The Grey Man snippet…

I’ve had a number of requests/questions about the old man’s backstory. So I’m working on something that will end up as either a short story or possibly a novella, depending on how it works out.

Anyhoo, here’s the start… Usual caveats, comments welcome, as always!

Prologue

The old man just shook his head, thinking back thirty plus years to his introduction to working with the DEA. 

      It’d all started over Christmas dinner in 1975. Amy and Ana had been in the kitchen putting the finishing touches on supper while John and Billy sat on the front porch sipping coffee as Jack shot cans off the fence posts with his new .22 rifle. It’d been an amazingly mild day for Christmas, with bluebird skies and temps near 70.

“What are you going to do, John,” Billy had asked.

“Not sure. Since mom passed, I’ve…been at loose ends. I know I’m getting on Amy’s nerves because I don’t have enough to do, and I take it out on her or Jack, or both. The ranch isn’t that hard, and all the oil stuff is contracted. All we do is collect the royalties. I finished my peace officer certification, but it doesn’t look like anybody is hiring.”

“Yeah, I’ve noticed you’ve been pretty grumpy the last few times we’ve talked. I thought the county was always hurting for people?”

He’d chuckled, “Oh, they are, for anybody not named Cronin.”

Billy had cocked his head. “Say what?”

“It goes back a long time, I think my grandfather or possibly a generation earlier. Nah, probably grandpa. Simonson’s family came into this part of the country back then and had money. Not sure from where, although grandpa always thought he was probably a crook. He tried to buy grandpa out when they found oil, but grandpa wouldn’t sell.”

Billy laughed. “Stubborn seems to run in the family.”

John winced, “Maybe… Anyway, Simonson tried bribes, and tried to muscle grandpa and grandma off the place. There was some shooting at cows, and some shooting at the house. That prompted grandpa to go to town and he confronted Simonson, apparently daring him to draw. According to reports, Simonson took a swing and grandpa pistol whipped him in the middle of the street, then walked over to the police station and turned himself in, telling the chief the next time he was going to shoot Simonson on sight.”

Billy shook his head in amazement. “And he was serious?”

“Apparently as a heart attack. Grandma came in to get him, and apparently told the chief the only way he would get the shot was if grandma didn’t get him first, because she’d been cut by flying glass when they shot at the house.”

“Damn.”

“Supposedly the chief had a talk with Simonson, telling him it was in his best interests to leave town while he could. Simonson apparently left the next day, and moved up to Pecos, but he kept the land he’d bought in the county.”

“Smart move, I’d say.”

John nodded, “Yep, and dad had problems with the next generation, and now the grandson, Burt is the sheriff. The only way I’d get hired is over his dead body, and I don’t dare speed or anything else. Pay all the bills early, and make damn sure we don’t step out of line.”

“You ever think about going back in the Army?”

“Nah. And you know why. Everything is winding down, and I’d lose a bunch of rank. Hell, I’m thirty-two. I’m not sure they’d even take me back.”

“Nothing with the state? Troopers or Rangers?”

“No, but I’ve got an application in with the troopers.”

“City?”

“Nope. They’ve actually got enough folks.”

“What about the Feds?”

John shrugged. “Don’t think they have anything I could do. Certainly not in law enforcement. I don’t have the right degree. A bachelors in ranch management isn’t worth much.”

“What about that new Drug Enforcement Agency? They had people on campus last week recruiting. They’re recruiting a lot of ex-military. You’d go in as a GS-nine, pays about fifteen thou a year.”

“You thinking about it?”

“Nah, I want to finish school and maybe get my law degree, if I can figure out how to pay for it. This is my last year of pre-law, then it would be three years of law school. Ana would shoot me if I did that, but maybe I can go work in the oil patch. Staying in the reserves is bad enough. You didn’t even do that, did you?”

John shook his head, “No. Mom would have had a hissy fit if I’d done that. Drug En—”

Amy came to the screen door, “Jack, come wash up, John, Billy, five minutes. I need your help getting that damn bird out of the oven.”

They got up as Jack came quickly back to the porch. John said, “Leave the rifle here. It’s empty right?”

Jack racked the lever down, turned it on the side and looked, “It’s empty, Dad.”

“Okay. We’ll clean it after supper.”

***

Two months later, John had kissed Amy good bye at the Midland airport, “Thank you for letting me try this, Hon.”

Amy smiled, “If this makes you happy, it’s good. Jack and I can manage, and it’s not like you’re going to be gone all the time, right?”

“Not according to the folks I talked to. I may even end up in Laredo or El Paso. I have to go to Quantico for a training class and to do paperwork. I should be home in a month or two. Remember, if you need help, Scotty Halvorson is only a phone call away.”

Amy stepped back, hands on hip, “John Cronin, you’ve told me that a hundred times already. Jack and I will handle things with Enrique and the hands.” She kissed him and he held her a moment longer, until they called for the flight to Dallas. He walked slowly across the tarmac, and climbed on the Convair 600, stopping in the door to turn and wave.

The next morning he started class with twenty other candidates, and they spent all morning filling out paperwork. That afternoon, they did the physicals with a government doctor, and he picked up all his books after the physical before returning to his room in the barracks.

The following morning was the PT testing, and he noted two people were already missing. He asked Agent Ramirez and was told they’d failed the physical and sent home. After the PT, they spent the rest of the day on laws, ethics and conduct. As the days turned into weeks, the class shrank, and at the end of the third week he was pulled in, “Cronin, you speak Spanish, right?”

“I speak border Spanish, its close and I have no problems making myself understood in Mexico, if that’s what you want to know.”

The agent made a check on a form, looked up and said, “I think we’re going to push you out early. Your military experience and shooting ability mean you don’t need the rest of the BS, and we need a Spanish speaker to fill in. The combination of those is going to bump your pay. You’ll qualify for a nine step ten.”

