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Threat on the Horizon

Book 2 of the Fierce Girls at War Series

Michael Adams


Copyright 2018 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


Other books by Mike Adams

Fierce Girls at War series

Book 1: Fierce Girls

Book 2: Threat on the Horizon

Book 3: Opening Shots

Book 4: First Contact

Book 5: Bad Day On The River

Book 6: The Fight For The Pass

Book 7: Deluge

Book 8: Enemy Found

Book 9: Recovery Mission

Book 10: Jacks Company

Book 11: Death By Water Death By Fire


Contents


Prologue: Eight Years Earlier

Chapter 1: The Approaching Enemy

Chapter 2: Staff Meeting

Chapter 3: Ciara Cassidy

Chapter 4: Departure

Chapter 5: Orientation

Chapter 6: The New Hope Colony

Chapter 7: The Guls

Chapter 8: New Friends

Chapter 9: The Hot Tub

Chapter 10: Good News

Chapter 11: Size Matters

Chapter 12: Master Sergeant Ellie Pierson

Chapter 13: Wolf Sighting

Chapter 14: Demon Wolf Attack

Chapter 15: A Catastrophe in the Mountains

Chapter 16: Relief Mission

Chapter 17: Shuttle Pilots

Chapter 18: Breaking the News

Chapter 19: A New Friend

Chapter 20: Threat on the Horizon

Chapter 21: Amundsen

Chapter 22: The Captain’s Mess

Chapter 23: Differing Viewpoints

Chapter 24: Fiona

Chapter 25: Engineering Report

Chapter 26: Death in the Cargo Bay

Chapter 27: Message from the Asia

Chapter 28: Family Business

Chapter 29: Message Received

Chapter 30: North America and Australia

Chapter 31: Saboteurs

Chapter 32: “I Think I May Skip the VR Trainer Today”

Chapter 33: Another secret to Keep

Chapter 34: Asia Jumps

Chapter 35: Space Veggies

Chapter 36: The Anomaly

Chapter 37: Conference Call

Chapter 38: Internship Tour

Chapter 39: The List is Out!

Chapter 40: A Loan for a Friend

Chapter 41: A Lesson in Manners

Chapter 42: “An Over Beers in the Lounge What-if Kind of Discussion”

Chapter 43: “It Could Be a False Alarm”

Chapter 44: Some New Guests at the Residence

Chapter 45: Greta



Prologue

The Rift – Earth Year 2117



New Hope Colony, Tau Ceti 4

The Rift survey ship Kenone’se was making a scheduled twenty year visit to Rih’ta, a world claimed by Clan Miltcar, one of the thirteen great clans of the Rift Matriarchy. The Kenone’se’s commander, Captain Gara’e’ had been to Rih’ta before and was expecting to spend the equivalent of a local year in orbit while several survey parties collected mineral, wildlife and plant samples from the planet’s three primary landmasses. The landing parties would be protected by a contingent of Andoval troops hired for that purpose and who would be kept in transit sleep in between planetary visits. The seven-foot tall Andoval were immensely strong and in addition to their guard duties they could carry huge quantities of equipment and supplies for their employers.

“Captain Gara’e’, our sensors are picking up a signal of some sort,” said communications officer Dara’ka. Kenone’se had been in the planetary system for the equivalent of a quarter of a local year, making its way to its fourth planet. They did not expect to encounter any other Rift ships in the area but they were always listening in case a ship from one of the other clans was making an unauthorized visit to the area.

A perplexed Gara’e’ looked at his subordinate and asked, “What kind of signal? From where?”

“I cannot be sure yet, Captain. It’s coming from the edge of the system on a bearing approximately seventy degrees north axial, twenty-five degrees radial and eighty-two degrees spherical.”

“Can you tell which clan signature it carries?”

“It is not a clan signature, Captain. I, I think it is alien in origin.”

What? Impossible! Recheck your instruments, Dara’ka’!”

“I have, Captain. Three times now.”

“The signal is aimed at us?”

“No, Captain. I am trying to track the signal. It is directional and appears to be aimed at a point somewhere in the inner system on this side of the sun. One moment, Captain. Ah! There is a relay point! The signal has changed direction and is headed to another point, mid-system at the ninety degree point. I believe there is another relay point there, a satellite perhaps. There is a faint signal. Captain, I think they may be sending a signal to Rih’ta!”

“Rih’ta! Have they noticed us?”

“I don’t see how. We would not know they were here except for their signal. We are not broadcasting anything.”

The Rift captain sat in his command chair thinking furiously. The situation was unprecedented. No other space-faring race had been encountered in the ten thousand years the Rift had traveled the stars. Gara’e’ came to a decision. “We must know more. We will continue toward Rih’ta and find out what is happening there but we must not be detected. We will match the planetary orbit around the sun but in the opposite direction and let it come to us.”

“They will arrive at Rih’ta long before us.”

“Perhaps so but remaining undetected must be our priority.”

###

“Remind me why we signed up for this!” Tommy Parsons told his companion Donny Lowe. The two security officers were part of a twenty-man group of private security guards hired to escort a team of British and Russian geologists working for Aricola Mining in the mountains to the north of the small settlement of Novo Napoli 1100 miles east of the colonial capital at New Hope Town. Novo Napoli was bounded by a broad bay to the south and west, by mountains to the north and a broad plain to the east.

The colonial capital of New Hope Town 900 miles further west was likewise situated on a broad bay on the southwestern coast between two rivers that flowed down from the mountain ranges to north, east and west. The first landing there by the survey starship Searcher had only been fourteen years earlier and the colony now had over six thousand contract workers and scientists exploring the 5000 mile wide main continent referred to as Alpha.

