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Galactic Frontiers
cover art © Luke Ahearn



When Sage set off to be a colonist he didn't realize he might have to save the Confederacy by pretending to be a traitor--and that's just the beginning of his troubles!


Chapter Excerpt




Galactic Frontiers

science fiction adventure


Darrell Bain




Chapter One

"Sage! Sage, wait!"

I recognized the voice. It was Drew Cortez, my uncle, and there was urgency in his hail.

I turned back from where I was about to step on the slidewalk to the maglev station and saw Drew hurrying my way. I waited.

"Damn, Sage, I'm glad I caught you before you started. Let's go." He grabbed my arm and began hustling me back the way I'd come, then dragged me onto a different slidewalk. I tried to resist, but he's a big man, and it was like trying to wrestle with a gorilla. I could have used some moves and resisted, but it might have hurt him.

"Drew, I'll miss my train!" I cried, looking at the schedule. The time for my train was blinking red, telling me I had only minutes before it left.

"Good thing, too, or you'd have wound up being held as a hostage. Hurry along, now. There's no time to waste."

Hostage? What in hell was he talking about? Just then a couple of UN soldiers in their pale blue uniforms passed us. Their faces were stony and unsmiling, as if intent on a dangerous mission of grave importance.

"Drew, this was my farewell party from the gang. We were going to-"

"I know where you were going, Sage. So did those Unnie goons who just passed us, unless I miss my guess." He loosed his hold on me, probably knowing I had no chance to catch my train now.

"They weren't after me were they?" I couldn't imagine why anyone would think I was important. Hell, I'd just turned seventeen recently. Even if that did mean I'd reached my majority, I hadn't done anything illegal. And even if I had, the UN only had limited authority within our borders. We hadn't surrendered completely to them, like so many other countries had.

"Yes, almost certainly. They were going to hold you to try keeping our ship from leaving. I guess you've been so busy getting ready for your weekend party you haven't been following the news."

"No, but I stopped following politics once you told me we were migrating."

"It doesn't matter now. There's our ride."

My eyes widened as we stepped off the walk. A private combo was waiting. Someone inside must have told the door to open. I couldn't see who was driving at first, because our view of the front was opaqued. Then he dropped it, but I still didn't know the man. Nor did Drew introduce me. He shoved me in and slid in beside me. Without him saying a word the combo surged forward. It made a few twists and turns along the boulevards of Sunrise City until it came to a flight area. I was pressed back in my seat by the acceleration as it took to the air. After that I was so excited for a few minutes I forgot what had happened. I'd never been in a combo before, much less one that was airborne.

"Don't get taken away," Drew said in his deep voice. "We'll be landing at the spaceport in a moment."

"Really?" I tore my gaze away from the window and stared at Drew's solemn face. "Tell me what's going on," I said.

"In a word, we're leaving early. The senate ratified the Destination Disclosure treaty allowing the UN to place trackers in all United States ships. We're going to get away before they put one in ours."

Trackers were something there'd been a huge debate about in the countries that hadn't yet given over complete sovereignty to the U.N. They were integrated into the Casimer drives in a way that left a traceable signal each time the drive was activated, and they could not be removed except by installing a whole new impeller. The purported purpose of the trackers was to assure a "Continuity of Mankind" among the stars. The real reason for having them, according to a minority in Congress, was that the UN wanted to know where every planet settled was located so that as soon as they had the strength and political backing, the UN could force the colony worlds to come under their sway.

"You mean we're leaving today?"

"That's right. At least we're leaving as quickly as everyone is safely aboard."

"You don't mean there could be trouble if we ignored the treaty, do you?"

I could feel the combo begin its descent. Drew didn't answer immediately. He was busy talking to someone on his phone. I heard him say something about UN troops, and then he mentioned the name of another family that I knew were part of our crew. I'd met one of the boys, a year younger than I although he was already heavier and taller. I take after Mom rather than Dad. Both his other brothers were larger even than Drew. Dad was the runt of the family.

"I'm afraid there's going to be a confrontation if we don't get moving quickly. After all, they've got their Unnies armed and ready."

"But they're just ..." I trailed off, realizing what he meant. Because of a treaty Congress had agreed to several years ago, the UN had the right of free passage in the country, including troops and vehicles so long as they were lightly armed and didn't travel in groups of more than two dozen. Even though there was a lot of grumbling over armed UN soldiers running around the country, it really hadn't meant much. But now...

"Yes, exactly." Drew could obviously tell that the light bulb had clicked on for me. "I fully expect to see the Unnies begin enforcing the new treaty. I have it on good authority that they've been primed for this and have teams standing by. What's more, I've gotten word that they'll be enforcing their right to place trackers on United States ships selectively. To begin with, that is."

"What does that mean, Uncle Drew?" I still called him that sometimes.

"It means they don't like the politics of our group, and we're one of the first. Listen, we're going to be landing in a few minutes. Take this but don't be waving it around and don't use it unless it's absolutely necessary. We're going to try to leave peacefully."

He handed me a small needler. As I took it I felt my heart begin to thump. It felt as if Drew ought to be able to hear the pounding in my chest. It was that hard. I examined the needler to be sure it was on safety as I'd been taught, then took another look. It was the latest design, capable of penetrating body armor. I felt my hands begin to tremble. I'm sure Drew noticed, but he didn't say anything. When we landed at the spaceport five minutes later I had the laser tucked safely out of sight, but I'd activated the power charge. All it would take to fire would be snapping the safety off.

