Saturday, July 30, 2011

Hey Carl, how’s it going?

The obit didn’t print out right and I’m staring at a blank page, which I can’t abide, so I’m going write something, dong ma? (It’s a Firefly ref, roll your eyes at the freak, okay? 8-)
You’re not the only dead guy I know, but since I suspect you’ve got St. Pete ROTFLOL, what’s it like up there? You get in to see the big guy yet? And is he a she, like I’ve always suspected? Is it all a great big joke, with a kewl punch-line, or, well, is this it?
I don’t want to believe that it is. The universe is kind! What Evil there is in this world, and there sure is plenty, is mostly from greed and fear, selfishness, ignorance and stupidity; the failure of community… but there is Good, spontaneous, an emergent property of a lot of people like you, proof that some of us have souls and that there may be a God. And she or he is good, is love.
So long, Carl; xie-xie!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Moon-Bots, Go!

The parts to build the parts, that’s what I want to see on the Moon! In situ PV melted into the surface regolith, doped with the right materials, then phased array power transmission pouring power down onto the Earth, for them as can build retennas... But you need machines for that, built on the Moon so that we can make more of them, and the machines to do that are an engineering design project, in vacuum, under extremes of temperature, etc.
Anybody like a good challenge? 8-P

       It all has to be transported to the Moon in the first place, so small is beautiful!
       The design must be robust and/or we must allow for a high replacement rate; probably both.
       Simplicity over elegance because, y'know, robust? 8-P
       Solid-state wherever possible, moving parts are subject to wear and tear.
       Sinter regolith into building materials, to provide shade and thermal insulation for the work.
       Legs and manipulators? Replaceable and interchangeable, so perhaps they are one and the same?
       An eight-legged robot chasis, on a 1 by 2 by 2 rectangular volume. Each cube is replaceable, with mountings at the corners and accepts plug-ins in each face- manipulators, legs, cameras or whatever.

That is the Square design- it uses boxes, levers and radial motors. The Triangular design builds tubes and dodecahedra in a wire-frame of triangles using linear motors to lengthen and contract the structural members, and favors five-sided radial designs (I used this for the bots in one EW flashfic). The Blob is a micro-elctromechanical or even full-fledged molecular nanotech design which builds in smaller, disposable units that flow within or on the surface of the object, so that it 'oozes' and rolls along, like the liquid metal design from T2, leaving a 'slime' of a sensors along the way.
This is all the beginnings of a good story, methinks... the robot ecology is replaced over time and/or evolves into something else, until one day a fabricator spits out a humanoid robot, an android or remote for a human on Earth.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

More Paper Rocketry...

I'm missing the boat... I was going to go take the ferry to visit the Cape May Zoo, today, but after I watched Atlantis return I dawdled, lay down for a bit, and now I'm sitting here working up paper rockets, again. This goes back to GURPS space, and from there to Greg Porter's VDS and now Stuff!, which I highly recommend.
When I 'design' stuff for near future space adventure, or whatever, I'm not really doing anything but folding paper airplanes, drawing paper rockets. In this particualar case, a 'Single Stage To Orbit', with a crew return vehicle for a payload. Leave the tanks, engines (or return those) and residuals on orbit, hung from the bottom of a space tether, lifted up to the mid-point, or out to the high end of the tether.

       Assume the CRV or payload is 5 metric tonnes, 5,000 kg
       Assume, further, that the SSTO is one or two orders of magnitude larger; or 200 tonnes
       Assume that we need 1.5 G acceleration to lift off, call it 3 million newtons, and the thrust to mass ratio is 50 to 1, so that the engines mass 3% of Gross Lift Off Mass, or 6 tonnes
       A 10 to 1 fuel to dry mass ratio, ~91% LOX/LH, 182 tonnes, 156 tonnes of LOX, 26 tonnes of LH
       LOX is dense, but go with 160 m^3 for the oxidizer tank and 360 m^3 for the fuel tank
       The LOX tank is a 7 meter sphere sitting on top of the 9 meter LH tank
       Go with 500 m^3 of structure, at 1 tonne per m^3, is 5 tonnes
       Assume power supply and avionics can be brought in under 1 tonne
       Running total is 17 tonnes dry, 199 tonnes wet, 10 to 1 fuel to dry mass ratio
       Sloppy estimate of $1m per tonne at launch is ~$200 million
       At $5K per kg of dry mass vehicle, 12,000 kg, that would be $60 million plus fuel.

