Without the right to self defense,
there can be no right to life.
Shot from the Sky
by Jim Davidson
Special to L. Neil Smith’s The Libertarian Enterprise
"To stand on the firing parapet and expose
yourself to danger; to stand and fight a thousand miles from home when
you're all alone and outnumbered and probably beaten; to spit on your
hands and lower the pike; to stand fast over the body of Leonidas the
King; to be rear guard at Kunu-Ri; to stand and be still to the Birkenhead
Drill; these are not rational acts. They are often merely necessary."
― Dr. Jerry Pournelle
[Continued from Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five, Part Six, Part Seven, Part Eight, Parts Nine, Ten, & Eleven, part Twelve, part Thirteen, part Fourteen, part Fifteen, part Sixteen &Seventeen, Title and Art Contest]
Tyrone and Pete went down the stairs outside Paradoxical Dining at the double. Parked on the street was a strange looking egg-shaped craft with fat stubby wings, a tiny rudder, and three enormous ducted fan engines. Two of these engines were in the wings and one was below the avionics nose cone up front. As they came up, the canopy of the flight pod folded back at a signal from Pete's keyless entry app on his encrypted smart phone. Pete took the driver side while Tyrone jumped into the passenger seat. They belted in as Pete started the engine. Then the vehicle lifted up on ducted fan engines and accelerated away.
Three minutes later the flight pod was over the top of another craft, a very advanced looking matte black aeroplane. A gaping hole where the cockpit would be was an exact match for the flight pod. Pete brought his craft down carefully but with the ease of much practice. The two aircraft interfaced mechanically and electrically, Pete now updated his screen and heads-up display to the control systems for the bigger vehicle. Moments later they were hurtling down the runway at the Paradox airfield.
They quickly reached take-off speed. Giving the thrusters extra juice, Pete accelerated due east. They were soon cruising at 80,000 feet altitude, making just under Mach 6. Within 25 minutes they would be nearing their destination.
Bob Nolan had sent word to Tyrone to meet him at his lab near Wasp, Tennessee. That was where they were now headed. Checking in using the secure laser system on the plane, Tyrone learned that things were both better and worse than he'd imagined. Bob, Susan, and their children were safe and unharmed, on their way to Bob's lab. Sam Smith was refueling the Super Cobra and would keep with them all the way there.
Using the passenger-side screen, Tyrone looked several times at the video of the portal that opened next to the capture scene just after Bob's rescue efforts had come to fruition. There was something very familiar about the beings that had manifested and then been destroyed.
There was also an update on Karen Runningwolf and the Gaunt's Brook team. They had secured a big prize, an owner's whip. Possibly the biggest event of the war, this captive was also headed for the secure facilities near Bob's lab. There were definitely good reasons to get there, soon.
Pete and Tyrone talked about the news and reviewed the video. Pete reminded Tyrone that there was something about the Annunaki of ancient Sumer using portals of some kind. After that, there was a long silence.
The silence was interrupted by an alert notification from Pete's sensor systems panel. There was a small, massive object, about six feet long and not more than six inches diameter, coming at them. It came from an orbiting weapons platform.
Shaped very much like a primitive spear with a conical spearhead, its shape created a shock wave as it entered the atmosphere, ablating to reduce the heat on the systems in the tail section. The high density tungsten rod was controlled by a simple cold gas system, a very sophisticated sensor array, and it was already moving at orbital velocity, 17,000 miles an hour, when it was fired their way.
Pete made no comment but began evasive action. He also began a very rapid descent, still heading vaguely toward their destination, but now weaving and jinking across the sky.
Every move Pete made was echoed by a response from the sky rod. Diving bought them some time, and got them closer to the ground where they were destined to come to rest, one way or another. The sky rod was far too maneuverable and there was no avoiding it. Just before it smashed through the main engine, the hottest part of their vehicle, Pete entered a few commands. Their flight pod separated from the main craft and tumbled briefly before Pete was able to bring it under control. Twenty seconds later the now wounded aircraft behind them blew apart, becoming a large number of much smaller pieces rather than a large falling object.
