It Isn’t Always A “Yes”

The rejection letter/e-mail is the bane of every writer. We all get them, some more than others and only the rarest of the few can say they no longer get them. The great Louis L’Amour got one for a book that I consider his best work, The Walking Drum.

s-l300His daughter was a guest of my podcast recently (Episode 41: Angelique L’Amour  / Audio Only ) and she recounted the story that every publisher he took the manuscript to wouldn’t touch it. It wasn’t a western (even though it really was, just one set in medieval times and in the Eastern Hemisphere) and though L’Amour was already an established best-seller, he couldn’t get it published.

He finally found a way, by persevering and by agreeing to write two other books in exchange for getting The Walking Drum to print, but he had to hear the word “No” quite a lot first.

For my part, over 35 years of sending out manuscripts by mail both snail and electronic, I have heard many a “No!” myself, although lately it seems like it has been happening less. But, it still happens.

Like today for example. I had submitted to a very interesting anthology a few months back, one I would have very much enjoyed being a part of. Sadly, it was a no.

“Mr. Paolinelli,

Thank you for submitting you story, “XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX,” to our XXXXXXXXXXX Anthology. Yours was a unique approach to the theme, and the editorial staff enjoyed the originality. The desperation of the main character’s attempts to bring his son back by XXXXXXXXXXXXX was quite scary, but well characterized. The editorial staff appreciates your talents as a writer.

We received over 400 stories, and more than 300 were dropped in the first round. The editorial team kept your story for a second round of consideration, and we enjoyed the chance for another look, but unfortunately it did not make the final round. Best of luck placing it elsewhere and with your future writing endeavors.”

I X-ed out the title of my story, the anthology and the plot info for obvious reasons. Besides, the point of sharing this was to show we all get these rejection letters – most are very professional as this one was.

I also wanted to share it because I see a lot of newer authors posting that they are on the brink of giving up after getting another rejection letter. I hate to see that because sometimes you have to get a ton of these and keep honing your skills in the craft before the acceptance letters start rolling in.

And rather than seeing the “No” in the letter above and getting depressed, take a look at a lot of the positives that lay within. Over 75% of the submitted stories were cut in the first round. Mine was not among them. My story got into the second round and who knows how close it came to making that final cut?

red spiritual smoke on black background with copy space

Having recently edited Planetary Anthology Series: Pluto, I can tell you the difference between the last story to make the cut and the story that just missed is razor-thin. About half of the submissions got in. The others that didn’t? They would have made an excellent collection on their own right. I can’t think of a story in the rejected pile that was so bad it got cut before I finished reading it.

But look further in that first paragraph. They were impressed with the story, its originality, how it fit the theme of the anthology overall (it was scary!) and the characters were well developed. Not bad for a slightly-over 5,000-word short story, eh?

So yes, I was disappointed that it was a “No”, but I walked away from reading this e-mail feeling very good about the story and my writing. And that is what I want every writer to keep in mind whenever that rejection letter arrives. Find the positives to build on, use any negatives as constructive criticism to improve on the next story.

And, most importantly, don’t ever let the “No” letters stop you from writing.

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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 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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The End Of A Long Journey Nears

It all started over two years ago, when I still called Thousand Oaks, California home. I’d taken on the role as co-editor, along with Dawn Witzke, for Pluto in Superversive Press’ planned 12-book anthology series.

A lot has happened since then. Starting with, I moved to Nebraska, dealt with health issues (my own and other family members), damned near quit as editor (it wasn’t anything Superversive had done and the issue resolved itself quickly), dealt with a myriad of delays that no one could have forseen or prevented and then woke up one morning not so long ago to an email from one of the other editors that SUperversive was stopping the series after only releasing the first five (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars & Jupiter)

That was a fun morning. Realizing two years of work had been for nothing is not the way to start your day. But there was a silver lining. Superversive was open to allowing another publisher to step in and take over. Well, I just so happen to have a publishing house up my sleeve and after consulting with the other half of the Tuscany Bay Books’ dynamic duo, we took Superversive up on their offer.

red spiritual smoke on black background with copy spaceToday, the first payoff arrived:

Pluto, Tuscany Bay Books’ first release in the Planetary Anthology Series, is now live on Amazon for pre-ordering. The book will upload into your Kindle devices on Dec. 5th. It will also be available for free to all KU subscribers.