One launch per week is 50 vehicles a year (two weeks off 8-). $3 billion, for 250 tonnes of cargo and passengers... and 600 tonnes of bootstrap mass. Perhaps as much as 50 tonnes of water?

Sunday, July 17, 2011

My Friend, Carl Spicer

(A friend of mine has passed away)

My Buddy, Carl Spicer, is dead, and now I am sad.
I miss him already, for the way he made a whole room laugh.
And the way he always looked so surprised at the affect he had on us,
As if somehow he didn't know what he brought to the party.

My Buddy, Carl Spicer, is dead, and now I am mad.
I didn't go to see him in the hospital; it was too far, I was too busy.
I was too tired to be there for his roast. I... went home.
I felt jealous, yes, jealous, of a better man than me. Damn it!

My Buddy, Carl Spicer, is dead, and I suppose that I am glad...
Glad to have known him. Glad that he doesn't have to fight anymore.
Because I saw how, after all these years, this thing had worn him down,
And it hurt to see, but it hurts more to think how I gave up, on him.

My Buddy, Carl Spicer, is dead, and I am not all right!
There are good people, great souls, and the people who just know,
That we are here to enjoy life and make other lives a little bit better.
Like my good friend, Carl Spicer, who died... but, my God, how he lived!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Tink's Tale

This is an oldie, more or less fanfic from an old campaign I ran-

Their lawyer had asked if Tink would babysit the two feral kids whom the old man had adopted, because he did not trust Hoodie with the job, and, well, they were feral kids, after all. The Books made a polite but firm 'no',  which left Tink, who, in her favor, had not killed them on the drive home. Jake had originally picked them up as strays, and she was a good bodyguard, that is to say, no dead clients and very few complaints. The old man was taking Lee, his own bodyguard, up to Toledo, to mediate some legal dispute.

“So what is the job, exactly? Do I have to read them a scary bed-time story?”

“No,” Fritz said, obviously revisiting his decision, doing the math, and coming up with the same answer. “Just make sure they don’t get into trouble…”

He didn’t say anything about Tink not getting into trouble, so she did a little discrete snooping, while Riley and Rachel were eating PB&Js in the kitchen. The door of the study was locked, but Tink had learned a thing or two about things mechanical, including simple tumblers, and it took all of seventeen seconds to pick the lock. She made a passable thief, not very skilled, yet, but the lock was a disgrace to all locks, everywhere. As she stood upand open the door, she realized she had an audience.

“I don’t think you’re supposed to go in there,” Riley said simply. It did not even sound like much of a criticism. Tink shrugged.

“If there’s something important hidden in here, then I want to see it. How about you?”

Riley nodded, and he followed her in. Rachel was peeking out the door of the kitchen. She reminded Tink of a mouse, and that brought all of the wrong instincts up to the surface. Riley, now, he was a survivor, and  now, a co-conspirator.

The study was what you expected, in a lawyers' den. Office, Tink mentally corrected herself. This was a hunt, after a fashion, and that brought certain other instincts up to the surface.

There were unpacked, empty boxes on the floor, by the bookcase, and two that had yet to be opened. That drew Tink's attention. She liked opening things, and taking them apart. Sometimes she was a little messier than others, and she controlled herself, carefully pulling the box open.

The papers were birth certificates, legal papers, all old and in German, and a photo album. Medals were thrown in an old cigar box, as if they were not important, but still worth hanging on to. Why? She wondered, to herself. She didn't recognize them. They were not US Army honors, or the purple hearts she had seen handed out long after battles, that sort of thing. The eagles were strangely different, and the bent crosses were also unknown to her; alien, to an alien, such as her.

There was a wedding picture, and the young groom was Fritz. The bride wore glasses, and held tightly on to Fritz's shoulder. There was a wheelchair behind them. Looking through the box again, Tink found the marriage announcement, a newspaper clipping dated December 19th, 1959, Ruth Michelle Green and Fritz Joseph Bauer. There was also a copy of the marriage certificate, and a death certificate, dated March 20th, 1961, a Mrs. Bauer, complications due to childhood injuries. That was less than two years, she thought, and now more than thirty years ago; before the invasion.

