1K Weekly Serial: Spinster’s Manor, Chapter Two

SPINSTER’S MANOR

By Richard Paolinelli

© 2019 RICHARD PAOLINELLI . ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. NO COPYING OR ANY OTHER REPRODUCTION OF THIS STORY IS PERMITTED WITHOUT WRITTEN PERMISSION.

 

TWO

 

Aspinwall took stock of his lodgings, finding a clean, comfortable-looking bed to sleep on, a nice chest of drawers, and a small closet in which to hang his clothes. Near the lone window was a reading table, chair, and an oil lamp. A pleasant view of a forest of sugar maples lay beyond the window. But as he unpacked, his mind was on much more than this simple room.

Against the opposite wall was a small table with a washbasin and a large pitcher of water. A medium-sized mirror with an ornate wood frame was affixed to the wall above the basin. Taking a moment to freshen up, Aspinwall regarded the face looking back.

It was the face of a thirty-two-year-old man, considered roguishly handsome by many. It was said back in Montpelier that he could charm any woman in the room. The more cynical voices noted that the wealthier the woman, the more he seemed to turn on his charms. But despite his reputation, Aspinwall had somehow managed to avoid being ensnared in marriage. This was by choice. He loved women. He loved their money. He did not love limiting his options when it came to either pursuit.

“Well, well, William,” he said to his reflection, flicking at some dust on his jacket. “Perhaps there is no need to go to Montreal after all. There might be something much more profitable for us right here.”

The truth was, his trip north was purely speculative, with some risk of failure, and he was only going in order to get away from Montpelier long enough to allow some unpleasantness to settle down.

But he smelled money here—lots of it—and no need to travel out of the country to get it. There had to be a large amount of wealth to keep an estate like this in order, especially when there was only one lone woman running it. Include the manor and the land it was on, and there had to be enough money here to last five lifetimes.

The best part of his equation was it would take a minimal amount of effort to cash in. A lonely, unmarried young woman would easily fall sway to his legendary charm. A brief courtship, a marriage and—after an appropriate amount of time had passed so as not to arouse suspicion—well, stairways were treacherous to navigate for a person of any age, after all. After the lady of the house had been dispatched, the oversized rodents would soon join her in the afterlife.

Within a year, after the estate had been liquidated, he could return to Montpelier as one of the city’s wealthiest men—surely the richest eligible bachelor by far.

After one last inspection in the mirror, Aspinwall made his way downstairs—taking care to make sure the door was tightly shut to keep out the cats—and found his way into the study. Clearly, Father Palmquist had conducted most of his affairs from this room, and a few minutes of rummaging through papers and drawers confirmed his assessment of the financial situation he’d stumbled upon.

Satisfied with what he’d discovered, he left the study and headed for the kitchen, passing through the dining room dominated by a large oak table. The aroma from the room was quite pleasant. He would not starve to death during his brief matrimony, at least. A pot of some type of stew boiled on the stove, but Tessa was on the other side of the kitchen.

She held a live chicken, and as Aspinwall stepped closer to see what she was going to do with the fowl, Tessa suddenly snapped the creature’s neck with a deft twist of her wrist, placed the carcass on a slanted cutting board next to the sink, then raised her other hand high above her head. Only then did Aspinwall take notice of what she clutched—a rather formidable butcher knife that she quickly swung downward. The severed head of the victim dropped into a small pail in the sink and was followed by the blood draining from the neck.

“Is dinner delayed?” Aspinwall asked.

“Oh, Mr. Aspinwall, you startled me!” Tessa exclaimed, jumping back slightly in surprise. “No. This is for tomorrow’s Thanksgiving feast. As I wasn’t expecting company, all I have for tonight is stew, bread, and cheese. I hope that’ll suffice.”

“It sounds as wonderful as it smells,” Aspinwall said, turning on the charm. “And please, you simply must call me Will, as all of my friends back home do.”

They did no such thing of course—he had no friends, at home or anywhere else for that matter, which suited him just fine.

“I’m not sure that I could . . .”

“Please, I insist. And your Christian name is?”

“Tessa.”

“Tessa,” he repeated, with a slight bow. “A beautiful name for a beautiful young lady.”

“Oh, Mr. Aspin . . . Will,” Tessa said demurely. “You are quite the flatterer. Why don’t you go sit down and I’ll bring your dinner out to you.”

The meal was quite fine: the girl could cook, which would make the next few months endurable before wrapping up his plans. Her cooking acumen wouldn’t change her fate, of course, he thought as he finished his meal. He’d confirmed his suspicions about how much money was available for the taking here and had laid the groundwork to add young Miss Palmquist to his list of conquests. He was well on his way toward his goal.

The evening’s work was nearly spoiled by one of her wretched beasts, a large orange and white tabby that suddenly leapt onto the table and stared ominously at Aspinwall. It was almost as if the monster was reading his thoughts. He jerked back guiltily as Tessa admonished the cat.

“Mortimer!” she exclaimed. “You’re being a very naughty boy. Get down, now.”

The cat flicked an annoyed look at its mistress, cast one last long glare at Aspinwall, then leapt to the floor and trotted out of the room.

“I’m terribly sorry about that,” Tessa said. “He sometimes seems to think he rules this house.”

“No harm done.” Aspinwall made a mental note as to which cat would be the first to share in its mistress’s fate when the time came. “It’s been quite an exhausting day—if you’ll excuse me, I believe I’ll retire to my room for the night.”

“Certainly. Good night, Mr.—Will.”

“And a very good night to you as well, Miss Tessa.”

Aspinwall made his way up the stairs, pausing at the second-floor landing when he felt as if he were being watched. Turning to look behind him, he spotted that damned orange and white menace about halfway up the stairs, as if it were stalking him.

“Vile beast,” Aspinwall muttered, quickly making his way up the next flight where he closed the door, double-checking to make sure it was firmly latched shut. He did the same with the door to his own room. Shaking off the eerie feeling from the cats, Aspinwall dressed for bed, and fell asleep dreaming of the wealth that would soon be his.

 

NEXT WEEK: Exactly as planned.

 

*     *     *     *     *

Like what you’ve read so far? Be sure and sign up for Richard’s newsletter, “Postcards From Infinity“, and if you’d like to become a patron you can do so right here. Any amount you choose will be appreciated and will help keep this blog, these weekly serials and Richard’s podcast, “A Scribe’s Journey” up and running. Thank you for reading and for your support.

