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Fierce Girls

Book 1 of the Fierce Girls at War Series

Michael Adams


Copyright 2017 by Michael Adams

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever including Internet usage, without written permission of the author.

This is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, or events used in this book are the product of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual people, alive or deceased, events or locales is completely coincidental.

E-book formatting by Maureen Cutajar

www.gopublished.com


Contents


Chapter 1: Kelly Cassidy

Chapter 2: Recon Mission

Chapter 3: Rumble in the Jungle

Chapter 4: Number 1 Fan

Chapter 5: Cameroon

Chapter 6: The Consul’s Daughter

Chapter 7: Staff Sergeant Bennett

Chapter 8: Quantico

Chapter 9: The New Hope Colony

Chapter 10: First Meeting

Chapter 11: The Competition

Chapter 12: First Date

Chapter 13: Barbados

Chapter 14: A Family Embraced

Chapter 15: Ciara’s Mom

Chapter 16: Homecoming

Chapter 17: Trouble

Chapter 18: Safe House

Chapter 19: Reunion

Chapter 20: Her Little .22

Chapter 21: Nowhere is Safe

Chapter 22: Change of Command

Chapter 23: The Stakes Get Higher

Chapter 24: Desperate Plan

Chapter 25: A Little Help From Their Friends

Chapter 26: The Starship North America

Chapter 27: Naomi MacCaffrey

Chapter 28: The Academy VR Range

Chapter 29: Leaving for the Colony

Chapter 30: New Lives

Chapter 31: Arrival

Chapter 32: Checking In

Chapter 33: Difficult Boss

Chapter 34: Demon Wolves

Chapter 35: Goddess of War

Chapter 36: Colonel Black

Chapter 37: Bully

Chapter 38: Assault

Chapter 39: A Slap to the Face

Chapter 40: Office Party

Chapter 41: Haven

Epilogue: Changes




Chapter 1

Kelly Cassidy

March 2122

Yonkers, New York

There were few things Kelly Cassidy enjoyed more than a relaxing day off from work and spending time with her granddaughter Ciara whose father ‘Rick’ O’Brien was her eldest child and only son. “Rick’, whose given name was Paul O’Brien, was a lieutenant in the Navy and currently deployed with his ship the USS Mount St Helens off the coast of West Africa in support of a battalion of US Marines involved in peacekeeping and counter-insurgency ops in central Nigeria. Ciara’s mom Melanie McCord had never married Rick, nobody called him Paul, but she was like another daughter to Kelly and an older sister to her three daughters Bridget, Nicole and Chloe. Melanie worked in a medical nano-botics laboratory just twenty minutes down the highway. The McCord residence where Ciara had lived with just her mom ever since Melanie’s parents had moved to Oregon when she was three years old was just five minutes and a few blocks away and the little girl spent much of her time over at her grandma’s house..

Born in the year 2073, at 49 Kelly looked more like she was in her mid-30s than almost 50 and she’d been mistaken for an older sister to her girls on numerous occasions. Green-eyed and well-tanned, the five foot nine inch, very physically fit Kelly usually wore her shoulder length, silky auburn hair in a ponytail, and she liked to wear shorts and tight-fitting t-shirts whenever it was warm enough which further reinforced her youthful appearance.

The Cassidy/O’Brien residence in Yonkers, New York had been in the Cassidy family for more than 150 years, since the 1970s. It had grown from a small two-bedroom one-story ranch to a sprawling two-story, eight-bedroom, four bath home with an indoor pool and the best civilian-grade virtual-reality equipment available on the market set up in the basement. Long ago the Cassidy family had bought a similar house next door then demolished it so they could expand their home.

Kelly Cassidy was much more than a young-looking mother of four grown children who liked to dote on her only grandchild. Kelly was a recently retired NYPD police Captain who had been chief of weapons training at the Police Academy for more than fifteen years. She’d been hired back as a civilian after retirement and was still the academy’s Master Weapons Trainer.

Kelly came from a long line of police officers; Cassidys had served in the New York Police Department for nearly 200 years. Her brother Sean, 48, was also a former policeman. He’d served for 10 years before leaving the force after meeting his wife Helena and moving to Boston where she ran her own company with several clothing boutiques in the Boston area. Sean now ran a small private security firm that frequently worked with the local police whenever major celebrities or important political leaders were in town. Her older sister Janie Cassidy was a hospital administrator and had two kids of her own, twins Ashley and Amanda Sorenson. They lived a few miles up the Hudson River near Bear Mountain.

Kelly had graduated from high school in 2090 and from New York University four years later. She entered the Police Academy the same year and there she met James ‘Jimmy’ O’Brien another Academy recruit in her class who she married the following year. Jimmy was also from a family with a long history of police and firemen. During training at the Academy Kelly’s natural ability as a marksman was noted and Jimmy helped her reach a superior level.

Jimmy O’Brien was more than just an outstanding marksman. He was a phenomenal marksman who had used his civilian grade virtual-reality program to train his brain to slow things down and to increase his reaction time, remain calm under stress, and increase his accuracy to an exceptional level. He’d broken the Level IV record in the VR trainer during his first week at the Academy and whenever his group of recruits was due to practice he was asked to help with their training. By the time they graduated Kelly had the second highest score in the VR trainer, right behind Jimmy.

The big family house had plenty of room with Janey and Sean both moving out and they moved in with Kelly’s parents. They began their family a little earlier than they’d planned when Kelly became pregnant just a few months after graduating from the Academy and in 2096 their son Paul was born. Four years later they welcomed young Bridget O’Brien, the first of three daughters. Nicole was born in 2103 and Chloe in 2104.

