Monday, June 26, 2017

Dawn on Jefferson, Chapter 36: Adventure is...

My father once told me, in one of his pithy bits of Dad wisdom, that adventure was someone far away in deep deep trouble, terrified out of their mind, that happened some time ago and now was edited for the listener or reader.  Normally, he said, it was explaining in far, far more colorful metaphors.  I didn't believe him.  I had, with my enormous wisdom of my then eleven long years, rolled my eyes and basically snarked "Yeah whatever, dad."

Sometimes the grownups had a point.  Sometimes, even my Dad.  

As the Chinese soldier pointed his rifle - we knew it was a guy based on his voice this time despite armor hiding gender - at us, I was afraid.  And while I knew we were in deep sticky brown trouble, I thought we out of it.  But, no, the goddess of adventures, whomever she may be, obvious was not yet done with us and a proverbial tentacle reached out and grabbed us to pull us back in.  Just when we thought we were out.  We were pulled back in.  

We were scared.  No, terrified.  But we availed NOT to wet ourselves.  Ha!  We did better than Aneiren!

The Chinese soldier motioned for us to stand up.  We did.  Slowly and carefully.  No one wanted to be turned into a into a lot of Earthlife jelly.  That would totally poison the environment!  Can't have that!  Snark.

He motioned us to walk.  The fighting had stopped and he was moving us away from the battlefield.  He was also moving us away from Shadwell.  Sigh.

He moved us quite quickly though and in about ten minutes, he stopped us, popped a tent over us and had us sit down.  Weirdly, he didn't even bother collecting our needlers.  I guess we were not really a threat to him with them.  just after the Indians?  Indian and Nigerian? had done so, it felt a little weird.  They MIGHT be dangerous to him, a little bit, if there was some way to explode all the rounds at once, but no manufacturer would have designed it that way.  That was simply stupidly dangerous.  And with software bots now acting as lawyers, it would be an instant fail for the company: sued into oblivion in 3 milliseconds.  Never mind all the people hurt and probably killed.  We all know which of those the company ACTUALLY cared about.

We sat and waited and waited and waited.  We heard the American Marines come and land.  We waited for a day it seemed.  The soldier let us eat and let us sleep and when it was time for other calls of nature, he told us to dig a hole and carry our business afterward.  We did.  It was gross.  

We sat and waited did so for a day and night at least.  

When he seemed satisfied, he popped the tent and had us start marching.  We connected up with the rest of his squad.  We marched for a long time and we were exhausted.  They did not let us stop to rest.  We kept marching on.  Away from Shadwell.  Away from the site of the recent battle.  Away from the Church of the Sky Father Christ.  They seemed to know enough to keep under the Jefflife forest canopy and, eventually,  we made it to a cliff.  It wasn't much of a cliff, but it was hidden by from the sky by trees and there was a pile of rubble and excavations right there.

They had dug into the cliff and made a cave.  

And, yup, that's where we went.

Once inside, they sealed the cave and had a drone fly around with a small laser, burning all the taxitos out of the air.  They did a quick sweep, maybe they were afraid of the loogers?  And then they popped off their helmets.  All eight of them.

Half of the Chinese soldiers were women.  Not really a surprise, but, in a way, nice to see.  In fact, the leader of the squad was a woman.  She knelt before us and smiled.  She was not an American and that was apparently immediately.  Her smile was different.  However, it did seem to be genuine.  She was very polite as she introduced herself.

She was Captain Quon Li.  She was commanding the squad here on Jefferson. She, too, had a tail of woe about her ship crashing, but when she told her story she seemed to leave very little out.  She was part of the crew chasing the Indian ship.  She commanded the ground troops and they were here to catch the Indians.  Apparently, the Indians had been spying on something that they should not have.  The Chinese soldiers and ship were sent to stop them catch them and prevent them from taking whatever it was back to India or her colonies.  It was rather important and she could not allow the Indians to escape with whatever it was.

She explained India and China were not at war.  If the Indians escaped with the information, it might lead to war.  Or at least to the Indians and Chinese joining a war that was already taking place: a coalition of Nigeria, Indonesia and Brazil had attacked Europe's colonies when Europe had refused to open up one of its colonies (Othrys) to be an international world like Caerus, Nuwa, Nakshatra and Beira.  None of the great powers - America, China or India - were participating directly, she said, but they often supported different powers for their own reasons while trying to settle the whole thing as quickly as possible through peace talks.

India, it seemed had spied on something, and it might mean China and India might start fighting over it.

When she said Nigeria, I tried to keep my face from reacting, but ... I must have given something away.  Captain Li sighed when she saw.  

She said once they had taken care of the Indians, they would surrender to the American Marines.  They didn't want to fight a war with America and they knew they were in deep, deep trouble - ha! like we were not! - but still had a mission to do.  Too much was too important for this and, she said, she was not sure the American government and military would stay neutral or would not pass on whatever information the Indians had to someone or some government that ought not have it.

She was being really honest with us.  It was making my head swim a bit.  America and China were rivals, if not outright enemies.  America had alliances, I knew from class! with my smaller nations on Earth to help contain China or attempt to.  it was a pattern America had done with many, many circumstances in the past.  India was friendly, but still something of a rival to the US.  Yet her soldiers had lied to us and here the soldiers of our enemy were being honest.

How bizarre...

She then asked what we knew and, honestly, we told.  I didn't mention Helmet might be Nigerian, but I got the feeling I didn't need to.  When we were done, she reassured us we were no danger.  She was angry the Indians had involved us.

She then reached out and in the most incongruous thing I could think of and perhaps one of the most humiliating things she could have done, she booped my nose with her finger and winked at me.

GAH!

What the frak, world!  

Sorry about the language, but, really!  

Friends lie to you and nearly get you killed.  

And then!  And then!  Enemies are honest and try to cute you!  

What the frak, world!

Friday, June 23, 2017

Humanity Lectures (part 3)

After our last lecture, I was accused of being a Humanist and portraying the Humans has gods or the ultimate good. A large number of students came during my office hours and even more virtually complained.

I had no such intention and I am emphatically not a Humanist. I find Humanity to be fascinating in the same way astronomers find supernovas, geologists find basalt eruptions, xenologists find mass extinctions and epidemologists find viruses to be interesting. They are beautiful, horrific and fascinating in their power. Humanity was a force of nature above and beyond what ANY species can comprehend. And, yet, I as an individual do try to do so.

Value judgments have little place here. Humanity is dead and gone a long time ago. We have inherited a galaxy shaped by them. Could they have done better? Certainly. We'd have wanted them to. However, it's a very hypocritical thing to sit here with hindsight and make declarations. It's even more hypocritical when we don't even have perfect hindsight. My job as a researcher is to improve that very fundamental understanding about what Humanity was so we may learn from it. You as students are here to learn what Humanity was...and was not.

