“I told you so!”
Dick the Strider
by Jim Davidson
Special to L. Neil Smith’s The Libertarian Enterprise
“At last Frodo spoke with hesitation. 'I believed that you were a friend before the letter came,' he said, 'or at least I wished to. You have frightened me several times tonight, but never in the way the servants of the Enemy would, or so I imagine. I think one of his spies would—well, seem fairer and feel fouler, if you understand.'”
— J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings
His name wasn’t Dick Smith. His parents had named him Richard, and everyone always called him Dick. But his last name had never been Smith. He was a strider and had been since his family was killed in 2007. For the last sixteen years he had used his enthusiasm for computers, coding, 3D printing, and aerospace to guide his actions.
Thinking back on those events, he knew regret for a moment. He’d been in Lawrence, Kansas with Jay, learning about the striders. He had not been home, or he’d be dead too.
Floating down toward the camp they were calling Gaunt’s Brook Camp or GBC, Dick’s mind went back for a moment to the last time he saw his wife, his mom, his dad, or his sister. They were gathered at the Baltimore airport to see him off. Dick turned his head to the right, remembering.
Jay had explained the nature of the evil in the world, the work to be done, and the need to abandon what would not ever serve. Striders took their name from the work of JRR Tolkien. In his epic trilogy "The Lord of the Rings," the character Strider moves about, arranging events, looking at the long term, befriending all manner of beings, and working for good. But during his journeying, he does not use his name, does not reveal his identity, because he knows that he is hunted by dark powers.
On learning of the extermination of his entire family due to what was called a mistaken no-knock raid, Dick saw no reason to continue in that life. After hours and hours of grief, after days of wondering what to do, Dick took Jay’s advice. He sold and gave away his possessions, liquidated his bank accounts, sold his stock portfolio, and walked away from his previous life in Baltimore. He would stride through the world, bringing his skills and tools to serve in the continuing fight for freedom.
These reflections took only a few moments before Dick was aware of the ground coming up. So he completed his landing and gathered his silk. He and his backpack communications system provided him direct control over the three remaining drones he had brought to this mission. His eyeglasses served to provide heads-up display so he could swiftly perceive the three-dimensional battlefield and forecast near-future events, extrapolating from movements and events in real time.
This powerful system had been developed using open source software and open source hardware by teams all over the world. Different modules of the drones were designed to detect in every portion of the electro-magnetic spectrum, to ping in radar, to emit sounds, lights, and radio, to deploy all kinds of weapons both lethal and non-lethal. Each airborne drone had an avionics shell, a set of engines, a set of two independent power systems, and ducted fans for three-dimensional movement. They were printed in a variety of camouflage patterns, mostly digital except where customisation was wanted.
One of the detection systems revealed extremely high frequency and spectrum jumping communications taking place from within the camp. These were encrypted, so the contents were being recorded by each of the drones and Dick’s backpack control unit. They were automatically forwarded in compressed form through several communications channels to the strider network. Very advanced decryption techniques would be applied. Meanwhile, the drones were able to triangulate the location of the signals. Someone very powerful was nearby.
Rucksack central was where Dick headed. He could see Steve Phillips there giving some guidance to several of the jump team. When these split up and headed to various parts of the camp, Dick came up to speak to Steve.
The fact of Jerry’s death was abundantly clear to everyone, and the shift in plans to surface transportation to get to the rescue fleet of small craft along the coast had already been shared over the secure radio channel that coordinated all the jumpers as needed. It, too, used a spread spectrum approach with automated encryption and decryption software for each team member.
"Steve, we have a problem," said Dick, "And an opportunity. There’s an owner’s whip in the secure bunker under the admin building." Dick gestured in the direction of the burning admin tower and the remains of Jerry’s plane.
Inside the admin building, automatic sprinkler systems had come on, so most of the building was soaking rather than burning. The top floor had less effective sprinklers due to the destruction from the plane crash, but it was not showing much sign of structural issues. After all, aviation fuel doesn’t melt steel beams. Moreover, of recent construction, the admin tower had extensive fire proofing and, from some of the gaseous emissions, at least a few halon fire suppression systems. These were concentrated in the server rooms on the various levels, Dick knew, from intelligence that he’d shared some months earlier during their initial training sessions.
Steve pushed a couple of buttons on his left forearm which gave him various levels of access to communications with the team. In this case, he had a direct priority channel to Karen who was in charge of their operation. "Karen, owner’s whip detected. We need to send a bunker team to the admin tower. I’m prepared to lead it."
