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Death by Water, Death by Fire

Book 11 of the Fierce Girls at War Series

Michael Adams


Copyright 2018 by Michael Adams

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever including Internet usage, without written permission of the author.

This is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, or events used in this book are the product of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual people, alive or deceased, events or locales is completely coincidental.

E-book formatting by Maureen Cutajar

www.gopublished.com


Other Books by Mike Adams

Fierce Girls at War series

Book 1: Fierce Girls

Book 2: Threat on the Horizon

Book 3: Opening Shots

Book 4: First Contact

Book 5: Bad Day On The River

Book 6: The Fight For The Pass

Book 7: Deluge

Book 8: Enemy Found

Book 9: Recovery Mission

Book 10: Jacks Company

Book 11: Death By Water, Death By Fire


Contents


Prologue: Major Claudia Stairs

Chapter 1: Ciara At The Range

Chapter 2: Roommates

Chapter 3: Winter Haven

Chapter 4: McKinley Station

Chapter 5: Castillo

Chapter 6: Novo Napoli

Chapter 7: Rocky Point

Chapter 8: NHT Alerted

Chapter 9: Moscow Arrives

Chapter 10: Alien Fleet Sighted

Chapter 11: Monterey

Chapter 12: Waiting

Chapter 13: McKinley Pass

Chapter 14: Death By water

Chapter 15: Ciara at the Academy

Chapter 16: Death By fire

Chapter 17: Mumbai Departs

Chapter 18: Making Rounds

Chapter 19: Ruby and River

Chapter 20: Green Star Returns

Chapter 21: Second Battle of Winter Haven

Chapter 22: Second Battle of Winter Haven 0615

Chapter 23: Second Battle of Winter Haven 0620

Chapter 24: Second Battle of Winter Haven 0630

Chapter 25: Second Battle of Winter Haven 0635

Chapter 26: Second Battle of Winter Haven 0640

Chapter 27: Second Battle of Winter Haven 0648

Chapter 28: Second Battle of Winter Haven 0650

Chapter 29: Second Battle of Winter Haven 0700

Chapter 30: Second Battle of Winter Haven 0705

Chapter 31: Second Battle of Winter Haven 0715

Chapter 32: Second Battle of Winter Haven 0720

Chapter 33: Second Battle of Winter Haven 0725

Chapter 34: Second Battle of Winter Haven 0730

Chapter 35: Second Battle of Winter Haven 0735

Chapter 36: Second Battle of Winter Haven 0738

Chapter 37: Second Battle of Winter Haven 0740

Chapter 38: Second Battle of Winter Haven 0743

Chapter 39: Second Battle of Winter Haven 0745

Chapter 40: Second Battle of Winter Haven 0750

Chapter 41: Second Battle of Winter Haven 0752

Chapter 42: Second Battle of Winter Haven 0755

Chapter 43: Second Battle of Winter Haven 0800

Chapter 44: Second Battle of Winter Haven 0805

Chapter 45: Second Battle of Winter Haven 0815

Chapter 46: McKinley Pass Under Attack 0640

Chapter 47: McKinley Pass Under Attack 0700

Chapter 48: McKinley Pass Under Attack 0830

Chapter 49: A Warning for the Marco Polo

Chapter 50: Bruises and Headaches

Chapter 51: News From New Hope Town

Chapter 52: “It’s time to turn all the lights on”

Chapter 53: The Marco Polo


Central Valley Route (Stairs)

Western Lake Road Route (Takahashi)

Eastern Hill Route (Malone)


Prologue

Major Claudia Stairs

May 2117

Northern Pakistan

Lieutenant Colonel Rhyne Caldor, commander of the First Battalion of the 2nd Air Cavalry Regiment, stood in front of his officers in the briefing tent at the American military camp at Mingora in Northern Pakistan’s Swat valley where they’d hurriedly gathered at his summons at 0340 in the morning. Most were still getting dressed as he told them, “Ten minutes ago 500 heavily armed fighters led, we believe, by one of Hassan Gul’s lieutenants launched a night attack with no warning at against the UN compound at Wali. Relief agencies have been using the airbase there to bring in food and medical supplies for the area. There are about 200 Canadian soldiers there to provide security under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Colin Fox. The report says the raiders overwhelmed the outer defenses quickly and the Canadians and aid workers had to withdraw to the inner compound. They’re in trouble people and we’re going to bail them out. Major Blake?”

Major Harrison Blake got up and told them, “Bravo and Delta Companies are the Ready Reaction Force and will board six armored shuttles and head out in ten minutes. The Canadians don’t have a lot of time; they’re outnumbered and outgunned so get moving everybody. I’ll brief you on details on the way. Weapons and armor only, supplies will come in later. Alpha and Charlie companies will follow once the APCs have been loaded on the larger transports. Now move out!” There were a total of 10 armored anti-grav shuttles based at the American compound including two medical shuttles. Two of them were larger cargo transports each designed to carry armored vehicles and a full company of soldiers into battle. Alpha and Charlie would be traveling in them as soon as they were loaded.

Ten minutes later 300 soldiers, two full companies, departed in six armored combat shuttles headed southeast for the 110 kilometer, 30-minute flight. The mission commander Major Blake was in the lead shuttle with two platoons from Bravo Company; Bravo’s six platoons filled the first three shuttles to depart. First Lieutenant Claudia Stairs’ platoon was in the third shuttle along with Second Lieutenant Jase McGovern’s people. Delta Company followed in the last three shuttles. The two medical shuttles followed a few minutes behind the combat shuttles. In addition to the medical teams they carried each contained several emergency medical pods for the most seriously wounded.

The militants were expecting the shuttles loaded with reinforcements to come and they were waiting for them. They had specially modified surface-to-air missiles ready to disable the main power cells that powered the aircraft’s antigravity plants. In case of damage in addition to its main power cell every shuttle had backup power cells to allow them to make an emergency landing under power. The shuttle’s wings also provided some lift and their engines kept their airspeed up unless they were also damaged. The important thing was to get on the ground as soon as possible.