"If that worked, whoever hit us with that rod now thinks this flight pod is just another hunk of debris," said Pete.
Tyrone nodded. Realising that Pete was very preoccupied with controlling their descent and making it look erratic and tumbling rather than deliberate and controlled, Tyrone said, "Understood."
Unfortunately, a great deal of surveillance was being employed by the same people who had just shot down their main vehicle. As they came down to four thousand feet, another sky rod was thrown at them.
Again, Pete began jinking and weaving to evade the rod, which, again, matched his movements. A quick loop brought them into a nose down attitude, and Pete accelerated toward the ground. Pulling up just 200 feet above the treetops, Pete hit their emergency ejection system.
As their vehicle encased each of them in a protective cocoon and ejected them upward and diagonally away from one another -- rocket propelled to 800 feet altitude, the sky rod connected with the hottest part of the flight pod, its engine. Debris shot away in every direction.
As they fell back through 500 feet, their cocoons deployed parasails. Moments later, their canopies filling, the foam surrounding Pete and Tyrone was cracked by firecracker-sized explosives. Each of them saw on their visor heads-up displays the words "move arms, grab handles." The recently hardened foam sloughed away in all directions, and they grabbed their parasail controls.
Descending into the tree canopy below them was made slightly less terrible by the presence of a fire road. Tyrone was able to steer to it and tuck and roll on landing. Pete got hung up in a tree, but his weight brought the recent-growth tree's top down and down, until the tree was nearly bent double, and Pete was just eight feet above the ground. Using his quick release, and falling into a roll, Pete was also down unhurt.
Gathering his parasail and wandering over to Pete, Tyrone said, "I really wish we were a whole lot colder right now. Something tells me that more rods are headed our way."
Pete nodded. He grabbed off his belt a small incendiary grenade, popped its pin, and threw it far across the fire road into a stand of dead trees, branches, and detritus. It exploded and spread a blazing chemical incendiary onto the dry wood which burst into flames and burned merrily.
Now Pete approached Tyrone, motioned for him to turn to the side, and pushed several buttons on a panel over Tyrone's left shoulder blade. Retrieving a memory stick, Pete discarded the rest of Tyrone's suit control system and peeled away its battery pack. He turned and motioned for the same treatment, which Tyrone quickly applied. Then the two of them took out their phones and removed the batteries, storing them back in belt pouches which functioned as grounded Faraday cages.
"Our suits will be cooler than the surrounding air for a little while. Let's get under the tree cover on this side of the road," suggested Pete, matching his deeds to his words. They began jogging into the woods.
Two minutes later they were knocked off their feet by the ground shock from a third sky rod that struck the forest fire they'd started. Picking themselves up and getting further into the woods, and further downhill away from the ridge line that the fire road followed, they came onto the top of a cliff. Trees grew right up to the edge and there were also some leaning down into a ravine in various postures.
Another sky rod impacted behind them, still hitting the forest fire. Again the ground shock shook them, but not quite enough to knock either of them down. Even so, Tyrone went down on one knee, and then pointed.
"There's a way down there, and it looks like there's an opening into the cliff side. Let's get underground," said Tyrone. Getting quickly back up he scurried onto the makeshift trail and worked his way down, facing the cliff to make maximum use of available hand and foot holds. Pete followed behind.
Tyrone scrambled into a shallow cave and reached for the flashlight at his waist. Flicking this on, he quickly shined it around in the cave mouth. In about six feet there was a vent or chimney going down. Without hesitation, Tyrone scrambled over to it, shifted himself so his feet were going down first, put the flashlight in his mouth, and started his descent. Pete wasted no time following.
Forty feet below, the chimney opened out into a cavern. As they descended, they could feel the air cooling around them. They could also hear the dripping of water from several directions. Soon, they were at a lower level. They were in the midst of a limestone cavern, and there was a narrow stream flowing along.