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1K Weekly Serial: Spinster’s Manor, Chapter One

SPINSTER’S MANOR

By Richard Paolinelli

© 2019 RICHARD PAOLINELLI . ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. NO COPYING OR ANY OTHER REPRODUCTION OF THIS STORY IS PERMITTED WITHOUT WRITTEN PERMISSION.

 

ONE

 

The people of Williston, Vermont merely called Tessa Palmquist an eccentric spinster. Had she been born a century earlier, they would have called her something much different: witch.

At twenty-five years of age, neither a classic beauty nor homely, Tessa seemed to have no interest at all in ever getting married. Outwardly showing little interest in men, she preferred spending her time in the company of her two dozen cats, and they all had plenty of room to call home.

Palmquist Manor predated the Revolutionary War and had been built by Arne Palmquist for his new bride, Marie Dimsdale, shortly after the end of the French and Indian War. For just over a century the manor had stood as proud and tall as the sugar maple trees surrounding it.

While the manor had weathered the decades in good order, the family that called it home had not fared so well. Now, just three years removed from the War Between the States, the Palmquist family tree had withered down to the manor’s current resident, Tessa, after tuberculosis claimed her parents.

The family tree had indeed faltered over the decades, but the family fortune had remained surprisingly strong. As the couple’s only child, Tessa inherited the entire estate with no aunts or uncles coming to call for a share. As far as Tessa, or anyone else knew, the nearest relatives of any note were out-of-state cousins who had no inclination to head for northern Vermont, no matter the potential amount of financial gain.

The townsfolk only encountered Tessa on those rare occasions when she traveled the two miles west into Williston on some errand. She was the inevitable target of gossip, of course, mostly for not receiving any suitors despite being the heiress of a lofty estate that should’ve attracted some attention. For the most part, she was treated with bemused tolerance and left to her own devices.

“There’s Old Maid Tess,” some of the children would call out, some loud enough for her to hear, as children were wont to do. She didn’t mind their taunts. She was completely content with her solitary life.

Still, despite having more than enough money to support her and her ever-growing herd of cats for the rest of her life, Tessa sometimes took in a boarder at the manor. The occasional lone traveler, passing through the area looking for a warm bed—and who didn’t mind all the cats—would find what he or she sought on the third floor of the manor. Fortunately, for the guest’s sake, the cats were blocked from this floor with only the rare intrusion to be dealt with when the wrong door was left ajar.

On the eve of Thanksgiving Day, the first snow had yet to fall upon the hills of northern Vermont, even though the mercury plunged downward with each passing day. The number of travelers through the area had also been dropping, with most already having made it to their intended holiday destinations.

William Aspinwall had no family to mark the holidays with; he was a two days’ ride from his home in Montpelier, and was looking to increase that distance as quickly as possible.

But with the sun threatening the western horizon, and Burlington still a dozen miles away, the sight of Palmquist Manor brought a similar joy to the lone traveler as would once swell in his heart at the sight of his childhood home back in Montpelier. After two days on horseback—and one miserable night in a bed that made a slab of granite seem comfortable by comparison—the sign on the gatepost reading Rooms convinced Aspinwall to stop for the night.

The grounds were well kept, the weary traveler noted, as was the exterior of the white home with black trim. There was no sign of servants or workers about, which Aspinwall attributed to the late hour of the day. He dismounted, tied the reins of his horse to the sturdy-looking hitching post in front, and strode up the stairs. He gave the red door three solid raps with the large polished brass knocker and stepped back to wait.

In a few moments he heard footsteps approaching from the other side of the door; it opened to reveal a rather plain-looking young woman. She wore a simple blue muslin dress, her brown hair pulled into a sort of rough, but tight, bun in the back.

“Hello.”

“Good afternoon, ma’am,” Aspinwall replied, removing his hat. “My name is William Charles Aspinwall III, and I am bound for Burlington. I saw your sign at the gate and was hoping you might have room for the night for a weary traveler?”

“Why certainly, sir,” Tessa replied, opening the door wider and stepping onto the porch, glancing at her visitor’s horse. “You can stable your mount in the barn—there’s some oats in there you can give him. By the time you’re done, I’ll have your room ready. It’ll be two dollars for the room and another dollar for the horse.”

“Are there no servants?” Aspinwall looked around at the well-kept house and grounds. “Surely a house of this size has many, Missus . . . ?”

“Miss Palmquist,” Tessa corrected. “I am not married and I have no servants.”

“You do an impressive job maintaining the place all by yourself,” Aspinwall noted, withdrawing his purse and counting out three dollars to hand over to his host.

“Oh, I have a neighbor. He and his sons come over from time to time and take care of what’s needed outside and in the barn.” Tessa collected her rent. “I’ll see to your room as soon as you’re finished outside.”

“Thank you, Miss Palmquist,” Aspinwall said as she walked back into the house.

He led his gelding to the barn, which was just large enough to house four horses and a light carriage small enough to be drawn by the only mare already residing inside. Slipping off his valise and then his saddle, he led his mount into the stall next to Palmquist’s horse. Slipping a feed bag half-filled with oats onto the gelding before he left, he gathered up his belongings and headed for the house.

Tessa had left the front door ajar and Aspinwall was just as impressed with what he saw of the interior as he had been with the exterior. If the rest of the manor was anything like what he could see from the foyer, it was a home filled with high-quality furnishings, tasteful paintings and tapestries, and was immaculately kept. His only complaint would be the presence of what appeared to be at least a dozen wretched cats. The hostess appeared at the top of the staircase, waving him up.

“Ah, just in time, Mr. Aspinwall,” she said. “Your room is ready.”

“I must say, you’ve done quite well with this house.” He gathered up his valise and started up the stairs. “And you say you live here alone?”

“Ever since my parents died, yes,” Tessa replied. “It isn’t too difficult to manage, and I’m not quite all alone here. I do have my precious cats to keep me company.”

“Yes, such.” Wretched beasts, he thought, rounding the second-floor landing and following Tessa up the next flight of stairs. “Wonderful creatures. You do seem to have quite the collection of them.”

“They keep me company and I like having them about,” Tessa said with a laugh as they reached a door at the top of the stairs. “I keep this door closed at all times to keep them out of the boarders’ rooms.”

“I’ll remember to do the same,” Aspinwall said, looking down at the foot of the stairs where several of the cats had gathered. They seemed to watch his every step. It was with no small sense of relief that he crossed the threshold onto the third floor, Tessa closing the door behind him. “Is there no family nearby to help?”

