Here is the first installment of my next novel. I’m going to put it out for inspection and comment. I’ll revise accordingly. This is the first 12 pages of about 300. 48 are written in first draft – with 252 or so to go.
I look forward to seeing what you give me as feedback.
For my Christian friends, this is NOT a G-rated novel. It’s about life in the distant future which speaks to life now and life past.
Expect typos and other errors.
On the Far Frontier
Book One: First Post
James Atticus Bowden
“The Speed of Light is an absolute limit throughout the Universe!” Cale daydreamed about his favorite rant from the Academy. The oddest professor there made the most profound effect. “No one can go faster than light. Ever,”Cale’s seat belt tugged tightly. The braking from Mach 2 on the land rail started a very long way from the Fort Hope terminus. Fort Hope was the furthest point out on the far frontier of the Other continent. Alien Country! And I’m posted here to fight’em.
His heart pounded. Cale saw the uneven line of the Great Escarpment stretch across the whole horizon for the first time. The Escarpment is so huge! Nothing beats seeing it for real. Praise the Parent Pilots! Awesome. Cale looked across the open, flat, nothingness for wrecks of the great space ships, the Arks of the ancestor Pilots who brought all life and people to this planet. Cale smiled recalling Professor Josi B.’s theatrics, “The limits imposed by the speed of light shape everything on this frontier planet except one thing and one thing alone!” My first duty post. A bachelor living on this piece of frontier with the Potways. Weirdo cult.
Potways. Religious cult of clans found mostly on the Other Continent. Constitute a majority of the population on the frontier. Tolerated, but not encouraged by Great Galactic Order (GGO) Colonial Government.
“And what would that one thing be?” Professor Josi B. craned his neck like a vulture looking for a victim. “Mister Smit C., yes, you Mister Smit C., what would be the one thing that the speed of light does not dictate on this furthest forward planet of the Great Galactic Order?” Before the cadet could answer Professor Josi B. banged the lectern with his fist and screamed shrilly, “Destiny, Mister! Destiny! The speed of light doesn’t determinethe destiny of this world! Humankind determines the destiny of our frontier world! Praise be the Pilots!” He lowered his voice to growl,
“Humankind, that even means you, Mr. Smit C., defends the border of our Great Galactic Order against the Alien invader. Even though all communications from the Center of the G.G.O. ceased,” the Professor paused for a deep breath. “Humankind makes this planet a place of civilization, peace and prosperity. Are you equal to this mission? Frankly speaking, the miserable graduates of this military academy are the best hope for shaping any destiny into one which includes our survival. Sad, such, is our state of affairs. You are The Army. Upon the shoulders of The Army we survive. Or not.”
The brakes hissed louder. Minutes passed like an excruciatingly long sigh. The chair on the bubble roof was worth every chit. Cale listened in and out as the guidevoice droned on softly, “At this latitude only low growth forest survives.” It sure doesn’t look like the tall trees and warm, rolling hills of home. ‘Back Old’ as they supposedly say out here. There’s another saying. Throughout his last two standards at the Academy, Cale studied everything about his first post he could get his hands on. These frontiersmen say Spring comes as ‘fast as a train pulsed from the port fusion engine.’ It should be Spring by now. All I see is snow.
The guidevoice thanked him for purchasing their Land Rail services and signed off. This newly commissioned combat leader was happy to pay. Cale would know as much as he could about the unit, the mission, the enemy, the troops, the terrain, the locals, the history, culture – you name it – before his first duty day.
The Great Escarpment barely changed across the horizon as the buildings of Ft. Hope’s outskirt buildings quickly grew higher in perspective. It seemed to rise just a little bit higher. The Escarpment must be a long, long way away. And really, really big.
Cale recalled his last image of the awkward, painfully, intellectual Professor Josi B. “Yet, praise be to the Pilots, our people of this far frontier know only of the heroism and brilliance in combat of your forebears from this most military Academy. They don’t know how weak you are. You must leave my tutelage and go grab life to achieve a destiny for us all. Go beyond your weakness. Do it well, Cadets. Do it well!” Everybody snickered. Me, too. But, he’s the ‘P’ I remember the most.
