “Are we ready yet, General?” Garner finally asked of the army’s highest officer.

         “The Abrams are in place now, sir.”

         “Then proceed with operation Death Blow!”

         The Five Star General smiled a slim little grimace as he spoke again, this time into the

phone.

         “Colonel Cataan…Fire at will!”




                                                                                                    421
          There were fifteen heavy tanks positioned in the vicinity of the pumping ship, thanks to

Cache’s probability scenarios, and they followed a preset list of instructions perfectly.

          First, they all fired one volley at the digger, using their best armor piercing “sabot”

rounds. The depleted uranium tipped projectiles that could rip through nearly any armored

vehicle without worry were simply vaporized as they struck the limits of the shields, destroyed in

a bright orange glow of shimmering phosphorescence.

          “Turn on the device!” ordered Colonel Cataan…the commander on site at the ground

zero position, quartered in the lead tank.

          Cache held her breath as she watched the viewer. There was no outward sign of change

at all.

          “Fire!” yelled the colonel again.

          This time the result was quite different. The boring craft shook with the impact of those

rounds and fifteen holes could clearly be seen in the ship’s hull. Smoke instantly began leaking

from these penetration points and a couple of seconds later, the efficient crews were firing once

more, this time at the hovering ship. They loaded a different round into the massive cannons of

the Abrams, for maximum results against this new target. The explosive yield of the projectiles

exploded violently as soon as they impacted the ceramic lining of the ship’s thermal casing,

blowing out huge, gaping holes on all sides. The damage was catastrophic, destroying the

containment field keeping the four thousand degree liquid rock from actually touching the

structure. The result was immediate, as well as gruesomely satisfying. The upper craft began

spewing out the bright, red hot cargo onto the pumping station, encasing it in a shroud of liquid

hell. Next, the transport ship began to bulge and warp as the heat of the magma was absorbed

into the metal shell of its skin, and then it fell…the antigravity drives collapsing as the power




                                                                                                    422
units went off-line. A moment later the two alien ships were forever joined in a mountain of

oozing lava that would soon be a solidified memorial to the short battle.

       The com lit up with raucous cheering, as did the command center. The President and his

staff couldn’t contain their jubilation of the moment, and many congratulations were spread

around promptly. Cache smiled and tried to be upbeat about it, the shield-jamming equipment

working well all around the globe, but she knew what would come next…and then it did.

       Just as the boring equipment went down in two dozen points, from Chile to China, a new

and more deadly threat emerged. Floating far above the ground, already inhaling tremendous

quantities of the Earth’s life-bubble, were enormous atmospheric gathering ships…as well as

some other vast vessels. These others were the delivery ships from the orbiting super-carriers,

and they burned through the sky swiftly, like sharks in a pool, with their targets set.

       Those transports would each deliver a hundred fighters to lay waist to the ground troops

and mechanized forces the Earthlings had assembled, and when the compact attack crafts broke

free of their heavier “mother ships” they did their jobs well. The huge, flying docks were

quickly left alone in the lofty confines of the stratosphere as literally thousands of smaller, faster,

and sleeker birds sped away in steep dives.

       Planet Earth experienced the largest single, man-made bombardment campaign of its long

life in those next hours. Conflict on the scale of what was occurring was unimaginable before

this day, and earthlings perished by the tens of thousands, their men and armored vehicles

incinerated in wave after wave of brilliant plasma energy.

       Cache’s stomach began to churn hard, the bile taste clearly registering in her mouth as

she anguished over the fight. Then the specially equipped aircraft were ordered aloft, followed

by every operating fighter aircraft that could possibly stay in flight.




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       Over the United States, the huge radar dishes came to life, joining with the A.W.A.C.s to

spread their spheres of dispersion energy as far as they could possibly cover, and then the battle

for air supremacy truly began.

       The coverage mostly stayed close to each nation’s military’s strongholds, protecting

sensitive areas on the ground, cities, reservoirs, and such. At sea, the aircraft carriers extended

their blanket of safety far enough to protect as many other ships and coastal cities as they could.

       Once the jamming equipment came on line, the enemy shields were immediately

disabled, and those alien fighters that were meant to be agile and lethal became stiff and

vulnerable. Their structural designs were intended to support and produce powerful energy

weapons, which they did very well, but their hulls weren’t intended for actual contact with the

atmosphere. The fantastic, advanced shielding normally manipulating such duties extremely

effectively, and allowed hypersonic flight speeds without bother. Now, the friction of the air

threw their handling characteristics into near bedlam and they were limited to subsonic speeds.

       Adding to their chaos was a new level of urgency too, as Earth’s most elite and motivated

pilots flew their crafts to the very brink of their abilities, and beyond. The Marauders lost every

ship the first wave had delivered, and it looked good once more to the commanders in the

underground safe-houses.

       But then phase three began.

       The gigantic, city-sized space vehicles began their own retribution for the loss of their

comrades. A ball of plasma energy burst forth from the nearest vessel and tore through the

atmosphere in a blindingly bright flash that slammed into an AWAC aircraft over Dallas, Texas.

The plane, as well as the twelve man crew inside it, erupted in a white-hot explosion that

scattered their melding molecules into the air for over five miles. Only a puff of white smoke




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remained an instant later. And with that loss went the small bit of help against the relentless

enemy.

         The President, his advisors, and the military leaders all looked at Cache then, as if she

could somehow pull out a new strategy that would restore their hope. However, what they saw

looking back was the grim determination of a lioness surrounded by a pack of hyenas.

         “Get me to my ship! It is our only hope!”




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                                      Chapter Twenty-Eight

                                             Who Are You



       “Mistress is demanding an update!” said an unknown male speaker, echoing from the

deep, unfamiliar parts of Ron’s mind.

       The next voice was strained…worried…even frightened. It was clear that he was under a

tremendous amount of pressure.

       “I don’t have anything yet!”

       “What the f---k are you talking about? It’s been six days!”

       “Yeah, I know…and before that it was a six with some other squad! You don’t

understand what I’m up against!”

       “She doesn’t give a damn about your problem! She…”

       “Then tell her to get her ass down here and I’ll explain it to her!”

       “Talk like that will get you killed Trinnle!”



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       “You all think this is just some kind of game? I’m not trying to tune a f-----g piano! I’ve

hit him with every kind of serum we have…even combined things I’ve never used before. I

flushed his system twice to make the drugs more potent. I got nothing! You follow me?

Nothing! He’s like a God-damned vault with a million digit combination! And I tell you

what…he’s been through this before! His thoughts are intentionally scrambled, as if he were

wide awake! All this!” he said, slamming his metal tray filled with vials and small instruments

into a wall. “All this equipment is no better than simply asking him for the information over

coffee and donuts!”

       “What do you want me to tell her then?”

