Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone in the U.S. who is celebrating it, and Happy Thanksgiving who is willing to just have a relaxed day and be mindful of life’s bounties. Of all the holidays, I think this one is my favorite because it’s a chance to sit back instead of running around. Sure, some people have turned it into a blood sport with Black Friday, but those people were probably looking for more action in their lives anyways.

Wherever you are, I hope that your circumstances permit you a chance to take a breath and have something to appreciate. I always appreciate those people who have decided to share their wisdom, their happiness, and their time with me. These gifts are priceless, and they have enriched me greatly. I only hope in some small way that one day I can return the favor.

Under A New Sun – Chapter 16

Henry had one other thing to do before he could get onto the grav ship. Going down to the detention facility, he had two of his people escort Quarles from his cell out to the grav pad. Henry walked with him. Quarles smiled and said, “You’re pretty brave walking next to me like that. Aren’t you worried I might bite?”

“No,” said Henry. “I’ve gone over the data you’ve given my people. Is there anything else you’ve left out?”

“And miss a chance to go to the murky swamps past the Cliffs? No, sir.”

They came out the hall to the pad, and Quarles raised his forearm to protect his eyes. He saw all the other militia milling about, loading things onto the ship. “All of this is for me? I’m honored.”

“Get on board,” said Henry, shoving the prisoner forward and walking up the ramp after him. The other two guards took Quarles and buckled him into a wall harness. A minute later, everyone was on board, and the hum of the engines grew louder as the craft climbed into the air. Henry waited a couple minutes before going back to Quarles again. “We’re just going to make one stop before we head out to the strawberry fields.”

“Right, you’re going to drop me off past the Cliffs first.”

“No,” said Henry. The sour look on Gerard’s face did not disappoint the major. “You’re going to be held at a ranger station. If I don’t find what you say I’m supposed to find, then I’m going to come back and deal with you personally.”

“That’s no fair!” Quarles whined. He was struggling to keep his voice above the ship’s engines. “You said our deal was information for my continued worthless existence!”

“I have to make sure you’re not just yanking my chain,” Henry shouted. “So if there’s anything else you want to add, you’ll need to do it before I head out to the fields. You’ll have the entire flight to think it over.” At that, Henry got up and went to his perch near the cockpit.

Out of the windows, Henry saw the wide fields of the Latifundia below him. The entire operation was many hectares in size, with many different crops grown. From their altitude, Henry couldn’t tell which field was what. He knew they’d fly close to the strawberry plots, but they wouldn’t go directly over them. This ship wasn’t flying the route of a normal freight vessel, so any changes in the sky would be noticed by the opposition.

Unlike the flight from the Pyramid, this one was a lot more subdued. At least the past several days helped them get accustomed to danger. Although Henry knew that the last few days were probably the easiest they had to face. Henry tried watching the world outside, allowing himself the temporary luxury of being there to see the sights. Nobody traveled in Ochoia on account of how dangerous it was. Someday, Henry thought, I will be able to tell my kids about this.

Such thoughts were useless. Henry needed to go over what he intended to do next. Barring that, he needed to sleep. He settled down into his seat, and he dozed off for a while.

When he woke up, Miranda tapped his shoulder and pointed towards the port window. Henry looked and noticed a gray structure sitting in the middle of a wide, green field. The grav pad was small, as it was mostly used to launch drones from the nearby hangars. This was a ranger station, a bit of a misnomer in the Pyramid security forces.

While the station did house a crew of militia, the things that did the ranging were fully automated. Out here, there was little risk of laborer attack; the humans with barcodes were more interested in getting back into the Pyramid than anything else. The rangers’ jobs were to make sure that the security around the Pyramid Plateau remained impenetrable. For a thousand years, humans had incessantly searched to make sure nothing came up from the Banishment Area below.

Off to the west, about five kilometers away, were the Oubliette Cliffs. Those cliffs were two kilometers high, raised from the planet’s surface by the original terraforming engines thousands of years ago when the crust was too hot to walk on. Down below that was the place that Henry instinctively had wanted to avoid. The air was too thick, the heat unbearable, and the air reeked of awful smells. Everything down there seemed to want to kill those that weren’t prepared to kill first.

Henry ordered everyone out of the transport. From here, a normal grav ship would not be able to help them. Travel this far out was done by specially armored ships, designed for what passed for military purposes on Ochoia. Indeed, on his last hop back from the Outside, the ship flew a little too low and a drone had attacked them with missiles. He’d make sure the pilots out here knew to keep a high altitude.
However, first things were first. Henry went inside the small synth-crete building and found the captain in charge of the facility. He was a burly man, dressed in a khaki militia uniform with short sleeves and short trousers. “Captain Ralston?” Henry asked, extending his armored hand out.

Despite the armor, Henry thought the captain might squeeze his hand off. “Major Passendale? Pleased to meet you, sir. Don’t get many visitors out here.”

“I wish we were just visiting,” said Henry. “You got my briefing on the prisoner?”

“Yes sir. He goes nowhere if y’all don’t make it back. But what was this about one of your people going through our drone footage?”

“Corporal Morris,” Henry explained. “He’s going to take a look at the drone data to find out if anything weird’s been going on in this part of the border.”

Ralston bristled. “Sir, I’ve got no problems with the equipment. I’ve run full diagnostics. Your leak, if it exists, is somewhere else.”

Morris came in, saluted to Passendale and Ralston, and took off his helmet. He smiled in greeting, but Ralston gave him the stink eye. The corporal lost his smile and then searched around for a place to sit.

Henry said, “The leak is here, Ralston, though I do believe there’s no fault of your own. Some things have gotten through, for sure. These people bombed the Pyramid, so they’re highly resourceful.”

Ralston’s eyes widened. “I hadn’t heard about that. There must be all kinds of shit hittin’ the fan back home, huh?”

“I’ve got the Triumvirate riding me on this one,” Henry admitted. “Morris is a genius with figuring stuff out. Get him your data, and he’ll find out whatever there is to find out. Meanwhile, I’m going to have my people raid your armory.”

“Aren’t you sticking around in the LZ first?”

“Yeah,” said Henry. “We’re most likely going into a firefight, though. These people will be dead meat anyways. Whether it’s by plasma fire or from a boot over the Cliffs, it’s not going to make much of a difference.”

“With as much hardware as y’all can carry, I’d almost feel bad for the sunzabitches.”

“One last thing,” said Henry. He pulled Ralston off to the side, and they talked in hushed voices. Ralston nodded, and Henry clapped him on the shoulder.

They saluted, and Henry went down a couple flights of stairs to the underground armory. Each ranger station had one for provisioning expeditions to the Outside. Although they rarely ever got used, everything was kept in good working order. Everyone knew that getting asked to hop over the Cliffs was almost suicide, and the last thing anyone wanted on their consciences was killing a fellow militia member with bad equipment.

His people were going over the plasma rifles, pistols, knives, bayonets, grenades, flamers, and other assorted weapons and carrying equipment. Like kids at the candy crates, Henry thought. He and Kat had different priorities. They both went and grabbed webbing, holsters, socks, and food rations. Both of them had left their sticks in the grav ship, so they could carry extra rations and extra magazines for their plasma weapons. At the back was a box of gray oval items, in pairs, and of various sizes. He grabbed one pair that matched his boot size and snapped them to the soles. “Remember everyone, grab one of these too. They go on your boots.”

A couple people said, “What for?”

Sergeant Phipps just said, “You’ll see.”

Occasionally they had to remind the others that they could only carry seventy pounds, so they needed to prioritize accordingly. Sergeant Phipps did have pre-planned lists, but some of the younger members of the expedition thought they could get away with an extra knife or two.

Henry sighed. At least they’re happy right now. He left and went out to the hangars. In there, a pilot had already tuned up the engines on the nearest bird. The thing looked like the ugliest version of an eagle, with a tiny head for the cockpit and a bulky body for the crew hold. Everything was a daub gray from being smothered in armor. Over at the back end, the door took about fifteen seconds to open. Clicking his heels, Henry engaged the personal grav lifts on his boots. Gliding as if he was on ice, he smoothly slid around to get into the bird. Overhead, the hangar door opened with a rusty creak.

The sensation of sliding over ground took some getting used to. When he first had these things on many years ago, he kept running into things. By the end of the tour, he had a rough time letting go of them. The thought caused his stomach to unsettle a bit. He sat down on a bench, leaning forward slightly until he could get the rifle slung on his back positioned just right. In his helmet, he called up the geographical information for the farms they were hitting. With any luck, they’d just go in, torch the fields, and go out.

By now Henry’s captains showed up. He got up and waved for them to go up to the officers’ perch. There were three seats up a few steps just for them. The main difference from the benches was that these seats had worn padding that was popping out at the seams. For long rides, it meant that one’s ass took a little longer to fall asleep. He went over the mission details with them, and they got all the questions they had out of their system. When that was finalized, he sent the mission details to be distributed among the rest of the expedition.

Everything was good to go.

The rest of the unit showed up, heads were counted, and the cargo door took a minute to close. Henry signaled the pilot, and they were clawing into the air towards their first target. Despite the hum of the engines, Henry sat back and rested his head against the ship’s wall. Everyone else chatted nervously. He just waited the thirty minutes for the flight to be over.


Their pilot hit the intercom for the cargo bay. “We are on final approach,” she said. The bay door started opening. “We’ll be on the ground in thirty seconds.” The sergeants got up first and started cussing everyone into position. Henry sauntered down the stairs and activated his grav soles. He held onto a wall strut to steady himself.

When the door was fully open, the ship flared, and the militia started pouring out. The first few people never had used grav soles before, so a few tripped and fell over each other. Kat found one and pulled him up by his pauldrons with one arm. She then gave him a critique using four-letter words. The recipient of the tirade practically whimpered.

Henry had picked this farm first because it had no houses nearby. His people could take their time figuring out how to use their equipment without a higher risk of needing to use it. They followed his mission plans exactly, taking a forest path from the landing site into the fields itself. By now, the sun was just setting under the northern horizon, and the stars were already coming out. Nobody in the woods was terribly interested in the sky, though.

His people were a little skittish. Sounds from woodland creatures were new and foreign to most of the people there, so they halted progress to discover squirrels and rabbits coming across their path. Such hiccups were normal for the uninitiated. In about fifteen minutes, the group finally got to their destination. Henry scanned the area for people, and he found nothing. He signaled his people to go ahead.

Two platoons of twenty-five people went out to each end of the field. The strawberries were planted in neat rows, three-leafed shoots forming little green semi-circles above the dirt. Daughter shoots for next season’s crop were half-buried in gaps in the plot. Everything smelled freshly mulched with pine straw. One by one, the platoons used their sensors to detect for the chemical Corporal Morris found. Each row tested positive.

The platoons then took out their flamers and doused alternative rows with an accelerant. One by one, they turned their flamers on and set the fields on fire. Everything took just over ten minutes. As quickly as they came, the militia went back into the forest on their grav soles, gliding silently back to the ship. One field down, two to go.

Another half-hour hop, and the militia was out again. This time, they were on a country road that was paved with gravel. Most of the people had the hang of their equipment, so they all went in quietly towards their destination. This time, they went into a small gulch below the edge of the field they wanted to investigate. They all crawled up the far slope, hidden by the tall grass. At the top, Henry surveyed the much larger field. Scanning the area, he once again found no signs of hostile terrorists. Although he couldn’t explain it, he believed that it might have been his due to finally catch a break.

He told four platoons to manage the field this time. Once again, Quarles had given them good information. Due to its size, the process took about an hour. By the end of it, with strawberry plants burning dark smoke into the night sky, Henry figured he wanted to stretch his legs a bit. Contacting the pilot, he told her to get into the sky and meet them at the final extraction point in about three hours. To the rest of the group, he informed them that they were going to change their plans.

The last field they had to find was about an hour away on foot. For the first part of the journey, they traveled through a wooded path nestled between two farm villages. Light from the fire might alert the villagers, so they needed to keep off the main roads as much as possible. Silently, they glided through the forest until they got to a footpath and a bridge.

From the maps Henry had, they could take the footpath on a more direct route through some berry fields. However, the path showed signs of decent use. His secondary route was through the rough of the forest. It was longer, but he could skirt the fields and stay hidden in the forest. Because the latter route was safer, he decided to go through the forest. Their grav soles would be useless, but at least they’d get to work off some nervous energy.

It took an hour of walking through leaves and almost tripping over branches to finally reach their destination. This farm dwarfed the other two, and it had a house on the far side. Henry’s information on the location informed him that it was occupied by an elderly couple. Most likely, he believed it should have many guards inside.