The car came to the hard stop. The brakes protested. Cale grabbed his kit and headed for the exit. I’m going to try my code for real. I’ll be tested. Bring it on.
The ground flight engineer waited at the door to wish passengers well. She saw his gray ‘business dress’ uniform some distance away. She took off her skull cap and shook her short blonde hair out. Cale saw her from a distance too. Her shapeless flight suit couldn’t hide her female curves.
Try/test my code. Old expression for experimenting with software code for functionality. Later changed to mean testing an individual’s DNA code for errors. Archaic expression, usually associated with men in a test of manhood.
Cale smiled a crooked grin, “Thanks for the great ride. Is this your regular route?”
“Yes, Sir, it is,” she offered her hand. She gave him a quick once over as thoroughly as any inspecting officer. There were no service slashes or combat icons on his frock coat. The highly polished gold rank insignias on his shoulders and at the center of his chest proclaimed most junior officer. His face said it first. The bright, light blue shoulder service piping spoke direct combat branch. The pink collar piping said Academy graduate. The black and gold wreathed knife on his forearm shouted ‘Alpha’ school grad. Cale saw her eyes flicker at his Alpha patch as they shook hands. He held her hand long enough to be just right. He looked into her eyes just that little too much too. He said, “I’ll look around for you.”
Alpha School. The toughest training allowed in the GGO Armed Forces was meted out in the school designed to separate the Alpha Males from all other officers and enlisted combat leaders. Graduates were trained to assume command in the most complex and dangerous, demanding combat scenarios.
She kept her eyes in his. “You can find me. Alphas can find anything. Right?” she smiled.
“Alphas Always. Ground Flight Engineer Tust,” Cale read the name tag held up and out by her ample breasts. He raised his eyebrows and smiled. He turned from the crush of people behind him to go. Cale looked back as he stepped out. She was taking a second glance too. Good. Very good. Remember Tust. Tust like bust. Blonde, built, Ground Flight Engineer, Tust.
The train terminus in the military colony town of Fort Hope was built low and thick like the bunker it was meant to be. There was a cold dust in the air. The food kiosks poured out new and striking smells. Overpowering foreign scents. The people moved in a blur. Cale followed the flow.
No signs. No directions for incoming military. No one in uniform. Where’s my unit rep? They have to know I’m coming in today. His orders specified that very train for transit. Cale worked up a sweat, despite the cold, carrying his full kit with sling bag and boxy helmet case slung over one shoulder. He kept one hand free for military courtesies.
Cale stepped to the bright outside into another wall of smells and cold wind. No one’s waiting here for me. He threw his stuff in the back of the lead taxi.
The grizzled driver needed a shave and bath as much as he needed to finish his dripping sandwich. “Hey, I’m on break!” he motioned to his meter with both hands wrestling his smelly sandwich.
“You’re the first car in the pick up line. You have to go first,” Cale slid in behind his cargo. The driver frowned and took another bite. Cale looked hard at the quadrant screen. “What’s your license number? Name?”
“Close the door. Let’s go,” the driver shoved his sandwich in his mouth. He flipped the switch disengaging the charging unit from the heating post. The engine quickly whined up to the right RPM. They lurched forward.
“Fort Hope, please,” Cale used his officially polite tone.
The driver gulped hard and licked his oily fingers, “New recruit, huh?”
“New Officer,” Cale answered gruffly. One quadrant of the back seat screen pulsed with icons for the white ‘t’ and the blue ‘x’ alternating with the words ‘Lamb’s Cross’ and ‘Lion’s Cross’. Potway symbols. “New here.”
“I know where you go, Sir.”
The driver slowed to enter a round traffic circle full of vehicles. A huge statue on a high square base covered in flowers overpowered the bustle. A giant woman was lunging forward. Her lips curled on her teeth in a defiant, silent scream. Her eyes were ablaze in stone. She thrust a crying baby by the scruff of the neck forward like a shield. Her other hand coiled a long knife back by her hip ready to strike. Each side of the base proclaimed, ‘No Surrender.’