They were NOT the gods. yet they towered so much above the rest. They were NOT the devils. yet they committed atrocities that few would dare. They were not perfect. They often changed what they decided. They were not utterly flawed. They often forgave those who wronged them. They WERE an utter contradiction, beautiful and flawed, ugly and perfect within that concept.

Due keep that in mind while we move forward with this series.

Now then. Let us return to the topic at hand:

Humanity.

The previous lecture was on Humanity bursting onto the galactic scene. Since the feel from the class was they were portrayed as The Good Guys(tm) in that lecture. Let us talk of some of the highlights or low points, in Humanity's tread upon the galaxy.

There was a time when Humanity, after its eruption into interstellar space but before its total conquest of the Milky Way, that they were merely one amongst a plethora of powers.

When fought to a stand still once by the Vnon, Humanity signed a peace treaty with them. Officially for centuries, Humans were at peace with them and even made trade with the Vnon. But what had not been realized was as they were signing the treaty, the Humans had launched thousands of asteroids at the Vnon worlds. Even traveling at relativistic speeds, these would take a very long time to impact. But when they did, they shattered worlds. What was not smashed, the Humans occupied. In the name of Humanitarian concerns, of course. And the Vnon became a vassal species until their own extinction later.

However, the war that led Humanity to conquer the galaxy was the one with the brightest memory for the entire galactic whole though.

The war that saw Humanity begin its rise to conquest of the galaxy was one of their greatest wars with the Kalti. It was also one of the greatest crimes against sapients.

The Kalti smashed into the relatively new Union of Human Polities with all the force of a supernova: prior to the Humans' counterattack, the Kalti even reached the outskirts of the now lost Solar System. The Kalti were not merely attacking because they wanted conquest. They were not merely attacking because something small had happened. They were attacking because the Humans had unleashed the Great Terraformers upon the galaxy.

The Humans unleashed von Neumann machines upon the galaxy to seek out worlds within the habitable zone that were not yet human compatible and terraform them. Ever wonder why the majority of sentient species have a compatible biochemistry and breathe oxygen? This is why. Humanity unleashed these massive reproducing bots upon the galaxy to remake it into their home. They were not intending on destroying worlds with life already. At least complex life. And for the most part they did not.

The machines mostly copied themselves almost perfectly. However, in one in a million cases, the machine would have a corrupted program. In this case, in the region of galaxy occupied by the Kalti, that program ignored the 'no terraforming of worlds with complex life' rule. The Kalti were not oxygen breathers. The machines saw their worlds as not being inhabited. Worlds were damaged, millions of lives lost. The Kalti pleaded with the Humans to stop. The Humans mostly shrugged.

The Kalti had Just Cause and attacked.

The Humans rendered the Kalti extinct.

Other races that came to the aid of the Kalti, the Humans often wiped out.

Many of the worlds of these races were utterly destroyed. There are only small evaporating black holes in their place. Consider! Humanity took Total War to its logical extreme and utterly destroyed the worlds which brought to life sophont beings! Not just the entirety of a government or nation, not just the complete species, but even the worlds which the Kalti lived and including the world.

The human fleets would leap into a system, create, fling at relativistic speeds small quantum blackholes that would either decompose at their targets, bathing them in insane doses of evaporative energy or if sufficiently large enough, consume the entire planet.

Even so, the Kalti, stripped of their worlds, dogged fought on. Hiding in protoplanetary disks, asteroid fields and even amongst the free floating planets between stars. it availed them little in the end. They and their kind and their allies, are long since dead.

The Great Greening spread amongst the stars. Each time a new species faced a glitch, Humanity had a new war. A new war that extended their reach. A new war that crushed another rival. A new war that led to extending Humanity's grip on yet more space. And rendered more species extinct. The war that did not end until the last of Humanity's machines had reached ever corner of the galaxy!

Consider. Even though there were far more oxygen breathers than reducing breathers, thousands of species were rendered extinction. Hundreds of thousands of worlds with complex life were wiped out to be remade into redox atmospheres and biochemistries compatible with Humanity's. Even then, there were those that were redox breathers that fought to try to stop the Humans. The humans made their worlds into singularities as well. There is a reason the Galactic Nations have banned such weapons! There is a reason why von Neumann machines are also banned. None could allow such a travesty again.

The Great Greening is also a reason why it appears to be impossible at this point to identify Earth: hundreds of millions of planets within the galaxy are stocked with Earthlife after being terraformed. And none of them have continents that match what we think we know Earth had. There have been candidates, but all have turned out to have fossil records that reach back only to the Great Greening.

And, yes, even to this day, there are outbreaks of the terraforming machines. They seem to lurk in the galactic shadows and burst out upon worlds to terraform them. The local nations do fight back and often contain and eliminate the threat. Locally. Like a retrovirus, the terraforming machines seem to lurk in reservoirs across the galaxy. Ever there. Ever present. Ever waiting for whatever triggers them into action.

No. Humanity was NOT race of saints. They were not gods. They wielded power above and beyond, to be sure, but they also at times lacked mercy. Humanity had and has much to account for.

But seeing them one dimensionally, hating them, does not do any herm any good. It also denies some of the greatest feats the galaxy has ever known. And some of the greatest good.

But, yes, Humanity also conducted some of the greatest evil.

No species before or since has matched Humanity. In evil. Or good.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Dawn on Jefferson, Chapter 35: Complicated, why so Freakin Complicated?!

My father once told me a religion should not set itself up to be testable.  That is, don't make a claim based on something that is easily proven or disproven, if you want people to have faith.  He said it was a problem with many religions, especially newer ones.  The older ones had, either intentionally or unintentionally, learned that rule.

While very different than religions - most of the time - lies are pretty similar in one way.  If they are easily proven to be untrue, then people believing them will be almost impossible.  Those that will believe them are almost assuredly not the ones you really want to buy in to your story.  It's always better to tell the truth.  Either own up to the situation and accept the consequences or be ready for the worse consequences if the truth comes out after you lie.  And it will come out.  It always comes out.  Even if you are the best liar in the world.

And then the payment for that lie will come due.

Jaideep had lied to us.  He thought we were just kids he could tailor his truth for for sympathy and help.  It's not a uncommon story: adults often lie to kids to get what they want.  Sometimes it is because the situation is very complicated and they want to simplify the situation.  They often leave out details make a certain narrative that makes sense.  Sometimes it is to make them seem like the victim or hero or just an innocent bystander that got caught up in something.  Sometimes it is to try to keep them from looking bad.  Really bad.  Sometimes, it is because they fear what the kids will think if they knew the truth.

The truth will out.  Some times it takes a long time.  Sometimes it's really quick as the lies are transparent.  Here and now, I would say the truth was freaking out Helmet really bad.

Cheenee.  Hindi for Chinese.

Wonderful.  Just wonderful.  Just freaking wonderful with whip cream and cherries and yummy sprinkles.