“The closest I know of live in Boston, and wouldn’t be caught dead outside Massachusetts.” She led him to the first door in the hallway, which was already open. “But I don’t mind at all.”

“Now then,” she continued. “This will be your room right here. I was just about to do some work in the kitchen, and dinner should be ready in an hour. I can have something ready for you for breakfast before you leave for Burlington, if you like.”

“To be honest,” Aspinwall answered, lying with nearly every word, “I’m not due for three more days. I’m catching a boat upriver to Montreal. I doubt I could find better lodging in Burlington than what I see right here. Perhaps I’ll stay here for an additional day and get rested up for the remainder of my journey—if that’s agreeable to you, of course?”

“Why certainly,” Tessa replied with a warm smile. “Stay as long as you like. We don’t get many visitors here, especially this time of year. You’re more than welcome.”

“At three dollars a day, of course,” Aspinwall said, a charming smile making it the joke that was intended.

“Of course, Mr. Aspinwall.” She returned the smile as she exited the room, closing the door behind her. “I’ll let you get settled in. Don’t forget, dinner is in an hour.”

NEXT WEEK: A jug of wine, a loaf of bread and lots of evil intentions.

*     *     *     *     *

Like what you’ve read so far? Be sure and sign up for Richard’s newsletter, “Postcards From Infinity“, and if you’d like to become a patron you can do so right here. Any amount you choose will be appreciated and will help keep this blog, these weekly serials and Richard’s podcast, “A Scribe’s Journey” up and running. Thank you for reading and for your support.

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Next Up In The Weekly 1K Serials

The weekly 1K serials resumes tomorrow. Previously, I’ve run three stories that were published in the past, but no longer available to be read online anywhere. That changes tomorrow.

The next two stories you will read are two horror short stories that I wrote and submitted to specific anthologies. The first, Spinster’s Manor, was actually accepted but the anthology was never published.

The second, The Monster In The Second Reel, made it past the first round of cuts in the anthology it was submitted to, but fell short in the final cut. The comments I got back on it lead me to think it was close to making it in.

Since they were both written with the anthologies’ very specific themes in mind, it would be hard to find another anthology or even a magazine that would likely be interested in them. So, rather than let them gather cyber-dust in my short stories folder on my computer, I’ve decided to run them here and let you all enjoy reading them for free.

The same rules apply, each week it will be one chapter of around 1,000 words in length. There are a couple of chapters that come up short of 1K, but the breakpoints were naturally there, and you’ll get a few chapters well over 1K in return.

We’ll start with the three-part Spinster’s Manor and then go to the five-part The Monster in the Second Reel. Each chapter will drop here, or you can keep checking the page devoted to all of the 1K Weekly Serials on this site.

Enjoy these two original short stories. And when the first Saturday in February rolls around we’ll have an interesting new serial to share.

*     *     *     *     *

Like what you’ve read so far? Be sure and sign up for Richard’s newsletter, “Postcards From Infinity“, and if you’d like to become a patron you can do so right here. Any amount you choose will be appreciated and will help keep this blog, these weekly serials and Richard’s podcast, “A Scribe’s Journey” up and running. Thank you for reading and for your support.

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1k Serials: The Invited, Final Chapter

THE INVITED 

By Richard Paolinelli

© 2019 RICHARD PAOLINELLI . ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. NO COPYING OR ANY OTHER REPRODUCTION OF THIS STORY IS PERMITTED WITHOUT WRITTEN PERMISSION.

 

FINAL

 

There was no telling how many ships each side had lost, was losing or were even still capable of fighting. All Sinclair could do was keep firing at anything firing at him and hope that enough of the other assault teams had managed to commandeer their targets  as well.

As it was, his ship had taken a fierce pounding and they’d exhausted every weapon on board. He had no way of knowing how much longer the ship would stay together.

Noticing a cluster of eight Kustani cruisers that had formed a tight circle around each other, Sinclair ordered his navigator to head straight for the ships and overload the engines the moment they were in the middle of them.

If they were going to die out here, Sinclair decided, then they were going to take as many of the Kustani with them as was possible.

“Did the ship get away,” Sinclair asked the clone who’d found the crucial information.

“It’s got everything on board sir, but we can’t launch it.”

“Why the hell not?” Sinclair roared.

“None of us were programmed to pilot fighters, sir.”

“He’s flying this bucket just fine,” Sinclair snapped, pointing at the clone stationed at the nav console.

“Yes sir, because he was programmed to fly a Kustani ship. He’d never be able to fly an Earth fighter.”

“Then send it back on autopilot.”

“We can’t do that either sir. The flight computer is damaged and requires a pilot to fly it. Sir, you are the only person on this ship who can fly it back to Earth.”

“I’m not leaving my command, mister.”

“You have to sir,” the clone said. “You have to take back the antidote.”

“What about all of you,” Sinclair said. “I’m supposed to run away and leave you all behind to die.”

“Yes, sir,” the clone replied, standing in front of Sinclair. “You ordered that we be given the choice to fight in this battle. We chose to do what we were programmed for, to try to save Earth. Now, we choose to die to do that. You’ve blamed yourself for the Kustani for all of these years and you chose to come out here as a way to punish yourself. Now, you have to choose to live and take back humanity’s only chance to survive.”

“Four minutes to impact,” the nav clone said softly. “You need to get moving sir. We’ll finish up things here.”

Without a word, the clone standing next to him clamped on to Sinclair’s arm and hauled his protesting commander off the deck and led him down the corridors toward the waiting fighter.

They’d nearly made it to launch bay when they ran into the last dozen Kustani left alive on the ship. Before either side had a chance to react, the clone back-handed Sinclair against the wall. Stunned, Sinclair slipped to the floor, but remained conscious enough to see the clone pull out a grenade.

“Stay alive, sir,” the clone said as he pulled the pin and dashed down the corridor. The grenade exploded as the clone hurled himself into the pack of Kustani. Sinclair was far enough away to avoid being injured in the blast, but was still wobbly from the clone’s blow.

Forcing himself to his feet he continued on toward the launch bay, trying to ignore the carnage underfoot. There wasn’t enough of anything left to say thank you to in the corridor.

Sinclair staggered toward the fighter and was barely able to pull himself into the cockpit. A quick check to make sure the antidote and data packs were on board and Sinclair launched the fighter out of the bay. Just as he thought he was going to be well clear of any trouble the shock wave from the ship he’d just left slamming into the eight Kustani ships caught up to him.