During her first year as patrolmen, early in her pregnancy with her son, Kelly was involved in her first deadly fire incident. She and her partner had been called to a suspected break-in and they’d been ambushed by three armed men. Her partner and training officer, Sergeant Rafael Picardo, was seriously wounded in the first seconds of the ambush. Kelly reacted instantly and in the ensuing firefight she killed two of the assailants and wounded the third. She wasn’t proud of having to kill the two men but she lost no sleep over it either; it was kill or be killed. A year later she was selected for the Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) Team, as a sniper. She was forced to kill two more people during separate incidents over the next four years. She easily passed the exams for Police Lieutenant and was assigned to the SWAT training facility as an instructor and team leader. After giving birth to her fourth child Chloe she requested assignment as a weapons instructor at the Police Academy and her request was approved. She remained there for the next 15 years eventually becoming the Academy’s senior weapons trainer and department head. Kelly was so highly regarded as an instructor that law enforcement officers from other departments including the FBI were sent to train with her. She was immediately hired back as a civilian master weapons trainer when she retired as a Captain in 2119 after 25 years in uniform. She was enjoying this new status immensely - being able to train the young recruits as well as officers returning for proficiency training without having to deal with the politics and bureaucracy involved with being a senior police officer and department head.

Not everything in her life had been peaches and cream though. In 2103 a horrifying viral flu pandemic kicked the world in the gut. It sickened people of all ages and over 300 million people across the globe died in less than six months with China and India suffering the worst. Fourteen million Americans died including both Kelly’s mom and Jimmy’s father. Her dad Kevin Cassidy remarried ten years later and lived in upstate New York. His mom, Kathleen O’Brien, remarried in 2111 and moved to Maine with her new husband.

Six years later Jimmy was killed during a terrorist attack on the area’s largest airport. He had sacrificed his life to save a group of unarmed civilians about to be slaughtered by the fanatics who hoped to spread fear throughout the country. The whole event was captured by the airport’s security cameras and Kelly had wept with grief but also with pride when she watched the recording with members of both their families.

Advised that there was an outside chance that the terrorists might seek to harm the family of the hero cop who’d foiled their plan Kelly had installed a top-of-the-line security program that was run by the house’s AI, artificial intelligence. Nicknamed Robby, the AI had been installed by her parents when Paul was an infant. Both before and after Jimmy O’Brien’s death Kelly Cassidy never had to worry about her kids when she went to work. The Cassidy and O’Brien extended families always made sure that Jimmy’s kids were taking care of. Both families were tightknit groups and they’d known each other as long as anyone could remember. Kelly was not the only Cassidy who’d married an O’Brien over the years.

While Kelly was fiercely protective of her family, she knew that she might not be able to protect them by herself if something bad were to happen so she decided to teach her kids how to shoot as they became old enough to handle a weapon. At age 12 she began to teach Paul who quickly became an outstanding marksman both on the live fire range and in VR. He was excellent with a rifle but a phenomenal shooter with all kinds of handguns. As a senior weapons instructor Kelly had access to some of the best training programs available and she was allowed to obtain copies for use in her private VR room in the basement. Each of her girls also took to it with a vengeance and they all reached a level of proficiency beyond that of most professional law enforcement or military personnel although that was kept pretty much a family secret. Not wanting to draw attention to themselves the O’Brien kids never competed in public marksmanship competitions; of course the level of competition within the family was more than enough to satisfy all five of them.

Paul was handsome, smart, athletic and extremely popular with the girls while he was in high school. A little too popular an exasperated Kelly thought when she learned that one of his several casual girlfriends, Melanie McCord, who was more than a year older and a senior in high school while he was a junior, had become pregnant with his child. Melanie was supposed to enter Rutgers University in just a few months and Paul still had another year of high school to finish. Melanie’s parents were aghast and bewildered while both youngsters could see their futures crashing down around them until Kelly took matters in hand and before long Melanie became like another daughter to Kelly. She did take one semester off late in the pregnancy but returned to school the next semester while Rick graduated on time and began his studies at NYU. Graduating from Rutgers with a degree in Nanite Technology, Melanie went to work in a medical nano-bot laboratory not far from home. Rick, who had attended the school on a NROTC scholarship, entered the Navy as a logistics officer, a natural fit with his business and logistics degree. Whenever possible little Ciara stayed with her dad who could always count on help from his sisters, or other family members and even Melanie to stay with them and help care for his precocious and energetic daughter while he was at work during the day.

Things were going very well in the Cassidy/O’Brien residence. Rick was still about four months away from returning home but he made video calls as often as he could and Ciara was looking forward to being reunited with him again. Bridget would be graduating from the University of Virginia at Virginia Beach with a degree in Engineering and she was looking forward to starting graduate school in the fall. Bridget was living in Paul’s two-bedroom house in Virginia Beach while she went to school there. Nicole was a sophomore at the University of Kentucky, still a bit unsure which direction she wanted to take in her life, but her grades were excellent. Both college girls came home for weekends at least once a month. Chloe was about to graduate from high school and had been accepted to Boston College. Kelly was glad that Sean and Helena would be able to keep an eye on her. And Ciara was coming up on her 10th birthday.


Chapter 2

Recon Mission



Nigeria

United States Marine Corps Staff Sergeant Susan Mollison ‘Molly’ Bennett was not happy. She’d just received the news that her ex-husband David Bennett had cleaned out her bank account and she was making a list in her mind of which of his bones she wanted to break and in what order when she heard her name called.

“Staff Sergeant Bennett! Over here!” called her platoon leader Lieutenant Kerry Givens.

Molly Bennett put David and his bones out of her mind for the time being, got up and hurried over to Givens to find out what he wanted.