Where we were, captives of Indian soldiers on an American world with CHINESE soldiers looking for them.  Awesome sauce.  Really.  I'm thrilled.  This is my thrilled and happy face.  Don't believe me?  Why?  I'm so cute and amazing!  Really!  

Good.  That was a lie.  Less damaging than Jaideep's but, still, a lie.

Helmet shouldered his/her weapon and was scanning.  Jaideep scrambled and pulled on his own.  There were no lights to tell what was happening inside and he was saying.  Jaideep turned and seemed to be scanning off axis from Helmet.  Helmet then turned to Jaideep and began gesticulating wildly.  No words were heard.  It was pretty obvious Helmet was berating Jaideep.  

The tent popped and Jaideep began to leave.  Helmet gestured at us even more wildly.  Jaideep seemed to just ignore Helmet as far as we could tell.  Jaideep ran for cover and aimed his rifle: he seemed to completely ignore that we existed.  Even without verbal cues, it was patently obvious Helmet was furious and frustrated.  

Helmet turned to us and handed back our needlers and boosters.

Just then a drone the size of my thumb zipped past us.  I didn't recognize it.  Was it Indian?  Was it Chinese?  Was it American military?  I didn't know.  In that instant, Jaideep opened fire on whatever was coming from the direction the drone had come from and Helmet fired something from his or her rifle that chased after the drone.

Then, Helmet turned to us and in plain, accented English, said, "Run.  Do not slow down.  Do not look back.  NOW RUN!"  The words were harsh, but said in as kind a manner as could be. The weirdest thing was, his accent was NOT Indian. It was also not one of the American accents either. I could have sworn it was ... Nigerian. 

Helmet then turned and began popping off his, yes, his own drones from the back of his armor.

With that, we ran.  We climbed up and over a hill and down another and over another and down into an arroyo, a dried up stream.  We were thinking it would work like a trench if explosions started going off.  We ran down the arroyo bed pounding on sand and through Jefflife brush.  Trying to get away.

And as we ran, it hit me.  Helmet hadn't been angry or contemptuous of US.  He had been of Jaideep.  he didn't want us to get hurt because of what they were doing.  He thought Jaideep was risking OUR lives for whatever he wanted: information?  food?  We didn't know.  We didn't have TIME to know.

In that moment, my opinion of Helmet wildly changed.  It was a bit head spinning on top of everything else.

And as we ran, we heard explosions and the sounds of a huge swarm of drones crashing, clashing and exploding.

We had run for what felt like a long time when a really big explosion was behind us.  The explosion was so big it knocked us to the ground.  Stunned, we got up.  After a moment, we franticly checked our leathers and balkavas: we they torn?  Compromised?  Remember, that can be life and death out on Jefferson.  We were ok.

After a second of elation, we realized we were still close enough to get hurt!  We got up and started running again.  We ran up and over the hill and then down into another arroyo.  We ran and ran.

We stopped to breathe, plopping ourselves in a creepy bush again.  PLEASE don't let this one's fruit pop while we're in it!

We were panting and gasping.  

I could feel everyone smile, thinking we were safe.  The explosions had stopped.  We were ok.  All we had to do was contact our parents and we could be done with this adventure.  Not the butt chewing that was coming afterwards, but at least the really dangerous (but not the scary part) would be over.

I reached into my pack and started to fish out the other clean booster when I heard it.

"Ahem.  Excuse me."

I looked up.  We all looked up.  

There stood someone in powered armor.  Again.

It wasn't Indian.

It wasn't American.

It was Chinese.

Or so the shoulder flashing with a red flag and yellow stars indicated.

We were caught.

Again.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Dawn on Jefferson, Chapter 34: Its an Interesting story, but do We Believe the Storyteller?

We were more than a little cautious with Jaideep.  He seemed friendly, but his suit was packing some pretty serious firepower: he just shredded a decade old Basilisk, probably 500 kg, within seconds.  Unnecessarily, I might add.  For those of us here on Jefferson, that was a real booboo in earning our trust.

He really didn't see the problem though.  Which was interesting.  Maybe other countries treat their worlds differently.  It's not something I'd ever thought about, really.  I had America and Jefferson to think of and, frankly, honestly, Shadwell was really my world.  Even with all the news flowing in like a river from Earth and America's interstellar colonies, even with the neural links and perfect Immies, Shadwell and its environs were the limit of what we worried about.  And, yes, that included its environment and nature and animals.  The killing of the Basilisk really did rub us the wrong way.

While Jaideep seemed friendly enough, his companion did not at all.  He or she refused to remove his/her helmet.  And refused to talk with us at all.  Whoever he or she was, just wasn't buying we were worth talking to, never mind, saving.  As if we really needed saving.

And, no, you couldn't make out whether the person inside that battle armor was a man or woman or even a robot.  They don't come with labels and they don't have pink bows on the helmets for girls.

We probably knew these woods better than they did by a LOT.  Their dead friend was a testament to that fact.  Jefferson was a beautiful and wonderful place that might just kill you if you were not careful.  As they now knew.

Even so, I had to wonder, why would Jaideep even consider "saving" us?  We were kids.  He was on some sort of mission.  He was here at risk of his life.  Why even bother with us when it would blow his cover?  Something didn't make sense.

I thought I wanted to try to make it make sense.  Veena and Rosa were right there with me it seemed.  Tom and Jackie were probably as well, but Tom was watching Jaideep's companion a lot and Jackie kept watching to see if there was a way out for us.  They were being useful and so, the other three of us thought we might better be, too.

We introduced ourselves and offered to share our food.  Jaideep seemed thrilled, way more so than he ought.  He might have been on field rations for however long he'd been on-world.  Rosa had some beef jerky, which he politely turned down, and Veena had some protein bars and some crisped vegetables.  Jaideep scarfed and his companion snarked something in Hindi.  

Veena was a very smart girl.  She even spoke some Hindi.  She also knew better than to let Sergeant Helmet know she knew.  I could almost hear her taking notes.  The funny part was, I could speak Hindi...or at least have it translated for me by my booster.  Alas, my booster was disconnected because of that freakin cockatrice and then my other, clean booster I hadn't connected.  And now Jaideep had his helmet off, we were recording and understanding.  Even so, even with the best machines, people seemed to still trust their own understandings better when another language was concerned and Veena knew Hindi.  At least enough.  And she'd be able to pull apart some of the nuances.  

Helmet still refused to remove.  Even with the offers of food.  Very annoying.

We were all sitting down and talking.  Jaideep was from Earth.  Helmet wouldn't say.  Yes, his friend , the corpse we found, had his helmet damaged when they were approaching Shadwell and had to leave it.  Yes, the critters got him. They had been forced to abandon Fernando at the Church complex.  Jaideep and Helmet were headed over to retrieve the body when they saw us about to be eaten - no, we weren't! - and Jaideep intervened.  Helmet was still sore over that.

Very sore.  