The fighter was tossed into a violent tumble and Sinclair’s head struck the cockpit, sending him tumbling into a black void darker than deep space. After registering the pilot’s loss of consciousness, the autopilot, which was working just fine after all, took over and settled the tumbling craft into stable flight, then set a course for Earth well away from the fighting.

*   *   *   *   *

Sinclair awoke to a shroud of gray fog which gradually formed itself into the visage of the President, standing over him with a worried look. Slowly the background behind Takahashi came into focus, the medical equipment stacked against the wall and the sunlight streaming in through the window told Sinclair that he was lying in a hospital bed on Earth.

“Well now, I see you’ve decided to rejoin us after all,” a smile spread across his face. “You had us worried for a while, my friend.”

Sinclair tried to answer, but all that came out was a dry rasp. Takahashi reached for a glass on the table next to the bed and helped Sinclair sip some water.

Thank you,” his voice was still raspy, but at least he could form understandable words. “How long have I been here?”

“Ten days, General,” this came from a doctor standing at Takahashi’s left. A younger man wearing a green smock leaned across the bed bearing the typical stern look of a physician. “The President is correct, you gave us quite a scare. And don’t expect to leap out of this bed anytime soon, either. I want you to be ready for a nice, slow recovery.”

“Ten days!,” Sinclair ignored the doctor and looked back at the President, just now realizing that his being alive on Earth meant the self-destruct order had never been issued. “What happened?”

“If you mean why are we all still here,” Takahashi began, “then the answer is because the mission was a complete success. Squadron Five broke out as planned and proceeded to the Kustani homeworld without meeting resistance.”

Sinclair was shocked by that piece of information. He had felt sure that the Kustani, even short-handed as he now knew they were, would have better defended their home planet. His surprise must have shown on his face.

“Yes, I was surprised too. The Squadron Leader suspected a trap however and fired the missiles as planned,” Takahashi paused, troubled by his next words. “I’ve seen the recordings of the strike. Their sun ripped itself apart, nothing in that system survived.

“We didn’t learn until it was too late that there weren’t any defenses in place. The Kustani never believed for one moment that anyone would be able to strike their home system with such devastation as we did. I believe it was this along with the destruction of their flagship, and I trust you will tell us how you accomplished that miracle in short order, that broke their spirit and forced their surrender.”

“They surrendered? It’s over?” Sinclair said, after he finished telling them about the assault on the flagship, unable to keep the disbelief out of his voice. It just didn’t seem possible after all of these years at war, to finally be at peace and to have survived to see it.

“Yes the conflict is over, but there is still much more to do. We have a planet and a civilization to rebuild and I intend to rely upon you heavily, once you’ve had time to recover enough to satisfy the good doctor here,” Takahashi nodded toward the doctor, who was fidgeting with one of the medical readouts above Sinclair’s bed. “Squadron Five made contact with other races after destroying the Kustani homeworld and were bringing help in our cause. They understand our reluctance to entertain new visitors, given our recent experiences, but they stand ready to begin relations with us when we are ready to invite them to visit us.

“I want you at my side when we do open relations with these races. I have come to rely upon your counsel and I believe I will need it even more in the days to come. But first I have someone here who very much wants to see you. Doctor, if you would?”

Sinclair was still digesting the news of Earth’s seemingly miraculous victory and missed the look exchanged by the two men. He did notice that wicked little gleam in the President’s eyes that he’d seen during the meeting on Earth One, but before he could wonder what the President was up to now, the door behind Takahashi opened and all thoughts fled Sinclair’s brain.

“General Duncan Sinclair,” Takahashi began, stepping aside with a sweeping gesture of his left arm toward a figure standing in the door, “allow me the pleasure to re-introduce you to Mrs. General Duncan Sinclair.”

Suddenly she was standing there and there was nothing else in the universe. Just him and her, alive and well and in his arms again. As she stepped up to his bedside, he reached up and took her head in trembling hands.

“Hey, long time no see,” she quipped, her voice trembling as much as his hands.

Sinclair couldn’t find his voice, all he could do was look at her, drinking in the fact that she was alive, real, not a hologram, but real flesh and bone. Realizing only just then that for the last decade the better part of himself had been missing and only now could he appreciate how much he had been missing. She was alive again and now he could start living again too. He drew her closer and buried his head in the nape of her neck and suddenly, the smell of her, the feel of her, was too much.

“Oh, my god,” he whispered, feeling the tears flowing and not caring who saw, “I’ve missed you.”

“Shhh. I know my love,” she whispered, tears streaming down her cheeks too.

Takahashi and the Doctor withdrew to a far corner, giving the couple as much privacy as possible. After a few moments Sinclair pulled back to look at her again, shifting in bed to sit up. This movement drew protests from both her and the doctor, which he ignored along with a quick stab of pain in his ribs.

“General, you need to rest, the injuries you’ve suffered require a long time to heal,” the doctor began, but Sinclair merely waived the man away.

Tonia’s eyes were slightly bloodshot and there were dark circles around them, her skin was pale and she looked a little thinner than he remembered, all normal symptoms of a person recently awaken from prolonged cold sleep. Despite all of that she couldn’t possibly look any better and he told her so.

“I look terrible and you know it,” she replied, dabbing at the tears on both of their cheeks. “You always said you would never age well,” she teased, “you weren’t kidding were you.”

“It hasn’t been the age, baby,” he retorted, “it has been the mileage.”

Sinclair took notice of a small packet attached to the belt of her jumpsuit. A small tube ran from the packet up the suit, along the suit’s left sleeve, and to a point just below the crook of her arm where it plugged into a catheter, pumping a very familiar-looking blue liquid into her bloodstream. Sinclair shot a questioning look at Takahashi.

“The anti-toxin you brought back was all we had hoped and more,” Takahashi answered, stepping back to Sinclair’s bedside, “as you can see for yourself. There is no sign of the virus in any of the women we’ve awakened so far.”

“How many?”

“I don’t have an exact number, we’ve begun with unmarried women and those married women whose husbands are still alive,” Takahashi paused, as if considering how much to say. “In fact, I’ve been asked to make a decision concerning the women still in cold sleep whose husbands and fiancées perished in the conflict.

“This is one of those rare times where I am not forced to make a quick decision,” Takahashi continued. “I wanted your counsel in this matter before deciding, so I had intended to wait until you’d had time to rest and recover, but perhaps now is as good a time as any.”

“You know me, sir, I never can keep my opinion to myself,” Sinclair quipped. “Go ahead and ask.”