Major Blake’s shuttle was forced down five kilometers from their destination and the extremists moved in. The second and third shuttles continued on to the relief base but the fourth shuttle was also damaged and forced to land a kilometer further east. The fifth and six shuttles were ordered to assist the two downed aircraft that quickly came under attack from the ground. The two medical shuttles stayed back aware of the danger and waited for instructions while shuttles two and three continued on to their target.

When they arrived at the UN compound the two assault aircraft, which were both armored and armed, flew in low firing missiles, cannon and heavy caliber machine guns at any targets around the inner compound. Each cleared an area to land and as soon as they dropped their rear and side access ramps the Air Cavalry platoons ran out of the aircraft which immediately took off again and continued providing air support.

The extremists were heavily armed and they had brought man-portable mortars which were continuously raining explosive shells on the Canadians and aid workers who were hunkered down in underground bunkers built in case of an attack. The extremists hated the Westerners and blamed them for the viral pandemic which had killed over 15 million in northern Pakistan in 2103. Most of them were too young to realize that the older men leading them now were among the militants who had fought violently against any attempt to distribute the vaccines that could have saved so many. Now half the local population, those who had contracted the virus but survived, were sterile, a condition that was the lot of over 400 million across the world including in the more advanced countries where more of the afflicted had survived.

With two-thirds of the relief force on the ground short of the objective Captain Evette Morrissey, Bravo Company’s executive officer took command of the remaining relief force. Morrissey had been in shuttle three while the Company Commander Captain Alex Huston was with Major Blake in shuttle one. First Lieutenant Claudia Stairs became Morrissey’s second-in-command. She was the senior lieutenant on the ground; the others were all second lieutenants. Morrissey’s shuttle with two platoons led by Lieutenants Eddie Blankenship and Parnell Greene landed on the north side of the compound while the other shuttle with Stairs’ and Jase McGovern’s platoons came down on the west side.

The Americans landed unseen by most of the raiders and the Air Cav attacked them from behind. The Canadians immediately came charging out of their bunkers and caught the insurgents out in the open between the two forces. About two hundred were trapped between them on the north and west sides and most were killed. The attackers on the south and east sides of the compound smartly withdrew and scattered, they were already aware that even more of the Americans were on their way.

When the shooting had died down the commander of the Canadian unit came out of his bunker on the west side of the compound and Lieutenant Stairs strode over to him and smartly saluted, “Good morning, Colonel Fox. I’m Lieutenant Claudia Stairs from the 2nd Air Cavalry.”

Fox returned her salute, “Pleased to meet you, Lieutenant Stairs. You got here just in the nick of time. They were about to break through when you hit them from behind.”

“I’m glad we got here in time. Two of our six shuttles were hit by SAMs and disabled and two more had to stay to cover them. Our mission commander and my company commander are with that group.”

“Are you the next senior officer then?”

“On this side of the compound, yes Sir. Captain Morrissey is over on the north side and will be joining us presently.”

“Okay. Good work, Lieutenant. When the captain gets over here give her my complements and ask her to find me. We have a lot of wounded and I’m going to check on them.”

“Yes, Colonel. We have two medical shuttles on the way. There should be here within five minutes.”

Fox nodded, “Great, thanks.”

“We have a few wounded as well, Colonel. I’ll send our medics over as soon as they get done with them.”

“Greatly appreciated. What was your first name again, Lieutenant?”

“Claudia, Claudia Stairs, Sir.”

“Thank you again, Claudia.”

“You’re very welcome, Colonel.”

When the handful of raiders that were captured alive were questioned it was learned the attack on the compound was actually a secondary objective, more of a diversion really meant to lure out the Americans, shoot them down and kill the survivors. The plan did not work out so great. Only two shuttles were hit, both were damaged but they landed safely with no casualties while the other shuttles provided cover. There were some casualties from ground fire as the troopers exited the shuttles but the insurgents paid a much heavier price, losing more than half the fighters they’d started with and failing to take either of their objectives, the shuttles or the UN compound.

###

February 2124
New Hope Town

In the middle of the afternoon one day Major Judith Sorenson the Executive Officer of First Battalion in the colony’s capital New Hope Town called Captain Stairs, the XO of Delta Company to come to her office. Captain Ji, the commander of Delta Company was in the field with two platoons from the Chinese detachment.

“Come on in, Claudia,” a smiling Sorenson welcomed her as the young captain entered her office. “Take a load off.”

“Thanks. What can I do for you, Major?” Stairs asked as she sat down across the desk from Sorenson.

Sorenson grinned at her, “I’ve got a special job for you and your people to do this evening. Something I think you’ll enjoy immensely.”

Stairs raised an eyebrow, “Oh?”

Sorenson nodded, “Claudia, have you ever met Lieutenant Commander Rick Cassidy or Gunnery Sergeant Molly Pickford in the Logistics Directorate at the Regiment?”

Stairs shrugged, “No and yes. I’ve heard of him and I’ve met Gunnery Sergeant Pickford once or twice. What about them?”

“Well I think it’s time you became acquainted with Lieutenant Commander Cassidy.” Sorenson sighed as she frowned and said, “You see there was an incident last night where Molly Pickford was attacked.”

Stairs looked at her sharply, “What do you mean attacked? Sexually?”

The major nodded grimly, “That was the idea; apparently a first date gone wrong. Some civilian mining manager who started getting rough and wouldn’t take no punched her several times in the face and the ribs, took her by surprise or he never would’ve gotten in the first shot. Molly’s okay though, some cracked ribs and her face is badly bruised but he messed with the wrong Marine and she messed him up pretty good. She’s a sweetheart and quite beautiful and she’s also one of the toughest women I’ve ever met. He’s under arrest at the moment and I expect he’ll remain so until he’s taken off planet at the very least.”

