Friday, November 23, 2012

The Night Visitor...A Story Of Christmas

   I wrote this story during the early years of my quest to be a writer. It was written for a Christmas Story Contest is one of my writer's groups. It won the contest.

                                                                          
                                                                 The Night Visitor


Pulling the collar of his Mackinaw up around his neck, Marshal Cooper Smith stepped out from the doorway of his office onto the boardwalk. It was Christmas Eve and, except for a small gathering at the hotel, the town of Sweetwater had shut down early. One more turn around the town and he would head home himself.
 
Locking the office door, he strolled down the boardwalk checking doors and looking in windows as he passed. Coming to the end of the alleyway, he noticed a fresh set of tracks in the light, falling snow leading to the back of the General Store. Drawing his Colt, he stepped off the boardwalk into the large, fluttering snowflakes and followed the tracks to the small alcove at the back of the store. The crunching snow under his boots was the only sound he made as he peeked into the alcove. Huddled tightly in a corner was a young boy.
 
“Whaddya doin’ here, boy?” asked the marshal, holstering his Colt.
 
The blond-haired boy looked up at Cooper, noticing the badge pinned to his coat. “You the marshal? Am I in trouble?”
 
Cooper shook his head. “Not unless you stole somethin’.”
 
“I was just tryin’ to get in out of the snow,” the boy explained.
 
Cooper reached in the alcove, taking the boy by the arm. “Why ain’t you at home?”
 
The boy shrugged his shoulders. “Don’t have one.”
 
The marshal put his arm around the boy’s shoulders. “Well, come on, it’s Christmas Eve, you’ll come home with me tonight.”
 
The boy walked along with Cooper while the marshal finished his rounds, finally walking to the edge of town where a tidy white house, surrounded by a picket fence, stood in a small pine grove. Unlocking the door, Cooper lit the lamp on the table. The boy looked around the house as the marshal ignited the logs in the fireplace.
 
“It’s the day before Christmas and you don’t have a tree!” said the boy.
 
“I haven’t had a Christmas tree in a long time,” replied Cooper, warming his hands next to the fire.

The boy’s face suddenly lit up. “You have Christmas trees all around you. Let’s go cut one.”
 
With a slight hesitation, the marshal followed the boy out the door. Passing the woodpile at the side of the house, Cooper grabbed a hatchet. They hadn’t gone far when the boy pointed and ran to a tree, spotlighted by the moon, among the tall pines.
 
“It’s perfect,” said the boy, when Cooper caught up to his young companion. It took him a few minutes to cut down the tree and they dragged it by the trunk back to the house, standing it up against the wall next to the door.
 
“Where are we gonna put it?” asked the boy.
 
Cooper hung his coat and hat on a wall peg next to the door and, holding up one finger, disappeared into a bedroom. He came out a few minutes later carrying a wooden tree stand and set it on the floor to the left of the fireplace in front of the window. Next, he took the waiting tree and slipped it neatly into the hole in the top of the stand.
 
“A perfect fit,” said Cooper proudly.
 
“We need something to put on it,” advised the boy. Cooper held up his finger again and disappeared back into the bedroom, returning with a big wooden, red and green box. He set it on the floor next to the tree, unhooked the small latch and opened the lid.
 
“I haven’t done this in a long time. I’m gonna need some help,” explained Cooper.
 
Together they hung wooden, hand painted ornaments on the tree until only one remained in the box. The boy lifted the sleigh ornament with the name TIMMY painted in gold across its red side.
 
“Who’s Timmy?” asked the boy, examining the small, hand made ornament for a moment.
 
The question made Cooper hesitate. “He was my son. He died about five years ago from the fever. He was about your age. It took his mother, too.”
 
“That why you stopped putting up a tree?”
 
Cooper nodded and his young friend held up the ornament. “Can I put it on the tree?” he pleaded.
 
Cooper nodded again and the boy hung the sleigh on the only empty space left, right in front. “Perfect,” said the boy with a big grin.

“There used to be an angel that set on top of the tree,” Cooper remembered, “ I’d lift Timmy up and he’d set it right on top. I buried it with him.”
 
“It looks perfect anyway,” exclaimed the boy. Cooper and his new friend sat on the sofa to admire their handiwork.

Cooper opened his eyes and realized he’d dozed off. He looked over at the sleeping boy, took a blanket from the back of the couch and covered his young friend. Realizing he hadn’t asked the boy his name, Cooper stroked the youngster’s head, then walked over and blew out the lamp on the table. He would find out the boy’s name in the morning.

 
Cooper woke with a start and looked around the moonlit bedroom. Swinging his feet to the floor, he rose and slowly opened the bedroom door to a quiet house. He walked to the sofa to check on the boy and found a rumpled blanket. In the pale moonlight, he looked quickly around the house. His gaze settled on the angel sitting on top of the tree.
 
Hurrying to the table, he lit the lamp. Lying next to the lamp was a folded piece of paper. On the outside was a Christmas tree, drawn with a child’s hand. He opened it and it read MERRY CHRISMAS MARSHAL.
 
A single tear rolled down Cooper Smith’s cheek. He knew of only one person who spelled Christmas that way. Walking quickly to the door, he looked out into the night. He found no footprints in the fresh fallen snow.
 
Just then, a stiff breeze blew through the pine grove jingling the riding bells hanging from a red ribbon on the porch.  Cooper remembered something his grandmother told him a long time ago. “Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings.”
 
“Congratulations, Timmy,” he whispered
 
Far out in the grove, he heard a child laugh.

                                                         THE END
  

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Genesis Project...Chapter 17...Part 3


   There was no name on the inside cover and he scanned the pages until he came across the page dated 5 December 1945. He scanned down the page to the last entry.