Cale twisted in his seat to take it all in. “That’s the monument to the Massacre at ’84 Easterly Settlement. Right?”
“Why fresh flowers? In the winter? Is this the day?
“No, no. The grandmothers take care of that monument everyday,” pride filled the driver’s voice. “They’ll tell you why. There’s some who seen their great-grandmothers and heard them speak of the Alien fighting. Course not actually at Longitude ’84. No one that far forward survived.” The driver eased his exit off the circle. “Yeah, yeah. Their kin in other settlements survived. Of course, they seen the sensor spots and know what happened.”
“It’s been a hundred fifty-two Standards,” said Cale.
“It was yesterday, Sir.” They passed a line of older women walking, bundled darkly against the cold, carrying bright fresh flowers.
“Must be expensive.”
“That’s Potway women for you.”
They were still in the city when Cale saw the arching gate and hard walls of Ft. Hope. I imagined it was way out from the town. I guess the town grew out to it. ‘G.G.O.’ was stamped in the concrete pillars. The arch bore one word, ‘Duty.’ The sensor suite at the outer gate was broken. The rusted box hung loosely by a single screw. A voice came on the taxi’s internal speaker, “Proceed to the next gate.”
At the next barrier the guard and driver smiled and nodded mutual recognition. The guard motioned for Cale to lower his window. Cale complied and held up his wrist. The guard’s eyes looked with bored indifference at the rank hologram slowly rotating over the wrist band data display. He slowly came to a half-hearted position of attention and saluted sloppily. Cale returned the salute sharply.
The cab’s navigator voice gave instructions in metallic monotone. I know why they have drivers here and operators on the frontier for everything that a good robot could do. People can’t be hacked remotely. Still, weird stuff. Inefficient. They went around a big open field and past long dirt-buried bunkers. Ammo bunkers. The first long, low building that looked fit for an office had a sign out front. “‘A’ Cohort, 1st Fighters, 21st Battle Group” and in larger letters ‘Duty.’ Cale tapped his chit card against the driver’s quadrant display.
The driver didn’t help him unload. Cale piled his things in the right order to lug them into the first combat unit of his military career.
Cale took a deep breath. His insides quivered. Now. He picked up his kit and went into the building. The door sensor announced his entry. “Officer present.” The words echoed down the hall as he strode past each embedded watchdog.
The orderly was standing at attention when Cale stepped into the Cohort office. The junior team leader was a short swarthy fellow suited in the combat utility uniform. His five o’clock shadow was shaping up his face well before noon. His eyes swallowed Cale with curiosity. His eyes lingered on the Academy pipette on Cale’s collar, then darted to his Alpha School patch. He saluted, “Alpha Cohort, First of the Twenty-First. Duty, Sir.”
“Warrior Leader, Officer Third Grade, Cale B. reporting for duty,” said Cale evenly. He masked his internal tremors totally. He handed the personnel disk from his identity case to the orderly. The young team leader, probably a year or two older than Cale, took it quickly into the next room. Cale read the walls carefully.
The unit’s history was handsomely documented in 3-D displays. It was a proud battle history. First to find, or more correctly – be found by – aliens and fight them. Holding frontier outposts against impossible odds, killing a lot of aliens in tough fights, suppressing two revolts, and supporting humanitarian assistance whenever nature caused disasters. Now, patrolling through the longest so-called truce ever. Except for the quick fire fights that happen when least expected. And, the long patrols that never come back. Here’s a memorial for guys they lost last year. Which is why I’m here. I’m going to fight. I know no one on the frontier calls it ‘peace’. Only folks Back Old take the safe luxury to speak of a lasting peace. The Top Sub was at Cale’s elbow before Cale knew he was in the room.
