Rocket. A free preview from Dell Sweet

ROCKET



Rocket

Copyright 2018 Dell Sweet all rights reserved.

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PROLOUGE

Hay Vida 02281 11-08 21:58:27

Present Day

Michael Watson sat at the mouth of the cave staring out over the valley below. This close to the thick plastic the air was cold, but the wooden benches were comfortable if a little hard. They had served for dozens upon dozens of people since Mike and Tom had built them some thirty years before: They still served them well. He turned and smiled at several children who sat nearby pointing out different landmarks in the valley far below. The children, especially, never seemed to tire of sitting on the low benches and looking out over the valley.

Michael chuckled to himself, turned his eyes from the other benches, and back out on the valley far below. The snow was falling heavy. Two hours ago late fall had been holding steady, little smudges of green had still existed throughout all the fall foliage in the valley. Now it was quickly becoming a blanket of white. Fall had lost this round.

Years before they had devised a new year that better kept track of seasons and the much longer year Hay Vida had. Even with a year that now held some 95 extra days spread over fifteen months to even the seasons out the time still seemed to move by too quickly. Time was never a friend to anyone, Michael thought. Well, maybe death nothing else.

The seasons had worked themselves out after a few years. Some longer, some shorter, it was winter that had come out the winner in that round. Even slightly longer winters had a huge impact on the year around weather and the planting that could be accomplished. It took much longer to get through winter, longer for spring to thaw the valleys and fields for planting, longer for the sun to warm the ground and glaciers were forming in the north: Growing ever bigger year by year. Michael had sometimes wondered in years past if he would see them come this far. Of course the answer was no: They would not come this far in his lifetime, but he had no doubt they would come here eventually.

Winter was coming in strong today; there would be little left to do soon but plan the hunts and tell stories around the fire.

They still kept their own herds started from the stock they had worked so hard to bring into this valley, but they often hunted. The habit was good and it passed the skills down to the younger ones. There were places in this still-young world where those skills were essential.

The whole mouth of the cave had been closed off from the elements for many years. Salvaged carbon sheets that spanned floor to ceiling: A graphite frame that held them: Warmth inside the elements without, but always within reach. Something Tom had built. The last thing Tom had built, Michael remembered sadly.

He shook his head slightly remembering. That had been back in the council days before the wars had begun: Before the years of leaders, kings, the two queens and everything else that had come with the wars. Even so, even in the council years, Michael had been their leader. The council had made its decisions, but he had lead them.

Michael had been the only leader for several years now, he had helped to build this society, but he was getting older and it was getting closer and closer to the time when he would need to turn the reins over to a younger, stronger person. Maybe even this winter, he thought as he watched the snow swirl and blow.

Back in the cave behind him there were three generations waiting to take their own steps into the procession that would bring them to leadership. Some of those young men and women were ready now. It really wasn’t something he should be thinking about it was something he should be doing.

“Grandfather?”

Michael smiled up into the eyes of Rain, a newborn at her breast; her swollen belly a testament to the one coming. He took one of the furs from his shoulder and laid it across the worn wooden planking for her. A second went around her shoulders as she sat.

“It’s not too cold for the baby this close up is it?” Michael asked. The carbon held the weather out, but it was still very cold this close to the huge sheets.

Rain smiled back. “Thank you, grandfather. No it isn’t too cold.” She looked out over the valley too.”It’s beautiful,” she said.

“It is, but it can be treacherous. Winter is here now… Probably you should stay?” he asked the last. Too often he came off as demanding. The rule giver; it was something that Petra had always chided him about: He missed her constantly.

“It’s what Ron and I thought too. Base One will be there in the spring. I thought we could send a messenger… Maybe tomorrow after the snows?” She smiled widely. She knew he had been worried, and she was glad that he had given them the time to work it out between them. Glad now to give him what he would consider good news. Michael had already stood and turned though, his large frame standing tall from the rock floor.

“Jerrica,” he called out.

A young woman came from the back area of the cave. She was tall, dark, short black hair framed her face. Her clothes were stitched leather, heavy, well made. A laser rifle rested upon her back. A wide belt circled her waist; pistols on either side and a knife sheaf depended from it: Firepower was a luxury not easy to come by any longer. She came and stood next to Michael. She looked so much like her mother, Michael thought, that it amazed him. He had known Petra at this age, the resemblance always threw him when she was here and made him think for a second that reality had side slipped and he was back in time somehow.