       “Tell her the truth. He’s not from Earth, and he’s not normal if he’s one of us. That’s all

we know for certain. It’s possible he could be a Sentinel…the way they modify those guys,

there’s no telling. We’ll either have to make him a deal, or let the Queen’s experts have a crack

at him when they get here!”

       “She’s not going to like…wait! Can he hear us?”

       “No…no…that’s just a sporadic spike in his alphas. Don’t worry…”

       That short bit of coherent memory was the single portion of his long ordeal clear enough

to retain when Ron finally awakened. They’d tried the oldest form of torture first, just for the joy

of it, taking turns beating him with their fists…until he timed a blow just right and ducked into it,

shattering the man’s hand in the process. The tormentors then decided to obey their orders,

handing him over to the doctors…and after they began, his grasp of time and reality was nothing

more than a sluggish fog.

       Ron cracked his eyelids open enough to take a few hasty peeks at his surroundings,

searching for his captors. When he found no one about, he grew bolder and extended his




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investigation. He was lying prone on the ground with his hands pulled out to the sides and raised

a foot off the stone floor, was stripped of all his garments, and his head pounded heavily. The

only light in the space was far above, glowing dimly, and this new world slid and swirled all

around him as he peered about.

       His throat was so dry it was difficult to swallow, and he felt like it’d been a month since

his last meal. As his faculties gradually returned, he studied the room and realized he had been a

“guest” of such a place before…Huinrag! The walls were twenty feet high and about the same

apart…squared off with one another. The entire place looked like it was constructed of concrete,

without a single crack or joint to be seen. In fact, the only break in the smoothness of those

confines was a lone door directly across the room in front of Ron. That portal was easily ten feet

in height and five feet wide, and those dimensions reminded him far too much of his last

imprisonment.

       “Could the Kreete really be here…on Earth?” Ron thought. “Or have I been taken off

world?”

       He felt the effects of many powerful blows on his body as he tried to sit up, quickly

discovering his hands were encircled by heavy steel bracelets which were, in turn, attached to

long, stout chains. Those welded loops of iron ran ten feet to either side, up through the wall,

and into an adjacent area.

       Getting to his feet stiffly, Ron took inventory of his person. Nothing seemed broken, but

there were plenty of clear marks to remind him of the fight he’d been in. Carefully moving

about, he assessed his injuries further, testing for mobility and the range of the chains. At that

point, Ron discovered he was given approximately two feet of slack in the restraints, forcing his

arms to remain somewhat spread-eagle. A strong pull on the manacles however, gave him




                                                                                                     428
another clue…those metal leashes weren’t anchored solidly, but were instead attached to some

sort of weighted pulley system that provided him an intriguing avenue.

       He began experimentation from there!

       The weights on the other side of the wall were massive, taking nearly all of his strength to

move them, so he started alternately pulling each of them to the limit of their lengths, just to see

what would happen. A thundering, booming, slamming sound echoed through the room,

vibrating the entire place and causing a light fog of dust to drift about…and that planted a

thought into his brain. His feet had been left free, so he used them to gain leverage against his

shackles in order to add his considerable mass to the action. In short order he had those

counterweights crashing in an earthshaking rhythm which was rewarded with swift attention.

       The noise from the weights slamming against stone rung Ron’s ears so badly that he

didn’t hear the heavy latch on the thick steel door being thrown aside, and only knew of an attack

when three large men rushed in at him.

       “Stop that infernal racket, you mindless gaert!” screamed one of the group.

       Ron was in mid-motion from pulling one way when he saw them, and allowed the

opposing action to accelerate his body toward their charge. The first fellow swung a club at him

but had it swept aside with one flying foot and caught the other squarely in the face. The guard’s

body seemed to rotate perfectly at the waist as his boots flew up and his shoulders sped

downward, until his head slammed into the stone floor violently. He did not rise.

       The next guy stepped aside as his partner was put down but couldn’t get out of the way

before Ron twisted his body sharply and connected with a knee to his chest. The force of the

blow threw the guard against the wall hard enough to dislocate his shoulder, and Ron gave him

one last shot as he slumped…a horrible kick to the side of his knee that folded it ninety degrees




                                                                                                    429
from the normal motion. The man screamed and dropped to the ground hard, squirming on the

floor in mind-searing agony.

       The last guard clubbed at the captive man with all of his strength, but Ron Allison was

unlike any prisoner he’d ever seen. Even though his back was turned, dispatching the second

attacker, he knew the last one would likely try to incapacitate him with a head strike so he

hunched his broad shoulders and ducked sharply. The hard, wooden baton landed short of its

target, much to the surprise of its wielder.

       There was a loud report of the club slapping flesh, and it was painful to be sure, but Ron

didn’t pause as his foot snapped up behind him, catching the man in the groin and lifting him two

feet off the ground. The guard’s hands were pulled back in a two-handed swing he was certain

would stop this maniac in chains, but the shot to his sensitive area made his stomach clench and

churn in a nauseating reaction he simply couldn’t control. And before he had the chance to

recoil away from that demon, Ron spun about…and his eyes were full of fire!

       Ron dropped his weight onto his shackled arms as his feet shot outward, latching onto the

neck of the final foe, and then he reeled him in. The man instantly forgot about the mind-

numbing queasiness in his lower body while his hands sprang up to try and free him from those

legs now threatening to crush his neck. He pulled and twisted and jerked in his desperate attempt

at freedom, fighting like a wild animal caught in a trapper’s wares, but he was only then

understanding the opponent he faced…and it was too late.

       Ron drew him in close and the growling, guttural emissions coming from his throat

combined with the rumbling from his broad chest as if he were a tiger. Such primal, ghastly

sounds made the fellow lose control of his bodily functions, filling his trousers with his waste.

One more quick twist would have ended the man’s life with a clean snap, but…




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       “STOP!” bellowed a voice from the doorway.

       Ron hesitated in his fight for a split second, just long enough for the newcomer to offer

up a warning.

       “You kill him,” he continued, whipping out a huge weapon with a barrel at least an inch

and a half in diameter, “and I’ll kill you!”

       For a long second Ron considered that threat, his need to finish the brawl still high, but

his cognitive senses took over…barely. Instead of ending the man’s life, he kicked him free and

filled the room with the infamous battle-cry of his Aredanz Clansmen.

       When that horrendous release of adrenaline was past, these captors got a tiny glimpse of

what exactly they had caught, and they unconsciously took a half-step back. Ron’s body

glistened with sweat and his heart pounded hard, forcing his blood into bulging muscles that

were more than mere sinew…as the three wounded guards had so quickly found out. Ron’s

wrists were pulled in close to his body as his glare tried to pierce the return stare of this new

threat, and he looked like the human embodiment of pure, unbridled wrath.

       The leader of the group held his ground for a while not speaking…and no one else moved

either. A few seconds of eyeing Ron drifted by before he motioned for his two male escorts to

move in from the hallway.

       “Get those three out of here.”

       The fresh men cautiously dragged the moaning fellow and his unconscious buddies well

out of Ron’s reach before stooping to lift them, and the person in charge stepped up closer when

they were done.

