Chapter 2

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Chapter 2Three days later, the robo-car swirledaround the mountain peaks again and deposited an old acquaintanceatthe house. The robot servant ushered him into my temporary commandheadquarters. He had black hair, a mustache, and a wry grin when hesaluted. “I understand you need a mastersergeant,” he said. I answered with my own salute. “I sure do.” I stuck out my hand and he put it in aniron squeeze. “How are you, Rab?” “I get lazier every day.” “Just the way I remember you.” He laughed. “To be honest, I was abit down until I heard about the job and the money. Then I perkedupconsiderably.” “Our mission will be very dangerous,”I said. “Gosh, I thought you’d be payingthat much money for a Sunday school picnic. When can I get theinitial ten percent?” “Any time you want it.” “Right now would be fine.” Hechuckled. “A few gambling debts I need to clean up before Ileave.” “You didn’t draw to an insidestraight, did you?” He shook his head. “Opponent had ajack high flush. Surprised the dickens out of me. But it was anhonest game, so I couldn’t complain. And I don’t welsh on mydebts.” I walked Rab down to Belen’streasurer; a slim, petite woman who seemed to know everything aboutfinances and computers. In a matter of minutes, she had dispatchedthe money to pay off Rab’s debt and sent the rest of the tenpercent into his bank account. “So what’s the job?” He asked aswe walked back to my office. “Come in. I will show you.” As we entered, I switched on the screenof an overhead computer and hit a few buttons. The outline of asmallcontinent on Vega popped up. I drew a blue circle on my screen anditshowed up overhead. “This little plot of land, about thesize of Belgium, is occupied by perhaps 200,000 folks known as theAristolans. They are surrounded by some very nasty, hairy savages,which we are calling the Molochs. They are determined to be thesolerace on the planet. There is something we want inside the Aristolanterritory. It may take a while to get it.” “So we have to defeat the Molochs, orat least keep the Aristolans alive until we get what weneed.” “Yes.” “How many enemies are facing us?” “After discussions with Belen andlooking at a few aerial photos, I’m guessing about twomillion.” Rab didn't usually display muchemotion. Emotions can get you killed in battle. But I did see atwitch of his lips. “How many men do we have?” “Twelve,” I said. “Oh, so the odds are about even.” “But we have technology and weapons.” “Uh-huh.” “Plus we have the strength of tenbecause our hearts are pure.” He roared with laughter. “Your heartmay be pure. I can’t say that about mine. Besides, I’m not sureeven pure hearts would be enough against two million opponents.Let’shope our technology is good. What did Astrid said about you leadingthis mission?” “Well, I can’t say she was happyabout it. But I promised her to come back in one piece,” Isaid. He looked back at the overhead screen.“Our allies have their backs to the sea.” I nodded. Rab shook his head. “There’s noplace for them to run. After we pick up what we need, do we justleave them there?” “We are going to take transports andtake them with us when we leave.” “Something of an academic question,but why are the Molochs trying to wipe out our friends?” “Pure meanness.” “See that a lot nowadays.” His darkeyes gave me a questioning look. “I assume you have a plan.” “I’m working on one.” As Rab relaxed in his room, a talldrink in his hand, I returned to my office and stared at thescreen.It was becoming a habit with me. The Aristolans did have theirbacksto the ocean, but that could also be a plus. Betsy had only minimalinformation about Vega and the cannibalistic Molochs, but sheinformed me they did not have a navy, or at least not enough of anavy to launch an invasion. Which meant we would not be completelysurrounded. I wondered if low-yield atomic devicesmight be the solution to our problem. Explode five of such devicesfar enough in Moloch territory and no army could penetrate itwithouta ninety-eight percent casualty rate. Although we’d have to be veryprecise in exploding the devices. We had bombs that would leave afifty-mile stretch of radiation. I was guessing the borders of theAristolan territory stretched for about three hundred miles. So wewould need six bombs. There were other methods. Even our ‘clean’atomic devices were somewhat messy. If our enemies were close totheAristolan border, or inside the border, atomic bombing would havetobe ruled out. The Aristolan ‘Belgium’ was too small. The bombswould devastate the Moloch armies as well as Aristolancivilians. Landmines might be a solution. Sowthousands, rather tens of thousands, of landmines along the border.Sow miles and miles of them. Any invading soldiers would be blownapart. Gen. Sherman considered mines as terrorist weapons, notlegitimate in war. But actually they’re defensive weapons andsuperb for a small nation facing a large, aggressive army. Troublewas, I didn’t have tens of thousands of mines