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After the Colcoa stripped earth of all of her natural resources and left, the planet’s average temperature soared as the population dwindled down to the thousands. The few humans that survived the invasion are forced to live underground to escape the oppressive heat. Joe, his daughter Willa, and son Ezekiel are among the few brave enough to venture outside to gather food and supplies in the arid, rocky landscape. Their job is to bring enough food, water, and materials for their town to survive the summer in the cool caves of Red River Falls.
The world outside isn’t safe. Genetically altered animals, experimented on by the Colcoa, roam the surface. When a pack of experimental grizzly bears attack the family, Willa’s life is altered forever. What she learns on her journey will change the world.
Together with her new friend Xander, Willa will explore their world and uncover clues that lead her through a doorway into the unknown.
If you’d like to purchase Remnants: The Colcoa Wars Volume 1 it is available at all major ebook outlets
Joe ran from the experimentals almost as fast as his legs could carry him. He needed the bears to know where he was, and he needed them to continue following him. The thought of them getting to his children was beyond his ability to comprehend. As he ran, he yelled at the top of his lungs, ”Hey, big dumb bears!” and, “Follow me, green abominations!” He burst out of the woods onto the rocky barrens.
He glanced over his shoulder as he ran, skipping from point to point of huge and jagged granite boulders. He counted eight bears in the pack chasing him and hoped that was all of them. Twenty minutes and four miles later, the bears were still following. Staying on the automobile-sized rocks was the only way he could stay ahead; on open ground, they would have caught him within the first mile.
Joe ran on for another hour, watching the sun rise in the sky. His feet were bleeding inside his hand-made leather boots. His boots were made for stealth, not protection; the soles were very thin and flexible to muffle sounds. The sharp, pointy edges of the boulders were shredding his feet through them. The temperature was rising, and Joe was sweating valuable water, but more importantly, he knew he was burning calories at an alarming rate.
Food was a precious commodity, and calories weren’t something to waste. In their town, the most strenuous jobs were only worked for two hours a day, then a new shift worked for two hours in an effort to save calories.
Food and water weren’t the worst of his concerns. In another hour, his skin would start to burn, and in two more hours, he’d be in serious risk of heat-stroke. The good news was the bears were in the same predicament. Although they were covered in fur to protect them from sunburn, the heat would still take its toll on them. He hoped they would have to stop before he did.
Joe angled towards the woods when he saw his lead was growing, but he wasn’t going to make it. The sun was rising too fast, and his skin was already hot. Joe slowed his pace long enough to pull his shirt sleeves over his hands and tie Marna’s scarf over his face, tucking the edges up under his glasses. The scarf never left his side; it was one of the last pieces he had of his wife. She’d been wearing it the night the Colcoa killed her.
The Colcoa had been very friendly when they first arrived. They put on an act that they were peaceful explorers, looking for advanced civilizations to help. They shared their technology and medicine, they showed mankind how their ships worked, and they even provided the humans with an unlimited energy source. That friendship lasted about a year while they secretly cataloged the planet. Then, one day, things got ugly.
The orbiting ships fired some sort of energy wave at the planet, killing every human it touched. Billions of people lost their lives that day, and over the next seventeen years, the Colcoa stripped the world of all of its metal. They took almost all of the fresh water, the fertile topsoil, and anything else they felt like they could use. During their stripping of the planet, they wiped out all of the cities, killing every human survivor. Joe had scavenged the cities after the Colcoa had been through; they’d demolished every building, pulled up all of the pipes in the ground, and even taken the steel bars in the concrete. Joe was pretty sure the amount of metal left on the planet would fit inside the living room of his childhood house.
One day about two years ago, the Calcoa all left. All of their ships and processing facilities, their power plants, and technology all disappeared overnight.
Joe stopped running for a second, to make sure that the bears had called off the chase. They were picking their way towards the trees, looking for some shade to wait out the heat of the day. Joe looked around for the largest rocks he could lift and started stacking them between two car-sized boulders.
He worked quickly, first building the frame, then filling in the gaps with smaller rocks. He piled stone after stone on top of his shelter, adding mass above him to help absorb the heat. The last thing Joe did was stack rocks up in the entrance of his man-made cave, sealing himself in. Once inside, he took his shirt off and lay down on the cool shaded clay and tried to go to sleep.
Sleep was a long time coming. He lay there thinking about Willa and Ez. It was remarkable how much Willa reminded him of Marna. Marna had been short and Willa was tall, but that’s where the differences stopped. Ez was, on the other hand, a perfect combination of the two of them. Joe’s nose and Marna’s blue eyes. He was Joe’s height with Marna’s build.
With a smile, Joe reflected on how fantastic his two children were together. Willa was a physical machine. She could outrun Joe in speed and distance, even with Joe’s twenty years as a forager. Ez was the best shot with a bow or a sling Joe had ever seen. Between the two of them, they’d be able to bring down most anything.
Joe fell asleep just before noon and had fitful dreams of being locked inside an oven. When he woke up, the clay underneath him was slimy from his sweat. Joe rolled around in it, coating himself in the softened mud, knowing it would offer some protection from the sun. His skin was already baked, and the cool moist clay was soothing.
When he poked a couple of rocks out of the doorway of his shelter, he was grateful to see the orange tinges of twilight. He worked for a few minutes to clear the opening and crawled out into the cooler air.
The lone figure stood up, stretched his legs, ate the handful of berries left in his pocket from the day before, and started off to find his children. It was a long run, but he could really stretch his strides out in the evening breeze. He covered ground quickly once he worked out the stiffness from a long, troubled night in the rocks.
As soon as Willa saw her father was safely ahead of the bears, she was up on her feet. She drew her bow and fired an arrow at one of the bears that chased him. She nocked another, but by the time she was ready to fire, it was out of range. From her left, two of the green monstrosities crashed out of the woods. She turned and fired, impaling one of them in the mouth as it roared. The arrow penetrated up through the grizzly’s palette and into its brain. Its roar was abruptly cut off, and it collapsed head first into the ground, rolling over one time before coming to rest on its side.