He got down to his belly, and he crawled forward to try to get a look at the field. Up ahead there was a wide tree with high roots, and he figured he could nestle inside it. Poking his head up, he almost recoiled when he saw a person already inside it. He had yellow and red paint on his face, and he was holding an old-fashioned gun of some sort. The terrorist must have heard something, because he turned to find the source of the sound. Henry yanked on the knife in his belt and brought it forward, jamming it into the terrorist’s throat. Blood went everywhere, smearing on Henry’s helmet, pouring over his gauntlets. His victim tried pushing Henry away, but when he grew weak, he reached down to his gun and pulled the trigger.

A shot rang out, and Henry heard more voices in the forest with them. One dozen sets of angry eyes were on his position. They raised their arms and started firing. Henry pressed himself into the roots, hearing the bark of the tree above him fly off as bullets impacted above him. He took a deep breath and gave a command to his expedition. Moments later, plasma fire burned through the air, incinerating the offending terrorists.

More gunfire erupted, this time from two different areas. One was coming from their left near the footpath, hidden in shallow foxholes. Henry noticed that if they’d taken the path to the field, they would have been ambushed. He saw that the terrorists were just spraying gunfire at them, trying to move closer. Instead of waiting to give them what they wanted, Henry ordered Miranda to start laying down fire on them.

The second area of gunfire came from the copse of trees on the far end of the farm. Like the other terrorists, these were firing and advancing, most likely hoping to keep them fixed in one location. For these, Henry ordered Cortez to engage. Her three platoons went up and started sending bright shots of plasma into the midst of the enemy forces. One of her people had a grenade launcher, and he launched three quick ones into the advancing group. Explosions emaciated the enemy line, and they were forced to go slinking back into the trees.

The retreating terrorists had left the field wide open. Not wanting to wait for them to find a different way to close it, he told Cortez that he was going to go through the field. He ordered her to guard his right. His people were reluctant at first to charge into an open field, but Kat had come in swiftly to goad them forward. The flamers were ordered to get to the left, putting them between him and the rest of his people.

On his command, he gave them the order to start lighting up the rows. The terrorists coming from the foxholes were too busy being shot at to notice the shift, but when fires started erupting, they tried shooting at the flamers. One got clipped in the shoulder, knocking him over and spouting a jet of red flame ten meters into the air. A corporal went over to check on him, giving everyone a thumbs up.
Henry went behind the flamers and pointed to his right. “Lead the flames,” he ordered. “We’re going to need you to screen the advance.” They got what he was trying to do, and they adjusted quickly. Carefully, the advancing militia set up a fire wall on their left, and Cortez had her people suppressing the terrorists on the right. Everyone just might get through this.

Halfway through the field, gunfire erupted from the farmhouse. A dedicated machine gun and its tracer rounds lit up the sky, pouring bullets into the advancing militia. Henry got the flamers to start putting a screen between them and the bunker, but several of his people were hit. Their armor should stop the bullets, but they were helpless in melee.

Keeping as low to the ground as possible, Henry tried to figure out what to do next. In the field, they were at the mercy of those in the farmhouse. Some of his people were screaming in pain, and that had a definite impact on morale. A few people started shooting their plasma rifles at the building, but as the wooden slats vaporized, the material underneath absorbed the massive heat of the projectiles. Regardless, none of the fire had deterred the machine gun from its work.

Then, from somewhere behind him, one of his people brought out a grenade launcher. Henry screamed for the private to put down the weapon, because they didn’t know what was inside that house. It was too late, and the militia got off two grenades before she realized the major was cussing at her. Each grenade went through separate windows, and moments later the explosions blew two large chunks of the structure out. Everyone in the field tried to bury themselves in the dirt, but fortunately there were no other explosions.

Someone to Henry’s right said, “You’re one lucky motherfucker.”

Miranda had signaled Henry, “Sir, the terrorists are hauling ass. Do we pursue?”

“Negative,” said Henry. Cortez signaled that her targets were all dead or fleeing through the forest, and he ordered her to stand down as well. He turned and grabbed the private, leading her from the field towards the house. “Private,” he said, “You do not shoot grenades at a structure like that unless you get an order.” Surprisingly, the back porch was half intact. A terrorist lay on the boards, his guts hanging out from his belly. His back was propped up on some sandbags, the machine gun’s butt rested on his shoulder.

Henry went up the steps onto the porch, pulling out his pistol as he went. He shot the man in the face. “You saved our asses out there,” he said, “But you have no clue if this place was wired to blow. It could have just as easily-”

A weak moan came from inside the house. Henry brought his pistol up, and he poked his head inside. There, on the floor, pinned under a section of roof, was a young boy, no older than six. He had blood coming out of his mouth, and his eyes were glassy with pain. “Oh fuck,” said Henry. “Fuck, no-please no,” he muttered, throwing down his weapon and running to the child. He looked almost like his oldest boy, Franc. Kneeling down, he cradled the child’s head in his hands. As he examined the child’s condition, he noticed that the roof had gone through his chest.

There was nothing he could do to save him. Those glassy eyes stared at him, and then they went blank.
The private, not knowing what was going on, came in, saw the child there, and yanked her helmet off. She spun around and vomited outside. Henry set the child’s head down, and then he staggered back to his feet. What demented fuckers bring their children to this place? He went outside and found the private. “You didn’t know,” he told her.

She looked up at him, her eyes red. “I shouldn’t have,” she started. Her voice broke.
“It was them, or it was us.” He helped her up to her feet, picking up her helmet and putting it on for her. “You did the right thing, but it was for the wrong reasons. Learn from that,” he said. Then he went off the porch, and ordered everyone out to the extraction point.

An hour of gliding on their grav soles later, they all made it quietly to the grav ship. Nobody spoke a single word on the flight back to the ranger station. Henry closed his eyes, but all he could see was that child looking up at him. Was it contempt? Could someone that young have contempt like that? Henry didn’t know. Those eyes, so much like his son’s, wouldn’t let go of him.

Under A New Sun – Chapter 15

Henry spent the rest of his evening by Alfred’s side. He had reports from the various departments in his command, as well as having to manage the rebuilding of the Administrator’s Residence. When he was young, filling in the data was the most tedious part of the job. Now, he relished the boredom as if it were a distraction from what else he was doing. In a way, it was, but he was using it more to distract himself from Alfred’s condition. He’d survived a bomb blast and was on his feet the next day. The older brother in him couldn’t stop comparing his injury to Alfred’s.

Numbers filled his head, and his wrist hurt from using his stylus to scribble notes onto forms. Eventually his body couldn’t take the stress of physical exertion followed by the mental drain, and he fell asleep in his chair, his arms cradling several data pads. In his dreams, his mind took him back to the warehouse. He saw Kat and the others fighting the genie, trying their best to take it down. The monster was winning, and it began devouring his people, armor and all.

Each fallen member of his command earned a wretched grin from the beast. Howling in rage, Henry tried getting in to fight it himself. He couldn’t get close enough, and the monster kept gorging itself on human flesh. Daggers from the dark flew out from unseen hands, each one piercing his flesh. Fatigued from blood loss and exertion, the monster closed a giant hand around his neck, and opened his maw wide…

Henry woke with a scream. An attendant stood there staring at him. “Are you alright, sir?” he asked.

“I’m fine,” Henry said. “It was just a dream.”

“I could have a drone give you something to help you sleep,” the attendant offered.

“No thank you,” said Henry. “I’ll just take my stuff and leave.”

Picking up the data pads, Henry walked back to his quarters. There, he checked the time and noticed it was almost morning. He hopped in the shower, and then he shaved. Five minutes later, he was getting into his armor when he heard a chime from the messaging system. He toggled his microphone on. “What is it?”

“Sir, this is Sergeant Phipps. The morning shift just told me that we have an incoming grav ship. Your presence is requested on the pad.”

This better be important. “Fine. I’ll go see what’s going on.” He threw the rest of his armor on as he got to the main hall, putting on his helmet as the ship landed. Lieutenant Cortez was there. “Good morning, Lieutenant,” he said.

“Morning, sir,” she said. “I’ve got the honor guard ready to greet the ship.”

“Tell them to stand down. I’ll go out there myself.”

Cortez arched an eyebrow. “I was told there were VIP’s on board, sir,” she said.

“Everyone’s a VIP,” said Henry. He opened the door and went out to the ship, its doors already opening.

The first person out was a tall woman in council members’ robes. She had a wide hat on, but no mask covering her face. Her skin was pale, even for someone who lived in the Pyramid, and her bright orange hair poked out like straw from under her hat. Most notably, her green eyes seemed to be on fire when they caught sight of Henry. Marching right up to him, she said, “You must be Major Passendale.”

“Yes, I am,” he said. “And may I-”

“I’m Grand Council Member Tomlins, the third member of the Triumvirate.” Behind her, Henry saw the Admin and all the people he sent to the Pyramid coming out of the transport.

“What are these people doing here?” he asked. His helmet’s communications gear hid the increase in pitch of his voice.

“I’m releasing them back here, because this is where they belong,” she said. “Are you going to make me stand out here all day, or are you going to invite me in?”

Henry seethed. He was about to tell her that she could get back onto the ship when Ewing came up. “Beg pardon, Council Member, but I think that the Major has his hands full at the moment. If you’ll forgive the breach of decorum, I’ll gladly find a suitable chamber inside the Residence for your discussion to continue.”

“Of course, Thom,” she said, keeping an angry glare on Henry. “Lead on,” she told the laborer politician.

Ewing led them back inside, taking a right directly into the residence. They went to the dining room, a place not quite rebuilt from where the terrorists attacked. Ewing left, mentioning that he was going to find food for them. Henry and Tomlins took opposite seats at the table. The table itself was mostly intact – it was a massive object – but there were bloodstains and other debris that had yet to be cleaned up. “What happened here?” screeched the Triumvirate member.

“A terrorist attack,” said Henry.

“I know that,” she replied. “You let them get inside the compound?”

“They attacked right as I was dispersing a mob of thousands of laborers right outside the front door.”

“Why is it that you get here and everything goes to shit? I received no problems from this area until you got here. Now look at the place.”

Henry rolled his eyes. “Ma’am, I am here at the request of the majority of the Triumvirate. They twisted my arm to put me here. I’m sure they’d love to hear what you’ve got to say about me.”

Tomlins pointed a finger at Henry and snarled. “Don’t bring them up to me! They did this behind my back, while I was putting the pieces of the Market back together from the bomb you failed to stop.”

“Actually, Council Member, you chose to play things up for the holo-cameras. I was busy getting people out of harm’s way. Not only that, but I also helped fix the panic your colleagues were starting to create.”

Tomlins’s nostrils flared. Her voice went up several decibels. “The nerve! You will know where your place is, Major! I’m here to evaluate your job for the rest of the Grand Council! If they don’t like what I have to say, you might end up back in the Pyramid to get a bar code yourself!”

Henry snorted. “Actually, Council Member, you’ve got that a little backwards.”

“You think you’re protected by Gavins and Jesper? They’ll listen to me before some upstart militia dickhead!”

“No, they’ll listen to me, because while you were off pretending to put things back together I was out here busting my ass figuring out who wrecked it all. My people have been ambushed, injured, and a few even killed. Not only that, we found a genie-”

“Bullshit, Major,” Tomlins said. “They don’t exist, and you know it.”

“Would you like me to arrange a view at the skeleton? We’ve got it in evidence.” To accentuate his point, he found the holo-recording of the skeleton in his data files, and he projected it over the table. It almost extended the entire length.

Tomlins gripped the table. She stared daggers into Henry’s helmet, but she couldn’t get a read at the man underneath. Taking a deep breath, she decided that she might need to calm down. “What else did you find, then?”

Henry gathered up holo-renderings of all the information he wanted to present. “I found out that the explosives used aren’t actually just the containers. It’s the strawberries; they’re genetically altered. In and of themselves, they won’t explode. Based on what my team has found, the bomb in the Market might not even have been at full blast potential when it went off.” He threw the reports up into the air, where they hovered just below the skeleton.

“Then there’s the matter of how coordinated the terrorists are. We’ve got reason to believe that they operate all over the LZ. That said, the strawberries mean that they have an important part of their operation here. A prisoner is willing to talk, and I’m going to lead the search to find where they are being grown.” More reports showed up next to the others.

“Who is the person that’s talking?”

“It doesn’t matter,” said Henry. “He’s one of the people we collected when they assaulted the residence. I’m keeping his name private.”

“For what reason? You militia types seem to think that we’re the enemy. You answer to us, not the other way around.”

“I have to keep this source secure,” said Henry. “Just before my brother took a shot from a plasma pistol, he mentioned that they have a spy in our midst.”

Tomlins scoffed at that. “That’s horseshit.”

“Until a few days ago, so was the thought of someone bombing the Pyramid,” Henry retorted.

The Grand Council Member had enough of Henry. “It was your clusterfuck that you started with the Colonel,” she said. Henry winced. “Where is he, by the way? We were supposed to get him, not a collection of people including the laborer Administrator.”

“They were sent to the Pyramid for security reasons.”