   Don’t know where we are. Encountered a bright flash, violent turbulence and “Toto, we ain’t in Kansas anymore.”

 
  The random entries he chose after that described their experiences aboard a spacecraft, life with their abductors and their final destination.

   We’ve been brought to a place that is beyond description. It must be the way Earth looked all those thousands of years ago. We’re not alone. There are others here, brought the same way we were. I wish we could tell everyone at home we’re okay.

  He scanned the final entry, gently closed the book and handed it back to Malcolm Taylor.

   “Are you all that’s left of the chosen ones?” asked Brackett.

   “Some have ventured out as children will do. Some came back , some made homes elsewhere,” replied Malcolm. “And there also are others out there who came on their own as you did. I can’t say that they will show you as much hospitality as we have.”

   “Thank you for the warning,” said Brackett. “But now we must return to our comrades, but we would like to bring them here to see what you’ve shown us.”

   “We look forward to it,” said Malcolm.


Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Genesis Project...Chapter 17...Part 2


   Brackett stepped farther into the tent and walked slowly around the old, dusty torpedo bomber. He ran his hand over the decals on the fuselage and looked up at the name stenciled below the cockpit. He turned back toward Charlie.

   “This plane belonged to Flight 19 that disappeared in the Bermuda Triangle,” said Brackett. He turned to Malcolm Taylor. “There were other planes and ships that disappeared.”

   “Some of them are among the chosen ones,” said Malcolm. “Some were taken elsewhere.”

   “By who?” asked Brackett.

   “The Watchers.”

   Brackett looked over at Charlie and back at Malcolm. “Watchers?”

   “Yes, They brought the chosen ones here.”

   “Where did these Watchers come from?”

   “It is all explained in The Book,” said Taylor. “Come, I will show you.”

   Brackett and Charlie followed Malcolm Taylor from the tent back to his shack. They maneuvered around the wooden furniture decorating the inside of the shack and followed Taylor to a desk against the far wall. Malcolm opened the top drawer of the desk and removed an old, worn book and handed it to Brackett.

   “It’s a journal,” Brackett said to Charlie as he carefully opened the book to the first parched page.


  

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Genesis Project...Chapter 17...Part 1



   Mike Brackett and Charlie Two Sons climbed into the front of the battle car and started it up while Corporal Hodges hooked himself up in the gun harness.

   “I’m ready when you are,” said Hodges and Brackett pointed at Billy. Gilroy opened up a section of the perimeter fence and waved as the battle car glided through.

    Brackett guided the battle car up the hillside and throttled down at the top to get a daylight view of what they’d seen the night before. There was only one horse now tethered outside the fence and the array of vehicles from the night before had dwindled down to a scattered three.

   “Sure don’t look like much,” said Hodges after surveying the meager dwellings inside the compound.

   “Let’s go see,” said Brackett.

    Curious onlookers dotted the fence when he shut the battle car down in front of the compound. Brackett punched the four number code into the ignition box, grabbed his pulse rifle nestled beside his seat and climbed out of the battle car.

   “You stay here,” Brackett said to Hodges. “If something happens and we need to get out of here quick, you punch that ignition switch and get harnessed up. We may not have time to waste.”

   “You’re in goods hands, Sarge,” said Hodges.

   Brackett surveyed the onlookers along the fence as he and Charlie walked toward the open gate. All of them were armed with a variety of weapons, but the absence of a sentry seemed odd. He took a quick glance behind them and saw they were quickly gathering a following as they strode through the compound.

   A bearded, gray-haired man appeared in the door of the largest of the shacks. Wearing a worn military uniform, he stepped out into the sun and shaded his eyes with his hand.

   “Welcome, gentlemen,” he said and held his hand out to Brackett and Charlie. “I’m Malcolm Taylor and we,” he opened his arms to the gathering behind the Freelancers, “are the descendants of the Chosen Ones.”

   Brackett and Charlie shook the hand of Malcolm Taylor. “The chosen ones? We were under the impression this planet was uninhabited.”

   “Come, let me show you, it might help explain it,” said Taylor and led Brackett and Charlie to the large tent next to the shack. He untied the flap and held it open.

   “They were true,” whispered Brackett when he stepped into the tent. A bewildered smile crossed his face. “Charlie, all the stories were true.”

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Genesis Project...Chapter 16...Part 2


   They followed the road up the hillside stopping occasionally to listen to the hill’s night sounds. Half way up the hill, Brackett grabbed Charlie’s sleeve.

   “Listen,” whispered Brackett. Charlie listened intently with his head down, then looked up at Brackett.

   Brackett nodded at Charlie and they continued their trek up the hillside. Just below the summit, they bellied down and crawled to the top. Winking fires lit up a section of the valley below them and Brackett took his field glasses from the case on his web belt.

   “Wasn’t this planet supposed to be uninhabited?” said Charlie.

   “Yeah, fifty years ago,” said Brackett and put the field glasses up to his eyes.

   A chain link fence surrounded a small settlement of tents and shacks. Occupants milled around two big fires in the center of the enclosure. Smaller fires flickered outside a few of the tents and shacks. Outside the enclosure a number of the long haired horses were tethered near a ragtag collection of vehicles. The night breeze would carry an occasional holler up to them.

   “Looks like some kinda small town,” said Brackett and handed the field glasses to Charlie.

   Charlie looked intently at the scene below and handed the glasses back to Brackett. “We goin’ down there?”

   “Rather do it in daylight. Less chance of something bad happening,” said Brackett.

   Hodges had the perimeter fence open for them when they came back down the hillside.