       “Who are you?” he asked.




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       Ron gave no reply. He had been “questioned” for an entire santari in the dungeons of his

last prison, enduring the cruelest, most ungodly punishments no other human had ever survived,

and if these men thought they could make him talk, they were gravely mistaken.

       The leader studied Ron intently. He saw the remains of the deepest, most horrible

wounds his captive had sustained, those still showing the slim whitish lines of scar tissue which

was not yet fully absorbed. In that instant he knew without a doubt this man was a true warrior.

He would not gain information by threats or pain…and too, this prisoner was strong!

       Ron continued to hold his wrists close, and the spokesman knew the size of the

counterweights on the other ends of those chains. Most of his own men wouldn’t have been able

to lift one of them with both hands, yet this fellow held them both…and his arms didn’t even

tremble from the strain.

       “Were you sent here from the fleet?”

       Ron made no move…not even a twitch…but his mind began to run fast.

       “Are you a Sentinel?”

       “Who are these people?” Ron began to aggressively deliberate. “They definitely were

not from Earth…but where? What fleet?”

       “If the Empress sent you, tell us. We will verify your identity and release you.”

       Ron was a statue.

       “Were you ordered to contact us…or eliminate us?”

       Nothing.

       “What are you here for?”




                                                                                               432
        Ron’s mind was racing full tilt now. They knew he was not an Earth man…apparently

expecting someone from their home world…or at least from some alien society that they were

allied with.

        “We will be leaving soon. If you wish us to take you along, you had better give us

something. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself dying right where you stand with the rest of this

pathetic world.”

        Ron said nothing…his deliberation switched from wondering who they were to the

fellow’s inference of an attacking threat.

        The leader grumbled before he and his men moved off to the doorway for a sidebar.

They spoke in low tones and in a completely different language, to conceal the conversation

from Ron, but he could make out much of it due to the Raulden translator chip and his

concentration being so keen.

        “We should kill him now!” one of the men urged, glancing over his shoulder at Ron.

        “But what if he’s been sent from the armada?”

        “We have no way of contacting anyone yet who could clarify that. When they killed the

up-link, they shut us down. We’ve got to wait for a ship to enter orbit now, and the delay is

driving me crazy!”

        “Relax, they’ll be in range soon.”

        “What if he was sent to find the origin of the scans we detected?”

        Ron’s ears picked up the mention of those “scans” and knew it had to be the Darlile.

That gave him an angle to work with.

        “What if he ‘is’ a Sentinel, Graehm?” the fellow continued.

        Ron’s anger took another step toward full-on hate with the mention of that name.




                                                                                                433
       “Then we can just say we never saw him Kiite!” Graehm replied with obvious

aggravation. “Kill him now Doogin…and be rid of him. There’s something not right about that

guy! If he’s a Sentinel, we never would have caught him.”

       “That was just dumb luck, you idiot, and you know it!”

       “Shut your hole, Kiite…before I…”

       “Be quiet…both of you. I need to think!”

       “If he’s from the Queen’s Guard, why was he at that woman’s home?” Kiite whispered.

       “The last we heard, they were looking for the crew of the ship that’s scanning the fleet!

He probably did what we’d do…hack their pathetic computer network and find her. After all,

she’s the only link to the black ship that we know of.”

       “That’s what it looks like to an outsider, yes,” Graehm replied, “but we’ve already

probed her memories. She knows less about the vessel than we do!”

       “I’m well aware of that, you gaert! But a newcomer wouldn’t know that!”

       “It was in my report!” Doogin clarified. “What if he’s the pilot of that ship?”

       “Then the whole scenario makes less sense than anything!” Kiite replied. “Unless he was

gonna get him a little Earth-girl action…heh-heh-heh!”

       “Pipe down you idiot, and let me think!”

        Doogin considered his options intently for a few moments, weighing the consequences

of his possible decisions. If he simply killed one of the Empress’s elite commandos, he might

someday have to answer for that. It was obvious to all of them that the prisoner was a heavy-

worlder, and that he’d seen a great deal of action, so the assumption of his warrior’s status would

be more than likely correct. On the other hand, if he was wrong and released him, he might be

inviting a spy into their midst. The only other option would be to leave him here alive and hope




                                                                                                434
to find out about his identity before the planet was too damaged to come back and rescue him, or

he perished from lack of water.

       “Water!” he jerked like he’d suddenly remembered something important. “Brejite!”

Doogin called down the corridor. “Bring water!”

       The three men stood at the doorway nervously then, still undecided as to how they should

proceed. They each glanced at Ron often but didn’t speak. A few seconds later footsteps could

be heard approaching in a quick manner, and the lightness of the patter told Ron a small person

was hurrying toward them in sandaled feet. Doogin stepped aside and a woman entered the cell

carrying a large handleless goblet.

       “Water him!” Doogin ordered as he continued his deliberation.

       The woman was short…possibly only five feet tall…slim and athletic looking, with well

toned legs and a defined midriff. Her skin was superbly tanned and she had long, straight, dark

brown hair that almost floated in the air when she moved. The attire she wore was a very skimpy

bit of shiny, pastel pink cloth about her hips which was slit on either side all the way to a thin

cord…the only thing holding the semi-skirt from falling to the floor. Her upper garment was

equally scant, being only a sleeveless half shirt that matched the skirt in color and appearance,

and was just barely enough material to encompass two-thirds of her marvelously proportioned

breasts…the sweet curve of their lower regions plainly in view.

       Ron noticed the way she kept her head down around the men, and guessed she was some

sort of slave to them…a concubine, or pleasure toy. His disregard for the men raised another

few notches at the thought.




                                                                                                     435
        As the girl passed by the doorway, her curiosity got the best of her, and she lifted her

eyes to see Ron. His demeanor had not changed, and she could tell instantly that he was an

extremely dangerous fellow.

        She stutter-stepped at first and then stopped all together, just staring at him…her mouth

hanging open in astonishment. She had never seen such a perfect specimen of a man…so

powerful, so commanding, even though confined in the chains…and so fearsome. She quickly

shot a timid glance back at Doogin.

        “She is a native woman,” he said to Ron, “…one of the Earthlings…so if you kill her, it

will matter not in the least.”

        Ron couldn’t stop a deep growl from reverberating through the room, and it made the girl

even more apprehensive. She took a few more steps and stopped again, looking as if she would

burst into tears.

        “Water him, you little bitch!”

        Ron made a conscious decision to prolong the encounter, and released his strain on the

chains. His arms shot up and out, followed immediately by a tremendous explosion of sound as

the counter-weights slammed to the ground on the other side of the wall. Brejite jerked again,

spilling half the water she’d carried in…and she shook visibly.

        The men jumped to full attention as well, unable to absorb the shock of that thunderous

sound without a sharp reaction of surprise. They ceased their deliberations once again and stood

staring at him…wondering what the mysterious beast-man would do next…and when they saw,

they were quite surprised by it.