“That’s good to hear,” Claudia gave Sorenson a satisfied grin. “Women getting harassed here seems to be all too common.”

Judith nodded, “Exactly! Well you have to understand that Rick Cassidy is not just Molly’s boss; those two are more like brother and sister. I really don’t know much about their background, they’ve been kinda hush-hush about that, but they came here together as a team and now that Rick’s attention has been drawn to this problem he has some ideas on what to do about it.”

Claudia looked back at the major in surprise, “What you mean plans? Isn’t he like one of the most junior department heads in the Regiment? What can he do?”

Sorenson chuckled, “Well don’t be misled by his lowly rank of Lieutenant Commander, which as you know is the equivalent of a major. Also keep in mind that Logistics is probably the one department that everybody, almost, wants to stay on the good side of.”

Stairs tilted her head speculatively, “Okay, so what does he have in mind and what does that have to do with us?”

Judith Sorenson smiled again, “Well it seems that this morning Rick went over to see this guy’s boss at his office. He wanted to make sure that the boss understood the ramifications of the actions of his number two man and how he was going to have to make amends to Gunnery Sergeant Pickford on behalf of his company.”

Claudia looked at the Battalion XO questioningly, “Make amends?”

“Yes. These companies will have to start answering for the behavior of their employees.”

Stairs grinned, “I like that idea.”

“I thought you might. Well it seems that the boss did not respond too well and he put in a complaint with the Colony Administrator and the Regimental Commander General Black. They had a meeting with Cassidy during which he played a recording of the boss calling Molly Pickford “that little bitch” which immediately nullified any complaint that he had for anything that Cassidy had ‘supposedly’ done to him at his office this morning.” Sorenson paused as she tried to maintain a certain level of professionalism in her expression rather than break into outright laughter knowing the whole story of what happened at the mining company’s office that morning.

“Ooh. Not a very smart thing to say I guess and be called out on it.”

“Not smart at all. Cassidy gave him till 9 PM this evening to personally go find Gunnery Sergeant Pickford to apologize on behalf of his company and to offer to do whatever she wants him to do.”

Stairs looked at her, “You don’t expect him to comply, do you?”

“No, we don’t. When Rick told me what he wanted us to do when the deadline passes this evening I nearly broke down laughing.”

Stairs pursed her lips in curiosity and asked, “So, what is it?”

Sorenson chuckled then replied, “You are gonna take your entire detachment, less your APCs, over to those company offices, it’s in a building on the north side of town, right after the deadline but not a minute before. Once there you and your people will assist in the complete removal of all materials from the building which will then be disassembled by a team from one of the construction companies. The pieces will then be transported by another team from Logistics and moved to some other location on the other side of town where everything will be put back in place just like it was before. We’ll do this quietly and secretly. A team from Colonial Security will make sure that there aren’t any “unauthorized” personnel in the area. When the manager shows up for work tomorrow he’ll find his offices have disappeared like they were never there, and he’s going to find out that you don’t mess with Cassidy or with Gunnery Sergeant Pickford.”

Claudia grinned broadly, “Oh, this is going to be fun!”

Sorenson smiled at her, “Yes, I think it will be too. And Claudia, this is going to have repercussions throughout the colony. I believe that people are going to find out that any protests about such strong arm tactics are going to be met with a brick wall when it comes to the Regimental Commander or the Colonial Administrator. The political issues involved in dealing with people from so many different countries under the rules we have to work with make it difficult for both the Regiment and the civilian administration to deal with offenders like this unless there’s concrete proof. If Rick Cassidy and Molly Pickford can deal with things quietly but effectively, and I think that is exactly what is going to happen, things will begin to change for the better. It will never be perfect. There’s always new people coming in who will have to learn, the hard way if necessary, that mistreating women in the Ranger Regiment, or any women here for that matter, will be dealt with severely.”

Stairs rubbed her hands together, “I’m all for this! My people will be too. But these are civilians. What about miscreants within the Regiment?”

“Same thing. Serious cases will be dealt with one way or another.”

“Good!”

When Stairs gathered her platoon leaders together and told them that all the Americans would be involved, Lieutenant Jing Woo the leader of one of the two Chinese platoons still in town protested, “You can’t leave us out of this! Why should you guys have all the fun?”

Stairs looked at the beautiful Chinese officer and nodded, “Okay Jing, but your platoon only. Someone’s got to mind to store in case something comes up. Lieutenant Chang, that’s you.”

Lieutenant Hong Chang nodded, “Yes, Captain. I have to tell you that I’m not sure that this is going to go over well with Captain Ji when he comes back.”

Stair shrugged, “Captain Ji can speak to Major Sorenson if he has any problem with it. This is a direct order from the Battalion Executive Officer.”

“Of course, Captain. I’ll keep an eye on things at the base tonight.”

“I’m sure you will.”

A grinning Lieutenant Zoey Bryant said, “It’s about time that someone put their foot down on somebody’s neck.”

“Agreed. I want you all to gather your troopers right after dinner and I’ll go over with them what they’ll be doing tonight. All four American platoons will be involved as will Jing’s people.”

“I haven’t met him yet but I can tell I’m going to like this guy Cassidy,” Bryant said. The three male platoon leaders in her detachment all chuckled as the dark-skinned Bryant grinned widely.

“Me, too!” Jing Woo agreed. “Too bad Eva’s not here. She would have loved to be part of this.” Lieutenant Eva Zhang commanded one of the platoons out in the field with Captain Ji.

“I think you’re going to like them both,” said Sorenson.


Chapter 1

Ciara at the Range

November 22, 2126
Day 67

New Hope Town

After just five days on the ground at the New Hope Main Terminal the cargo supply ship Asia had departed. Shortly after their arrival General Gavin Jamison the commander of the Ranger Regiment at the New Hope colony had called a meeting of all the senior officers among the 437 Rangers who had come in on the starship. They assembled in the auditorium at Ranger headquarters onboard the grounded starship Seeker, the converted exploration ship that had been turned into the administrative center for the settlement.

