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Authors: Rolf Nelson

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Back From the Dead

BOOK: Back From the Dead
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The Stars Came Back: Back From the Dead
Rolf Nelson

Published by Castalia House
Kouvola, Finland
www.castaliahouse.com

This book or parts thereof may not be reproduced in any form, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording, or otherwise—without prior written permission of the publisher, except as provided by Finnish copyright law.

Copyright © 2015 by Rolf Nelson
All rights reserved

Editor: Matthew King
Cover Design: JartStar
Cover Image: Lars Braad Andersen
Version: 001

The Stars Came Back

Back From the Dead

By Rolf Nelson

Disclaimer:

Any similarities to real people, places, events, calendars, numerical systems, languages, space aliens, politicians, technologies, scumbags, misanthropes, punctuation marks, priests, alphabets, monastic orders, recipes, or pets is coincidental, accidental, a paradoxical distortion of the space-time continuum, or by chance. Unless it’s on purpose. Your guess is as good as mine. Maybe better.

Acknowledgments

To:

My family, whom I hope will always be free;

browncoats everywhere;

everyone that wants a good adventure story

with something to think about inside.

Author’s Note

Thanks VERY much to Paul, RabidAlien, Peggy, Michelle, Ubu, Sendarius, Defens, Joe, David, and the rest for their criticism, proof reading, editing, Latin assistance, and commentary to improve the final version.

Table of Contents

Cover

Ordinary Life

Harbin

Tajemnica

Changes

Training

First Mission

Ammo Run

Rest and Recreation

Transportation Job

Air Defense

Appendix I: Diagrams of Tajemnica

Appendix II: History and Technology

Riding the Red Horse

There Will Be War

Castalia House

New Releases

ORDINARY LIFE

“Landing”

Chaos in the cockpit of a small starship. The sounds: bells, sirens, klaxons, buzzing danger signals, competing computer voices warning of exceeded limits and system failures. Roars, drones, thumpings, and bangings beat the air. The sights: danger signals flickering, warning lights blinking everywhere, readouts in yellow, orange, and red, demanding attention. All hell has broken loose.

Helton Strom is strapped into the pilot chair. He’s in his late thirties, clean-shaven with short hair, well-built, and wearing a simple jumpsuit uniform. He’s holding a control yoke with one hand, flipping switches and adjusting the controls arrayed around him with the other. Next to him, in the copilot’s seat, a man in his forties hangs on tightly as the cockpit shakes violently. Helton grimaces as he struggles to get the ship back under control. The situation rapidly deteriorates from bad to worse with more flashing and louder warnings.

“DRIVE CORE OVER TEMP,” warns a shrill female voice. “FAILURE IMMINENT!”

“HULL BREACH!” a baritone voice declares, as the flashing on the display increases in tempo.

Helton’s hanging sideways in his harness now, then upside down with objects falling past him, then sideways again. Smoke rises, floating up from the controls to his left, and he glances at it in surprise. Loud bangs and popping noises join the din as more equipment breaks. Another puff of acrid smoke shoots past him, and with a final lurch, all the shaking stops. The lights in the control panels and screens blank out and go black as the audible alarms cease. Helton waits, silently, motionlessly, with an expression of tired fatalism.

The older man looks at him a long time, trying to find the right words. His name tag reads
Flight Instructor
. Finally he speaks. “Well, that’s a first.” He surveys the damage. “You managed to crash—and break—a flight simulator during a
simulated
crash landing. Impressive. Test again after it’s repaired?”

Helton looks blankly at the screen in front of him, shakes his head, and sighs heavily.

Kwon’s

A neon sign flashes in a low-budget part of town, amid old chrome and new paint, with a light coating of grime on the glitz:
Kwon’s Kosher Cajun Curry
. Images scroll slowly by on the windows, a wide variety of mixed-culture cuisine dishes sandwiched between advertisements for
Andy’s Android Repair
and
Nellie’s Nails
. Helton, hands in his pockets and shoulders slumped, eyes downcast and deep in thought, saunters down the sidewalk, passing several doors that open automatically, then slide shut as he passes. He turns to enter Kwon’s place, almost running into the door before pausing briefly, shoving it open, and striding in to the tinkling of a bell.

The interior is shiny and cheerful, a retro diner with high-tech display surfaces everywhere. Half-a-dozen patrons sit in booths or at tables. A news show drones quietly on a corner screen, and a popular Bollywood-Bluegrass piece bounces in the background. The counter’s empty except for Adam, an older, weedy-looking gent, who sits behind a half-empty cup of coffee chatting with the proprietor, Kwon Fogel.

Kwon is in his sixties, a mixed-race far-easterner, wearing a yarmulke. At the sound of the bell, he looks up, smiles reflexively, and starts to say “Welcome!” But recognizing Helton, seeing the expression on his face, instead he pours a cup of coffee and grabs a bowl of something from behind the counter. Kwon sets the bowl and cup one seat over from Adam.

Helton nods a greeting to Kwon and Adam and sits. He adjusts the bowl in front of him slightly. Takes hold of the coffee cup, turns it slowly, but doesn’t drink. Looking into his cup, speaking to no one in particular, Helton says, “Nope.”

“Ah, you’ll pass next time,” Adam says. “Everyone has to be bad at
something
, you know.”

“Maybe, but not
this
bad,” Helton says, swirling the coffee in his cup. “I broke the sim.”

Adam hides his chuckle behind a sip of coffee. “Fifth time isn’t a charm, eh?”

“Guess not.”

Kwon wipes the counter. It’s an old confessor’s trick, reaching back to the first bar in pre-history, set up with two rocks and a log. “Keep teaching, then?” he asks.

“Dunno. Next cycle doesn’t start for three weeks.”