The 25-year-old Bennett was an experienced squad leader in Second Platoon, Alpha Company, 2nd Recon Battalion. Recently promoted to Staff Sergeant, Bennett was being groomed to move up to assistant platoon sergeant, then platoon sergeant once her unit returned home in a couple of months. The five foot nine, green-eyed blonde was far better looking than the average Marine and she was often under-estimated by those who just saw a pretty face until they learned just how quick and deadly she really was. She had earned the respect of her superiors and of the other Marines in her company who had witnessed her ferocity and her ability to lead in difficult situations.

Alpha Company had been tasked with keeping tabs on the movements of potentially hostile forces in the area of a nearby refugee camp. The UN peacekeeping forces in the area included two companies of Marines from the 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion as well as units from Canada, Norway and Kenya.

Word had come down shortly after noon that a large unidentified group of armed men had been spotted moving towards the refugee camp through the jungle from the north about two miles from the company’s position. With no air support immediately available Alpha Company’s commander decided to send out two platoons of recon scouts, including Bennett’s Second Platoon, to locate the unidentified group and report back what they found. The rest of Alpha Company and a mixed group of Canadian and Kenyan soldiers would follow 1500 yards behind; ready to move in whichever direction they were needed. The two recon platoons spread out, with each assigned to a sector five hundred yards wide. Bennett’s was the lead squad for her platoon and they were moving forward about 100 yards ahead of the others.

Moving quickly but quietly through the lush foliage, Bennett’s squad of seven Marines advanced over a mile through the jungle until they came to a shallow stream. Bennett scanned the trees on the other side of the stream then told her assistant squad leader Corporal Rivera, “Riv, I’ve got this feeling we’re getting close. Stay here with the rest of the squad while I take Hanson ahead for a looksee.”

“You got it, Sarge!” Rivera replied.

Bennett and Private Hanson moved stealthily forward, crossed the stream then clawed their way up to the top of a small hillock where they would stay for several minutes as they scrutinized the jungle ahead before calling the rest of the squad up. Bennett was about to call the squad up when the sounds of movement in the jungle ahead caught their attention. They spotted three armed men wearing jungle green, yellow and brown uniforms, moving carefully forward and towards them, checking in all directions except to the rear. They were obviously scouting ahead of the main group. Bennett used her helmet com to call Rivera, “Riv, you’ve got company coming your way. Three scouts with automatic rifles. Hold your position and stay out of sight. Let them pass, third squad can take care of them.”

“Okay, Sarge!” Bennett then reported their position and direction of movement to Givens so they could be dealt with quietly by the Marines coming up behind them.

The three scouts had just crossed the stream headed south when Bennett and Hanson found themselves looking down from their perch ten feet above the jungle floor at a large group of armed men advancing towards the stream almost noiselessly from the jungle, passing less than ten yards to the left of their position. Wearing jungle camouflage Bennett’s group was well concealed from view in the dense foliage at the top of the rise and on the other side of the stream. Even so the armed group was close enough that there was a danger that they would simply stumble into her squad’s position if anyone decided to climb up the little hill they were watching from.

###

New York

Ciara McCord O’Brien was in the kitchen of the house in Yonkers, New York getting a lesson in basic cookie making from her grandmother Kelly Cassidy. Her tenth birthday was less than three weeks away. A shout from the living room caught their attention.

“Mom, Ciara! Come here! You’ve got to see this!”

Her blue eyes lit up with excitement and the reddish blonde haired ball of energy took off at a run with a grinning Kelly trailing behind at a more leisurely pace. “What is it, Nikki?” the excited Ciara asked her aunt, 20-year-old Nicole O’Brien. The dark-haired, hazel-eyed Nikki was home for a long weekend from UK.

“Just watch! Robby! Close the blinds and turn off the lights then playback that last segment from the beginning,” Nicole instructed the household AI that controlled all the lighting in the house as well as the giant 3-D display panel that formed most of one long wall of the large living room. With the interior lights off and all outside light blocked by the automatic blinds the viewer would feel as if they were looking at the visuals from a point within the picture.

Yes, Mistress Nikki,” the British butler-sounding voice of the AI replied.

“What’s this, Nikki?” Kelly asked her daughter.

“Just watch mom! This is amazing! Come on sit down!” The news report began with a view that showed a crystal clear three dimensional picture of jungle-like foliage and a large group of armed men moving around close by and slightly below. Ciara and her grandmother sat down on the comfortable couch facing the display. Nicole was sitting sideways with her bare feet up on a love seat set at a 90-degree angle to the larger couch.

The narrator began, “This scene was recorded about seven hours ago. The images and audio are from the visor cam of a young sergeant, the leader of a US Marine reconnaissance squad sent out to find a group of armed terrorists heading for a refugee camp about two hundred miles north of the Nigerian capital city of Abuja. This squad leader and one other Marine had taken cover at the top of a small rise in the jungle. Be advised, the images of violence are shocking. Those faint of heart and young children may want to look away.

“Nikki?” Kelly gave her daughter a glance with a nod toward her granddaughter.

Nicole grinned, “It’s okay. Really! And she should see this with us. She’s going to see it anyway before long. Just wait.” A wide-eyed Ciara looked at her aunt then back at the display. “Continue the playback, Robby.”

The playback had stopped automatically at Kelly’s question. It now resumed. They listened intently as the Marine squad leader’s audio cut in.

Scorpion, this is Viper. Do you see this?” The voice was a whisper but Robby had automatically enhanced it so they could hear it clearly.

“That’s a girl!” Ciara said with a look at her aunt who nodded and grinned with a finger to her lips to signal her to be quiet and listen.

Roger that, Viper,” a male voice replied. “What’s the count?”

About seventy so far but there’s more coming out of the jungle now.”

Hang tight, Viper. It’s going to take a few minutes for everyone to get in position. Figure ten mikes.