The second grizzly was closing too fast for her to get another shot. ”Ez, RUN!” she yelled, grabbing his hand and dragging him off the rocks. “Faster,” she yelled a couple of steps later as she slung her bow across her back. “He’s going to catch us!”
The brother and sister ran for all they were worth. Willa was fast and knew she could easily outpace the bears. She’d been running in this terrain her whole life. Her long legs allowed for her to take one stride for every one and a half of Ezekiel’s, and her abnormally long toes allowed her to grip and maintain her balance on the rocks.
Her brother, on the other hand, was not made for speed. He was a distance runner. He could run all day and all night without stopping, and he could move almost as silently as their father at his top speed, but it wasn’t enough.
They ran into a group of trees. Weaving in and out of the trees, Willa grabbed her brother and set him on her shoulders. “When you can, grab a branch and swing up into the tree. We’re not going to get away,” she said as she lifted him. She looked for just the right tree. It had to be small enough that Ez could climb quickly but big enough that the bear couldn’t push it down.
The bear chasing them was about forty feet behind her when she found the right tree and pointed it out to her brother. Ezekiel grabbed the branch and swung himself up, and within a few paces Willa was back at her full stride. “If he follows me, count to three hundred and run to the burrow!” she yelled as she sped off.
The bear showed no interest in Ezekiel, instead following Willa out towards the river she’d found earlier that day. She was young enough not to think about the fact that she’d run forty miles already that day and only had half a fish to eat but smart enough to know that she couldn’t go that far from her brother.
Her hope was use the scent of her tracks from earlier that day to lead him off that way, and she knew the only way she’d be able to do that is if it lost sight of her. She opened up her stride and sprinted as hard as she could towards the trail she’d left. She wiped sweat from her brow with her hand and slung it down onto the dirt as she turned and followed her own trail out of the woods into the rock field that made up most of Minnesota.
She ran for another three or four minutes, well ahead of the bear. When he was fully out of sight, she pulled out her water skin and sprayed a rock to the left before hopping on to it. The clever girl bounded from rock to rock on the balls of her feet. Before each step, she sprayed a little water on the rock before she put her foot down.
Most of her scent would evaporate with the water on the hot rocks. She only hoped it was enough that the bear would keep going. She hopped like this with the wind at her back as long as she felt she could; if it got within sight of her, the ruse wouldn’t work.
Finally, when she was about a hundred paces off her trail, she ducked down behind a large piece of bedrock and waited, the hot morning wind blowing in her face. She knew she was miles from where she was supposed to be and even more miles from wherever her father was.
She thought differently than he did. He always played it safe. Willa wondered if he’d always been that way or if it was more-so as he aged. Willa, on the other hand, never underestimated herself.
She knew she could handle one bear. She’d killed one already with a lucky arrow and wounded another. She was thinking that maybe she should just kill this one when she spotted it running down her trail. It passed the spot where she’d lept off her trail without pausing, nose to the rocks, raised its head, and galloped off towards the river she’d found that morning.
Willa waited for five minutes before springing towards the burrow, desperate to make it back before the sun was fully out. She slowed as she approached their underground home. Silently, the huntress crept towards the opening with the wind in her face, sniffing and listening for any sign of the experimental bears.
The burrow door was firmly closed, and there was no sign of them. She knocked twice, paused, and knocked twice more. That was her knock, the signal that it was Willa, but the door didn’t move. She gingerly opened the door to their hole and called inside. “Ez? Are you in there?” But there was no answer.
They’d been in the area for weeks now. The territory was very familiar. The sun was almost up, but she paid no attention to the growing heat as she closed the door to their home and ran off looking for Ezekiel. She knew she only had a small window of time left; the sun was now fully over the horizon, and she could already feel its heat in her skin as she ran.
She made wider and wider circles, looping around the burrow. Her panic was growing with each circuit. It took nearly an hour before she found Ezekiel, unconscious and leaned against a tree. Beside him, the corpse of a grizzly lay still, covered in blood.
It was almost eleven in the morning. Her skin was red and burning. She didn’t stop to even look him over. Willa picked up her little brother and ran as fast as her weary legs would take her towards the safety and shade of the burrow. Once she was safely inside, she laid Ezekiel down on the floor and went to the water bucket.
As she washed the blood from her little brother, she was once again grateful for this burrow. Her father had built a network of underground houses, each about half a day’s journey from the next. Each year, at the beginning of the season, before they’d gathered anything, the three of them spent a week working on the next burrow. Each evening, a little before sunset, they would take off for the next site, covered head to toe. They would run for four hours to the next location and dig. All three of them dug, using whatever they could find, for three hours, and then they started the run back. They had to do it early in the season while the days were shortest and the nights were longest.
The family had completed this burrow last year. It was small, compared to some of the first ones, when both her mother and father had worked on them, plus the first one outside of town was almost as old as Ezekiel. Each year, Joe improved on each of the burrows as they passed through. The first burrow was three rooms plus a large storage room. It was Willa’s favorite; she kept a few of her most prized possessions in her bedroom there, and she always looked forward to the one week per year they got to stay there.
This last one, which Ezekiel had ironically named Rock Mountain, was only one room plus the storage room. The three of them each had their own raised platform to lay out their bedrolls. Joe had started work on the first bedroom, but it was only a few square feet. There was no dead wood here, so they had to use rocks to shore up the burrow, and that made digging rooms more difficult. They had to haul the rocks in and store them inside for when her father needed them.
After several minutes of washing and inspecting her brother, Willa peeled his tunic up and found a cut across his belly. It wasn’t large or bleeding profusely, but it had ugly brown streaks at the edges. She washed the wound and noticed some dried greenish puss at the bottom. Ezekiel was burning up, and his legs were shaking. She had no idea what to do.
Joe ran as hard as he could for their burrow. He flew into the section of woods where their home was, darting and zig-zagging through the trees. As his heart felt like it was going to explode in his chest, his only thought was to get to his children. He skidded to a halt in front of the burrow door. His heart sank when he saw the words, “Ezekiel hurt” and “Duluth” scratched into the dirt at the entrance.