Pete said, "The air here is going to be about 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Whatever heat-sensing guidance system they've got isn't going to see us through the rocks above us. As long as they don't keep hitting the forest fire and cause a cave-in, we should be okay."
No sooner were these words spoken aloud than a sky rod hit the forest fire above. They weren't badly shaken but several rocks were dislodged from the cavern roof. These came down loudly, but were not joined by much other debris.
Tyrone and Pete looked at each other a moment. Tyrone smiled. "Let's head down stream," he said.
Pete nodded and they set off. The water went somewhere, and wherever it was going was deeper down and further away from the forest fire that kept drawing sky rods. They moved at a steady jog for fifty minutes. The stream meandered back and forth through the cave.
Some of the grottos through which they passed were amazing. Walls of lace drapery. Places where different minerals produced stunning arrays of colours. But always there was the knowledge that they needed to get further downhill, deeper into the cavern, further away from the fire road that followed the ridge line they had landed on, and further from the heat of the forest fire they had set.
When the fifty minutes had passed, Tyrone's watch chimed for an alarm he had set when they started out. Tyrone said, "Let's take ten. We should be over a mile away from the chimney we came down by now, at the pace we've been keeping."
Pete nodded. He found a short wide stalagmite near the stream, sat down, and clicked off his flashlight. Tyrone followed suit with another slightly wider and much shorter cave protrusion. He quickly set a ten minute alarm on his wristwatch.
Tyrone also switched off his flashlight. A dark, dark gloom descended on the two men. As their eyes adjusted to the darkness, however, a very faint glow could be seen. Their was light somewhere ahead.
"Cave exit," said Pete, "Somewhere around a bend or two, downstream of here."
"Yup," agreed Tyrone. "Let's rest the ten minutes. Then we can explore that way. We have plenty of water, and closer to the mouth there may be fish or amphibians, so we can eat. Question is, where are we?"
Pete sat quietly for a minute. Then he said, "Well, I took a good location fix. If we hadn't ditched the suit batteries, we could access these memory stix and figure things out. But broadcasting energy of any sort seemed really unwise right then. We were just a few miles West by Southwest of Bob's place. That fire road would have led us close. I know we headed more or less South off the fire road, so, assuming we've kept an average southerly heading, we should turn left when we get to the cave mouth. I think."
Tyrone took this silently. He too had a lot to think on. Their eyes adjusted to the small amount of light as they sat. They passed the remaining minutes without speaking, each one shifting a bit. The stalagmites were not actually designed to be seats.
Finally, Tyrone knelt to scoop up a mouthful of the water running by. It was cool and sweet, nothing obviously amiss about it. Even so, Pete decided to let some time pass in case Tyrone had a reaction of any sort. No sense both of them being poisoned at the same time, if the water were bad.
Standing up and turning on his flash, Tyrone set off downstream again. Pete soon followed after. Three turns in the streambed and they were looking out into a wide cavern. The mouth of the cave stood fifty yards beyond that last curve. Soon they would be back outside.
"Y'all wanna be movin' real slow now," came a young-sounding voice. "We don' cotton to strangers up in these parts. "
Pete and Tyrone looked at one another. Pete glanced down at his sidearm and back at Tyrone. Tyrone shook his head very slightly. They both held still. The voice had come from behind them. Whoever it was must have heard their voices while they were resting. Sound carries well in caves, partly because they are so otherwise devoid of noise. Their new friend had lain in wait until they were past.
"Bob Nolan is a friend of mine," said Tyrone.
Another, much older voice spoke, "Aw hell, Clem, these two musta been the ones what fallen out of the sky. Whatever was shooting them sky rods at that forest fire musta been aiming for these two here."
Twenty feet away a grizzled figure rose out of a pile of leaves and debris. He'd been holding a rifle pointed right at them, and they hadn't seen a thing. He now slung his rifle, muzzle down in the Africa carry favoured by many - it kept the barrel from accumulating rain in wet weather and made the rifle somewhat harder to see from a distance.