Tink looked thorough the family album next, with more German, in a feminine hand. The middle boy, of three boys and two girls, was Fritz. He had his fathers' eyes and ears, and his mothers' dark hair. Tink thought that the father was handsome in his black uniform, and the shiny metal skull in the uniform cap was wicked.

She wondered what it all meant.

The family tree had his date of birth as November 12th, 1936. Fritz had been 23 when he married, a young lawyer and a little later, a young widower. He apparently had not remarried. He was 57 now, and would be in his sixties when these FKs were grown. What was he thinking?

Tink put it all back as she found it. Riley was holding a framed letter to her. There was an under-lined bit- "The Law exists to protect us from ourselves. You understand this better than most. Good Luck and God Bless." It was signed by Judge Alexander Gross, the same name as on the marriage certificate.

"What's the Law? I mean, is it about some sheriff, or Police Chief?" Riley asked.

"It's from a judge, and I know a judge trumps a sheriff, or whatever. The Law is something from books, and it's expensive. That's why Jake pays Fritz to keep it away from the Shady Lady Company. Or that's how I understand it, anyway."

"You sure?'

"No," Tink answered, slightly annoyed. The bad thing about body-guarding was the having to be responsible for somebody else. She found being responsible for her own self was plenty enough work for her. "Best to ask him, sometime. That way, at least you'll hear what he thinks, and that's important, while you both live under his roof." Tink gave Riley a speculative look. "Which, by the way, how is that working out?"

Riley looked around to where Rachel was peeking into the study. "It's better than being on our own. But he put us in school!"

"Too bad," Tink said, smiling. "Full bellies, clean, warm beds; what's a little freedom compared to safety and security?" She laughed, and Riley scowled.

"The kids at school hate us, are afraid of us. They mess with Rache, and get upset when I fight."

"Mind the eyes, and no biting." Tink put the framed letter back. "Jake told me that we are nice, because there are more of them than there are of us. The Army, cops, silly-zens and taxpayers."

"Really? What about the aliens, and the Quislings?"

"We don't have any, down here, and if they come, we can take care of them, or run away in the Lady."

"What about the kids at school?"

"I'm not sure where they fall, but better to play it safe. I'll show you a few things. It’s better not to leave a mark, but be sure that they remember pain, if they need discouragement. The thing to do with bullies is, go after them, and put them in their place without forcing the powers that be to take notice. Just don't go getting any ideas about becoming the new bully..."

A little later, Tink herded the kids out of the study and locked it up again. Riley gave her a thoughtful look.

“Could you show me how to do that?’

“Maybe. Do you think you could forget about this?” She asked, rapping her knuckles on the wood of the door.

Riley smiled. “Maybe.”

The ape side of her nature spoke to her then, and she reached over and mussed up his hair. He scowled, and then he smiled again, and stuck out his hand. Rachel laughed as he and Tink shook on it.


The kids had a show they liked to watch, with cowboys and horses, and no aliens or war. Tink left them to it. She made a circuit of the house, a quick turn around the first floor, then up to the second. The attic crawlspace she skipped, after making sure the clever drop-down stairs were still bolted tight. When she came back downstairs again, she had planned to check the cellar, but she saw movement, through the windows.

Every sense tingled, and nerves sang with tension seeking its release. She smiled. She was going to show some restraint, but she planned on having a little fun. She pulled out her 9mm pistol, and stretched. The curious grandfather clock with the cows mooed at her, and she pointed a finger at it and said, "Bang! You're dead."

Tink breathed in. There was the old man’s cologne, the younger security man and his guns and gun oil, the smells of a little girl and a little boy, yesterday's yeasty baking day smells, this morning’s bacon and eggs. Tobacco. Her eye’s narrowed. The old man didn’t smoke, nor did Lee, his bodyguard. The boy might have picked that habit up, but, no, this was coming from outside.