“Oh no, Willa, no!” he cried, putting his hands on his knees, huffing. He had no idea if Franklin was still alive, but no good could come of his two children meeting his former best friend.
Joe took a minute to head down into the burrow to refill his water skin. Hidden deep in the back of the burrow behind all the provisions, Joe pulled out a small piece of canvas and unrolled it. Inside was a steel tomahawk, enough metal to buy his way out of this mess.
He slipped the tomahawk into his belt and ran, propelled by his love for his children. He ran as a man with nothing to lose.
Marna had hated that tomahawk. One morning in the earliest days of Duluth, Joe was getting ready for work in his apartment and having a briefing with Franklin. Marna came into the bedroom as he was slipping the hatchet-like weapon onto his belt. “It’s a weapon for killing people,” she’d said.
“Sometimes, people need to be killed,” was his response back then. To Joe’s left, Franklin stood, nodding, looking back and forth between Marna and Joe.
Joe had always loved to run. He let his mind roam and put his body on autopilot, ticking the miles off towards his children. His pace was fast. He needed to catch Willa before she got within the perimeter of Duluth. She was quicker than he but was heavily burdened. He was confident he could catch her in time if he could sustain the pace he’d set.
His mind wandered back to when he and Marna had just arrived in Minnesota, after months of walking north, desperate for cooler temperatures. Joe grew up in South Carolina. In high school, he’d been a cross-country track star, winning a scholarship to Clemson University, where he’d met Marna. The two of them fell in love in college. They were both majoring in agricultural studies; Marna’s specialty was horticulture, while Joe was majoring in farm management, with a focus on the cattle business.
When the Colcoa came, they’d been in their final year of study. The world changed so much in that year; people rioted in the streets, the stock market crashed, and money became virtually useless. The stores emptied out. The Colcoa were handing out food rations. The rations were a useless, tasteless gel that kept people alive but did nothing to satisfy their hunger or their spirit. With free food and free energy, people stopped going to work, and infrastructure broke down. People barricaded themselves in their homes. There was chaos and anarchy.
Joe and Marna went to Montana in the middle of their final year of college. It had the lowest population of any state other than Alaska and was the farthest away from any trouble. They sold everything they owned and bought a little cabin and a thousand acres of land.
When the Colcoa turned on mankind, neither of them was surprised. They wiped out the highest population centers in one morning. Both coasts went dark. The last news Joe ever saw said the same thing happened all over the world.
Joe and Marna lived quietly, working their land and hoping the Colcoa would leave them alone. They hadn’t had much; Joe scrounged junk yards and odd jobs for their tools. They bought a pair of horses, and Joe traded their truck for an old plow and a wooden cart. They ate well, lived in solitude, just the two of them, and were more in love than any two people had ever been.
When the Colcoa rolled through the town outside their house, Joe was there trading his rifle for their winter provisions. After the aliens arrived, the price of firearms skyrocketed. Ammunition was in short supply; the manufacturers were unable to keep up with demand. His rifle and one hundred bullets would buy him years’ worth of provisions. There just wasn’t a year’s worth of food to be had. He was currently negotiating for the last fifty-pound bag of flour and all the salt Wayne, the store owner, had.
Wayne and Joe watched in horror as the gigantic Colcoa machines rolled over the houses and buildings of the small town, spitting out a row of splintered wood and concrete in their wake.
The pair realized the machine would crush them in a second. Joe grabbed Wayne’s hand in an attempt to drag him out. Wayne snatched his hand free and darted into the back room. “I gotta get Baxter!” he yelled.
“No time, Wayne! Come on!” Joe called, planting one hand on the counter as he vaulted over it heading for the side door. The machine was just feet from the back of the building when Joe leaped out the door, over the five steps, and rolled onto the ground. He heard Wayne scream in pain as Joe barrel-rolled to his feet and sprinted across the dirt road.
He hid in a ditch as the hundred foot tall machine rolled past. Armored Colcoa walked on either side of the machine, a hundred yards in front of him. Their battle suits made a low, rumbling hum. That sound invaded Joe’s nightmares. Just the faded memory was enough to bring him near to panic; at the time, it was all he could do to sit still. There was something primal about the fear it instilled, like the sound of a rattlesnake. He was certain the sound was specifically designed to invoke a panic response in humans, and it worked.
From the opposite edge of the small settlement, several men stood from where they were hiding and opened fire. The retorts of their rifles had barely faded when the armored units decimated them. Streaks of blue light erupted from the cannons on the robotic arms, engulfing the entire group of men. Joe kept his head down and focused on surviving long enough to get back to Marna.
The next time he looked up, the giant steel wheel had crushed everything in its path. Inside the machine, something happened to the debris before it was ejected in long rows from the back. Once everything was over, Joe ran to the pile and kicked through it. He was sifting through the tailings when he realized there was no metal in it. No pipes, not even a single nail.
It dawned on him then, as it had to thousands of others around the world, that the Colcoa were mining. They were stripping the land of every piece of metal.
He ran to his horse and galloped home to Marna.
“Marna! Marna! he yelled, approaching the house. She came out the door of their tiny ramshackle dwelling to see what he was screaming about.
“The Colcoa are in town. They decimated it. They’re harvesting the metal. We have to go, and we have to go primitive. They killed Wayne, Marna! They rolled right over the store with him inside. We have to go, and we have to take as little metal as possible.”
They packed light, cutting everything metal from their saddle bags. Joe used twine to tie the bags together. They threw their pack blankets over their horses’ backs and climbed on bareback. They decided to take one piece of metal each. Joe chose his tomahawk while Marna picked a knife.
The couple headed out into the bush, where they lived for the next two years. They never stayed in one place, running north every time the Colcoa got close.
Coming out of his reverie, Joe shook his head as he ran after his son and daughter. He was struck by how naive he’d been, thinking they were just after the metal on the surface.
He thought about a frigid morning years before. The pair of survivors was near the Canadian border and hadn’t seen another living person for months. “Do you think we could get through their line? If we could head south and get through, we could set up where they’ve already been, and we wouldn’t have to run.”