“Well, I don’t think that’s good enough,” said Tomlins. “I got Jesper to agree with me on that one, at least.”

“That’s a mistake,” said Henry.

“I didn’t ask your opinion!”

“Which is why you made the mistake!”

“How did someone as insufferable as you manage to lead this expedition?”

How did someone as thick-headed as you manage to get elected? Henry grimaced, stifling that answer from coming out. “Council Member Tomlins,” Henry said evenly. “There’s a reason why the terrorists were able to do what they did from this town. It’s not safe for militia to patrol there. From what I understand, the Colonel didn’t do anything about what was going on here. He just turned a blind eye, and now we have a big security risk here.”

“The bottom line, Major, is how can anyone tell you’re not making it worse?”

Because you’re able to just sit there and ride my ass, thought Henry. He said, “The bottom line for me is do you want the bombings to stop or not?”

“You expect me to take your word for it that you’re making progress?”

Henry pointed at all the holograms floating about. “It’s all there, except for one thing.”

“What’s that?”

“This might require that I go further out than just the LZ.”

Tomlins said, “Well, you’re so gung-ho about getting the job done. Why should I care where it leads?”

“Have you ever been out there, ma’am?”

“Once,” she said. “A long time ago. I went to a ranger station.”

“That’s not what I’m talking about,” said Henry. “I’m talking about past the Oubliette Cliffs. Two kilometers down. Have you ever spent a night out there?”

Tomlins blanched, but she managed to keep a look of contempt on her face. “Ghost stories,” she said. “That’s all they are.”

“Come with us then,” Henry said. “You can watch us hunt the terrorists.”

The politician tried to change the subject. “I don’t think you’ll really need to go that far out there to get results.”

“I’m going to see this through,” said Henry. “No matter what. No matter where it goes. Yes, I’m an insufferable asshole. Really, if you want my commission afterwards, you can have it. I’m not doing this for my career. My wife hates me right now, so I’m not doing it to make her proud of me. I’m actually doing this because they hurt us. They reached out, and they bombed us like cowards.”

Tomlins opened her mouth to say something, but then she paused. “Well, Henry, I can see that I misjudged you. Truth be told, I’m more put out by the other members of the Triumvirate than you. I apologize for my outbursts.”

Henry’s jaw dropped. It probably would have fallen off if his helmet wasn’t on. “Ma’am,” he said, “I have an expedition to go run.” He swiped all the holograms away. “If you can do me a favor, can you take my brother back to the Pyramid?”

“Isn’t he one of your officers?” she asked.

“I need to take the ship out to the fields,” he said. “From there, I’m going to most likely have to go visit a ranger station and get my people outfitted to go Outside. I can’t wait for him to wake up. There’s a good officer I have in his place. I’ll just take some of the locals to fill my unit back up and then I’ll be gone.”

Tomlins smiled, something which unnerved most people, including Henry. “I’ll send for a ship to come out, and we both shall be on it. Good hunting, Major.”

“Thank you,” said Henry. He got up, and bolted as quickly out of the room as he could. While he was pleased to end things on a high note, he also knew politicians enough to suspect that she had something else she was digging at.

He signaled Cortez and Jackson to get everyone in the expedition to move out. Using his command codes, he transferred a few of the notable locals to his command. Then he gave command of the compound over to a lieutenant. If Henry had misgivings about going further afield, his meeting with Tomlins quieted them. The last thing he’d do was half-ass his job while she was watching.

Under A New Sun – Chapter 14

When everyone got back to the compound, Henry went to his quarters. He needed time to think. There was no contraband in the warehouse – except some of the leftover strawberries – and it was all probably moved to somewhere else the LZ by now, he suspected. Instead of finding nothing, though, he found something worse. With no leads and no way of finding out what happened, he could have reported a failure in his mission and have been done with it. Rightfully it would have been the fault of the Colonel and everyone who worked towards fostering the lack of discipline in the town.

That mold growing in the containers was a definite lead, though Henry secretly hoped that it would go nowhere. If he would have stopped in the warehouse on his initial time through, maybe he could have caught the entire conspiracy right there. That is, if the entire conspiracy could be caught.

The sad truth, and it was something that Henry felt from the beginning, was that these adversaries were more sophisticated than conventional laborer miscreants. Certainly they had help from somewhere else. Henry closed his eyes, but instead of going over his own recent brushes with death, he saw Alfred wounded in the Colonel’s office. His hands started shaking, and he balled them into fists to try to get them to stop. It kind of worked.

Henry decided that he needed to visit Alfred again. Corporal Morris was going to take a look at the physical evidence, and Miranda was going to make sure guards were defending the compound. By the end of the day, Henry expected his grav ship to be back. Nothing else could really be done until that ship returned. All of his leads were going to be out of this miserable town.

Walking slowly, Henry noticed his people seemed to act a little differently. In hushed tones, he caught one pair of militia chatting with each other. “Did you see that thing at the warehouse?”

“What was it?”

“Sarge called it something weird,” said the first. He saw Henry approach, and he closed his mouth.

The other said, “Excuse me, sir,” earning a cuff from the first one.

“What is it, Private?” he asked.

“What was that thing that Sergeant Kat took down?”

Henry frowned. This might get out of hand quickly. If he told her the truth, it might get out of hand faster. “It’s just a freakishly large person,” he said, not quite lying. “Sergeant Phipps can take care of herself.”

“She called it a ‘genie,’ sir,” said the first one.

“Yes, she did,” said Henry. He shot them both a look that said the conversation was over, and then he continued his trip to the infirmary.

When he got to Alfred’s chamber, he went inside to sit next to where his brother was resting. They’d put him in a cloth hospital suit, a basic body glove that could be shredded in the case of an emergency. A tubeless respirator had been hooked up to his nose and mouth, the tubes regulating his breathing being hidden under a plastic mask draped over the apparatus. He looked quite peaceful.

Would Alfred be wondering about what they encountered in the warehouse? He’d have the good sense to keep it to himself, Henry reasoned, but there would be a lot of questions when they were alone. His brother was wounded here in the LZ. Where the genie was from, things were much worse.

Kat came in and took a seat across the bed from Henry. “I knew I could find you here,” she said. She was in her own hospital suit, having been examined by the medical staff after they returned from the warehouse search. There was a bandage on her hand. Henry looked at it, and she said, “When I stabbed it, my grip slipped and I cut my palm a little.”

Henry leaned back in his seat. “How are Evans and Mallory doing?”

“Evans doesn’t know what he was trying to collar, and Mallory just had her shoulder popped back in. She’s going to be laid up for a few days while they regen some of her ligaments. Sir, I heard you talking to Morris and…” Her voice trailed off.

“Eavesdropping doesn’t suit you,” said Henry. “Neither does beating around the bush. Out with it.”

“Well, that genie changed things. Either these terrorists are doing some really heavy things, or they’re getting help.”

“I know,” said Henry. “I just don’t want to know.”

“Sir,” said Kat, her eyes staring at the floor instead of him, “We don’t have to know if we don’t want to.”

Henry snorted. “I hear you.” He looked at Alfred, laying there in his hospital bed, chest rising and falling rhythmically. The staff probably gave him another day unconscious.

Then he could return back to duty.

“We can’t ignore it, Kat,” he admitted. “That’s why we’re out here.”

“You saw them in the warehouse,” said Kat. “They don’t know shit when it comes to what we’ve faced.”

“We didn’t know shit, either,” he said. His armband chirped, informing him of an incoming message from Morris. Henry tapped it, and Morris’s holographic head popped up, hanging disembodied above Alfred’s bed. Kat stared daggers at Henry for interrupting the conversation.

Morris said, “Sir, I’ve gone over the crates. There’s nothing there except for a liner embedded into the plastic. I’ve got a small team going over the others, and they found the same.”

“Isn’t that what they found in the Pyramid?”

“No, sir,” he replied. “They found an active explosive agent. It wasn’t uniform in the crate, though.”

“What does that even mean?” The question came from Kat.

Morris got a smile on his face. “It means that there was some other kind of reaction that needed to happen. I was at a loss until one of my team members got sick.” Henry merely blinked, expecting Morris to continue. He gulped, and added, “You see, it’s the strawberries. These things are genetically modified. Sure, they’re sweet, but they also have some chemicals that when decomposing turn into reagents for the liner. So, these strawberries get put in the containers. When everything gets scanned, nobody sees anything wrong. The strawberries are close enough that the computers won’t tell a difference. For a day, they’re sitting on docks ripening. By the time they got to the markets, they’re ready to blow.”

“Is there a way to stop them from coming into the Pyramid? I mean, we can just alter the scanning algorithms, right?”

“No,” said Morris. “What they’ve done to these berries requires some really high-end lab work. This is better than we could develop. If they can do that to the strawberries, they’ll just switch up to different products.”

Henry swore. He looked at Kat, who had a similar expression on her face. Both of them wanted to go back, but Morris’s news was the final nail in that coffin. At least it gives us something to fucking look for, he thought. “Alright, so we can’t just change our security procedures. What about finding these strawberries?”

Morris nodded enthusiastically. “We can do that. These things should grow like weeds, sir. Wherever they’re growing, they’ll take over other vegetation. Whichever farm is doing this, we’ll be able to test for it in no time.”

That thought put Henry back in his seat. “Keep me posted on anything else you find. Good work,” he said, and then he killed the transmission. To Kat, he said, “What if this is a rogue scientist?”

Kat arched her eyebrows. “They’re all over the place on the Outside. Up here in the LZ? How’d they get past the cliffs?”

“Whoever it was fooled the scanners in the Pyramid. And a one-time trip from the Banishment Area makes more sense than smuggling.”

“The genie had to come with the person, then,” said Kat. “They’re not smart enough to do this on their own.”

“That’s really going to be the proof, isn’t it?” Henry asked. “If we can find out how long the genie’s been here, we can find out what the fuck is happening.” Henry got up out of his seat, and made for the infirmary door. “Go check to see when the grav ship is coming back,” he told her.

“I’m still convalescing,” said Kat.

“Bullshit,” he said.

Making his way quickly through the hall, Henry made his way to the new detention facility. On the way, he stopped by to pick up some of the strawberries they found at the warehouse. He took them out of the bags they were in, putting them in a plastic bucket that would have to serve as a serving dish. The errand complete, he continued onwards to his main destination.

Free-standing force fields were set up, forming an array of impromptu cells three stories high and many cells wide. Everyone was staying in a little red cube with collars on, only being let out to piss and shit. Henry talked to the main jailer, asking him if they had anyone from the attack on the Administrator’s residence in interrogation. There was one person, and Henry went over down the right side of the cell block to get to the interrogation rooms.

These were actually refurbished from some private quarters. Henry found the right door, knocked, and opened it up. Inside were a lieutenant and a man with red and yellow paint on his face. He was hanging from the ceiling by a cable attached to his handcuffs. Sweat poured down his forehead, and his bushy, orange beard had spit on it. The lieutenant stood up, saw that it was the major stopping by, and saluted. “As you were,” said Henry. “Who is this piece of shit?”

“Gerard Quarles,” said the lieutenant. “And that’s about all I’ve gotten from him. Unless I’m allowed to use other means of extraction, sir.”

“You may leave,” said Henry. “Give me ten minutes with him.” The lieutenant frowned, but he did as he was told. Alone with the prisoner, Henry hit the button for the cable release. The prisoner dropped to the metallic floor with a thud.

Wild-eyed and fierce, the prisoner sat up and regarded Henry with a smile. “So you’re the new boss-man, here I take it? It’s good to finally meet you.”

Henry looked at the man like he’d grown a third eye. “Look, it has manners,” he said. “You’re positively reformed.”

Quarles ran a hand over his scalp, the ends of his barcode protruding onto his forehead. He kept his smile, showing off immaculate teeth. “Does this mean I’m going to be welcomed back into paradise?” he asked.

Henry regarded the man carefully. He didn’t have his helmet on, so his access to Gerald’s file was not available. People, though, were more readable when one could look at them face-to-face. “That depends on a few things,” he said.

Quarles got back into his seat. “We both know that there is no way I’ll ever be let into the Pyramid,” he said. Pointing to a jar of water, Henry nodded permission for him to pour a cup. Since his wrists were bound, he spilled a little water on the metal table that the lieutenant had been sitting at. Wiping it up with his sleeve, he picked up the cup and toasted Henry. “Thank you for the sip of water,” he said, draining the glass. “But if you are actually here to offer a deal to me, I am willing to listen.”

“I can promise you that I can get you out of the LZ,” said Henry. “In order to get that, though, I need something just as big from you.”

“Ah ha! There we have it!” said Quarles. “Spoke plainly, like a true soldier. If I were not in bondage, then I’d perhaps be slightly dismayed at the lack of sophistication to this negotiation.”