“I’ve been informed that we have enough DNA samples, as well as enough mental and psychological data on every deceased soldier,” Takahashi began, “and we have improved our cloning technology to the point, I am told, that we could secretly extract an egg from each woman after she is cured and quickly clone a duplicate of each man with such accuracy that none of the women would ever know that her husband was dead.

“There are many who think we should replace each man this way and let them live their lives out with neither one knowing the truth. It would require a great effort on our parts and a great blanket of secrecy from the ones who know the truth. The decision has been left to me it seems, and I’ll be frank with you my friend, I’m afraid it’s the hardest decision I’ll ever make.”

Sinclair was silent, looking past his restored wife and out the window at the park beyond. Suddenly, he was back on the Kustani ship, with a clone warrior who sacrificed his life so that Earth could survive. He’d known the truth of his existence and chose to give up his life, even though he couldn’t have known if it was to be in vain.

It was up to the survivors to decide what kind of Earth he’d sacrificed for and Sinclair knew that a lie was a poor way to honor that sacrifice. Knowing that everyone in the room would object, Sinclair stood up, albeit slowly, and weathered the storm of protests and pain that followed. He felt obligated to be on his feet for what was to come, he owed it to all of the men who had fallen over the past ten years in general, and to one man in particular.

“We tell them the truth, Mr. President,” he said, turning to face Takahashi. “We wake them up and tell them their husbands and fiancées died defending our world. Then we tell them they have a choice. They can have their husbands and boyfriends back, as clones fully aware of their origins and live their lives together that way, or they can choose to use the surviving genetic material to have their dead husband’s child. Either way, they know the truth and they make the choice, as is their right. It’s the only way, otherwise we dishonor the memory of those men.”

Takahashi held perfectly still, considering Sinclair’s words. Then he turned slightly to Tonia and smiled.

“I want you to take very good care of this man, dear lady,” Takahashi said before turning back to Sinclair and placing a hand on his right shoulder. “We will do exactly as you say. I can’t think of any better way to honor those men than to give those closest to them the right to make that choice. In the meantime, I want you to go home and regain your strength. When you’re ready I’ll want you and your valuable counsel ready to help rebuild our world.”

“There’s one more thing, sir.”

“Anything you want, just please get back into bed before your wife and the doctor throw me out of here and tie you down,” Takahashi helped Sinclair back to the bed. “Now, what would you ask of me?”

“When they bring Ken Rogers’ wife out of cold sleep, I want to be there. I want to be the one who tells her,” a pause, “everything.”

“Of course,” Takahashi soothed. “I will see to everything personally. They’ve earned it and so have you.”

 

…and so it was, on the eve of Earth’s entering into the Interstellar Alliance, that President Fumi Takahashi presented the first-ever Terra Peace Award to General Duncan Sinclair. Sinclair, in turn, accepted the award in the name of all the men, both natural-born and cloned, who had died during the Kustani War and gave it to Julia Rogers, seven months pregnant with the child of the late Colonel Kenneth Rogers.

 – from A History of the Earth-Kustani Conflict

 

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If you enjoyed this series and would like to help keep it going as well as help keep my podcast, A Scribe’s Journey, going please feel free to leave a tip on my PayPalMe. There’s no minimum required amount, just whatever amount you feel this weekly series is worth. Thank you!

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Silver Empire’s Black Friday/Cyber Monday sale begins today! And no, it isn’t just their books you’ll find there.

You can find Reservations, written by me, in the Thrillers promo. It is the first book of the Del Rio series and sets the stage for the next two books in the political thriller series. I am planning on returning to Del Rio’s world with a fourth book, likely late 2020.

You can also find The Timeless, the first book of my Timeless series, in the Sci-Fi promo.  This book was recently honored with Official Selection for Short Story in the 2019 New Apple Summer E-Book Awards.

Those are just two of several great books you’ll find there and they are all on sale this weekend!

Have a great weekend and happy reading!

THE_ TIMELESS

 

 

Like what you’ve read so far? Be sure and sign up for Richard’s newsletter, “Postcards From Infinity“, and if you’d like to become a patron you can do so right here. Any amount you choose will be appreciated and will help keep this blog, these weekly serials and Richard’s podcast, “A Scribe’s Journey” up and running. Thank you for reading and for your support.

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1k Serials: The Invited, Chapter 6

THE INVITED 

By Richard Paolinelli

© 2019 RICHARD PAOLINELLI . ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. NO COPYING OR ANY OTHER REPRODUCTION OF THIS STORY IS PERMITTED WITHOUT WRITTEN PERMISSION.

 

SIX

 

He was off by only eight minutes. Surprisingly, the Kustani never picked up on the small fleet of shuttles as they made for their targeted enemy ships. Sinclair expected the shuttle to come under fire as it made its’ run for what was believed to be the Kustani flagship. But the Kustani seemed to have been focused on the main element of the attack and didn’t notice, or just didn’t care about, the unarmed shuttles and let them approach unmolested. Earth’s battle cruisers and the fighters had already engaged and were giving as good as they were taking, but they were starting off with a five-to-one disadvantage in ships to the Kustani. Even taking out two ships for every Earth ship lost would result in over sixty Kustani ships free and clear to attack a defenseless Earth.

Squadron Five had broken away without a scratch, the Kustani choosing to not trouble themselves with a small group of ships they felt were fleeing for deep space. Sinclair doubted the Kustani would ever believe what the squadron’s mission was even if he broadcast it to them.

As the shuttle flew into an open docking port, Sinclair took some comfort in knowing that, at the very least, that much of the plan was going to succeed. The pilot dropped the shuttle on the deck and the clones leapt out. Sinclair paused long enough to wish the pilot luck before joining them outside.

The shuttle lifted off and away from the deck and headed toward its final part of the attack. Whichever ships hadn’t been boarded would be struck Kamikaze-style by the shuttles after they had unloaded their assault teams. Each shuttle would duplicate Rogers’ run into the engines and detonate a nuclear device. Sinclair was hoping to knock out at least twenty enemy ships this way.

“Alright people,” Sinclair barked out. “It seems we’ve caught these bastards by surprise. You have your assignments. Let’s get going before they figure out where we are and what we’re up to.”

One of the clones, who’d been programmed with as much of the layout of the ship as military intelligence had been able to piece together over ten years, took the point and led the team into the bowels of the ship. They swiftly made their way through dimly lit corridors without meeting any resistance, heading for what was believed to be the command deck of the ship. Sinclair grew more and more uneasy with each minute that passed without the team meeting any resistance. At length, the strike team burst through a hatchway that was marked in their layout as the ship’s command deck. Sinclair was hard-pressed to tell which group was more surprised at his team’s entrance. His assault team, that the intelligence proved to be accurate, or the half-dozen Kustani positioned around the deck.