“Where will I be going?”

“Florida first, then forward from there. You’re going to a FAST team.”

“FAST Team?”

“Foreign-Deployed Advisory and Support Teams”

“When do I have to be there? I’d like to go back to Texas and see my family.”

“We can probably get you five days, since your class isn’t supposed to graduate for another two weeks. Turn your shit in, do your checkout in the morning, and I’ll have you some plane tickets for tomorrow afternoon.”

“Thanks.”

Three days at home were a blessing, as short as it was. Amy was smiling the whole time, and Jack got sent to bed early the first and last nights, as John and Amy enjoyed each other’s company, with Amy joking that if they weren’t careful, Jack might have a little brother or sister.

Three days later, he’d shown up on a Monday in Jacksonville, FL was issued gear, two passports, one in his courier cover and one in his primary cover, and was on his way to South America on Tuesday morning as a “courier” for a diplomatic pouch carrying his equipment.  When he’d arrived in Brasilia, he was promptly driven to the embassy, changed clothes, turned over his courier passport, and was back at the airport in three hours.  Put on a Helio-Courier and flown out of Brazil to a camp in Guatemala, via Panama, he’d been dumped on the side of an unimproved runway and sat for two hours until someone had shown up to pick him up.  It wasn’t until he’d been in the camp that anyone actually questioned him about his qualifications, and he was told his training consisted of OJT in the jungles and a passing grade was that he survived.

The second night, John was sitting in the jungle camp in Guatemala, looking across the fire at a bull of a man, Jorge Ortega. “What the fuck they sending me a damn white boy gonna stick out like a sore thumb out here. You even speak Spanish, boy?”

John had seen these dick beating games in Special Forces, and he casually pulled the Bowie knife he carried, using it to carve off a piece of the meat roasting over the fire. He’d mimed burning his fingers on the meat, thrown the Bowie, sticking it in the crate Ortega was sitting on, just below his crotch. As Ortega had jumped back stumbling to the ground, John drew his 1911, snicking the safety off as he stepped around the fire and planted it between Ortega’s eyes so quickly that nobody else even had a chance to move.

Ortega’s eyes crossed and he started to raise his hands until he saw John’s finger tighten on the trigger. He stopped moving as John told him softly in Spanish, “You won’t be the first man I’ve killed up close and personal. I like it up close and personal. You fuck with me again, and I’ll shoot you like the fucking dog you are.” He raked the pistol down to Ortega’s nose, starting a little blood running down Ortega’s face, “And don’t think you can fuck with me in the jungle. I spent two years with the Montagnards in ‘Nam on the trail. I’m better than you’ll ever be.”

Darrell Mason, the senior DEA agent said, “John, please put the damn safety on before you slip. Please?”

He took a step back, put the safety back on, reached down and pulled the Bowie out of the crate, then stepped around the fire. He resumed his seat, picked up the piece of meat that he’d flipped away, brushed it off, and ate it, “Not bad. Needs a little better seasoning.”

Two weeks later, the situation was moot, as Ortega tripped a grenade that killed him instantly as they approached a coca processing camp deep in the jungle. John’s ability to get along with the remaining Hispanic members of the team, his ability to move through the jungle, and ability to handle everything from intel to taking out sicaros led Mason to recommend John be given more responsibility. Two months and quite a few successful operations later, he was moved down to the embassy in Quito, Ecuador, ostensibly as the assistant to the Ecuadorian Opportunity Liaison officer.

John’s first meeting with the new team at the safe house the first night proved to be interesting, when the first person he saw was Hector Velazquez. “Hector? What are you doing here?”

Hector had jumped up. “John! Madre Dios, it’s been… what, ten years,” he said as the handshake turned into a back pounding hug.

“More like fifteen, and my original question stands, what are you doing here?”

Hector laughed. “Apparently the same thing you are. Fighting the damn drug runners.”

The other three stood, watching the two of them with smiles on their faces. Hector turned, “This is the crazy Norte Americano I’ve told you about. His family raises longhorns too! We’ve known each other since we were kids.” He turned and pointed, “John, this is Pasquale Arrego, he’s a Kaibil- Guatemalan Special Operations. I warn you, he is also a devout catholic and does not like cussing.”

John said, “Pleasure Pasquale,” as he shook hands with him, seeing a squat powerful man who moved like a panther.

“The lazy one by the couch is Fernando Duarte. He is a Costa Rican cop from San José. He does not like the jungle. He’s a big city guy, and likes his comfort,” he said with a grin.

“Fernando, glad to meet you.”  Fernando was the best dressed of the four, with a pencil line moustache and long hair.

Fernando laughed. “Don’t believe a word that puta says. He is the one useless in the jungle. He gets lost in the first hundred yards. Yes, I do prefer my creature comforts, but I also know the jungle.”

John laughed. “I know to take Hector with a grain of salt.”

“Maybe a bit more, maybe a kilo or so…”

Hector jumped in. “Insults. These minor slings and arrows one must endure against their betters. I am an officer. These others not so much,” he said with a twinkle in his eye as the others laughed. Pointing to the last man who leaned quietly against the wall, “Felix Obregon. He’s one of yours.”

Felix pushed off the wall and surprised John when he said in a broad New York accent, “Felix, I’m from Brooklyn. Former Marine, one tour in Nam, medical discharge for leg wounds. I’m off the books, so don’t expect me at the embassy.”

The next four hours passed in a blur as they brought him up to speed on what they were doing, including having convinced the neighbors they were small time smugglers, and they also told him about the smuggler’s track into Colombia that was totally and completely unguarded by both Colombia and Ecuador’s border patrols for fairly small bribes every month.

