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Excerpt for Blaster Tech #1 The Rebirth of George Washington by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Blaster Tech

The Rebirth of George Washington

By Travis McKee


Copyright 2018 Travis McKee



Smashwords Edition


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Cover Image:

Cover by Moon, based on sculpture by Frederick MacMonnies, in the Public Domain.



Earth burned. On the last day of humanity’s dominion of Earth, the planet was a spheroid cinder. Lifeboats lurched from orbit, racing toward interstellar space.

Predators plucked these boats like bats feeding in the night. The bats were plentiful and prolific. Their sweep-up operation thinned the ranks of humanity.

Beams of plasma swept through space like searchlights. Each contained the vigor to burn a boat to ash.


Evasion sustained the lives of some boats, as did the intercession of debris. To the fortune of some boats, debris belts sprawled into asteroid belts, until lifeboats merged with Aldrin Cyclers that vaulted the boats ahead into the Martian debris belt, into another asteroid belt, into another array of Aldrin Cyclers, onto Jupiter, and more debris belts orbiting the moons.

And the recursive cycle continued out until, at last, the blanketing shroud of the Oort Cloud concealed a surviving remnant of humanity.


This cold cloud consisted of small pellets of water-ice. It was, essentially, the ultimate fog bank; and humanity’s salvation.


Lifeboats trickled into the blanket. Vessels varied in the humanity they contained. A dozen young beings were common. All sat constrained as the vessels sought after rocky bodies to merge with.


It was an exercise that needed few sensor inputs, for in the Oort Cloud passed comets, rocky water-ice bodies astronomers had tracked outside the fog bank eons before.


A lifeboat survived the long low-odd ordeal, and made a passive terminal dive into the anticipated location of a comet. All functions ceased in the boat, slimming the chance of those “bats” detecting it on its dive into the comet ice. The boat made its last act, to burrow into the snow.


A collection of humanity awoke buried in snow, the lifeboat forming a cavern. Humanity resumed as cavemen in an ice age. It was a dim, frozen land, with fog obscuring most of space; more depressing than Seattle or Buffalo.


And yet, the trained astronaut aboard, Justin Soong, felt an exhilaration at surviving. It was a long, miserable ride of watching the diaspora trickle away from Earth, one speck after another being incinerated by beams of plasma, wondering if anybody would make it out.


It was dismal, it was… could it be? Yes, even more harrowing than stories his father told, about clinging to flotsam leaving Taiwan. Okinawa was nicer than this, though. At least, at first.


Unlike Okinawa, however, the predators across the Sol system likely haven’t mapped these comets as targets of conquest. At least, that’s the hope.

Justin opened the pod bay door of the lifeboat. It took the manual turn of a wheel. His pressurized suit inoculated him from the worst of the hostile conditions of comet living. Except at the hands. He needed dexterity to work, so his fingers lacked some insulation, while at other points, it was ample.


Some gravitational attraction kept him planted to the charcoal snow. It was enough to allow a somewhat natural walk. He kept tethered to the lifeboat. Otherwise, any lapse of judgement, like the decision to jump, would launch him into space.


Day one, he inflated greenhouses. This was repetitive drudgery in training, but in the real exercise, he felt satisfied with each accomplishment. Each dome ballooned into a biosphere, a scaled-down Eden where humanity could regain a Neolithic standard of existence.


He surveyed his work, and pronounced it good. On the first day, he formed the domes for the gardens. He formed water out of the ice and planted seedlings. He hooked lighting and heat from the lifeboat’s fission reactor. Mankind could soon enter the gardens.


He returned to the lifeboat. His friend Laura and other shipmates were being reanimated. He and Laura were the only two assigned to the boat, being the military officers aboard. All others were cast by lot, and unknown to these two ROTC grads.


As the two officers, they awoke first, and tended to the colony. Soong awoke first, to ensure the two could efficiently trade keeping watch in the first days.


“I toiled in the gardens. I hope you’ll have the house made when I wake up.” She grimaced at his pun at her being a homemaker.

***


Laura Roundtree inflated some homes. Like the greenhouses, these were fundamentally domes, just inflatable spheres with a little room for personalization, so that the colonists wouldn’t feel like convicts in cells.


The task was therapeutic. She had watched plasma jets cut through humanity like combines through corn stalks, and this was the first task she got to work toward building humanity back. She was giving them all homes and a settled community again, and the feeling was good.


She erected homes with opaque polymers, and enclosed these with larger transparent domes. She smiled. She was reconstructing suburbia. These homes had small yards. From docking points, she erected tubular “sidewalks” linking homes. In these tubes, she ran air, heating, and lighting tubes. These tubes she led toward a larger community dome.


That bigger dome she inflated partially in the mouth of a cave.


Next, as Justin awoke, came burying certain utilities, and that’s when they realized this wasn’t the comet they’d trained for.