        Ron’s furrowed brow melted away and turned placid and gentle, revealing a countenance

which the young woman found quite handsome and totally captivating. His quick glance at the




                                                                                                   436
others however was hard and cold, and reminded her he was not so gentle to everyone, but when

he looked her way again, he softened.

          “Don’t be afraid of me,” he whispered. “I will do no harm to you. Please, give me the

water.”

          Brijette complied with his request but was clearly shaking as she did so.

          Ron drank every drop of it, and when his throat was soothed again, he looked at the girl

intently.

          “Thank you.”

          She seemed shocked at his simple show of gratitude…as if this was the first time in a

very long time that anyone had shown it. Ron then turned his attention to the men.

          “If you have knowledge of the fleet, then identify yourself!” he ordered in their tongue.

          Doogin stopped his mental deliberation suddenly, his astonishment at being overheard

showing on his face in the form of queasy fear. He then shifted his stance and faced away from

the now commanding prisoner. He and his men whispered together for a few more moments

before they approached.

          “Who are you?” Graehm asked. “And you are not in a position…”

          Ron ventured a guess that these men weren’t as important as they tried to make out, and

since whatever group of vessels they were connected with weren’t in direct communication with

them, he decided to play out a ruse.

          “No, Doogin!” he said, ignoring the associate. “It is YOU who are not in a position to

command. When my superiors realize your part in my capture and abuse, the roles we have here

will be quickly reversed! And I cannot wait for that! So if you wish to have a slim chance of




                                                                                                   437
avoiding such a future, you’d better begin with answering my questions! Now, identify

yourself!”

       Doogin didn’t know what he should do. If this man was on the level, then he surely

didn’t want to further aggravate the situation. But if he was not, any information he divulged

would look equally bad.

       “First give me your name and your Mistress…so that I can verify your story.”

       Ron looked into the eyes of this leader and saw he was not at all confident in his

authority.

       “If you have any knowledge whatsoever of my duty here, you know that I am not at

liberty to give either…at least until I establish your own credentials!”

       Another long few moments drifted by as Doogin considered the truth of the prisoner’s

statement. If this man was really a Sentinel, then he had enormous value to his sponsor, whoever

she might be. And if he didn’t check out, they could always kill him then…no harm done.

       “Very well. I am Doogin Chandlin, second in command of the exploratory vessel, the

Rasp of Fire. The Matriarch of the ship was Kimmshea Goan. She died in the crash that

stranded us here over eighty seven cycles ago…more than a hundred of this world’s orbits.”

       “I do not recall such a craft, nor was there any mention of your being here…in this

sector,” Ron told him, trying to stall for more time to think.

       “We were part of the exploration of the Garannte Subsection!”

       No response from Ron.

       “The Garannte Subsection…ten light cycles from here, on the thirty first parallel of the

Quadrullion Nimbus Cluster!”

       “And just how did you get all the way out here?”




                                                                                                 438
       “The Kassars were expanding their realm in that location and we ran into a heavily armed

attack fleet. Matriarch Goan waged war with them as best she could but in the end, we had to

retreat. Our ship was damaged but we managed to make it to jump speed before they could catch

us.

       “We were heading in this direction, hoping to drop into normal space and turn back

toward the armada but the Dark Matter Drive failed and we came out of hyperspace too close to

this planet. The ship disintegrated in the atmosphere over a country called Russia, and our

lifeboat landed on a frozen lake in that area. We barely managed to survive back then…this

world’s air is so light…and we’ve been waiting for rescue all this time.”

        “Why did you not contact your superiors?”

       “With what? At the first snow thaw, the only thing we’d salvaged from the ship sank to

the bottom of a deep lake. Back then these people were so primitive, and their industry was so

antiquated, we had no way of making a com-link. The ability to communicate at the wavelength

we normally use has only been available for about ten cycles. Once the technology was finally

achieved, we integrated what we could into their orbiting network and began a distress call. Isn’t

that why the fleet is coming?”

       Ron began to understand how these heavy-worlders had stayed hidden for so long. They

must have grouped together and avoided open intermingling with the natives, although their

expertise was probably utilized in certain electronic fields. His father, Kurt, must have been

tracking some of them while in the military…possibly dissenters, or castouts of the group.

       Ron gave no reply, his mind spinning from the information. It was too fragmented to get

a good grip on exactly who these aliens were, but he got the distinct feeling that this “fleet” was

something exceedingly bad…and it was headed toward Earth!




                                                                                                 439
       Doogin got suspicious when Ron didn’t respond, so he then turned the conversation

around.

       “All right then…I’ve told you who I am…now it’s your turn!”

       He held the huge gun up to indicate his sincerity and Ron clamped his jaw down. Time

was up. He had to come up with something.

       “I am known as Shartae Dangarth! My Mistress is Cache Kuar. I have indeed come to

investigate the scans emanating from this planet. Moreover, I’ve been tasked with finding a

crewmember and getting aboard that mystery ship…either to pilot it off-planet, or destroy it! Do

you have any leads that might assist me?”

       “No,” Kiite replied with dismay. “Our source in the military has been lost. He was an

Earther General…tied in at the highest level, but he was having trouble passing information due

to some new advisor to the President. She knew about the fleet’s approach and was extremely

suspicious of him, monitoring his every move! She even put a tracer on his personal computer!

The last communiqué reported the Navy had found the ship, so it’s somewhere at sea…an island

or floating base, possibly…it didn’t specify. As far as its crew, we can only speculate.”

       “Have my Mistress confirm my mission and then turn me loose,” Ron ordered of Doogin.

“We are running out of time!”

       The Earth-bound leader slowly retreated, trying to come up with more questions, but

suspecting he would receive no further answers from the man.

       “And have some food brought in!” Ron roared as they exited the doorway.

       Brijette left with them, having stayed off to the side during the dialogue like a pet.

Throughout the verbal exchange, they spoke a language foreign to Earth and didn’t give a second




                                                                                                440
thought to her understanding them. Ron of course spoke their own dialect fluently, without even

thinking about it, also dismissing his petite hostess’s presence.

       He stood alone in his cell for a few minutes, racking his brain about how he was going to

get out of this mess. He had a plan, but with a guard outside the door, he didn’t see a great

opportunity on the horizon.

       A sudden drop in pressure made Ron’s ears pop, and explained at least one parameter of

how heavy-worlders were thriving here…the building was a vast atmospheric chamber.

       Five minutes drifted by before he felt a repeat of the pressure change, and he smiled at

the sound of those little feet hurrying down the hall once more. The new male guard opened the

door for her, and Brijette scurried through quickly. She walked up to within five feet of Ron

before stopping…again out of trepidation of such an ominous being.

       Ron saw no means of surveillance in the room, which seemed very odd if this was a place

designated to such inquiries, so his mental warning bell was chiming again. He was convinced

his time was short though, so he decided to take a very risky step.