Actually, according to Jaideep, they were going to Shadwell to turn themselves in.  They were on a ship that jumped in system at one of the shadow jump points.  They were fleeing an enemy and wanted to seek asylum on Jefferson when their ship was damaged by the very meteor storm we watched on Constitution Rock.  Their ship tore apart during the reentry and only the three of them had survived.

Interesting, I thought, but something seemed off.

Rosa asked why they didn't just proceed on to Shadwell when their friend's helmet had been compromised?  After all, she said, it would have been safer.  Jaideep said it was complicated and they were surprised by the situation.  They might have made a mistake, but it was a cautious one.

I then flatly asked: "Why was his helmet damaged?"

Jaideep looked taken aback and was about to say something when Helmet - I ought to have picked a better moniker for that person! - growled.  Jaideep demurred and stated it was an unfortunate incident and didn't elaborate.  

That's when I absolutely knew, not just suspected, there was more here than what he was telling.  I also knew I didn't exactly trust these two.  Leaving out crucial details tends to do that.

Veena pointedly asked why Helmet refused to take it off.  Helmet retorted that someone had to keep a watch while they were fraternizing with local kids and, more importantly, Helmet didn't WANT to take it off.  Helmet had seen what the Jefflife could do to someone and thank you very much and have a nice day, no freakin thanks.

Wimp.  Chicken. 

We talked for some time and would have continued.  It was mostly small talk.  What about this animal?  Were we all born here?  Jaideep was from Mumbai.  Helmet remained mum.  etc.  

Part way along, Tom nodded at Helmet's boot and I realized the problem immediately: their boots on their battle armor in no way matched what we saw in Rosa's video.  My eyes widened, a bit too blatantly, but there was no helping it.  Jaideep noticed and was about to comment through a grimacing frown that had appeared on his face when Helmet's head whipped around and said a word that didn't need translation for us to get it. 

Cheenee.

And its implications were even MORE worrisome.


Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Dawn on Jefferson, Chapter 33: Be Careful What You Wish For, You Might Just Get It

My father once told me, with a smirk on his face at the time, of course, that I really ought to be careful what I wish for: I might just get it.  Well, here and now, I got a small idea of what he meant.  After all, we Merry Pranksters wanted to be the ones to find the Indian soldiers hiding on Jefferson near Shadwell.  

Well, we did.

Unfortunately, the NEXT step in the plan: call the grownups while not getting caught, shot, killed or left for taxito bait, seems to have hit a snag.  Just a small one.  

Why?

Because, well, we DID find the soldiers and soldiers have far, far better tech toys in the turn of the 22nd century than do twelve year olds.  or so I would hope.  Otherwise, every invasion of every country or world would flounder at those raucous and terrible bastions of power, the American Middle School.

Hmm.  Nice image.  Early teens being so tech savvy and terrible, they chase the invaders from the country.  Sounds like a kid's Immie.  And utterly divorced from reality.

So divorced from reality, I am surprised they have a shared custody arrangement with your brain.  Reality and that idea could not share that brain of yours.  No way.  No how.  Nuh-huh.  They would be still in court centuries later and making the judge hate them both and wish he or she could find a way to end the case immediately and preferably by putting your brain in foster care, reality in jail (for crimes against humanity) and this idea in the loonie bin.

The reality of OUR situation was we were being marched, somewhat roughly, up into the Jefflife forest away from the Church of the Sky Father Christ and the causeway.  Their roughness was a weird juxtaposition with the fact they thought they had just saved our lives.  THAT reality was a bit more complicated.  We probably would have gotten away or at the worst, *I* would have been eaten.  They, I think, had the thought they had saved all of us.

bah.

grump, grump, grump.

I imagine part of the reason they were herding us away was because they had probably just set off virtually every satellite and drone looking for us on the planet.  That could only be worse because I had called Dad to get him to get the police to come get us and deal with the soldier's body.  The dropped booster - hey!  cockatrices are scary and that one is really scary being so big!  I'd like to see you do better, bub! - would probably send him into something of a Papa Freakout.  And that would lead to a cringe worthy, Mama-Freakout.  ANd that would mean the whole of the Marines would be freaking out, because Mom can motivate people in ways I've never seen possible before.  Terrifyingly possible.

We had moved off far enough into the forest that we couldn't see, but heard the American Marines arrive.  The distinctive whine-roar of their transports was loud and unique enough to not be mistaken for anything else.  Our captors seemed really nervous.  We, the oh-so-proud Merry Pranksters, were far, far more than nervous, but not much more than that...despite what Tom and Rosa and Veena and Jackie might claim!  Really!

I had image, oh so beautifully ironic images, of American missiles launched and killing all here.  Us, the Indians and all the beautiful and toxic Jefflife around us.  Oh the joy of that thought!  And, no, I did NOT throwup upon thinking that EITHER, despite what Tom said.

The Indians ushered us further forward and we marched for what seemed like an interminable period.  When Jackie gave the soldiers a dirty look, the smaller one shoved her.  We all glared and tried to keep from pondering the fact their armor could squish us like a rotten grape.

When we reached some point, the Indians stopped and pulled a largish object off the back of one of the soldiers.  They tossed it to the side and then PLOOP, up and over us came a tent.  A quick spray came off the tent poles that caused all of the Pranksters to cough.  

The two soldiers stood apart for a moment and then seemed to be in a very animated conversation.  They were gesticulating wildly at times and pointing at us.  For a second, I thought about trying to hack into their equipment and then, OH YEAH, REALITY!

Not only was I not likely to be able to do so, but if I did and got caught, I was burnt toast.  Worse.  Way worse.  Burnt jelly?!  Besides, I would need to pull out my other booster and warm it up again.  Pulling something out might just set them off anyways.  Oh, joy.

However, I wasn't sitting there like a quivering blob, thanks, Tom.  His embellishments are really bad and nothing to do with that obnoxious reality thing.  Trust me.

The soldiers seemed to stop arguing and one approached us.  We were all on the other side of the tent trying to look very inconspicuous.  He stood in front of us and paused.  He seemed to be taking us in.  To a soldier off world, we must have looked like the weirdness mini sized special forces team ever.  or the worst cosplayers.  Your pick.  However, to someone from Jefferson, we were not that outlandish at all.  Some of the gear was a bit much for a bunch of kids, okokok, more than a but much, but the general look was perfectly normal for a bunch of people doing some backpacking in the back country of Jefferson.

The soldier knelt so he would be looking up at us.  Very nonthreatening in appearance or so I think he thought he was being.  Small problem: powered, freakin, armor.  He then reached up and in the most disconcerting way possible took off his helmet: it looked like he twisted off his head.

He looked at us from his dark eyes ones like Veena's, and smiled.  His smile was a nice one.  Reassuring.  And then he introduced himself:

"Hi, my friends.  My name is Jaideep.  Who are you?"

Monday, June 19, 2017

Dawn on Jefferson, Chapter 32: But I Didn't ask for a Knight in Powered Armor!