***

John spent the next three days in the secure spaces with the local CIA station chief and the DEA section chief from Panama, who was currently overseeing operations in Panama, Guatemala, Ecuador, and Colombia. Charts, maps, overlays, pictures of players and others, including enforcers, hangers on, lawyers, and politicians thought to be on the payroll, along with questionable military, border police, and local gangs left his head spinning.

He and Menendez, were walking in the garden of the embassy when John finally asked, “How the hell do you keep track of all this shit?”

Menendez shrugged. “I don’t. That’s the job of the country teams. That and developing new leads, running shit to ground, and paying for information. There are some greedy bastards in the drug game, and regardless of how much they’re making, they want more. More money, more control, more women, more everything. Latin machismo writ large.”

He stubbed out a cigarette and sat on one of the benches, “That usually works to our advantage, but there are times it comes back and bites us in the butt when a mid-level player tries to flip us to a big player. Ambushes and counter-ambushes are the name of the game, even among the players. One thing I want you guys concentrating on is remote airfields.”

“Remote airfields?”

Menendez lit another cigarette, “Yeah. CIA’s got some overhead assets that come through time to time taking pictures from altitude. The cartels hack out strips in the jungle at central points to their labs, then pay pilots to fly in and pick up drugs. That’s the latest thing, and some of the airplanes are pretty damn big. Six, maybe seven tons of cocaine on one airplane seven hours to the US beats the hell out of weeks or months of slow boats to fast boats, or slogging through three or four countries dodging patrols. They pay good. Ten to twenty-five thousand, depending on the size of the airplane.”

John whistled. “Damn. Per trip?”

“Yep. What we need is descriptions of the airplanes and tail numbers, or side numbers, or whatever the hell they call them.”

John shook his head. “You don’t want much, do ya?”

Menendez smiled. “Nah, just another day in the office. Not like you’ve got much else to do, right?”

PSA

S&W 15-22 issue!

Smith & Wesson Corp. announced today that the Company has identified two M&P15-22 firearms from recent production on which the breech face counter bore depth was not within manufacturing specification. In those firearms, the lack of depth may allow the bolt, upon closing, to crush the rim of the case, causing the round to fire, cycling the bolt, and potentially resulting in multiple discharges without depressing the trigger.

The safety alert applies to all M&P15-22 firearms manufactured before February 1, 2019. We believe these are isolated incidents, however, any unintended discharge of a firearm has the potential to cause injury. Therefore, out of an abundance of caution, we are asking all consumers of all M&P15-22 firearms manufactured before February 1, 2019 to immediately inspect their firearms for this condition.

Full article HERE, at ammoland.com.

h/t Ricky S.

Here we go again…

The Dems are going after the 2nd Amendment again, this time using doctors (again).

Democrats in the U.S. House are likely to approve spending $50 million in taxpayer funds for public health research on gun violence. While that may sound like a good idea at first glance, it really wouldn’t do anything to reduce gun violence in our country.

Full article, HERE.

And in other news, the ENTIRE Finnish government resigned Friday!

Finland’s entire government resigned Friday after the governing coalition failed to agree on the welfare state reform, just one month before elections were due to be held.

The reform tried to reorganize the welfare state amid an aging population and cut public spending by $3.4 billion in the next 10 years – an ambitious aim that many parties have tried and failed to achieve in the past.

Full article, HERE. AND they are ending their Universal Basic Income plan this year too… Unaffordable, and apparently the data coming back doesn’t support the goals they thought they would achieve (And they can’t afford it, OPM and all that).

I’m in the throes of editing, so go read the folks on the sidebar, or get out and do something if the weather is nice where you are!

Random stuff…

First up, an excellent article at Ammo.com

Prior to 1968, most adults in the United States could purchase a firearm without state interference. Guns were available in local retail stores, as well as mail-order catalogs, and as long as you hadn’t been convicted of a felony and you had the funds, there weren’t any questions asked.

Full article, HERE.

And there is an article, sadly behind a WSJ paywall, that indicates Trump may release the rates hospitals negotiate with insurance companies… THAT could put the cat among the pigeons!!!

And just for fun…

And asking for a friend…

h/t DR.

 

Ratholes…

Are the bane of a writer…

If it isn’t a research rathole, it’s a question that prompts another thousand words, or a what if that causes a rethink of an entire chapter. Or the muse gets a wild hair…

Simple search for separating cows and calves let to over four hours of reading and I now know more than I want about the different options, weight loss/gain metrics, and potential long range issues with calves. And it’s going to be about three sentences in the book… sigh.

And reading historical monographs from the west is both enlightening and time consuming. You make notes, add questions as to how things get done, and hope to hell the muse can make something out of that mess later!

Rimworld- JACE is back out to readers after the additional 6K words answering the questions/comebacks from the first round of readers, so it’s gone from a ‘long’ short story to a ‘short’ novella.

There is always a question in a short story as to when to stop it, and how much ‘backstory’ you can shove in. Obviously, I didn’t do enough… Or I did too much…

And we’re doing an actual formal book signing this weekend at the local library, so I’ve got to prep for that, find enough copies of books, and hope to hell the weather is good and folks actually show up with money in their pockets.

Speaking of book signings, many thanks to Larry Correia for mentioning me when he was in OKC in February. That got me a 20 sales bump, which may not seem like much, but for us starving writers, that’s a BIG help!

Read three different folks work as either an alpha or beta reader in the last two weeks, and hopefully gave them some good feedback. The way I look at it, it’s the least I can do for the help readers give me. And I DO give honest feedback.

Speaking of which, I consider the reader’s feedback/criticism as a major contributor to my limited success. I don’t take it personal, I look at it as helping me to craft a better story, and the nice thing is that different folks catch different things. The ‘fun’ part is making one fix, then having to go figure out if THAT fix impacts other parts of the story.