“I will need you to deliver a message to your mother for me,” Michael told her. He stood and walked a short distance away and continued to talk to her in low tones. Rain turned her face back out to the valley and watched the thick flakes of snow fall, when they had finished their conversation they both came back to the benches. Jerrica gazed out over the valley, her eyes veiled.

Rain smiled at Jerrica, but her face barely softened. She was so serious. All members of the guard were always serious and Jerrica was no exception. Rain supposed she had been the same during her service too, but something in Jerrica had gone past service, she had come to love it. She had never left it. It was her life. Younger than Rain, she had already been a guard for several years. Rain had done her own duty for two years and had then become a wife and mother. She and Ron were going to Base One to be considered for leadership. She listened to the low whispers of talk between Michael and Jerrica and thought about her own life as she did.

She had come to this valley as a child with the original settlers: Years past now. That bought her to nearing her middle years, the age of leadership. As she looked out over the valley she realized there was little left of the original settlement she had watched rise from the valley floor as a child. In those days the people had still clung to the old technology. That was long gone here now, except with the guard and some other applications like the power plant; a few others. The people themselves had gone back to simpler roots. The old ways Tom had taught them. His motto had been; why use it just because it’s there? Do we want to return to the old life or do we really want to move on to something else? Always a challenging question and one everyone had to answer in their own way.

There was only a settlement here at all because Michael had come back, killed the ones that had enslaved the people; freed them, Rain included and taken the settlement back.

Michael spoke, interrupting her thoughts.

“A team is outgoing with Jerrica. She will tell them to look for you in the spring.” He smiled. “Maybe that will give me time to talk you out of leaving.” He smiled, but it was an uneasy smile.

Rain smiled. He didn’t know why they were leaving. They had told him it was simply time to move. She didn’t know how he would feel if she did tell him, but she hadn’t wanted to hurt him.

Michael turned back to the valley speaking as he did. “They will know inside of a week.”

Rain made up her mind. “They have asked us to come… To be considered to lead… Petra asked for us.”

Michael turned and straightened. “Petra?” He looked from Jerrica to Rain as he spoke.

“Petra wishes to step down,” Jerrica told him quietly.

“… I remember the times we spent there… When it was still good for all of us,” Rain said. Her eyes teared up; she shifted the baby and looked at Michael.

Michael nodded. “You should not leave here. I have sat staring out at this valley and wished you would stay so I could offer you this leadership,” He turned away to hide his own eyes from her. “Not so large or advanced as Base One, but large and in need of new blood to lead.” He turned back to face her. “Had I known I would have offered. I was afraid you would refuse it.”

“I…” she caught herself as her voice broke. “I didn’t know…” She turned her head away and then stood quickly and walked away.

Michael turned to Jerrica. “I had thought that it would be you that would lead after your mother stepped down.”

“It was offered… I refused. My place is here in this valley where I was raised; not there… I … I refused,” her eyes seemed to struggle to say more, but it was not really necessary.

It was the same with many aspects of the split that had torn them apart. There were sides and they were chosen. After all of these years he couldn’t think of a single reason why he had stayed and fought here. He reached out and placed one large hand on her shoulder. “I understand your choices. I am glad that there are no barriers between your mother and you.” He waited for her eyes to meet his. “I hope to be going with you. I should make some changes here.” He glanced over where Rain stood talking with Ron.

Jerrica followed his eyes.

Ron had watched Rain from the seat he shared at the fire with some other hunters. He excused himself, and followed her to the back of the cave where they made their own winter quarters.

“Rain?” he asked as he came to her and placed one massive hand on her shoulder.

“He is stepping down… He wanted me to know he would have already given the leadership to us.” She turned and buried her face in his shoulder and wept. The baby fussed for a second, upset at the confinement and emotion and then went back to nursing; sniffling as she did.

Ron smoothed her hair with his roughened hands. He turned her slowly and then pulled her and the baby down to the floor where he held her silently for a few moments.

“What do you want, Rain. What do you want?”

“I can’t leave now… I can’t. We can lead here. We can make it bigger. Rebuild it even more from the wars. It could be good,” Rain said as she looked at him with her tear reddened eyes.

“Trade the sea for the snow?” he asked with a smile.

“Leaders can visit.” She shifted around. “I think all the people that caused the wars are dead now. Just the ones who worked so hard to end it are still going. Michael, Jerrica, Ash, Terrica. They are still here. They still want it all back together. We should try to get this all as one again and as leaders we could do it. I could accept leadership here you could accept it there. It could work.” Her eyes pleaded with his.

“They would turn both of us out if we tried that,” Ron told her.