***


“Well, that explains why there’s a little more gravity,” Justin pronounced. It is a subtle thing for Earth-dwellers, but they were told the gravitational pull to expect from a small clump of dirt and ice.


“Yeah,” she tapped it with a shovel. “It is metal, and,” she shoveled ice away, “bigger than some debris from a forgotten probe, I think. It is forged into a panel, and not just a natural hunk of iron.” Justin agreed.


“Yeah. But, it must be dormant, or dead. I’m not sensing anything from it.” He held a reader that could detect much of the electromagnetic spectrum. “Maybe we’re one of the lucky crews that stumbled upon an ark.” The refugees had shared rumors of time capsules and other caches being hidden beyond the Kuiper Belt to help rebuild humanity.


“Worth exploring,” she declared. “We ought to figure out who we’re sharing our colony with.”


On the third day, humanity entered the garden. There were a couple dozen, equal in the sexes, all of childbearing age. The lots had selected couples, not individuals, for their lifeboat, except for the officers. They anticipated families soon, and contact with colonies on other comets, and shuttles between comets. The diaspora would reconnect.


In time, as returns diminished on the predators’ hunting sorties, they would leave the Oort Cloud to raid races more rich in targets.


But this colony had landed on...something. They still pronounced the colony good, but with some reservations.

***


“Justin, that’s a turret,” Laura kept her voice monotone, perhaps unsure whether to express fear or excitement. They were indeed looking at something that looked like a tank turret, with twin tubes that may have been guns.


“Well, Noah wasn’t a pacifist,” Justin quipped, blowing away more snow. “Makes me think.” On the other end of the umbilical cord connecting them, Laura waited for him to think out loud. “Sorry. You’re thinking it too, I bet. If we don’t have a fleet beneath these colonies.” He heard her sigh.


“That’s a big project to hide from the public,” she argued.


“Unless,” he countered, “somebody on Earth collaborated with friendly aliens to build these. All Earth had to pledge was a plan to bring refugees out here, and we’d man whatever the aliens cached for us.” He heard her reply through the cord.


“Sounds plausible.” She brushed ice away from a crevice she hoped outlined a door. “I think a lot of us are burning for a chance to fight back.”


“You bet,” Justin agreed, clearing up a parallel crevice next to Laura. “And I hope we can get started on that right after we breech our way in.” They had exposed a small portal, perhaps a garbage chute.

***


Space suits and all, the corridor offered enough room for them to slide through. The bulkheads they slid down were dry, a good sign. Another interesting sign, indicated on Justin’s wrist, is that the temperature inside was significantly warmer than the comet.


At the end of the chute, they opened another breech. It took a little jimmying, which made Justin wonder about interstellar boarding parties taking ships. He lifted himself up, as if arising from a coffin. His wrist illuminated the room. He saw racks lined up around his chute, and some parallel chutes.


“I’ve seen rooms like this before,” he pronounced, looking about as Laura climbed into the room. “We weren’t in a garbage chute. This is a torpedo room.”

***


My crew is boarding. He was a General by rank, accustomed to leading land forces, but circumstances had him aboard a vessel, where a nautical culture and nomenclature would have been more apropos. Regardless, he was General of the Armies, and had immersed in briefings on all the services.


Images of two boarding crew in space suits beamed onto his left cornea. He could see them explore the starboard torpedo room. Both had pistols drawn. They made progress from the torpedo room into a corridor.


The General straightened his uniform, made up of a dark green coat with six silver stars running down the shoulders. He patted a holstered Browning 1911 on his right hip. He placed his service cap on.


All the service uniform affects looked like they had come off the rack of Marlow White. The General was pleased, even if he missed the dress blues of his salad days, rather than the green and olive dress uniforms of this ship.


My audience is coming. He instructed the doors to open for his guests.

***



“Do you hear that?” Justin responded to the metal clanking of old automated doors coming open. “Either someone’s coming, or someone is letting us come in.”


“Judging by how...not alien... this ship is, I’m guessing our theory is right, and this ship is for us,” Laura opined. “I don’t think we’ll need to shoot.” She holstered her weapon. Justin did the same.


At the end of the corridor, light flooded through. The ship had some systems active, clearly. Justin checked the sensors on his wrist. The air was good, and the ship was near what he’d consider room temperature. He “unhooded” from his space suit.


They saw a shadow of a man with his hands at his hips. Trailing one hip was the shadow of a saber. The shadow looked tall and athletic. Justin considered what to say.


“Greetings from Texas! Cadet Colonel Justin Soong requests permission to board!” He felt ridiculous, unsure just how wrong in protocol he was. Maybe it was ‘take me to your leader?’


Cadet Colonel? That just won’t do! Come aboard, cadets, and I’ll figure out just what ranks to commission you!”

***


The General introduced the two cadets to the mess hall, a generously-spaced area for a spaceship. He offered them seating, and toured them through some of the amenities, such as slushy machines, coffee pots, even soft-serve ice cream and beer taps.