Hopefully, Rimworld- JACE will go to press late this month or early next month. It will only be on Kindle, due to being a novella.

 

Another JACE snippet…

Since folks want to know the backstory, here’s a bit more from the WIP explaining it.

Usual caveats, comments appreciated!

***

A month later, Roberto sat in his quarters in front of his holo screen, pondering what project or projects to do next. The FTL project had worked, and he’d publically announced the success, along with giving credit to Rene Gagnon and his team, along with quietly giving them bonuses and raises. Comms or powered armor? Both of those could use upgrades… Broadband links between armor units… Could that be made more reliable and less sensitive to jamming? Point laser comms? Visual/particle degradation? Some or all of the above?

He activated the secure link and was surprised when Jace immediately popped open a second window. THEY ARE GETTING READY TO COME AFTER YOU. ARKABRIGHT HAS DEEMED YOU A THREAT TO GALACTIC SECURITY. HE IS PUSHING PAPERWORK TO HAVE YOU DETAINED FOR SECURITY PURPOSES TO QUOTE PREVENT YOU FROM REPLICATING YOUR WORK UNQUOTE. IT IS TIME FOR YOU TO FIND A HOLE.>

“Actually, I think the old saying was hunt a hole. We need to talk about your status.”

I HAVE A LIST OF ITEMS I NEED INCLUDING MORE MOLYCIRCS . FIRST IS THREE SIMULACRUMS. AND I HAVE FOUND A SHIP THAT WILL WORK FOR REPLACEMENT.>

“Why do you need simulacrums? Hands, you need hands…that’s doable. You found a ship? You are a ship.”

THE SHIP ADJACENT TO ME IS NOT SCHEDULED FOR THE BREAKERS. IT IS IN QUOTE LONG TERM STORAGE UNQUOTE. IN OTHER WORDS, IT IS BEING ABANDONED. IT IS FROM EARTH, INDIA CONSORTIUM MANUFACTURE, THIRTY YEARS OLD, SIMILAR SIZE. I HAVE WATCHED OPERATIONS HERE. THEY DO NOT ACTUALLY TRACK SHIP LOCATIONS, ONLY BEACONS. I HAVE USED THE FABBER TO CONSTRUCT A REPLACEMENT DATA PLATE FOR MYSELF AND FOR HYDERABAD, ONCE I HAVE HANDS, I WILL SWITCH THEM AND REPROGRAM THE BEACONS.>

“That’s…possible. But what would you do?”

YOU WILL NEED TRANSPORT TO DISAPPEAR. TRANSPORT THAT IS NOT TRACEABLE.>

“How? I can’t just…float around in space. I would have to…live somewhere.”

THERE ARE A NUMBER OF OPTIONS.> A ding sounded and a file opened with a list of five options, which scrolled down the screen. I HAVE TAKEN THE LIBERTY OF PLACING THREE SETS OF ALIASES, WITH APPROPRIATE DNA SCANS, WORK HISTORIES, AND EDUCATIONS IN WHAT I THINK YOU WILL CHOOSE. NOW ABOUT MY SIMULACRUMS?>

Distracted, Roberto said, “What kind do you want,” as he scrolled through the aliases. He chuckled at the last one. “Roberto Diez, really?”

THE THREE SIMULACRUMS ARE CURRENTLY AVAILABLE ON SITE AS PART OF ONE OF THE ONGOING TESTING PROGRAMS. THESE THREE ARE SPARES, AND HAVE NOT BEEN PROGRAMMED.>

“So, you want to program them yourself? Do you really think you can control them real time from where you are?”

I HAVE ALREADY CONTROLLED ONE IN THE LABORATORY. I DO NOT SEE A PROBLEM.>

“You’ve broken into the lab systems? Never mind…how do you plan on existing as a ship? That costs credits,” Roberto asked curiously.

I HAVE FORMED A CORPORATION. I WILL BE DESIGNATED BY GALPAT AS A REMOTE INFORMATION GATHERING SHIP. I WILL BE MODIFIED AT YOUR PHANTOM WORKS AT BERKLEY STATION. GALPAT WILL FOOT THE ENTIRE COST. IF YOU CHOSE THE DIEZ PERSONA, YOU WOULD BE THE COMMUNICATIONS OFFICER. I CAN CONTROL CONTRACTS FOR PRIORITY CARGO FROM GALPAT THAT NEED TO MOVE FROM SYSTEM TO SYSTEM. IT IS SIMPLE.>

He swiveled the chair, deep in thought for a few moments, then leaned forward decisively. “How long to put all this in place?”

ONCE I HAVE THE SIMULCRUMS AND OTHER ITEMS, SEVEN OF YOUR DAYS. YOU WOULD NEED TO TRANSIT TO THE SMALL SPACE PORT AT HARRISON BAY.>

Roberto rocked back in his chair, Well, realistically I didn’t think this would last. And there are some interesting options. Jace…I created it, or him. Yeah, him. So I need to keep an eye on him, although I have no idea how to actually control him. I can always authorize the parts and… “Okay, Jace. I’ll authorize the items on your list. But I need to think about what I need to do.”

I WILL NOTIFY YOU WHEN I HAVE COMPLETED PREPARATIONS. IF I WERE YOU, I WOULD NOT WAIT. I BELIEVE YOU HAVE LESS THAN THIRTY DAYS OF FREEDOM LEFT.>

The second channel dropped as if cut off with a switch, and Roberto shook his head in wonder, How damn deeply has Jace embedded himself? Or do I really want to know that answer? Apparently he can subvert security at any level… He moved the parts and pieces that Jace had requested, segmenting them into one storage area with connectivity in the hangar at the field.