The surveyors were examining an area that was below the 4000 foot level searching for mineral deposits and possible future mining sites. The two men were advance scouts and they were checking the trail ahead before the main party entered the area. With the coming of the warmer spring season there was less worry about the vicious native predators like demon wolves and snow panthers that roamed the higher elevations and came down only when the deep winter snows made it difficult to forage for food in their normal territory. The ironwood trees with their iron-rich, sap-filled, finger-like leaves that made up their main diet did not grow below four thousand feet. Predators aside, the frequent rain and occasional flash floods made life interesting if not miserable at times and there was no guarantee that other dangerous and yet to be discovered native life forms weren’t in the area.

“Could it be the extraordinarily high salaries we’re getting for risking our necks protecting these rock hunters from the local monsters? Just keep your eyes and ears open, Tommy. Oh, and shut up!” Lowe replied in disgust. Donny was getting tired of Parsons complaining about everything including the food, the weather, the terrain, living in tents, the occasional flood, etc. They were getting paid ten times what they could make back on Earth and Parsons needed to stop his griping and pay attention to their surroundings. Lowe didn’t want to get eaten by who knew what was out here because his scouting partner wasn’t paying attention. Donny was always on edge out here. As it was he and Parsons were nearly a quarter mile ahead of the rest of the party and he did not like being out of sight of assistance if they ran into trouble.

Changing the subject Parsons said, “I hear that the next ship in is supposed to be one of the new colony ships. They’re bringing significant others and some kiddies; high schoolers. And there will be more women coming I hear. Maybe you’ll find yourself a girlfriend,” Parsons said with a chuckle.

“Speak for yourself. Two more companies of Rangers are supposed to be coming in on it and they can take this job. I’m done with field work. Those guys who refused to go out without better protection and better weapons were right. Blackfoot group lost five guys last week to demon wolves. We shouldn’t be out here at all, I say.”

. The first of the huge colony transport ships, the James Cook, was due to arrive soon with over three thousand passengers. Arriving with her would be the second contingent of nearly five hundred Colonial Rangers. They would join the four hundred Rangers who were based at the small Ranger Base on the outskirts of New Hope Town. That group was composed of detachments of Americans, Russians, Chinese and French soldiers specially trained for the mission of protecting survey and exploration parties, and the mining facilities that were being developed from the huge and deadly predators that inhabited some of the areas of greatest interest.

Political considerations had mandated that the Ranger organization be an international force and every Ranger company had to be composed of detachments from at least two nations. All officers and senior non-coms were required to speak English, the agreed upon common language for all colony personnel. The Rangers were armed with automatic rifles and high powered hunting rifles with laser sights and personal side arms but nothing more powerful. Two or three lightweight armored personnel carriers with machine guns were also attached to each Ranger detachment. This was a vast improvement over the shotguns, smaller caliber hunting rifles, tranquilizer guns, and smoke grenades the first explorers and their private security detachments were allowed to carry for protection. There was still tremendous resistance on Earth to bringing advanced military weapons to the colony and more modern, destructive weapons were banned.

With the arrival of James Cook other aspects of colony life were expected to change in fundamental ways as well. Along with the usual mix of passengers onboard, scientists of all kinds, engineers, and government representatives, were the first group of family members. Over five hundred spouses and domestic partners, and some sixty high school aged children were onboard the starship. Construction personnel were working overtime to prepare housing for the new arrivals and to finish building the colony’s first school, the New Hope Academy.

The colony transports were not designed to land on the planet’s surface. Coming with James Cook were the first four cargo transport landers (CTLs). Each 850 foot long lander would carry up to 450 passengers and as many as 300 cargo containers, vehicles of all types, boats up to 100 feet in length, and specialized loads of mining and manufacturing equipment. Two of the landers would be staying when James Cook departed allowing the colony to expand beyond the southwestern area of the main continent where all of the current settlements were located.

Tommy grinned at his older friend. Good natured complaining was a soldier’s right and responsibility as far as Parsons was concerned and it helped to relieve the constant stress of being out in the field on an alien planet. “You need to chill a bit, Donny. That doesn’t mean dropping your guard. Just don’t get so focused on things that you miss the real dangers out here.”

“You mean like that?” Donny Lowe stopped suddenly and replied in an almost whisper. He pointed ahead down the rocky trail they were following along the side of a mountain stream, one of several they’d crossed over the last few days. The thing was nearly invisible against the similar colored boulders around it until Lowe had noticed a slight movement. About a hundred yards ahead of their position the two ex-soldiers could clearly see a very large animal of some sort; it’s back to them, drinking from the stream. “Demon wolf?”

“No, I don’t think so. No, no way. That thing is bigger, way bigger. It’s huge. I’ve never heard of anything that big reported. Better call it in,” Parsons told Lowe as they ducked down behind a large boulder to avoid being noticed.

Lowe nodded and activated his helmet comm. “This is scout one. Be advised that there is a very large animal directly ahead, about a hundred yards downstream from us. Type is unknown.”

Geoff Scott, their senior officer replied immediately, “Roger that, scout one. Hold your position. Try not to attract its attention. We’ll be there in five.”

“Roger that.” Lowe responded then closed his com. “What the hell is that?” The animal had turned and now stood in profile.

“Cross a crocodile with a rhinoceros and that’s what you’d get, I think,” Parsons replied in wonder as he studied the squat, elongated body. It had a nasty looking horn protruding from its head. “It’s damn ugly whatever it is.” Looking closer through his field glasses his eyes widened and he inhaled sharply. “Hey! That thing has what looks like a kind of saddle on it!”

“What? You must be kidding!” Lowe took the field glasses and looked for himself. “Well, fuck me from now ‘til Christmas, Tommy. You’re right, I think. Better turn your cam on. They’ll never believe this if it wanders off before the guys get up here.”