       “I need you to help me escape!” Ron told her softly in English.

       Her eyes flew open wide and her mouth copied them.

       “Do not fear,” he whispered. “I am not with them. I will not attempt to harm you in any

way. Please, act as calmly as you can. I will talk with you a bit, and if you don’t trust me, all

you have to do is tell the guard I tried to subvert you. It will be over and you will be blameless.

Now, be at ease and give me the food. I’m very hungry.”

       The girl then returned to animation and moved closer. She looked up into his gray eyes

and hers shifted back and forth rapidly, showing her anxiousness, but in the end, she began to

feed him the platter of food heaping with meats, bread, and fruits…as she had been ordered.




                                                                                                    441
        “I am an Earth man…Ron Allison, from Westlake, Louisiana. I have only one objective

here, and that is to escape. I was looking for someone in Arizona when I accidentally got caught

up in some kind of attack they’d staged.”

        The girl just stayed quiet and kept feeding him, but he could tell she was judging his story

for truth.

        “Do you know who these people are?”

        She looked down for a few seconds and then up at him. She nodded slowly.

        “You know they are not of this world?”

        Again she nodded.

        “How long have you known?”

        “Since…since the first week I was brought here.”

        She was frightened, that much was clear, but after a moment she seemed almost relieved

to be able to speak about it.

        “The other girls…the ones who came before me…they all knew. At first I thought they

were deranged, from being prisoners for so long, but once I witnessed these men for myself, I

began to believe the truth.”

        “Who are they?”

        “They call themselves the Rheckors. They come from a solar system that is now unable

to sustain them…having been completely ruined by there total disregard of the balance of nature.

They’re like a plague of interstellar locusts…passing through the galaxy and stripping it of every

usable resource as they go. They travel in fleets numbering thousands of ships, and destroy on a

planetary scale.”




                                                                                                442
         “Son of a…!” Ron started to say, but checked his thoughts. “And now they’re coming

here?”

         “Yes!”

         Ron’s mind really began to rev then, and his focus of finding his wife suddenly took a

sharp shift to a broader spectrum. He stared at the guard by the door, carrying an ominous

looking rifle.

         “I was Melany Fortrain,” she began again hesitantly…trying to get his attention once

more. Ron pushed aside the dread he felt and kicked his brain back into gear with a strong sense

of urgency…all caution now cast aside.

         She helped him wash down his meal with a cup of water and then continued her

introduction while Ron devoured her offerings.

         “I’m from Jasper, Georgia.”

         “How’d you end up here?”

         “I was a College freshman at Georgia Tech when I went on spring break in Florida with a

group of friends. Things got out of hand one night and I woke up in a hotel room with three

other girls. Our wrists were taped together and gags were in our mouths.”

         More tears dripped from her lovely chin as her hand withdrew from her duty and

quivered at her side.

         “We were sold to these men that day and taken here…wherever here is…in a panel van in

the middle of the night. They drugged us, so I don’t know how long our trip took. We could be

anywhere! That was over two years ago.”

         “What did they…want with you?” he asked, feeling certain about the coming reply.

         Brijette looked down for a while and he saw a few flashes of drops falling to the floor.




                                                                                                    443
       “These men like Earth girls. They say we make them feel strong…like Gods! And they

‘are’ strong! They can do things normal men…even huge, powerful men…simply cannot do.

They like to show off too…that’s how I know.

       “But what’s totally ironic…” she half sobbed and half laughed, “on their world, the

women rule.”

       She looked back at Ron, the streaks of salty water evident on her cheeks.

       “There was nothing I could do! They just take what they want!”

       “Don’t allow yourself to accept blame for this!” Ron told her sternly. “You’re absolutely

correct. There was nothing you could do. You’ve survived this ordeal, and soon we’ll get you

home again!”

       “Home? That’s a laugh. I haven’t even dreamed of home in so long I can’t remember.”

       “I’ll take you with me when I leave. You have my word.”

       She looked at him as if he’d lost his mind, glancing at the manacles and heavy chains.

Ron just smiled.

       “Where are my clothes and weapons?”

       “In a room up the hallway…third door on the right. They keep all their weapons locked

up there.”

       “Can you get them?”

       “No. The room is always locked. I only have access to areas of food…until they call for

me.”

       Ron thought about his options for a moment and then made his decision.

       “Where do you go when you leave this cell? I’ll collect you…or do you not want to get

involved?”




                                                                                                444
         “You really think you can escape?”

         “Well, I don’t plan on staying here,” he told her with a twisted smile. “When they try to

confirm my identity, they’ll quickly find out I’m a fraud…and they’ll want to rid themselves of

me.”

         Brijette looked long and hard at Ron’s unflinching, grinning face. He was so full of

confidence, so brave in light of his position, and so gorgeous. She decided she had little to lose

in the plan. If he got free and rescued her, great! If not, she would be no worse off.

         “Very well. I’m in the next compound. If you turn right out this door, go down the hall

to the end, turn right again, take the next left, then follow it for fifty yards and turn left again.

That corridor will end in a heavy, steel door which leads outside. I don’t know exactly why, but

all these buildings are pressurized. The other women say it has something to do with the

Rheckors’ heritage…like the air here is too thin to sustain them.”

         “Yes, they’re heavy-gravity dwellers,” Ron explained, recalling the strength of the men

who’d captured him, “and Earth’s pull is too weak for them. Do you know how long I’ve been

here?”

         “I’ve only known about you for a couple days…but you were in the lab for a while first.

Also, they brought you in by ground transport and I heard one of the drivers say that was the

longest job he’d ever had.”

         Ron guessed his “dream” was fairly accurate as far as the time…probably at least a week.

         “What do you know about this region…outside?” he asked.

         “It’s hot here all the time, except when the rains start. Then it’s like we never get warm.

We’re in some kind of wildlife preserve too…or a national forest. The entire facility is only




                                                                                                        445
about fifty acres, with six separate buildings, but outside of that, we’ve never seen or heard a

thing.

          “Also, there are normally over a hundred Rheckors scattered all over the place, but there

are many more here now. They’ve been making preparations for a journey over the last several

days and will most-likely be in the largest structure off to the east. I will be in the next building

to the left…to the north of where you come out. I have very little, so I’ll be ready when you get

there.”

          “What about others…other prisoners?”

          “There are thirty three of us in our building, but I don’t know how many would be willing

to take the chance!”

          “Okay then, tell the ones you know will want to go. We can’t afford anyone giving away

our plans. If the others decide to try it, they’ll just have to hurry.

          “Do you have other clothing? If we have to go through the woods, you’ll need protection

from the vines, thorns, and such.”

          “I have a cape, and some high boots!”

          “If you can travel in them, put them on! What time is it?”

          “About three hours till dark.”

          “What about that guard?”

          Brijette thought quickly, and then a look of determination swept across her face.