You can pre-order your copy right here: PLUTO

And check out the book trailer right here: PAS: PLUTO

Many thanks to the 21 authors who contributed these amazing stories to the collection and who hung in there along with me over these last two years:

Like So Many Paper Lanterns – B. Michael Stevens               

Time Out For Pluto – P. A. Piatt                                                

A Brush – J.D. Arguelles                                                           

The Pluto Chronicles – Bokerah Brumley                               

Bat Out Of Hellheim – Corey McCleery                                 

The Rainbow-Colored Rock Hopper – J. Manfred Weichsel          

The Heart Of Pluto – Christine Chase                                     

The Case For Pluto – A.M. Freeman                                       

Marathon To Mordor – Karina L. Fabian                                

Miss Nancy’s Garden – Jim Ryals                                           

On Eternal Patrol – L.A. Behm II                                            

Pluto Invictus – W.J. Hayes                                                     

Worst Contact – Arlan Andrews Sr.                                         

Ambit Of Charon – David Skinner                                          

Sunset Over Gunther – Frank B. Luke                                    

Adaptive Reasoning – John M. Olsen                                     

Judgment Of Anaq – Andy Pluto                                             

Life At The End – Jake Freivald                                              

A Clockwork Dragon – Allen Goodner                                    

The Collector – Declan Finn                                                   

Yes, Neil D. Tyson, Pluto Is A Planet – Richard Paolinelli   

 

Now its on to working on getting Luna ready for her release date. As soon as we have that information, we will post it here. For now, check out her amazing cover:

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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1k Serials: The Invited, Chapter 3

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.

 

THREE

 

Sinclair pulled open the hatch, stepped into the chamber and closed the hatch behind him.

Within moments the sterile, empty bay before him transformed itself into a virtual-reality replica of his mountain home down on Earth, the way it was before the Kustani had arrived in the solar system. Brilliant sunlight poured down from clear, deep-blue skies to reflect off the blue lake and the thick forest of trees between it and the Sinclair house above. Changing out of his uniform, Sinclair slipped into his favorite robe and walked outside onto the deck to breathe in the clean air and take in the scenery below.

“Duncan,” a voice called out from behind him, as a pair of arms wrapped themselves around his chest and warm lips nuzzled his neck. “It’s been too long.”

Even before he turned he knew what he would see: His wife Tonia, a woman almost as tall as he with creamy mocha skin and warm brown eyes that matched the color of her hair. Standing there before him, dressed in a robe that matched his, he could almost imagine that the last ten years were nothing but a bad nightmare.

Almost.

While his senses were fooled into thinking that this was reality, his mind knew all too well that none of this was real and he could never fully lose himself in this computer-generated fantasy. Never once had he addressed the illusion by his wife’s name and no matter how many times the computer prompted he never told it that he loved her.

To him it would be a betrayal to his wife, trapped on Earth inside a cold sleep chamber from which she might never emerge, and he just couldn’t do that to her no matter the justification. So he would talk to “her” for a brief time, set aside that it was a device built to harvest sperm, camouflaged as his wife, he was making love too and get back to work.

“You look tired,” it said, massaging his shoulders. He could feel fingers kneading sore muscles, smell the jasmine that was her favorite scent.

“It’s been a bad day,” he replied. “It’ll probably get worse.”

“Why?” it asked, pressing her simulated body against his in a way that was almost the same as Tonia would.

Almost.

“The war isn’t going well,” he replied. “I’m beginning to wonder if we’ll ever win.”

“If the alternative is losing and that is not an acceptable option,” she said, drawing closer. “Then perhaps you need to find an answer in between the two.”

They made love then, not in the frenetic way the soldiers had, but with passion as Sinclair forced himself to go with the program and suspend reality long enough to complete the procedure. But that last comment stuck in the back of the head and just as they finished a thought born of pure desperation laced through his brain.

“It’s not about us winning anymore,” he whispered. “It’s about not letting them win.”

“What?” she said, puzzled.