“Do you think they’ll leave when they have all the metal?” Marna asked.
“That’s what they came here for,” Joe said firmly. “Once they have it all, there’s no reason or them not to head to the next planet. We can’t keep heading north. It’s almost winter time, and it’s only going to get worse the farther we go.”
“I think we have to try,” Marna said, and the two of them planned their escape. The next day, they rode south towards the Colcoa. From miles away, they watched the lines of the huge alien mining machines, sucking up everything in their path and spitting it out in straight rows behind them. These were much larger than the one Joe had seen in town the day they’d left their home. Each machine covered several acres. Dozens of them were staggered in a series of V shapes, one overlapping path of the next. Occasionally, the machines would veer around a group of trees or a small hill, leaving tiny spots of green.
“If we can figure out why they leave certain spots, maybe we can hide out in one of those,” Joe said thoughtfully.
Marna replied, “I think we need to go higher up into the mountains. We need to go where their machines can’t go and wait for them to pass, then we come down.”
As he ran towards Duluth, Joe said aloud, “Marna always was the smart one,” grinning to himself.
Marna’s plan worked, and the pair crossed the country. Once they were below the Colcoa machines, they headed east, across the Great Plains. Day after day they walked, across South Dakota, Iowa, and Illinois, until they came to what had been Chicago. Massive mountains of concrete, asphalt, and glass rubble were all that was left of one of the biggest cities on earth. From Chicago, they turned and headed south, scrounging food and supplies as they went. The two of them began to think they were the only people on earth. Despite that, they both felt an intense drive to find their family, knowing, but never admitting to themselves, that they would never see anyone they loved ever again.
Willa was born in the first summer spent in South Carolina and did much to bring Marna and Joe closer. They’d both been so hopeful that they would find some evidence of their family, or at least some humans, but there was nothing left.
For the first two years of Willa’s life, the three of them lived pretty well. They had a small garden of a few vegetable plants Marna found and brought back. Joe often remembered those years when he was lonely or missed his wife. Many nights when one of the kids was sick, he’d sit up all night holding them close, thinking about those happy days.
In order to feed their small family, one or the other of them would often leave for a few days, Joe to hunt, fish, trap, and gather things and Marna to look for plants they could use. When one was gone, the other stayed home with Willa.
Joe learned to eat tomatoes, something he couldn’t stomach as a child. Marna constantly teased him about that. Every time Joe ate a tomato, he said, “Desperate times call for desperate actions,” and the two of them would laugh, which would set Willa off, her sweet peals of laughter lighting up their small shack and chasing away their fear.
Marna taught Joe how to identify plants and their uses. She taught him medicinal plants as well as edibles. Joe taught her how to track, kill, skin, and clean an animal and how to preserve the meat.
Willa was two when the Colcoa changed the weather. A huge earthquake woke the little family in the middle of the night. Marna grabbed Willa, and the three of them escaped to the garden as their shack crashed down.
Over the next week, the temperature rose drastically. Although it was early fall, it was hotter than Joe ever remembered, and every day the sun baked the earth even more.
On the fifth day of well over one hundred degrees, Marna begged Joe to go north. “Who knows what they’ve done this time, but I think that earthquake was the Colcoa screwing with the planet. I think they’re raising the temperature. We have to go. I think it’s only going to get hotter and hotter. We need to travel at night, and we need to go now.”
Once again, Joe recognized the wisdom of his wife’s words. They picked their garden, packed up whatever supplies they could, and headed north. Joe strapped his tomahawk to his waist, and Marna hung her worn knife from her belt.
The Colcoa were headed south this time. The machines were different, much bigger this second time. They were bigger than any machine Joe had ever seen made by man, bigger than most buildings. Each covered ten or more acres, and they were hundreds of feet tall. They were like high rises flattening the landscape. That was when Joe realized the line they’d seen years before was just preliminary work, taking the easy metal. These left nothing behind, taking virtually everything, including the soil. Once again, a few trees were left standing here or there.
Joe later decided that in the first wave, the Colcoa pilots drove the machines, and subsequent machines followed the lines the first ones made automatically. He was never sure if that was the case, but it was the only explanation anyone had ever come up with for why a few trees were left.
Between each machine, two armored Colcoa walked, several hundred yards apart. This time, there were no mountains to hide in.
“We’re going to have to try to hide right at the edge of the lead machine. When it passes, we pop up and try to get into its wake to let the next pass,” Joe suggested. “Unless you have a better option.”
“I don’t, Joe. And I’m afraid,” Marna replied. “Maybe we shouldn’t try this.”
“We’ll burn up. It’s already getting too hot to be out in the sun. It’s gotten hotter every single day. We have to try.”
They dug a hole, about fifty yards to the west of the first machine, and waited for it to pass.
Tears fell down his cheeks as he ran towards Duluth, thinking back on that day. “I promised, Willa. I promised, and I’m coming, baby,” he said, running even faster towards his son and daughter.
In their fox-hole, fifteen years before, Joe held Willa to his chest. When the machine passed, the earth shook. “Whatever happens, Joe,” said Marna, “I love you. I wouldn’t trade our time together for anything in the world. I am the luckiest woman on the planet, besides maybe Willa there. Always take care of her, Joe. Promise me that,” said Marna.
Joe promised and kissed his wife. “I love you too, Marna. We’re going to be fine. We’ll head north until it’s cool. We’ve survived this long; we’re not giving up yet.”
Joe stuck his head out of the hole, handed Willa to Marna, and said, “Go now. I’m right behind you.” Marna and Willa took off, staying low to the ground. A forty-foot drop down to massive bedrock boulders was behind the machine. A huge field of car-sized boulders stretched out to the south. Marna sat on the edge and slid down, a small avalanche of gravel and dirt following her.
Joe looked to his right as he ran for the drop off. The armored Colcoa turned, heading straight for the three of them.