          “I’ll find a way to…uh…distract him!”

          Ron felt a twinge of guilt at the thought of what she might have to do, and it showed.

          “It’s nothing I haven’t been forced to do for the past two years, so forget about it.”




                                                                                                   446
       Ron nodded regretfully. “Be ready after nightfall. I’ll be there as soon as I can…and

you’ll know it when I arrive!” he added with another sly smile.

       Ron was finished with his dinner by then so she smiled back at him, turned, and left. He

noticed the guard checking the barred window in the door when she asked to be let out, and saw

he was alone. Brijette spoke with the man for a minute, sidling up close to him and stroking his

arm affectionately. Before long, Ron saw him smile down at her. The massive bolt on that iron

barrier quickly slid into place followed by the distinct sound of a heavy lock clicking into

position, and then two sets of footsteps were clearly moving away.

       When the sounds of Brijette’s sandals faded from his auditory range, Ron waited with

mounting excitement. He felt the pressure drop, then rise…and at that point, he went back to

what he’d started before the first group of men had arrived…and the room instantly shook from

the tremendous pounding.




                                                                                               447
                                  Chapter Twenty-Nine

                                    Shartae the Invincible

       After forty-five minutes of unbroken, arduous labor, Ron saw the first signs of cracks in

the thick concrete wall where the chains disappeared. By then, what once had been perfectly

formed, smooth-bored, round holes were no more…elongated into rough, ragged, knarred slots,

ripped into the stone from the friction of those steel loops being dragged back and forth across it

with incredible force.

       Ron was literally raining sweat by then, slipping in the growing, salty puddles that

surrounded him. His hands were torn and bloody, as were his feet, from the abrasion of the

arduous tasks, and his shoulders, thighs, forearms, and biceps screamed from the strain, but he

would not relent. His will to succeed superseded the pain and exhaustion he felt. Time was

against him.

       He couldn’t hear anymore since the thunderous pounding was causing such intense

vibrations. That sound echoed around in the room so violently his ears were completely numb

and his skull felt like splitting…yet on he went, slamming the enormous weights into the stone

wall…long since having obliterated the pulleys once supporting them. Now the task was harder,

but the results were more evident. After another half hour, the cracks spread nearly halfway to

the floor and powder and rock chips flew across the room with every blow…and on he went.



                                                                                                  448
       Twenty more agonizing minutes saw a bulge in the poured concrete partition to his left,

and that spurred him on even more…the room swiftly drifting out of clarity as his vision was

blurred in a reddening haze. His grunts became more and more bestial and the spittle flying from

his mouth was laced with foam. He was returning to the animalistic state he’d been in during the

Retribution Games. He was a caged creature who would do anything to escape.

       A few more heaving tugs saw the wall lose half of its thickness. It had worked! His

Herculean strength and completely unbreakable tenacity had once more accomplished the

impossible. He would be free in mere minutes…but then…

       An unexpected popping of his ears made the skin on his overheated body suddenly jump

taught with goose flesh. The door to the outside had been opened! It could only be the

execution squad coming for him! His time was up!

       Ron increased his efforts instantly…his adrenaline spiking even higher now.

       Down the long hall, two men were striding into that secure bunker, but when the

reverberations of Ron’s arduous work registered, they picked up the pace. One pulled up short at

the weapons’ hold and the other continued on toward the cell at a dead run.

       Ron saw a face peering into the cage just as the first weight burst from the concrete

rubble and bounced free, halfway across the room. He then turned his full attention to the other

and his labors became frantic.

       “Mother of all that’s holy!” the guard blurted in absolute astonishment. “Graehm!

Hurry! And bring the big one! By Adreah’s hand…he’s lose!”

       The man at the door turned to see his partner racing to him carrying two weapons…both

of which were designed to stop other heavy-worlders like themselves. They possessed no energy

disruptors, those type guns having all been destroyed long ago, but instead, these were enormous




                                                                                               449
versions of Earth’s typical rifles…only twenty percent more powerful than a .50 caliber Earth

round.

         When he looked back into the cell his face lost all of its color as the stark reality of what

he was seeing washed-out his tanned skin.

         “HURRY!” he screamed.

         Graehm reached the door in time to have a quick look at what his partner was so frantic

about, and then he too gasped in amazement…and fright. Ron was standing in the middle of the

room, one of the heavy chains grasped tightly in his bloody hands as his body spun about

rapidly. Every revolution forced him to leap over the other anchored shackle still holding him

captive, but at the end of the metal loops he grasped was an enormous block of battered iron.

         “SHIT!” Graehm squeaked as he heaved against the weight of the weapon which could

shoot completely through an elephant. Up and through the bars it slid, slapping against his

shoulder straight away.

         He got off one shot, and for that split second when he squeezed the trigger, he thought it

would be enough, but the round merely collided with the flying counterweight as Ron released it

like an Olympic Champion in the hammer throw. The forged block flew straight as an arrow,

four feet off the concrete floor, and when it struck its target, the portal to the cage they thought

would easily contain this mere man, the results were horrendous. It ripped the entire door and

frame from their mounts, shearing off ten one-inch diameter pins that were anchored into the

surrounding concrete walls all around the opening. The three inch thick metal barrier was

ejected across the corridor and smashed into the wall there with sufficient force to imbed it an

inch into the stone surface.




                                                                                                    450
       Graehm and Kiite did not escape. The gun wielding man was now only sticky mortar

between the door and the wall, and his accomplice lost his right leg, arm, and shoulder as the

huge weight cut its ghastly path.

       Before the grit and rock from that explosive collision could reach the former glossy

concrete surface of the room, the bunker was filled with the terrible, eerie, magnificent call

which signified Ron’s victory…and then he turned back to the second anchor.

       Since he could finally utilize both hands on the single chain, the wall collapsed almost

immediately…but he was not free yet. The bracelets still kept him linked to those massive

devices. The destructive nature of his escape also tore loose the water system intended to protect

the structure from fire, and so he paused for the briefest of moments in the invigorating spray of

a ruptured pipe. The heavy shower washed him free of the thick layer of concrete dust that

covered his body, and cleared his burning eyes. He sucked in a couple of good, deep breaths of

air, stretched his tortured, weary frame, and then he was off.

       Scooping up the only weapon he saw…the one Kiite had been holding…he went straight

to the armory, hauling his twin anchors behind him one at a time, and thanking the Maker for the

fact that the floor of the corridor was so smooth. Once there, he used the Rheckors’ own weapon

to blast the hinges off the door before he kicked it in.

       After those three explosive discharges, Ron inspected the gun…quite surprised by its

power. It was some type of shotgun of a gauge far surpassing any Earthly similarities, and it

kicked like a mule, even for him. The slug it ejected was large and had extraordinary

mass…possibly depleted uranium pellets, or perhaps something he’d never heard of. Also, it

turned incendiary upon striking its target, leaving a hole which was both large and glowed cherry

red.