Tommy activated his helmet camera, “Yeah, okay. Cam on.” A sound of pebbles moving behind them attracted Parsons’ attention and he was beginning to turn his head and look for the source of the disturbance when something pounded into his helmet, knocking it off and crushing the small helmet mounted cam. Tommy let out a small “oof” then fell unconscious just as Lowe was grabbed from behind. Donny’s helmet was ripped off and thrown to the side then he was lifted off his feet, his arms trapped at his sides. The attack was so sudden that he barely had time to cry out before a blow to the side of his head filled his vision with red then black.

Minutes later Geoff Scott along with several civilians and three more security officers came up to where Parsons and Lowe had observed the unidentified animal that had now disappeared.

“What the hell happened here?” Scott asked out loud as he looked at the scene. Both scouts’ rifles and travel packs were still propped up against the boulder they’d used for cover. Parsons’ crushed helmet lay a few feet from a set of bloodstained rocks along with his field glasses. One of his men found Lowe’s helmet several yards away where it had been dropped or thrown.

Scott ordered the area searched for signs of the men but nothing was found. The video cam on Parsons’ helmet had been smashed and its image capture card damaged beyond retrieval of anything useful. Suspecting that a pair of demon-bears, dangerous grizzly-bear sized animals with red eyes, armored hides and long, steel-like claws and fangs had surprised the two scouts, Scott ordered the group to withdraw from the area until a survey drone could be called in to search the area for any sight of the predators or the two men. No sign of them was ever found.

###

As Tommy gradually regained consciousness he became aware that he was bound tightly and his body draped over something huge and reeking of a strong unfamiliar and unpleasant odor. He realized that it was moving and he was hanging upside down with his face against the animal’s muscular hide. He tried to look around and saw Donny Lowe hanging next to him, eyes closed and mouth hanging open. Tommy could not tell if Donny was alive at first but then he saw the older man’s eyes flutter open and look at him. Neither was in any condition to speak for the moment and the two frightened men both gritted their teeth and tried to endure the painful jolting they were getting with every step the animal took.

Both came instantly alert as the beast entered what appeared to be the cargo bay of an aircraft of some type. They were grabbed and cut loose from the beast then roughly dropped to the metallic floor of the craft. Bound hand and foot they were unable to do more then look around from where they lie on the floor. They could see the cylinder-like inside of the craft and heard first then saw the rear cargo door close.

Looking forward they saw their captors, several seven-foot tall, reddish-brown skinned aliens with tree trunks for arms and legs, each ending in large five-digit hands and feet; long rope-like black hair that was bound and braided behind them and hanging halfway down their backs. Two large dark eyes, two large ears, a wide flat nose and a wide, dangerous looking mouth with sharp rows of teeth like a shark. The ogres wore sandal-like footwear, hide skirts down to just above the knee and what looked like a leather sleeveless pullover vest that had multiple pockets and hooks for hanging weapons and other gear. They carried nasty looking spears, curved scimitar-like blades and spiked iron balls hung from the leather-like belts around their waists.

The aliens were looking at the two humans hungrily when two other figures emerged from behind them. They were smaller bipeds with yellowish-green skin and disproportionately large, bald heads. Two eyes, ears that were barely more than ear-holes, a small nose and a small, narrow mouth. These aliens were obviously in charge and burbled something at a small box strapped to each of their wrists. Grunting sounds came out of the boxes and the giants grunted back then picked the two men up as if they weighed no more than a couple of small children and carried them to a pair of long, padded platforms where they were strapped down tightly. The smaller aliens moved out of sight up forward and the giants took places on the floor along the inner hull nearby, attached hooks that were fastened to the bulkhead to the belts around their waists and grabbed on to large handholds. The huge animal was further forward, resting on its stomach and strapped down with a strong harness. Humming sounds and the vibrations of engines starting could be heard through the hull of the craft.

Parsons and Lowe each had had several hours to consider their situation in between bouts of unconsciousness and the experienced former soldiers knew they were in a bad spot. One of Tommy’s eyes was swollen shut from a fractured orbital bone and several teeth had been knocked out. Lowe’s jaw was broken and he suspected that he had a concussion to go with it. Their arms and legs were numb from the cords tied around them.

“I don’t think we’re getting out of this, Tommy,” Donny Lowe mumbled though the pain in his mouth.

“Just think. We’d be famous as the first humans to encounter an intelligent alien life form. If anybody knew about it, that is,” he groaned.

“Great, almost famous. A lot of good that will do us,” he spat as blood dripped down his jaw. “What do you think they want with us?”

“Nothing good, based on the way they’ve treated us so far. They took us by surprise and we didn’t get a chance to fight back. I say we make them pay for whatever they get from us!”

“We’re not exactly in a position to fight back, asshole.”

“We’ve got to be patient. Let them think we’re afraid.”

“Afraid? No problem. Check.”

“Let them think we’re weak.”

“Weak? No problem. I couldn’t lift a jelly bean right now. Check.”

“Sooner or later they’ll take these off us and we should act like two sacks of rocks. No resistance while we get our circulation back.”

“No resistance, no problem. Check.”

“Then we kill as many of the little guys as we can before the big ones get us.”

“Sounds like a plan. Just one thing.”

“What?”

“What if they keep us tied up like this?”

“Got to have faith that they don’t.”

“Great.”

Both men closed their eyes to settle in for what was coming as they felt the aircraft lift off and rapidly gain altitude

###

“It was quite unfortunate that the invaders got loose and had to be killed. The Andoval tore them apart and consumed them before we had a chance to examine them more closely,” the ship’s Security director Soa’e’ reported.

“That was more than unfortunate,” Captain Gara’e’ replied testily. “We risked much to capture them without being seen and they were allowed to get loose. They killed two Rift officers and three engineers even though they had no weapons. Then they were killed and devoured before we learned anything useful!”