The doorbell rang, and Tink sang out, “I’ll get it!” Riley looked out, and saw her signal for him to stay back. He nodded, and she wondered at this sign of trust. A week ago, they’d bartered his services on a job, and brought them back with them as an afterthought, a happy bit of mercy for a little girl with an infected foot.

She turned from him and walked towards the door, calling, sweetly, “Coming!”, and thought of Sam, and wondered idly what he was up to. She ducked into an open doorway and waited. The expected shotgun blast through the door didn’t come, and Tink looked around, curious as to why. What, someone by-standing innocently? She was glad she’d resisted the urged to shoot first, although both her inner ape and that hard, nasty, alien killer were both shouting ‘Danger!’

“Ms. Vasquez?”

Tink stalked up to the door, and wished that she had body armor. She was beside the door, reaching for the handle to open the door, when she heard someone say, “Do it!”

Simultaneously, something heavy swung and shattered the door-knob mechanism, and the door flew open. There was the tinkle of shattered glass as several something’s blasted into the house. What was that German swear-word that Fritz used? Schiess!

The man at the door was wearing body armor, so she shot him in the face. He fell back and held up the rest of them. She ran for the FKs, firing blindly over her shoulder, and she heard someone cry out in pain. She got to the living room with out being shot in the back, and she wondered why. She saw that the room was filling with smoke. Smoke grenades, not frags or incendiaries. Whoever it was, they wanted them all alive, and it was more likely that they wanted her. Scheiss!

"Alright, we've got no choice, out the back. Rally point is the Book's, and I'll take the heat for that. Not the garage, understand me? Can you two handle that?" Rachels' eyes were very big, but she nodded slightly, and Riley had a determined look on his face. Good Boy!

"That's good, because you two have to, anyway. Move!"

They got to the kitchen and ran into the door party, coming the long way around from the hall. Tink shouted, "Keep moving!" and found herself between two of them. As the kids scooted out the back door, she held up the 9 mm, hooked on her thumb, but she smiled. The men looked at her, nervously.

"I can do something you can't..."

She jumped up and over the kitchen table, firing to no effect at the man towards the front door, who successfully dodged. Her hooked tail flashed out of hiding and up, under the other man's chin. His head tumbled to the kitchen floor.

"Sorry 'bout the mess, Fritz..."

She tumbled on out through the back door, low and fast as she could go. She froze as she saw them under the backyard swing, where the bad guys had guns pointed at Riley and Rachel's heads.

"Scheiss," she breathed.

They had not killed them, and they didn't shoot her, but this wasn't a kidnapping, at least not of the two FKs. They were here for her, which meant she had one thing that they wanted, badly. She put the 9 mm under her chin. "Let them go, or you don't get what you want!"

"You wouldn't," said one of the men over there. Another man, with a hard look, shook his head and moved his gun so that it was pressed against Riley's head. Rachel started crying again, which really pissed Tink off. Useless!

She felt hot tears of her own, sliding down her cheeks, and she smiled a deaths' head grin, fangs bared like the bitch that she was. A guard dog. "Don't you tempt me!"

"So, you're just going to give up, too?" Riley said.

Stung, Tink stared at him. He didn't seem particularly surprised, or bitter. It was just a fact of life, of his life, and the only person that he could count on was himself, and the only life that mattered was hers. His 'sister', or whatever she was to him.

Tink waved the gun at the kids, and wiped her tears away. "Go ahead and kill them, then. They really aren't anything more than a paycheck to me, anyway," she lied. "I'll kill the lot of you, and just have to apologize to Fritz for the mess. Oops, so sorry. Wie schade." ‘How sad’, another bit of German that came to her, just then.

Bossman's eyes narrowed. "I don't think so. You do as I say, and no more bullshit. Or we kill the little man here," tapping Riley’s head not so gently," by inches, and sell the girl to a man I know in Richmond." He chuckled. "A man with depraved tastes, and a terrible need."

He looked into those alien eyes and flinched at the promise that they held. Tink threw down, then, and put out her hands to be bound.

They still beat the tar out of her, of course. That took a while, as she was full of it. She smiled when one of them screamed, “She cut his freaking head off!”

“Enough!” Bossman came over to her then, and they cleared off. He grabbed her by the hair and pulled her face up to his. “Nighty-night.”