Understood, Scorpion. We’ll just lay low where we are and hope nobody wants to climb up here. They’re all around us now.”

Keep it frosty, Viper. Out.”

The view shifted to the right and the three watched as more of the mixed group of heavily armed Arab and African marauders came out of the jungle. This group was pushing and shoving several prisoners who were roped together neck to neck. The captives had their hands tied behind their backs and their mouths were gagged. Kelly Cassidy let out an involuntary gasp at the sight but said nothing as they watched.

“This is real?” Ciara asked anxiously seeing the faces of the captives that were covered in blood and dirt. Their uniforms were dirty and torn.

“Yes it is, Keer. Just listen!” Nicole replied quietly.

Scorpion, they’ve got prisoners. Looks like a bunch of Canadians and Norwegians,” the squad leader reported to her superior. “I count nine. Looks like six males and three females

Wait one, Viper.” A few seconds later the voice spoke again. “Looks like they’re the missing personal from that supply convoy that was attacked two days ago up north. Try to give them some cover when the shooting starts.”

Roger that, Scorpion.”

Kelly, Nicole and Ciara watched raptly as the prisoners were pushed and dragged directly towards a spot just below the two Marines’ hiding place. Their captors never looked up as they pushed the UN soldiers to the ground where they collapsed with a collective groan. The engrossed Ciara was holding her grandmother’s arm tightly.

The view changed as the squad leader shifted around and looked in the opposite direction then down at the stream that ran behind the little hillock. There were at least twenty of the raiders filling canteens or standing guard within thirty feet of them and they were between the two Marines and the rest of their squad. The view shifted as she turned back to where the majority of the raiders were spread out, resting in small groups with a few standing guard. The view shifted again as the squad leader turned to look at the other Marine; he pointed at the hostages. A shake of the head in the negative blurred the view momentarily then settled as several men led by two heavily bearded Arab-looking individuals came toward the captives who were being given water one at a time by a guard who removed their gags just long enough for them to take a few sips before replacing them.

“What’s going to happen?” Ciara asked worriedly.

“Shush!” her grandmother told Ciara, mesmerized by the story unfolding in front of her.

They watched as this new group came to a halt and the squad leader’s helmet cam zoomed in on the bearded men. “Scorpion, looks like these two are the leaders. Any ID?” Viper asked in a whisper.

A few seconds later the reply from Scorpion came, “Jackpot, Viper. That’s two of the Gul boys. Umar and Abdul. Capture or kill those two, Viper. They can’t be allowed to get away. That’s your number one priority. Understood?”

After a pause, “Understood, Scorpion.” Umar and Abdul Gul were two of the six sons of Hassan Gul, the most wanted terrorist in the world. All six of his sons were high on that list as well. They’d been behind scores of incidents of murder and mayhem from Central Asia and southern Russia to the Middle East, in Europe, and all across central Africa as well as several deadly incidents in North America. The multibillionaire terrorist was the leader of an eclectic coalition of fanatics who held several enduring grudges against numerous governments throughout Asia, Africa, North America, Europe and the Middle East. They’d killed thousands of innocent civilians over the last decade.

Gul’s coalition blamed their enemies for marginalizing and impoverishing some previously rich oil producing areas that had run out of oil and coupled with the widespread use of alternate energy sources had shifted economic and political power to other factions and regions. They blamed the West, and the East, for the deadly plague and virus outbreaks that had killed millions throughout Central Asia and the Middle East, disregarding the fact that radical factions in those areas had refused to accept the vaccines that would have saved countless lives until too late. They blamed the industrialized nations for the shortages of water that were making previously prosperous areas uninhabitable. And they blamed everyone else for the rising seas that were submerging hundreds of thousands of square miles of previously inhabited land forcing millions of refugees to seek new homes. Some were religious fanatics of various faiths who could not accept the fact of life on other worlds and wanted to stop the extra-solar colonization program in the Tau Ceti colony of New Hope by any means possible. They were taking advantage of the turmoil in Nigeria, one of the richest countries in Africa, to attack oil fields and sources of resources the Nigerians had recently begun contributing to the colonization program in order to force them to withdraw from it.

Kelly, Nicole and Ciara watched the bearded men who were staring and gesturing at their captives. The audio wasn’t picking up their voices clearly but it was obvious that the two leaders were angry about something. Suddenly the taller of the two brothers pointed at a tall muscular African and motioned him towards the prisoners. He in turn gave an order to one of the guards standing over the hapless group of prisoners. The guard reached down and pulled one of the female captives up by her shoulder length reddish brown hair. The taller African then tapped the machete held in a belt loop on his hip and gave another order to the guard then shouted at the captives in halting English, “You watch now! You next if you no obey orders!

The guard dragged the captive by her hair over to the two leaders. The terrified woman, a Canadian officer, a captain they could see by the black double bar on the collar of her torn uniform shirt, was trying to scream through her gag as she tried to push with her legs to take the strain off her scalp. The other captives were below the squad leader’s view but they could hear their muffled cries of protest. The taller African then stepped over to the Canadian, drawing his machete as the terrified woman tried to struggle against the grip of the guard who then pulled her to her knees by her hair.

“Granma, Auntie Nikki, what’s going on?” Ciara asked fearfully.

Kelly Cassidy was holding Ciara’s hand now and looked at her daughter worriedly as the guard pulled the woman’s head forward, baring her neck for the machete wielding terrorist, “Nikki?”

Nicole gave her a grin, “Just watch, it’s amazing!”

The women listened intently as the squad leader whispered targets to the other Marines, telling the rest of the squad to cover them from behind. They heard the clicks of confirmation come in from the others.