* * *

When Drew and I had been at the spaceport there were hardly any UN uniforms in sight. Now it was different. As our ground shuttle moved toward our ship we passed blue UN vans parked near several other spacecraft. At one ship I saw an angry shouting match taking place between the blue-clad troops and civilians. I turned back in my seat to watch as we passed.

"Pay attention to what's in front of us, Sage. If there's a van by our ship I want you to have your needler handy after we get out, but don't draw it unless you see me do so. Understand?"

"Yes, sir," I said, accepting his authority to decide whether or not we engaged in a fight. I stared ahead of us at the long line of great interstellar ships stretching into the distance. A few of the spaces were empty. As I watched, a ship came in to land, floating down as gently as a cloud.

My hands began trembling again when I saw not one but two blue vans parked by our ship near the spot on its hull where its name, John Paul, was emblazoned above one of the side entrances. Surprisingly, when the shuttle came to a halt, our driver got out and joined us.

"Are you sure about this, Leon?" Drew asked him.

The man shrugged. "I made up my mind on the way. I don't like our country bowing to the Unnies. If you'll have me I'm going with you."

"I'll vouch for you. Are you armed?"


"Good. We might need you. This is my nephew, Sage. He can handle a gun if need be."

He nodded at me. "Let's hope we don't. We'd better integrate our coms just in case, though."

It took only a moment to temporarily merge our comphones so we'd have an idea what the others were doing if necessary, then we hurried toward the ship.

Unfortunately, the confrontation inside had already begun.

* * *

There was no guard at the entrance as there should have been. Drew held up his hand to stop us. He cocked his head, listening. I couldn't hear anything, but he drew his needler. The man named Leon did the same, except he had a slug thrower. Drew turned half way toward me and nodded.

I pulled my own weapon. Memories of all the hours of simulations flashed through my mind, games where I'd fought aliens and gangsters and foreign troops-but this was real.

We turned at the first corridor, and I almost bumped into Drew when he stopped abruptly. A body lay on the floor. There was very little blood, but then the heavy needlers UN troops use rarely leave much. Drew hesitated for a moment, then spoke, his voice a command.

"Leon, you take the left corridor, I'll take the right. Sage, you stay here and guard the entrance. If any more Unnies try to enter, you shoot. Hear? And put your com on auto now so I'll know if you need me."

"But, Drew, I want to-"

"Stay here!" he said. "They may have called for reinforcements." He began running down the corridor at a half trot. Leon went the other way while I was left alone.

I tried to avoid looking at the body of the man who'd been on guard the first time I'd come there with Drew. Casper somebody.

I stayed where I was, fuming. I thought he was leaving me to guard the entrance as a make-work job to keep me out of the fighting. I still thought that, all the way up to when I heard voices outside but still out of sight, hidden by the bulkhead of the ship. I took out my comphone and turned up the audio, hoping Drew could hear the voices. I kept it in my left hand ready to call him if they turned out to be more UN troops. All the time I was wondering how many of them one of their vans held. The voices faded for a moment, and I began to relax. I decided the danger was over and raised my body from where I had been waiting, standing behind the guard desk at a half crouch. I thought again of how Drew had snookered me into staying. Then the first blue uniform eased into sight.

I tried to aim and warn Drew at the same time. I think that despite all the simulations I must have closed my eyes when I pulled the trigger. My beam went high, scorching the paint above the entrance. The Unnie fired back quickly then ducked out of sight. His aim was no better than mine, but it scared hell out of me when it burned a hole through the desk right beside me. I waited, trying to still my trembling, and cursed myself for missing. And at a distance of only ten yards at that. I needn't have worried. I got another chance.

There were four of them. They came in a rush, all together. I guess I would have died right then but for Red Olsen. He had approached on the slidewalk and seen what was happening. He called out, "Hey, you blue-pants bastards!"

I still might have been hit, but one of the Unnies he shot in the back fell against another, causing her to stumble and her shot to go awry. My beam cut through the edge of her right arm as she tried to get up, then sliced across her throat before it died. She fell in a great gout of blood spurting from her carotid artery. My needler beam hadn't coagulated the flesh enough to stop it. I fired again. My aim was true that time, taking the last Unnie standing in the chest as he frantically tried to clear blood from his eyes, sprayed there by the first one I'd shot.

"The group!" Red called.

Later on he told me it was all he could think of to identify himself. We hadn't taken the UN threat seriously enough to have passwords. Anyway, I thought I recognized his voice.

"Is that you, Red?" I yelled.

"Yeah, it's me. Sage?" He edged cautiously around the edge of the entrance.

I lowered my needler. "Thanks," I said. "How'd you know to shoot?"

"Hell, they had their guns drawn and were shooting through the entrance. What else did I need? Besides, I saw that first one fire a beam at you, and I could tell they were ready to rush. And if that wasn't enough, your dad called me. Where is everyone?"

"Dunno," I said. "I was with Drew. He told me to guard this entrance."

Just then Dad came running down the corridor toward us. He skidded to a stop in front of the body then stepped around the puddle of blood and grabbed me in a bear hug.

"Are you okay, son?"

"Yes, sir. I'm not hurt. Red came up just in the nick of time. Are there more of them?"

"No, they're all dead." He said grimly. "And now that Red is here and Drew managed to find you in time, we can leave. Everyone is aboard. Help me move this carrion out of the way."

Red and I both lent a hand, trying to avoid getting our hands in the mess. The odor was becoming bad, too. That's one aspect of the simulations that's not life-like. It was the first time I'd smelled violent death. There's nothing else like it in the world. We got the bodies moved, watching carefully to see that no more Unnies were anywhere near. Dad closed the exit just as one of the technical people I didn't know came up to check the seal and permalock.