Screaming was not the most ideal reaction to a cockatrice.  It was the natural reaction.  I dropped my new Booster and ran.  I had to.  The others followed after, but Tom and Jackie paused after we were down the stairs and looked up.  They had pulled out their needlers and were looking for the cockatrice.  It launched up and into the air flying right over us.  We ran up across the plaza and into the church.  Fortunately, the great bronze door was open.  Unfortunately, it was not possible to close it.

The cockatrice slammed against the doors and wedged its head in.  It hissed and pulled back out.  Tom and Jackie were a little too slow with their needlers, so they didn't fire at the breast.  And it was a big beast, for a cockatrice.  It was probably has big as it could get, being about four meters long and a wingspan twice that.  It was a huge monster and our needlers would only tickle it at best.

So silly 6th graders, thanks for the tickle, now hold still while I eat you.

I didn't say cockatrices were smart.  Just big and scary.

What jefflife needed was for people to be here for a most of a decent millennium.  Then they'd realize people and Earthlife in general were not good eats.  In fact, we were poisonous.  However, they were not so smart.  Yet.  Though the idea of a SMART cockatrice did not seem so appealing either.  

We were puffing and huffing behind a giant column when a stain glass window shattered inward.  The cockatrice had figured glass was breakable and we were still edible.  Right on one count at least.  My inner wannabe architect cried out over the shattered window, but my outer me wanted to run like the wind.  So, we hustled into a side room and then looked for some way out.  There was.  And it was going to shatter my heart like glass.  

It was another window.

Tom started to make a pun.  I gave him a look that made it plain if he did, I was going to throw him through the window.  He gave me a rather insolent smirk.  

Now?  Really?  Gah!

The cockatrice started trying to get through the door behind us.  We then did something really stupid: we jumped right through the window.  Fortunately, our leathers were pretty thick.  Unfortunately, Veena was actually cut even so and we would have to deal with that later though.  We ran as fast as we could.

Across the plaza.

Through one of the cardinal directions toward the gate we came in through.  And we started seeing loogers!  Wonderful!  Not only were we being chased by an angry cockatrice, now we had Jefflife not-frogs to spit on us with toxic goo.  

Great!  Just great!

None of us got actually spat on.  Fortunately.  Unfortunately, we forgot something really important about cockatrices.  

Cockatrices are the boys.  

Basilisks are the girls.

I think I had better explain what that means.

When Americans first set foot on Jefferson, they made note of all the critters on the planet.  They needed to in order to make sure people could actually live there.  Yes, they lost some of the first explorers to taxitos.  By and large, they made note of most things large and small with the help of their robotic partners.

One of the animals they noticed was a snake like fish-thing that lived in the water.  They observed it and called it the 'hydra.'  (and if you say 'hail hydra, I will punch you in the mouth!  There's only so many times a movie should be made and remade and had a sequel, Mouse!)

They also noted the rare flying feathered serpent-like animal we now call the cockatrice.  It was big, mean and pretty rare.  It seemed to like to live near the water though but hunted on land.

They also noted a large water monster, generally 9 meters in length, that seemed to vaguely be like our crocodiles.  It would suction eat a lot of swimming animals and fish, but loved to grab animals from the shoreline and eat them.  They called these 'basilisks.'

Finally, also noted out in the sea where what they thought were whale equivalents.  They called them the leviathans.

What they didn't realize was they were all the same creature at different stages of its life cycle.  Over a seven year period, the hydra would transform from small snake like eels to the cockatrices.  Their front fins would transform into wings and the rear fins into legs.  

Then, on the strike of 12, no.  nonono.

I can't believe you actually started to fall for that.

No, really, they do metamorphose. But rather a clock?  Really?

It is every seven years though.  As the hydras grow bigger, they moved into deeper water until they are almost out to sea.  Then when the seven year itch strikes, they crawl from the water, dry out and go on a mating flight.  Several boys chase a girl cockatrice until one finally catches her.  The rest is too embarrassing to talk about.  Still twelve here!  Most of the boys are not so lucky.  They slowly die out over the course of the next seven years.  But they often tear up the land, eating many large and moderate size animals in the area.  Some, those that survive and mate with the female, survive to all seven years.  They follow the female to a lake or deeper water, where she will take the plunge and she will transform again into the crocodile critter and lay eggs for the next seven years.  If she finds a river, she will slowly make her way down into the sea.  Once she is there, she will finish her transformation into a leviathan.  Why the leviathan stage exists, no one has figured out.  One Dr. Jonah Jackson was trying to find out.  

Dr Jackson was the one that figured out the giant cockatrices were really males of the same species as the basilisk and both were the breeding form of the hydra.  he had surmised the leviathans were the grandmother form of the same animal and taken a small boat out to study them.  I think he thought they must be docile big whales, since that's the nearest thing on Earth.  Oh, the irony of his name and his fate.

So, back to the brute-species chasing us.  The male cockatrice will help protect the female even when she is in the water and transformed.  He'll try to fight off a new female and her entourage.  However, half the time, he gets eaten by the swarm of smaller cockatrices.  Not pretty.  However, he does have another use for her.  He will often chase prey to the basilisk so she can have a balanced diet while laying their eggs.

Oops!

Stupid Jefflife!  

We ran along the causeway and were half way across when the water erupted.  Out flopped behind us (!!!) a basilisk.  We ran even faster.  The basilisk was HUGE, one of the biggest I'd ever heard of and wiggle waddled after us as fast as it could.  It was slightly faster than we were and it as closing on us, slowly and inexorably.  It would get to us.  it would kill us.  We would die and then it would die.

Stupid Jefflife!  

Stupid, stupid basilisk!

It was still a good twenty feet behind when we reached the hill.  I turned and pulled out my needler.  I set it to banglers and began firing at its eyes.  It kept coming.  Tom and Jackie stopped to help.  I screamed at them to grab Veena and Rosa and run.

bang!  bang! bang!  bang!  

It flinched at least.

I finally got a good shot into an eye and it stopped and howled.

Ha!  take that, you stupid!  

OH! CRUD!

I dropped onto my back just in time to avoid being snatched by the cockatrice.  The howl apparently called it to its mate and here I was!  Like a present!  Joy!

bang!  bang! bang!  bang!  

I fired away at the cockatrice's fluffy belly.  It squawked!  it actually squawked!  

Score two for team Earthlife!  Ha!

I quickly repointed my needler at the basilisk and fired more.

bang!  bang! bang!  bang! 

It steam train hissed at me and stopped advancing for a moment.  It was trying to decide if I was worth it.  If it did decide I was, it would charge.  I had better not be where I was.  I turned - which triggered her charge! - and ran.  Up the hill and behind some trees.  From there I started firing more.

bang!  bang! bang!  bang! 

The basilisk charged and the cockatrice swooped.  I didn't see my friends, but I felt somewhat safe.  I had plenty of ammo and the critters were not getting me tonight!  Ha!  Score again for Team Earthlife!  Woo!