Chapter 3

Rumble in the Jungle



New York

The tall African was raising the machete for a killing blow when shots rang out. Kelly, Nicole and Ciara could tell from the targeting reticule that appeared in the center of her visor that the squad leader had targeted the taller of the two brothers and fired two quick shots taking him down while the other Marine shot the man with the machete who flew backward. Both Marines had already shifted their aim to the other two men standing over the captives before the first two had hit the ground. The squad leader fired two more quick rounds and the second Gul fell on top of the captive as had his brother. The guard who had been holding the Canadian woman by the hair had fallen in a heap next to her

“Whoa!” Ciara shouted as she jumped to her feet. “They saved her!” The display paused automatically again.

“Keep watching, Keer. It’s not over yet! Robby resume display.”

The AI acknowledged, “Yes, Mistress Nikki.”

As soon as the Americans began firing, other fighters nearby turned towards the hill and began shooting at the two unprotected Marines. Within seconds others further away joined in. The Cassidy/O’Brien women watched as the Marines quickly cut down the ones close by and they could hear shouting and cursing as bullets tore through the light foliage all around them.

Kelly Cassidy and the girls heard the squad leader say, “Cover me!” The view shifted quickly as she slid down from the top of the little hill and began firing, running toward the three guards standing closest to the prisoners. She shot one guard before he could react then slammed the stock of her rifle into the face of a second. The third fired at her and she cursed loudly as she cut him down then turned back to the second guard who was now raising his weapon and shot him in the face. She ran forward and shielded the prone group of hostages with her body as other mercenaries began firing in their direction. She cursed again and glanced down at her left arm. They could see blood where she had been grazed by a bullet.

Ciara jumped as first one then another bullet hit the young Marine in the torso eliciting a loud ‘oof’ and a groan as she was knocked onto her back. “No!” Ciara cried in shock and dismay. The squad leader slowly got moving again, turning over and trying to get to her knees; the bullets had hit her in her armored vest, knocking the wind out of her momentarily. “Yes!” Ciara shouted in relief.

They could hear heavy firing in the background as more Marines opened fire on the band of raiders from all sides. Then things happened so fast as to be almost a blur. The view shifted as the squad leader turned towards the source of the shots that had hit her. Five terrorists, now just a few yards away, were running directly towards her. They were no more than two or three strides away and would be on her in seconds. She no longer had her rifle; she’d dropped it when she’d been hit. She was still on her knees when she pulled out her sidearm and began firing at the approaching men. In seconds three of the terrorists went down but the other two were on her before she could shift her aim again. The view through the helmet cam moved violently for several seconds while she desperately fought her two opponents hand-to-hand. The view stabilized after a moment and the Cassidy/O’Brien women watched as the raggedly breathing Marine pulled her combat knife out of the belly of one of her opponents. The sergeant glanced down to her left; the other man was lying dead on the ground. They could hear her gasping for breath as she rose to her knees and looked around.

The UN soldiers were all lying helplessly on the ground trying to avoid being hit by the storm of flying metal passing nearby and over their heads. The view focused on the Marine’s rifle a few yards away and she crawled over to it and picked it up. From a kneeling position she took aim and methodically cut down three more of the raiders before she ran out of targets. The sergeant gave another ‘oof’ and was knocked on her left side from the grazing impact of a bullet that glanced off her combat helmet with an audible crack they could hear through the display’s theater-like speakers.

When she heard this Ciara cried, “No!”

Ciara cried out in relief again when with an effort the young Marine NCO got back to her knees and looked around. They could see Marines and soldiers moving in from all sides, taking charge of the surrendering mercenaries and finishing off a few who chose to go down fighting rather than surrender. The huffing squad leader checked with the rest of her squad for casualties and they heard that although three of her squad mates had been wounded, miraculously none of them had been seriously injured.

The sergeant rose shakily to her feet and began a hurried check on the captives. Seeing that the group of six men and two women hadn’t suffered further harm, she hurried, stumbling a little along the way, over to the officer and pulled the bodies of the two dead men off of her. The Canadian was lying face down and struggling to breathe. The courageous Marine then used her bloody combat knife to cut the cord that bound the woman’s hands behind her back before turning her over and pulling the gag out of her mouth. The captain drew several deep breaths and coughed. It seemed to Ciara that the woman was looking directly at them all as she stared at the squad leader’s face through her one good eye and directly into the visor’s imbedded helmet cam from inches away. She croaked a ‘thank you’ through her swollen and bleeding lips. One side of her face was bruised almost black and her left eye was swollen shut. The young sergeant said, “I’ve got you. Just rest here a while, okay? You’re safe now.” She gave the woman some water and supported her head while she drank then asked, “What’s your name, Captain?”

“Naomi,” the woman replied, a little stronger now.

“Okay, Naomi, everything’s going to be okay now.” The Marine brushed dirt off of the officer’s name tag that was still in place above her left breast. The name had been digitally obscured and they couldn’t read it, “You’re safe now, Captain. The medics will be here in a moment and we’ll get you out of here.” The Canadian woman began to cry softly and the Marine put her arms around her and held her until a medical team arrived a moment later. When she got up to check on her squad, a medic intercepted her to check on her wounded arm. At that point Nicole had Robby halt the video playback.

“Wow! Wow!” Ciara was standing now and had both hands up in the air then she put them on her head in wonder. “Wow!”

“Oh, my god!” Kelly Cassidy said with an expression of awe on her face.

“I told you it was amazing!” a grinning Nicole told them. “That was no movie; that was the real thing! And it happened just a few hours ago.”

“That was probably the bravest thing I’ve ever seen,” Kelly told her daughter and granddaughter. “We’ve got to show this to Bridget and Chloe when they get home.”

“Who was she? Did they say her name?” Ciara asked.

Nikki should her head, “I don’t know. Robby is there any reference to the name of the Marine squad leader from that video segment?”