Fortunately the clones had been enhanced with lightning-quick reflexes and reacted before the Kustani. Within seconds of walking onto the deck, Sinclair found himself standing in the center of the deck as his team removed the six dead Kustani.

They looked even uglier dead than they do alive, Sinclair thought to himself as we watched the last of the Kustani dragged off the deck.

“That seemed a bit too easy gentlemen,” Sinclair said. “Somebody hack into the command computer and confirm that this is the command deck, I want two of you on the nav controls and weapons, two more stationed on every hatch and the rest of you start sweeping out from this deck and find out where all of the Kustani are.”

Sinclair waited, listening to the sounds of his team trying to gain control of the enemy ship while trying to figure out why the Kustani hadn’t yet responded to the invaders. When the answer came, he could hardly believe it was true.

“Sir,” cried out the clone accessing the ship’s computer. “You need to see this.”

Sinclair crossed the deck to where the clone had linked a compared to the Kustani mainframe and was quickly downloading and translating every file he could find.

“What is it?” Sinclair asked.

“Look here,” the clone replied, pointing to the small screen. “It’s a complete roster for the Kustani.”

“On board?”

“No Sir, for the entire fleet.”

Sinclair did the math in his head.

“My God,” he exclaimed. “That’s less than fifty per ship! We estimated thousands per vessel based on their size. We always thought they had us easily outnumbered.”

“Yes sir,, and I think I know why there are so few of them,” the clone quickly switched to another file. “Here is a recent census of their planet they just received. There aren’t many more back on their homeworld than there are out here.”

Another screen popped up as the clone continued gleaning vital information from the Kustani computer.

“This is a detailed accounting of a long-term breeding program they’ve been working on for decades with every species they’ve encountered. Their species can longer reproduce and it is dying off.”

Sinclair was stunned.

“They’re not scavenging for natural resources,” he said. “They’re looking for a species compatible enough to save themselves.”

“Yes sir, and the human species is exactly what they need and only the females, not the males.”

“So they infected the women, forced us to put them in hibernation and tried to outlast us…,” Sinclair’s voice trailed off as a sudden thought occurred to him. “Does that mean…?”

“Yes sir,” the clone replied. “As soon as they had defeated us, they were going to revive the women and give them the antidote before using them for breeding. They have it synthesized already and I’ve downloaded everything into this computer.”

Sinclair clapped the man on the shoulder.

“Excellent. Get that information out to all of our assault teams and try to get a message off to Earth Command too. Then I want you to get a shuttle, a fighter, anything that can fly back to Earth, load everything on it and send it home as soon as possible.”

“Yes, sir,” the clone snapped off a quick salute before dashing off the deck to carry out Sinclair’s orders.

Sinclair turned to the two clones at the nav console.

“You two have that thing figured out yet?”

“Aye, sir,” replied one. “We can get underway on your command.”

“Weapons are online, sir,” said the other.

“Very well,” Sinclair said. “Target enemy capital ships that don’t have boarding parties first, then hit anything else in range as we go. Set course for the heaviest fighting, max speed and fire at will.”

“Aye, sir,” the two said in unison.

For the first time in ten years, as his latest, and possibly final, command rocketed forward, Sinclair began to believe that they might just win yet.

*   *   *   *   *

Takahashi watched the battle from CIC, there were very few reports trickling back to Earth, but they could track the progress of every ship. When he saw the ship Sinclair had boarded begin to move toward the other Kustani ships he smiled slightly.

The man must be descended from samurai, Takahashi thought and said another prayer to his ancestors, one had actually been a samurai, for any scrap of divine intervention they could muster up.

NEXT WEEK: The Final Chapter

 

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If you enjoyed this series and would like to help keep it going as well as help keep my podcast, A Scribe’s Journey, going please feel free to leave a tip on my PayPalMe. There’s no minimum required amount, just whatever amount you feel this weekly series is worth. Thank you!

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1k Serials: The Invited, Chapter 5

THE INVITED 

By Richard Paolinelli

© 2019 RICHARD PAOLINELLI . ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. NO COPYING OR ANY OTHER REPRODUCTION OF THIS STORY IS PERMITTED WITHOUT WRITTEN PERMISSION.

 

FIVE

 

In the week following Rogers’ death, Sinclair drove himself and his command. Every man able to pilot a fighter or a shuttle was briefed on his part of the mission. Anyone else left, save those needed to keep things running on Earth, was going through a crash course on hand-to-hand combat and would make up the assault force that would attempt to board Kustani ships.

By the end of the week, one hundred and twenty-six fighter craft had pilots. Twenty-six of them would make up Squadron Five with two support shuttles, one for the cold-sleep capsules and the other loaded with survival gear would join the little task force scheduled to launch, as Sinclair glanced at his watch, in less than a day. The remaining one hundred fighters and the seventy-two shuttles would link up with Earth Fleet’s seven heavy cruisers and three dozen support ships and launch what could be the final defense of Earth. With less than a day left, and having done all he could on Earth, Sinclair found himself back on Moon Base and heading for Iacola’s lab.

“Here you go Doctor,” Sinclair said, slipping a data disk from his jacket pocket and handing it to Iacola.

“Ah, excellent,” Iacola replied as he took the disk. “I’ll download it into the training program in a few minutes.”

“What’s their status?” Sinclair asked while looking over the rows of tubes, each holding one of Iacola’s super-clones. Sinclair counted over 200 tubes.

“They’re just awaiting their final programming and your message to them,” Iacola replied. “They should be out of the tubes and ready to go in three hours.”

“Good,” Sinclair said. “As soon as the last one walks out of the lab I want you and your staff to join General Blaine. He’ll be waiting on the last shuttle out of here for Earth.”

“Of course, sir,” Iacola said. “General, if you don’t mind, what did you say to them?”

Sinclair paused for a moment, looking at the disk in Iacola’s hand before answering.

“I told them everything,” he said. “I told them what they are, why they were created, what they’re being asked to do and why. I figured it was the least I could do. I never was one for asking a man, natural-born or cloned, to die without telling him why.”

“I understand,” Iacola said. “Is there any chance we might survive this?”