At the same time that Jamison was talking to those officers 14-year-old Ciara Cassidy had slipped off the ship in Ranger uniform in the company of two female lieutenants, the admin officers for the Chilean and Polish detachments, Miranda Balestiere and Adriana Klezewski. After finding her father’s office aboard Seeker empty she had gone to look for him at his private residence with her two Ranger friends. It was there that she had met the acting logistics officer Major Naomi MacCaffrey.

The major had broken the news that her father Commander Rick Cassidy and her aunt Gunnery Sergeant Molly Pickford were missing along with the crew and other passengers of the cargo transport lander Cairo which had disappeared on the first day of the alien invasion. Ciara had been terribly disappointed and worried but at the same time she felt confident that they hadn’t used up all of their nine lives yet. She’d already learned a lot about the cargo transport landers from maintenance officer Captain Gianna Honeycutt during the voyage, something she was interested in because she knew that her father and Molly frequently traveled on them accompanying high value and other important shipments to the other settlements. MacCaffrey told her that the general opinion in the Regiment was that the armored transport should have been able to put down safely somewhere and that had raised her spirits immediately. She decided to ignore the possibility of their not surviving.

Almost immediately Ciara had recognized Naomi MacCaffrey as the Canadian officer Molly Pickford had saved from execution in Nigeria over four years before, an event that had started the chain of events that had led to her father and Molly having to fake their deaths and flee to the colony under new names, courtesy of US Naval Intelligence and then-Colonel Robert Black. Molly Pickford, then known as Staff Sergeant Susan ‘Molly’ Bennett, had been adopted into the family by Ciara, by Rick’s mother Kelly, by his three sisters Bridget, Nicole and Chloe O’Brien, and by Ciara’s mom Melanie McCord and she had been considered an integral part of the family ever since. When they had first met him Robert Black had already been slated to become the Regimental Commander at the New Hope colony. Major General Robert Black was now the senior Ranger at Ranger Command in Geneva Switzerland and he had married Ciara’s grandmother Kelly Cassidy just weeks before Ciara had departed Earth. Kelly Cassidy was a former police captain and weapons instructor who had taught all of her children and her only grandchild to be exceptional marksmen.

It wasn’t until three days after arriving at the colony that Ciara had had a chance to meet with General Jamison. Based on the recommendations of Major Johnson and the four detachment commanders who had come in on the Asia Jamison had personally recruited the teenager to assist with training the hundreds of volunteers at the Ranger base, a part-time job to be worked around her academic schedule at the New Hope Academy. The Academy was the colony’s only school and like Ciara all students had to be at least fourteen, be in top physical condition and be high academic achievers before being approved to go to the colony with their parents. There were fifty female students and interns along with eleven New Hope Academy staff members who were among those missing with her dad.

Naomi MacCaffrey had taken her to visit the range at the base that evening but the range master on duty had been unavailable and they returned to the residence soon after. The residence was Rick Cassidy’s private home but it had been turned into the living quarters for virtually every female officer currently in New Hope Town who was not a member of one of the cargo transport lander crews and had their own quarters aboard their transports. The residence had been expanded greatly over the previous two months and now hosted nearly one hundred officers and senior enlisted females.

Ciara had moved off the Asia and into her father’s residence the day after arrival along with the twelve female officers among the newly arrived Rangers. Medical personnel were already starting to move the injured Rangers out of the hospitals and they wanted the ship cleared of all those not returning to Earth as soon as possible. The group from Asia had all been given floor space and air mattresses. There was plenty of space in the expanded residence but furniture was somewhat lacking in the crowded residence.

Within a few days many of the Rangers from Asia were on their way east. The Polish detachment had been sent to Castillo, the Chinese and French detachments had gone to Winter Haven and the Chileans first shipped out to Winter Haven and then moved on to McKinley Station. Ciara was aware that an attack was expected in the Winter Haven area very soon and she was worried about her friends, especially Chilean Lieutenant Miranda Balestiere, French Lieutenant Lydia Gervais and Chinese Captain Li Hua Chin. Ciara had said tearful goodbyes to her Ranger friends, not sure when or even if she would ever see them again.

The day Asia departed for Earth Ciara headed to the campus of the New Hope Academy to check in with the dormitory office to get her room assignment. It was the last day off before classes began. She had left her things at the residence until she could get transportation to move the pile of bags she’d brought with her from Earth. Naomi MacCaffrey had promised to drive over to the school that afternoon to pick her up and take her over to the base range again to meet the range master. The weather was sunny and warm and Ciara had walked the two miles to the school following the curve of the bay and enjoying the view. Her room had been pre-assigned and she had her access code within minutes but before finding the room she headed for the school’s cafeteria to meet with her student friends from Asia who had all moved onto the campus several days earlier.

“There she is!” exclaimed Katey Kennedy. The 15-year-old Irish girl had been Ciara’s cabinmate for the six-month trip to the colony and since she was traveling alone her parents had been assigned as Ciara’s guardians for the duration of the voyage.

“So you’re finally moving in! You do know that classes start tomorrow morning, don’t you?” asked a smiling Jana Halstrom. The 15-year-old Danish student from Copenhagen was there with her younger sister Lena. Also seated at the long table were 15-year-olds Kenji Sato, Emil Slovic, and just turned 15 Cory Pruitt and his 16-year-old sister Willow. Rosa Valenzuela and the Alvarez brothers had stayed on Asia and returned to Earth with their parents after having had just a few days to sample life on a planet different from the one they’d been born on. Their parents did not have skills that were considered critical during the emergency and they saw no reason to volunteer to stay with their children in a place where the future was so uncertain. The three deeply disappointed teenagers would have to learn about life at the colony from the 21 students from the Academy who had departed with the Asia.