Henry shrugged. “If you’d like to stay here, that can be arranged too. Since you had the courtesy of having your face paint on, we can just execute you. Maybe we could just kick you out of the grav ship flying a couple kilometers above the town.”

Quarles gave out a sharp, “Tsk. Tsk.” “Threats are beneath you. There is nothing you can threaten me with that the wonderful lieutenant hasn’t promised me already. Were you aware that one of his friends died in our assault? He’s most displeased at that turn of events. I think he has things a bit backwards. After all, isn’t it your duty to die in service to the Pyramid?”

“That’s not quite how I’d describe it,” said Henry.

“Improvement,” said Quarles. “Subtlety mixed with dismissal. There’s hope for you yet. Now tell me, before the moment is gone, what are you here to wrest from my mind?”

“Strawberries,” said Henry. He set the plastic bucket in front of his prisoner, then pushed it towards him.

“Are you offering some? Such delicacies are forbidden out here in the farming regions. We must produce, not eat.” Picking one up, he popped it into his mouth.

“I got them fresh this morning,” said Henry. “From the northeast warehouse.”

Quarles went a little pale, spitting out the strawberry, red chunks of it landing in his beard. “I’m sorry, but these are a bit too ripe. One’s palate can’t be too refined, you know.”

“If only I’d picked them sooner,” said Henry. “Normally strawberries ought to be a little less ripe out here, so they can gain their color on the way to the Pyramid.” Since Quarles seemed to be enjoying the game, might as well keep playing, he thought. “These are a truly bad batch.”

For his part, the prisoner did a fine job of feigning sympathy. “One cannot have less than the perfect quality of crop in paradise,” he said.

“And there we have the problem I’m facing,” said Henry. “What I need from you is a place where I can find these strawberries.”

“I might know of a few places where you can find these dastardly farmers and their less-than-perfect crop. Since this is a transaction, though, I would like to know what I get in return for providing the farmers’ names and locations.”

Henry bit his lower lip. “I’m prepared to let you be banished in return for your cooperation.”
Quarles laughed hard, slamming the table. “That’s no trade! Just shoot me in the head and be done with it!”

“Let me help you understand,” said Henry. “If you give me what I want to know, then you’ll live. Yes, you’d be in the worst place in Ochoia, but you’d be alive and breathing under a new sun. Resist, and I’ll force feed you all the strawberries we have until you burst.”

The prisoner smirked. “As I’ve said before, threats are beneath you-”

“It’s not a threat. You obviously know how this is going to go. When you die, I’m going to go to every last person I have in here, and I’m going to offer them strawberries. What are my chances, do you think, of finding someone who is willing? Someone knows something here, and I won’t stop until I find that person. So really, you’re sitting here telling me you’d rather die for nothing than have the slimmest chance at getting out of here alive.”

Quarles lost his grin. “How do I know you’ll actually let me live?”

Henry rolled his eyes. “It’s the only offer you’ll get, from the only one here who can make it. If I leave this room without your knowledge, then the offer is gone. Am I clear?”

“Completely,” said Quarles. He folded his hands, remaining quiet for a minute. Taking a deep breath, he said, “I shall make this trade. All of the strawberries are grown here in the LZ. If you give me a map, I’ll show you where.”

“Glad to hear it,” said Henry. “I’ll send the lieutenant in, and you can tell him all about it.”

Under A New Sun – Chapter 13

The entire night, Henry feverishly dreamt about a knife in his back. When he woke up in a cold sweat for the second time, he decided he’d had enough of trying to do what was impossible. He couldn’t figure out what Alfred was talking about. Who was this spy, and what was going on? Slipping on a new body glove, Henry threw on some trousers and marched over to the infirmary. Inside a sterile treatment room, Alfred lay face up and naked on a metal table. Tubes from a chemical drone ran up his nostrils and down his throat. His leg looked red from some blood around the stitching, but otherwise the surgical drone had patched him up nicely.

A medical attendant noticed Henry standing there, and she came over to talk to him. “Hello sir,” she said. “Your brother will be doing fine. We need to sedate him for at least two days due to an allergic reaction.”

“A what? I’m not allergic to anything.”

“I understand that,” said the attendant. “This is a new agent we just got in from the Pyramid last week. It’s a biological anti-inflammatory, and it was supposed to help with the plasma burns.”

Henry blinked. “Why two days?”

“As soon as the drones noticed the reaction, they cleared his system out and we put in the old agent. He just needs time for his body to recover.”

Henry didn’t know whether to be relieved or angry. His brother was now out of danger from the people outside, but now he had this freak accident to contend with. Is this a coincidence? He kept asking himself and got no answers while watching the drones place a covering over his brother. Maybe he shouldn’t have killed the Colonel – but no, he had to do that. This is a fucking mess, he thought.

“Let me know as soon as he’s out, even if I’m in the field.”

“Yes, sir,” said the attendant. She went back to her duties.

Henry padded off towards the mess hall. Wide arrays of tables and chairs littered the room, and a few of the locals were in there sipping coffee and eating an early breakfast. Everyone got quiet when he went in, grabbing a tray from the machine service bin. Mess chow was always terrible, but the predictability of that awfulness was a comfort in its own right. He grabbed a mug of coffee and sat by himself.

In the middle of deciding whether to attempt eating whatever was on his tray or just leave it, one of the local lieutenants came up and stood at attention. “Good morning, Major,” she said.

He squinted at her. “Good morning, Lieutenant. Is there something on your mind?”

She nodded. “Sir, on behalf of some of the newer officers here, we’d just like to thank you for what you did yesterday.”

“What exactly did I do?”

“We didn’t get through the Barracks back home to come out here and watch Leroy and Laney Laborer do whatever they wanted. The people in town, well, they’re a bit cocky. Colonel van Targ just let them get that way. It’s about time we went in and showed ‘em who’s holding the leash.”

“How long have you been out here, Lieutenant?”

“About a month, sir. I got quite a while left on my tour.”

Henry sighed. You didn’t see how I broke your Colonel’s neck, he thought. It’s like he was cursed being surrounded by people too inexperienced to know better, or too experienced for their own good. These people shouldn’t be thanking him; their tour just got worse. “I wouldn’t be thanking me just yet,” he said. “You’ve got a lot of time left out here. Focus on each day at a time.”
The Lieutenant frowned. “Well, sir, we’re not just thanking you for doing what you did. I mean, yes, we’re new and all, but this place is dangerous. Like, we weren’t allowed to talk about it. Some of our people would disappear, and the Colonel wouldn’t let us investigate. There’s a warehouse in the town that we never could go search. We had to get permission to go through neighborhoods-”
“What was that about the warehouse?”

“Oh, there’s a warehouse out on the main circle. The northeast one, the one with the weird graffiti on it.”

Son of a bitch. “Thanks, Lieutenant,” said Henry, draining the rest of his coffee. “What’s your name?”

“Cortez, sir.”

“Alright Cortez. You’re now a field captain. I want you to round up the local militia and get them back into their riot gear. After that, you’re going to take command of my brother’s company. Report to Captain Jackson for reading in on what we’re doing.”

He got up, and left the surprised lieutenant standing there with her jaw hanging open. Henry was too lost in his thoughts to care. That warehouse might have been cleaned out by now. Then again, with an operation like that, it might take time to conceal. Definitely it would explain the mob. They’ve been keeping us fragmented and off-balance since we got here, he thought.

The terrorists might have had a spy or maybe some spies locally; they didn’t have enough time to recruit the new officers. Colonel van Targ might not have been one, but he sure as shit was complicit in what was going on. When Henry got him kicked out, that was something the terrorists weren’t planning. But what if they weren’t just there for the Colonel? Henry wondered if there was a more important asset they were trying to rescue.

His only option was to get to his room and notify the Triumvirate of what was going on. No politician would be awake this early in the morning, but he could send a message of his intent. He next notified the Barracks that they were about to receive a number of people for detention. They weren’t to be allowed to speak to anyone, to send or receive communications, or to meet with visitors. With that taken care of, Henry suited up and headed towards the infirmary. On the way, he signaled one of his platoons to get the grav ship ready for launch.

The Administrator, Lieutenant Carnath, and the other militia with the Colonel were all in recovery. Henry waved for the guards, some of his own people, to come over to help him. “Everyone,” he said, “Due to what happened yesterday, I need you all to come with me. There’s no emergency. I just need to move you all to a safer location.”

“Where are we going?” asked Ewing. “I need to get back to work. The people need me here.”

“I understand your concerns,” Henry lied. “However, I still need you to come with me.” He stepped forward and grabbed Ewing by the arm. Unable to resist, Ewing complied. Henry walked them all outside to the grav ship. Although the outside lights were on, the morning sun already had cast some of its rays across the sky.

Carnath saw the ship and halted. “Where are we going?”

The doors to the ship opened, and there was Henry’s platoon. Henry replied, “You’ll be informed when you get there.”

“I’m not going anywhere,” said one of the militia.

Henry waved his people over. “You’re going,” he said. “Think of it as having leave without needing to use any of your personal time.”
Ewing sighed. “Let’s go, everyone. I’ll lodge a formal complaint when we get wherever we’re going.” With that, the resistance ended, and everyone got onto the ship. Henry hoped the spy was on board, but he wouldn’t know that until Alfred woke up. Even if the spy was gone, the terrorists seemed to be in decent contact. They might figure out that their spy was taken away and do something else.

One of the many things Henry learned about controlling people was that it was infinitely harder to do if one had lost the initiative. He knew where he needed to look, and the window of opportunity he had could only be closing.

Dismissing the others, he called for Miranda and Cortez to meet him in the ranged weapons locker. It was situated on the ground floor of the barracks, down some metal steps and through several corridors. Three security doors later, Henry was looking at the compound’s stock of rifles and pistols. Dust covered a wide assortment of plasma rifles, plasma pistols, concussion pistols, and stun rifles. The latter two were non-lethal varieties of the former. He dusted off the nearest sound rifle and checked the battery. Inspecting it for damage, he found none.

“Reporting for duty, sir,” said Cortez.

Miranda was there, surprised Henry was in his full armor. “What can we do for you, Major?”

“Captain Cortez, do you have the locals suited up yet?”

“Yes sir,” she replied. Henry caught the half-smile at hearing her new rank.

“Alright, get them to dust this shit off and then make sure they’re fully equipped for pacification.” Cortez nodded, and marched off. To Miranda, he said, “We’re going to try her out while Alfred is laid up. What I’m about to tell you doesn’t go anywhere, got it?”

“Sure thing,” she said.

“I’m taking the Pyramid battalion out to that warehouse we saw yesterday. A local battalion is going to pacify the residence area just outside the compound. The other local battalion is going to keep our escape route open. You’ve got that job right now. Our mission is simple. I go in, I search that place, and then we all get back to the compound before the terrorists can do shit about it.”

“The locals won’t be happy that a neighborhood’s getting pacified.”

“I couldn’t care less after they ripped apart one of my people,” said Henry. “Anyone gives you shit, they get a collar and brought back for questioning.”

“Shouldn’t we be questioning people in here right now? What if the terrorists hit here while we’re out?”

“This is time sensitive,” said Henry. “If we leave soon, I think we can beat any counterstrike. Even if I’m wrong, it will be one less place to search. But I really think what we came here for is in that warehouse. That’s why I think the terrorists are rousing the locals. Now get your shit together, we move in an hour.”


Exactly on time, Henry and a massive force of militia left the Administration compound. They all marched briskly, making the trip into the town a few minutes faster than the day before. The blue sun was already high in the southern sky, its rays beating down on the white brick residences. The entire group stopped inside the residence district’s walls, the Pyramid militia blocking off access to and from the main street.

Henry walked up to Cortez and asked, “Have you ever run a pacification operation?”

“Only in training,” she replied.

“Watch and learn, then,” he said. Setting his speakers to address the neighborhood he said, “Residents, your attention please. This is a pacification action. Please wait for the militia to come and nerve collar you. Becoming violent or any other breach of the peace shall result in dire consequences.” He waved for the militia to begin.

People in armor marched into houses, and the collaring began. Some residences had screams, while there were more runners that tried to break free. After a house got cleared, all but its youngest residents collared and walking down to the street, the militia moved on to the next ones. In short order, the majority of residents were outside and lined along the road.

“What happens next?” Cortez asked. “Are we detaining people who were in the mob yesterday?”

“No,” said Henry. He toggled his controls for the collars. Everyone along the street started jerking, their movements spawned by the collars furtive and uncoordinated. He was ordering them to strip until they were all naked. Then, he forced them all to kneel. “Residents, you shall remain out here for one hour. It will be long enough for your skin to burn and blister. You will be in great pain.

“I want you to think of that pain the next time you decide to join a mob. Some of the people I captured yesterday are from your neighborhood. The terrorists you are hiding killed them by burning them alive. As you heal, I want you to remember that and your poor behavior is why you suffer.