“Thank you,” was Sinclair’s reply, followed by a quick kiss. “Computer, end simulation.”

The faux Tonia, house and Earth quickly faded away. Sinclair ducked into the bay’s shower for less than a minute, donned his uniform and exited VR-Med so fast that Iacola never knew he’d left.

*   *   *   *   *

The trip to Earth had been swift and silent, save for Sinclair’s pounding of the passenger’s comm panel’s console keys. He’d steamed into the shuttle bay, bounded up the ramp and into the shuttle, barked out to Rogers to get going and no interruptions before settling in front of the console.

He didn’t say a word after that and was out of the shuttle fifteen seconds after Rogers had settled the craft down on the landing pad in front of the President’s office in San Francisco. Rogers was hard-pressed to keep up as Sinclair stormed his way through the crowded corridors.

There seemed to be an electric charge surrounding the General and everyone in his path saw it and quickly got out of his way. Rogers didn’t know what had happened back on Moon Base, but whatever it was, it had created a different General Sinclair. One that had some purpose in mind and, whatever it was, had every intention of seeing it through. Rogers hadn’t seen his friend like this since before the Kustani.

Arriving at the President’s conference room, Sinclair didn’t hesitate, plowing right past a loudly-protesting aide the General barreled past the closed doors and into the room filled with the President and his top advisors.

“General Sinclair,” said a surprised President Takahashi, “you’re early.”

“Yes, sir,” Sinclair replied, walking over to the podium directly across from the President’s chair and displacing a lieutenant who had been delivering a war update.

“Dismissed,” he snapped, hooking a thumb at the door he’d left open behind him.

“Sinclair,” barked General Blaine, the commander of Earth defense and one of the President’s cabinet members. “What the devil do you think you’re doing. We need that war update…”

Sinclair, keeping eye contact with Takahashi, interrupted his commanding officer.

“No, sir,” Sinclair began, “we don’t. The war’s over.”

“What the hell are you talking about Sinclair?” Blaine demanded. “Unless the Kustani just magically disappeared, we’re in a fight for our lives.”

“We were, General,” Sinclair said, still looking at Takahashi. “And we lost.”

The entire room erupted in protest with demands for Sinclair’s arrest being drowned out only by the shouts for his head. Amid the storm there were three islands of calm.

Rogers stood in stunned disbelief, sure that his friend had finally snapped under the pressure, unable to speak a word of protest much less support while Sinclair held his position across from the President without speaking another word in his defense. Takahashi, who had a reputation for calm that made Budha look like a raving lunatic, held Sinclair’s gaze for a full minute while ignoring the protests. Only when he slowly raised his hand for quiet did the room finally settle down.

“I assume, General,” Takahashi began, “that you have not taken leave of your senses?”

“No, sir.”

“Then perhaps you would share the reasons behind your view of our situation?”

“Certainly. We know that ten years ago the Kustani arrived in our solar system. We know they are a race of marauders that have conquered other planets and systems the same way they are attacking us and that no other race has attempted to make contact with us,” Sinclair paused long enough to upload the information he’d been working on in the shuttle.

“As you all can see,” he continued. “Even at our most liberal estimates, with no assaults against the Kustani, we have about six months of ships, supplies and manpower left to us and then there will be nothing standing in between Earth and the Kustani. In short gentlemen, we’re out of gas and there’s no cavalry coming over the hill at the last minute to save us. The war is over. We lost.”

Total silence and he’d expected little else. There was no arguing with the facts and the facts were very bleak indeed.

“We already know the Kustani won’t accept our surrender or any peace overtures,” Blaine said. “So what do you suggest? Just sit back and let them run us over?”

“No, sir,” Sinclair replied. “I said we lost the war, I didn’t say anything about letting the Kustani win it.”

“I must confess to being a little slow in my advanced years,” Takahashi said mildly. “But if we’ve lost the war, how do you propose not letting the Kustani win?”

“I’m sure you’re all aware of the concept of the scorched earth policy,” Sinclair replied. “What I propose is more along the lines of a scorched solar system. If we have to die, then we take those bastards with us.”

NEXT WEEK: Chapter 4: A terrible sacrifice.

 

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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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