The awesome part was I did this without permanently harming either critter.  It stung, but didn't kill.

Then, of course, everything went wrong.

From out of nowhere, a small missile arced up and exploded (!!) against the cockatrice.  I swear had it been a critter that people could eat, they just got burger versions, ground up and even cooked in one shot.  It might even have qualified as cockatrice sauce, like apple sauce, but made from jefflife meat.  bleh.

Then a form jumped from above me and landed down on the ground tackling the basilisk.  The individual in powered armor actually grappled with the 9 meter long monster and then grabbed it by the tail.  He swung the basilisk around and threw it back into the water.  

Then he turned to me.

And my heart sunk.  On his helmet was the same tricolor and chakra on the very same helmet I had stumbled over when this all began.  

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Stealth Saga #63

5th Generation Fighter:

Poland is planning on buying a 5th generation fighter around 2025.

6th Generation Fighter:

Airbus is calling on France to join Germany and Spain in developing the next generation weapon system, a potentially sixth gen fighter.  A bit more on the Airbus backed European next gen fighter (not sure whether it will be 5th or 6th gen).  What exactly is going to happen is up in the air though.  Dassault may not join the paneuropean fighter and that might be a good thing.

Lockheed has unveiled its updated penetrating counter air concept.

Are 6th generation fighters going to be stealthy drone herders?

TFX:

Turkey is mostly relying on local manufacturers for their next fighter, but also a dash of the British.

J-20:

China has tested a solid rocket ramjet missile for use with its J-20 fighters, potentially tripling the range of the J-20's missiles to kill.

H-20:

The Pentagon confirmed the Chinese H-20 stealth bomber is being designed with nuclear weapon carriage in mind.

MiG-41:

Mikoyan claims to be working on the MiG-41, the successor for the MiG-31 Foxbat.

PAK-FA:

The PAK-FA is supposed to be in the final stages of development.

Russia is supposed to take delivery of two more PAK-FA this year.

FGFA:

Is the PAK-FA derivative fighter deal going to be scuttled?

LCAAS:

Some are claiming the LCAAS 'disposable' UCAV will be stealthy.

RQ-170:

Some beautiful pictures of the RQ-170 were taken at Vandenberg a while back.

B-21:

McCain is pushing on the USAF to reduce the level of secrecy of the B-21 program.

B-2:

Orbital ATK won a contract for composite structures for the B-2.

B-2 bombers have deployed to Britain.

F-117:

Iraq's brushes with the F-117.

F-22:


F-35:

Canada will fork out another $30 million to stay part of the F-35 team despite not planning (currently) to buy any.

Japan has its first two F-35 pilots.

Japan has rolled out its first locally assembled F-35.  You can watch the roll out here.

The first Japanese assembled F-35 had its first flight.  You can see that here and its landing here.

Spain is considering replacing its AV-8Bs and F/A-18s with F-35s.

A proposed upgrade to the F-35's engine may improve fuel use and increase power.

How the F-35 fared at the Red Flag exercise and what it may portend.

Elbit of America won cockpit related work for the F-35.

Lockheed is preparing for the F-35A premier at the Paris Airshow.  The fighter was filmed practicing for its aerobatics at the show.

USAF F-35As at Luke AFB have stopped flying due to hypoxia problems much like most of the US fighters.  The grounding is indefinite until they find the problem.

Interestingly, the F-35B is NOT having hypoxia problems.

Friday, June 16, 2017

If Only

I walk there every day. It's a reminder. It's a scourge. It's my punishment.

For my failure.

I look out upon the blasted site, the crisped and burned locale. The site is no longer pristine. Dust and trash and other detris of this dying world have contaminated the site. A baby doll's head. Wrappers from foods no longer consumed, no longer can be consumed, no longer made. It's still very recognizable as a crater though. How could it not be? Most of the ground is still glassed, if somewhat covered by the blown loess and topsoil. The only broken parts, by and large, were the ingress and egress paths I had made when I erected the altar. The tomb. The lines of where I walked in and out every day.

Others had respected it. Others had followed in and out in the same paths. I had never seen them. Perhaps they offered me reverence for my daily ritual. Perhaps they were terrified of the man who still had the strength to build something nearly megalithic on his own. Perhaps they were ashamed of what they did here.

The shrine had been defiled.

Several times I had found animals sacrificed on the shrine. The first time I was furious and replaced the stones that were stained: no rain would have washed away the blood: there were no rains here. Or rarely enough that I had not seen them in my residency and I could not abide the foulness.

Then it grew worse. The much worse as the slide into barbarism and despair continued. I found a human sacrifice. I raged. I lost my mind. I stood watch without sleeping for days after I cleansed the site, the stones, the monument.

I only left, no, let us be honest here, I fled, when I began to hallucinate my children were talking to me, were there with me, rather than buried after they had died of the toxins choking our home, our world, our Mother, our Earth. They spoke to me, rather than resided as moldering corpses within the monument. Then, terrified, I fled like a wild animal spooked at the site of my ultimate predator: madness.

After I slept, I returned to my vigil. My daily tending of the monument. My children's tomb. I knew soon I would be too weak to live. Despite my previously good health, stamina and strength, there was no surviving this. When my time was nigh, I would come and lay down at the monument and I would pass away. For eternity, I would be as close to my children as I could be. As close as this world would allow.

I knew I had lie with them. I knew I had to be at the point of my ultimate and final failure. My children had died because I had failed: I had failed to pass the test. Or rather I had, but due to a shortening of the schedule, I was cut. I was cut because I was not quite good enough to be taken if they had to reduce the number of survivors. I was just not smart enough, accomplished enough, good enough.

I was left behind. I, my children and my wife. We were left on Earth to die with the teaming mass of humanity. Not to alight to the new world of Salvation around another star with the best and brightest. I had been damned to this terrestrial hell and it had killed my children. It was killing me. It probably had killed my wife. I didn't know: she had disappeared when going to find food for the kids when they lay sick and dying.

I had built my children's tomb, this monument, this terrible wonder at the point where the last torchship, the one that would have taken us to the stars and life and freedom from the oncoming death, had lifted off from the Earth. The point where I had failed so greatly and so terribly. Where I...where we were left behind.

And this was why I could not tolerate the barbarism of the remaining few. This is why I could not allow my children's tomb, my monument to my shameful failure to be defiled. Not while I still drew breath, not while I still shakingly shuffled, not while I still while I could still raise an arm, I would not allow this monument to be defiled again.

I tenderly removed and cleaned and tended the stones. I cleared the detris of a dying world. I cleansed the stones of terrible dust of the damned. I wiped and cleaned. Shaking and tearful. I loved the lost. I wept for the dead. I loathed myself.

And I berated myself with the bitterest phrase of the english language: if only...

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Dawn on Jefferson, Chapter 31: Where I try to do the Right Thing

Entering into the town of the Church of the Sky Father Christ changed everything.