“But I also want you to know that you have been shown mercy today. My own brother was wounded during an attack. Several other militia were killed. I could do whatever I feel like because of that. Instead of seeking revenge or doing worse, I want you to know that this is the fairest punishment I could find.” Henry toggled his voice controls, and he started to leave.

Cortez grabbed him by the arm. “Sir, are we really going to leave them out here this long?”

“Yes,” said Henry. “It’s something we frequently did to the miners when they got out of hand. Do you have a problem?”

Cortez looked at the nearest laborer, a woman that was probably twenty. Her pregnant belly had stretched the barcode on it. She knelt there motionless, empty eyes forward, lips clasped together, hands dangling by her sides. “Surely not everyone was involved in the mob,” she pleaded.

Henry shook his head. He leaned over to speak in a hushed voice. “It’s either you or her out here, Cortez. Some of them want back into the Pyramid, but others do not. Nowhere is safe.”

Cortez nodded. She let go of Henry, and she went back to take charge of her people.

Henry wondered for a moment whether or not he should entrust her with keeping this part of the town open. As word spread of the pacification, some of the other laborers might come up to watch. If they were smart, they’d hide. But their spirit was far from broken, so he knew that they might still think that they could maintain the life they had with the Colonel. These people were more like the miners than the farmers he’d always heard about. They were supposed to be too tired to rebel.

Miranda and Kat were having a conversation near the district entrance. “It’s already gotten attention,” said the sergeant. “These people don’t have fear in their eyes.” Kat was nothing if not a good reader of people. He played at cards with her once, and only once. She almost cleaned him out of energy credits.

“A show of force it is, then,” said Henry. “Miranda, you know what to do.”

Miranda went out and signaled her people. “We are closing this road off,” she announced. People in the crowd started to murmur. Some shouted obscenities back at her. Captain Jackson nodded at the closest person, and a local militia soldier came out and grabbed the person, slapping a nerve collar on him. That person immediately went into the neighborhood and started stripping, joining the rest of the residents who were being punished.

“That’s how it works when you interfere,” she said. “Now get the fuck off my road,” she yelled. Still a little too grudgingly for Henry’s liking, the crowd at least obeyed this time. The militia started laying out roadblock signs and pushing foot traffic away. Slowly, the other parts of Miranda’s battalion marched northwards to close off the rest of the eastern road. Henry checked the time; they’d only been out there for about twenty minutes.

Now for the hard part, he thought. “Let’s go,” he ordered. Four platoons went to each corner of the building, while the remaining six lined up at the main entrance, a wide open door standing about ten meters high. They all entered at the same time, each platoon taking a section of the warehouse to clear. A group of laborers were inside, standing in the middle of the main floor around some food crates. When the militia showed up, they immediately tried running. Two of them made it out a side entrance, but they were shot with the stun rifles.

Five of them ran head-on at the invading militia, and they were all taken down and collared without any problems. Several of the militia stopped to look, and then one cried out to Sergeant Phipps, standing on the warehouse floor and facing the wrong way. A grav lift plowed through the crates, sending strawberries and plastic everywhere. Kat swung around, holding up her concussion pistol. “Stop right there!” she commanded. Hearing no response, she fired three shots into the open cab of the lift, and then she rolled off to her right.

“Bullshit,” she said, realizing that none of her shots did anything. Whatever was driving that should have fallen out by now. Hopping up to her feet, she ran after the lift and leapt onto the left rear runner. Her hands found metal bars on the side, and in a few seconds she was on the top bar of the cage. Grabbing the bar with both hands, she swung downward, letting the full weight of her feet crash into the driver below. She heard a grunt, and then she heard a wet smack on the ground.

Pausing to turn the lift off, she leapt out and went over to check on the driver. “You should have stopped,” she said. Already two other militia members went to collar him. He was a pretty big guy, dwarfing the two people standing next to his body. The man on the right knelt down, and a massive hand reached up to backhand the officer away. Kat’s eyes went wide. “Evans, Mallory, get away now!”
Evans jumped away at the sergeant’s command, and Mallory reacted just quickly enough to take the swing on her shoulder, spinning her violently and slamming her to the ground. Kat dropped her rifle and took out a knife, bolting towards the driver. As the driver rolled over to get up, she jammed her knife into his back, keeping her weight down on the hilt. The driver just grunted, and reached back to try to grab the armored woman hanging off him.

When the driver stood up, Kat jumped down, drawing the knife out. The driver turned around, looming above her at about 2 and-a-half meters tall. Evans shouted something, but Kat had her entire focus on the fight. The sergeant ducked a few swings and jumped out of the way of a few kicks. Lifting his arm up for another swing, Kat saw an opportunity and jammed the knife into the giant’s right knee. She rolled left, and when the giant tried to turn to keep her in front of him, his tendons shredded themselves on the blade. He slumped to the floor.

One of the militia members came up with a nerve collar, but Kat flagged him off. With a sickening crunch, she slammed her boot down on the giant’s skull. The kick didn’t kill him, and she had to do it twice more to cave it in. “Fucking genie,” she said.
Henry came over to see the commotion. He looked at the corpse on the ground, and then he saw Kat’s bloody boot, smeared with a reddish-purple blood. The other militia started gawking, and Henry had to order them back to their search. Kneeling next to the body, he let out a tired sigh.

“That thing shouldn’t fucking be here,” said Kat. “It shouldn’t.”

“I know,” said Henry. The body had no tattoos and no other markings. Its skin was leathery, and it was completely hairless. Only he and Kat had seen one before. “Burn it,” he said.

“Yes, sir,” she said.

Corporal Morris stopped Henry on his way towards the crates. “Sir,” he began, “We’re doing a search of the premises. So far, there were twenty occupants and the lift driver there. They’re getting collared and readied for transport back to the compound. Behind them, Kat had nicked the line from the grav lift and poured engine fluid onto the giant’s body. She jammed a shocker onto the fluid, and the body went up in flames. “Should she be doing that in here, sir?”

“Yeah,” said Henry, staring at the corpse like it might start moving again. “What have you found?”

“Other than some of the markings you cataloged from the grav pad, nothing.”

“Wait, nothing?” Henry arched an eyebrow. “What about the crates, the walls, everything else?”

“It’s been sanitized,” said Morris. “The only things we’ve got are some crates near the entrance. They’ve got shipping labels on them, but we can’t tell what they were shipping.”

Henry looked at the body, and then he looked at the crates. “What’s the radiation levels on the crates like?”

“We don’t scan for that,” Morris explained.

Henry went over and turned his helmet scanner on. The radiation levels were lower than normal. In the corner of a couple of them, he found mold. Mold wasn’t supposed to grow in those containers, because it was rarely humid long enough. Even after a rain, the lack of humidity wouldn’t let moisture last long enough for the spores to mature. Morris said, “That’s the interesting thing we found.”
“Mold,” said Henry. “Is there any chance it could be local?”

“I’ll need to type it,” said Morris.

“Let’s take a crate back with us.” Henry motioned for someone to pick up the crate he scanned. “Everyone,” he said, “Let’s get a move on.” The crate and the collared laborers made their way around the warehouse, and then they all marched back down the road, Miranda’s regiment falling in behind them.

When they got to the residential district, Henry went with the evidence they found back to the compound. By now, the residents forced to kneel outside had started burning, their flesh puffing up as it warmed. In a way, they reminded Henry of the giant that Kat killed. Only these people were smaller, and they were controllable.

Henry got to the exit of Peccara, and he stopped. What was in that warehouse got to him. He didn’t want for there to be mold in those crates. He knew exactly what all of that meant. Toggling his communications equipment, he hailed Cortez. “Captain,” he said, “Cut them loose after about ten more minutes.” Enough people had suffered today.

Under A New Sun – Chapter 12

Author’s Note: I’ve been sick the past couple of days, so I haven’t had much time to work on this. In the interests of catching up with my rough draft schedule, I’m not going to format the italics in this and subsequent posts. It’ll make it slightly less easy to read, but this is a rough draft, after all. I’m at 30k words so far, and I’m not even halfway through my outline.

Henry put the command codes for the local militia into his armor’s computer. Within a few moments, his helmet started populating with information on local security. The compound had about 750 militia inside it, giving Henry a total command of about a thousand people. While his own group was hand-picked, he didn’t know the quality of the locals.

It took him several minutes to find Alfred and Miranda. “I’ve got command of the locals,” he told them. “The Triumvirate has given me the go ahead to conduct a pacifying action.”

“Is that necessary?” asked Alfred. “We’re not here to control the town.”

“We have to,” said Henry. “Right now we’re surrounded. Breaking the mob outside is our first priority. After that, we pacify the nearby neighborhood.”

“What do you need us to do?” Miranda asked.

“Captain, I need you to post a guard around the barracks here. Alfred, I need you to go take Mr. van Targ into custody.”

“Wait, he’s been canned?” Alfred asked.

“It’s his fault we’re in this mess. He’s going back to the Pyramid, most likely to get deported out to somewhere else in the LZ.”

“Yes, sir,” said Alfred, clearly not enthusiastic about his mission.

Henry prepared for a general broadcast to all of the local militia. “Everyone, this is Major Passendale,” he began. “Due to action of the Triumvirate, I am now in command of this garrison. We are tasked with restoring order to the town of Peccara. I want everyone to meet me in the great hall with full armor and riot gear on. We’re going outside. Everyone needs to be ready in ten minutes.”

Two minutes later, some of the local militia showed up – without their equipment. They all had bewildered expressions on their faces. One of them, a lieutenant, went up to Henry and sneered. “What the fuck is going on?” he asked.

An abrupt change of command is never an easy thing. Henry knew this, and he also knew things would be ugly, compounded by how abruptly he’d need them to get to the task of subjugating the laborers in the town. These people had grown soft and accustomed to a specific way of life. Instead of the outside as enemies, they’d see their way of life threatened by him. Getting them under heel would be ugly, and Henry would have to make threats that Alfred might not approve of. Alfred had an unwavering conscience, something which Henry admired, but like all virtues they were best found in others. Out here, with a mob threatening to erupt at any point, the ugly way sometimes had to be the only way.

“Lieutenant, that isn’t how you address a superior officer,” said Henry, his eyes locking on the lieutenant’s. “Not only that, but I’m your commanding officer.”

“Really?” said the lieutenant. “Because I came from the Colonel’s quarters, and he said he wasn’t relinquishing command to anybody.”
“Did you catch a contingent of my soldiers on your way here?” Henry asked.

The lieutenant blinked. “Yeah, but-”

“Those people are going to arrest Mr. van Targ on a list of many different crimes. He’s going to get collared, and he’s going to get brought back to the Pyramid. There, he’s going to get his barcodes, and he’s going to probably get banished to somewhere else in the LZ.”

The lieutenant lost his sneer. “You’re not going to do that. You can’t.”

“I’ve got the security codes for the entire base. I can do whatever the fuck I want. Right now, I want to whip the lot of you into shape. We’re going to do that, even if I have to drag all of you kicking and screaming outside. You’re going out there whether you’re in your gear or not. You’ve got six minutes.”

“But-you can’t order us around like that!” The lieutenant’s voice had raised. People standing near him looked between the major and him, hesitation on their faces.

I almost have them, Henry thought. He saw the man with the black eye come in, wearing full armor, carrying an oval riot shield. Henry pointed at him. “You, private, what’s your name?” After abusing him earlier, Henry felt a little embarrassed that he never bothered to collect it.

“Private Nigel Brown, sir,” he replied timidly.

“Do you have a problem with my orders?” he asked Nigel politely.

“No, sir,” he said.

Henry looked at the lieutenant. “He knows what protocol is. Clock’s ticking.”

“What will you actually do to us if we refuse to go along with this?” the lieutenant asked indignantly. He seemed so sure earlier.
Henry smiled. “I’m your commanding officer,” he began. “What you need to decide right here and now is whether you love the Pyramid more than your former commander. I don’t even have to threaten you all with deportation; all I have to do is just put a big, black mark in your personnel file. When I do that, you will be stuck out here forever. The best you could hope for is a quick visit to the Pyramid on leave. For the rest of your miserable lives, you’ll be out here.”

At that realization, the locals ran from the room towards the equipment locker. Even the lieutenant bolted. In retrospect, Henry chided himself for thinking he might have to get nastier with them. Alfred would have been proud. Certainly, he felt better about the chances they’d get through all of this.


Half an hour later, the sun was setting in the northern sky, painting a sliver of sky in bright hues. Clouds masked the rest of the evening, and light drizzle began to fall on the gathered laborers and the militia. Henry had his forces lined up properly to deal with the mob, a sight which most LZ denizens would have run from. For whatever reason, they let him get his people out in good order. None of them charged. They just waved their signs and shouted curses at their armored adversaries.