“Run and hide!” Joe yelled down, turning towards the alien. He drew his tomahawk and charged the creature. It raised its arm and fired blue bolts of energy at Joe, but the man was too fast. He closed the distance and leapt at the steel-encased Colcoa. He could see the creature’s terrible face through the glass, some thick gooey liquid running down channels in its cheeks. Joe brought his tomahawk up and down while the thing battered him with its robotic arms, trying to dislodge the human from its metallic shell.
Joe reversed the tomahawk, driving the spike into the glass over and over again, prying and chipping his way into the armor. The second Colcoa headed for Joe as he pried the glass away from his target. Inside the cockpit of the armored carrier, the Colcoa operated a number of levers. Joe reached in and pushed its hand, trying to get his tomahawk into the tiny cockpit. As Joe pushed, the suit spun, slowly revolving as the second armored unit closed on them.
In one final heave, Joe leaned in, grabbed the Colcoa inside, and pulled, ripping the Colcoa from the cockpit. The armor fell over sideways, and the man rolled over and over, tangled with the alien. Joe was pinned down. He felt around in the dirt beside him as the green monster pushed down his throat. Joe’s hand closed on a rock, and with the last of his strength he smashed the rock into the Colcoa’s head. It went limp, collapsing to the side. Joe wearily climbed to his feet, gathered his tomahawk, and ran towards the second armored Colcoa.
There wasn’t much time before more Colcoa would be there. He sprinted to close the distance, hoping Willa and Marna were far away. He didn’t hold much hope of surviving; he just wanted to buy them time.
He heard the armored suit behind him stand up, and then he heard Marna’s voice. “Joe! Get down!” she yelled as the armored unit fired. Joe dove to the dirt and watched the Colcoa he was heading for crash over onto its side, engulfed in blue light.
Marna hopped down out of the cockpit and grabbed her dumbfounded husband.
“How did you do that?” he asked as they ran. “And where’s Willa?”
“She’s in the rocks below. I couldn’t let them kill you, Joe.”
They scooped Willa up as the giant machines came to a halt. The two tiny humans ran as hard as they could, but it appeared the Colcoa didn’t chase them. They ran all night long, Marna struggling to keep up with Joe. They slept in cave that night, far underground. They went back into the cave until they found a crevice Joe could barely squeeze through and slept safely in the cavern behind it.
That was the start of becoming nocturnal and living underground, Joe thought as he neared the outskirts of Duluth. He stopped in some brush to gather his thoughts and catch his breath. He couldn’t be that far behind Willa.
I hope you enjoyed this free sample. If you’d like to continue reading, please purchase a copy at any major online retailer.
I’m happy to announce the second “Victor Tookes Adventure” story is out. VTA #2 is a short story slightly longer than The Farmer’s Daughter, about 40 pages long.
The story follows Victor and Max during the years skipped in Declaration of War. It isn’t required reading before you read What Zombies Fear 6 this October, but it does shed some light on Victor and Max’s maturing relationship, Victor’s particular brand of crazy, and introduces you a little more to the older Max, who is fourteen in this story. I loved writing it, and I hope you enjoy reading it.
Here is the first chapter, if you’d like a sample. For the sake of full disclosure, this is about 15% of the story. The rest is available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble for 99 cents.
Vaughn pulled out a wad of bills, and peeled off a hundred crench and handed it to her. She stood up, took his hand and led him towards the back. Inside the back room, dark red couches lined the walls. Half the room was filled with Geraldinians, while Fresia danced in the center of them.
Amber took Vaughn to the other side of the room, pushed him down onto the couch, and started swaying her hips back in forth to the music. “I don’t really like this song, so we won’t count this one,” she said softly, pulling her slinky dress up over her head. Amber turned around, backed up a step, and started dancing, standing between his knees. Vaughn looked around her at Fresia, waiting for her to give him some kind of signal. She twirled her head around, smiling at him. He’d seen her naked before; aboard, ship showers were limited. Fogerians, with their non-existant sexuality, didn’t have any trouble showering next to someone of the opposite gender, and didn’t make any provisions for Human modesty. Maybe it was the atmosphere, the thumping music, or the fact that a beautiful woman was grinding on his lap, but he’d never seen her in a sexual light before. She was stunning. Small, firm breasts jiggled perfectly as she danced. She was obviously not as experienced as Amber, but she seemed to be perfectly comfortable being naked in a room full of men.
She winked at him, acknowledging his presence, and turned around. Vaughn put his hands on Amber’s waist and steered her out from directly in front of him. His grasp was insistent and firm. She grabbed his hands and pulled them off of her, then shook her finger at him. “No touching,” she said.
“Let’s just chat for a moment,” Vaughn replied, pulling her down to the sofa beside him.
“Uhh, okay. Sure. What line of work are you in?” Her momentary confusion quickly masked by professional experience. He’d very obviously been enjoying the dance, she’d felt proof of that when she sat on his lap. Perhaps he was enjoying too much, thus the quickly moving her off of him. Her experience in the job wouldn’t allow her to embarrass himself by getting overly excited. She knew once that happened, he’d leave and she wouldn’t get another crench out of him.
Fresia swung a leg around quickly, lifting it high over the Geraldinians heads, spinning herself around until she was facing Vaughn. She nodded to him and spun around again, this time kicking the first guy directly in the temple. His head rocked to the side, causing him to hit the guy next to him, and Fresia pretended to stumble. “Oh, I’m so sorry!”
The one she kicked was unconscious, leaning on his buddy. Two of them started to get up.
Vaughn patted Amber’s leg. “I’ll be right back.”
He lept off the couch and crossed the room in two steps. The two Geraldinians had Fresia’s arms, and she frantically kicked one of them between the legs. He dropped to his knees. Vaughn, still with the element of surprise, stepped on the couch, jumped off and drove his fist into the base of the neck of the other one holding Fresia.
Now free, Fresia kicked wickedly at another one on the couch, then backed up. She and Vaughn stood shoulder to shoulder facing five Geraldinians.
“I thought you’d never get here. I had to dance for these bastards for thirty minutes!”