They exchanged salutes nose to nose. The Top Sub locked his eyes on Cale’s eyes. “Glad to have you here, Sir. The Old Man’s been expecting you. This way, Sir,” said Top Sub Dant. He was as dark-skinned as the orderly and a powerfully built man twice the orderly’s size. He had a thick brush mustache and shaved bald head. Suddenly, he turned and pointed at the orderly. “Hey, Jacs! Where’s the duty driver?”
“I don’t know First Sub. Last I seen he was getting the duty vehicle out to go pick up the new officer.”
Top Sub, First Sub. Top Sub is the military rank for senior subordinate soldier of a combat cohort – not an officer. First Sub is the form of address.
“So, where the Dark Space is he?”
“I’ll call him. Maybe he didn’t get the duty vehicle past the inspectors.”
“Call him now,” Top Sub Dant raised an inquiring eyebrow to Cale.
“I never saw him. Came here by myself,” said Cale. The Top Sub clenched his jaw and snorted through his nose.
Cale’s first commanding officer was hunched over a tactical engagement table. The holographic images flashed as he fingered the surface for new data. Warrior Leader, Officer First Grade, Commander Toll wore his combat suit and personalized command helmet. He was covered in dust and grime from the field. He stunk badly.
“Okay, that’s it Swen. Break it off and come back to home station,” Toll’s orders were short verbal jabs. “We’ll work on your immediate action drills later. Remember, time, distance and speed. Time, distance, speed! Tell your men that they did proud today and last night. The second fight was second to none in this exercise. Good job. Duty, out.” Toll pulled off his helmet. His head plug came out with a slurping sound. He was average height, wiry and a dirty blonde.
“First Sub, get a hold of First Fight and the Third Herd and tell them to drag their sorry butts home. They fell off my comms again. I don’t even want to talk to them now. And I don’t want them to hear what I’ll say right now. Just get them in gear.”
“Will do, Sir. We got a new leader for the Third Fight,” Top Sub Dante nodded to Toll’s rear.
“Well, I’ll be alienized!” Toll smiled broadly. His eyes stabbed Cale’s with their intensity. Toll’s quick inspection once over from top of the head down to toes, back to top the head missed nothing. His eyes returned for another jab in Cale’s eyes. Toll gave a hard military grip to Cale’s hand and elbow. “Welcome to Alpha Cohort, Warrior Leader. Awful Alpha Always Able.”
alienized. Literally, to be melted by high powered microwaves directed by the aliens. Or, in common speech to otherwise be rendered useless or finished.
Cale snapped to attention. He saluted sharply, “Sir, Warrior Leader Cale B., reports for duty.”
Toll returned the salute and pointed to a chair by the training table. He leaned back on the table and crossed his arms. “We wondered when you’re ever going to get off leave after Alpha School,” Toll’s blue eyes were warm. Their warmth seemed almost out of place with the menacing large scars on his forehead and cheek.
“I took the authorized amount, Sir, no more,” Cale stuttered.
“Yeah, sure, Warrior Leader,” Toll walked over to his console and sat down as with a sudden heaviness. “How much weight did you lose in Alpha School?”
“Sixteen kilos, Sir.”
“Humph,” Toll snorted. “They’re getting too soft. Put it back on, yet?” Toll reached into his low pant pocket and pulled out a snack bar. He offered it to Cale.
“Got back ten, Sir. No, thank you, Sir,” Cale sat as stiffly as a New Cadet in indoctrination training.
“I may never let you stay back in garrison long enough to get it back, Cale,” Toll used his name without rank unexpectedly. He bit the snack bar in half. “Cale, I’m glad you’re here. I’ve been short a warrior leader for entirely too long a scum-sucking alien-loving time,” Toll’s eyes took another very slow measure of Cale. Cale kept eye contact with youthful fierceness.
“You’re going to take the sorry rag bags of our third herd and make them into soldiers. That’s not going to be easy. It’s not going to be overnight. But, you’re going to do it. I’m putting you in the field,” Toll looked at his console, “First thing next seven cycle you go to Training Area 12. I’m keeping you there until I run out of ammunition and credits for field training this standard. Questions?”
“Where are they now, Sir? When can I link up?”