   “I guess you boys are in one piece, I didn’t hear you screamin’ for help,” said Hodges as Brackett and Charlie walked past him. He closed the perimeter fence and followed them back through the camp.

   “Well, what did you find out, Sergeant?” asked Gordon Miles when the threesome approached the fire outside the command vehicle.

   “We ain’t alone,” said Brackett bluntly. He and Charlie sat down across the fire from Miles and Hodges stood behind them. “On the other side of that hill, there’s a settlement. Me, Charlie and Hodges will visit it tomorrow.”

   “I’ll go with you,” said Miles.

   Brackett shook his head. “You’d be better off here. We don’t know how hostile they are and if we have to fight our way out of there, we’ll have our hands full enough without having to worry about you, Mister Miles.”

   “You have a point, Sergeant,” said Miles. “I’ll be waiting to hear from you when you get back.”

   “We’re hoping, Mister Miles,” said Brackett.


Friday, September 21, 2012

The Genesis Project...Chapter 16...Part 1


The small convoy made a steady advance along the jungle road, slowing only to allow Charlie to hack through a roadblock. During these lulls Maia and Cortez made jaunts through the jungle to fill plastic bags with the miracle plants, taking them back to the mobile sick bay where Kenzie and Doc Hunnicutt took turns filling jars with the valuable sap.   

   The daylight was slowly beginning to fade when Brackett throttled back the battle car. The road left the cover of the jungle but continued on across a narrow clearing, up the jagged terrain of a large hill and disappeared over the top.

   “What’s the problem, Sergeant?” crackled Gordon Miles through Brackett’s earpiece. He pressed the mic to his throat.

    “We’ve come to the edge of the jungle, Mister Miles. I would suggest stopping here in the clearing for the night and continuing on in the morning.”

   “Very well, Sergeant.”

   Brackett moved the battle car into the clearing and went about the now routine task of setting up camp. He pulled his weapons from the battle car when the last of the vehicles pulled into line and waited until he could hear the soft hum of the perimeter fence. He walked up beside Charlie Two Sons who stood scanning the side of the hill. He looked up at the moon starting to emerge in the darkening sky.

   “I wanna see what’s on the other side of this hill before we go charging over the top,” said Brackett.

   Charlie looked at Brackett, nodded and returned his gaze to the hillside. “I’ll be ready.”

    Brackett noticed fires beginning to sprout up when he walked through the camp in search of Gordon Miles. He met Cortez and Maia coming from sickbay trailing plastic bags behind them.

   “Stay close to the road. The jungle ain’t a pretty place to get lost in at night,” said Brackett. He spotted Billy Gilroy walking up from the trail vehicle. “Billy, you’re with Cortez and Maia.” Gilroy waved at Brackett and fell in behind the two  scavengers. Brackett found Gordon Miles standing with Max outside of the command vehicle.

   “Good evening, Sergeant Brackett,” said Max.

   “Max,” Brackett replied, nodding at the android. He turned to the expedition leader who rose from the fire.

   “Mister Miles, Charlie and I are going to recon the hill. I don’t want any surprises tomorrow.”

   “You think that’s wise in the dark?”

   Brackett pointed up at the moon. “We’ll have plenty of light, plus I’ll have Charlie with me. Corporal Hodges will be here if you need anything.”

   “Happy hunting, Sergeant,” said Miles and returned to tending the fire.

   Brackett walked back through the camp and found Hodges leaning against the front of the battle car.

   “Charlie and me are gonna do a little recon,” said Brackett. “You’re in charge until we get back.”

   “Sure thing,” said Hodges, “and I’ll be waitin’ right here until I see your smiling faces coming back down or I hear you screaming for help.”

   Brackett smiled, slapped Hodges on the shoulder and walked over to where Charlie waited patiently. “Ready to go?”

   Charlie hit the top of a post and opened a section of the perimeter fence. They both walked through into the clearing and Charlie hit the post again securing the fence. They checked the power cells on their pulse rifles.

   “Let’s do this,” said Brackett.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Genesis Project...Chapter 15...Part 3


   She examined Hodges’ leg and found no signs that the gash had even been there. “I guess you can have him back,” she said to Brackett standing behind her.

   “Okay, you’re back with me, Corporal,” said Brackett.

   Hodges hopped off the examining table. “Thanks, Doc.”

   “Don’t thank me, thank Maia,” replied Kenzie and waved at the two Freelancers as they left the sick bay.

   She looked over at Hunnicutt who had broken open another plant stem and let the sap trickle onto a cut he had on his hand. They both watched as the cut slowly healed over, faded and disappeared. He moved farther up his arm and trickled some sap on an old scar on his forearm. Just like the cut, the scar slowly faded and disappeared.

   “What the hell is this stuff, Doc?” he asked Kenzi.

   Kenzi shook her head. “I don’t know, but I’m going to make sure we have plenty of it.”

   They both turned when Maia walked through the door ahead of Cortez dragging the bag of miracle plants behind her. Kenzie reached up and removed a glass jar from a cabinet above their heads. Maia dropped the bag at their feet.

   “Do you wanna drive or do you wanna fill?” Kenzi asked Hunnicutt and held up the glass jar.

   “Have a good fill, Doc,” said Hunnicutt.

Friday, September 7, 2012

The Genesis Project...Chapter 15...Part 2


   The Freelancers followed their young friend as she searched the jungle floor. She stopped under one of the large trees and began pulling up the plants growing at its base.

   “What are you doing, Maia?” asked Cortez.

   Maia ran past them with a handful of plants. Cortez and Brackett jogged after her as she ran from the jungle and into the mobile sick bay. She was handing the plants to Kenzie when they came through the door.