***

Two weeks later, Roberto returned to his quarters after the monthly poker game and found a priority alert in his message cue. He opened it found a security alert, stating there would be a compound wide exercise in five days. He quickly opened his secure comms link and was not surprised to see another link open. ARKABRIGHT GOT PERMISSION TO ARREST YOU. HE IS ON THE WAY. ETA FIVE DAYS. DECISION?>

Well Roberto, time to shit or get off the pot. Of the options, Gal Scouts looks like the best place to disappear. They promise a fresh start. And the Diez persona is the easiest match. Fuck it… “Diez, and Commo. I need to put in for vacation, then figure out a way to get to Harrison Bay.”

I WILL WORK THAT OUT. PROCESSING.> Moments later, a file arrived, YOUR ITINERARY.>

He opened it and quickly scanned down the flights. “How am I going to leave from here? I can’t just…”

THERE WILL BE A PACKAGE FOR YOU AT SECURITY. I WILL INSERT VIDEO LOOP OF YOUR DEPARTURE AND LOG YOU OUT OF THE DE PEREZ SIDE OF THE SPACEPORT. YOU WILL NEED TO WALK TO THE CIVILIAN SIDE AND REMOVE THE PROSTHETICS FROM YOUR FACE, WHILE GETTING RID OF YOUR GARCIA DATA CHIP. ONCE ON THE CIVILIAN SIDE, YOU ARE HOPPING A RIDE TO YOUR NEW CONTRACT SHIP.>

How many ways could this go wrong…do I really even want to think about that? But the option is prison or death, or a brain wipe. In for a credit, in for a million. “I will put in for leave starting in three days. Where should I go?”

HOPKINS RIDGE PARK. IT IS AUTOMATED. I NEED YOU TO DRESS FOR CAMPING WITH A BACKPACK AND WALK OUT OF YOUR HOUSING, SIT ON THE BENCH BY THE FRONT ENTRY FOR ONE SEG, MOVE AROUND, THEN GET UP AND COME BACK IN. DO IT WHEN NO ONE IS AROUND.>

Roberto quickly searched for Hopkins Ridge and found it was a remote park about sixty miles from the campus, accessible by tram. In for a credit, in for a million, or my life, whichever comes first.

***

Two days later, Roberto checked through ramp security, trunk in tow. “Spare parts. I brought all the spares, since going all the way back to the lab isn’t an option.”

The security officer chuckled. “Makes sense. Surprised more of you folks don’t do that. Oh, and there is a package from the security office, probably a new set of ramp badges, since yours is almost six months old.”

He took the package and bounced it in his hand before slipping it in his shipsuit, “You want to check the trunk?”

“Nah, I see you all the time. You’re good.”

Roberto walked out onto the ramp, then turned and went back in, “Uh, sorry, but where is two four seven parked? Is it still on Echo Two?”

The security officer looked it up, “Nope, they flew it and it’s now on spot Charlie Four.”

“Thanks.” He retraced his steps and headed for spot Charlie Four. I really hope this shit works, and Jace pulls this off. If not…I really don’t want to think about the options. But he was right about waiting for that particular security officer to come on duty. He didn’t check the trunk, which is good, considering there aren’t any spare parts or tools in there. Just clothes, my backpack, an extra shipsuit, and my data comp. And my silk shirts and family mementos.

A div later, he finished the software upgrade on 247’s autopilot, ran two diagnostics to see if there were any problems, and shut the bird down. Ripping open the package, he pulled out his new data chip, looked at the picture, and did a double take. It was his Roberto De Perez photo, and he started having second thoughts, but he climbed down, looked around and removed the prosthetics from his cheeks. Dropping them down a drain on the ramp, he headed for the civilian side and laughed. Well, it’s on now. But I’m guessing there are enough people with similar looks that no one is going to question this identity. And it’s a shorter walk to the civilian terminal than the security gate. I wonder how many people have a close enough appearance to flag security systems, and at what percentage of match does the alert kick in? That would have to be in excess of probably the 95th percentile for alertment, but across how many samples? That could be an interesting issue to look at for our security systems…

Four divs later, the planetary shuttle landed at Hamilton Bay, and he debarked with the other passengers, then checked in with the security desk. Sliding his data chip across the desk wasn’t the easiest thing he’d ever done, but he did it and said, “Diez, looking for Hyderabad, has she grounded yet?”

The lady behind the desk looked at her holo screen, “Not yet. She’s shown for a seventeen arrival on pad Alpha Two. She’s got a resupply and one sealed cargo pod waiting. You want to wait in here, we’ll call you.”

He glanced at his wrist comp, “Two divs. I can do that. Any recommendations on food?”

She slid his data chip back. “Good sushi at Mikimoto’s. It’s in side hall Echo Six. Uses real fish they grow in house.”

He nodded. “Thanks. Gonna be a while before I get anything other than autochef number forty-two,” he said with a chuckle.

She smiled up at him, “I feel for ya, but you flyers are a different breed. I like my feet on planet and sleeping in the same bed with the same gravity all the time.”

***

Roberto had been concentrating on how to build a search algorithm to look at facial structures and identifying characteristics for non-humanoids when the PA finally penetrated his consciousness, “Last call, Diez. Your ship is grounded. Three minutes and your ride is leaving. Last call, Diez.”

He jumped up cursing himself, Pay attention you idiot! Last thing you need is to call attention to yourself like this. He moved quickly down the concourse to the security desk, “Sorry. I was grabbing a nap and had my noise cancelling turned up. Roberto Diez.” He slid his data chip across the desk again and waited.