Adam tries to cheer his friend. “Finish one more cycle and you can celebrate having the same career for more than three years.”

“He’s right,” Kwon says, “That would be, what, fourth time you stayed somewhere long enough to qualify for a pay bump?”

“Yeah, but it’s not
going
anywhere.” Helton shakes his head, picks up a spoon, and absent-mindedly stirs the stuff in his bowl.

Kwon shakes his head in quiet exasperation. “Of course not; new kids each time, same material. You knew that when you started.”

“I know, but I thought it would be different each cycle. But every change I try to make gets blocked by admin, so it grinds on the same mediocre path as the cycle before.”

“Gotta agree with Kwon on this one,” Adam says. “You always think that.”

“Huh?”

Kwon sighs. He’s said this many times before. “Each job, wanting to make a difference. Be unique. Be really good. Always end up feeling–”

“Utterly replaceable.” Helton laughs at himself. “Yeah. Sad, ain’t it?”

“You don’t need to save the world,” says Kwon.

“Don’t want to. Just want to find my place in it.”

“Then pick a place and make it work. Think I always wanted to run a diner my whole life?”

Helton contemplates his coffee, and Kwon continues to wipe his already-spotless counter. Adam snorts. “Look at the bright side. For the first time in — how many career attempts? Seven? Eight?”

“Nine!” Kwon says. “Don’t forget that geology thing.” He tops off Adam’s cup.

“Nine attempts, you finally found something that you
aren’t
good at, so you can quit thinking it might be the one perfect career. Maybe poetry in dead languages, maybe mechanic, maybe soldiering–”

“Don’t want to be too good at that,” Helton says.

“-maybe teaching or cards or terraforming. But not piloting. It’s progress, see?”

Helton looks at him, then grins and chuckles. “Well, that’s one way of looking at it, I guess.”

Adam blows gently across his coffee. “Everyone’s gotta find his own niche. You’ll find yours. Eventually.” Half under his breath, he adds, “About the time judges get held accountable around here.”

Adam and Helton sit silently, watching the news screen in the corner, while Kwon does busywork behind the counter. Images of marching troops and tanks roll by for a few moments. Then a “NEWS FLASH” caption pops up, the volume jumps, and a pretty announcer replaces the soldiers.

“This just in. A passenger ship caught a swirl and was forced into the long-lost system Bradbury Four Five One as The Deep pulled back, leaving the system accessible for the first time in almost five hundred years. Bradbury had two planets being terraformed, and some of the platforms still appear to be operating on automatic. Bioactivity is level three or lower, so both planets may have returned to a state of nature. Scientists had high hopes for these worlds, as the terraforming teams were from among the best geoscientists of the day.”

Helton snorts. “State of nature. Hell of a euphemism for
everyone died
.”

Adam watches the images of the liner captain and passengers. “Wonder what percent water it is? Five hundred years of converting silicates and carbonates into hydro is a lot of cubes. Might be worth checking out.”

“Depends on how many terraformers have been working, what sort of rock it had, what sort of plan they had. Could be half. Might be less than ten percent.” Images of the planet flash up on the screen.

“NEWS,” Kwon says at the screen on the back wall. “Full wall.”

The news screen expands, taking up most of the wall. The planet is mostly shades of tan, very few clouds, one tiny ice cap. A few small slivers of equatorial water become visible as the planet rotates in the display.

“Ouch,” says Helton. “Looks less than two percent water, few clouds. Plan must have been a bad one. Or else too many talkers and not enough doers.”

Kwon frowns, confused. “But they said it had
good
geo guys?”

“Maybe,” says Helton, “but that was one of the early government-run ones, back when they were still sorting out the leftovers from the atmo CO2 fiasco. A lot of smart people have bad plans.

“That’s, what? A dozen terraformed planets that have come out of the Black in the last three years? Dead, hanging on, or thriving, and about the same success rate from the privately funded amateurs as the big government programs with lots of experts. Just shows most folks really don’t know as much as they think they do. Heck,
this
place was almost a bust early on.”

“If a few top idiots in office don’t get their act together, it might be one yet.” Kwon waves at the news screen, which returns to its regular size and volume. “So what now?”

Helton shrugs, holds out his cup for a refill. Kwon pours, then moves to fill Adam’s cup, but Adam pulls away, feigning a look of injured pride. “Hey, not
that
stuff! I like my coffee like my women: fresh, hot, black, and sweet.”

“Then why are you married to old, cold, bitter, and pale?” Helton asks.

“Family tradition.”

From the back room a shrill female voice calls out angrily, “Adam! ADAM!” He feigns a look of fear, then downs his remaining coffee and bolts for the door. The others grin, watching him rush out, not for the first time.

Helton scoops a spoonful from his bowl and pauses before he puts it in his mouth. He looks skeptically at Kwon.

“New experiment. You’ll like it,” Kwon says.

Helton sniffs deeply, smiles, takes a bite, and starts chewing. He chews slower, then waves his hand to signal for a drink, because the food is so spicy-hot. Kwon smirks and hands him a ready glass, which Helton gulps down.

“Holy
cow
!” Helton says, breathing exaggeratedly and fanning his mouth with his hand.

“Here.” Kwon hands Helton a magnum-sized seasoning canister. It’s a two-liter container labeled ARMY brand “BLAND” seasoning.
Kills flavor FAST!
Helton sprinkles some in his bowl and stirs it in.

“You said you wanted more food with some kick,” Kwon says. “So?”

Helton tentatively tries another spoonful. “Success. A little
less
kick next time.”

“Better make up your mind on the teaching contract. Pretty soon they won’t be approving job transfers unless you pay the right people more than you can afford, or put a uniform back on.”

BOOK: Back From the Dead
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