“I must disagree with you, Captain. We have learned that these invaders are extremely dangerous, perhaps as dangerous as feral Andoval, but smaller and smarter. I think they will not leave Rih’ta except by force. They carried no weapons that can threaten us but they are a violent and dangerous race.”

“No weapons?”

The Security director shrugged, “There were only some thin metal tubes which unfortunately our scouts failed to retrieve. The Andoval were ordered to withdraw quickly when more of the invaders approached and the metal tubes were left behind. We do not know their function. They carried small bladed weapons as well. We must assume that they do have some weapons to defend themselves from the local wildlife.”

“Yes, we should assume that they have weapons to fight off the animals but we can’t assume that their weapons cannot threaten us. They are intelligent enough to build starships. Whether they have brought anything dangerous here with them is the question and we should assume that they have. We must remain invisible to them as we continue to observe them. Another alien starship has entered the system. We will observe as it approaches. We must bring as much information back to the Matriarchy as we can.”

“Shall we send another expedition down to capture some more of them?”

“No. It is too great a risk. They will be more alert now that two of their people have disappeared. We must let them think that the native predators got them.”

“Yes, Captain, as you say.”


Chapter 1

The Approaching Enemy

February 2126

Rift Flagship E’pinos’a

Expeditionary Force Commander General Bysr Osmu’a stood on the bridge of the Rift starship E’pinos’a along with its Captain Hymay Ektor contemplating his mission and the planet they were approaching, the one they called Rih’ta. E’pinos’a was one of three transports carrying over 30,000 Andoval warriors waiting in transit sleep to Rih’ta, a planet long claimed by the Miltcar, one of the twelve great clans of his race but never colonized. Each clan laid claim to its own sphere of control; some claimed planets for their resources and living space, while others maintained monopolies on certain technologies or other sources of wealth and power.

Periodically a Miltcar clan starship would visit Rih’ta and bring back samples of the local life forms and plant life. They would also survey new areas for valuable mineral resources but Clan Miltcar had never built any permanent facilities on the planet. It was far away and had been considered a low priority since they had claims on other planets closer to their home world that could be exploited more readily. Nevertheless, Clan Miltcar had considered the planet their property for nearly a thousand years.

It had been a great shock when the survey ship Kenone’se had found another star-faring race trespassing on their property. The Survey Commander of Kenone’se had taken great pains to remain undetected by the invader, keeping his starship hidden in the shadow of the planet’s moon and they’d observed the periodic arrival of ships delivering great amounts of material and large numbers of a bipedal species who were rapidly expanding over the main continent.

For attempting to steal Rih’ta from its rightful owners these aliens had been declared enemies of the Rift and this force had been sent to deal with them. The Clan Mother and her advisors had not felt the need to consult with the other eleven great clans before deciding to send an army to wipe out the thieves who were trying to take their property. It had never occurred to them to try to meet these creatures in peace and negotiate. That would have shown weakness in front of the other clans and might encourage one or more of the lesser clans to challenge them. They would take back their property before there was to be any consideration of peace with the invaders. For attempting to steal Rih’ta from its rightful owners these aliens had been declared enemies of the Rift and Osmu’a’s force had been sent to deal with them. A second force would arrive later for the second half of their planned campaign to recover their property and eliminate the invaders whose bodies they planned to use to feed the ferocious Andoval giants.

Osmu’a had waited in the shadow of one of the outermost planets for almost a planetary year before there had finally come a period when they were able to approach the planet without being detected by enemy starships transiting the system. The Rift Commander had quickly moved his three ship fleet to a position behind Rih’ta’s single moon, then they had to wait again as another enemy ship came in, landed and finally left again. For the long-lived Rift a thousand years was less than the span of two lifetimes and a year was just a brief interlude but Osmu’a was beginning to get impatient to get into launching distance for the atmospheric delivery ships that would carry his troops down to the surface. He was expected to complete the first steps in the plan to retake Rih’ta, the recovery of the eastern half of the main continent, before the arrival of Supreme Force Commander General Miltcar and the other half of their army.

The initial destination and marshaling area for his force was a string of islands off the south coast of the eastern end of Rih’ta’s main continent. There his troops would assemble their watercraft and when everything was ready they would begin their campaign by attacking the two large coastal settlements on the east side of the continent simultaneously.

It would take some time to prepare for the attack once the troops were on the ground; the watercraft being delivered with the troops had to be assembled before they were used. A cadre of Rift engineers would oversee their assembly. While a waterborne invasion carried its own risks it was less of a risk than exposing the vulnerable atmospheric delivery ships to any defensive weapons the invaders might have. Expeditionary Force Commander had just six of these craft, two came with each of his starships, and to lose them, any of them, at the beginning of the campaign could be disastrous and end the operation to retake the planet before it had begun.

“Captain Ektor, are we clear yet to begin sending my troops down to the surface?” Osmu’a asked impatiently of the E’pinos’a’s Commanding Officer. They’d made their way stealthily into the planet’s vicinity, being careful not to be spotted by any enemy ships in the system. Now they had been waiting for many days for one of the enemy’s departing ships to get far enough out for them to enter orbit undetected.

“If we are vigilant, then yes, Commander,” Ektor replied, his greenish-yellow skin looking somewhat pink in the red light of the bridge. His large yellow eyes and small oily nose shined above his narrow jaw and small yellow teeth. “In order to remain undetected we must come in with the planet between us and the enemy ship and when the enemy settlements are on the other side of the planet to avoid detection from the ground alien ground station on the western side of the continent. We will only have a short window to send your transports down to the designated areas then we must withdraw and hide behind the planet’s moon. We will not have time to recover the transports before this window closes and we must withdraw. It will require many days to land the force while avoiding detection.”