“I was right on time,” he replied. The five men stepped forward, every one of them taller than Vaughn. He looked up at the closest one, who happened to be the biggest, and tilted his head to the side. “You’re a big fucker, aren’t you?” Vaughn made a fist and drew his hand back in a feint. The Geraldinian stepped into Vaughn to block the punch as he kicked forward and down with his foot, hitting the huge man directly in the knee. Vaughn felt the joint give, and there was a sickening crunch.
Fresia didn’t waste any time, punching another hard in the gut. She twisted her body, throwing her full weight into the punch. The guy she kicked in the groin was standing back up. Two others rushed Vaughn, who they took to be the bigger threat, and drove him to the ground. Fresia took one step and kicked again, connecting with the head of the man she’d previously nut-shot, knocking him unconscious.
Vaughn, down on the ground, punched two times quickly with his left hand. When the ring connected with the Geraldinians, ten thousand volts surged through them, addling their brains and momentarily stunning them. He followed up with two hard chops to the back of the head.
He and Fresia were almost backed up to Amber now, who was still sitting on the couch. “Good. Two left. Look, fellas. We don’t want to hurt you anymore. We just want some answers,” Vaughn said.
“How about we just kill you,” said one of the Geraldinians. His voice sounded like he’d recently chewed up and swallowed a large mouthful of gravel.
Vaughn drove a quick left into his throat. The ring shocked him, and he collapsed.
“Last chance,” said Fresia. “How were you involved with Tomas Werts?”
“Is that what this is about?” the guy asked, holding his hands out in front of him. “He was a runner. Tried to sell us out to the ES. Boss ordered a hit on him. Jongus put him down. Real clean-like, induced a heart attack. Boss said the dude was old, no one would ask any questions.”
Fresia growled, “Where do we find Jongus?”
“He’s the first one you kicked. Still on the couch.”
Vaughn stared the man down. “Get out of here. Tell your buddies the Alley Cat is off limits to your kind. If I ever see you in here again, I’ll be back. And I’ll have friends with me.” At the very end, he lurched forward. The Geraldinian turned so quickly he tripped over his buddy, scrambled along the floor and then ran out the door.
Amber stood up, walked to Fresia and kissed her on the mouth. “I knew you weren’t a dancer. But you’re welcome here any time.”
She turned to Vaughn to offer the same treatment. At the last second, he turned slightly, and she kissed his cheek. “And you. You’re welcome to do whatever you want. Damn, I love a man that can take care of himself.”
Fresia started to put her clothes on.
“Thanks, Amber. I’m sure my wife would probably disapprove.”
“So bring her too. I play well with others.”
Fresia looked up grinning. “Yeah, but he doesn’t.”
Vaughn grabbed Jongus, stood the unconscious man up and wrapped his arm around his shoulder. “I’ll take him back to Halle. You get this mess cleared up with the ES, and meet me there later.”
Vaughn dragged the Jongus out of the bar. He slid a few crench to the bouncer. “I don’t think you’ll have a problem going forward. My friend here had a little too much moge. You know how it goes straight to their heads.”
“Yeah, man… No problem. I’ll get you a transport.”
The bouncer walked down to the curb while Vaughn propped Jongus up against the wall. Vaughn could hear Empire Security sirens coming. Finally, an open transport stopped. Vaughn tossed the unconscious Geraldinian in the back-seat and climbed in beside him. “To the docks, please. My co-pilot’s had a little too much Moge.”
“Yes, sir.” The transport pilot turned left at the end of the block, and they passed a line of empire security forces heading the other way.
Dockmaster Frailg saw Vaughn struggling to get the Geraldinian out of the transport and came rushing out of his office. “You need a hand, Captain Troupe?”
“Nah, thanks. He had a little too much moge. That’ll teach me to hire a Geraldinian as a navigator.”
“I’ve heard that about his kind. You sure you don’t need a hand?”
“Yeah, I signed a contract. I’m stuck with this big oaf for the next three months at least. If he’s going to make a habit of this, I’m going to have to be able to load him up myself.”
Vaughn struggled to get Jongus’ arm over his shoulders, and then started dragging him towards the ship. When he got near, Halle lowered the cargo bay ramp, but it was too steep for Vaughn to get the Geraldinian up in that fashion. He set the huge man down on his back and grabbed his wrists to drag him up backwards.
Jongus grabbed Vaughn’s wrists and heaved, tossing Vaughn down the ramp onto the dock. He instantly regretted not searching the man. The Geraldinian was on his feet in a flash, holding a small plasma gun.
Vaughn stood up just as the man fired. The shot went wide and Vaughn dove behind a stack of shipping containers.
The Geraldinian fired several shots at the containers before Frailg calmly stepped out of his office again and walked towards the ship. “You are in violation of the rules of the Fogerian empire and of this facility. Lower your weapon.”
“Fuck you,” the Geraldinian replied.
Vaughn laughed and called out, “Big mistake!” In all the years that Frailg had been in charge of the docks, there hadn’t been a single successful incident of piracy. Frailg was small, but astoundingly nimble. His race was marked for their speed.
Frailg walked straight towards the man and Jongus fired at him. He leaned his head to the side just in time for the bolt to pass by. Jongus fired again, this time Frailg side-stepped and continued towards the Geraldinian.
“Last warning. Lay your weapon down,” Frailg ordered.
The Geraldinian kept firing. Frailg moved so quickly he was a blur. His blows didn’t contain a lot of power, but in the space of three or four seconds, he must have landed nearly a thousand. He punched Jongus in the jaw, and before the Geraldinian’s head stopped its backward motion, Frailg was on the other side of him, punching it back the other way. Blow after blow landed, Frailg was all around him. Eventually the Geraldinian collapsed under the hail of blows, unconscious once again.
Vaughn climbed out from behind the crate. “I’m sorry Frailg. I have no idea what came over him. I’ll get him off your dock.”
“I’m sorry, Vaughn. I have to take him into custody. Piracy is a serious crime.”
Vaughn saw the Geraldinian’s hand move. He started to warn Frailg, but the Geraldinian reached out and grabbed the small man’s foot. The Geraldinian picked the dockmaster up by his foot and slammed his head into the dock. Leaving Vaughn with no other option, he grabbed the small gun off the ramp and shot Jongus in the chest.