Toll smiled genuinely at the right answer, “They’ll be in very late tonight. You get your gear and get settled here on post. Be back at first formation and you can meet the sorriest Fight serving the Galactic Order. If there is, in fact, still a Galactic Order.”
Cale rose quickly, saluted and left the room. How much of that was gut check? How bad is the Third Herd? Who cares? The Third Fight’s mine. They’re going to be best soldiers in the whole Galactic Order anyway. Screw it, if the Galactic Order is gone. Conquered by aliens, or whatever, then they’ll be the best on this free planet. That’s my plan. Didn’t need the pep talk, Sir.
Top Sub had the duty orderly take the new Warrior Leader to process in. Full combat/vehicle crew kit, personnel – officer’s records section, calibrate individual wrist weapon on the virtual range, and put in the unit codes on his helmet comms interface.
Cale eased into the chair in the cramped warehouse room called an office. When Cale lifted the flap of skin on the back of his head protecting the female receptor plugged through his skull into his brain, the Cohort Comms Sub couldn’t help himself, “Been a long time since I seen a skull flap with no tattoo.”
“Yeah?” Cale controlled his irritation. “I could’ve put on an Alpha School tattoo. But I’m thinking there’s other things to come.”
“Lots of young Leaders have an Academy tat. Or an Alpha School tat,” the Comms Sub changed his tone of voice markedly. He spoke more softly. “I likes my own tat, Sir.” He leaned forward to show off his skull flap. It read ‘Duty’ with POTWAY symbols and swirls covering all the skin.
“Been in the Twenty-First your entire term?”
“Been here, in Alpha, for all me terms, Sir. Got three done now.”
“Anyone got more than you here?” This Sub is behind on promotion because he stays planted here in one unit, or he has been busted. Cale looked for a sign on the slightly chubby, acne-scarred Sub. Where did he grow up that they didn’t have DNA snip and clip to fix simple acne?
Skull Flap. A 6 x 2.5 centimeter flap of living flesh that covers and protects the surgically implanted receptor in the skull to reach the upper medulla of the brain. All service members undergo the surgery at the completion of basic training when they are officially inducted into the service of the Great Galactic Order.
“Oh, there’s somes that got more. You’ll know ‘em, Sir. You’ll know ‘em when we go to the field. Mostly POTWAY men likes me. Borns here, serves here, dies here.”
“Got my download done, Sub?” said Cale.
“Yes, Sir. You’ll be in the net as soon as you put in your helmet plug. You know your receptor gots more holes than I seen before.”
“Maybe you’re way over due for upgrades, Sub. It’s been in for five standards. I’m not a new recruit, Sub. My academy time was as military as anything you’ve ever done. It’s been five long standards since I was a civ. “Thanks.” Cale stood up and followed the orderly. The final in-processing station was in Officer country. The orderly helped carry all his stuff to the waiting room and left. Cale signed into the Officer’s Mess, Billets, Athletic Union, Education Fund, Troop Entertainment and Welfare Fund, and anything else the pretty civ secretary put in front of him. Early forties. Nice figure but filling out fast. She wore a POTWAY wedding ring on both hands. She wore garish jewelry with more POTWAY symbols and too much perfume. She didn’t look in his eyes, but had a professional cheeriness about her. Fake enough to keep her easy office job. Bet she gets hit on every day.
As Cale left to find his billet, he heard a commotion down the passage. At the far end the sign read “Warrior Leader and Wife Fred and Frie L. Memorial Hall.” A reception of some sort was breaking up. A tall Sub held the door open for the Battle Group Commander in business dress, some local civ – a well-dressed older guy and a striking, dark-haired woman. Cale checked out the woman. She looked to be in his age target range. She was laughing. Maybe a little too much to be a subordinate in the group. Why is she there? Her dark hair fell over her back as she tilted her head to enjoy her own laugh. She was tall with a very womanly figure. Something about the cut of the clothes looked POTWAY. They went out a side door before Cale could drink in more details. Hmm.
End of Installment 1. Ver. 1.0