Ciara snorted a laugh, “Sure, I know. That’s why I’m checking into the dorms today!” She looked around and asked, “Where’s Ivan?” Fourteen-year-old Ivan Tolkov was the only one of the group from Asia who was absent.

“I haven’t seen him for three or four days,” replied Emil.

“Me either,” said Cory.

“I saw him for a minute a couple of days ago right here,” said Kenji. “He was here with his parents and they were headed out for the main settlement hospital just as I was coming in. My mom works there too. We only got to talk for a minute. He said his parents wanted to spend as much time as possible with him before classes started. They were living in tents somewhere for a day right after they moved off the ship then they moved into the dormitory with the other parents.”

“He’s bound to make an appearance tomorrow then,” noted Willow. “Say Ciara, will you be wearing your Ranger uniform on campus?” she asked with a sidelong glance at her brother.

Ciara’s eyes widened in surprise at the question and she replied, “I guess, sometimes. When I’m going to the base or coming back anyway.”

“Will you be wearing it to class?” Jana asked in curiosity.

“Uh, no. Why?”

“Look around, Ciara,” said Willow. “Haven’t you noticed?”

“Noticed what?” she asked as she looked around the dining area. Then she realized that quite a few of the other students kept looking over at her then away. She could tell that some of them were talking about her, or at least it seemed that way. “Uh?”

“Do you have any idea how many people have asked about you the last couple of days?” Willow asked.

“Asked about me? Why?” Ciara asked in bewilderment.

Lena shook her head in exasperation, “Ciara, everybody knows who you are. Well, a lot of them anyway.”

“What? Why?”

Emil snorted, “You know, Ciara, you’re really smart but you can be pretty oblivious at times.”

Ciara looked at him totally confused now and demanded, “What are you all talking about?” She looked at Kenji who just held up his hands and grinned at her without answering while Cory and Emil started laughing, enjoying her discomfiture, a state they’d never seen the usually unflappable girl in before.

“Look Ciara,” said Willow as she rolled her eyes, “even before any of us said anything about you everybody here seemed to know that the daughter of Commander Rick Cassidy had come in on Asia and would be going to school here. They all know that he and your Aunt Molly are with the people who are missing.”

“Oh.”

“People have been asking about you. What you’re like, what you look like, you know?” said Lena.

“What did you tell them?”

“I told them you were really smart,” said Jana.

“And I told them you were really pretty,” said a grinning Cory. Ciara blushed but grinned back at him.

“And that you have blonde hair, or silver and blue hair, or black and red hair,” snorted Emil referring to the various colorings she played with during the long voyage.

“I told my roommates about the ‘College Katey’ thing,” chuckled the buxom young Irish girl. Katey Kennedy had gone to the officers’ mess one evening for dinner with her parents and had pretended to be a college student. The results had been hilarious for those in the know including the ship’s commander Captain Whitfield and some of his senior officers who watched as some of the younger male officer tripped over themselves trying to get her attention not realizing that she was really only fifteen and quite off-limits. “And that led into your ‘Operations Technician Hailey Mills’ joke on the Chilean officers.”

“You told them about that?” Ciara asked wide-eyed.

Katey grinned, “Sure, why not? And my roommates were kind of in awe when I told them how you were working with all the Rangers down in the VR training room, except those stuck-up Chileans, I don’t mean Miranda of course, she was great, and how you tricked them and made them look really bad. And then there’s how you own the ship’s VR all-time highest scores at Levels IV and V.” Ciara just looked at her with her mouth open not expecting that to get out so soon.

“And we had to tell people that the General had asked you to help train the volunteers over at the base,” said Jana, “that’s why you hadn’t moved on campus yet and you were living in your dad’s house which is a lot closer to the base than the school is.”

“You know I haven’t even started yet. I’m going over there this afternoon with Major MacCaffrey to meet the range master,” a grinning Ciara protested half-heartedly.

“And I might have mentioned the bad guys who chased you and Ramon into the solar power generating room after you spotted them down in engineering,” said Lena. Lena Halstrom had been with Ciara, Ramon Alvarez and a ship’s engineer who was their escort while they observed some of the activities going on as the ship began its preparations for making its jump out of Earth’s solar system. They were in the engineering spaces as part of an approved research project, part of their academic requirements during the voyage. Lena had been feeling queasy and the engineering officer had taken her to a nearby restroom while Ciara and Ramon had waited by the jump engine control room. Two men she had recognized as being part of the ship’s cargo crew and who she knew were not authorized to be down there had exited the jump engine room and saw the two students standing there. Ciara had seen them at the scene in the cargo bay when the body of a third cargo engineer had been found and realizing that they’d been recognized the two armed men had chased Ciara and Ramon through some of the engineering spaces. Ciara had distracted the two while Ramon went for help but when she saw two technicians working nearby coming their way oblivious of the danger they were walking into she’d had to act quickly. The official story, and the only one that her friends knew, was that ship’s security had rescued her, killing one of the saboteurs in the process while wounding and capturing the other. The truth had been very different; it had all been over before security had arrived on the scene.

“Oy! Thanks for that,” she grumped at Lena then gave her a big smile. “No worries guys, I suppose they would have found out all that eventually. Come on, I’m hungry, so let’s get something to eat.”

“Good idea,” agreed Katey and the group got up together and headed for the serving line.

###

After the morning staff meeting Naomi MacCaffrey went over to the terminal where she and her chief assistant First Sergeant Ivan Kurchenko continued the work of sorting out the fifteen hundred cargo containers that had been hastily unloaded from the starship so it could depart as soon as possible. In the afternoon when things had quieted down she drove one of the solar powered golf carts over to the Academy to pick Ciara up and take her to the Ranger Base to introduce her to the weapons instructors training the civilians who had volunteered to fight the aliens.