“Not if we were straight forward. Accept leadership here and take the proposal to them next spring. We will already be leaders here. They can only say no, but I do not believe they will say no. I think it is time to put us all back together,” Rain said softly. The baby let go of her nipple and began to fuss. “Poor, baby,” she soothed as she put her over her shoulder and patted her back softly, rubbing for short periods. Her eyes met Ron’s.

“Tell Michael. Tell Michael and see what Michael says about it,” Ron said after a few moments.

~

Michael watched the heavy flakes fall. He had not known what to make of Rain jumping up and leaving so quickly as she had. He only hoped it was because she wanted time to talk to Ron about what he had said. What he had essentially offered.

He had shocked himself. While it was true that he had been sitting here thinking about turning leadership over he had not thought it would be so soon. He had hoped that when Rain and Ron came back from their trip to Base One he could approach the subject with them. Now he could see that it would have been far too late then. They would have left and they would never have come back.

It saddened him to think of passing leadership to someone else, but in another way the responsibilities were too heavy. He was too old. Petra was younger and stronger. He couldn’t understand why she would give up leadership. A position she had held in one capacity or another for all the years since the end had come. She was a natural. What would make her consider stepping down, he wondered as he stared out over the valley.

He had been on the verge of rising; going to find Rain when Ron dropped down beside him.

Michael held his eyes when he turned to him. “She spoke to you?”

“She did, grandfather.” He laughed. “She would never leave you now.”

“It wasn’t meant to make you stay… It was time,” Michael said. He turned his eyes back out to the valley. In the far distance a herd of bison grazed. Whether their own or a wild herd he could not tell. At one time the entire valley had been closed: No longer. A smaller valley on the opposite side of the mountain held the winter herd: Small; what they could afford to keep and feed through the cold. The rest were turned loose. They mingled with the wild herds, but they never forgot the valley was their home and so they could be depended upon to come back in the spring.

Ron followed his eyes and watched the herd of bison in the distance through the blowing snow. “Big herd.”

Michael nodded and then turned. “You will stay?”

“She will stay…” he paused and let his words sink in: Concern mounted in Michael’s eyes. “She seems to think that I should take the leadership being offered by Base One… Bring us all together as a people again.”

Michael smiled. “She is like my own blood.” He laughed; a small laugh, but then he let it roll out of his huge chest. “I can see it. I can see it.” He fell quiet, watching the bison as they moved more fully into the protection of the walls of the valley. Their coats were already heavy; carrying the weight of the snow as it hid them from the eyes of predators. Ron watched with him.

“Almost gone already… If I didn’t know exactly where to look…”

“Yes, I never get tired of it,” Michael agreed. “I’m older than all of them you know. It was so unfair… Petra is so young; she should rule for years to come yet she is stepping down. Here I am in my late seventies, almost eighty now… Soon I will be…” He sighed. He shook his head. “Where did it all go to?” He turned and met Ron’s eyes, but Ron only shrugged as he held his eyes. Both men turned back to the valley, but just that fast the bison who had been moving nearer had disappeared under their walking blankets of white.

“Insulates them too: Hard for me to believe that but it is true,” Michael said. He turned back to Ron. “She’s right… It’s what should have been done long ago.” He stood and turned back into the cave where Jerrica stood talking to several others. The only vehicles they still had were the transport vehicles the guard used. Everything else had long been given back to rust and age. The guard transports had only gotten better. Built from scratch and modified with more and more technology as they came across it in the old drops they discovered out on their missions.

Michael stood to his full height and raised his arms high above him. “People,” Michael’s voice boomed out and the people in the cave stopped what they were doing and looked to him. He may have been closing in on eighty, but there was still a great deal of fight in that voice: Power.

At one time there had been several thousand people here. Now there were slightly more than two thousand; still a great responsibility and a growing one. He waited until he had everyone’s attention, at least those that were inside. Most were working at this time of the day, but it didn’t matter. The news would find them.

Rain came from the back: The baby gone; most likely sleeping on a pile of furs with a few others, Michael thought. She came to Ron; her face tense, unsure what was about to be said.

“You all know me. You all, I hope, know that I am not pretentious. I pray to God I never have been or will be. I am just a man.” He paused. “There is no easy way to say this, for I love you all. You mean something to me. Every one of you; and if you can look at this in that light you will realize it is past the time that I stepped down.” A few gasps punctuated the silence and a very low buzz of hushed, surprised conversation.