The smooth AI voice answered No, Mistress, there was not. No doubt her name is being withheld to protect her from any attempt at retribution by associates of the people she killed. There is one interesting thing though.”

“What’s that, Robby?”

They did mention the unit that her squad of Marines is attached to, and I believe that they are the same group that Ciara’s father’s ship is scheduled to bring back when they return to the States in a few weeks.”

“Really? Wow. Do you think daddy knows her? I want to meet her!” Ciara said excitedly. Her dad, Navy Lieutenant Paul O’Brien who everyone called ‘Rick’ was on the USS Mount St Helens, one of the navy’s newest amphibious ships. The need for floating bases for Marine ground and air units operating near foreign coasts had never gone away.

“I don’t know about that, sweetie,” Kelly told the youngster. “Unless her unit has been aboard his ship before it’s doubtful that they’ve met already. Knowing your father though, I’m sure he’ll have his eye out for her, especially if she’s attractive,” she said with a chuckle for her oldest child. Rick O’Brien was a notorious womanizer who usually had several girlfriends at once and made a point of letting each of them know that there were others out there. He even introduced them to each other at times yet the girls didn’t seem to mind as long as they each got their fair share of his time. Kelly thought sometimes that he simply had never found ‘the one’. Or more likely he was having too much fun to settle down just yet. He was still young though, just twenty-six. In any event he’d been that way since his father Jimmy, a detective in the New York City Police Department, had died in the line of duty. Rick had become a father when he was barely seventeen and still a typically irresponsible teenaged boy. Things had worked out well though and Ciara spent more or less equal amounts of time with her mom and her dad, and a lot of time at her paternal grandmother’s house when her father was at sea.

“Did you see how she handled her side arm?” Nicole asked her mother. “She had less than two seconds; I had Robby time it. She got off three rounds and took out three of them before the other two were on her. She did the same with her rifle; she didn’t miss I mean. She had more time to aim and shoot, but that was awesome.” Shooting accuracy was a point of great interest to all of them. They were all expert shots with both pistol and rifle, and Rick was the best pistol marksman she’d ever trained although Chloe might even be better one day if she worked at it.

“She definitely is an exceptional shot, no argument there.” Kelly replied. “Very few people could have made three kill shots in the little time she had, period! And she did it from her knees and it was just seconds after getting hit in the protective vest, twice. That is one real tough girl there. I saw guys hit in the vest a couple of times while I was on SWAT duty. One of them was knocked out cold for a couple of minutes. Another guy was sent flying into a wall and he was down helpless for several minutes. They both had bruises the size of a softball and a couple of cracked ribs. And those were pistol shots from twenty to thirty feet away. Just one hit each time. Those hits she took were from automatic rifles with a much bigger punch. Those military spec vests are tougher no doubt but how she got up again so quick I really don’t know. She’ll be hurting tonight for sure once the adrenalin wears off.” Right now she thought since all that happened hours ago. “That crease on her forearm is going to sting too.”

“Granma, when are you gonna teach me how to shoot?” Ciara asked hopefully. “Daddy says that I can start whenever you think I’m ready. I think I’m ready!”

“And what does your mom say about that?” she asked rhetorically, knowing the answer. Melanie McCord was not a great fan of guns but she respected Kelly and trusted her. She was in no hurry for her little girl to get her hands on a real weapon though.

“Well, she said I have to wait until you think I’m old enough,” Ciara answered evasively.

“Ha! Well nine is a bit too young and your hands are too small yet. Ask me when you’ve been double digits for a while and then I’ll need the okay from both your parents.”

“Aw! Well, how about in VR? Then they won’t be real guns and they make smaller ones for kids.”

“Hmmm. Well, we’ll see. I might be willing to let you start on a basic VR program here at the house but if we do that then there are safety rules that you will have to follow just like it was the real thing and if I see you breaking those rules I’ll pull the plug on you. Got that?”

“Yeah! Thanks, Granma!” the exuberant child shouted as she knocked her grandmother back into the couch and down with one of her famous tackle hugs. The girl was all of four foot six but she was very strong for her age and size. When she was just six Ciara had wrapped her arms around her Aunt Bridget’s legs and lifted the 120-pound, 18-year-old college student straight up and off her feet several inches.

“Can I call daddy? I want him to see that video so he’ll know who to look for when she goes on his ship. I want to meet her!” Ciara repeated plaintively.

“Robby, what time is it where the USS Mount St Helens is?” Kelly asked the AI.

I cannot be certain of the ship’s position at this time, Mistress Kelly,” the AI replied apologetically. “However, based on her known area of operations they are either six or seven hours ahead of Eastern Time, therefore it is likely either 1937 or 2037. That is seven thirty-seven or eight thirty seven pm, where they are.”

“Thank you, Robby,” Kelly told the AI. “It’s still a bit early to call him, Keer. He said we had to wait until after ten o’clock at night where he is if we wanted to call him. It is Saturday though so he might call us before that. So let’s just wait a bit, okay sweetie?”

A heavy sigh of disappointment came back. “I guess I can wait but I want to watch it again. Can I?”

“Bridget and Chloe should be back soon. Why don’t you wait and watch it with them?” Bridget and Chloe, along with Nicole, had promised to take Ciara shopping for new clothes for her birthday that afternoon and the two sisters were due back from the gym shortly.

“That works for me, I suppose,” the precociously intelligent almost ten-year-old replied.


Chapter 4

Number 1 Fan



New York

That evening Ciara received a video call from her dad. “Hi sweetheart, how are you?”

“I’m okay but I miss you, daddy.”

I miss you too, my love.”

“Daddy, did you see the news?” the still excited youngster asked.

What news, baby?”