“There’s always a chance,” Sinclair said. “We might be able to pull out a miracle tomorrow, who knows. The only thing I do know is that we’ll go down fighting and either way they won’t win. We’ll give it our best shot Doctor, and we’ll see what fate has in store for us.”

Sinclair turned away to leave, but before he reached the corridor Iacola’s voice stopped him.

“Good luck tomorrow General,” Iacola said. “I’ll see you back on Earth.”

Sinclair looked back long enough to nod his head and left without another word. He spent the rest of the day prowling around the base, making sure everything was ready, watching as two hundred and thirteen super-clones boarded shuttles to wait for the launch and saw off Blaine, Iacola and the rest of the non-essential staff on the last flight back to Earth.

Finally, with eight hours to go before launch, Sinclair ordered everyone to get some rest. Setting a final briefing for ninety minutes before launch, Sinclair headed for his quarters to try to get a few hours of sleep.

He resisted the temptation to go to VR-Med and say a last goodbye to Tonia’s VR ghost. Like Rogers, he had visited her cold-sleep capsule before leaving Earth. He’d said goodbye then and took some solace that at least if the assault was a complete failure, she’d never feel any pain as the end came. Instead, he found himself in his bunk, staring at the ceiling and trying to force himself to sleep. He was still trying when the alarm sounded, telling him two hours remained until launch.

*   *   *   *   *

Sinclair stood on a gangway above the main shuttle bay, cameras sent his image to monitors stationed in every shuttle bay across the base. Men were gathered around the fighters and shuttles, making any last minutes preparations needed for the launch. As Sinclair appeared in the main bay, work around the base halted as the men waited to hear what he had to say.

Sinclair thought of all of the men in the fighters and the shuttles, wondering what must be going through their minds right now.  He didn’t wonder about the super-clones though.

They were built for muscle, programmed to do one job and one job only. Fight the Kustani. They had super-strength, agility and speed because those were the qualities Iacola had focused their growth on. Their brains were strictly for absorbing battle data and creating battle-tactics for their bodies to carry out. Because of this genetic-pushing, they had a life expectancy of one year. Sinclair didn’t expect any of them to live long enough to see the end of the day. Of course, he wasn’t expecting humanity as a whole to fare any better.

He thought of saying something inspirational, something profound, something to equal the stirring message Takahashi had delivered an hour ago near the end of the final attack briefing. In the end, he settled for simplicity.

“We have a job to do today gentlemen,” he said. “Let’s get it done.”

Striding down the gangway, Sinclair crossed the bay and entered the first shuttle lined up for launch. Sealing the hatch behind him, Sinclair spared a quick glance at the thirty super-clones jammed into the shuttle before slipping into the co-pilot’s seat.”

“General,” said the major seated in the pilot’s chair. “We’re ready to go when you are.”

Sinclair waited for the signal that all ships had been boarded, the bays were clear and ready for launch before giving the order to go. The shuttle hurtled out of the bay and headed for the rendezvous point. In less than an hour, he estimated, the final battle would be joined.

NEXT WEEK: THE LAST BATTLE

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If you enjoyed this series and would like to help keep it going as well as help keep my podcast, A Scribe’s Journey, going please feel free to leave a tip on my PayPalMe. There’s no minimum required amount, just whatever amount you feel this weekly series is worth. Thank you!

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Like what you’ve read so far? Be sure and sign up for Richard’s newsletter, “Postcards From Infinity“, and if you’d like to become a patron you can do so right here. Any amount you choose will be appreciated and will help keep this blog, these weekly serials and Richard’s podcast, “A Scribe’s Journey” up and running. Thank you for reading and for your support.

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1k Serials: The Invited, Chapter 4

THE INVITED 

By Richard Paolinelli

© 2019 RICHARD PAOLINELLI . ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. NO COPYING OR ANY OTHER REPRODUCTION OF THIS STORY IS PERMITTED WITHOUT WRITTEN PERMISSION.

 

FOUR

 

Rogers slipped out of the conference room unnoticed. He’d seen enough of the data while on the shuttle to discern what his friend had in mind and he knew there was no other way. But the other men inside that room would cling to one wild hope of victory and would never believe that Sinclair’s plan was the only option they had left.

Sinclair would never order a man, much less a good friend, to do what Rogers had in mind, but Rogers knew it was the last push Sinclair would need to get his plan approved. So Rogers quietly made his decision and slipped away. He headed down to the cold sleep chambers buried deep below the surface, making his way to the tube where his wife Julia slept.

Placing his hand on the cold, stainless steel tube, Rogers took one last look at his wife, said a soft goodbye and made his way to the fighter bay.

Within twenty minutes of leaving the conference room, Ken Rogers was in the cockpit of a fighter, hurtling toward the Kustani armada now positioned five million miles from the moon.

*   *   *   *   *

It had taken less time than he’d thought it would for the President and his advisors to begin to seriously consider what he was saying. The plan itself was audacious in its simplicity, but frightening in that their situation could have become so dire that it could be conceived and even be considered as the only viable option left.

Sinclair had bluntly walked them through it. Using Iacola’s super-clones all of Earth’s defensive resources would be thrown at the Kustani in one massive juggernaut.

Four squadrons of attack fighters would engage the Kustani ships in combat. Every combat-able soldier, led by Sinclair and the super-clones, would attempt to board as many of the Kustani’s main battle vessels as they could and lead an assault from within. The pilots of the transport shuttles, after dropping off the invaders, would then turn Kamikaze and fly their ships into whichever Kustani ships hadn’t yet been boarded in an attempt to damage or destroy as many ships as they could.

A fifth squadron would feint an attack on a Kustani ship before breaking away in an attempt to flee the solar system and head for the Kustani’s home system.

“Why there?” Blaine had asked at that point.

“Because they are going to be carrying half of our little surprise for the Kustani,” Sinclair replied. “Iacola’s staff has been working on a new weapon, but they were only able to produce eight of them. They are missiles, armed with what I can only describe as a devil’s brew of anti-matter and a few other bits of destructive nastiness that will trigger any type of star into an immediate supernova. I’ve already ordered four missiles to be loaded onto a platform and placed in orbit over the dark side of Mercury. Squadron Five will carry the other four.

“If our all-out assault on the Kustani fails and we can’t commandeer enough of their ships to use against them,” Sinclair continued, swallowing past a dry throat, “then the order to fire the missiles into our Sun will be given. The shock wave from our Sun going nova will wipe out the Kustani before they even know what we’ve done.”

No one in the room spoke, there wasn’t anything any of them could say as they all came to the same realization that Sinclair had been coming to for the last few weeks.