All the while Dad was trying to act normally but I could tell he had been almost as scared as I was, although I think his fear was for me rather than of the UN troops. Thinking of them reminded me to ask him about Drew.

"He's fine, and so are most of us except for Betty Wilson and Seth Sloan. They're both dead, and several others have minor wounds."

I didn't know either of them so it didn't have much impact on me. Later on I met Betty's mother, a sad-eyed woman who mourned her daughter for a long time afterward. Her brother introduced himself to me one day and told me he thought if it hadn't been for his sister and others like Susan and me there wouldn't be any pioneers. It was a sincere compliment, and I remembered it a long time.

"Those damn goons didn't expect us to fight back," Dad added. He put his arm around me. "You did fine, son. I'm proud of you. You too, Red."

"Thanks," Red said.

I didn't say anything. I didn't trust my voice.

"Come on, let's go see your mother and tell her you're okay."

On the way to our quarters I felt a faint shudder run through the ship as the impellers revved up. A moment later I suddenly felt lighter as the Casimer drive reached out for the Quantum foam and became one with its limitless energy. The John Paul lifted into space as softly as down floating into the air on a vagrant breeze.

Once we were beyond Earth orbit the bodies were dumped unceremoniously into space, and friends of ours disposed of the vans. The UN might suspect us, but they could never be certain we were the ones who killed their gang of thugs. I forced myself to be in the party that carried the bodies to the airlock, all fourteen of them. Drew was helping, too.

"Hi, Uncle Drew," I said. "I'm glad you're here." I felt my gorge rising but held it back. Somewhere in the back of my mind I remembered a maxim: one who commits violence must be prepared to face the bodies. It fitted, I guess.

On the way back from the airlock, Drew caught me alone.

"Sage, I didn't intend to leave you facing that gang by yourself. I'm sorry. I thought they'd all gone on inside."

"It's all right," I said.

"No, it's not all right. Betty died, and you and Red damn near did because we didn't plan well enough. We should have known they'd be waiting on that treaty to be confirmed so they could put trackers on the ships that don't suit them." He shook his head. "We're going to have to do better than that. It's a big galaxy, but the UN thinks it should all belong to them."

"I've sort of gotten that idea now, but I still don't know why. We don't intend to bother them, do we? After we get our planet settled?"

"It's not what we intend, Sage. The UN is on a roll right now, and they're in cahoots with the All Humanity party. You know about them, don't you?"

"Uh huh. They want everyone to be the same."

"Yep. They'd be happy if all the races and cultures intermingled until there's no difference at all. And of course they want to integrate any aliens we happen to find into the family as well."

"The theory sounds nice," I said, slowing down as we neared our family quarters.

"Yeah. Nice and stifling. Without differences, the human race will stagnate. Well, all that's for the long run. Right now, let's put it out of our minds and go see what there is to eat."

I was all for putting it out of mind, but I didn't have much appetite that evening. I kept seeing the surprise on that woman's face as the blood gushed from her neck.


Chapter Two

Real space exploration didn't begin until after the Casimer Quantum drive was perfected around the middle of the last century. If you read about the history of space flight it's easy to realize what a tremendous amount of work related to space had already been done, though. I know, because I studied the subject for a non-classroom, optional history credit in school. Just think about it. Space suits, construction methods, space medicine, zero-G effects, microgravity manufacturing, materials research that gradually discovered what would and wouldn't work in vacuum, and so on. It took the first moon voyages to discover just how nasty dust and vacuum combine to foul up equipment and how ionization can rupture delicate electronic circuits, not to mention DNA and reproductive cells.

So when the Casimer drive and quantum shielding made it possible to explore interstellar space, a lot of the groundwork for traveling and working in airlessness had already been perfected. That was good, because the ships had to be manufactured in space where the materials were, then brought to Earth. If so much work hadn't already been done beforehand, the casualties during the initial exploration and construction would have been much, much higher.

I had my sights firmly set on a career somewhere out on the frontiers even before I began noticing the difference between males and the other half of the species, but I never dreamed I'd get there so soon. My first inkling came when Aunt Doris popped in to visit one weekend.

"Hi, Sage! That is you, isn't it?" Doris said as she jumped down from the exit of the bus that brought her from the maglev station. She had a large handbag over her shoulder and a big smile on her face.

"Hey, Auntie!" I glanced over my shoulder, pretending to look for another person. "Yeah, it must be me. I don't see anyone else." I grinned excitedly at her, anticipating a fun weekend. We'd always gotten along pretty well, even when she was still living with her folks and dating Drew. I liked her a lot and loved and admired my uncle. Uncle Drew looked like a younger, larger version of Dad and always had good stories to tell about his hitch with the marines, even if I didn't believe all of them.

"Just wondering," she said. "You've grown another six inches since we were here last year.

"Sure I have. And you're getting gray hair, too."

She stuck her tongue out at me, then grabbed me for a big hug, ignoring my comment about gray hair. She wasn't that many years older than me and didn't have any more gray than I did, which is none.

"I didn't realize you were coming. Why didn't you let us know?"

"We told your dad."

"Really? I wonder how come he didn't say anything?"

"Probably so you wouldn't pester him, Sagebrush."

Sometimes I think I've got a neat name, except when people twist it around like she'd just done.

"Come on, let's get in out of the heat," she said.

"No luggage?"

"It's with Drew. I want a cool drink right now."

I led the way into the entrance of our home, an old, renovated office building in Sunrise City on the edge of the abandoned shale oil mining area. Dad bought it cheap right after he and Mom married, and they renovated it together.