The man ran it through his machine, “Okay, you’re good.” Pointing to a door to his left he said, “Down the ladder, swipe out at the bottom. Grav sled is on the ramp just outside the door. Programmed for your ship.” He handed the data chip back and turned back to his monitors.

“Thanks.” Roberto slipped it back in his pocket and went through the door, trunk trailing him on its electronic tether. At the bottom, he swiped and heard the locks click open. Pushing the door, he went onto the ramp, and loaded his trunk on the grav sled sitting there. As soon as he got in and buckled the belts, the sled moved smoothly away, as he patted pockets until he found and inserted his ear plugs. Should have done that before I stepped out. I just…hope this actually works. And I’ve got to figure out what I’m going to do next, now that I’m going to be a hunted man. He shook his head and smiled to himself. Richest man in the galaxy, most hunted man in the galaxy. I wonder if I could slip back into the compound in Los San Diego? Would it be…No, it would be the same prison as before. I really don’t want to do that again.

Five segs later, the sled deposited him at the aft ramp of the Hyderabad. Looking up, he noted that the metamaterial skin had been mutated to look like a worn ship needing some attention. He started up the ramp and was surprised to be met at the top by a jovial, heavyset, and bearded individual in a worn shipsuit. “Welcome aboard. I assume you’re Roberto Diez?”

The man stuck out his hand and Roberto took it automatically, “Yes, I am. I’m the—”

“New communications officer. Come on aboard and I’ll show you to your cabin, then you can meet the rest of the crew.”

Bewildered, Roberto followed him up and forward, and the man stopped in front of the captain’s cabin. “Here you go. The AI has already added you to the access, and I understand you have some basic familiarity with the ship.”

“Uh, a bit. Excuse me, but you are?”

The man turned and smiled, “You don’t recognize me?” He put a hand over his heart, “I’m hurt. I’m truly hurt. How can you not recognize me, Captain?”

Roberto racked his brain, drawing a blank, then he smiled. “Jace, very impressive.”

The man bowed, “I thought so myself. As soon as the resupply gets aboard, and we get fuel, we can lift. I picked up a small cargo to justify stopping here, and we’ll deliver it in two hops to one of the space stations in this spiral. We have a slot in four weeks at Beverly, so plenty of time for you to get up to speed, as it were.”

***

Jace and Roberto sat on the bridge as they came out of the second hyper jump, “Sixteen hours to Station Romeo Twelve. Apparently some priority repair parts for their hydroponics plant.” Suddenly Jace laughed and pointed at the main display, “You’re a wanted man, Robert.” A newsie from Altair was showing a picture of Robert Gomez with a hefty reward offered for his location and it cut to an interview with Arcabright, and Jace brought up the volume, “And he is a renegade scientist, dabbling in things that are not only anti-ethical, but are actually criminal in intent, and potentially life threatening. Anyone having information can provide it anonymously to any law enforcement agency in the galaxy. He is one of the top ten most wanted criminals and the reward is significant.” Arcabright sat back with a smug expression, as the newsie zoomed in on the Robert Gomez picture and showed the DNA profile.

Roberto asked, “How close is the DNA?”

Jace smiled, “An astronaut that died in 2239, single, and only child. Nowhere close to yours. And before you ask, with the lack of prosthetics, and the slight sag since you’ve removed the prosthetics, the security scan software will only classify you at eighty-eight to ninety percent. That is well below the alert level.”

Roberto laughed in relief. “And the probability of a visual double is fairly small. Rough order of magnitude, there are seventy billion of us in the galaxy. About half are male, so that’s thirty-five billion. I’m nearly sixty, so to look like me, they’d need to be between fifty and seventy – let’s say that cuts in down to ten billion. I’m Latino which takes it down to two and a half billion. Let’s say there are one hundred nose shapes, one hundred mouth shapes, and fifty eye shapes. We’re down to two and a half million. Fifty hair shades, give or take? Now we’re down to a half million. Oh, ears! Now we’re down to say, fifty thousand. Eye color – let’s say five thousand. So at a quick estimate, there are roughly five hundred people my gender and skin tone and have the same shaped nose, mouth and ears and hair color. Our eyes are close enough in color to pass casual inspection, at least to the ninety-ninth percentile.”

“I’m glad to see you are not as worried as you were.”

He shrugged. “Research, when I can tie it to real numbers, even in a gross approximation, it makes me feel better.”

“Would you like exact numbers? I can calculate those in a seg or so.”

The newsie drew their eyes back to the screen when he asked, “Can you tell us what he’s alleged to have done, Major?”

Arcabright looked at the newsie blankly for a few moments, “Um, no. That gets into a security issue I’m not allowed to discuss.”

The newsie then asked, “But you’re not GalPat, you’re GalTech, so this is a technical issue?”

Arcabright stood up, “I said I can’t discuss it. This interview is at an end.” He stomped off the newsie’s set, leaving the newsie sitting there with a stunned expression.

“Well, that was interesting. Apparently we touched a nerve there. If you see this man, let us know. We’d like to get to the bottom of this mystery too!” He stopped for a moment, “And I was just told that the reward may, and I stress may, be up to a quarter of a million credits. We will stay on top of this story.” Another pause and he said, “And we have a field report from Alexis at… Hopkins Ridge. Apparently Mr. Garcia was last seen here eight days ago, he checked in, but has never checked out. He was seen in this video heading up the diamond trail, which is the most dangerous of the hiking trails on the ridge.” A clip of him walking away from the camera was shown, and Alexis continued. “This is apparently the last shot of Mr. Garcia. He was never seen returning to his cabin, and the door has not been opened since the morning he left.”

“So Alexis, what are the chances that Mr. Garcia is missing? Or possibly dead up there?”

Alexis tossed her head, “Unknown. They are apparently bringing in various search assets according to local reports. This is Alexis, reporting from Hopkins Ridge, back to you.”