   “What are these, Maia?” asked Kenzie.

   Maia took one of the plants, broke the stem in half and squeezed it. A clear sap ran out of the stem over her hand. “Put this on Corporal Ken’s leg. It will help him.”

   Kenzie broke open the plant stems and smeared the sap over the infected gash on Hodges’ calf. Within minutes, the ugly red pucker of the gash disappeared.

   “Wrap it up,” said Maia, handing Kenzie a roll of gauze.

   “Where did you find these, Maia?” asked Kenzie, holding up one of the plants.

   “They’re all over, they’re everywhere,” replied the young alien.

   Kenzie reached into a drawer and pulled out a large plastic bag. “Can you get me more?”

   “Sure.” Maia grabbed the bag and ran out the door followed by Cortez.

   Kenzie turned to Hodges. “How’s your leg?”

   “It don’t hurt no more.”

   Kenzie unwrapped the bandage on his leg and to her surprise the gash on his leg was gone and so was the swelling. There wasn’t even a scar where the gash had been.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Genesis Project...Chapter 15...Part 1


   The light faded as the canopy thickened and the jungle slowly enveloped the road making it almost impassable. Brackett stopped the battle car and pressed the mic to his throat. “Billy, keep your eyes open back there.”

   “Can we get through this, Sergeant?” crackled Gordon Miles.

   “What do you think, Charlie?” said Brackett, turning toward the big Indian.

   Charlie picked up the machete from beside his seat, pulled it from its scabbard and stepped from the battle car onto the soft jungle floor.

   “We’ll get through,” he said and started hacking at the thick jungle.

   “Hang on, Mister Miles, Charlie’s working on it,” replied Brackett.

   The convoy of vehicles made slow progress behind Charlie as he hacked his way along the jungle road. They’d gone a quarter of a mile before Charlie finally broke through the roadblock.

    “We’re through, Mister Miles,” said Brackett when Charlie returned to the battle car and replaced the machete in its scabbard.

    “We’ll stop here, Sergeant. I’m sure everyone could use a bite to eat,” said Miles.

    All the vehicles were past the roadblock before Brackett throttled down the battle car. Charlie volunteered, as usual, to keep watch while Brackett and Cortez walked back to the team’s transport vehicle to retrieve the cooked snake left over from the night before.

   “How’s the leg?” asked Brackett when Hodges hobbled toward him.

   “Same,” replied Hodges.

   “It hurts him a lot,” interrupted Maia and got a glare back from Hodges.

   “Let’s see it,” demanded Brackett.

   “It’s nothing, Sarge,” said Hodges.

   “I ain’t gonna ask you again.”

   Hodges put his boot up on a nearby seat and lifted his pant leg. The sutured gash on his leg was now red and festered and the calf swollen.

   “Go to sick bay, Kenzi will want to see that,” said Brackett.

   Hodges lowered his pant leg and limped from the transport.

   “I can help him,” said Maia.

   “Help him how, Maia?” asked Cortez.

   “Come,” said Maia, beckoning Cortez and Brackett to follow her.

   “Maia, where are you going?” asked Cortez when Maia started into the jungle.

   “Come,” Maia beckoned again.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Genesis Project...Chapter 14


   “Hop up here, Corporal, and let’s have a look at that leg,” said Kenzi, patting the examining table as Brackett helped Hodges through the front door of the mobile sick bay.

   Hunnicutt removed Hodges’ boot and rolled up his pant leg. “Hodges, ol’ buddy, you’re gonna have to stop playin’ with the wildlife around here.”

   Kenzi examined the wound then washed it with an antiseptic solution. “Was that the object of your affections?” she said and pointed toward the window where they could see Charlie put the snake over his shoulder and drag it from the bed of the battle car.

   “Yeah, if it wasn’t for Charlie I would have been breakfast,” said Hodges.

   Kenzi bandaged Hodges’ calf and patted him on the thigh. “Your gonna have to take it easy for a few days until the stitches fall out, but then you should be as good as new.”

   “You’re gonna have to talk to Sarge about the take it easy part,” said Hodges, jerking his thumb back at Brackett.

   “I’ll have him take over Cortez’s nanny duties until he feels better,” said Brackett.

   Hodges put on his boot and hopped off the examining table. “Thanks, Doc,” he said and waved at Kenzie as he limped out the door.

   Gordon Miles hailed Mike Brackett when he stepped from the mobile sick bay. The Freelancer leader took leave of Corporal Hodges and waited for the expedition leader.

   “Where do we stand, Sergeant? asked Miles.

   “Pretty simple. We have one road to follow once we cross the river. We’ll cross in the morning.”

   “In the morning?”

   “Mister Miles, I almost lost a man today. But, somehow we managed to escape with just a few stitches. Yes sir, we’ll cross in the morning.”

   Brackett turned and followed Hodges.

                                                              ~~~
  
   The morning was just starting to clear out the darkness when Hodges sat down next to Brackett at the fire and poured himself a cup of coffee.

   “How’s the leg?” asked Brackett.

   “It’s a little sore, but I’ve felt worse,” said Hodges, flexing his ankle.

   “Cortez is riding the battle car today. Doctor said she wanted you to take it easy ‘til the stitches came out,” said Brackett.

   “Come on, Sarge, as much as I like Maia and all, I ain’t no nanny.” Hodges looked over at Maia sitting across the fire from them next to Cortez. “Honest, kid, it ain’t nothing against you.”

   Brackett looked at Cortez who shrugged her shoulders at him. “Kenzi will skin me alive if somethin’ happens to you, Hodges.”