Our home was barely visible from the outside because it was mostly buried in the side of the mountain above the old mines. Inside it opened up into the spacious, four-bedroom home I'd lived in all my life. It was more room than a lot of families had. The Cortez family generated a bit of envy in the sprawling city stretching for miles around the old shale mines. It was my home, and for that reason I didn't pay much mind to it. I was just glad there was room to have friends over. We had room to study or train in the gymnastics and martial arts I competed in at school, and the place was also large enough so my little sister wasn't always in my pocket. It had neat, adjoining entertainment and work centers where we could create virtual scenarios almost like real. Lots of the gang I ran with came for that reason, too.

"Lillie! I'm here!" Doris called. She usually called the folks by their first names.

Mom came running from the back where the kitchen, den, and family rooms were located. Like I said, lots of space.

"Hi, Doris!" Mom greeted her with a big smile and a brief hug. "Did Drew come with you?"

"No, but he'll be in tomorrow. He's winding up some last-minute affairs with the business."

"What?" I exclaimed. "Are you selling out?" They owned a pretty good import distributorship for goods sent in from the asteroids and moon, where a lot of heavy industry was located now.

Doris nodded but held up her hand to stop any more questions.

I opened my mouth then closed it again. When she didn't want to talk about something, you couldn't get it from her if you had the UNBI on your side. I wondered what in hell was going on. Whatever it was, apparently I had been excluded-I could tell because Mom wasn't surprised that they were closing their business.

I followed them to the den. When Doris began building herself a juiceathol, I raised my brows at Mom. I was allowed to drink a little at home since I turned seventeen, but I still had to ask.

"A small one, then no more till your dad gets here."

"He's coming home on a Wednesday?" Ordinarily Dad was gone four days a week, teaching math and astronomy at State University. He and Mom ran a consulting business from home on the side as well that paid pretty good.

"Yes, dear. Just be patient, and let's see what he has to say."

Patient! I could see something important was building and resented not having been included in whatever it was. I went over to the bar and keyed in a frothing sweet cherry brandy. It's so alcoholic sometimes I can sneak a few more drops into the glass than I'm usually allowed, but I saw Mom watching. I let it fill normally then added ice and a little water to the glass. I saw Doris grinning at me, her red hair and freckles making her look like a little girl instead of a grown woman. When she was around it was a real contrast to the black hair of the rest of us.

When we were all sitting down, Mom told the com to beam down the evening news. I usually liked the read they subscribed to, not that I could do much about it if I didn't since Dad controlled the content. It was heavy on science and politics and space exploration. I liked two of the subjects and was mildly interested in the third, politics. Dad and Mom both were into a form of it that was low on government and high on individualism. It was interesting at times, especially when the program made reasoned arguments for things I favored such as firearm ownership and a simple method of interaction between leaders and citizens where duty and responsibility were not only acknowledged but executed. A lot of the stuff was technical and theoretical, though. Having such a system wasn't possible unless you could dump what we had and build a government from a clean slate. I didn't see that happening anywhere on Earth. Maybe on some of the colony worlds, but not here.

"Look, another new Earth-type planet!" I said, pointing to the vista showing a white-capped mountain range like much of the Rockies must have been a hundred years ago. There were damn few of them left that resembled what I was seeing on the holo now, ones with permanent snow on top.

"So what else is new?" Doris commented.

She had a point. New inhabitable planets were being discovered almost monthly, and those were just the ones reported. There was no way of telling how many others had been colonized by undocumented, non-government ships before the UN started tracking them.

"I wonder how many pioneering ships leave every month?" I said. "It seems like we're filling he spiral arm faster than the old pioneers filled up the North American continent in the olden days."

"More than is being reported, you can be certain of that," Doris said. "But don't worry about the spiral arm being filled. Another thousand years at ten times the present rate might do it. Nothing less."

Aunt Doris appeared to know more than anyone else about immigration back into the Orion arm where stars were thicker, so I asked her. "Have any other sapient species been discovered, Auntie? Besides the two we already know about?" Those two were barely out of the neolithic

"Not that I've heard," she said, "but that doesn't mean anything. This kind of news is hard to keep up with, even assuming the UN is reporting the truth, which I doubt."

"It's pretty, isn't it?" Mom said as she stared at the slowly changing scenes of the unnamed world the news announcer was still talking about.

"It is," I said, agreeing with Mom and yearning for us to take off for a world like that and leave Earth behind, UN overbearing power, taxes, regulations and all. I kept looking at the screen. Mountains, forest, prairie, greenish red vegetation of sorts, and a plethora of mobile life forms. I was always fascinated at the variety of extraterrestrial life, most of it so strange the scientists still hadn't come close to classifying it.

Doris must have caught my expression.

"Want to go there, Sagebrush?"

I shrugged as if I wasn't interested, but I didn't fool her, nor Mom either. They both sort of smiled like they knew something I didn't.

Mom soon went back to the kitchen, and Doris began scanning some correspondence, so I left her to go to my own room. I sat down at my desk, intending to get a little end-of-term homework out of the way so I'd have plenty of free time when Dad arrived. I intended to try to worm a little information out of him on what was going on, seeing as how Mom hadn't been forthcoming. As it turned out I didn't get a chance to right away, because he and Drew arrived together.

* * *

By the time we got through the second round of greetings, dinner was ready. Mom didn't allow business talk at the table so I started eating quickly. Mom didn't like ravenous gulping, either, so that drew a disapproving glance. I told myself to slow down and wait on everyone else. Dad appeared to be his usual calm self, but it was easy to see that my uncle was extremely happy about something. He even teased Melinda, my baby sister.