"I'm Bill Watson of the Seventeenth Free Tennessee militia. That there is my daughter, Clementine," said the elderly veteran. His face was camouflaged and heavily wrinkled, so he looked to be in his eighties. Even so, he carried himself as a fit and active man would.
Tyrone said, "I'm Tyrone Johnson. This fellow here is Pete Williams. We were flying in from Colorado in response to a request from Bob Nolan. He's bringing his family from a capture site that was hit this morning by everything we had."
Bill nodded. "Not quite everything. There's another outfit from some place in New Jersey called Gaunt's Brook. They're coming here, too. By truck, though, so it'll be a time. Seems we hit that place pretty hard. Freed all the slaves, then went Romans-at-Carthage on their buildings. Not much left. Did that at a buncha places today."
"'Let not one brick be left standing atop another,' said Cato. And so it was," said Tyrone. "But, tell me, why are these folks coming in from somewhere in New Jersey? They from around here? "
"Nope," said Bill. Before he could say another word, his daughter interrupted.
"Paw! Why're you jawing with these people? We don't know them," Clementine said, feeling indignant. She was still holding her rifle, not exactly pointing it at the newcomers, but clearly not sure she wouldn't. "What we was told is need to know only. Do these need to know?"
Bill Watson looked at Tyrone, who was grinning. Then he glanced at Pete, who looked back with a wink. Then he looked at his daughter.
"Clem, this here is Tyrone Johnson. He built that Gulch out in Colorado, him and them pot growers. Some of his money went into old man Nolan's lab. Some of that went to pay for my help excavating those tunnels. I doubt if there's much goes on in this world Tyrone here isn't cleared to know," said Bill. "Whyn't you sling that rifle, missy, and stop thinking about pointing it at these fellers. They'll be alright. You might find yourself facing charges of insubordination. Johnson here must be a general or something in that militia out there. "
Tyrone smiled and touched his visor, rotated his
shoulders and nodded at the young lady, still touching his visor. "
Colonel, actually. Like the venerable and inscrutable Colonel Sanders, but
without the chickens," he said.
Bill and Pete laughed, and Clementine smiled. Then she asked, " Venerable and inscrutable? Why you call him that?"
Tyrone said, "Oh, it's an old joke from a book from last millennium. He had a white beard, so, venerable, and never gave up the secret of the eleven herbs and spices, so, inscrutable. Diamond Age, a book you'd enjoy I think."
Clementine rolled her eyes. Someone she just met was recommending books for her to read. Unlikely.
"So, Bill, I gather you know the way to Bob's laboratory?" Tyrone asked.
"Sure oughta. Still got the shovel," Bill replied, grinning.
"Pete and I have been concerned," Tyrone said, pausing to gather his thoughts, then continuing, "Someone on orbit is very upset with us, or we wouldn't be getting their sky rods. This area is probably under some thorough-going surveillance. Pete and I might not do well to spend much time under the open sky, and anyone within 20 feet would regret the proximity."
Bill nodded. "You'll like what we've dug. Me and the other fellers carved into the side of this mountain. Some of that was long ago for mining projects, but for Bob it was a tunnel. We go out the cave mouth, scoot along under the overhang to the right about fifty yards, there's a tunnel. Most folks'd wander right by, never see it. But it's there. Goes straight up to Bob's lab."
"Ah, then please lead the way if you would be so kind," said Tyrone.
Bill didn't hesitate but turned on his heel and walked over to the cave mouth, turned right and glanced back to be sure he was being trailed. Tyrone was a few steps behind, then Pete. Clementine chose to be rear guard. She paused every few steps to check the approaches from behind.
As promised, outside the cavern there was a large overhang, jutting out at least thirty feet over the canyon below. The creek that emerged from the cave mouth also turned right and plunged downhill, quickly forming a shallow pool and then a waterfall. Bill led them along a trail on a ledge that kept above the canyon floor, and below the overhang.