“Upon their arrival in the enemy’s home system, Five will fire their missiles into the Kustani’s home star from a safe distance,” Sinclair said. “If they see our Sun go, then they’ll continue on, looking for any world where they can set down and live out whatever lives they have left to them.”

“What kind of a life can a dozen or so men lead under those circumstances?” asked an advisor whose name Sinclair couldn’t recall.

“We’ve always had an anti-virus that would keep the women alive,” Sinclair said. “But they’d never be able to have children. So, we’ll have the squadron made up of twenty married men and send along a support shuttle with the capsules of the men’s wives and as much survival gear and supplies as we can pack into it. If they find a place, they set down, revive the women and enjoy whatever time they have together for however long it lasts.

“At the very least, we’ll have prevented the Kustani from ever doing this to another race of beings somewhere else. It’s not much of a legacy, but as far as I can see, it’s the only one we’ve got other than being just another victim of the Kustani.”

It was a bitter pill to swallow and it wasn’t going down easy.

“Surely there’s something else we can do beside mass suicide?” the aide seated to the right of the President asked.

Sinclair opened his mouth to try to convince them that this was the only way when the door burst open and an out-of-breath corporal flew into the room.

“General Sinclair,” the man gasped out. “You’re wanted in CIC. Colonel Rogers has stolen an attack fighter and is flying toward the Kustani. He isn’t answering hails.”

Stunned, Sinclair looked to empty spot where Rogers usually stood during these meetings. He’d never seen Ken walk out, but with a sudden dread, he knew exactly what his friend was doing and why as well. As he followed Blaine, Takahashi and the rest of the cabinet out the door, Sinclair cursed fate for bringing the Kustani down upon them and placing his friend in a position where he’d need to sacrifice himself in this way.

He saved the worst of his curse for himself, for becoming the man who was about to let his friend sacrifice himself without at least trying to talk him out of it.

*   *   *   *   *

By the time Sinclair entered CIC, Blaine was roaring into a mike at the fighter rapidly approaching the Kustani blockade. Judging from the shade of dark red Blaine’s face was turning, Ken wasn’t answering. Sinclair calmly walked up behind a communications officer and asked for a position update.

“He’s about three minutes from the nearest Kustani ship,” the man replied. “They’ve launched a small intercept group at him, contact in two minutes.”

Blaine tossed away the mike in frustration and vented some of his anger toward Rogers at Sinclair.

“Get him back here Sinclair!,” he shouted.

“Son, mind if I borrow your gear for a minute,” Sinclair asked the comm officer, who quickly handed Sinclair his headset.

“Ken,” Sinclair said into the mike after donning the gear. “What are you doing?”

“I figured out what you had in mind and it seemed that you could use a little help,” came the reply after a few seconds had passed. Blaine’s face turned another shade darker, but he held his tongue.

“That I could,” Sinclair said, ignoring Blaine. “But I had planned on having you lead an assault team.”

“Figured as much,” Rogers replied. “But I’m a pilot, not a ground pounder. Besides, I’m guessing there’s still some debate over your plan, folks down there not willing to see the forest for the trees and all that.”

“You could say that,” Sinclair whispered.

“So I’m thinking you need a little demonstration to get the green light to get the job done right?”

“Yeah, that’s about right.”

“He blew right through them,” came an outcry from a tracking monitor behind him. “He never engaged their intercept! General Blaine, he has a clear path at one of their ships!”

Sinclair forced himself to look on as the blip representing Rogers’ ship bore down on a Kustani battle cruiser. More intercepts were launched, but it was clear for all to see that they wouldn’t be in time to stop Rogers.

“Is he insane,” Blaine exclaimed. “He can’t do any damage attacking a cruiser with one fighter!”

“Fighter bay,” Sinclair said, switching to another channel on his headset. “What is the payload of Colonel Rogers’ fighter?”

“Standard weapons plus one thermonuclear missile,” came the quick reply.

“That won’t do him any good,” Blaine said. “We’ve fired nukes at them before with no effect.”

“He isn’t going to fire anything at them General,” Sinclair said softly, switching back to Rogers’ frequency.

“One minute to intercept,” intoned the com officer.

“Ken,” Sinclair said.

“Yes, sir.”

He couldn’t say good luck, it wouldn’t crawl past the lump in his throat. Rogers listened to the silence for a few seconds, smiled and sent one last message back to Earth.

“Understood, Duncan,” he said. “Give’em hell, pal.”

Less than a minute later, with every weapon on board the fighter armed, Rogers powered his ship straight into the engines of the Kustani cruiser that had led the assault on Mars. At first it appeared that the huge engines of the cruiser had swallowed the fighter whole. But within moments a chain reaction of shudders shook the vessel until it suddenly exploded, taking a

smaller support ship and several Kustani fighters with it.

Sinclair watched the two blips intersect then wink out. Once the reports of the destruction of the Kustani ships came in, CIC erupted in cheers. He couldn’t blame the men for cheering, there’d been precious few victories in the past decade, he just couldn’t bring himself to join them. Instead, he handed the headset back to the officer and walked over to the President who, along with Sinclair and Blaine, were the only ones not celebrating.

Sinclair stood silent in front of the two men, there was nothing else to say after all, and waited. Takahashi waited as well, until the cheering had died down.

“General Blaine,” Takahashi began. “You will take command of Moon Base and evacuate all non-essential personnel. Once Dr. Iacola and his staff have finished their work and the assault is launched, you will evacuate everyone else back here.

“General Sinclair, you have command of all Earth defense forces. Get everything you need and launch when ready. You have full and final authority with one exception. I will give the order to fire those missiles when, and if, the time comes. Understood?”

“Yes, sir,” Sinclair said, with Blaine following suit a second later.

“Proceed, gentlemen,” Takahashi said. “And may whatever gods there are have mercy on us all.”

NEXT WEEK: The Final Battle Nears

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If you enjoyed this series and would like to help keep it going as well as help keep my podcast, A Scribe’s Journey, going please feel free to leave a tip on my PayPalMe. There’s no minimum required amount, just whatever amount you feel this weekly series is worth. Thank you!

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Like what you’ve read so far? Be sure and sign up for Richard’s newsletter, “Postcards From Infinity“, and if you’d like to become a patron you can do so right here. Any amount you choose will be appreciated and will help keep this blog, these weekly serials and Richard’s podcast, “A Scribe’s Journey” up and running. Thank you for reading and for your support.

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