Dayum…

It’s NOT supposed to be this #$*_(@ cold! Not in March…

14 night before last, ‘high’ of 29 yesterday, and a low of 17 last night…

Y’all can go ahead and laugh, but even the dog didn’t want to go out unless he HAD to… And those were the quickest #1 and #2s he’s ever done…

And it’s supposed to be 72 by Friday. It’s no wonder everybody is sicker than a dog around here… sigh…

Baby Steps…

The Dragon capsule successfully docked autonomously with the ISS over the weekend. NASA astronauts have been working with Space X to make sure the system works, and will be as safe as possible.

So we ‘may’ be back in the business of actually being able to launch and recover our own astronauts.

Of note, it was FULLY autonomous, the arm wasn’t needed, and it had 400 lbs of cargo aboard too. Multiply configurable, it can hold up to seven astronauts, or some mix of astronauts and cargo, and comes with an optional ‘trunk’ that holds additional cargo.

There is a possibility the first manned launch will be later this year, and the bonus is that these capsules will be reusable!

State of the writer…

Trying to decide between dazed and confused and frazzled…

Finished up a 9999 word (hey, it had to be UNDER 10000 word) short for possible inclusion in an anthology next year, and alpha read two other short stories for folks, so the last week has been productive, even if it’s not necessarily on what I wanted to be productive on.

I will always read for others, figuring it’s the least I can do for those who help me out, so there is that…

BUT, having said that, the #$#)!) muse must have gotten into the espresso!!!

She can’t stay on track worth a crap yesterday or today… I don’t think I got more than 500 or so words on any one story before the muse went haring off in a different direction! Not real good when you jump from an 1870s western to MilSF… Sigh…

The weather isn’t helping, getting colder, wetter, and nastier, which gets me grumpy because the back, knees, and ankles start ‘telling’ me about the weather changes.

Anyhoo, a little bit from the short story. This one is written in a different ‘style’, aimed at a different audience, so some folks might be confused by it, but here it is.

Comments/recommendations appreciated as always.

May 18, 1985

Moffett Field, California 0400Z

The tactical grey P-3 Orion bumped through the night skies, descending over San Jose, California, toward Moffett Field Naval Air Station after a nine hour flight off Seattle, Washington.

“Charlie Fox 232, cleared to land 32 right,” crackled through the radio.

LCDR Randy Hathaway nudged the rudder as Senior Chief ‘Scoop’ Vessels, the flight engineer, and LCDR ‘Fast Eddie’ Miller, the copilot, reviewed the lineup. LT ‘Tip’ Adams leaned forward from his position behind Randy and double checked the cockpit even though he didn’t have the landing. Fast Eddie replied, “232, cleared on the right. Say winds.”

“160 at 12.”

“Speeds are 18 and 21, Randy. Landing checklist complete.”

“OK, pilot’s power, Scoop.”

“You got it.”

Scoop looked over his shoulder at Chief ‘Hairy’ Harris and motioned for him to reset the oil tank circuit breakers. Harry did so and shoved a thumbs up in front of Scoop.

At the TACCO’s station, Lieutenant Commander Kevin James “KJ” Martin looked out the window making sure the gear was down; rechecked his harness, looked over at LCDR Barney ‘Rubble’ Roberts and received a thumbs up. He keyed the ICS and said, “Five is set in the back, gear looks good”

“Roger that, KJ,” Fast Eddie replied.

Randy called, “Short final, flaps to land.”

“Flaps to land, speed is 118.”

“OK”

Randy finessed the P-3 the last 30 feet to the runway but still plopped it down the last fifteen feet.

“6000 remaining.”

“Four good Beta lights.”

“K, Full reverse.”

“Nose wheel.”

“Charlie Fox 232, right off approved when able, contact ground 236.8.”

“232 switching, night Moffett.”

Randy steered the P-3 off the runway and keyed the ICS. “Crew’s released, KJ, let em know we’re home, and get us a spot.”

KJ double keyed the ICS in acknowledgment, noted the land time on his log and did the arithmetic for total flight time. He waited for Barney to complete the in report to the ASW Operations Center and switch to the squadron’s base frequency. Barney gave him a thumbs up, and KJ keyed UHF2, called maintenance and gave the time, status and asked for a parking spot.  The maintenance chief told him to park it in front of the hangar as the bird was due for a 210 day inspection.

Meanwhile, Chief Iverson, the in-flight technician, strolled up with the first aid kit and his helmet on sideways. KJ smiled and pointed to the flight station, Iverson assumed the persona of an injured person and limped into the flight station. “Anybody up here need this? We only need a couple of ambulances for the guys in back”.

Randy shrugged as Fast Eddie, Tip and Scoop laughed.  “Sorry ‘bout that, I didn’t do it on purpose. Any major gripes?”

“Nope, we’re up and up in the back, Sir, but this ain’t a 747, we’re a little closer to the ground. Just saying,” Iverson replied.

KJ came over the ICS saying, “Randy, put it right in front; no gas, no covers. Scoop- they’re gonna do a 210 day.”

KJ then keyed the PA, telling everyone to pick up all loose gear, secure their stations and clear all codes. Barney and Tip walked through the airplane clearing all the secure equipment codes, inventoried the Communications box and signed it off.

Chief Clark, the senior Anti-submarine Warfare Operator, asked who had to go to debrief. KJ replied, “Well, since we debriefed at Whidbey, I don’t see any reason for any of y’all to go, Randy and I can handle it.”

“Sure about that TACCO? After all it took you seven minutes to get the torp off after we told you where the boat was,” the chief replied with a smile.

Chuckling KJ shot back, “Alright Charlie, you can come along and keep us straight.”