Maybe they weren’t really so worried about killing her after all, because he hit her, hard, with the butt of his pistol.


She dreamed the old nightmare. It was the night when she and the other members of her team had come to Earth to make contact. They came down in a valley in the middle of some tired old mountains, far south of the Empire-occupied lands on this continent.

The Gafah, giant alien warrior cats, found them even so. They turned their initial advantage into a blood bath, and wiped out half of the contact team before she and her brothers and sisters, who had been created to defend and protect, could act. In a small way they redeemed their failure, killing all of the Gafah. Taking heads. In the end, there was only the little female and the oldest male left alive, and he was bleeding out.

"It's okay, little sister." He smiled, that strange primate reflex from their ape half. "Show them your teeth." He was looking past her shoulder, at something a long way off, and then she was alone.

Well, she wasn't alone, any more, but she knew that whatever she had could be taken away from her. Jake and the big guy, Sam, The Shady Lady, even Hoodie, their team mascot (She did not see that she had been the old mascot, one of many blind spots). Or her Sam, who had come to them with a job and had been just one more body to guard, and then become just a little bit more.


Tink woke and felt her tears. It was not at all unusual for her to be crying in her sleep, after that dream. It was yet another mystery of her ape half, and she embraced the weirdness, the alien heart.

What was not, was warm arms around her, and for just an instant, a comforted instant, they were Sam’s arms. But no, this was the little human girl, Rachel, and Riley had wrapped his arms over hers, sheltering her as she comforted Tink. She blinked. Human heart, alien heart. Just so. She sat up and turned to them. There was a guard, but he was sleeping. Good minions were so hard to find…

“I won’t lie,” she said to them. “This is a bad situation. I’ll do what I can, but you’re mostly on your own. If you get a chance to run, take it.” They nodded, solemnly. These kids had been on their own before, and as horrible as that thought was supposed to be, that was something.

“The good news is that they’ll keep you alive to control me.” She skipped over the possibility that they would use one to demonstrate their power. “The bad is that they’ll hurt you to make me do whatever the heck it is that they want me to do…”

“But you’ll do what they say?” Riley asked.

“You two are right up there, on my list, a couple of items above my own survival, but I’m afraid you’re not at the top. Sorry. An alien chick’s gotta do-“

“What an alien chick’s gotta do?”

It was bossman. He smacked the back of the sleeping guard’s head, and Tink watched closely for that one's response. The man looked sheepish, but he jumped to his feet and concentrated on them, not his boss. He did not cower and look to his master with a bad-guard slink. All in all, not the hoped for reaction.

“Rick, you owe me. I pay you a whole lotta NuBucks, and I expect better.”

“Yes, boss,” he said, out the side of his mouth.

“Now, where were we? Oh yes, introductions!” Bossman chuckled. “Kids, I’m your Uncle Bill. Why don’t you run along, get something to eat and get cleaned up?” He gestured behind him to the open door, where a pair of men waited. They were old enough to have done their five, and more. One, with quite the shiner, smiled at Tink. The kids went with them, and Bossman took a chair, spun it around, and sat leaning over the back.

“Be a shame if something were to happen to them- oh, wait, you told me to kill them. Shall I?”


He hooked a thumb at his chest. “William Bryce. I’m a lawyer, and I handle things for the Ames organization.”

Tink shook her head. That was a criminal syndicate, based in Richmond, the de facto capitol, at least for what the US government was calling the ‘Eastern Core Area’. Most functions were decentralized to two or three such areas, and had been, even after the Army had recovered the Mississippi valley form the Empire. Sam, her Sam, worked for them. But would her- boyfriend? What was he to her, exactly? Whatever she was to him, she didn’t want to believe that he’d betrayed her, although that seemed to be the way to bet.

Bossman, Bill, sniffed, as if he was annoyed that she had not reacted according to his script. “Your boyfriend told us a few things, you see…”

“What if I don’t believe you?”

“Not that it matters, but the information did come from him.” Her stony silence got a chuckle from Rick, who got a hard look, in turn, from Bill.

Bill let the silence drag, then sighed. “Let’s start with the nasty tail, then,” he said to Rick, and called some more men into the room. Her tail was normally hidden away, like the sail of her lifting ‘wing’ that allowed her to fly. She could feel, but not see, how it had been stretched out, and tied down her right leg. The wing seemed untouched, unmolested.