For several tense minutes, Henry had his people standing there collecting biometric data on the crowd. The ink from the barcode tattoos were readable from underneath the skin, and militia computers automatically scanned for related information when presented with a barcode signal. He wanted to make sure he had everything taken down, so that if people escaped, he could hunt them down later. Satisfied he had the entire group catalogued, he ordered the militia forward.

The front two lines of militia were 150 people across behind tower shields and shock sticks. Banging the sticks on the shields to keep time, the militia marched in good order until they were about fifty meters from the edge of the crowd. Some people threw bricks and other things, but none of those missiles harmed any militia. Henry increased the volume of his helmet to address the crowd. “People of Peccara, you are ordered to disperse. Leave this area immediately, and no further action will be taken. Remain, and you will be collared and held for interrogation.”

A few of the laborers responded with epithets and slurs. Nobody seemed to move. There’s only one way this ends, thought Henry. Normally, the crowd should have charged or done something by now. Instead, they just stood there, as if they were just congregating somewhere. They should have at least been on edge. It was like they were daring the militia to come forward. Henry wondered if the Colonel’s complacency really had made the laborers here that bold.

Waiting a few more moments, Henry decided that he would have to disperse the crowd. He ordered the militia behind the front two lines to grab sonic grenades and lob volleys of them into the crowd. Lightning streaked the sky, and the place grew dark. When the militia threw the grenades, the sonic charges mixed with the sound of thunder. Panic set into the laborer mob, and they began running in different directions.

The shield lines marched forwards into the fray. Some of the laborers tried to take on the militia, but the sonic grenades had obliterated any order there could have been to it. While the laborers did outnumber the militia by a wide margin, they couldn’t put those numbers to use. Members of the mob would just throw themselves forward to get caught by a shield, knocking them prone. Once on the ground, they’d get a shock stick to prevent them from getting up. The line would step forward, leaving the incapacitated laborers for the militia behind.

Everyone behind the lines had one of two jobs. Some had bags of sonic grenades, and their task was to make sure any attempts at organization would get broken up by the fiendish devices. Most of the militia, though, had collar duty. Since all of their targets were prone, it was an easy task to just slap on a collar and order them to move back to the compound. Nothing rivaled its cold efficiency. If fear of the militia wouldn’t get the crowd to disperse, then seeing their friends shambling their way to captivity under the effects of a nerve collar definitely would impact morale. The message was quite clear: leave now while you can, or get a collar for your troubles.

Despite the thousands in the mob, it took the militia only a few minutes to break them up. Rain poured down from the sky, ruining visibility and muffling everything. The remaining laborers impacted by the grenades and sticks were rounded up and controlled back to the compound. They were all being taken to the barracks, where a new makeshift prison was being constructed.

Henry nodded in satisfaction at the textbook operation. The local militia performed admirably. Depending on how the interrogations went, he might not even need to do a pacification operation. Those were always a little hairy, but functionally they weren’t worse than breaking up a mob. At least he didn’t have the continued anxiety of being around people he didn’t know he could trust.
A loud rumble broke Henry out of his thoughts. “What was that?” he asked the people around him. Nobody had an answer. The source of the noise came from the Administrator’s residence.

Where the Colonel was being kept.

Where Alfred was going to collect him.

Henry broke into a run to get to the source of the disturbance. He repeatedly hailed Alfred on all the communications systems he thought of, and he received no answer. Please no. Please no. Please, no. Please…please…please. Muscling people out of the way, Henry bolted into the main hall and into the residence itself. Smoke filled the hallway, and there were the familiar screams of the injured. This is an attack, Henry realized. He tried using his communications device, but he couldn’t hail anyone inside.

Faced with the decision to charge or regroup for reinforcements, Henry chose the former. His brother was missing, and he could not wait to find out what was going on with him. Picking up a shock stick from a fallen militia member, Henry kept low and moved into the building. Ahead, he saw two people grappling. One had the other pinned against the wall with a forearm. Some of the smoke cleared, and Henry saw the forearm had a giant barcode on it. With a snarl, he jammed the shock stick so hard into the laborer that the tip broke the skin. When it delivered the charge, the flesh actually sizzled. The laborer slumped to the ground, unconscious.

“Thank you…sir,” said the militia soldier, one of the people in Alfred’s company. He leaned forward, trying hard to catch his breath.
“What the fuck is going on?” asked Henry. “Where is Captain Passendale?”

“We had the corridor secured, sir,” said the soldier. “The Captain was supposed to go in and get the Colonel. He was holed in his room with a few militia people still loyal to him. Your brother was trying to talk him down when some terrorist shitheads blew a few holes in the wall. They’re getting in everywhere like roaches, sir.”

“Drag that one outside,” Henry commanded. “When you get clear of whatever this smoke is, I want you to hail the militia and tell them to surround the residence from the outside. No one enters, and no one leaves. Got it?”

“Yes, sir,” the soldier said. He thought about asking the major what he intended to do, but the smoking wound in the laborer gave him the answer he needed.

Henry didn’t wait there for long. Remember where the Colonel’s residence was, he made for the stairs. Rounding a corner, he saw two terrorists guarding the way up. Both were wearing thick leather garments, almost like body armor, and they had masks on painted with yellow and red. Each stood almost like a statue, only the eyes behind the masks giving any indication to a human presence.

Instead of waiting, Henry barreled into the room, throwing his shoulder into one of the sentries. He heard the satisfying crunch of a rib, the familiar wheeze of air forced to escape a wounded person’s lungs. They both landed on the stairs. Henry rolled over, and he saw the other sentry towering above him, a wooden club raised high in the air. The sentry hesitated, giving the militia member time enough to raise a leg and jam it as hard as he could into the sentry’s knee. It hit with enough force to snap the ligaments and jam the knee joint into a direction it was not supposed to go.

The sentry toppled over, howling in pain. Henry slapped collars on them both, which forcibly muted them. Getting to his feet, he continued his trek upwards, not waiting to see if any other laborers were around to respond to the screams of their comrades. As a credit to Henry’s good fortune, nobody guarded the interim landings. When he got near the top, he saw a large pile of laborers in various states of injury. The smoke was really thick up here, and he could barely see a meter in front of him. He tripped over a body, causing the laborer to moan in more pain. A voice from above cried out, “Identify yourself!”

“I’m militia,” Henry said.

“Bullshit!” said the voice. “You need to come up slowly with your hands up, or I will do to you what I did to your friends!”

Henry growled. He really didn’t have time to put up with this, but at least he knew the person up top was most likely militia. It was either that, or they did successfully manage to take the stairs. Suck it up, he told himself. Putting away the shock stick and putting his hands up, he marched up the stairs into the smoke. “I’m coming up,” he warned.

When he got to the top, Henry saw a hand with a collar reach out. Grabbing the collar with his left hand, Henry muscled forward to slam the militia member into the nearest wall. He heard the sound of dozens of shock sticks being extended. When the soldier saw who had pinned him to the wall, he cried out, “Ma-Major Passendale!”

“Yes, dipshit,” said Henry. “Now, tell the others to put down their fucking sticks, and can someone please let me know where Captain Passendale is?”

“He’s in the anteroom,” said one of the other militia members.

“Get ready to move,” said Henry. He went into the antechamber, and what he saw made his heart sink. Alfred was there with a few other injured militia members. The door to the Colonel’s chamber was cracked open, and a plasma pistol stuck out of it.

“Don’t come any closer,” said a familiar voice. It was the Colonel’s.

Henry stopped. The pistol was pointed at Alfred. “What do you want?” he asked, trying to keep his voice even. He wasn’t sure if he was succeeding.

“I want to get out of here,” said the Colonel. “The people are rising up to support me! You can’t fight them!”

Henry seethed. “You mean to tell me the horseshit going on downstairs is your doing?”

“Don’t talk to me like that! I’m a superior officer!”

Henry took a step forward, putting him right next to Alfred. “You’re nothing of the sort,” Henry retorted. “You got the message from the Triumvirate. You’re finished.”

“No! I won’t go back there! Not after what’s happened, they won’t even give me a barcode!”

Henry took another step forward. “Deportation is what the Triumvirate agreed to. You know that’s the penalty for breaking the law. We don’t execute people.”

The Colonel laughed. “That’s horseshit and you know it! People like you hate it when the militia gets along with the LZ pieces of shit. That’s all you prejudiced people in the Pyramid care about. Make us out here put the laborers under our boots! I’m not going to be part of that any longer!”

Henry took a slight step forward. “That’s dangerous talk,” said Henry. “You could get banished for that.”

At the mention of that word, the Colonel swung his pistol up and at Henry. “YOU STAY RIGHT THERE!” he bellowed. “YOU DON’T FUCKING MOVE!” The pistol shook violently in the Colonel’s grip. “You’re right, Henry. Of course, you’re right. That’s why the only way I’m going out is with the laborers. It’s the only way. You know what I’ve got to lose.”

Henry clenched his fists. “There’s another way, Colonel. Is that pistol loaded?”

The Colonel’s hand stopped shaking. “Yes,” he said evenly.

“You’ve got it pointed at me?”

“Yes, I’m threatening you with this loaded pistol,” he said. Opening the door, he stepped through, keeping the weapon leveled at Henry’s chest.

Henry raised his hands, and then he took off his helmet. Both people looked at each other square in the eye. Henry nodded.

The Colonel said, “I was holding the other people in there hostage. They have nothing to do with this.”

Henry sighed. “I understand.” The Colonel lowered his weapon, and Henry lunged towards him. In an instant, Henry had his hands around the Colonel’s jaw and behind his head. With a wet snap, Henry broke the Colonel’s neck. He was killed instantly.

Some of the militia heard the exchange, and they jumped into the room as soon as the Colonel hit the floor. One person came to start dressing Alfred’s wounds, while others went in to check on the Colonel’s hostages. The Administrator was there, as well as Lieutenant Carnath. “What do you want us to do with them?” asked one of the militia.

“Get everyone to the infirmary. Who are these people?” He pointed down to some of the injured militia in the room.

“They were hostages too. Alfred had managed to secure their release when the bombs went off. The explosion startled the Colonel, and his pistol went off. It’s a good thing Alfred was in his armor. Otherwise, he’d be missing a leg. It’ll take a few days to heal.”
Henry visibly deflated. His brother was going to be alright. “Okay then. Get everyone treated.”

On the floor, Alfred started shaking when some of the militia lifted him. “Henry,” he said. “Henry!”

Henry was at his brother’s side. “I’m here, Alfred. You’re fine. You’re going to be just fine.”

“Henry!” Alfred protested. “I – I need to tell you something…something important.”

“What is it?”

“Closer, brother.”

Henry leaned in. “What is it?” he whispered.

“A spy,” he breathed. “A spy, here.”

“What do you mean?”

Alfred’s eyes unfocused, and he drifted back into unconsciousness. The militia waited no longer, and they took Alfred out with the other injured. By now, the fighting had died down in the compound and the smoke began to clear. When they safely arrived in the hall, Henry left his brother’s fate in the hands of the militia medical staff.

Although fearful for his brother’s life, Henry couldn’t help but ponder the mystery of what his brother said. Was he referring to the Colonel? If so, that fear went away with the Colonel’s life. Henry went back into the residence. The militia had secured the area, and they were carrying out detained terrorists. He stopped a soldier carrying a more brightly painted terrorist than he’d seen elsewhere. Something was sticking out of his chest. It was a slip of paper, and Henry grabbed it, unfolding it gently.

It was a map of the compound, with a red marking where the Colonel was.

These people had a map. A very detailed one.

The marking, though, did not give any indication of what it meant. Henry could only infer that something or someone important was in that room. Some of the smoke had condensed onto the paper, covering it in a light metallic sheen. Henry realized that it wasn’t smoke at all. Rather, it was some kind of fine metallic dust. Certain kinds would interrupt communication.

These people know how our communications systems work, thought Henry. He balled up the paper, and he stomped out of the residence. A fucking spy, he thought.

Categorizing My Book, “Business As Usual”

Right now, my novel Business As Usual is listed under a few different headings and subheadings, all ending with “Satire.” I’ve sold 5 copies on Kindle, and I’ve sold 1 print copy. Taking a look at the rankings for my book, I’ve found something odd.

In the Kindle store, under Humor & Entertainment > Humor > Satire, my book is ranked # 1095 (out of 7,675 titles).

In the Kindle store, under Literature & Fiction > Genre Fiction > Satire, my book is ranked # 1460 (out of 9,941 titles).

In the book store, under Literature & Fiction > Genre Fiction > Satire, my book is ranked, get this, # 1823 (out of 9,787 titles).

I only needed to sell one book to get into the top 20% of books in the category. Selling 5 Kindle books got me into the top 20% in two different headings. And if one looks at the main umbrella of literature and fiction, satire is only a teeny tiny portion of those titles. One has to work really hard to get into that category just to browse.