   “It ain’t like I’m gonna be walkin’, Sarge. I’ll be ridin’ with you. And if somethin’ happens, I’ll take the heat,” said Hodges.

   Brackett jerked his head in the direction of the team’s transport vehicle. “You and Cortez are swappin’.”

   Hodges looked back at Maia. “Looks like it’s me and you kid.”

                                                             ~~~

   Mike Brackett started the battle car’s fan engines as Renita Cortez climbed up into the back of the battle wagon and hooked herself into the harness behind the pulse cannon.

   “Ready when you are, Sarge,” said Cortez and tapped Brackett on the shoulder.

   Brackett alerted the rest of the vehicles and then throttled the battle car forward, down the bank and across the river. He stopped at the treeline and stood up on the battle car’s seat to make sure all the vehicles navigated the river safely. Billy Gilroy waved his arm over his head when he powered his trail vehicle safely on the bank. Brackett acknowledged Billy’s wave and returned to his seat. He looked over at Charlie.

  “Let’s do this,” he said and throttled the battle car onto the road and through the vined tree line.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Genesis Project...Chapter 13...Part 2


   Sinking its fangs into Hodges’ calf the second he dove for the cover of the battle car, the snake dragged the struggling Freelancer back toward the river.

   Charlie dropped his rifle and sprinted from the treeline. With machete in hand, he dove into the river where Hodges’ head disappeared below the surface an instant before. The river soon became a boil of coiling snake and flashing steel.

   Hodges reappeared from the river and Brackett helped him up the bank and they both watched the boil subside when a red stain grew on the water’s surface. A few seconds later, Charlie’s head appeared and he stood up trailing the giant snake’s headless carcass behind him. He dragged the snake from the river and dropped it on the bank.

   “There’s dinner for tonight,” he said. He sheathed the machete and walked back to the tree line to retrieve his rifle.

   “Let’s get you back and have the good doctor look at your leg,” said Brackett.

   Hodges realized, then, he wasn’t standing on his leg and looked down at his bloody pants. He leaned against the front of the battle car and pulled up his pant leg revealing a severely gashed calf.

   “Ah, it’s just a scratch,” said Hodges.

   “Let’s go, Corporal, that’s an order,” said Brackett, jerking his thumb toward the camp.

   Hodges hobbled to the back of the battle car and Brackett helped him up into the rear seat. He came back and helped Charlie throw the snake into the bed of the battle car. When Charlie slid into the passenger seat next to Brackett, Hodges slid across his seat behind the big Indian and slapped him on the shoulder.

   “Thanks, Charlie. Don’t I owe you some kind of life debt now?” said Hodges.

   Charlie looked at Hodges and then at Brackett. “Let’s go before I throw him back in the river.”

   "What?" said Hodges as Brackett laughed and started up the engines of the battle car.

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Genesis Project...Chapter 13...Part 1


   The camp was just starting to wake up when Mike Brackett kicked the boot of Corporal Hodges. “Let’s go, Hodges, saddle up. You been elected to come with me and Charlie.”

   Hodges threw off his blanket and looked up at Brackett. “Who elected me?”

   “Me and Charlie,” replied Brackett.

   Mike Brackett fired up the fan engines when Hodges hopped into the bed of the battle car. He hooked himself into the harness behind the pulse cannon and tapped Brackett on top of his head.

   “Let’s get this show on the road,” said Hodges.

   He gripped the gun support and Charlie grabbed the frame of the windshield when Brackett throttled the battle car forward. They got a thumbs up from Billy Gilroy as they glided through the open section of the perimeter fence.

   They raced down the bank and across the top of the river before Brackett finally throttled back on the opposite side. He settled the battle car into the grass halfway between the river and the tree line. Hodges unhooked from the gun harness and jumped from the back of the battle car.

   “We’ll split up here,” said Brackett. “Hodges, you head west along the river and I’ll go east.” He pointed to a road leading into the trees. “Charlie, head up that trail north and see if we can get the vehicles through it. We’ll meet back here in an hour.”

   Charlie pulled the machete from the scabbard on his waist and ventured toward the narrow road leading into the jungle-draped tree line. Brackett and Hodges turned and headed in opposite directions along the river.

   As Brackett made his way along the bank, the wide clearing slowly narrowed into a small path until it finally disappeared and he stood looking into a great walled tangle of vines. He thought they’d seen the last of the jungle, but none the less, here it was, beckoning them again.

   He turned and walked back toward the battle car wondering if Hodges had met the same obstacle. As he neared the battle car, he saw Hodges returning back along the river  bank.

   Abruptly, Hodges swung around as the largest snake Brackett had ever seen rose from the plant life growing along the edge of the river. Hodges, his pulse rifle on full auto, fired as he back pedaled.

   Realizing the rifle had no effect on the snake, Hodges turned and ran toward the battle car. Like a giant bullwhip, the snake reared back and struck at the fleeing Freelancer.

   

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Genesis Project...Chapter 12...Part 2


   The three of them looked up when Gordon Miles approached the fire.

   “Good evening,” said Miles and pointed to the last remaining seat at the fire. “May I?”

   “Help yourself,” said Cortez.

   “I’ve come to get better acquainted with our newest member. Maia, wasn’t it?” said Gordon.

    Maia nodded her head. “Yes, sir.”

   “Call me Gordon. Please.”  Maia nodded again.

   “Is this your home, Maia?

   Maia shook her head. “Oreadan is my home. We were trying to get away from the big war there, but, something happened to our ship and we had to land here.”

   “Where is everyone from your ship?”

   “Gone. The Mukmows took ‘em.”

    Gordon looked over at Cortez.