“I am not sure what shipyard put this together, but it offers a nice mess, and the quarters are nice, and the heads are squared away.”


“Heads?” Laura asked.


“Nautical for bathroom,” answered the General. “I’ve had some maritime campaigns in my day, but I’m not used to Navy culture, either,” he added, before changing gears. “The quarters might be nice enough for you to leave your refugee camp behind and move in. However,” he ground his teeth, “I would then need to impress everyone into the United States Armed Forces.” Soong grinned.


“General, you already have two cadets before you.” The General agreed.


“That returns us to the topic of commissions. Our ranks are depleted, so I’ll need to accelerate things. You will not exit officer school as 2nd lieutenants, as is the reserve officer custom. I will frock the both of you to acting ranks corresponding to your cadet ranks. So, Cadet Colonel is now acting Colonel, and I just have a feeling our lady here is a Major. The ship computer will log these ranks, and award both of you officers’ quarters and uniforms.” They both saluted, and he returned it.


“As for refugees outside, I will see to Captain Reagan overseeing their orientation aboard the ship. By the way, you’re aboard the USS Mount Vernon, the top vessel in our fleet.”

***


Weeks Earlier


It seemed thoroughly against nature’s laws, but George Washington wasn’t going to spend eternity alone on this vessel. This ghost ship needed men aboard, even if he had to manufacture them.


Thankfully, the ship contained provisions for a lonesome captain. Within the holographic simulator, he found a realized mind, the leader of the OpFor (opposition forces) army, completely modeled after the son of one of his own officers.


A Virginian, a landed gentleman, an officer, and an Anglican, he in so many ways was relatable. Perhaps no other man so paralleled him. This man also led an army in rebellion, and he did so ably. So ably, the victors, upon suppressing his insurrection, offered him countless honors.


Washington wasn’t sure, but thought his new friend could occupy a body. He entered sickbay, where he thought this work could be done.


“Sickbay,” he said out loud. “I’d like for General Lee to take corporeal form. I would be most gracious if we could provide him with a body.”


A menu of options appeared imprinted atop his left cornea. Washington had run into this before, and recalled how to click through links. It was a chore, but he uncovered a tutorial that explained what feedstock went into the vat in sickbay. Some steps were tedious, but he knew the destination was worth the journey.


So many bones to connect, he thought, as they fell from the printer. Making a person isn’t what it used to be. He labored over the puzzle, threaded in a fiber optic spine, hooked it into the braincase, and poured the requisite gray liquid into the case, and let it gel. He hooked cables from organs into the nervous system. The basic framework of a human was complete. The rest grew around the frame as it lay in the vat.


George Washington washed up and dropped into the mess hall for lunch. Absent a cook, all he had were packaged meals. A contraption beamed waves into his frozen package until a bell notified him that it was ready.


It was broccoli and cheese gratin. He dispensed iced tea into a tall glass. Unlike the old fashioned way, it now wasn’t sensible to ingest alcohol in the making of a human.


His frozen dinner tasted alright. He asked the computer to play music. Bach on a harpsichord filled the mess. He felt glad to have moved a recliner into the hall.


“General Washington, General Lee’s corporeal animation is complete.” Washington abandoned the reverie he had been slipping into, and ventured down the corridor. The door to sickbay slid open, and he saw a gray-bearded man prop himself up in bed.


“General Lee, are you well? Is there anything you need?” The old man sipped water the bed had offered him.


“An army, General,” he offered a thin smile. “I understand that humanity itself fell to forces from beyond our stars. I’d like to offer whatever energy I can in building the instrument to avenge the ravaging of our world.”


“I feel the same, and believe that is why Providence has engineered our appearance on this strange new battlefield. We will have refugees pouring into our sector shortly. There isn’t much time, but we have both raised armies from scratch, so I’m confident, together, we can raise one equal to the task.” Washington stroked his chin.


“I would wish for a Nat Greene at a time like this, but,” his voice trailed off, “we’ll make do as our own quartermasters for a time. There is so much to share with you about how networks work. I could correspond with beings I know nothing about, and I have a germ of an idea about how they will work in a grand strategy.


“Our resources are not great, not at the scale of these civilizations that span the heavens. But we’ll have a place, even if I must work against my nature and entangle us in alliances.”

***


Still Weeks Earlier


“There’s… a significant gap...in my memory. I can’t retrieve any of it. I seem to be a man of my early thirties. Among my last duties in, well, my natural time, I guess,” he ran a hand through his thick movie star black hair, “was a presentation on the death camps. Most of my work was for the Pacific Theater, but we had trials for war crimes coming up. It was important work.”


The Hollywood star, familiar to generations of Americans, appeared a lot less calm than many would recall remembering him...if they were still alive.


“I remember all that like these memories are my own. The presentations on dogfighting against the Japanese Zero are organic, but, then there are all these chains of memories, I guess, or data shoved in my head formatted as memories, of me learning to give presentations on dogfighting spaceships! How fanciful is that!


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