Colonel McTeague had notified the range master that a new instructor would be joining their team on a part-time basis but he had neglected, on purpose, to tell First Sergeant Lonergan just who was coming, only that it was someone who had come in on the Asia and would be brought over by Major MacCaffrey. When the major and the young Cassidy girl arrived at Lonergan’s office next to the virtual reality training facility the Irish First Sergeant had looked at the Cassidy girl in disbelief. “Pardon my language ma’am, but what the hell is this young lass doing here, and in Ranger uniform? The Colonel told me you were bringing someone over here to join our weapons training team and you brought a child over!”

MacCaffrey had half expected the First Sergeant’s reaction and she calmly replied, “First of all First Sergeant, if you know what’s good for you, you would not refer to Ciara Cassidy as child. She might just shoot you in the ass. If you’re lucky. And second, she comes here having been personally recruited by General Jamison at the strong urging of Major Johnson and all four detachment commanders who just arrived on Asia where she had spent much of the last six months helping train those Rangers, not civilian volunteers. She is Asia’s all-time record holder at both Level IV and Level V in the Demon Wolf modules. She is also the ship’s record holder, at Level IV and at Level V, on the Advanced Marine Combat Training module that she has brought with her to aid in training the volunteers here.”

Lonergan looked at MacCaffrey and studied Ciara Cassidy who just grinned back at him calmly and then he blinked in surprise, her last name finally penetrating. “Cassidy? Miss, are you related to Commander Cassidy by any chance?”

Ciara grinned and nodded, “He’s my dad. And Gunnery Sergeant Molly Pickford is my aunt.”

“Well I’ll be…” Lonergan reached out his hand and Ciara shook it firmly. “Well, that explains a lot. I’ll still need to see for myself how you do in there but knowing those two as I do, those two used to come over here frequently, just for fun, and to see if they could raise their scores any higher, no one here can even come close, you know? I guess hearing that his offspring is also a phenom in VR isn’t all that surprising if you were trained by the same person, his mom I understand, who trained him.”

“Yeah, that’s right! I was trained by my grandma, my dad’s mom. She used to be the senior weapons trainer at the New York Police Academy for a long time and she trained all her kids to be crazy good shots starting when they were about twelve. I started a little earlier and when I was twelve she used to put me up against the recruits at the Police Academy and challenge them to beat me. They never did, except this one guy, this ex-Marine, who beat me one-on-one after three or four tries. Of course, after I let him celebrate for a New York minute, I went again and set a new record.”

Lonergan laughed out loud, “I can’t wait to introduce you to the other guys. Almost all of them know your dad and the Gunnery Sergeant. You say she’s your aunt? I didn’t know that they were related.”

“It’s a long story for some other time, First Sergeant. I was hoping to get on the range today, if that’s okay? And now that I’ve got my class schedule we can set up a work schedule for me to come over here when I’m free.”

“Tell you what, there’s a session gonna start up in a few minutes. I’ll put you in with the volunteers who are being trained at Level IV in this program that we put together for fighting the aliens. I want to see how you’ll do with that, okay?”

“That would be great!” Ciara turned to MacCaffrey and told her, “Naomi, you can leave me here. I’ll get a ride back or maybe I’ll walk back over to the residence later, it’s not that far. I still need to move my things to the dormitory later though.”

“That sounds good, Ciara. First Sergeant, take good care of her. Not that she needs taking care of,” MacCaffrey said with a grin for the youngster she’d first met as a grieving 10-year-old at her father’s and Molly Bennett’s funerals four years before. She’d learned less than a week earlier that unlike the rest of her family Ciara had not only known that they were both alive at the time, she was also an outstanding actress it seemed, but that it had actually been her idea for them to go to the colony and it was she who had suggested asking for Robert Black’s assistance in doing so.

Lonergan grinned, “I’ve got her, Major. No worries. I have a feeling that she’ll do just fine here although some people may have a hard time at first when they see her, just like I did. Most of them won’t know her dad and the Gunnery Sergeant very well, if at all, so she’s gonna have to prove herself as I’m sure she will.”


Chapter 2

Roommates



New Hope Town

Ciara Cassidy and her new roommates were sitting on the floor in their dorm room. Two of her new friends, 16-year-old Akiko Hashimoto and 15-year-old Sonja Dubrovski had sisters missing. Her third roommate 15-year-old Amber Sleight was the cousin of River Sleight, another missing girl. Sonja had arrived three months earlier on the Amundsen. She told them, “I hadn’t seen my sister Nikola or my dad in four years. I would have come a year earlier but I had some problems meeting the academic requirements. I resented them being gone and for a while my grades in school really suffered. Then Nikola promised to stay here while I was at the school for at least half a year, half a year Earth year I mean, that’s a full year here, and I got back to work. I really messed up. I got here on the Amundsen and only got to spend a few weeks with her before she went away with the internship group and didn’t come back. Now who knows when I’ll see her again? Or if.”

“Don’t say that!” said Akiko. “You’ll see your sister again and so will I and Amber will see her cousin and Ciara will see her dad again.”

“Sorry, I just miss her a lot.” Sonja began to tear up and Amber whose cousin 15-year old River had been like a sister to her put her arm around the young Russian and hugged her.

“Ciara, did you know that Sonja’s sister and her father came out on the same starship as your dad?” Amber asked her to change the direction of the conversation.

“Yes, he and my Aunt Molly liked her a lot. They called her Nika. They told me that they trained her how to fight demon wolves just like the Rangers in the VR trainer on the North America, only better. And their dad Gregor is a really good friend of both of them. I’m looking forward to meeting him someday. He’s in Novo Napoli, right Sonja?”

A somewhat more cheerful Sonja smiled and replied, “Nyet, nyet, not right now he’s not. They put him in charge of turning these volcanoes, not active ones of course, dormant volcanos, they’re turning into places where we can go if things get really bad here in New Hope Town or the other western settlements. He said they’re working on two sites now and they will start working on two more before long. Pierre Dion’s dad Robert is in charge of site number two somewhere in the mountains north of Novo Napoli. His sister Eloise is also out there with them somewhere.”