“Oh, my god, daddy! The video of the Marine lady who saved those people! One of them was about to get her head cut off when the Marine lady stopped them. Then she jumped down to save the rest. She got hit a couple of times but she got up again and fought some of them with just a knife but she won and saved the other people too. It was wow, it was really real, not a movie! I was scared that they were going to get her but they didn’t. Granma said she must have been wearing a vest otherwise there’s no way she could have won but even so it had to hurt. Did you see it? It was all over the news; they showed it over and over.”

No, sweetheart, I haven’t seen it yet. I’ve been pretty busy. I did hear that something had happened with some of the Marines but not what it was. I’ll look for it on the net as soon as we finish.” Rick O’Brien promised her.

“Good. Robby says that the Marine lady and the others with her might be going to your ship soon but he wasn’t sure about that.”

Really? Now that’s interesting. I know we’ll be picking up some Marines soon to take them home.”

“I hope you meet her, daddy. Tell her that we thought that what she did was very amazing.”

Who is ‘we’? You and Granma?”

“Aunt Nikki saw it first; then she called me and Granma from the kitchen where she was teaching me how to bake cookies. She sounded so excited so I ran into the living room. When Granma got there too Nikki had Robby play it again for us. Then when Aunt Bridget and Aunt Chloe got home from the gym we all watched it together three times. Then the aunts took me out shopping for my birthday.”

A couple of weeks early, eh?”

“I asked them if we could go early and mom said it was okay. I’ll get more presents on my actual birthday, I’ll bet.” Ciara said with an innocent smile.

Ha! You little scoundrel; trying to double dip with your aunties, I see. Smart girl. How’s your mom doing?”

“She’s good. We’re having a birthday party at our house. My other grandma and grandpa are coming in from Oregon for it, mom said. I can’t wait to see them. Everybody’s going to be there except you daddy.”

I’m sorry about that, Keer. When I get home we’ll have a special birthday party that’s just for me and you, okay?”

“That would be great, daddy!”

Where are you now, Ciara?”

“I’m home with mom.”

Okay then, you say hello to her for me, would you? Tell her I love her for being such a great mom for you and for just being a great person.”

“She says you’re a great dad, too.”

She does?” Rick said with a grin.

“Oh yeah! She told me that when she first got pregnant with me that she was really scared at first that you wouldn’t stay around to help out but that you have been such a wonderful friend for her and a great dad for me and she loves you for that and your sisters are like her sisters.”

Well,” he said with a chuckle, “that’s real nice to hear.”

“You know what she also said?”

What’s that, Keer?”

“She said that it’s a good thing that you didn’t marry her because you might hate each other now. That you were both too young and wanted different things and that everybody changes as they get older and until you’re old enough to really know who you are you shouldn’t get stuck with someone who doesn’t know who they really are yet.”

She’s absolutely right, Ciara. What your mom wanted to do and be was very different from what I wanted to do and be. We shared, with the help of our families, the responsibility of trying to be the best parents we could be for you. Your mom and I have been really close friends ever since, but almost more like brother and sister than anything else. And we both love you so much.”

“I know that daddy. And I love you and mom a lot. I just wish I could see you more.”

I’ll be home soon, baby. And six more months and my tour on the ship will be over then I’ll be going somewhere else where I will get to come home every day and see you all the time. Listen, baby, it’s late here and I have to go. Say hi to everyone for me and I’ll try to call again in a few days.”

“Okay. Daddy?”

Yes, sweetheart?”

“When I turn ten I don’t want you to call me ‘baby’ anymore.”

Rick O’Brien chuckled and nodded, “Fair enough, love. Good night, I love you.”

I love you too. Good night, daddy.’

###

Kelly Cassidy and her three daughters had all pitched in to help Melanie get things ready for Ciara’s birthday party at the McCord house for that had grown almost out of control by the time the large birthday cake had come out. The ten friends from school that Ciara had invited were just the beginning of the crowd that showed up, first as a trickle of ones and twos then as a veritable cascade of arrivals. Her maternal grandparents were in from Oregon where the two physicians had moved while Melanie was still working on her degree in medical nano-botics. Mel’s older sister Sara Vitucci was there with her husband Joey and their two kids 14-year-old Jenny, 14 and 11-year-old Justin.

Next came numerous members of the Cassidy and O’Brien clans. Kelly’s dad Kevin came down from Ithaca with his wife Liana. Sean and Helena had come down from Boston and Janie was there with her girls. Jimmy O’Brien had not been an only child either and all of his four sisters and brothers had brought their families. The O’Briens and Cassidys had closed ranks after Jimmy was killed and they’d all had been there for Kelly and her four young kids, and now for Jimmy’s only grandchild. Jimmy’s mom Kathleen came down from Maine to see her too.

When someone had taken a tally, they had counted a total of forty-seven guests plus Melanie and Ciara. The new 10-year-old was happy to see everyone who’d come for her party and she looked forward to opening the mountain of presents waiting for her. When it was time for the cake, as if on cue, the big display came on and there was her dad smiling proudly out at her and he led the singing of Happy Birthday. By the time things had wound down and all of the other guests had left leaving only Melanie’s parents and Kelly and her daughters, Ciara was passed out on one of the couches from exhaustion and the crash that comes after consuming too much sugar.

“God, what a mess,” Mel said to Bridget as she looked around trying to decide where to start the clean-up.

“Don’t worry about it, Mel. We got this. Right, Chloe?” Bridget asked her youngest sister who was walking around with a trash bag picking up various bits of this and that. Chloe was about to finish high school but she’d already begun taking more advanced classes in science at the local junior college.

“That was the deal, right? We help before, during and after in return we have the party here instead of at our house,” the blonde-haired Chloe replied with a grin.