The reason why I’m bringing this up is because this month I’ve been taking an actual look at my blog numbers, and I’ve found that I’ve gotten a lot more random views of my science fiction rough draft than my rough draft last year. Since I’m doing Nano Poblano on my mental illness blog (you can find the link above if you hover over “About” and click on “My Other Blogs”), I’m really able to figure out what parts of my writing generates interest. I’m not talking about what kind of community I’ve cultivated, but rather I’m talking about just off-the-cuff browsing.

Okay, so back to book sales. I found some sources that said picking a genre with a low number of titles is better(one is here). The idea is that with lower numbers of titles, it takes less sales to make the top 100. Making the top 100 is important, because it increases viewership of the book. For these reasons, the gurus say that I should keep my book in Satire so I can just occasionally plug it and maybe get a sale or two.

This source says that picking the most accurate genre is more important because it targets the right audience. However, that seems to be better if one is trying to get a literary agent or a publishing deal rather than self-publishing. According to this second person, I should stay in Satire because that would be the most accurate genre for my book.

What I’m wondering, though, is whether there are any dead end genres.
Sure, my book will show up in the larger sub headings, but there it’s only one out of a million. Getting to the smaller ones, it appears that nobody is buying in the Satire genre. I’ve sold 5 copies, not knowing what in the hell I’m doing, and I’m in the top 20% of those books. Five. Copies.

Then again, maybe the top 100 is really where it’s at. If I can get there, then more people are assured to look at my book. I’m concerned, though, about whether or not the top 100’s importance is also a function of the genre. Being top 100 in the fiction and literature book section is way more coverage, because that’s out of over 3 million books.

The ultimate question: should I change the book genre?
I’ve been toying with the idea, but I’m also thinking that there’s no more suitable genre for it. It’s a work of satire, and it’s intended to be funny. Although, I don’t care much if someone buys it and then thinks, “Self, this isn’t a fantasy book at all!” That person has already paid money. However, it could get returned, so I don’t think that it is a wise course.

Looks like I’ve just talked myself out of it.

At any rate, click the book title to find out how to buy the book if you haven’t. You can read the first bit of it on Amazon’s site. If you don’t like Kindle, don’t worry. I’m stuck with them solely until early January. Once I get out from under Amazon’s thumb, I’ll have the book available in more places (like Smashwords).

Under A New Sun – Chapter 11

Hunched over in the shower, Henry spent ten minutes letting the hot water pummel his back. He braced his hands against the shower wall to stop them from shaking. “Why didn’t that piece of shit listen,” he asked the water. Over and over again in his mind, he saw the man charging the crowd of laborers. Strong hands grabbed him, pinned him, and tore at him. The screaming was the worst. Human beings shouldn’t sound like animals at slaughter. His vision blurred.

It wasn’t just water that went down the drain.

Why didn’t he listen?

Going back for him would have been pointless. There were way many more hostiles out there than allies. Anyone who could have helped was locked away in the compound. None of them would let Alfred or Miranda out to help. Alfred had to fight just to open the doors. This place is madness, he thought. They could have helped, but they didn’t. Was it from cowardice? His own people were guilty enough of that. It was their first time dealing with it, though. Out here in the LZ was a different animal entirely. Not as bad as…but Henry decided he couldn’t go there.

Henry remembered the local militia officer’s face pressed up against the glass. Wet fingers scratched at the tile. If he could have, he would have pushed that son of a bitch through, ruining an eye at the least. Obeying an order was one thing, but letting fellow militia suffer was another matter entirely. The Pyramid would never condone an order that left people to die unless it was the only way.

“Whose fault is this?” Henry breathed in the steam. It had to be somebody’s. The terrorists had managed to kill someone in the compound. They wanted to send a message with someone’s death. Nowhere was safe; everywhere was danger. How did they get so organized so quickly? With the painting on the warehouse, the entire town could belong to a terrorist influence. Or maybe they just hid among the civilians. It’s not like the local militia did anything to ferret them out.

Henry pushed off of the wall and turned off the water. Colonel van Targ was someone he didn’t trust, and Henry’s instincts were usually right about people. The Colonel could have issued an order out of cowardice, maligned intent, or some other purpose. Nobody would know until Henry spoke to him. Since he was a superior officer, Henry had to be careful. Being at the beck and call of the Triumvirate wasn’t so bad now. He had his own personal line to the ears of people that respected him more than this backwater Colonel.

Getting his dress uniform on, Henry left his quarters and made his way to the detention area. Inside, he saw Alfred’s people guarding cells with familiar red force-fields and filled with detainees. Alfred came up behind his brother. “What do you want us to do with them?”

Henry grunted. “No rough questioning at first. Be careful of the collars. Those are some unruly ones.”

“I heard about that,” said Alfred. “Took them down yourself, huh?”

“Yes. We didn’t collar anyone in the attack. Nobody was ready for it. I didn’t catch it until it was too late.”

“You caught it ahead of time,” said Alfred. “I’ve got people going through the helmet footage. We’re going to hit any identifiers we can. By tomorrow, we should have quite a few names for you to bring in. This place is going to be full.”

“We’ll need to hold up on that for the moment,” said Henry. “I have to find out about the Colonel.”

“He must have issued an order,” said Alfred. “None of the locals wanted to help, even after they saw the locals swarm up outside. I asked them what was going on, but they wouldn’t say anything. They just watched and then tried to stop me when I wanted to get outside.”

“That doesn’t tell me much, except that the locals are cowards.”

“They should have helped, Henry. Training and professional courtesy are important. You always help, because we never know when we’ll need help.”

“True.” Henry sighed. “It’s not going to matter, though. I’m going to talk to the Colonel directly.”

“What happens when he brings up what I did?”

“Nothing. You’re under my command. We were under attack. Fuck him. Have the locals been giving you shit about the detainees?”

“No,” said Alfred. “Not openly, anyways. They were dragging their feet, and they get in the way. When we call them out on it, they just apologize and pretend they’re all thumbs. I’m kind of amazed this place is still standing.”

“I need info from these people, Alfred. Remember, just soft questioning for now. Give them an incentive to give up the goods.”

“Yes, sir.”

Henry gave a final glare to the detention facility. One of his people died for the information they had. They fucking better have something useful, he thought. Walking through the connecting hall, Henry looked out the windows and saw more than a few laborers standing outside. They looked like they were shouting something, but they stayed a healthy distance away from the compound. A few of them held up signs. “Give them back” was on more than a few.

Nobody was even trying to approach the compound. What was keeping them away? Henry paused for a closer look; no militia were outside. From the Administrator’s residence, Miranda walked up and interrupted her boss’s thoughts. “Heard about the trouble this morning,” she said. “Doesn’t look too safe out there.” Then she noticed nobody was in the hall.

“I want you off of the murder investigation,” said Henry. “Get your people into their gear and get them guarding the hall. Pull a platoon of mine if you need it.”

“Sir, we’ll need the entire base by the looks of it,” she said. “That’s a shit ton of people out there.”

“If they come, it’ll have to be through the hall,” said Henry. “It’s the weakest point, and it’ll split the place in half. I’m going to go find the Colonel and see what the fuck is going on.”

“He’s been holed up in his quarters,” said Miranda. “Wouldn’t even give a statement about the murder. There’s a lieutenant of his, Carnath I think, who’s been running around giving out his orders.”

“For fuck’s sake,” Henry breathed. “Get your people moving.”

He didn’t wait for a reply. Picking up his pace, Henry marched into the residence and flagged the first local militia person he saw. It was the man whose face he slammed into the glass earlier. Both recognized each other immediately. “You,” he said, snapping his fingers. “Where is Colonel van Targ?”

“He’s in his private quarters, sir,” the man blurted out. “Top floor. I’ll take you to him.”

“He’s not to be disturbed,” said a sergeant next to him. She stood at attention, “Major, he gave us explicit orders to not be bothered.”

“Have you looked outside?” asked Henry.

“Sir, he said that they’re riled up because of what you did. He-”

“Sergeant, I understand you have your orders. They don’t apply to me. I’m going to take this man here, and I’m going to go see your commanding officer. This isn’t a request.”

She frowned, but said nothing. Henry made off towards the stairs, taking two at a time until he got to the top, the local in tow. When they got to the last landing, the local breathlessly pointed towards a set of wooden doors. “In there,” he wheezed.

“Thank you,” Henry said curtly. Without bothering to knock, Henry almost twisted the old-fashioned doorknob off getting the door open. Throwing it wide, he stepped into an antechamber where the Administrator and a lieutenant were sitting. Ewing had a lacerated face and a split lip, his right eye swollen shut. The lieutenant just stared wide-eyed at the intruder. “What happened to your face?” asked Henry.

“It was a disagreement,” said Ewing. “I tried to impress upon the Colonel the urgency of your situation, and he did not see things my way.”

Henry winced. What the fuck was going on here? “Who are you?” he asked the lieutenant.

“Lieutenant Carnath, sir.”

“Is he in there?”

“Yes, but he doesn’t want to see anyone.”

Henry snorted. “Stay out here. I’m going to see him alone.” Without waiting for further discussion, Henry threw open the Colonel’s door and marched into his living room. The place had high ceilings, decorative furniture reminiscent of ancient times on Earth. Colonel van Targ was sipping something from a glass, sitting on a piece of furniture Henry didn’t know the specific name of. Closing the door behind him, Henry then approached the waiting Colonel.

“You’re not supposed to be in here,” he said. “Get out, now.”

“Sir, have you lost your mind?”

“How dare you!” The Colonel jumped to his feet and shook an angry fist at Henry. “You think you can just come in here and order me around? You’re a fucking major, Major. I don’t give two shits who you think you are, or whether you’re friends with the Triumvirate. You’re going to talk to me with respect.”

Henry saw an empty man standing before him, a shriveled human being who was too small for his uniform. He couldn’t see it at dinner, but standing here, he could see it all plainly now. There was a very clear reason why Colonel van Targ never made it back to the Pyramid. His cowardice was supposed to have gotten him killed out here. Such appointments weren’t unheard of; one of Henry’s former superiors held such a position before the miners murdered him in his sleep. Watching him pretend to be angry and slur his speech, Henry might have pitied him if he didn’t lose a good person to his incompetence. “Sir, I came here for one reason only. Did you order your people to keep mine inside the compound this morning?”

Colonel van Targ winced. “You said you weren’t going to cause any trouble,” he said. “You lied to me. Nobody does that to me in my house.”

“Did you, or did you not order your people to stay inside?”

“Who the fuck do you think you are? Everything was fine before you Pyramid shitstains got here. Haven’t collared anyone in a long time. You ruined everything.”

“Did you, or did you not?”

“Of course I fucking did!” the Colonel bellowed. “You’re a stupid sonofabitch if you think you can come in here and collar my people, throwing them like animals into holding! I’ll have your hide for that! You’re going to get run out of the militia! A barcode will be too good for you after I’m done with you!”

Without a word, Henry marched out of the room, not even acknowledging Ewing or Carnath on the way out. Behind him, the Colonel screamed epithets and slammed the door. Henry didn’t really care. The Colonel was completely out of his depth. Instead of growing a spine in self-preservation, he’d knelt before the locals and begged them for mercy. No wonder they didn’t approach the compound; they wouldn’t risk hurting their pet inside.

He needed to do something. With a superior officer in control of the majority of the garrison, Henry’s people were exposed. Dealing with the town was one thing, but having the militia as potential hostiles hit Henry in the gut like an armored fist. At some point, the Colonel was going to lose the last of his rationality and plunge himself deep into a drastic course of action. All he needed to do was feel threatened, and the order would be given to quietly let in all of the locals to murder them all. Whatever was keeping him from doing that wouldn’t last forever.

Making his way through the residence, Henry contemplated his options. Killing the Colonel seemed most gratifying, but he didn’t know if he could trust the Administrator and the lieutenant. While he was holed up in his room, deposing him was out of the question. If he knew he had enough time, maybe he could count on the local militia against the locals. What if they were working with the terrorists? Henry sighed. There were too many questions and things at play.

“How did it go?” asked Alfred. Miranda was with him.

“In my quarters,” he replied. They all went in, and Alfred closed the door. “The Colonel has lost it. He gave an order to leave us outside. His militia followed it. Most of all, something has made him lose his shit, and he’s a liability.”

“What are we going to do?” Miranda asked. “Are we going to feed him to the mob?”

Alfred shook his head. “That’s not an option. We aren’t murderers.”

“We’re a long way from the Pyramid,” said Miranda.

“But the Pyramid is what gives us our authority,” said Alfred. “You’re not seriously thinking about this, are you Henry?”

“If it’s between him and us, it has to be him,” said Henry.

“Why not call the Triumvirate? Surely they can yank his commission based off the order. They send a ship, take him home, give him a barcode. The locals fall in line. I mean, they don’t have any officers except for lieutenants.”

“What?” asked Henry.