The two small earholes on either side of Osmu’a’s head flared open in irritation then closed again. The five foot five inch General was tall for his people and he gave the captain of the flagship the Rift equivalent of a nod with his over-large bald head, “I see. I know that you are correct, Captain Ektor. I do not like it but I have to agree,” the Expeditionary Force Commander added glumly. “Unfortunately, it will take many cycles to land all of our force although once they are no longer able to see us we should be able to proceed more rapidly.” The Rift general paused while making his decision then said, “Very well then, Captain, send the order to the Gandr’a and Lopets’e to follow us in.”

“Yes, General. At once.”

The atmospheric shuttles were three hundred feet long. Each transport carried just two of them. One shuttle could carry as many as three hundred Andoval along with several Rift officers and their riding beasts or an equal volume of cargo. The need for hiding would make this a long drawn out affair and none of his starships had been designed with this purpose in mind. They were unable to land directly on the planet’s surface; they’d been designed to carry raw materials from one world to another and each had been converted at great cost for this mission.

The wary Osmu’a did not want their enemy to know that they were there before they were ready to launch their attack and he didn’t know what kinds of weapons the aliens might have. The survey ship that had discovered them had captured two of the aliens but they had not seen anything they recognized as a weapon. The Force Commander knew he couldn’t count on the aliens having no weapons but he hoped that they had no large military force beyond whatever they needed to guard against the planet’s aggressive native predators. Osmu’a’s and his small fleet continued their careful approach to the planet and entered into orbit unnoticed.


Chapter 2

Staff Meeting

May 2126

Geneva, Switzerland

The conference room next to the office of Major General Robert Black at Colonial Ranger Command Headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland was nearly full. Fifteen of the eighteen seats were occupied once Black sat down next to his chief of staff, Ukrainian Colonel Peter Rusikov. Black was about to leave for a week for a brief delayed honeymoon with his new bride Kelly Cassidy. He was planning to travel to New York later that week to rejoin his wife of two months then they would be taking her granddaughter Ciara Cassidy to the colony departure facility in Paris where she would be boarding the new cargo supply ship Asia for its first voyage to the New Hope Colony. After that the couple was planning to go to Italy for a few days then Kelly would be staying with Black at his quarters in Geneva for a week before she returned to New York. Thoughts about that would have to wait though; there was less happy business to discuss at the moment.

“There have been two more incidents, General,” said Colonel Geoffrey Reid, his British intelligence officer.

“What happened and where?” Black asked.

“The latest was an explosion at the GravTechInnovations facility outside New Delhi where they make parts for the anti-gravity plants on starships. This occurred about five hours ago.”

“How bad was it?”

“There was no damage to the facility itself. The explosion was apparently aimed at the workforce. A small bridge that supports tracks for the light rail system that brings people to the facility from the security checkpoint two miles away was blown up just as the train was crossing it. All four cars plunged into a one hundred foot deep ravine. There are at least seventy dead and counting. A least a hundred others were injured, many seriously.”

Black growled, “Sons of bitches! Anyone claim credit for it?”

“A group referring to themselves by the ironic name The Earth Recovery and Peace Society claimed responsibility for the explosion. They said they were sending a warning to everyone who works for any company involved in the space colonization project that they may be next.”

“Has that group been linked to the Gul network?” Black asked.

“Yes, that is correct, Sir. It is believed that this group is simply a front for the Guls,” Reid agreed.

Black and nodded and asked, “What was the other incident?”

“This happened last night in Munich. A bomb was discovered in the local offices of Colonial Development Recruitment.” Colonial Development was the recruitment arm of the colonization program. “The bomb was discovered inside a storage closet in the main offices. An office worker on the evening shift there was looking for some cleaning supplies after spilling her coffee and she spotted it. The offices were evacuated and the bomb was removed and diffused. Initial reports are that it is similar to the bomb that went off in the Colonial Development Recruitment office in Sofia, Bulgaria last month that killed six people. No one has claimed responsibility for that so far.”

“Any new threats against Ranger personnel?”

“No sir, nothing new. Security is being tightened around all Colonial Development Recruitment offices, all manufacturing facilities, the spaceports, and the cargo terminals.”

“Very well, that’s a job for Earth Colony Security forces, not us. Colonel Molotov, what is the status of our personnel who are designated to leave on Asia next week?”

The Russian Colonel who served as the Director of Personnel and Cargo Movement for the Colonial Ranger Command replied, “The French detachment arrived at the barracks in Paris yesterday. The Chileans and the Chinese will be there tomorrow and the Polish detachment will be here the day after that. Most of the support personnel not attached to those detachments have checked into the transient barracks and the rest will be doing so over the next three days.”

“Excellent. And their equipment?”

“All of their containerized equipment has been loaded onto the starship. All of their vehicles have been delivered and are waiting in the holding yard until all the other containerized material has been loaded. There are twenty-eight standard personnel and cargo carriers and ten APCs that belong to the four detachments. Also in cargo there are eight scout cars belonging to the detachments plus six replacements for delivery to the Regiment. There are also two new anti-grav shuttles in cargo marked for delivery to the Regiment.”

Black sighed and told them, “It’s good that the regiment’s getting two new shuttles but they need more than that.”

“There were six new shuttles sent out on Amundsen.” said Colonel Gretchen Halder, the Australian logistics chief.

“I’m aware of that, Gretchen,” Black replied with a grin then he frowned. “But the fact is that even with the six on Amundsen the Regiment is going to need twice as many more. With all the additional Ranger detachments that are going out on Marco Polo the shortage is going to become even more pronounced. Increasing the number of Ranger companies there and then opening three new settlements over the next two years I believe is going to cause a big problem that we’re going to need to find a solution for soon. Having more Rangers to escort and protect the additional survey parties that are planned won’t make much difference if they can’t get to where they need to go. The anti-grav shuttles are the primary means of moving people and material from the settlements to the areas they want to explore.”