They turned her over then, on the floor, face down, until Bill had one of them turn her face to his. He had a pair of pruning shears in his right hand and a gleam in his eye. He pointed to the base of her spine, and smiled. “This is belongs to me, now. Bought and paid for with the blood of my men, you see.”

She struggled franticly but ineffectively, while Bill took his time. Then there was the snick of the blades coming together and the crunch of chitinous material and blinding pain. Waves of nausea wracked her body, and she threw up, dry-heaving long after her breakfast was gone. Bill cauterized the wound with a small torch, and that was more pain, but it was merciful brief.

There was a lot of blood, red and blue-green, mixed together. She only ever bled the blue-green stuff when the human flesh she ‘wore’ over her alien core was pierced with deep body wounds, and she briefly wondered if they would make the mistake of trying to transfuse her. That might kill her, or might not.

Taking her tail took most of the fight out of her, and she lay spent and feeling strange things. She felt shame at not being able to stop him from taking her tail, her beautiful, precious, secret tail. It was her final hold out weapon, which nobody could take from her, except that he had. She also felt violated as they skinned off her jacket and exposed her wing, rolling open the sail of it where it lay down her back, over her spine. Prodding the slick, blood-warm surface of it, cutting samples, and taking pictures. That went on for some time. They finally left with the samples and her tail in a plastic garbage bag, all packed down in ice in a cheap foam ice chest.


“There are things that are worse than dying,” Hoodie had told to her, just recently. Just when you thought he was exactly as clueless as he seemed, he went and said something like that. Not that Tink was all that impressed, really. It had seemed self-evident, to her.

“This is a depressing conversation. Change it.”

“Come on! Don’t you think about this sort of thing?”

Once upon a lifetime, she’d been the little puppy who all her brothers and sisters had humored. It was annoying, but there it was. On the other hand, she could remember the night, not so long ago, when she’d caught Hoodie pissing on The Shady Lady, and looped a rope over his head, and pulled. And people thought she had no sense of humor! If only Jake had let her keep him as a hood ornament… Well, a little later, he’d joined up, and that had worked out, mostly. She was going to kill him, though, if he didn’t learn boundaries. She sighed.

“Yeah, I think about this sort of thing, from time to time. A round to the head, that don’t kill you, but leaves you useless to everybody and yourself. Loose an arm or leg, same deal, can’t fight. That what you were getting at?”

“Not exactly. I mean, we… make people, aliens mostly, dead, and that changes us…”

“Hoodie! Cut the crap! I got made to do this, you know that. And you, apparently, were part of the Empire, a class one, in the Quisling army of the Great White North! Only your uncle bought your contract, and you worked for him, until he got fragged- Sorry.” She looked across at him and added. “I do that, don’t think of other peoples’ feelings.”

Hoodie hummed a little bit of that song he liked so much, and Tink scowled at him. “Hoodie!”

“’We bow our heads to none but the Lord of Hosts…’” Hoodie whispered. “’No surrender!’”

“If you’re going to sing all nine hundred and ninety nine verses, I’m outta here!”

Hoodie smiled. “It takes all kinds, to win a war, Tink.” He walked off, and launched into it, from the beginning.

The 300, at the Gates of Fire, held back the Persian sea.
They told the king of slaves-
‘No Surrender!’ ‘No Surrender!’ say we!
No imperial boot upon our necks.


Hours and hours passed. Tink dozed, and woke when they came again, more pictures, temperatures, indignities. They had a conversation for her benefit, which she ignored as best she could, about the usual things, but did not touch her in that way. She wondered why, and decided that she didn’t want to know.

There was light from the door outside, the first few times. But the sky through the door when it opened again, was dark, lit only by stars. She looked up at the man, who brought her water, and a little food.

“You guys didn’t gag me, so I’m guessing we’re someplace remote, where nobody can hear?”

The man nodded.

“What’s the matter, cat got your tongue?”

The man’s face turned stony, and he nodded. She saw the scars on his face then, and actually felt bad. You heard stories, about the Kitties hunting FKs, or torturing, playing with their food, or even, carefully, biting out their tongues.