Drew is a big bear of a man. He wore his hair shorter than current styles and was just beginning to show a little gray amongst the black. Every time he smiled I was reminded of his hitch with the marines. He had a scar that hadn't been repaired quite right that made his mouth look one-sided. I suppose he could have gone back for surgery or gene treatments and gotten it fixed, but apparently it didn't bother either him or Doris because he'd been out almost ten years now and still had it. He'd gotten the wound somewhere down in South America during the wars that seemed to be dying out now. Good thing-the continent had dern near torn itself apart before the UN's Islamic faction brought some of the more recalcitrant nations under its wing. We'd helped Central America and the countries in the northern part of the continent stay out of their clutches, but I still didn't see exactly why. Maybe because so many of their citizens had migrated to the states.

We all retired to the den. Dad and Drew were having an after-dinner brandy while Mom and Doris finished up the last of the wine that had been opened for the meal. I passed for the time being even though I would have been allowed one more drink if I wanted. I gave up my usual easy chair to Drew and sat on the couch with Doris and Melinda.

"Drew, I suppose you'd better tell us how you came out with the business before we go any further," Dad said by way of beginning to let me in on whatever the other adults had planned.

"We sold the business, Sage," Drew said, looking at me rather than Dad.

I guess my mouth was hanging open. He and Doris had owned their shop and the two franchises as far back as I could remember.

Dad took a sip of brandy and spoke directly to me. I could tell he knew how anxiously I was waiting and how surprised I was over what Uncle Drew had said.

"Son, would you rather stay on Earth and finish up your schooling or do it in a spaceship? Bear in mind you'd have to design the lab work yourself if you come to think it's necessary."

I think he threw that last in just to rib me a bit. I couldn't answer for a moment, regardless. I was stupefied.

"Don't want to go into space, son?"

I looked at Dad as if had lost his mind, and then finally found my voice.

"Are you kidding? Are we going into space? Who ... I mean what ... well, of course I'd like to go but how ..."

Everyone but me burst out laughing. Melinda laughed at me personally. Like she had known in advance. Ha! Brat.

"You'd have to contribute your education fund for a share," Dad said.

"You mean we have a ship already? How did that happen?" I couldn't imagine Dad and Drew together having enough money to buy an interstellar colony ship, even though the price had come down remarkably from when the first ones were made available to private citizens.

"Not exactly. We aren't that rich, you know. What we did was put down a deposit with some other families against what all our businesses, homes, and savings would bring. Drew and I were the last to convert it all, so now we can go. That's what I meant when I said for him to tell you about their business."

By then everyone was looking at me, and I began to feel some resentment creeping into the initial enthusiasm I'd felt.

"How come no one said anything to me? Why were you keeping it such a big secret, Dad?"

I'm sure he could see how I was feeling, but he took his time about answering. When he did it made sense, sort of.

"Sage, son, if we had begun the planning by letting you in on it, how would you have felt if we hadn't been able to manage it? Kind of upset, huh? And would you have been able to keep your mind on school?"

"Why would it have mattered? Aren't we going to colonize somewhere?"

"Yes, but didn't you hear what Drew said? You'll still have to go to school, and so will Melinda. A newly settled planet needs the best educated citizens it can get, and we'll be bringing all the study materials along."

"Oh." I thought about it and decided Dad was right. I wouldn't have been worth shooting in class or at home either while the planning went on. Taking a ride on a spaceship isn't the same as going to a superstore like we still had to out here. In the cities it's different of course. They have home delivery of just about anything you'd want, and where they don't deliver you can usually buy in the same tower. You have to stock a ship yourself. Still ... I decided to forget about school for a moment and move on to more interesting subjects, like where we were going and when we were leaving.

"When are we leaving?" I asked. That got a big laugh, like a kid asking for the third time in two minutes when the VM was going to start. I didn't care, though.

"It won't be too awful long," Dad told me. "We've pretty well got it set. Of course, if you don't agree with the destination you can always stay here. We haven't cashed in your fund yet."

Now I knew he was teasing. No way would I be left behind, and I didn't care where we were going.

"Where are we going?" I asked.

Drew handled that one. "I guess you've noticed Manny and Lilly have been favoring the political news feeds?"

"Yeah. So have I for that matter. Sort of."

"Good man! We're going to be heading way out. There's a planet just getting settled now by people of the same persuasion as us. It was discovered several years ago by an explorer sponsored by Dan Jenkins, one of the biggest stockholders in the Casimer Power Corporation and also a friend from a while back. Its coordinates haven't been publicized at all. Its formal name for reference purposes is Waddell's World, but we usually just call it Waddy. We're hoping we can keep it out of the public eye for a good many more years so we can get our system of government established there early and well."

"But, Drew ... won't the UN want to put a tracker on the ship?" That policy had been hammered out some years ago in an attempt to keep interstellar settlements aligned with the United Nations. It wasn't an absolute requirement for all ships, just those from nations of the power bloc that ran the UN. However, as I understood it, the political pressure for accepting a tracker was very heavy. There was still a lot of debate about it, though, especially in the United States and a few other countries. The minority party was still holding out against trackers being required for all Casimer impellers so there would never be a doubt where they went.

"Yes, that's right, but ... this isn't for publication, Sage, but in case you didn't know it, a good many of the ships that accept the UN subsidies that go with the trackers find a way to keep them from being installed. Money under the table. But that's gotten to be so common I believe it will be halted soon. The UN will then require them, and colony ships can forget about subsidies unless they submit to inspections and so on." He grinned mischievously and winked at me. "We don't intend to let them install a tracker regardless of what happens."

"Oh. How about a United States subsidy?" That was a deal that many nations followed in an attempt to keep the frontier worlds loyal to their nations of origin.