“It’s been very difficult getting approval for more of those aircraft, General,” said General Li Chow. The brigadier from China had recently joined the staff as weapons control officer. “The current view of my government is that when you include the ones that are being delivered by Amundsen they have quite enough to do what they need to do. I don’t personally agree but the shuttles are extremely expensive. Each one costs as much as all of the equipment and personnel for six detachments. As it is I wasn’t aware that any more were purchased for the Rangers other than the two on Asia. I was told that no more shuttles had been budgeted for, at least for the next twelve months.”

Major General Robert Black glanced over at the Australian Colonel and gave her a little smile. Halder grinned back at him; unlike the others at the table Gretchen Halder was well aware of how the six shuttles aboard the Amundsen had been obtained. “In fact,” said Black, “those six shuttles were not purchased directly for the Ranger organization or with funding that was appropriated for use by Ranger Command. There are a group of international resource development companies that have ‘donated’ the six shuttles to the Ranger Regiment at the colony.”

“Donated? Why would they do that?” asked Brigadier General Bert Van Lowen, the Dutch officer in charge of all training for the Ranger organization.

“Colonel Halder, would you like to tell them?” Black asked her with a grin.

“Yes, General. Our Director of Logistics at the colony, Lieutenant Commander Cassidy has persuaded a number of private organizations that are exploring the continent and developing resources that the transport logjam at the beginning of each exploration season would be alleviated if their parent corporations would see fit to purchase some shuttles and deliver them directly to the Ranger organization at the colony. In return those companies would have those transportation assets dedicated for their use. There are a small number of privately owned shuttles which do just that for some of the larger operations. I understand that there are twelve companies in this group, none of which had been willing to purchase a shuttle on their own, even one that would be dedicated for their own operations and with their own pilots because the cost. This cost-sharing arrangement apparently works for everyone. I wouldn’t be surprised if our colony Director of Logistics manages to arrange for others to be ‘donated’ to the Ranger Regiment in the same manner in the future.”

“You have a very enterprising young officer there, Colonel Halder,” said Chow. “I have heard his name come up a number of times, although not always favorably. I have heard that he has used some rather creative and unorthodox, even perhaps underhanded, and very possibly illegal, methods to directly force various private organizations both at the colony and here to bend to his will and provide material and other resources that he has requested rather than going through his chain of command or through the Colonial Administrator.”

Black stared at the Chinese general and sat back with his arms folded, “General Chow, I’m sure you are aware that before being assigned to Colonial Ranger Command as Chief of Staff that I was the regimental commander at the New Hope colony and Lieutenant Commander Cassidy worked directly for me.”

Chow shifted uncomfortably, “Yes, I am aware of that, Sir.”

Black surveyed his staff, “Lieutenant Commander Cassidy and his deputy Gunnery Sergeant Pickford are two of our greatest assets at the colony. In the three years they’ve been there the colony has made more progress than in the previous six in large part due to their efforts and their creative methods. The civilian colonial administration is an extremely political one and many of the government representatives can be very uncooperative when it comes to sharing resources for the common good. The same used to be the case for many of the managers of the private enterprises there.”

“Frankly the Colonial Administrator and the Regimental Commander are often quite limited in what they can get done through official channels. When Cassidy and Pickford took over the logistics operation there people were leaving the colony almost as fast as they were arriving and population growth was stagnating, which in turn was affecting the colony’s ability to open new settlements and to further develop resources. Lieutenant Commander Cassidy realized that they were in a unique position to persuade, and yes, even to blackmail if necessary, the various managers into pooling excess resources for the purpose of developing the more, oh, ‘recreational’, aspects of the colony. I’m referring specifically to things to relieve the sheer boredom of life at the colony outside of work. There was literally nothing to do and nowhere to go in your off time before they set out to change that. That had caused many people to leave as soon as their contracts were up. They also managed to solve some of the distribution problems that had been a constant source of frustration all around the colony.

“I fully supported what they were doing and I still do although I must admit,” Black said with a wry grin, “that at times Cassidy and Pickford did not always inform me ahead of time of what they were doing in order to insulate me from any possible repercussions.”

The Chinese brigadier looked at Black in surprise and said, “I’m sorry General, I had no idea.” He paused thoughtfully, “You said that they have been there for more than three years. Does that mean they will be returning home soon and is there a replacement available?”

Black shrugged and had to equivocate, “Both Commander Cassidy and his deputy the gunnery sergeant have indicated that they are not yet ready to return and will be staying on for some indefinite time which is, I believe, a very good thing. Colonel Halder, don’t you have a new logistics officer slated to join Cassidy in the near future?”

The Australian Colonel nodded, “Yes, Sir. There is a Canadian logistics officer, a major named Naomi MacCaffrey, who is on board Amundsen and on her way to the colony right now. Should the Commander decide to return to Earth she would take his place. We have also been authorized to send more logistics officers to cope with the expanding Regiment. There are three captains who will be heading out on Marco Polo three months from now. All of them will be going through the short course sometime next month.”

Ranger command’s new Director of Personnel, Polish Brigadier General Witkowski said, “I’m still trying to get a handle on our manning situation there. You say there are four new logistics officers on their way to the colony or will be shortly? I don’t remember seeing that there were four additional billets that had been authorized.”

Halder nodded, “That’s correct, Sir. In fact only two additional billets were authorized but two of the captains are going to fill billets that have been vacant for several months. There were two other officers in Cassidy’s department who both returned to Earth without reliefs over the last year. Cassidy has recruited a senior Russian NCO to join the logistics team when his field tour was completed but the officer billets have been unfilled until now.”