                                                                                                  451
         Once he was in, Ron immediately sought out his personal items while contemplating a

defensive strategy…just in case someone else might come looking for his would-be assassins.

         His clothing was tossed in a pile on a shelf next to the doorway, along with his boots, so

he hurriedly slipped into the shirt and pants…but the protective coat and hat were nowhere to be

found. The blue throwing knives were laid out on another rack next to the ebony sword, still

secured in its harness, so they were added to his attire as well. Moving on to his next need, he

tore into three medical packs in order to wrap up his brutalized feet, and afterward forcing the

boots over them none to carefully.

         At that point the arsenal was open to his investigation, and his eyes gathered in every sort

of weapon they could. There were handguns, grenades, multiple types of rifles…some of which

were fully automatic…packs of unknown materials, racks and racks of ammunition, flares, and

so on.

         One last thing he eyed with great envy was an interesting looking backpack which, upon

closer inspection revealed itself to be an air pressurization system used to aid the heavy-worlders

out in Earth’s inferior atmosphere. He didn’t leave without that!

         A few minutes later, when he slipped out the door, he felt well prepared to meet any foes

who might attempt to impede his exit…and left behind a good-sized improvised explosive

charge to keep his new enemies from using that cache of weapons against him.

         Up to the massive pressure door Ron went, pausing to check the items he carried one last

time before he decompressed the chamber and opened the portal.

         He half expected to be ambushed, but as the cool night air struck his face, all was calm

and quiet.




                                                                                                    452
          The wide open courtyard before him was sparsely lit, allowing a bit of shadowy cover,

but not too dark to make a good visual sweep of the place impossible. After determining the

threat level, he took a quick note of the arrangement of the open space.

          There were concrete walkways running between half a dozen buildings with colored tile

and stone bordering either side of those paths. Also, small pockets of greenery stood here and

there resembling the urban layout of a typical residential compound. The architects were

obviously attempting to add some color and life to the drab constant of stone.

          Ron slipped out of the lighted entrance to his former prison and into the shadows before

he set his senses on patrol. His ears were still ringing from the long bout with the heavy anchors,

but his eyes were in fine shape, so he swept the area twice more, first swiftly to determine if any

of his captors were milling about or heading his way, and then slowly, to imprint the positions of

every tree, building, and bench in his visual realm.

          Things were very serene at that moment so he took a step further back and checked the

sky. His extraordinarily sharp memory searched out the stars of his past and allowed him to get

his compass bearings. He then turned west and struck out for the holding pens of the women.

          There was a little bell going off in his head as he made his way through the darkness,

warning him that this was all a bit too easy, but the pounding inside his skull made him too numb

to it to heed his inner, cautionary advice. As he cast a last glance about and rushed to the door of

Brijette’s jail, he failed to see the horde of troops moving into position beyond the glow of the

lights.

          Ron pressed his ear to the thick wooden entrance and heard nothing, so he tried the

handle. It was locked as he had expected, but it wasn’t the massive steel barrier of the




                                                                                                    453
pressurized portal he’d just exited, so a single, solid blow of his shoulder managed to open it

rather handily.

       The door swung violently inward, exposing a large interior space which was arranged

like a commons area of a college dorm. There were several couches, chairs, small tables, lamps,

and such, but he saw no one about. Ron glanced over his shoulder at the empty, grassy expanse,

and then strode swiftly about the room, checking in each of the five arched openings arranged in

a half-moon shape. They led to five separate corridors leading into the body of the large

structure like avenues…cordoning off the different wings of the place.

       Ron detected a distinct scent from each of them. One was the way to the laundry facility,

another was lined with showers and latrines, the next two were domicile areas, and the last had

the definite aroma of a kitchen or cafeteria. None of the windows in any of the areas opened,

and so he guessed the women slaves were allowed to control this compound, or at least have the

run of the inner space, but they were completely contained inside the walls of the building.

       Ron flew down the hall where the ladies slept…but again, no one was around. He

listened for water running in the shower section but all was quiet. Finally he marched to the

cafeteria and found what he feared…the tables still had food on plates, sitting idle!

       “Son of a b…!” he growled.

       “Take him!” ordered the Mistress of the facility.

       Three large brutes with arms like trees dashed forward at her command, straight into the

dimly lit building. They were armed with those big, bulky rifles that shot the elastic netting

material. It was simple…they would quickly recapture Ron.




                                                                                                  454
       The Mistress waited outside under the lights, her breath quick and shallow…her eyes

straining to see what was happening. She didn’t need to worry for long however before the

sounds of shots being fired were heard…along with some unearthly roars and unmanly screams.

       One of her men literally flew out the first window to her left, spraying glass far into the

courtyard, and then the ghastly sounds of bones breaking were quickly followed by the other two

fellows being cast out the doorway.

       She took a hasty few steps back and then stood her ground once more…trying to bolster

her courage in front of her minions.

       “Show yourself!” she demanded.

       Ron made no move toward that end, but rather used the distraction of the unconscious

men he’d discarded to allow him to make a rough guess as to the size of the contingent which

now stood outside. Six more men rushed over to drag the wounded trio clear of the possible

reach of their vanquisher, and he saw clearly that he was surrounded. There were at least thirty

armed soldiers out there and all were brandishing some kind of rifle.

       “Show yourself or we shall begin killing the Earth females!”

       A snap of her fingers and the women were immediately being herded into the wide

courtyard.

       Ron’s chest rumbled deeply, speaking only slightly of the anger he now felt burning

inside. His wish to show them just how much he detested this display of cowardice would have

to wait though, and so he stepped into the doorway.

       The Rheckor Mistress’ eyes gleamed at the sight of him. Her three warriors hadn’t even

ruffled his hair, much less damaged him. She was openly impressed by his attitude as well,




                                                                                                 455
noting his gaze spanning the entire locale in a single pass. She gathered that he was also well

prepared for battle.

       “What planet do you come from?” she asked.

       Ron let his thoughts run through the usual “pros and cons” of answering that question,

and the possible consequences if he were caught in a lie. Also, he scrutinized his female

adversary.

       She was tall for a woman…perhaps six-feet…and quite lovely. Her hair was flaxen,

extremely curly, and pulled away from her face with an ornate, golden hair band, draping behind

her to midway of her back. She was very voluptuous and didn’t mind showing it, sporting a lacy

black, sleeveless vest that stopped above her belly-button…one that showed ample cleavage and

was the perfect companion to a sheer black mini-skirt. Her dainty feet were shod with golden

sandals having straps that adorned her shapely calves in a crisscross pattern up to her knees. She

was stunning, as well as shameless.

       “Teach him to speak!”

       From out of thin air, Ron was bludgeoned from behind by some club, knocking him from

his feet. He struck the ground with stars in his eyes but kept moving, carrying his momentum

forward in a tight roll that put space between him and his invisible foe. He popped up with the

raven blade naked in his hand, but it was removed with the next attack, directed at the wrist of

that hand. Another powerful blow struck the back of his left knee, dropping him again as two

more speeding weapons contacted his head and back.