   “We found her in an abandoned village hiding under the floor of a hut. We met the Mukmows later. Mean little bastards.”

    Gordon patted Maia’s hand. “Well, you don’t have to worry, you have friends here.”

    He rose from his seat. “Ladies, we have another big day ahead of us tomorrow and I will bid you all adieu. I will see you in the morning.”

   “Well, that’s my cue,” said Kenzi. She gathered her two mugs and rose from her place by the face.

    “See you tomorrow, Bells,” said Cortez. She could hear Kenzi laughing as she disappeared from the firelight.

   

Friday, August 24, 2012

The Genesis Project...Chapter 12...Part 1


    Doctor Kenzi Sheppard walked past the Freelancer’s fire carrying two steaming mugs. Renita Cortez motioned her toward the far end of the perimeter where Mike Brackett leaned against the front of the battle car. It was fairly obvious the attraction the Doctor had toward their leader and the Freelancers were doing what they could to help it along.

    Kenzi held the mug in front of Brackett. “Thought you might like some cocoa.”

   Brackett looked at the mug then at Kenzi. “Go ahead,” she said, lifting the mug, “it’ll help take the chill out of the night air.”

   “Thank you, Doctor,” said Brackett, taking the mug.

   “Kenzi.”

   Brackett smiled. “Okay…Kenzi, I’m Mike.” He held out his hand. Kenzi giggled as she shook his hand. “There now we’ve formally introduced,” said Brackett.

   They stood for a moment sipping their cocoa and listening to the night sounds. Kenzi looked up into the night sky, nudged Mike and pointed to the shooting star overhead.

   “They say you get a year of good luck and a wish if you see a shooting star."

   “We could use a year of good luck right about now. What are you gonna wish for?” asked Mike.

   Kenzi smiled at Brackett and shook her head. “They say if you tell your wish it won’t come true. So, I’ll just wait and see.”

   She, sheepishly, smiled again and sipped her cocoa, looking at Brackett out of the corner of her eye. Mike chuckled and drained the cocoa from the mug and handed it back to her.

   “As much as I’d like to stand here and chat, I do have a job to do. Thank you for the cocoa and we’ll have to do this again sometime.”

   “Anytime, Mike, you know where to find me. Maybe next time you can stay a little longer.”

   Brackett smiled at Kenzi, shouldered his rifle and gave her a wave as he resumed his walk along the perimeter.

   Kenzi shook the few drops of cocoa from the mug and walked toward Renita Cortez who poked at the Freelancer’s fire with a stick causing a flurry of sparks to dance up into the night air.

   Maia, sitting next to Cortez, smiled at Kenzie when she took a vacant seat at the fire.

   “Hi, Doctor Kenzi,” she said, her big brown eyes sparkling in the fire light.

   “Hello, Maia.”

   “How’s things with you and the Sarge?” asked Cortez.

   Kenzi sat back from the fire with a wide-eyed surprised look on her face.

   “Oh, come on, Doc, you been fawning over Brackett ever since we woke up,” said Cortez.

   “Is it that obvious?”

  “Kenzi, you light up like a Christmas tree every time he comes within fifty feet of you. Everybody sees it but you. But, don’t worry, all the guys are with ya.”

  “Oh my,” said Kenzi, “you think Mike noticed too?”

  “If he didn’t he’s blind.”

  “It’s that obvious, huh?”

   Cortez nodded. “Jingle Bells.”


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Genesis Project...Chapter 11...Part 2


     The flat, grassy lowland soon turned into an endless series of hills and valleys as the column of vehicles made their way across the landscape. They glided over the top of one of the hills and scattered a herd of the long haired horses the Freelancers had encountered earlier.

    Mike Brackett throttled down the battle car when they approached a swift flowing river in the valley between two of the hills. He stopped the battle car, set it down in the tall grass and scanned the looming treeline on the opposite bank of the river.

    “What do you think, Charlie?” asked Brackett.

    The big Indian slid from his seat and walked to river’s edge, looked up and down the roiling river, then studied the treeline on the far bank. He cocked his head and tried to listen to the forest sounds muffled by the river.

    “Camp here,” said Charlie, “recon the other side tomorrow.” He turned and walked back toward the battle car.

    “What’s the hold up, Sergeant?” crackled Gordon Miles.

    Brackett pressed the mic to his throat. “We’re camping here, Mister Miles.”

    “We still have daylight left, Sergeant. We’ll cross the river and camp on the other side.”

    “No can do, Mister Miles. Charlie thinks it would be better to cross tomorrow.”

    “Is Charlie running the show now, Sergeant?”

    “He is today. We’re camping here.”

    “Very well, Sergeant. Set up the perimeter.”

    Billy Gilroy was setting up the perimeter stakes when Corporal Hodges spotted Gordon Miles striding toward them. “Here comes trouble,” he whispered, leaning toward Mike Brackett.
    “Sergeant,” shouted Gordon Miles when he spotted Brackett, “I want to talk to you.”

    The Freelancers stopped what they were doing and watched as Mike Brackett waited for Miles to reach them.

    “Sergeant…” started Gordon Miles. Brackett held up his hand to silence the expedition leader.

    “Let’s clear something up here, Mister Miles,” said Brackett. “We were brought along to provide security for you and that’s what we’re doin’. If any of my people, at any time, have a problem with continuing on, for any reason, we stay put until the problem has been taken care of.”

    “But, I’m in charge here,” said Miles.

   “Then charge yourself right on across that river, but you’re gonna do it without us. At least, until such time as Charlie feels comfortable with moving on. And right now, Charlie wants to recon the other side before we cross the river. You’re in charge of the whole shebang, Mister Miles, but I’m in charge of getting’ us wherever we’re going in one piece. Do we understand each other?”