Witkowski said, “I see. That makes more sense, I suppose. I would have thought that with the amount of cargo that is sent there they would have a larger staff than they do.”

Halder explained, “Until recently the officer billets authorized for logistics had remained the same as it was six years ago when one additional billet was added. Since then the colony has more than doubled in size and the Regiment has almost tripled in size. In a way perhaps one could blame Cassidy for his success in keeping things running smoothly for the Regiment and the colony in general. Perhaps if there had been more complaints action would have been taken sooner but that’s water under the bridge now. The commander has submitted a request for an additional ten officer billets and ten senior noncommissioned officers who would be dedicated to the logistics organization. His request has been supported by General Black as well as the current regimental commander, General Jamison, but that request has not been acted on yet; it is still in review. Lieutenant Commander Cassidy has broached the idea of setting up separate full logistics offices in each of the larger settlements. Right now there are just small four or five person detachments under a mid-grade NCO. He would like an officer in charge of each detachment which needs to be larger than the current ones with the increased amount of material flowing through each terminal.”

“Sounds like a reasonable idea,” Witkowski said. “But why hasn’t this been done already? All of the other support groups have been growing along with the number of Ranger companies, so why not the logistics group?”

“Fucking politicians is why,” Halder replied. “Sorry, excuse my language, but the political types here on Earth are the ones who have to approve any additional personnel billets. There’s been a lot of pressure from some quarters to turn the logistics operations over to civilians.”

“Mon Dieu! That’s a stupid idea,” said Brigadier General Robert Gaudet, the French officer in charge of all Ranger Aviation Resources. Gaudet has been the Air Operations officer at the colony under Black and he’d returned just three months earlier. “There’s a good reason for the way things are set up now and it is the Ranger crews that move everything and everyone from one part of the colony to another. The flight crews, the cargo crews, the engineers and the security people are all part of the Ranger regiment.”

“Eventually those responsibilities will have to be turned over to a civilian agency,” said Witkowski pointed out.

“Eventually, yes, perhaps, but not yet and in the meantime the refusal to authorize sufficient Ranger personnel only hinders operations at the colony,” Black said. He sighed, “Let’s move on, shall we? Marcus, how is training going for the detachments slated to board Marco Polo in three months?” Swedish Colonel Marcus Olssen was the Director of Plans and Training.

Witkowski replied, “All sixteen detachments have nearly completed the first four weeks of their training. Four detachments are at each of the four training facilities, eight doing their warm weather training and eight doing their cold weather training. They will switch training facilities in about ten days. Things are a bit cramped at the barracks at each facility though. We’ve never had this many detachments going through training at the same time.”

“I imagine it won’t be the last time either,” Black nodded. He asked, “Any injuries reported?”

“A few, as always, but nothing serious. It is a shame the planned new Ranger training facilities have still not been completed.”

Black sighed, “Tell me about it. They’ve been on the books to open in a few months since before I left for the colony three years ago.”

“More politics,” Rusikov said. “The locations had been approved then changes three times. At least now they’re almost ready, another month or so I believe.”

“That will be very good when it happens. The older facilities need some maintenance and we’ll have at least sixteen more detachments going when the new colony transport ship Vitus Bering departs for the colony in about a year,” the director of personnel said.

“I’m hoping to send at least twenty,” Black added.


Chapter 3

Ciara Cassidy

2126

New York

Four years ago Ciara McCord O’Brien Cassidy or just Ciara Cassidy now, had been helping her grandmother Kelly Cassidy in the family kitchen in the rambling eight-bedroom Cassidy/O’Brien residence in Yonkers, New York when her aunt Nicole O’Brien called them into the living room to see something extraordinary. Nikki was the second of Kelly’s three daughters; Bridget, the oldest at 22, Nikki was 20, and Chloe was 18. A news broadcast was showing the helmet cam recording of a young, female Marine staff sergeant named Susan ‘Molly’ Bennett saving the lives of a group of nine Canadian and Norwegian soldiers captured in Nigeria by a large band of terrorist guerillas under the command of two of the sons of Hassan Gul, the world’s most dangerous and most wanted terrorist.

They were about to behead a Canadian officer, a badly battered woman with reddish-brown hair, when Bennett went into action. ‘Molly’ and the one other marine with her killed the Gul brothers and the two guards holding their captive then alone Bennett jumped down from her hidden observation point and put herself between the other captives and the more than one hundred fanatics now bent on killing her and the hostages. Bennett killed more than ten of the terrorists including some in hand to hand combat before help arrived. She’d taken several enemy rounds off her combat armor and helmet leaving her with some nasty bruises and a concussion but was otherwise unhurt but for a minor graze on her arm. When the footage was released to the public just hours later she became an instant hero although at the time her identity was withheld so the Gul organization would not be able to target her or her family.

The 9-year-old instantly became the young Marine’s number one fan and when Ciara learned that her unit would soon be boarding her father’s ship, the USS Mount St. Helens, she was ecstatic and told her dad Lieutenant Paul ‘Rick’ O’Brien that she wanted to meet her if he could arrange it. A few weeks later at a diplomatic reception at the American consulate in Cameroon both he and Bennett were present when Hassan Gull along with two more of his sons and about fifty of his men attacked the gathering. O’Brien, the ship’s assistant logistics officer was there to oversee the set up for the reception his department was responsible for while Bennett was there with two squads led by a Marine captain to provide security (and a chance, hopefully, to relax a bit off the ship). A desperate situation quickly developed as the events went live worldwide due to the presence of a news reporter there hoping for something interest to report.