"That's a different story but still no deal," Dad said in his lecturing voice. "The United States our fathers knew is no more. First our politicians spent the country into bankruptcy and gave away what they couldn't spend. Then they added insult to injury by letting foreigners buy up most of our corporations and property. Our government is a farce. It's controlled by the foreign corporations that own most of the country, and we're fast heading toward a dictatorship. The shakeout won't be pretty, and we want to get out while we can and start over."

I opened my mouth then closed it again. I knew some of that stuff, but I hadn't realized how shaky the present situation was. No wonder we were leaving the planet. I sure as hell didn't want to live under a dictatorship, not after reading about the ones in our history classes.

"Our nation is beyond saving, Drew, so why don't we talk about our new home?" Dad said, then asked Mom, "Another glass of wine, Lilly dear?"

"Yes, please, sweetheart. And I think Sage could use a brandy by the look on his face." She smiled at me.

Mom and Dad talked like they were still dating, and they'd been together since before I was born. Oh. Duh. Of course they had. I reached out and took the glass of brandy from Dad and saw that he had given me a little more than my usual ration. "Something to mark the occasion," he said, and winked at me.

Drew touched his chair control, wiping out the vista Mom had put up that morning on the far wall. In its place he began showing us scenes from our prospective home, along with data gathered by the first exploration team and the subsequent settlers since then. The others had probably seen most of it in bits and pieces, but he'd put it all together into a coherent package and provided the narration.

"As you can see from the first star map here, Waddy is quite a ways in on the spur of the Orion spiral arm towards galactic center and ..." He changed images. ".and somewhat removed from the ecliptic." He gave us only a glimpse of the spiral arm and continued to change the images we were viewing as he talked. "It's on the other side of a very thick star cluster from our point of view, so we're hoping the length of the voyage and the necessity to change course a few times will keep it isolated for many years to come, so that we can continue building a decent government out there."

Somehow I missed the last part of what he said, about "continuing building" and so on, but maybe the rest of what he said over-powered it. I listened closely.

"Waddy has an atmosphere almost identical to Earth and a land-to-sea ratio about the same, although there are only three major continents. Each of them is very large and separated by a good stretch of ocean from its neighbor. Here's the continent we're settling first, although there are some outposts on the other.

"And here's the general area we're looking at. You'll notice it resembles North America in some ways although on a smaller scale. The analog of the Rocky Mountains is positioned very close to the ocean, leaving not much room to settle on that side. There are three major rivers and hundreds of minor ones. Generally a heavy forest spreads out on each side of the rivers then fades into semi-forested prairies.

"The indigenous life hasn't been very well cataloged yet but generally the fauna favors the hexapodal form with the common mix of herbivores and carnivores. Some of the meat-eaters are pretty fierce, by the way." A short recording showed something looking like a cross between an oversized wolverine with too many legs and a grumpy grizzly bear; it charged into a herd of camel-like animals. There was a flurry of dust, teeth, and long sharp claws that convinced me the critter wasn't something to bring home for a pet.

"And here's the major settlement."

It looked like any of a hundred small settlements on frontier planets I'd seen with the vistalive encounter gang from school, where the good guys were always battling fierce monsters, outlaw humans, or ravening aliens. The town was fairly typical, with the interstellar ships resting at the edge of a long row of cellusite buildings poured on the spot from machinery brought along that could handle the local flora. In the distance were burgeoning farms and rough roads leading into the wilderness. It looked rustic, like something from ancient history, but I knew the technology that made it possible to colonize the world was hidden inside the disabled ships and new buildings.

And that thought finally brought it home to me. "We're really going, aren't we?" I burst out.

Everyone laughed but I didn't care. In the very near future I'd be heading out to the frontier, something I'd dreamed of since I was a kid but never imagined would happen so soon. I had not a notion of what we were really getting into.


Chapter Three

Drew wrapped it all up with a staggering list of supplies we'd have to purchase and have shipped to the spaceport. Pages and pages of items we'd have to check and recheck and add to and delete before leaving-and those were just for our family. Group supplies would be obtained from a regular supplier for frontier worlds expeditions. They were experienced in that type of venture and knew better than we what we'd need.

"So when do we leave?" I asked. I was having a hard time sitting still now that the vistascape had disappeared and the room was back to normal.

"See? I told you he'd be asking that every ten minutes after we told him!" Doris said.

I probably blushed but managed to grin. Doris has teased me ever since I've known her. I've gotten used to it and don't mind that much. Usually.

"We timed it so you'd be sure to graduate before we left, son," Dad told me.

"Yeah, so go study for your exams, big brother," Melinda piped up.

"I don't have to take them, smarty. I already have enough points to graduate."

"Is that right, son?"

"Yes, sir," I said. "I was going to go in anyway, but now I think I'll just skip except for the ceremony. Is that okay?"

Mom and Dad exchanged glances, and finally Dad shrugged.

"I suppose so, if you're sure."

"I'm sure," I stated firmly. And I was. I'd checked Friday after I went in for a class so I could see some of the gang.

"In that case, maybe Sage could go with me to the spaceport and lend a hand," Drew suggested.

I held my breath. I loved to go anywhere with Drew. I've admired him ever since I was a kid and old enough to think in those terms. He always treated me like a grownup, even when I was acting like roadbrat those first few years after puberty. Well, maybe I'm still a brat sometimes, but I try not to be.

"Can you really use him?" Mom asked him. She's worried about me whenever I went somewhere with Drew ever since he was targeted by some weirdie group simply for being an ex-marine. It did no good to tell her it was a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I didn't let it bother me. I figured Drew could bounce any five bunchies without even breathing hard. Besides, I knew he carried a needle laser more powerful than the law allowed. I wasn't supposed to talk about that, though.