Fifty yards further on there was a large boulder and what appeared to be a rock slide on the right side of the trail. Bill moved toward the cliff wall as if he were going to walk past the boulder, and then slipped around behind it. As Tyrone followed him around the corner, he found Bill standing at a door which he was propping open with his back. He gestured Tyrone ahead and waited for Pete and Clementine to catch up as well.
Entering the tunnel, Tyrone turned on his flashlight. Then he looked back to see Bill pulling the door in, latching it shut, and then triggering a switch. An outside camera hidden somewhere in the rock face above the door showed a small avalanche of gravel spilling about a cubic yard onto the walkway behind the boulder and in front of the door they'd just come through. Looking at a view panel to judge the results, Bill grunted in satisfaction, turned, and stepped past Clementine and Pete.
The passageway they were in was long, pleasantly sloped upward, and very clean. The rock had been hewn, cleaned, and polished to give it a fine lustre. The tunnel was wide enough for three people to walk side by side, so they naturally fell into two groups of two, with Bill and Tyrone in the lead.
As they set out, Pete paused to tie his boot. This minor event caused Clementine to pause beside him. After about a minute, Tyrone and Bill were several yards further ahead. Watching carefully, Clementine could see that Pete had contrived to untie and retie a boot that was in no need of adjustment. She reflected for a moment on whether to say anything, when Pete looked up and smiled at her. She smiled back. Rascal.
Pete stood up and the two of them followed Bill and Tyrone, now some distance ahead, up the tunnel. They spent the next twenty minutes chatting amiably and learning about one another.
Up ahead, Tyrone asked Bill, "How did Clementine come by her name? Given that we were just in a cavern, in a canyon, and you're in the mining trade ... I was just curious."
Bill grinned and glanced over at Tyrone. "Met her mom when I was 49. So it just made sense to the two of us. Not much escapes you, sir."
Tyrone said, "You don't have to call me sir. What did Bob say about his estimated time of arrival? And who is heading the team coming in from New Jersey? There was a Karen Runningwolf assigned to the liberation of a slave camp there."
Bill replied, "Nope, not much that you aren't up on in our world, I'd reckon. Karen is bringing in the team from New Jersey. We hit so many places around Philadelphia and up and down the DelMarVa that there's a buncha owners and minions running about like chickens with their heads off. Last word was they had worked their way around on surface streets to our parts of Free Pennsylvania. Seem to be about an hour behind Bob's family who should be here long about 18:00. They had to stop and refuel the Super Cobra which is providing air support for their evac. Fellow named Sam Smith up in the whirlybird."
Tyrone processed these bits of news as they walked along. Then he said, "Karen's name stood out for me for a few reasons. In my family's part of the Missouri Ozarks, it would be a rarely heard family name. And one of the tribes with which I'm affiliated has a chief Running Wolf. The liberation of the slave camps was the most important part of Operation Stumblingblock Removal from my perspective. It has been a thorn in my side that there have been so many hundreds of thousands in chattel slavery these last few years."
The two of them walked on side by side. Then Tyrone's stomach growled audibly. Bill smiled. "Sounds like you're a might hungry there," he said.
Tyrone nodded. "Yes, my plate had just been set in front of me for a few moments when my meal was interrupted this afternoon. Pete's hypersonic transport didn't have in-flight meal service, though it did have a number of other amenities. So if there's a possibility of some food when we get up ahead to the laboratory, that would be swell."
Bill nodded. "Yup. My wife and I, we take care of the place. When Bob's around, he's in a lab or on the Internet doing his things. And when he's gone, we're here to keep things tight. Mary Sue, that's my wife, she'll fix you a sandwich. We'll have a baked pig for supper this evening long about 19:00, wild boar Clem shot out in the woods yesterday. She's a crack shot, she is."
It was Tyrone's turn to nod. "She seems well-trained at many skills. I liked the way she kept track of our back trail as we came out of the cavern. A sandwich and a glass of tea would do me well, thanks."