Well, at least as far as my friends yelling at me, it did.  There was a presence.  It was thick and palpable.  So strong you could feel.  So powerful you could almost see it.  So omnipresent you couldn't help but breathe it.  It compelled reverence, yet did not oppress.  It called to you, spoke to you and soothed your soul.

Which made it all the more disturbing when your brain oh so helpfully reminded you that a couple hundred people died in this place because some things SPIT on them.  That thought was even worse given our soaked stated and HOW we were soaked.

Even so, whatever I or you or anyone else might think about the beliefs of the Church of the people who built this place or the lack of caution of those same people, they did something right.  This place was gorgeous, breathtakingly so, so much that even a 12 year old with a bad attitude was hushed into reverence.  Even Tom, who at times wondered was ever reverent of ANYTHING.  Except for the ultimate awful joke.  He might be reverent once he heard that.

He might even ascend to nirvana if he heard that.

Bah, Tom.  Twerp.

The roads were cobble stone.  No cars were meant to travel here.  Weeds had grown up between the stones and a few saplings had finally pushed through and up.  The walls of the buildings were an odd mix of concrete and cut stone.  

Roof lines seemed to be all angles, yet below them were sinuous curves reminding people of taxito wings or dragonfly wings from Earth.  The columns were all hard squares and fluted.  Yet rather than leaves at the top, it had images of people and robots and astronomic events in place.  It was odd.  It was like someone had taken some Japanese architecture, crashed it into Art Nouveau and then spiced with late 21st century Fractal Decorative.  

Hey, I LIVE architecture.

The door to the building we wanted to enter was on the main plaza.  When we walked through the plaza entrance, our breath was taken away again.  We were humbled.  I had seen this before, but when I was younger.  And it seems the older you get, the more you appreciate when people come up with something beautiful and new.  Dad said the church, really a cathedral was based on a historical church in Berkeley back in California in Earther America, but this was far, far grander and seasoned.

It took us a moment before we moved on.

Turning away, we mounted stairs to the side of the plaza entrance.  It seemed the members of the Church wanted everyone to walk everywhere.  There we went up to the next level over that arching stair.  There was a wide, carved, bronze plated double door.  

And, of course, Tom walked up and knocked on it. 

"We're here to sell Scout Cookies and Popcorn!"

 Gah!  Did he ever stop!?!

Jackie and Rosa took one side, Veena and I took another.  We all pushed.  Even Tom one hand on each side.The door creaked and groaned.  It moved easier than I would have thought possible if it had been left neglected for decades.  I had a feeling it had been used more recently than that.  Like in the last few days.

As we went in, Rosa closed her eyes and connected to her drone.  It lifted up and over to us.  It seemed the members of the Church had not only wanted everyone to walk everywhere, but also wanted radio signals to be blocked when inside.  That was...curious.

Rosa directed the drone over around where we saw the body and blanched.  Her normally latte skin turned as white as mine.

"There is a body here and its in powered armor.  You guys probably don't want to see.  It's pretty gruesome."

Telling some nearly teenagers to NOT look is a guarantee we WILL look!  We're worse than monkeys.

And I really wish we had listened.

It was obvious our friend here at died of taxito bites but there were also a lot of dead loogers around him.  He was pretty gnawed on.  I was really glad I had not eaten anything for a while.  I'd have made a huge mess.

Oh why, oh why did I have to look?!

If I had not, I would not have noticed though: this guy had been lain here.  He had been arranged at least.  That meant someone else was probably around.  That meant there might be someone in the room.  Someone using chameleon camouflage and we couldn't even see that person.  

Great.  Just great...

We all walked away.  Rosa set the drone to document the site and then she needed air.  We all did.  

I pulled over to the side and sat down.  I knew what needed to be done next.  We were at the end of our adventure.  It was time to call in the adults.  We found what or rather who we were looking for and now we were in danger, real danger if the other person was around.  

I sat down and pulled out my clean booster I'd been using.  I told it to power down.  Once that was complete, I pulled out a little box.  Inside it was a clone of my regular booster, but powered off and kept in a faraday cage, shielded so no one could track it or find it.  I booted it up and synced with it.  All the world would know where I was then.

Just to be sure, I called the one person who would scalp me, but after he'd made sure I was safe and also the one person to not flip out before I could explain.  But I had better explain really, really well, cuz Dad could turn into an Ogre under the right circumstances.  And it was NOT pretty.

So I made the call, but I didn't notice the shadow passing over all of us until it was too late.

"Dad."

"I was wondering when you would turn up.  I felt certain incidents had a certain someone's finger prints all over them.  All that and then you and your pranksters disappear.  You have a lot of explaining to do, young lady."

Bad sign when Dad calls me young lady.

"Listen, Dad.  There's a lot to explain, but most importantly, I need you to send a message to the BII and the Marines.  We found a body.  It's a soldier and we think is Indian.  The armor is and its missing the helmet.  It's not pretty.  We're at the Town of the Church of the Sky Father Christ.  We are all fine, all five of us, Tom, Veena, Rosa, Jackie and I.  We're all fine and not in trouble.  We're perfectly safe..."

And that must have bee the cue the Gods must have been waiting for.

Right then, the biggest cockatrice I'd ever heard of landed between my friends, myself and the door to where the body was.  The horrible, nails on chalk board roaring scream of the cockatrice drown out everything else.

Actually, we really were in trouble.  Real trouble.  Cockatrices were very, very rare now, but the ones that were left were extra deadly and vicious...

So we did what every smart kid would do.

WE RAN!

With the cockatrice was in hot pursuit.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Dawn on Jefferson, Chapter 30: I Lose to a Mockery

We waited until the tide went out.  The tide going out exposed the peninsula connecting the island to the mainland.  It only showed up at low tide and that hadn't been too far in the future, fortunately.  We also buttoned up.  We all had balakavas.  These are almost like socks that slide over your head to prevent anything from getting on your head, neck or face.  It would prevent any loogers from spitting into our faces or on our skin: the fabric was pretty much one way for anything larger than air.  We popped on some goggles, too, just to be sure.  A looger glob in the eye is not how I wanted to die.  I am sure you think it might be ridiculous.  Here we were, in leather clothes, boots and wearing a head sock with goggles on.

Safety first!  Safety before fashion at least!  After all, we were on an alien world, in an alien forest, entering into a dead city, filled with deadly alien amphibians and lethal bugs, hunting for Indian soldiers in powered armor.  And we're 12.  We were being the safest people on the planet!

Really!

We crept down the backside of the hill to the saddle where the path went down to the exposed peninsula.  We crept forward like a very slow caterpillar.  Everyone was being extra paranoid.  It was unlikely that an Indian soldier would be there alone.  Going slowly would show we were not trying to attack.  Besides, we were kids, even if we looked like we might be in some Earther B grade Immie as special forces.  

We crept forward and I made the mistake of looking in the water. 

There are many dangerous things in the water on Jefferson.  When you mix not exactly compatible biochemistries with sea going things, it can be...bad.  Even when its not lethal, it can be bad.