Elsewhere in the camp, Karen reflected for a few seconds. Then she pushed the appropriate buttons on her right forearm (she was left-handed) to generate a team-wide broadcast. "Owner’s whip. Priority mission. Get the liquid nitrogen packs. Put all bunker entry gear on this task. Disable guards and troops. Capture of the whip is vital. Phil, Ollie, Carolyn, Carla, report to rucksack central. Chad, you’ll be medic support but stay out of the admin building until cleared for approach by Steve. Confirm."
Her team members confirmed. Things had just upgraded from a vital slave camp rescue to a priority target acquisition. With an owner’s whip in camp, much more response could be expected. Their schedule needed to advance rapidly, or they would all be completely dished. At the same time, they could now expect high level support. Karen activated a priority channel through Dick’s drones and sent an encrypted message (voice to text so she didn’t need to type anything) reporting the development, applying her key signature, and sending through every available network access.
Then she punched up a connection to all of her team members. "I need the South exit team to send the guards and trustees you’ve got to walk out through the mine field now. Tell the people who are next to follow those footsteps, but stay back thirty feet in case there’s a mine or two left. Ask them to pair off and buddy up. Tell them to make sure the people directly behind them know what to do, and pass the message on back. Everyone to go South, then east, through the state park, on to the inland waterway. If Bill’s team find rolling transport they’ll catch up. Go now. Go with God. Go. Go. Go."
Mary Meets Karen
Mary could tell from sounds on the other side of the door that chaos had descended on the comfort station. Running feet, slamming doors, and shouting voices were loud and everywhere.
Grabbing the rapist’s suit jacket from the camera, and already wearing his hat, Mary Morris shrugged into the jacket while opening the door. Stepping into the hallway, she stood calmly, not moving as the door eased closed behind her.
Several guards ran past shouting about paratroopers landing in the recreation area and storming the barracks. Everyone was to gather at the admin building next door either to fight fires or to assemble into fire teams.
Wearing the apparel of the ruling class, Mary didn’t attract notice. Any guard or trustee or slave who spoke to anyone dressed like her without first being spoken to or asked a direct question would be disciplined. In her months at the comfort station, Mary had learned how rulers acted. She walked purposefully toward the front of the building.
Coming past the assignments desk she saw it was in total disarray. There had evidently been a fistfight and then a firefight, because items were strewn about, broken, a secretary was putting antiseptic on a wounded trustee’s lacerated face, and two corpses were on the floor. Both of these were comfort girls like herself, though she hadn’t exchanged more than whispers with either one. Each of them had several bullet wounds in their chest and at least one in the head. Seeing their lifeless bodies staring sightlessly at the overhead lights, Mary turned her head, and went straight to the exit doors.
Stepping outside did not lessen the chaos. It did bring fresh air, which was welcome after the sundry smells of death and smokeless powder int he lobby. Breathing deeply, Mary reflected for a moment that she hadn’t been sick. The sight of dead bodies, first the rapist and then the other comfort girls, had not caused her stomach to turn. Months of trauma and horror had left her able to sustain additional shocks.
With that somewhat grim but also happy thought, Mary took note of the many guards and rulers streaming toward the admin building to her right. She turned left and headed for the recreation area.
As she rounded the corner to head toward the open area just South of the comfort station building, Mary got about ten feet before she was hit with a net. The projectile was fired from thirty feet away from a shoulder mounted tube held by what must have been one of the paratroopers mentioned in the confused yelling by the guards rushing past earlier.
The blank cartridge that fired the projectile matched the calibre of the rifles carried by all the jump team members. A ridged sabot followed a rifled groove down the tube. About two feet past the end of the tube, the plastic sabot or shoe fell away and the projectile’s forward guidance package identified the human target in front of it. Eight tiny charges fired simultaneously and the edges of the net were pulled in slightly different directions by tiny weighted sub-munitions.
The net was made of a very thin strand polymer that had impressive tensile strength yet was almost invisibly thin. The submunitions continued to fire tiny pulses to correct their paths, and the entire system lost angular momentum as the "arms" of the net spread apart, much as an ice skater slows her spin by extending her arms away from her body. The entire mass spiralled and spun, spreading apart, and heading toward its target.
Phil Miller had seen the suit, not the person wearing it. But he knew the ruling class uniform, and he had no time to take chances. He also had no idea what his target was, friend or foe, so he had used the net gun.