“It has never been concealed from you that I have looked at Rain as my blood. That is why I hope and pray that you will accept her leadership of this settlement.” Michael fell silent and the silence in the cave held for a few moments before the cheers began. With a few seconds the crowds around himself and Rain were so thick they found themselves pushed together and herded back into the central area of the cave. Questions, answers; they would have them. He had to answer some of them at least.

Michael raised his arms and waited for the quiet. “I give you your leader… Will you accept her?”

The cave reverberated with the shouts of yes.

“It’s finished then,” Michael said softly. He said it softly on purpose to hold their attention for a moment longer. “Before the celebration begins I will explain why it had to be now. When Jerrica and her guard team leaves I will be going with them to Base One. I will leave tonight with them, and I do not know if I will return. My wish will be to return, but that old dog age is nipping at my heels and so who knows, maybe I will reach the warmth of the sea and wish to stay there.” He waited for the laughter to die down. “You need a leader now: A leader that can take you to the next place our people need to be. The same place we have all worked to attain, togetherness, healing, advancement. A man or a woman grows, or they die. This settlement is the same way. We forgot that back in the wars. I have remembered it now. Rain has never forgotten it,” his voice fell even lower. “Something I only wish I could claim. Something I am proud to see living within her.” He met as many eyes as he could.

“God willing I will see you all again,” Michael told them. He turned and embraced Rain as her tears fell and then his eyes fell on Jerrica where she awaited him. He kissed Rain’s eyelids, told her he loved her; wished her all the best there could be and then he joined Jerrica. A moment later they were making their way through the tunnel to the eastern side of the mountain where the guard had their own quarters: The laughter and cheers of congratulation falling away behind them.

“You surprised me,” Jerrica said as they walked.

“I surprised me,” Michael agreed.

The guard was comprised of ten all in all. He found that impressive. The first group he himself had formed had been only four. And what they had then was nothing compared to what they had now. Weapons, vehicles, armor and more bags of tricks, some Michael was sure he himself didn’t fully understand the implications of.

They turned from the main tunnel way into a wide open area filled with large transports and bustling with activity.

“We are ready…” Jerrica faltered; unsure how to address him. For so long she had addressed him as leader, father when she had been younger, she didn’t know what to do now that he had turned his reigns of leadership over so quickly.

“Father will do,” he told her as her face colored.

“Father,” Jerrica said. “We need to get going.”

Michael took a last look around the huge area. “Been a long road,” Michael said huskily. He followed Jerrica to one of the huge transports. He stepped inside: The door drew down and sealed with a hiss of air: A few seconds later a huge carbon panel parted; opening the cavernous space to the outdoors and the transport rolled silently out into the swirling snow…


ONE: Star Dancer


ONE

Earth Date: 2196 – 08 -25 – 16:21:43

Moon Base 14: United Planet Technologies

Intra Flight Systems: Star Dancer

Michael Watson

Michael Watson, Mike to his friends purchased Star Dancer right after college and began intra system runs shortly after that. He could remember his great-grandfather, gone now for more than forty years, talking about what he had, had for opportunities right out of high school. That would be laughable now. Mike’s parents had, had his life mapped out from the age of two. Life Mapping was and is a serious thing, Mike didn’t know anyone that didn’t have their lives mapped out now from birth or before.

School was not complete without college. You could not be licensed to work the counters of a Planet Burger unless you had two years of college. His own career had taken four years of Specialty College as well as geared trade school from the first grade on. When other first graders were learning about monetary systems and world level banking, he had been learning about Solar Wind Drives and Hydrogen Propulsion units.

The grades, one through twelve, start at age three and last on average seven years. Some fall behind, some spring ahead, but by ten years of age most are ready for focused education and he was no exception. He began his specialized training; four years, four more years of global military service after that with an option for six more which he had deferred and he was pretty sure he made his instructors very happy by doing so, and so at the old age of eighteen Mike had signed a twenty year funding commitment for Star Dancer. At the time he was sure he would never dig himself out of thirty million credits of debt, but for the last two years he had been watching credits build in his accounts.

Today he was docking at UPT on Moon Fourteen to pick up a four year re-supply for a prison colony at Mars Twenty-Seven: Some kind of Tech drop for Colony One; and two panel pre-fab labs for IO’s base six.

Moon Base Fourteen is United Planet Technologies’ own base. There is not much else there; a small cafeteria, some lounges for through travelers, each progressively worse than the last: The best being Vic’s, and Vic’s was the only official bar, the other two were simply overlooked. That could happen at a base that was not really a base at all but a company town.