“I haven’t heard anything about volcanos,” said Akiko. “When did that start?”

“A few weeks ago. He told me about it last week when he was in town to meet with Administrator Van Name.”

“That sounds really interesting,” Ciara said. “I wonder if we can go to one of them and take a look at what they’re doing?”

Sonja shrugged, “Don’t hold your breath. I asked my dad if I could go and he said no. Maybe when it’s closer to being finished, he said, whenever that is.” She looked at Ciara and said, “You’ve been away from your dad for a long time too, Ciara. It had to hurt finally getting here and finding out he’s missing.”

Ciara sighed heavily not really wanting to talk about that right now but she answered, “He and my Aunt Molly both. I know they’re out there and they’ll be back even if it takes a while. They haven’t used all their nine lives up yet,” she said with a grin at Sonja who was the only one of the three who knew who her dad and Molly Pickford really were.

Sonja grinned back, feeling much better then asked, “Is that boy Richie what’s his name really gone?”

Both Amber and Akiko laughed loudly at that. Akiko said, “Oh yes! I heard that Ms. Winston threatened to turn the aho over to us if he didn’t admit the things he’d done. I guess he didn’t want to lose any more fingers. They’ve got him under psyche observation on the Asia so he won’t be able to bother anyone on the ride home.”

“What are you talking about?” Ciara asked.

Akiko grinned widely, “Richard Haskell. Rich the Bitch. Mister Hands. He was the school’s chief molester. A real shit and he never seemed to learn from his ‘accidents’. He was probably lucky that Saki and Nikola and some of the others are missing, especially Nikola. He was really terrified of her!” she said sweetly with a big smile for Sonja who grinned back, proud of her sister.

“Why was he afraid of them?” Ciara asked. “Oh, oh! Wait a minute! Don’t tell me! I’ll bet that Nikola and Saki and some of the others liked to handle things ‘informally’ when there was a problem the administration couldn’t deal with, right?”

Akiko look at her in surprise, “How did you know? Somebody told you?”

Ciara snorted a laugh as she shook her head, “No. Nikola really looked up to Molly Pickford as a mentor and that’s how Molly, and my dad, handled problem people the bigwigs can’t deal with for one reason or another, politics, lack of witnesses, whatever. Unofficially, and as forcefully as required. What did Nikola and them do to this aho, this Richie?” she asked with a chuckle. “And what’s an aho?”

Akiko guffawed, “Ha! Where should I start? An aho is an idiot. Let’s see, a while back, two or three springs ago, when the boys and girls still went on the internship tours together, Richie and some of his idiot friends, I still don’t know why they let him go on the tour, whatever, they went into all the girls’ rooms, the female teachers too, at the hostel they were staying at and stole all their underwear then hung them on a line from the hostel to a building across the street with their names marked on each thing. Nikola and Saki and Winter Summerfield, she’s the Director’s daughter, and Penelope Winston’s daughter Naomi, and Sofia Goldman and Luka Terranova and Emilie Paulus and a couple of others, they beat the piss out of those boys, sent them to the hospital in New Cancun.”

“Served them right,” Ciara agreed.

Akiko continued, “Of course the boys didn’t want to complain or say who did it because then they might have been expelled and sent back to Earth for doing what they did in the first place and that would have meant their parents might have to quit their jobs to go back with them.”

“That’s right,” said Amber. “It didn’t stop Richie though, did it?”

Akiko continued, “Iya! No, it didn’t. The baka kuso, the stupid shit, he’d grab girls’ boobs and touch their butts and he thought that no one could touch him because his daddy’s a bigshot in one of the other settlements. Then Nikola and Emilie grabbed him and snapped one of his fingers in half. By ‘accident’, you know? After that he was a little more careful but they caught him peeking into the girls’ shower room. Saki and the others caught him and dragged him into the main administration building, this was at night so no one was in there and they never lock the doors. They stripped him naked, tied him up, gagged him, and hung him upside down from one of the second floor windows all night.”

Ciara, Sonja and Amber were all shrieking in laughter; none had heard about that before. Akiko went on, “He wouldn’t tell anyone who did it, he was too afraid to. Then just before the last day of the winter semester we caught him in taking pictures from inside the vent above the girls’ shower. I was in there with Liu Sun Chu and Sun-hi Kwan and Bailin Chow. They’re all out there with my sister. Well Liu Sun looked up when she heard a noise and there he was looking down at her. And real quick she got a boost up from one of the other girls, I think it was Sun-hi, and she was looking at him eyeball to eyeball. He had a mini-cam and who knows how long he’d been doing that? He probably could have planted a camera and watched remotely and not got caught but he just had to see for himself! Well, he got away and spent the whole spring break with daddy.”

“When he came back for the summer semester he thought he was safe because most of the ‘volunteer enforcement group’, that’s what they called themselves sometimes, vigilantes, I learned that word, is what they really are, I guess. Anyway, they were gone so he thought that he could do what he wanted now and that he’d gotten away with his last escapade. What he didn’t realize was that not all of them were gone and that there was a whole new group of us, under training you might say, since the all the older girls were getting close to graduating. Nikola and Chloe Capps and Stormy James and Venus Bennett had all graduated already. They were working as interns at the school, that’s why they were on the internship tour, to help the teachers and the students with their internship assignments. And to keep them under control, some of them can get really wild, you know?”