Mary Morris saw the tube raised and fired. She stopped in her tracks and for a moment wondered if she was about to die. Then the plastic sabot had split and she saw the tiny bursts from the curious thing coming toward her. Sunlight from the rising Sun reflected on the spinning, spreading network coming toward her, and she darted to her left, thinking to get next to the building and avoid the net.
The net’s guidance system adjusted for her movement, and moments later she was caught. "Aaagh! I’m not one of them!"
Phil ran up and saw Mary’s expression, and made an instinctive connection with her. Carla and Ollie were right behind him and he barely slowed. "Couldn’t take a chance, gotta get to the bunker."
Mary glowered at him. Then she smiled. "Big shot down there. Came in yesterday morning. Give ’em hell!"
Ollie did stop, motioning Carla to keep going. "Lady, I gotta cut those cords, then I gotta go. Hold still."
Mary held still and Ollies knife flicked up the left side of her torso and down the right, cutting dozens of strands of fibre and releasing Mary from her brief captivity. Before she could stand up, Ollie had his knife sheathed and was back on the move. The rest of the bunker team followed behind.
Pulling the rest of the net fibres off herself, Mary looked around. Karen ran up.
"Give me a quick answer to who are you, please?" Karen asked, looking from Mary’s face toward the corner around which her bunker team had just disappeared.
Mary saw a five foot ten woman with a strong face and an aura of command. She said, "I’m Mary Morris. This building is the comfort station, where the rulers rape whoever they want. I was a comfort girl. This outfit was worn by my last rapist. He’s dead. His laptop’s contents are on their way to the rebellion. Who are you?"
Karen reflected on these facts for a moment and said, "Karen Runningwolf, team leader, clearing Gaunt’s Brook Camp. Where did they catch you from?"
"Jersey City," replied Mary.
"You ever visit Double Trouble State Park?" asked Karen.
Mary’s eyes widened. "Sure, when I was ten. My parents took me here with my sister. Why? Are we near there?"
Karen nodded. "Yes. We’re east of McGuire airbase. I need your help. I’ve got an exit team at the South fence. They’re sending guards and trustees first to make sure of the mine fields. Then everyone who can go. Wait a minute."
Shifting her backpack quickly off her shoulders, Karen opened the top. Inside she found a blue goo gun, the same kind of revolver that Bill had handed over to Eleanor and Jake earlier. She also grabbed a vest in the same digital camo that she was wearing.
"You ever shoot a gun, Mary?" Karen asked.
"No, but I’ve seen it on videos. Watched a bunch of those before I was caught. Preppers’ and survivalists’ channels. I know the rules," Mary said, her eagerness showing in her voice.
Karen raised an eyebrow but realised she didn’t have time to be sceptical. "Okay, you pull back here to cock the gun, you point at what you want to hit, squeeze the trigger. Don’t jerk it. Watch where you point it. Keep your finger along here like I’m doing. This vest has a flashlight and flares. Put it on over your jacket, or toss the jacket if it gets too warm. I need you to run like hell to the exit, get to the front of the crowd. I have a team led by Steve Phillips going to the motor pool. Meanwhile, get people to keep moving. Go through the park to the seashore. You ever look at the Morse code videos?"
Mary shook her head. She hadn’t.
Karen noticed and said, "It’s okay. If the Sun is up, grab a flare. It has instructions on it, follow them. It’ll light up and then smoke a pretty colour. The rescue boats are looking for that smoke. If the Sun is down, you turn the flash on and off. Three shorts, three longs, three shorts. That’s Morse for SOS or save our ship. If Steve’s team shows up with vehicles get on one and tell the driver where to go. They’ll have radios. Keep the crowd moving to the ocean."
Mary was already putting the vest on. She found a convenient pocket suited to holding the revolver. She looked at Karen and smiled. "Thank you. I’m glad we met."
Karen reached her hand out and they shook hands. "I’m glad we met, Mary. I’m going to let my teams know you’re going to lead the escapees. But I have to go see what comes out of that bunker. Go with God."
"You as well, Karen," said Mary, and turned and ran. Mary was armed, and she was going to make sure she stayed armed from now on. She couldn’t contain her grin. As she ran toward the South fences, she whooped.
[End part twelve, continues in part thirteen]
Jim Davidson is an author, entrepreneur, actor, and director. He is the cfo of KanehCN3.com and the vision director of HoustonSpaceSociety.net You can find him on Twitter.com/planetaryjim as well as Pocket.app and Flote.app also as planetaryjim. He appreciates any support you can provide.
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