He tossed the gun to the side and ran to Frailg. Blood was pouring from a gash in his forehead. “Frailg! You okay?”
“He’s dead. I shot him.”
Frailg opened his eyes, and the long slits of his pupils expanded to an almost perfect circle in the dark. “You gotta get out of here, Vaughn. Toss me the pistol. I’ll explain it to the ES.”
“Yeah, go. How could you have known he was completely mental? Glad we got him before you two were on the ship alone.”
“Thanks, Frailg. You’re a good man.”
“You too, Vaughn,” he replied, holding his head. “Get out of here before the ES shows up.”
Vaughn ran up into Halle and closed the ramp.
This ends the free preview of The Evolution of Vaughn. I sincerely hope you have enjoyed reading this far, and will continue on to purchase the book.
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Vaughn worked around the ship doing routine maintenance for the rest of the afternoon. In the late evening, he walked downtown, towards the market to get a bite to eat and a change of clothes.
After growing up and spending the first half of his life in the military establishment, Vaughn was accustomed to wearing a uniform. When he left the military, he’d adopted a kind of civilian uniform in a similar fashion. Hanging in his berth back on the ship were five pairs of brown pants, each spaced five centimeters apart. Next to that were five cream colored shirts with brown buttons. Five soft, form-fitting shirts were folded on the shelf next to five pairs of socks. His closet was a model of organization. On this trip, he’d added a formal suit for the funeral.
Nyko wasted no time dragging the trailer into the garage. He attached a hose to the exhaust of the truck, ran it out the roll up door and closed it down. There was a small gap at the bottom, but it was better than dying of carbon monoxide poisoning.
He worked quickly to load the two custom bikes onto the four-slot bike trailer. When they were finished, he rolled his bike onto the trailer, attached it to the truck and drove it back to the warehouse.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: This book skips around in time a bit. Not in a timey-wimey time-travel sort of way, but through flashbacks and Vaughn’s memories. The heading at the top of the page tells you the year. The “main” story happened in 432, this chapter, for example, takes place in 430.
430th Year of
Emperor Valek Foger XXVI
Two years earlier, when Vaughn got word that his best friend Fresia’s father was dead, he set out that afternoon for Foger. Matthew was sick, so Sarah stayed home with him. She gave her husband strict orders to send Fre her love. After the funeral, the pair walked a block over and two blocks up to a little bar called “Twinings.” Vaughn slipped the bouncer at the door a few crench and he led them towards the back, past the stage where a Human girl danced, grinding on a pole to the bass-heavy music. She peeled a tiny string-top off and tossed it to the side, shaking her breasts at Vaughn and Fresia as they passed. “Hey, Fre,” she called. “Who’s the hunk?”
Fresia smiled slightly as she looked at the dancer. “Hey Skye. He’s an old war buddy,” she replied as she slipped into a booth. The bartender arrived seconds later with two moges. The thick, dark brown, malty beverages were their drink of choice. “Thanks Bode,” she replied and took a long drink.
“I’m so sorry about your dad, Fre,” Vaughn said. “He was a good man.”
“He was.” Her eyes were distant as she dwelled on his memory. Vaughn didn’t bother pushing her for conversation. Eventually, her eyes refocused on her friend. “That’s kind of why I asked you here. You’re the only one I knew to call. Dad was murdered, Vaughn. They called it an accident, but he was killed, I just know it. He was in great shape, and had a physical two weeks ago.”
Vaughn took a long drink from his moge. “That’s a big accusation. Do you have something we can go on? If you do we’ll find the bastard and I’ll skin him alive.”
Fresia took a long drink herself, draining her glass. “When we find the bastard, I’m going to skin him alive. Then I’ll apply dermal bandaging, and skin him again. When I’m done with him, he’s going to wish I’d fed him to a heard of gnarg.
“Tell me what you know, Fre.” Vaughn nodded to the bartender who brought another moge for Fresia.
“Dad was into something. He told me he was going to do this one deal, and then he’d be out. This one was going to set him up to retire.”
“Any idea what it was?”
“I don’t have anything concrete, but I’m pretty sure it was worine.”
Vaughn suddenly knew why Fresia had chosen this bar. The music made it impossible for anyone to eavesdrop. “Shit, Fre. What was he doing mixed up in worine? That shit is big time. People die from just one small dose. What the hell was he doing pushing?”
“I dunno, Vaughn. I don’t even know for sure that’s what it was, but he was hanging out with a bunch of Geraldinian thugs.”
Vaughn took a sip of his moge and set the glass down on the table. The girl over Fresia’s shoulder was working hard to get his attention in hopes that he’d slide a few crench into a lacy band on her thigh. She was extraordinarily beautiful, but Sarah would never approve. He tried not to look, but she was good at her job, and she was physically perfect. He briefly wondered if she could carry on a conversation.
“Where can we find these guys?” Vaughn asked, tearing himself away from the beautiful woman.
“They hang out at a club on the outside of town. Skye dances there sometimes. She got me in last night to check it out. Small joint, front door has two bouncers. Kitchen door leads to an alley. Main room has a big bar, maybe fifteen tables, and there’s a back room. I couldn’t get back there; Skye says that’s where they hold private parties.”
Vaughn pictured the place in his mind. Since his mother passed away he didn’t ever come to this part of town when he was on Foger. “What’s the name of the joint?”
“It’s a Human bar, taken over by Geraldinians. They just showed up and muscled all the regulars out. Called the Alley Cat.”
“What’s the plan? What do you need from me?”
“Skye got me a gig dancing there tonight. I’m going to kill them all, but I won’t have anywhere to hide a weapon. I’m worried I can’t take them all unarmed.”
Vaughn laughed. “You’re going to be dancing? After our homecoming gala?”
“Skye’s shown me a few moves,” she replied with a smirk. “I got the job, so I can’t be that bad.”
“Fair enough,” he smiled and then asked, “How’s security? Am I going to be able to carry something in?”