At this point, the tunnel assumed the shape of stairs, going upward, hacked directly into the stone of the mountain. Along one wall was a bas relief mural also carved out of the living stone. It depicted the ascent of mankind's civilisation from primitive beginnings to rockets and space travel, as they ascended the stairs.
Tyrone commented as they climbed the stairs, " That's a very impressive mural. I like the theme."
Bill said, "Thanks. Clem and Bob's daughters, Amy and Kathy, worked on it for about six months. Nice job."
At the top of the stairs there was a broad landing in front of another door. Bill stopped on the landing at the top of the stairs, and Tyrone turned to stand beside him. Far down the tunnel, they could hear the two younger people chatting, laughing, and getting along well.
Bill looked askance at Tyrone and said, "Those two can find their way inside. Let's you and me go ask Mary Sue to rustle up some grub, tide you over to supper. What is he, a captain in your outfit? "
"Major, last week. Like most militia these days, we don't wear unit insignia in case of capture," said Tyrone, as Bill opened the door and led the way. "That boar smells like its been slow roasting over open flame for hours now. Wonderful!"
Walking up a wood staircase, they were soon in a very large kitchen. As the cooking aromas had suggested, there was an enormous stone fireplace arranged in a diamond shape into a corner, open on two sides with a pillar at the apex of the diamond that pointed into the kitchen. There were mantels above each of the openings, which were brick arches. The fireplace was twenty feet on a side, and within that room-sized space was a wood fire built under a central chimney. Mounted on a spit above the fire was the carcass of a four hundred pound boar, sizzling and crackling as its fat fed the fire.
The overall kitchen was eighty feet on a side. It had numerous work counters with cabinets below. There were cabinets lining the walls. Two large freezers and two large refrigerators were along the walls. Sinks were found near the fireplace and near the refrigerators, as well as a smaller one in one of the island counters. There were also two large ranges and four ovens on a wall. All over the kitchen were hanging baskets of fruits, vegetables, herbs, along with piles of fresh breads and rolls. An enormous spice rack held what looked to be columns of jars of each spice.
A blonde woman in her early forties was standing at one of the counters, facing toward the stairs they had just come up. She was busily crafting a sandwich next to a platter with a stack of three others, while fresh coffee brewed in a coffee maker behind her. She smiled as they came up.
"Hi there," she said. "I'm Mary Sue Watson. I saw the four of you on the outside camera monitor, so I knew company was coming."
Bill walked up to his wife and said, "Mary Sue you are a wonder. Tyrone Johnson here was just telling me about missing dinner today. I told him you'd make a sandwich, and here we are. Clem and Tyrone's pilot are coming up now."
The three of them could hear footsteps and voices coming up the interior stair. Moments later, Clem and Pete emerged from the stairwell. They were both smiling.
Tyrone smiled, too, and said, "Mary Sue, please meet Pete Williams. Pete, please meet our hostess, Mary Sue Watson."
Pete said, "Pleased to meet you ma'am. Your husband has guided us here, and your daughter has been a spirited conversationalist."
Clementine blushed slightly and came over to hug her mom.
"Bill," said Tyrone, "It looks like you and the Nolan's have enough kitchen here to feed a small army for a year. If there are other militia leaders nearby, we should have a council of war. The same people who sent those sky rods are going to send teams this way. I'm afraid our Mach 6 approach has informed the owners that important persons are hereabouts. Even if they think the rods that hit that forest fire killed us, they'll want to send people or drones to confirm the kills. Which won't be confirmed, of course. Nest of hornets we've stirred up."
Bill nodded. "Exigencies of war, my friend. We'll be okay. There's a network of sensors and systems all through the woods up here. Bob designed them, and our militias installed them. Drones without our recognition frequencies are going to get zapped. But that council of war was happening tonight anyway. Plenty of pork to go around."
[End part eighteen, continues in part nineteen]
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 as times are very difficult. See the Paypal link on this page, or Flote.app for crypto options. Or email your humble author to offer other choices. Ask him about Kaneh's IndieGoGo
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