Mike had, had the tour before and short of taking on a small fed crew, and maybe a new navigator to replace the one he had been without for the last seventeen months he would be here only long enough to fuel, be unloaded and then reloaded: Once the ship was re-supplied he would be off; there would be no downtime in the next twenty-four hours.

The crew was a fed security and transport crew. In other words a federal crew that would accompany him to all three of the offloads, do all the offloading and on loading. He would be coming back to Moon Base Fourteen with a full load of finished products bound for Earth and they would pack it all, all he had to do was bring it back. They also provided security for himself and the Star Dancer crew. In nearly twenty years of intra cruising he had never had a single security issue for them to defend him from.

On the last stop, IO, he would lose the crew. That would leave him alone for the return trip unless they turned up a dead head crew for the return trip. He would also be required to transport any returning paroled inmates: Terminated or retired employees or UPT employees that required transport: Bar those possibilities; unless he signed a navigator today he would be coming back alone and so far out of twenty possible candidates he had, had only five show up, and out of the five three had turned him down. He had turned the other two down. He told himself that if he were a betting man the odds were that he would be riding alone this return trip.

A return trip alone did not mean he would be returning empty. No transport was ever left empty. There were always shipments heading back to Earth, short hops to other Moon Bases, Mars and twice he had done several runs between IO and Mars without going back to Earth. In any case of in-system transport he was required to have a security crew. If it was a straight run back to the Moon or Earth then the shipment was loaded, locked and sealed and he could run back with no security crew. If a parolee was scheduled for the ride back then a security team was required, even if there was no other reason for their presence. He had rarely transported parolees, once or twice that he could recall. He almost always offloaded, reloaded Earth-bound cargo, loaded up supplies and a dead head crew, usually a mixed security and worker crew and headed back within a day or two.

He eased Star Dancer into dock. Most Captains go with the auto-nav, but he had heard too many horror stories about out of phase computers, last second power surges and more to trust his ship to the machines. He would do it himself. He had known how to do it since third grade in the flight sims: Microsoft had the best federally approved space-flight sims and Mike’s parents had made sure he got the best.

He gave his reverse thrusters a quick slap with his palm at three hundred feet out and watched the ships lock coupler drift home with nothing more than a small frame vibration when all systems went green on lock-in. He keyed his overhead.

“Central, I’m locked on 6B… Standing by for station personnel, over…”

“Green on my board, Dancer… Unlocking for loads… You have company standing by, Dancer.”

“Oh yeah?” That was a surprise.

“Uh… Lounge seven… Navigator?”

“Oh, okay, right… Send him right up, and thank you.”

“Uh, her.”

“Her?”

“Oh yeah… Pretty sure unless I’m blind.” He chuckled.

“Huh… Supposed to be…” He punched the name up on his scheduling screen. “Pete Stanovich.”

“Uh huh… Short for Petra no doubt… Petra Stanovich… See you must have heard the Pete part and not the tra part.” He chuckled again.

“Someone screwed up… It’s entered as Pete in the com. Okay send her up then and thanks.”

“Coming at you… Base out.”

Mike clicked off and sighed. This meant number twenty-one was most likely a wash too. Most women who interviewed for the job were not interested once they realized it was an intra-galaxy, or system cruiser and one that was considered a dinosaur of a ship. About all he did have to offer were transferable credits for Federal space-work. Because he had not deactivated his military time he had what was called time for time credit. A perk because he had done his four in the service and kept his six active. That meant that technically the feds could still pick him up for that six any time they wanted to. In exchange it meant that he could offer his employees who were fresh out of military service time for time credit. A young navigator would have to be fresh out of military service, or within their benefit time window, thus making them eligible for the time. The time would count directly as military experience in advanced navigation; a big plus, but maybe not worth the two year minimum hitch they would have to do on his ship.

Even so it was a good perk and the past three navigators he had hired were immediately picked up for star cruiser service at the end of their contracts. It was both his ace in the hole and his queen of spades.

He unbuckled thought about it and then keyed his Com-Link

“Unlocked, central and could you delay my visitor by twenty?”

“Be at least that… Problem?”

“No… That’ll work…”

“Okay, Mike… You have Baylor as Sec-Chief… A crew of twenty security. Three max level prisoner transports and four tech level grads bound for IO. That’s it… Out.”

Mike keyed his Com-Link as an answer; flicked the unlock switches for the cargo holds, electronically signed his security certificate to allow off loading and loading and headed for the showers and fresh clothes. He may as well make the best impression that he could, he reasoned.


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