“We’ll have this place squared away before you know it,” said Kelly as she and Nikki passed by carrying containers of leftovers to the kitchen.

“Thank you guys so much. I just love you all.”

“Anything for our double digit midget,” Nicole chimed in. “Need some help putting her to bed, Mel?”

“Yes, thanks. She’s too big for me to carry by myself anymore.”

“Mind if I put on the news, Mel?” Melanie’s mom asked from the couch in the living room where she sat with her head on her husband’s shoulder. They were both happily inebriated and Melanie had told them to just find a seat out of the way while the cleanup was going on.

“Help yourselves, mom, dad,” Mel smiled as she and Nikki picked up the sleeping birthday girl between them.

“Hector,” Claire McCord asked the household AI Ciara called ‘Hekkie’, “anything interesting on the news right now?”

There are several reports about some major weather events going on in the Indian Ocean and off the coast of Chile.”

“Not interested right now. What else?”

There is a story about the fighting between the refugees fleeing the flooded areas of Bangladesh and villagers further inland.”

“Too depressing. What else?”

There is a documentary about the plague of 2070 and the 2103 flu pandemic.” Between the two worldwide medical crises more than 350 million people had died, mostly in China and central and southwest Asia where the radical government of North Pakistan had refused to vaccinate its populace until too late. North America had been less severely affected but it had not gone unscathed, especially by the flu pandemic.

“Anything a little more upbeat?” Claire asked with a sigh.

There is a report about the construction of the new classes of starships that will begin later this year,” Hector said with a tone that said he knew that this would interest Claire. Hector had been the McCord house AI for more than twenty years and knew Claire’s tastes in news reports quite well. Reports related to Earth’s first extra-solar colony had always interested her ever since the first exploration ship, the Searcher, had landed on Tau Ceti Four eighteen years earlier. The colony, called New Hope, had thousands of people living and working there now. Claire and her husband had once toyed with the idea of applying for a two or three year contract at the colony. They’d decided against it though and chose to move to Oregon instead where they had teaching posts at the University of Oregon Medical School.

“That sounds interesting. Can you summarize the report for me? Before I fall asleep like this guy here,” Claire said with a nudge at her husband Ryan whose eyes were now closed. She grinned when Bridget came and sat down at the other end of the couch; she was also interested in this topic.

Construction on the first of the new Vitus Bering class of Colony Transport Ships, the Vitus Bering, is scheduled to begin in about three months. Construction on the General Zheng should begin about six months after that. If construction on Vitus Bering stays on schedule it is expected to launch sometime in late 2126. It is hoped that its first voyage to the New Hope colony will depart sometime in 2127. There are three ships currently planned for this class, Vitus Bering, General Zheng and a third as yet unnamed starship.”

“These will be bigger than the current class of colony ships?”

Yes, they are being designed to carry up to seven thousand passengers whereas the current James Cook class carries about five thousand. The new class will also carry two larger cargo barges, each carrying up to five thousand cargo containers versus the three thousand five hundred that can be carried on each of the James Cook’s barges.”

“Oh my, that is big.”

Yes, and they will be faster as well, able to make the journey to the colony planet in as little as four and a half months.” The Cook class which consisted of the James Cook, the Amundsen and the Marco Polo were the largest moving objects ever built by humans. The huge ships were nearly a half mile long and took up to seven months to reach the colony from Earth.

“You say there will be only three ships? I thought I heard that there would be more than that and one of them was beginning construction very soon.”

I believe that you are referring to the new Continent2 class of Cargo Supply Ships. Construction began on the newest, Asia, late last month. It is anticipated that it will make its first voyage to the colony in 2126.”

“And it’s bigger than the other supply ships?” she asked with a yawn.

Asia will be approximately twenty percent larger than Antarctica, Australia or North America of the Continent1 class of supply ships. Including Asia there are four ships of this class planned for completion over the next five to six years.

“They’re really going to build seven new starships over the next six years?” Bridget asked. “That must be crazy expensive! No wonder there are so many people who want the whole program shut down.”

“It is crazy expensive, my dear,” Claire told her, “but remember, there are now nearly sixty countries that are sponsoring the colony program not to mention all of the corporations and conglomerates that have invested in it. The world has a lot of problems right now, but it always seems to have a lot of problems. It’s taking a while to build the infrastructure, that’s true, but the potential for resources, living space, agricultural exports, new medicines, and who knows what else is immense.”

“That’s all true, Bridget, and besides that what most people fail to recognize, or they choose to ignore, is that the colony should reach the breakeven point within a few years,” a now awake Ryan McCord added. “They have been sending back large quantities of rare metals and minerals, as well as some native plants that have some incredible medicinal properties. The gold, silver, platinum and other precious metals they’ve already sent back have paid for the cost of construction of the three existing colony ships. Something a lot of people seem to overlook.”

“I didn’t know that,” Bridget said. “Still, I can see why some people think the money should be spent elsewhere.”

Ryan explained, “The hard truth though is that if the extra-solar space program were to be cancelled today the money that they imagine would be available for the projects they think are more important would mostly disappear. It took decades to form the sponsorship association that’s paying for the colony program. There are already trillions of dollars invested and they’re all going to want to see a return on their investment. If the program were to be cancelled two things would likely happen. First, the economies of a number of countries and numerous corporate sponsors would founder, making things worse for everyone. And second, there would be individual countries trying to put together their own colony programs. They would compete with each other and very likely it would lead to conflict between them at some point. That in turn would likely cause huge problems with countries in no position to build their own programs and have already sunken great portions of their national budgets into it over the last two decades. This is the very problem that the original sponsorship association was created to avoid. We now have an international effort that operates more or less harmoniously and everyone who participates will get a share of the rewards for their investments.”


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