    Gordon Miles scanned the faces of each of the Freelancers standing around their leader. His gaze settled back on Brackett.

   “Very well, Sergeant, keep me informed as to when Mister Two Sons deems it safe to move on.” He spun on his heels and strode back the way he’d come.

    Brackett looked up at the hum of the perimeter stakes as they lit their way around the camp. When the last stake lit and the hum died away, Brackett looked over at Corporal Hodges.

    “I guess we understand each other.”




Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Genesis Project...Chapter 11...Part 1


     Gordon Miles sought out Mike Brackett when the last vehicle glided down the cargo bay ramp late the next morning. He waited nearby while the sergeant directed the final vehicle into its spot in the convoy.

     “We’re ready to go when you are, Mister Miles,” said Brackett.

     Miles looked down the line of vehicles gently floating over the sea of grass. “You can get the convoy moving, Sergeant, Max and I will take care of the last minute details.”

     “I’ll leave Billy and the trail vehicle for you since you’ll probably have to scoot in a hurry,” replied Brackett.

     Miles waved at Brackett in acknowledgement and returned to the transport where Max waited at the top of the ramp. The sergeant hurried to the front of the convoy and slid into the driver’s seat of the battle car where Charlie Two Sons, sitting in the passenger seat, and Corporal Hodges, standing behind the big gun, waited. He punched the four number code into the control panel. The slight vibration of the battle car dissipated as the fans wound up from a groan to a whine and settled into a soft hum.

     “Ready to go?” asked Brackett.

     “Onward and upward,” replied Hodges. “I know someone famous said that, I just don’t know who.”

     Mike Brackett chuckled as he throttled the battle car forward, setting the convoy into motion. The command vehicle, the biggest in the convoy, fell into line behind Brackett followed by Doc Hunnicutt driving Doctor Sheppard’s mobile sick bay. The project’s supply vehicle came next with Renita Cortez driving the Freelancer’s war wagon bringing up the rear.


     Billy Gilroy drummed on the steering wheel of the trail vehicle humming a tune, while he waited for Gordon Miles and Max to return. He looked over at the android when he slid into the passenger’s seat and the expedition’s leader vaulted into the seat in the bed of the vehicle.

     “Make haste, Mister Gilroy,” said Miles, buckling his seat belt.

     Gordon grabbed for the roll bar above his head when Billy slammed the throttle forward sending the trail vehicle scooting across the field of grass. The rear of the war wagon was in sight when he looked behind them to see the bright flash just before hearing the thunderous explosion.

     “You two are getting pretty good at this,” joked Billy. “Maybe, I’ll talk to Sarge about signin’ you up as demolition experts.”

     He throttled back the trail vehicle as they closed in on the war wagon and fell in line at the rear of the convoy.

     “That was a most exhilarating ride,” exclaimed Max. Billy looked over at the android and smiled.

     “Got our two demolition experts back safe and sound, Sarge,” said Billy, pressing the mic to his throat.

     “Copy that, Billy,” replied Brackett.

     Billy Gilroy shifted in his seat. “Might as well get comfortable, boys, and enjoy the view. It’s definitely different from what you’re used to.”

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Genesis Project...Chapter 10...Part 2


     “Hodges, you can do the honors,” said Brackett.

     Corporal Kenneth Hodges strode back up the ramp, climbed into the first camouflaged vehicle and slid carefully into the driver’s seat. He punched the four number code into the control panel and started the ignition. The groan of the six large fans increased to a soft whine and slowly lifted the death dealing battle car off the deck.

    Hodges guided the vehicle down the ramp and drove it to the far end of the perimeter before setting it gently in the grass. Brackett sent Cortez, along with Maia, next for the troop transport that contained all of their weapons and equipment. She parked it next to the battle car.

     Hodges, untying a tarp in the bed of the battle car, looked up when Renita Cortez and Maia strolled up from the troop transport. The battle car, designed to hold a driver, a passenger and a gunner in the bed of the vehicle, was the newest weapon in the freelancer arsenal.

     Cortez watched with interest when Hodges climbed into the bed of the battle car. He reached down, grabbed the end of the tarp and removed it from around the pulse cannon.

     “You’re kiddin’ me, right?” asked Cortez.

     “Not kidding,” replied Hodges and grabbed the handle on the top of the weapon, turning it upright. “Help me with this.”

     Cortez climbed into the back of the battle car and helped Hodges lift the pulse cannon and secure it to the crossbar of the gun support.

     “We coulda used this a couple of days ago,” said Cortez.

     The painstaking job of unloading the transport ship continued until the slow descent of darkness caused Gordon Miles to call a halt to the day’s activity. The soft hum of the security fence and the methodic patrol of the freelancers soon surrounded the flickering fires and makeshift shelters.

     Charlie Two Sons stopped and looked out into the darkness when the familiar bellowing roar pierced the night air. Gordon looked over at Brackett sitting next to him around the fire.

     “Some of the planet’s wildlife?” .

     Mike Brackett looked over at Gordon Miles and smiled.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Genesis Project...Chapter 10...Part 1


     “Here they come,” said Billy Gilroy, shading his eyes and pointing to the object in the distant sky.

     Sergeant Mike Brackett put his field glasses up to his eyes and scanned the horizon.

     “Pop smoke,” ordered Brackett his field glasses still locked onto the object in the sky.

     Billy Gilroy popped an orange smoke flare and threw it into the landing zone. Brackett pressed the mic to his throat.

     “We’ve popped smoke, Mister Miles.”

     “Yes, we can see it,” Gordon Miles crackled back.

