These are short stories put up each Friday that you can read for free. By the next Friday the post will be taken down and a new one will go up.
Things were not going well in the fall of 2015, and this was noticed off-world.
“What the hell are we gonna do, Barnes?”
United Planetary Front Commander Eddy Barnes looked up from his bunk and frowned. There was Hanson, and he was asking the question that Barnes had been waiting days to hear. Hanson saw this and came forward into the small recessed area, sat down next to the dying philodendron.
“What the hell are we gonna do, Barnes?” he asked again. “Earth’s a mess financially, none more so than the US right now. On the Moon they don’t know if they can keep up their appropriations, what with all the government shutdowns that’ve been happening lately. On Mercury the mining’s gone to shit. Mars has been off-limits since the duster with the natives, and–”
“And here we sit, four months now, and not a damn thing to show for it but a situation worse than we found.”
Hanson nodded, not at all angry that he’d been cutoff. It was nice to see some life in the Commander again, very nice indeed.
“What do you think we should do, sir?”
Barnes chewed his lip. Hanson was looking at him all eager-like, ready and willing to go right then and there. And why not, why the hell not? For the past four months they’d been stuck out here on the edge of Eris’ orbit, watching…waiting.
It was enough to drive a man mad sitting on the Kuiper Belt that long, especially when he had a team to look after, discipline to maintain. So far everything had gone smoothly, but Barnes knew that wouldn’t last much longer.
What Hanson had failed to mention, or perhaps what he was saving for last before Barnes cut him off, was that their own lifeline was about at an end. “Earth’s a mess financially,” Hanson had said, and that really did say it all – out here in the far quadrant, they didn’t matter much. More than 7 billion people on Earth and yet only a few thousand knew they were out there, knew any of them were out there. It was frustrating, to say the least.
Barnes looked up, saw Hanson still sitting there. He let out a sigh. What the hell.
“How are the engines, captain?”
Hanson’s face brightened, some of the sag of the past few months vanished in a flash. “They’re good, sir – real good. Better than good, ready.”
“And the boys?”
“Like the engines, sir – revved up and ready to go.”
Barnes nodded, looked out the window. Out there was the last of the known, the last they’d explored. Here they were, at the farthest point out, the last defense, the first to know.
The joke of course was that as far as Earth went, it was the exact opposite. More and more, Commander Barnes and the Ebony were the last to know and the first and only defense. Appropriations weren’t what they used to be, and neither was the fleet. He sighed. What the hell.
The thought kept running through his mind, and as he stared out into deep space he knew that if his exile were ever to end, he’d have to be the one to end it. He turned back to look at Hanson.
“Well, what the hell are you waiting for? Fire this bird up and tell the boys – we’re headin’ back to base.”
“Yes, sir,” Hanson said before racing off.
Barnes just looked back out the window. This sure as shit better work.
The UPF Command Center was abuzz with activity, but then it always was. You couldn’t monitor 72 different alien species, 14 separate bulk carries, 2 fluton-class starships, and a royal barge with anything less. The Center had been staffed continuously to see to it all, its power running and its stations manned since operations had commenced on December 8, 1982.
Lars Steen remembered that day well, remembered when the large monitors had had their tarps taken off, their IBM screens lit up for the first time. Of course, they’d gone through about a hundred new sets since then, each better than the last, but the Center’s commander still looked back on that first set fondly.
Lars looked over, saw VanDyke there. “What is it?” he asked.
“Sir, Ebony has moved.”
“Moved, what do you mean, moved?”
“It appears that Commander Barnes has powered it up and turned it back towards base, sir.”
Lars frowned. “Now why the hell would he do something like that, do you think?”
VanDyke shrugged. “Because he’s finally ready to start that war we always thought he would?”
Lars looked over at VanDyke. Two demotions for insolence and he still said whatever the hell he liked. Lars liked him, liked him a lot.
“Well, what do you suggest we do then, lieutenant?”
VanDyke scoffed. “With a commander like Barnes? Why, send the whole fleet at him, what else?”
Lars smiled. “Precisely, lieutenant, precisely. Order it done.”
I'll have a collection of sci-fi short stories out the first week of October.
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