"Of course I can, Lilly. What else are teenagers good for but heavy lifting and scut work?"

"With what we've spent on his education, I hope he's good for something besides that," Dad said, but he smiled at me when he did.

I have to admit I had been well schooled compared to most kids my age. I'd even had tutors a couple of times I'd gotten in over my head with advanced courses.

"He will be."

* * *

All this was sprung on me by surprise. Sometimes I think I'm not as smart as the counselors at school keep telling me, or I would have seen it coming. A couple of days later Drew took me with him to the spaceport in New Mexico, and it began clicking into place when he spoke to me.

"Sage, have you ever wondered why your dad's been so busy these last few years?"

"Uh, I guess he's just been working hard?"

"Yes, but there's more to it than that. He's been involved with politics while trying to accumulate enough money to emigrate off world."

I had to think about that one for a moment. Dad and Mom, too, for that matter, made no bones about hating the way our country had been vandalized over the last century, and I guess they'd passed it on to me. That's the term they used for it, vandalized. As I studied history in the school they sent me to I could sort of understand how they felt. Hell, I felt that way after I got interested and dug into the reasons why the United States had gone from the preeminent power and beacon of liberty to what it was today: a financial wreck without power or respect enough to influence planetary affairs other than marginally.

"So why's he been so involved in politics if he was planning on us migrating all the time?"

He took his time about answering while our train pod slowed as it neared the port. Finally he said, "Sage, buddy, your dad loves this country, and up until the last few years he held out hope that somehow it could be revived into something resembling its old glory. Unfortunately, the last two elections have been a farce ... or have you noticed?"

"Yeah, I read enough about it, and I heard Dad cuss both times when the official results were announced. Last time he said it was so crooked I shouldn't bother to register when I turned seventeen. I wasn't sure whether he was kidding or not."

"He wasn't. It's beyond salvaging now ... and if you ask me it has been ever since Congress passed the Firearms Limitation Act and those fucking justices said it was constitutional. There was almost a rebellion, then. There would have been had the FBI or GBI tried to seriously enforce the law."

"But they are enforcing it, Drew! I saw just the other day where the lieutenant governor of California was convicted of carrying an unlicensed gun and had to resign."

He looked at me as if I were still in grade school. "Use your head, son. He was too conservative for the powers that be. What's more, he had a national following. Now he can't run for any office, local or national. See?"

"Oh. I hadn't thought of it like that. And there wasn't much else said about it, was there?"

"Which is a good sign the media is well under control. Sage, when the time comes where laws are selectively enforced, then that country is in trouble. I'd've thought you knew that much."

"I guess it didn't register, not when I could see you were still carrying your gun with that illegal enhancement."

He glanced around the pod then put his finger briefly to his lips. "Don't say that out loud again, not in public."

I leaned forward so my voice wouldn't carry.

"Is that why we're leaving?"

"It's one reason, but there's more. What the people settling Waddell's World really want is to establish a place free of so many restrictions. Where men and women can speak their minds and make a decent living without it all being gobbled up by the government. Let's just hope we get to leave without any trouble."

"Golly, Drew, I didn't realize how bad it was."

The pod slid to a stop, and we got to our feet. We stepped onto the slidewalk and were carried several blocks along the concourse toward the shipyard. On the way I did think about what I had learned of politics, and you know what? I started to think a lot of it came from Mom and Dad, not school. Funny how I hadn't noticed before.

"Let's get off here," Drew said, pointing to an exit. "We'll have to wait for another fifteen minutes or so for the next shuttle."

There was an alcove built for crowds, but right then it was nearly empty. Our trip was during the evening after the throngs had thinned some. We took a bench and sat down. Drew pulled out a cigarette and lit up.

I stared at him. "I didn't know you smoked, Drew!" Tobacco was illegal outside one's own home, and there were laws mandating smoking rooms for households with children.

He gazed contemplatively at the smoke curling up from the cigarette, then abruptly grinned. "It's more of a protest than a habit. I hate having anyone tell me what I can or can't do with my own body. Fucking crooked busybodies."

"But ... why, Drew? I just don't understand why we keep electing politicians who are so crooked. We ... oh. It's all fixed, isn't it?"

He smiled mirthlessly. "Yeah, the elections are being stolen more often than not, but that could be taken care of eventually. What can't be fixed is attitudes."

"What do you mean?" This was getting pretty deep for me, even if I had minored in political science and economics.

He crushed his cigarette out and disposed of the remnant in the incinerator where it would be sucked down underground and burned.

"Sage, when a country succumbs to bribery and corruption to the point where it's necessary in order to conduct business, you may as well kiss that nation goodbye. It won't be a player globally, not in the long term. Look what happened to China. Those people are smart and hardworking, but bribery and corruption became so rampant it killed innovation and inventiveness. Most of its progress up to the point when it imploded was due to imitation, not innovation."

"I've read that it contributed to China's fall, but I didn't know it had that much to do with it," I said.

"Trust me on this one, old buddy. It did, and it's preventing us from rising from the ashes of bankruptcy now. The special interests and lobbyists got a claw-hold in our society, and the corruption spread into the very bowels of the nation and killed our moral fiber."

* * *

The spaceport sprawled across the New Mexico desert on land the old Indian reservations once controlled. It was a vast panorama of ships-large, small, and middle-sized-and the ancillary structures that kept them going. Once the Casimer Drive was perfected, spaceships could launch from and land safely near metropolitan areas. I stared. I had seen the spaceport in most of the media and in ads and so on but being there in person was altogether different.