     The freelancers spread out around the perimeter of the landing zone and watched as the transport ship loomed larger until it blocked out the sun and hovered above them.

      “Put ‘er down, Mister Miles,” said Sergeant Brackett into his throat mic and watched as the big ship settled gently into the grass.

     The freelancers gathered behind Mike Brackett as the transport engines whined down and the cargo bay ramp slowly started to lower. Gordon Miles, the first one down the ramp, looked around in wonderment.

     “What a beautiful place,” he exclaimed as he stepped from the bottom of the ramp.

     “I wouldn’t be so quick to say that,” whispered Doc and got a soft nudge in the ribs from Cortez.

     Doc feigned a painful look at Cortez. “It’s true.”

     Gordon spotted the new face in the group and walked over to where Cortez stood with her ward.. He leaned over and held out his hand.

     “You must be Maia,” he said with a smile, “I’m Gordon Miles.”

     Maia looked up at Renita Cortez who gave her a gentle prod with her finger. She looked back at Miles and shook his hand.

     “Hi, Gordon,” she said, barely above a whisper.

     “It’s nice to finally meet you. Welcome to our group,” replied Miles. He turned to Mike Brackett who was reuniting with Corporal Hodges and the rest of the freelancers.

     “Sergeant, shall we get this show on the road?” asked Gordon.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Genesis Project...Chapter 9...Part 2


     “Don’t be getting’ all misty eyed on me, Max.”.

     “Sir?”

     “Don’t get all emotional,” explained Miles.

     “I am incapable of emotion,” replied Max.

     “Well, thank goodness for that. Now, what do we have to do to get this destruction sequence going so we can get out of here.”

      Max flipped up the red cover over three switches on the end of the control panel.

     “The first switch activates the system,” said Max, “the second switch activates the countdown clock and the third switch confirms the activation of the system and starts the clock.”

      “How long do we have once you flip the third switch?”

     “Thirty minutes.”

     “That should be plenty of times to get us safely away from here.”  Gordon punched the commlink button.

     “Corporal Hodges, are we ready to go?”

     “All wound up and waitin’ on you, Mister Miles.”

     Gordon turned to the android. “Let’s do this, Max.”

     “You go to the transport, I’ll be right behind you,” said Max.

      Gordon Miles slowly shook his head. “We’re leaving here together, Max. Get on with it.”

      The android flipped the first switch and a red glow encircled the switches. He then flipped the second switch and a similar red glow encircled the countdown clock. Max looked over at Gordon.

     “Do it,” said Miles, nodding toward the final switch.

     Max flipped the final switch and a pulsing red glow enveloped the cockpit.

     “Destruction sequence has been initiated. Thirty minutes to detonation,” announced the computer-generated voice over the intercom.

     “After you, Max,” said Miles, pointing toward the door.

     They hurried to the lift at the end of the pulsing red hallway and rode it down to the cargo bay. They jogged across the empty deck to the open hatch where Corporal Hodges waited for them.

     “Twenty five minutes to detonation.”

     Hodges secured the hatch while Max and Gordon hurried toward the transport’s cockpit.

     “Get us outta here, Max,” said Gordon, buckling his seat belt.

     The android gave the control panel a quick scan, and then backed the transport away from Genesis I. He turned her nose toward their looming destination and pushed the throttle forward sending the transport hurtling away from the sleeper ship.

     Max activated the rear view screen and watched Genesis I disappear behind them. He kept a vigilant watch on the screen until a bright light abruptly appeared on the screen, intensified, and quickly vanished. He didn’t throttle back the transport’s engines until the dissipating shock wave of the detonation gently jostled them as it passed over.

     Miles settled back into his seat and looked over at the android.

     “Take us home, Max.”

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Genesis Project...Chapter 9...Part 1


    Doctor Kenzi Sheppard followed the small cargo mover out of sickbay and stopped at the door to take one last look around to make sure they hadn’t forgotten anything. Satisfied, she had taken everything she needed, she slapped at the light panel and left sick bay for the last time.

     She strolled down the quiet passageway on her way to the cockpit, looking into the empty rooms that not so long ago were full of life. For the past twelve hours cargo movers had crisscrossed through the halls of the sleeper ship taking necessities to the cargo bay for transfer. 

     Opening the door, she stepped into the cockpit where Gordon Miles sat with Max watching the bank of surveillance cameras that gave him a bird’s eye view of the transfer of equipment and supplies from the cargo bay of Genesis I to the transport.

     “They just took the last of the medical supplies,” Kenzi informed the expedition leader.

     “Good, as soon as Corporal Hodges loads his vehicles we’ll be ready to leave,” replied Gordon. “You might as well get aboard, Doctor.”

     “Do we have a place to land?”

     “Yes, Sergeant Brackett called a couple of hours ago. He said he would pop a flare when he sees us.”

     “See you on board, Gordon,” said Kenzi. She turned and walked back through the cockpit hatch.

     When the doctor closed the door behind her, the android pilot held out his hand to Miles. “It has been a pleasure getting to work with you, Mister Miles.”

     “What are you talking about, Max?”

     “I am to remain on board and initiate the destruction sequence when the transport is a safe distance away.”

     “No, you are not. You’re coming with us?”

     “Sir?”

     “You’ve piloted this ship for fifty years to get us here. You’re coming with us.”
    
     When the android started to object, Gordon Miles held up his hand.  “I’ll not argue with you, Max. If I have to hit your kill switch, shut you down and carry you to the transport, that’s what I’ll do. You’ve earned this as much or more than anyone here.”

      Gordon stared at Max and smiled as the android’s ever present, quirky smile seemed more pronounced than usual..