“We caught him his first night back and before he’d give up all the photo files with his naked New Hope Academy girl pictures we cut off one of his fingertips. He was squealing like a pig running from a wolf. Anyway, me and Kami Hernandez, her sister Montana is another missing girl, and some others were waiting for him and snap, there went another finger, but he still wouldn’t give them up so we cut off the nail end of his left little finger. That’s when he finally gave them up. And he still wouldn’t say who’d done it, he’d just had another ‘accident’, you know? When Asia came in and they were sending some of the first and second year students home, Richie, he’s seventeen, was over the age limit they set but Director Summerfield and Ms. Winston, they knew he had to go anyway, with or without daddy bigshot. It’s not like they didn’t really know what was going on especially since Winter and Naomi were right in the middle of it, so they told him he either confessed and got shipped home for psychological reasons or she would make a public announcement that he wasn’t going unless he was badly injured and needed to be medically evacuated. She meant it too! He decided to keep the rest of his fingers. Among other pieces he could have been separated from!”

“Wow!” Ciara said impressed. “Where do I sign up?”

Akiko laughed, “We’ll see. Don’t you have enough going on with you teaching people how to shoot and taking a full class load? I’m still amazed that they have you doing that. You must be very, very good.”

Ciara shrugged, “We’re still working out a schedule. I’m practicing on the Raagaa fighting module now. I’m already up in the top ten at Level IV at the base VR range. I think I can be number one pretty quick, it’s not that hard, you just have to keep your head down or the Raagaas will knock it off. Master Sergeant Lonergan who runs the range put me up against a squad of Rangers from Delta Company this afternoon. They’re part of the training cadre over there at the base. They looked at him like he was crazy so he asked them, ‘Do you think you can outshoot a 14-year-old?’ and they were like, ‘Yes, Sergeant, all day long.’ Well it was a long day for them all right. First we did the Raagaa program and even though it was only my second time I still beat all but one of them. I’ll get him next time. Then we did the demon wolf program and, well, I now have the third highest all-time score at the base range at Level IV now. They didn’t even want to try me at Level V. Then we did the Advanced Marine Combat Module and all six of them were down on the floor flailing like dying cockroaches from the VR nerve feedback pads halfway through the session. I finished it, of course. They were impressed. Then Lonergan told them who my dad and my aunt were and they all started laughing, finally realizing why I was so good. They’d watched them practice a bunch of times before and they own the two highest records at Levels IV, V and VI, so we’re all good now. I start working with the civilian volunteers tomorrow afternoon, after school.”

The three girls looked at her with their mouths open as Ciara nonchalantly told them that she’d handily crushed some of the Delta Company Rangers at the base range. Finally Akiko asked, “Can you teach us?”

Ciara grinned, “Well, yes, and I’m not sure. I know that I could teach you but I don’t know if I can get you in. I’ll have to see, but if I can, sure, it’ll be fun!”


Chapter 3

Winter Haven

November 18, 2126
Day 67

Winter Haven

Colonel Colin Fox, Second Battalion’s commander and the senior officer in the northern theater of operations sat in the office of Winter Haven’s Settlement Director Byron North. Fox was having an informal early dinner with the settlement director and his top assistant Mallory Claymore in the town’s administrative center on the east side of the landing field a half mile from the main terminal. North, an Englishman, and Claymore, an American, had asked to be briefed by Fox after hearing rumors that the colony transport ship Marco Polo would turn back to Earth once they received the warning from Asia about the alien invasion.

“Such speculation is not only counter-productive and bad for morale, I believe that it is completely untrue,” Colin Fox told them over a plate of fried chicken and baked potatoes.

“How can you be so sure?” Claymore, a rather abrasive woman asked. “I wouldn’t blame them if they did turn around, not that I want them too. They have almost 6,000 people onboard including the crew. The vast majority of them are civilians. Bringing them into this danger is almost unconscionable.”

Fox looked at the Assistant Settlement Director in surprise and he glanced at North who looked back at him expressionlessly. “I must say that I’m rather surprised that you’d say that, Miss Claymore,” Fox replied. “On the contrary, I think it would be unconscionable for them to turn back without further evidence of danger. Not only did Asia come in unopposed, but according to the last broadcast from the capital it signaled from orbit after lifting off earlier today that there was no sign of the alien ships before they left on their voyage back to Earth. And that’s what they will tell Marco Polo. Then there are the two thousand Colonial Rangers she’s bringing plus all their equipment plus all the other supplies the ship is carrying. They are carrying over 7,000 containers of food, building supplies and everything else. We need them to come here as scheduled.”

“I hope you are right, Colin,” North said. “We’ll have to wait two months or so to know for sure, won’t we?”

“If they do come, how many people will they be able to evacuate, do you think?” asked Claymore.

“I understand that they can carry about 10,000 plus the crew in an emergency,” Fox answered. “No doubt they will send some, probably most, of the civilian passengers she’s bringing in back with her but not all of them. They’ll want the medical personnel to stay for sure and maybe some others. The sixteen new national detachments plus all the miscellaneous support personnel and replacements will of course also stay when the ship leaves. I would say that they should be able to take at least 6 to 7,000 people who are here now.”

“I’m sure that will help with the crowding in New Hope Town and the other settlements,” Claymore said. “That at least is one thing we don’t have to worry about here.”

“I would have to disagree with you there, Ms. Claymore,” Fox said. “While there may be more than adequate housing for the civilians here, barracks space for our Rangers is not. The civilian apartments are too scattered if we needed to move people out in a hurry, and most of them are too far from where we need them to be. It’s even tighter now with all the new arrivals. It’s going to be winter soon and I can’t have half of them living in tents.”

“We should be getting building materials from New Hope Town any day now from the containers that came with Asia,” North assured him. “Then I expect we should be able to get as much barracks space built as you will need.

“I’m glad to hear it,” Fox said. The Colonel’s comm chirped and he answered, “Fox here.”

It’s Kenji, Colonel. Would you come to the command center when you’re done, Sir? I’d like to go over the latest report from Master Sergeant Atherton,” the Third Battalion commander said cryptically figuring the civilians might be listening.

“I’ll be along presently, Kenji. Tell him to get something to eat first.”


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