"Pretty big, huh?" Drew said with a laugh.

I closed my mouth. "Yeah. I never imagined it was like this. Which one is our ship?"

"You can't see it yet." He stepped onto a slideway and I followed. "Our ship will be coming into view very shortly."

I was almost breathless with the excitement of getting to see the ship that would be my home for months on end while traveling, and afterward, one of the sources of supplies and power for the new planet. I didn't even want to consider the alternate use. Sometimes the colonies didn't work out, and the ship would be used to haul the pioneers home with their tails between their legs.

"Here's our stop," Drew said as he nudged me.

I'd been looking in the wrong direction and didn't get to see our ship from a distance. Not that it mattered since they all looked pretty much alike, big boxy affairs with embedded antennas and multiple entrances, most of them tightly closed. We departed the shuttle, and from there it was only a short walk to a powered ramp that led into the bowels of the great ship looming over us like a mountain.

* * *

"Hello, Casper," Drew said to the man checking credentials of those entering the ship. Occasionally a nut case from the Earth Only Society would try a bit of sabotage. They rarely got away with it, but it didn't seem to stop them from trying. I guess there's a nut for every idiot cause invented.

"Hi, Drew. Who's your companion?"

"This is Sage Cortez, my nephew. Sage, Casper Weingarten. He's guarding this portal for us today."

We shook hands, then he checked my name against a list, scanned my retinas and fingerprints, and took a DNA sample from inside my cheek.

"Okay, now we know you're you, Mr. Cortez. You may proceed." He smiled genially at us.

"Is that all he does, just check people in and out of the ship?" I asked.

"No, he and a few others who have no immediate duties right now rotate that job. You might have to do it yourself before we leave."

"Sounds like easy duty."

"The guards are armed, whether the government likes it or not."

"Oh." I said, thinking of the implications. Nothing like being put in your place.

* * *

If the ship looked big from the outside, it was huge when you got to wandering about inside. My legs were tired by the time we'd gone tramping down corridors and through doors, or hatches as I learned they were called, and up and down stairs, or ladders in ship parlance.

"Look at this, Sage," Drew said, bringing up a 3D screen on a console in one of the larger store rooms. "It's our logistics list."

To me the list appeared endless, with a half dozen items coming into view then receding into the depths of the screen to make room for more items coming into view. Arms, ammunition, tools, solar power mechanisms, computers, catalysts, chemicals, seeds, clothes, and a seemingly endless array of other supplies, as well as the templates and machinery to reproduce many of them.

Drew hadn't needed a helper. He took me along because he's such a nice guy and knew I was the only adult in the family who hadn't already had a look at the ship. And perhaps he was anticipating the trouble that came later with the UN, because the last thing he showed me before we left was our duty stations in case of an attack, either on the ground or out in space. I was assigned to damage control. "In case you forget where you're supposed to go in case of a drill or an actual attack, the data is on the console in your stateroom, along with a ship's map showing how to get from one place to another," he informed me just as his phone rang.

He answered, but the pleasant expression he had been wearing changed to a frown. He didn't say much to whoever called, even though his countenance settled into the grimmest lines I'd ever seen on his face.

As soon as he broke the connection I asked, "What's wrong, Uncle Drew?"

He seemed to consider for a moment whether or not he should tell me who he had been talking to and what it was about but I guess he decided I should know. "Your Dad thinks we may have to leave early. Let's get on back. I know I still have to finish packing and I imagine you do, too, don't you?"

"Yes, sir," I said. "But this afternoon and tonight was supposed to be a party with the gang to say good-bye."

"You'd better make it short."

"But why?"

"The Goddamned UN, that's why." He would say nothing else and I soon quit pestering him.

As soon as we got home, I thanked him hurriedly for showing me around the ship, then busied myself with calling a few selected members of the group I hung with, telling them we needed to move up the festivities. After that, I began flinging my baggage into the one large and one small piece of luggage, then got a quick shower and dressed in my best suit of denim. I was on my way to the party when Drew caught me, barely in time as we learned later.



Galactic Frontiers Copyright 2008. Darrell Bain. All rights reserved by the author. Please do not copy without permission.




Author Bio

Darrell Bain is the author of more than sixty books, in many genres, running the gamut from humor to mystery and science fiction to humorous non-fiction. For the last several years he has concentrated on humor and science fiction, both short fiction, and suspense thrillers.

Darrell served thirteen years in the military as a medic and his two years in Vietnam formed the basis for his first published novel, Medics Wild. Darrell has been writing off and on all his life but really got serious about it only after the advent of computers. He purchased his first one in 1989 and has been writing furiously ever since.

While Darrell was working as a lab manager at a hospital in Texas, he met his wife Betty. He trapped her under a mistletoe sprig and they were married a year later. Darrell and Betty owned and operated a Christmas tree farm in East Texas for many years. It became the subject and backdrop for some of his humorous stories and books.

TTB titles:
Alien Infection
Doggie Biscuit!
Hotline to Heaven
Laughing All the Way
Life on Santa Claus Lane
Medics Wild
Samantha's Talent with Robyn Pass
Shadow Worlds with Barbara M. Hodges
Space Trails
Strange Valley
Tales from a Christmas Tree Farm
The Focus Factor with Gerald Mills
The Melanin Apocalypse
Warp Point


Human By Choice with Travis 'Doc' Taylor. Book 1 Cresperian series.
The Y Factor with Stephanie Osborn. Book 2 Cresperian series
The Cresperian Alliance with Stephanie Osborn. Book 3 Cresperian series.

Author web site.










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