“I’ve been digging around. You notice that no officer here is higher than lieutenant? He’s got no captains or majors. There’s been no promotion here for a couple years. Anybody who wants a promotion needs to get out.”

Alfred and Henry shared a look. “Why didn’t I notice that earlier? We should have met his senior staff at the fucking dinner.”

“I thought they were all on assignment. One of the lieutenants approached me in my quarters. She told me all about it.”

An alarm sounded, blaring a screeching noise into the room. All three officers’ eyes went wide. At the same time, they said, “The detention facility.”

They all hurried out of the room, running frantically towards where their prisoners were being kept. Dozens of militia ran about, and Henry had to push his way past the gathering group to get to the windows. Into the facility itself, several of the cells had the waning daylight flooding in, only the red of the force fields cast it in a strange glow. Inside the cell furthest to the right, the people inside were burning. One person was banging on the force field, screaming at the top of her lungs. The field muted the sound. A few other cells suddenly burst into flame, the walls opening up like they were made of red liquid.

“Thermite,” Henry breathed. The walls of the detention facility had been built with explosives from the outside in mind. Everything had been reinforced to prevent people from being able to scratch or blow their way through. However, even the walls had a melting point, and the chemicals that the attackers used simply melted their way through into the building.

The biggest downside to all of this was that the heat would either rob the cell of oxygen, or it would incinerate what was inside. That was why the original plans didn’t prepare for it; the goal of an escape was thought to be that of escaping alive. These people must not care about who’s in the cells, thought Henry. He watched as one of the local militia ran around in a frenzy, shouting at others in a haphazard fashion. Finally, someone reached a hand out to hit the controls for the force fields.

Henry muscled his way into the detention area and screamed at the top of his lungs, “Don’t drop the fields! Keep them up! Do it!”

“What’s going on?” someone screamed.

“We’ve got to save the people inside,” shouted another.

“They’re done for!” Henry shouted. “Those fields are the only thing keeping the terrorists outside!” When he said that, all of the militia seemed to freeze in place. The officer took his hand away from the controls.

“What do we do now, sir?” he asked.

“Post a guard,” said Henry. The final cell had been melted through, and the people inside lit up like candles. Once again, they writhed in agony, and all anyone could do was watch. All of the cells would be too hot to infiltrate for a while. The fuckers knew exactly how to hit us, he thought. This is the second time today.

“Did we get anything from them?” he asked.

Alfred said, “Not much. We hadn’t had the time to question them.”

All that intelligence, going up in smoke, thought Henry. They’re willing to kill their own. “Get everyone else into their gear. Everyone,” he said, staring at one of the local lieutenants. “That includes you all. Have people put around the perimeter. Everyone needs to be in communication with each other.”

“Should we go get the Colonel?” asked one of the locals.

“No,” said Miranda. “Major Passendale has experience with this. He got us back to safety, and he’ll get us through this.”

“Michael and Rachel were handing out chow to the detainees when it started,” said a local. “They were on fire…and…we couldn’t help them…” His voice trailed off.

Alfred stepped in. “They died, but we’re going to get who is responsible for this. Now the Major gave an order. Get moving.”

Henry nodded to Alfred and Miranda. “Alfred, you’ve got command of the watch here. Miranda, you get the perimeter search organized.”

“What will you be doing?” they asked.

“Calling the Triumvirate,” he said. Henry left them standing there, immediately going back to his quarters. The Triumvirate promised him some leeway. He was about to find out how far that would go. Pulling up his forearm holo projector, he entered the code he had for the Triumvirate.

Gavins and Jesper were both there, each of them being represented sitting in their chairs. “We were about to leave,” said Jesper. “What news do you have from the Labor Zone?”

Henry gulped. He was about to gamble a lot on how serious the Triumvirate was about his mission. “Earlier today, I detained a number of laborers suspected of having ties to the terrorist cell. On our way back, we were attacked by the locals. Just a few minutes ago, terrorists attacked the detention facility and killed the people we captured.”

“What?” Jesper said. “How could this happen?”

“Colonel van Targ is currently holed up in his room. He gave an order to lock my people outside the compound while we were under attack. The entire ambush was orchestrated within sight of this facility. He is completely out of his depth.”

“How can we help?” asked Gavins.

“I need the command codes for the facility here,” said Henry. “I also need the Colonel out of here.”

“Isn’t that a bit drastic?” asked Jesper.

“They’re under attack,” said Gavins.

“That isn’t even the worst of it,” said Henry. “A mob is forming outside, and unless something is done about it, there’s a risk we might lose this facility.”

That got both of the Council Members’ attentions. Very rarely, facilities would get demolished by rioting laborers. Order would get restored, but invariably there would be a slight hiccup in production sent to the Pyramid. Civilians would know something was going wrong, although they might not know exactly what was going on.

Jesper finally comprehended the gravity of the situation. “I didn’t know Colonel van Targ managed things there so poorly. How stupid of me. Of course terrorists would operate out of a place like that. We should have known better.”

Finally, thought Henry. He said, “I just need him out of the picture.”

“We’ll run him out of the militia, and we’ll work on getting a suitable replacement,” said Gavins. “In the meantime, you’ll have the codes and full run of the place. What do you intend to do to restore order?”

“I’ll get the locals to break the mob, and then we’ll conduct a pacifying action. The Colonel will be on our grav ship headed back to you.”

“Keep us posted,” said Jesper.

“Yes, Council Member,” said Henry. He ended the transmission. Now he could get out there and do something.

Under A New Sun – Chapter 10

Henry charged forward, grabbing the puker free from his belt. Just like during the bombing, time felt like it had slowed as his mind went into full alert at the danger he was in. Behind him, he heard the screams of the detainees and his own people as they were being bombarded by thrown objects. In training, Henry had learned that the immediate necessity was to keep his wits about him. Going catatonic in an ambush would only make him an easier target, and it would also put the lives of the detainees in danger. They were in his custody, and he was responsible for them.

Focus, he commanded himself. He powered up the stick and jammed it into the nearest laborer in front of him. It was a woman that had charged forward holding a wooden cudgel in one hand and a steel pipe in the other. She doubled over, vacating her stomach everywhere, dropping her weapons. “Forward!” he ordered.

Two other people from the machine came to assault him, but their attacks were clumsy. They knew enough to stay away from the end of his puke stick, but they didn’t know enough to do much else. Swinging left with the stick, Henry forced the laborer on the left to jump back. As the one on the right moved in, Henry lunged forward to put a shoulder into his chest, throwing him on his back and knocking the wind out of him. Seeing his friend in distress, the one on the left tried to come back in to help. His stick was out, tapping the laborer’s leg, and he vomited all over his prone friend.

By the machine, the other laborers did not want to engage the man with the puke stick. They all had jumped behind the large contraption, holding their weapons at the ready. Henry cursed. Didn’t he order his people forward? Holding his stick out in front of him, Henry took a moment to look behind. All of his people were cowering over the detainees, huddled underneath a growing pile of debris being thrown at them. At least they got that part of their training right.

Unless their attackers could hurl boulders, there wasn’t much damage they could do to the armored militia. Sergeant Phipps was the only other person there with her wits about her, but she was fighting off some people coming up from behind. “Fucking move already,” he heard her swear. She swung a fist at one attacker and her shock stick at another, but more people were moving up. Henry took out a sonic grenade from his belt pack, pushing the arming button down with his thumb. The delay on it was five seconds. He released the button, counted to three, and threw it just past Kat’s position. It went off in the middle of a crowd of laborer attackers, going off with a bright flash of light and a screeching noise that shattered several nearby windows. Everyone within five meters without ear protection fell to the ground in pain. People twenty meters out were simply disoriented for a few seconds. Most of the attackers that weren’t harmed stopped to help their fallen, blunting the number that swarmed Kat. She broke some laborer’s nose, and then she nodded her thanks to Henry.

The grenade, though, got his people’s attention. “I said forward,” Henry commanded, pointing at the machine. “Forward, now.” A few people got to their feet, obeying his command. Henry went with them, and slowly his people got their heads back on straight. They surged forward, some protecting the detainees, others pulling out their shock sticks to subdue the people blocking their exit. Debris kept being thrown at them, and one militia member decided to throw a sonic grenade in reply. The throw was off, and the projectile landed somewhere between the buildings. Henry grabbed the militia soldier by the arm and dragged him towards Kat. “Guard our rear,” he ordered, yanking out his shock stick and handing it to him. The implement shook violently in the person’s hand.

Turning his attention back to the machine, Henry saw that his people were in the middle of a giant fray next to the machine. More laborers poured in from somewhere, but he wasn’t sure where that was. He ran forward, dodging a few projectiles on his way to get a better look. Poking his head around the wall, he saw that there were many more laborers outside the town, and they were all rushing forward to mob his front line. Towards the Administrator’s compound, nothing was going on. What the fuck are they waiting for, thought Henry. He had to do something quickly, or they’d be too swarmed from two sides to get away.

A couple laborers broke past his front line, and they fell victim to several militia guarding the detainees. Reacting violently, the militia simply beat the laborers down, their gauntleted fists smeared in blood, castoff flying onto some of the detainees. They started screaming hysterically. Henry pulled his people off of the prone figures. “Take them with us,” he ordered. One of the militia looked up as if in protest. Henry cut him off with a cuff. “Do it, or I will leave you to them. We are not savages who beat people to death. For your sake, I hope they live.”

Kat called out, bringing Henry’s attention to the rear. People from the town were gathering in greater number, but in the short term it looked like the line Kat had formed would hold. Everyone of her people had their sticks out, shocking laborers that dared to get too close. It wouldn’t hold forever, and so Henry had to turn his attention to breaking them out of their trapped position. The laborers had by now pressed themselves together against his people who now had to use the broken machine as leverage to stay on their feet.

Grabbing a few of the people on the detainees, Henry motioned for them to take out their sonic grenades. He had one in each hand. “Listen up,” he called out to everyone. “When you see the signal, that’s the sign to bunch up and press forward. Got it? Kat, cover our ass!” To the people with their grenades, he gave each a target area. “On one, hit the button. On three, throw it. Got it?” They all nodded. “Right! One,” he pushed the button. “Two! Three!” Throwing the grenades out, Henry was pleasantly surprised to see they all landed pretty much where he wanted them to.

They all went off nearly simultaneously, breaking the huddled mass of laborers apart. “GO!” Henry screamed. The detainees where helped up, and the militia group plowed past the machine, forming a tight group on the other side. While all of the nearby laborers were in pain, the ones behind them slunk back, afraid of more grenades going off. The way to the compound was clear. Henry ordered his people to move a little faster, and to ignore the laborers for now.

One of the militia with Kat did not heed Henry’s order. A laborer about twenty meters away roared defiantly, and before Kat could stop him, the militia member ran off to hit him with a shock stick. Both Kat and Henry could only watch in horror as the laborers massed over him, tearing off his armor, beating the man to death. He screamed for help, and a couple militia members wanted to help, but Henry stopped them. “Get to safety,” he said.

When they got to the compound, Henry heard shouting on the other side. The doors swung open, and Alfred came out with his own people. Several of the local militia were on the floor, one was unconscious. “They wouldn’t let us out,” he explained.

Henry nodded. He ordered his people inside, and the doors closed behind them. One of the locals snarled at Henry, “Your subordinate struck a fellow officer! I’ll have him punished severely for this!”

Without missing a beat, Henry grabbed the man and whipped him around, jamming his face into the door’s window. A firm hand rested on the back of the local militia’s head, while another grabbed his left arm and twisted it behind him. “Were you ordered to not help us?”

“Unhand me! Ow! Unhand me! You can’t do this!”

“You better fucking believe I can do this,” Henry said. “Out there, right now, a mob of people is ripping one of my people – a fellow member of this militia – to pieces. That’s only happening because either you little shits have been cowering, or you’re all under orders. I want to know which. And you’re going to tell me.”

“You can’t do this,” the man protested.

“Do you think the people out there will care what uniform you’re wearing when I throw you to them? They’ve been beaten, shocked, and stunned. Right now I’d imagine they’re really pissed off, and they’re looking for revenge on any asshole that comes their way.” Henry started twisting, rubbing the man’s eye into the glass. “I’m going to test that theory if you don’t tell me what I want to know.”

“Please! Stop! Okay, yes! We were under orders to keep out of it!”

“How do I know you’re not just fucking saying that?”

“Ask anyone else! They’ll tell you! I promise! Please! Don’t send me out there!”

Henry let the man go. “Don’t go too far,” he said, watching the man scurry off like a rat. To Alfred he said, “Thank you for getting the doors open. I want our own people guarding the barracks. See to it that the detainees are locked into the detention facility.” Alfred nodded, and Henry walked off to his quarters. He needed time to come off the adrenaline and the trauma of what just happened. The near-death experience he just had was only the beginning. He was going to have a long day ahead of him.