When O’Brien and the now-identified Susan Bennett walked out of the building, apparently sacrificing themselves to save the three young daughters of the American Consul watchers everywhere were aghast, thinking they were about to see two brave young Americans shot down by Gul and his men. Seconds later a stunned and celebratory audience saw the Guls dead on the ground, O’Brien and Bennett were with the three girls safely back inside the building. Ciara’s shocked amazement and excitement was heightened minutes later after it was all over and she, and the world, learned that it had been Bennett who’d been the hero of the earlier encounter with the Guls who were hated almost everywhere and responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians on four continents over the previous decade. Both Bennett and O’Brien would be awarded medals for their bravery under fire, with Bennett to receive the Medal of Honor for the earlier battle.

Ciara and her family had watched the recording a little after the fact, Bridget assuring them that things would turn out okay. The whole family fell in love with Susan ‘Molly’ Bennett that day, a young woman with the courage to step outside the consulate building with Kelly’s oldest child and only son, Ciara’s father, in what should have been a suicidal gesture to save the three young women. Bennett had also shown a skill with a hand weapon that was almost the equal of O’Brien, a dead shot with a handgun who along with his sisters had been trained by his mother, now a retired NYPD police captain who had run the weapons training program at the Police Academy for many years and still worked there as a civilian.

The Cassidy/O’Brien women, including Ciara’s mom Melanie McCord, adopted Molly Bennett into the family after a meeting set up by Marine Colonel Robert Black, the commander of the Marine Base at Quantico. Colonel Black was soon to become the commander of the Colonial Ranger Regiment at New Hope, Earth’s first extra-solar colony on the planet Tau Ceti 4, a remarkably earthlike planet. An FBI agent that the widowed Kelly had once dated was a mutual friend of the colonel’s and he’d helped arrange the invitation to come down to meet Bennett who’d been sent back to the States immediately after the shootout in Cameroon. Rick was to come back weeks later when his ship returned as scheduled to the Amphibious Base at Little Creek, Virginia.

When her dad’s ship returned to port Ciara and the rest of the family were there to greet him. When most of them returned to New York, Ciara along with Bridget stayed behind. Rick owned a house in Virginia Beach and Bridget would be staying for a time to help care for Ciara who was quickly enrolled in a local school. Then the attempts to kill the two heroes began.

Hassan Gul had two more sons who vowed to kill the pair who’d killed their father and brothers. Ciara was in the house during first attack and saw her dad, and Bridget, killed three armed intruders while the security team outside took out the rest of the assassins. Ciara and her dad were quickly moved to a safer location. Bennett was also attacked and eventually they were moved to the same supposedly ‘safe’ hideaway, a closed hunting lodge in Montana. It was there that Ciara had shot her first human being, the last of a group of killers who’d overwhelmed the security team before Rick and Molly launched their own counterattack. The assassin had found her hiding in a closet but was unaware that the child had a .22 cal. pistol in her possession. Her father had been teaching her how to use it and he’d left it with her, just in case. The killer was about to shoot her dad when Ciara fired the little weapon twice into his groin and the screaming man had gone down at her feet. Molly had rushed over and finished him off with her last bullets.

Moved to another safe house Ciara heard how the Guls were now targeting family members of the security team and even at 10 she knew they couldn’t keep going the way they were. The Guls would never stop until they killed her dad and Molly. She knew something about the New Hope colony from what Colonel Black had told them and she told her dad and Molly that they’d have to find a way to pretend they were dead and go there to hide, a suggestion that the two reluctantly decided would be the best hope for their survival and that of all those close to them. The next team of assassins to find them provided an opportunity to carry out their escape although Rick was wounded in the process. With the help of Colonel Black they were quickly added to the Colonial Ranger rolls as Lieutenant Commander Rick Cassidy and Gunnery Sergeant Molly Pickford and departed Earth for the six-month voyage to New Hope a week later on the cargo supply ship North America.

Acting the grieving daughter of the murdered hero naval officer Ciara had to keep their location a secret even from her own family at first. Once she was able to tell them the truth she announced that she wanted to go to the colony when she was old enough; she had to be fourteen to attend the New Hope Academy, the colony’s only school. Since Bridget had shown an interest in joining Colonial Security after first hearing about it from Robert Black they decided to use Bridget’s desire to go there as an excuse for Ciara to want to go as well, under the sponsorship of her aunt. Ciara could not begin applying to take the rigorous required academic, physical and psychological exams and qualification tests before she turned twelve but that did not stop her from beginning her quest to do everything she needed to do to qualify to make the trip with Bridget. Finding a new focus in her studies she worked hard to be the best student in her class at every grade level and in every subject. She studied martial arts, took gymnastics lessons, and played soccer and tennis. Under the guise of wanting to know everything about the exotic planet that her aunt would be going to Ciara began to study everything she could find about the New Hope colony, Tau Ceti 4 and the Colonial Rangers, the international military force sent there to protect the exploration and survey parties from the planet’s dangerous predators.

News stories had already made mention of the brave little girl Ciara McCord O’Brien and the young girl’s name recognition began to cause her problems at school and elsewhere. With the agreement of her mother and grandmother Ciara began going by the name of Ciara McCord O’Brien Cassidy, or just Ciara Cassidy. She started streaking her reddish-blonde hair with silver and light blue or dark red and black colors and after a while was able to go about her life mostly unrecognized. This suited Ciara just fine. When she would eventually arrive at the colony everyone there was going to know her as the daughter of Lieutenant Commander Rick Cassidy and not as the daughter of Lieutenant Paul O’Brien.

Over the next two years Ciara began to go through the inconvenient trials and tribulations of puberty along with some growth spurts and by the time she was twelve she had grown several inches and her hands became large enough to handle the handguns the police force used. Her extreme competitiveness made her push herself to improve every time she went to the range at the Police Academy with her grandmother, and their protective detail, and she became almost the equal of her three aunts when it came to her scores on the target range.


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