       Ron didn’t have his heavy coat or pack to ground him, and so used that fact to catapult

himself up and out of his assailants’ reaches, hitting the grassy surface thirty yards from where

he left. A quick shake of his head cleared his thoughts and snapped his senses up to the max.




                                                                                                   456
        “They have some kind of camouflage that makes them invisible in the dark,” his father

had warned.

        Ron didn’t spend time cursing his stupidity for being caught unawares…he merely began

the fight anew. The morning air was calm, and with everyone around holding their tongues to

watch the fight, he set his focus.

        His opponents rushed over to his position, attempting to surround him again…but their

cloak of stealth was not as perfect as they hoped. It didn’t hide the crushed blades of grass under

their feet, or the sounds of the staffs whistling through the air.

        The mighty Shartae reached up and tucked the stolen breathing apparatus in his mouth,

spread his feet out wide for balance, and cocked his head slowly from one position to

another…searching…searching.

        “Smack!” sounded the next strike, landing on Ron’s back. It stung, and pushed him

forward again, but this time he was ready. The next whirling piece of hardened wood slashed at

his jaw, but he heard it coming and his two forearms flew up to parry it!

        Ron could sense where the fellow was by the pressure against the staff…and almost

decided to slit the fellow’s throat with his long knife, but altered his method at the last. These

aliens hadn’t killed him yet, but if he were to slay four of their best warriors right in front of

them, that might change. After all, he was still surrounded by a small army of well armed troops.

        Instead of a death-blow, Ron latched onto the staff with both hands. A powerful twist and

a lightning fast kick robbed the foe of his weapon, doubled him over, and armed Ron with a six

foot long length of some manmade equivalent of wood. The weapon suddenly winked into view

when its owner released it, and Ron twirled it once to get its balance.




                                                                                                     457
       That pseudo-wooden device then whistled in the air before colliding with something

waist high in the grass…only seen as a depression of the green blades…a depression in the shape

of a man. Ron continued on, now fully ready to do battle…leaping to the right with the staff

invisible again…this time due to its speed!

       He no longer scanned his proximity for the enemy…now he felt for them. In twenty

seconds two more phantom attackers fell to the ground, both groaning and screaming after the

snapping of several limbs…and when they were down, the challenging call of the Aredanz

echoed across the compound!

       The fourth fighter remained still…out of reach and hidden from the demon-man! These

soldiers fought and sparred with one another to stay proficient in such warfare, but the man they

now faced was no mere soldier. He didn’t practice mock battle, he lived it!

       “You wish to fight?” Ron roared into the air, and at the large group of troopers. He was

fully incensed by then. “Then let’s fight! I know there’s another one out there! Come on!”

       “Enough!” she shouted, regaining Ron’s attention instantly.

       The comely alien leader looked sharply to her left and one of her guards nodded, putting

his rifle up to the temple of the pretty little Brijette. Ron could see her clearly under one of the

lights of the compound. She was naked, kneeling in the grass, and the side of her face was

swelling fast. She wore red welts on her body from a lash of some kind. The Mistress was not

one to casually threaten. Ron saw that immediately.

       “Caron.”

       She focused her attention back to the broad shouldered man in the courtyard of her slave

facility…the one who seemed unassailable.

       “What?”




                                                                                                   458
       “I come from a planet called Caron!”

       “I’ve never heard of it.”

       Ron didn’t blink or twitch. He merely stood there like a Greek god. His trump card…the

detonator for his bomb…was securely in his right pocket, and it gave him the confidence to play

his hand.

       The invisible attackers suddenly appeared on the ground, deactivating their electronic

camouflage so their comrades could come to their aid and carry them to the infirmary. Ron saw

that one of them had a bandage on his neck, and he wondered about that wound…and that night

in Lake Charles.

       “Where is your ship?” Kimmshea barked, returning his focus to her.

       He tossed the staff to the ground and retrieved his raven sword, stowing it casually. At

that point, Ron just stared blankly at her.

       “Shall I have them all executed?”

       “Do what you must. I have no responsibility to them.”

       She smiled at that. “No matter. The fleet has already located it anyway…and dispatched

a set of barrier probes to it. You will not be using it again!”

       Ron’s mind went into high gear then. Barrier probes? They had the capability of finding

and trapping the Darlile? No wonder he’d been having trouble contacting the warbird. He

needed more information…and time to consider alternate plans.

       “Mistress Kimmshea Goan, I presume?”

       She nodded slightly, brandishing a thin, malicious smile. “Clever boy.”

       “Who are you people?” Ron asked, hoping for some clarification.




                                                                                                459
        “Everything Doogin and the wench told you in the cell was the truth, except for my

untimely demise of course. We were trapped here and now we’ve been rescued. The Empress

has arranged for a transport off this low-grade rock…which should be here shortly. WE are

finally going home. If you would like to survive, you will come with us. Otherwise, you shall

die with the rest of these pitiful creatures.”

        “What could you possibly want with this planet? It’s primitive by your standards. The

people know almost nothing about space travel, and their tech…”

        “Water! Air! Minerals!” she replied curtly. “Earth is a gold-mine…so to speak…of

resources we can always use!”

        Ron finally understood exactly what they were doing here. They were the final chapter

of Earth’s existence! That is, unless someone stopped them. His determination ratcheted up

several notches.

        “And just why would you allow me to join you?”

        Kimmshea flashed a dazzling smile. “You are not a fool…that’s good! Of course for the

honor of being accepted into our fold, you would be required to make some sort of sacrifice…or

gesture of good will.”

        Ron wouldn’t bite. He stood there waiting…waiting for her to spell out precisely what

she wanted from him…even though he already knew what it would be.

        “The ship! We have been intrigued by it for the past two years, and now that it has

returned, we’d like to know more. You will have to hand over the black ship!”

        “If that’s all you want, why bother with me? Why not just take it?”

        He saw the beauty drain from her face at his statement. She knew he was chiding

her…and she didn’t like it at all. She was used to being pampered and obeyed without question,




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and this stranger was beginning to rub her the wrong way, even though she found herself

inwardly drawn to him by the typical attraction one alpha has to their equal of the opposite sex.

This man was no mindless pawn.

       “What is the key code to the ship?” she said harshly, her manners totally evaporated now.

       “Even if I gave it to you, without my hand and brainwave input, it would be useless. I

tell you what…take me to it and I’ll open it up for you.”

       The Rheckors’ leader smiled slyly. “That is an unlikely scenario.”

       “You’ll never open it without my help…so I guess you do need me, don’t you?”

       Mistress Goan was mad enough to chew nails by then. She hated being in a position that

forced her to tolerate such insolent behavior, but she had no alternative. With the initial

penetration of Earth’s atmosphere, her orders had come down directly from the fl