and, even withBelen’s vast resources, I didn’t think she had the amount ofexplosives needed. We could buy them. The military black market hasalways been lucrative, but it would take time and Belen’s timetabledidn’t give us that much time. Laser walls? No, too many technicalproblems and I didn’t have the laser weapons needed. It occurred tome I needed to ask Belen just how much military firepower was instorage. She had ample resources, but most of them were civilian innature. She didn’t have a standing army, nor were her companieschurning out military weapons. “The art of war is simple enough.Find out where your enemy is. Get at him as soon as you can. Strikeat him as hard as you can and as often as you can, and keep movingon.” A famous quote from Gen. U.S. Grant. Most of the timeit’strue. But our private war on Vega was one of the exceptions. Weknewwhere the enemy was but we didn’t have the power to strike at himhard or often. We would be in a defensive position. We didn’t careabout annihilating our enemy. We just wanted them to leave usalone.A slightly analogous position to Grant’s enemy during the CivilWar. A war he won rather handily by grinding down and defeating hisopponents. Not an optimistic note to begin the Vega campaignon. When the knock came, I absentmindedlystrolled over and opened. The small boot hammered my jaw. I feltthe tough Derekian leather smack my skin, knocking me back on thecarpet. I rolled just enough as the next boot smashed the floor twoinches from my nose. I whipped my arm around and caught CarmenHidalgo, clad in army fatigues, behind her knees, sweeping her legsfrom under her. She jumped to her feet as quickly as I did, arms upin combat stance. I blocked a punch, then knocked her flat with aright to her jaw. She didn’t jump back up this time. She raisedherself up on her elbows and spat out a dollop of blood. “Still upset about Garralphap,Carmen? If you think I did anything wrong why don’t you be like ourfriends Eric and Amelia and try forgiveness?” “Like hell,” she said, flipping toher feet. We circled around each other. I didn’twant an extended combat engagement with Carmen. I wondered how longshe wanted to carry this one. As we maneuvered around the room, Islightly dropped my guard. In a split second her punch squeezed mylip against my teeth, and blood spurted from my mouth. I sighed andwiped it away. “One last punch… sir,” she said.She stood at attention and saluted. “I assume you wish to volunteer.” “For a hundred thousand dollars Isure do.” I wiped a smear of blood from my chin. “You’re hired.” She smiled. “Thank you, sir.” I pointed toward the first floor.“Downstairs take the left corridor. Three doors in you will see awoman in a room. Tell her you have signed on for the Vega mission.She will make your initial payment to any bank you want.” “Thank you, sir.” “The second-in-command on thismission is Rab.” “I don’t like him.” “That’s only fair. He doesn’tlike you. As opposed to me, who thinks you’re a doll.” The giggles shook her body. Then shegave me a serious stare. “No hard feelings, sir?” “No hard feelings.” I paused for amoment. “It’s good to have you on the mission, Carmen.” I was going to talk to Belen, but shecame out of her office accompanied by a priest and Jaclyn. Theyappeared to be in intense discussion. Jaclyn smiled. She was alwayssmiling. It filled you with warmth. It made you want to help oldladies and gently pet puppies. Belen pointed to me as I walkedtowardthe group. “Father Diego, this is LoganRyvenbark. He will be leading the military unit that will accompanyus to Vega.” The priest was middle-age, solid blackhair, dark eyes. He had an intensity about him like low-gradeelectricity. I was surprised I wasn’t jolted when we shookhands. “You’re coming too?” I asked. “Yes, the trip to Vega is veryimportant to me, and to the church.” Belen put her hand on his shoulders.“Father, why don’t you go downstairs with Jaclyn? I need to talkto Logan about military matters.” “And one or two other things,” Isaid. “So good to see you again,” Jaclynsaid. She meant it. Sincerity oozed from thelady like waters from a dam. She reached for me and gently touchedmylips. “What happened?” She said. “You’rebleeding.” I took a handkerchief and mopped up thelast drop of blood. “Nothing serious. An occupationalhazard.” I watched the two as they walked downthe stairs, and then joined Belen in her office. She told me shehadjust e-mailed me a list of military weapons available. I satuneasilyin the chair before her desk. “I will look them over. You’retaking a priest with us?” “Of course. The church is intenselyinterested in this mission.” I paused for a moment. “I guess itwould be. An unfallen race. A possible unfallen race. Belen, youweara small gold cross now. Have you returned to the faith?” She nodded. “Yes, I have. This is agreat opportunity for believers. It’s a fallen universe and everyrace is full of the traits the church refers to as the seven deadlysins. Jaclyn seems to be the exception to that, but