Frodo only had to deal with something trying to kill him as he tried to get into the Mines or Moria.  I had to deal with a Mockery.

Mockeries are a Jefflife fish.   We swear they exist only to infuriate something on land into making the mistake of jumping into the water after it to kill it for being made fun of by it.  It can entice and pretend to be prey.  It can tease and taunt.  It always waits until it has your attention though.  Ignore it and it will ignore you.  Whatever you do, don't go into the water after it.  IT WILL EAT YOU.  Or try.  it'll die if it gets Earthlife meat in it, but, hey, it sure showed you!

I made the mistake of noticing a mockery in the water.  It noticed I noticed.  Then I ignored it.  I didn't have time to mess with an annoying carnivorous fish.  So it did what its kind does when ignored.  It spits on you.  It absolutely drenches you.  And THAT was EXACTLY what it did.

Mockeries are actually really big fish, they just have deceptively small heads that hinge like a snake's mouth or a basking shark back on earth.  YEs, that's how they eat big critters in one gulp.  They also used that big expandable mouth for one other thing: the mockery inhaled water and SPLOOSH.

Total fire house.

Getting drenched isn't deadly.  It's just annoying.

And every last Merry Prankster was soaked.

And they were VERY, VERY mad at me.

I squawked and fired my needler at it.  It splashed us once more and looked back from a depth I couldn't get it.  It seemed smug.  It also seemed to know I was not coming after it.  Too bad fish!  Fish are not friends and I am not food!  And I am NOT THAT DUMB!

My friends might question that last bit though. 

I glared for a second more when the mockery suddenly whipped its head around as if to look at something else and disappeared.  Whatever.  Stupid fish.

We stopped creeping and just walked.  Or rather squish, squashed our way into the city.  All our dignity was left crying a river.  Squish, squash, squish, squash.  All the way into the city. 

Besides, no one was going to think we were out to attack them when all four of friends were yelling at me.  Well, three were.  Tom was...yes, mocking me.

"Go away, you silly American chiclet!  Or I shall mock you for a second time!"

Groan.

Squish, squash, squish, squash.

And I am sure we looked as threatening as the drowned cat patrol now.

Total.  Humiliation.

Squish, squash, squish, squash

Sigh.  

The body had been in a building that overlooked the main plaza and the Church.  We would go there first.

Stupid fish.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Dawn on Jefferson, Chapter 29: I spy with Rosa's Drone's eye

We neared the crest of the hill.  Fortunately, it was forested and bushy with lots of different, relatively benign, Jefflife plants.  It gave us lots to hide in.  Before we crested the hill though, we stopped and talked about what we were going to do.  We wanted to make sure no one had changed their mind and no one wanted to go back.  We also wanted to make sure no one had crazy ideas as to what they were going to do if the adults, BII agents or Marines were there either: no one tries to bolt, we turn ourselves in.  We also wanted to be clear if we found our troublesome Indian friend or friends, we reached out to the adults immediately.  We wanted an adventure, not to, well, you know, get killed.  Yoats are one thing.  People in powered armor, another.

People don't generally kill people out here, but people in powered armor are meant to.

Thinking about that made me wonder about the wisdom of being here.  Tom, get out of my head!

Yet this was an adventure.  Something we'd have for the rest of our lives.  Even if they were cut short by a barrage of missiles, a hail of railgun rounds or the flash of a laser.

Note: do not look into the laser with your one remaining eye.

Rosa unpacked one of her Immie drones and communed with it.  She set it to cyber attach to a small repeater she carried.  The drone would talk to the repeater.  The repeater would talk to us.  if someone traced the drone and its signal, the repeater would buy us time to get away because it would seem like the source of the radio traffic was in one place while we split faster than a cybernetic gymnast.  We were connected to the repeater in via visible light rather than radio.  One of the nifty things I had done to the boosters was put lasers on them to allow them to communicate much more stealthily.  However, they had to be lined up to do so and not moving around a lot.  useful, but limitedly so.

The drone rose and zipped just centimeters above the ground down away from the Church.  It circled around to come from a different direction than where we were, it actually came UP the bay to the tidal island.  The drone slowed and rose up to head height.  We had all closed our eyes and were watching.  All except Jackie.  She kept watch for Yoats or grownups whether Indian, American or government type.

Communing with a drone is a heady thing.  I am sure you Earthers have done it.  Here it seemed like, in our minds' eyes, we were the drone.  No different than flying there ourselves and wherever we directed our attention, we could see around us in any direction.  The drone slowly moved through the streets.  The decay had continued, but slowly since my Dad had brought me there.  Now, there were more vines and some saplings, a few of the saplings from before were true Jefflife trees now.  Small animals darted about.  No sign of loogers though.  No creepy bushes either.  Not that we'd want to, but that meant no hiding from the adults there if worse came to worst.

The bots had built well though.  This would last like the Mayan cities back on Earth even though nature, this alien nature, would consume the place.  

I noted the sculptures and fountains and detailing on the buildings.  A lot of love had been put into the design of this city.  It was heartbreaking to think about how that love had turned to bitter disappointment with the demise of the Church members' dream of a new Eden on Jefferson.

The town was in a circular pattern.  The Church of the Sky Father Christ in the middle on a mound with the plaza of the town before it.  The roads were concentric rings around.  There were seven roads and each had a ring of buildings.  Some homes.  Some were others.  I imagine it was all symbolic.  All of it was beautiful.  All of it was decaying though.  It was sad.  Especially when you thought about the people who died there.  Yet it was still a place of wonder.

The Immie drone zipped and dipped and for the longest time found nothing.  I was beginning to wonder if this was all going to be a big waste and we were going to get into serious, serious trouble for a long time for absolutely nothing.  I worried about that, but I worried more about my friendship with my Merry Pranksters.  We were going to be severely tested when we got home and I don't mean by a math class!  Our friendship was.  And while we had always stuck by each other through thick and thin, this was thicker than anything we had ever faced.

I was fretting more than paying attention to the virtual reality feed from the drone to my mind, when Veena called out:

"There!  In the window!"

Rosa stopped the drone and peeked through the thick distorted glass.  This was one of the reasons people working together can be a good thing.  While bots can notice more than we can, people often see things that may or may not be there.  This leads to a lot of false leads or false positives, as Dad calls them, or more plainly just being wrong, but it also allows us to see things the machines STILL can't really.  

Veena had seen something.  

And here and now, so did we.  It looked like a body.  Sort of.  The glass was distorted.  All the glass in the city, at least that was still intact, made looking through hard.  However, it looked like there was a person sprawled out inside.  A person not moving.  A person without a helmet.  We thought.  We were not 100% sure.

We agreed to send the drone around to find a way in.  There on the far side, we did find a broken window, a single pane gone.  The drone was quite small, so getting through was no problem, but once it was inside, almost immediately, we lost connection.  

The drone was gone.