Fresia shook her head. “I don’t think so. Just gonna be us.”
Vaughn thought for a minute. “How are we going to handle Empire Security? They’ll be there in just a couple minutes.”
“Skye’s my backup on that. She’ll say one of them grabbed me, I slapped him and things got rough.”
“Think it’ll fly?” Vaughn looked doubtful.
“There’s been a huge influx of incidents involving Geraldinians sexually assaulting Human women. Ever since they took over the low-quarter, it’s like they have something to prove. Bunch of macho assholes.”
Vaughn resigned himself. Fresia was his best friend, and had been by his side since his third year at the Institute. When he was named Captain of The Reetus, she was his only choice for first officer. “I wish Hold was here. Geraldinians are fucking tough bastards.”
Fre nodded. “Me too, but he’s busy on Savye, he’s up to his ass in debt and the ruling council is breathing down his neck. He can’t get away.”
“Anything else I need to know before this goes down tonight?”
Fre shook her head. “I think that’s it. Get in, bust heads, get information, and get out.”
“Alright, I need to run a few errands; I’ll head to The Alley Cat about twenty-six hundred?” A Fogerian day ran for thirty hours. The longer days and nights had significantly upset the circadian rhythm of early Humans. These days, Humans were used to it, although their bodies never developed a need to sleep longer.
The pair stood up. Vaughn hugged Fresia and said, “We’ll find out what happened and there will be justice.”
She looked at him squarely in the eyes. “Thank you, Vaughn. For everything. I don’t know what I’d do without you.” As Fresia passed Skye, she paused, slipped a handful of crench into her garter. Skye bent down and kissed her with a passion that surprised Vaughn.
When it was his turn to walk by, she shook her boobs at him. He turned slightly red, slipped whatever bills he had in his pocket into her garter, and walked out, rubbing lipstick off of his cheek.
Vaughn headed straight for the central market. He passed store after store, selling everything from gnarg steaks to hand-made tak bars, moge and harder liquors, flowers and transports. Anything legal could be purchased there in the central market. For those looking for less-than-legal items, as Vaughn was that afternoon, one just had to know where to look.
He buttoned his coat and slipped into the side door of Miss Autumn’s, one of Vaughn’s old haunts when he was a bachelor living on Foger. The side door was reserved for special patrons. Vaughn hoped that title was for life, because he hadn’t been a good customer for a number of years. As he closed the door behind him, a high pitched voice called out to him. “Vaughn! Honey, I’m so glad you’ve come home. Finally decided to ditch that old ball and chain?”
“Hi, Misty,” said Vaughn, looking over at a beautiful blonde. She was wearing a completely see-through bikini with tall heels and nothing else. Eight years hadn’t changed her a bit. She was sitting on a long sofa, with her legs crossed. She kicked one leg innocently when Vaughn looked up. “I’m still married. Sarah’s doing well. I have a son these days,” he said, smiling.
“Oh, Vaughn. It’s a shame to see a man like you put out to pasture.” Misty put one foot over on the couch and ran her hands down her body, lingering between her legs. “Almost ten years I’ve been waiting for you to come back. No one makes me scream like you.”
Vaughn shook his head. “I got everything I need at home.”
“Why don’t you bring her along next time you come?” Misty ran her hands up to her breasts and squeezed them. “I play well with others.”
“That’s great, but I don’t. It’s been good catching up, baby, but is Mikey still downstairs? I need to have a talk with him.”
“Yeah, fine, whatever,” said Misty, standing up. As she walked past Vaughn to a small desk on the far side of the room, her skin went from milky white to dark green. Her legs and arms lengthened, and a tail peeked out from her backside and waved at him. She pushed a button on the desk, causing a door to open right beside Vaughn.
Her voice was much lower this time, as she said, “Last chance. I can look just like her if it makes you feel any better.”
Vaughn nodded his head towards her and stepped down the stairs.
Halfway down he heard a voice call up, “Vaughn fucking Troupe. What brings a badass motherfucker like you to my little hole in the world?”
“Mikey,” said Vaughn, stepping out into the underground shop. “It’s good to see you man.”
Mikey was less than a meter in height and covered in shaggy green and brown fur. He moved with deadly grace, in contradiction to his comical exterior.
“What brings you down?”
Vaughn held his empty hands out. “I’m in a spot. Some shit going down tonight and I could use something concealable that can even the odds. Gotta get past a couple door guys.”
“Must be something big if you’re looking for a force multiplier.” He held up his hands to stop Vaughn, who wasn’t going to say anything anyway. “I don’t want to know. I have enough problems with the ES as it is. I got just the thing for you, check it.”
Mikey disappeared behind the counter. It sounded like he was throwing pots and pans, guns, knives, sticks, and batons aside. When he reemerged, he was triumphantly holding a crench.
“Look at this son of a bitch. I swear The Emperor, may he guide us safely through, would take this note himself. But… you pull just right… and a little twist.” Mikey fumbled with the note for a second. “Hold on, it’s something like this.” He fumbled with the note a little more before it tore in half. “Alright… That was a real crench. But hang on. I got more shit.” Mikey ran off to the back of the store.
Vaughn passed the time looking at the high-end plasma rifles hanging on pegs on the wall. Everything on display was legal to sell, although some of Mikeys sources were slightly less than reputable. Finally, the small man bounded out of the back room, backflipped off a Human size chair and landed in front of Vaughn holding up a ring.
“Tenth-gram of Argimonium. Delivers ten thousand volts on contact. Turns your punches into real stunners.”
“That’s perfect. How much?”
“Can you bring me half a gram next time you’re in town?” Mikey looked up at Vaughn. His eyes were impossibly big.
“Half-gram? Mikey… I’d take an ass whupping for a half-gram. I’ll bring you a fifth.”
“Make it a quarter gram and we have a deal.” Mikey reached up to shake Vaughn’s hand.
Vaughn looked down at his old friend. “Fine,” he said. “One quarter gram.” The pair shook hands to seal the deal, and then Vaughn headed back to the ship to find some way to pass the time.