what willhappenwhen creation sees a race like her? A race that has remainedsinlessthrough the ages. A peaceful, enlightened race with only virtue inits veins, no sin, no selfishness, no greed, no lust forpower.” “I’ve seen Jaclyn and I’mincredibly impressed. But a whole race? Consider me skeptical,” Isaid. “Why? Just because Adam screwed upEarth doesn’t mean there wasn’t another creation on anotherplanet. The first man there might have stayed sinless. The womanstayed sinless. Their children share the traits of love, joy,peace,patience, kindness, goodness…” There must have been a blank look on myface. “That’s from Galatians,” shesaid. “The fruits of the spirit are love, joy, peace, patience,kindness, goodness and self-control. You do have knowledge of thescriptures, correct?” My irritation lowered the tone of myvoice. “Yes, I am aware of them and I have read the Bible alongwith many other great books of our culture, and I could have takenanapproximate guess about which chapter that scripture camefrom.” “Then you will understand why thiscould be a great boon to the church. It would essentially provethatour faith is the truth.” “That would certainly give Fr. Diegoan advantage over other belief systems. Does that account for yourenthusiasm in getting to Vega?” “Part of it, yes. But what I told youabout the ancient race is true. The weapons should be in theircitiesburied miles below the surface,” Belen said. “Good, glad to hear it.” “Now you understand why Fr. Diego ishere. If Jaclyn isn’t proof of a sinless race, then at least she’sa reason to find out about the race on Vega.” She stared at me withthe brilliant Belen eyes. “Look at Jaclyn. Isn’t she differentthan any other human you’ve ever met?” I thought about the question for atleast a minute before slowly nodding. “There is something…indescribable about her. Maybe Eve had it before the Fall. Maybe.Perhaps the word I’m searching for in thinking about her isrighteous. Haven’t seen much of that among humans. Feels almostalien when you sense it. If true, no wonder I felt like kneeling inher presence.” Belen nodded. “But not every human would feel likethat,” I said. “If this is true, then I’m guessing everysinful, fallen race in the galaxy – with maybe one or twoexceptions – will try to exterminate the Aristolans. Evil alsoseeks to extinguish the good and the innocent.” She took a large sip of her drink. “Ithought about that too. But we have protection for them, don’twe?” “I’m not sure what a dozen mencould do against the galaxy.” “It’s not that hopeless, is it? TheDeltans would be on our side. They’d be one of the races welcomingthe Aristolans.” “Yes, they would. One out of manyraces. And they’re fighting for their existence, too. Sayssomething about creation, doesn’t it? All races, with one possibleexception, seem to have fallen.” I looked around. “What time is it?” Belen must have had a clock on herdesk. “Still don’t drink until five, Logan. It’s two minutesbefore five. Want me to mix you a drink and give it to you in ahundred and twenty-one seconds?” “I’d appreciate that,” I said,smiling. After gulping half the glass, I asked,“How do you plan to get the Aristolans off the planet?” “I’m working on that. If all goeswell, by the time we leave I’ll have four monster transport ships.Each can carry about fifty thousand.” “So the church will have a perfectrace to point to when anyone questions its teaching.” “And the Aristolans will be savedfrom the extermination.” Her tone carried a rebuke in it.“Sometimes people do odd and even bizarre things when you discussfaith with them. That’s why I wanted you to lead the mission toVega. I trust you,” she said. “Anyone else might have backed out,given the odds and the mission.” I chewed on my cigar. “I won’t backout. I have three born-again Christians in my squadron. Men ofcourage and integrity. I don’t share their faith, but I respect it.Besides, one of them saved my life two years ago.” She smiled, raised her glass and took asip. “So when will all of your men be here?” “By the end of the week.” “With the Christians?” “Yes. I’m guessing they will beextremely curious about our mission too. This is so intriguing theymight have gone for free.” “No, I’ll be glad to pay them.”She swirled the liquor around in her glass. “So, have you figuredout a plan to keep the Aristolans alive until we can get them inthetransports?” “I have a few ideas but I need tolook at your list of military hardware.” She paused for a moment. “Youropposition is two million blood-thirsty, blood-lusting savages whoare just above the level of animals. Or maybe just below. They aremassing for one final attack. An attack that will annihilate theAristolans once and for all.” “Then we are going to need a verygood plan. I’ve fought in a lot of battles, both on land and in theair, but I’ve never faced odds like these.” “I have confidence in you, Logan.”She raised her glass. I walked over and clicked mine onhers. “To victory,” she said.
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