So it did happen.

“I’ve killed a lot of them, in my time…”

The man nodded, and helped clean her up, a little bit. He stood, and looked at her for a long time. He put his hand to his mouth, and made as if to hold something.

“I get it, you can’t speak.”

He nodded, and frowned, and held up two fingers, and frowned some more. Then he made a gun with his hand, and put it to her head.

“Yeah, I get it. A little mercy, but no reprieve, I still die.”

He nodded, and turned to go.


He didn’t turn back, just waved over his shoulder, and slipped out the door.


Tink dozed for a little bit after that. She knew a few humans, who, despite thirty years of alien invasion, didn’t understand that you could get used to anything. She had found that humans had an infinite capacity for self-deception; it was characteristic of the species. She wasn’t completely human, and didn’t see that she had her own blind spots too. She lived her life as honestly as she knew how.

She woke because something about her environment had changed. It was very quiet, and the two guards that she had been subliminally aware of were overdue on their rounds. She waited. Getting hopeful, or excited, would not help, but readiness was all.

Jake and Sam, big Sam, the mechanic and gunner, came for her then, through the door that framed stars. She did not cry, although there was a part of her that felt the need. She could not lose it in front of these two men, that was not her role, not what was expected of her, and it was time for what was. So, when Jake asked her if she was okay, she had only one answer.

“They took my tail.”

Jake nodded, and Sam nodded. Just so.


They put her with Hoodie, and the two of them worked through the first floor, or rather, Hoodie watched her back while she worked her way through the ground floor. Jake and Sam went upstairs, looking for Rachel and Riley. They heard a gunshot ahead.

They came up the stairs carefully, and spotted Bryce peering around the second door, with Rachel. He ducked back in, pulling her along as a human shield. He called out to them.

“Alright, I think we can make a deal here. Got the little girl, for one thing, and I have access to a lot of money, plus, I’m worth something to the head of the Ames syndicate. So, let’s hear it.”

Jake looked at Sam, and he shrugged. In the room, Bryce’s smile slipped as the seconds passed. He started, as he heard Riley dragging himself around the bed by sheer force of will. He was staring at Bryce in a way that he’d unfortunately not had time to beat out of the kid, although those were pretty hard eyes on an eight-year old. He aimed the gun at the boy.

“How about you stop moving, and you just might live a little longer?” The kid pulled himself around the end of the bed, and sat up against it, resting and breathing hard, and staring some more. Bryce sighed.

“Does anyone care that I have a very fine handgun pointed at this little girls’ head!” He shouted. “And I will use it,” he added, going out the door, taking it slowly but surely. He had no doubt at all that he would walk right out the front door.

There were two shots, and he fell back into the room. The girl screamed once, and ran to Riley. Neither one of them spared a second glance for the man, who lay gasping on the floor. Sam saw to Riley first, and then the second most powerful man in the Ames Syndicate, because he had his priorities straight. The man was next to nothing, to Shady Lady Company.


They rode in the belly of Shady Lady, looking for a hospital or clinic. The two kids were huddled together, and Bryce was wrapped around his own troubles. Hoodie saw to Tink, while Jake drove, and Sam watched their backs.

"You need to talk?"

"You talk too much," Tink said.

"Maybe." Hoodie leaned back, and left unsaid, that maybe she didn't talk enough. He was a devious piece of work, that one.

"The kid saved my life today."

"Did she?"

"No, the boy. Riley."

Hoodie blinked, considering. Wisely, he chose silence.

"You do whatever it takes, to get the job done, accomplish the mission." She looked at the two kids. They weren't hers, and she didn't want them, but, hey, since when did you have a choice, about responsibility? Well, you did, but it was a trap. Did people know this? That you could want obligation, define yourself by what you did for others? Probably, they did. Being human was very strange.

"Hoodie, do you like your life? Do you truly appreciate it?"

"Yeah..." He drawled, and Tink said it with him, "Coz I've got a share."

He meant a share in the Shady Lady Company. He wasn't just an employee; he was a part-owner. That was big deal to a former imperial subject; a Class-one slave, rather, because everybody in the empire was owned, by the empire, right on up to the Generals and their Alien Overlords.

"Well so do I."