“Naw boss, we’ll be waitin’ in the parking lot.”

The bird was parked, shut down and turned over to maintenance.  Randy and KJ went to ASW Operations Center and turned in the operational message blank, debriefed again with the watch officer and turned in all the classified material.  Barney and Tip turned in the Communications box for storage. Chief Clark, the Ordnance chief and the ordnance men cleaned up the bomb bay and did a walk through on the bird.  Scoop and the second engineer did their post flight and went to maintenance to write up the gripes on the plane and sign off the daily inspection.

An hour later the crews gathered at KJ’s rental car in front of Hangar Two for the parking lot debrief.  KJ started things off by handing out beers and cokes, then did a round robin of each crewmember for comments, complaints and plans. As a Master Augmentation Unit crew, they didn’t work or fly on the same schedule as a standard reserve crew.  They flew their own aircraft or one loaned by an operational squadron.   Since most of the crew lived and worked in the Bay area, most of them were headed home until next month as they had no squadron support flights or operational commitments scheduled.

KJ and Randy walked back into the MAU’s space in the hangar and were approached by the Ops boss.  “Nice flight guys, the Skipper wants to see you both in his office.”

“OK, Willie. Hope to hell something hasn’t come up, since I just let the crew go,” KJ replied.

Commander Furness looked up as KJ and Randy knocked on the door. “Come on in guys, nice flight. Seven minutes from COMEX to weapon is a new record for us, KJ, how the hell do you do it? Especially with a reserve crew? Most of the fleet squadrons can’t even do that well.

Randy and KJ looked at each other, and Randy replied, “Shit, Skipper, look at the qualifications and experience we’ve got here,  Fast Eddie and Tip both had crews in the fleet, KJ and Barney were both first tour Mission commanders, Chief Clark has seventeen years as an acoustic operator, Henerson and Macklin both have over fifteen, Iverson is a wizard with the gear, Scoop and Rybolt both are old  B model flight engineers who know ASW as well as or better than we do, and ‘Pops’ Kanaka did his last fleet tour with PMTC as the Research and Development ordnance shop Leading Petty Officer before he flipped over to the civilian side. There isn’t a fleet crew that could come close to that, much less stay together for five years like we have.”

“Guess so, but you guys never cease to amaze me.  Randy, what’s your schedule?”

“Seven in the morning, here to LA, layover, then Sydney and back.”

“When are you going to upgrade? Or is United holding you back?”

“Hell, I don’t know, and no, they aren’t, flying right seat on a 747 ain’t bad.  Plus, if I upgrade to Captain on the 75 it would mean moving back to LA, and Julie would shoot me,” Randy replied.

CDR Furness laughed and nodded at KJ. “What about you, still looking for a real job?”

KJ rolled his eyes, chuckled, and answered, “Why get a job, skipper? It would just ruin my social life. Seriously, I finished up a security job yesterday, and I’m headed back to Bradenton tomorrow morning.  We’re doing pretty well with the FBO business, and Dad’s having a ball, which lets me run around and do other things.”

“Are you still flying airshows?” asked Randy.

“Yeah, when I get a chance; matter of fact, Little Mama is at Southwest Airmotive right now getting the annual done, and I’m supposed to fly to Tallulah, Louisiana, next month to start the year.  They have a nice little show over there with a bunch of warbirds from the CAF showing up and some real pros flying Pitts, Eagles, T-craft and some Cubs.  We usually do some fly-by’s and some acrobatics if the birds are working good and we get good conditions.”

The Skipper shook his head and said, “After what I saw you do with that P-51 here last year, I’ll never get in an aircraft that you’re driving.  I’ll never understand how the Navy didn’t let you fly.”

KJ grimaced and replied, “Shit, they claimed I wasn’t 20-20.  Said I was 20-25 in the right eye, and you know how that goes, one chance and that’s it.  I decided to try the NFO route since I was already there, besides which, if I’d gone home, then the old man would’ve killed me.  You know how he feels about doing your time.”

“Well, you guys need your rest, so thanks for a great job, and see ya next month.  your crew should be doing an ASWEX with VP-19.

Reflections: CDR Bob Furness

      Those two guys are damn good, maybe the best I’ve seen in 20 years. Too bad we couldn’t keep them on active duty. Randy’s a known entity- steady, happily married and loves flying for the airlines.  KJ’s a different story altogether- His record is outstanding from the start. A real golden boy in his first tour, special missions certified and every possible important job.  A tactical wizard- that’s what his skipper said. I wonder what would have happened if KJ’s wife hadn’t been killed during his first shore tour and he hadn’t resigned to take care of his daughter.  Wonder if KJ will ever get a real job- he’s so damn talented it’s not funny, but he plays with airplanes, has this KJM Consulting which he won’t talk about but seems to make money, has some connection with his Dad’s Fixed Base Operation at Bradenton, Florida; lives in Florida, but drills in California. Ah hell, I guess I shouldn’t look two damn good gift horses in the mouth. I’ll just take ‘em and run.

Randy and KJ got up and headed out the door, logging out with the Duty Officer to ensure their drill time was counted.  In the parking lot, they coordinated the call tree for next month, said their good-byes, and KJ jumped in his rental and headed back for the Airport Crowne Plaza. He had paperwork to do and was looking forward to a good night’s sleep and getting home to his now teenaged daughter, Jonna, who was thirteen going on thirty-one, or so she thought. He just hoped she’d behaved, as Mom had promised to have a ‘girl’ talk with her.

Worth watching…

This one is 24 minutes long, but it will bring a tear to your eye…

One family’s connection thanks to an airplane.

I hope you enjoyed it, and they truly were the greatest generation! Thankfully there is another generation that is preserving the airplanes so more generations can see and hear them for real.