Condor Rising 24

Biff and Julia left the door jammed open and ran down the corridor toward the sound of blaster fire. One sailed over their heads as they drew near to the action.

“Over here,” Biff said, and he pulled Julia out from the middle of the corridor. They hurried past frightened passengers crouched on the floor and hiding behind chairs, trash bins, and kiosks.

When they reached the wall they kept moving, slowly and more carefully now that they were close.

They came up to a woman crouched behind a blaster-proof barricade, aiming at someone dressed in armor advancing down the corridor. He took several shots to the chest, cursing as each one hit. He kept firing back, but he couldn’t reach her, the barricade blocking his aim.

He continued advancing, trying to get close enough for a clear shot. Biff held Julia against the wall with one arm, out of the way of green bolts flying by as the armored gunman crept closer to the woman.

“That’s her,” Julia said. “Natasha Krizinksi!”

At the sound of her name, Natasha turned to stare at them. The gunman took the opportunity to run the last few meters to her position.

She turned around just in time and shot him pointblank in the face. He raised an arm to block the blast, but part of his helmet took a direct hit and stunned him. His visor flew off as he went down to the floor.

The guardbots tromped forward, their guns aimed at Natasha.

Dillon stirred on the floor, pulling himself to his feet as the last of his broken visor dropped away.

StarCen’s high-pitched voice came from overhead.

“Dillon Dvorak, known terrorist! Officers, arrest him!”

As one, all the guardbots shifted their guns from Natasha to Dillon.

“Aw, man!”

He dropped the blaster and held his hands up, frowning. Natasha smiled triumphantly and lowered her weapon.

Julia looked at Biff and said, “This is not right.”

She moved toward Natasha before Biff could stop her, whipping off her necklace in one smooth motion.

Natasha turned around to see a strange woman approaching.

Julia slapped her palm with the framer charm up against Natasha’s chest, right on her collarbone, and mentally activated the device. A digital horizontal line moved up, crossing Natasha’s neck and face to the top of her head.

“What . . . what is this? What’s going on?”

Julia pulled the charm off the other woman’s chest and stepped back.

Biff’s mouth dropped open.

Lights began flashing red again and a klaxon sounded.

StarCen said, “Andi Jones, known terrorist and suspected Tetrarch assassin! Apprehend with prejudice!”

The guardbots shifted aim once more, back toward Natasha.

Julia waved at Dillon. She said, “Get over here!”

He ran for the wall and out of the way of the bots’ blasters.

Natasha’s face, now looking like Andi’s, turned red in rage at all the guns aimed at her.

“What’s going on? My name is—”

“Shoot her!”

When the bots heard Biff, a registered police officer, shout this order they obeyed.

A torrent of green bolts slammed into Natasha’s chest, throwing her back.

Julia ran for the body, now behind the blasterproof desk and out of sight from the bots. She quickly searched around, feeling in pockets and loose spots on the clothes. Finally she checked behind the dead woman’s belt. There, tucked carefully behind the buckle, she found the small flat computer.

Julia grabbed it and nodded at Biff. He nodded back and stood, hands up, and walked slowly toward the police presence. The other officers gathered by the bots now, their own guns aimed toward the kiosk.

Biff said, “Hi guys. Officer Biffender Jones, badge number . . .”

“Oh, hey Biff!”

He recognized two or three of the other officers. Everyone lowered their weapons when they realized he was one of their own.

One of the women said, “What are you doing here?”

“Well, it’s a long story. You all know I took some time off to go searching for my wife . . .”

Overhead lights stopped flashing red, and the tension eased. People stood and crawled out from their hiding places.

Julia looked at Dillon and said, “Come on. We’ve got to get you out of here.”

She hurried back toward the stairwell entrance. Dillon followed.

The door had been jammed open, and she pulled on it to make the crack wider. Dillon helped her, and they slipped through then ran up the stairs.

“Why are we going up?” Dillon said, panting.

“Trust me.”

They reached the hall, nearly identical to the one below, and she headed for a nearby disembarkation room. When they came inside, she approached a cylinder sitting end-up on the floor.

“Hello? Hello? Can you guys see me?”

Julia waved the pocket computer in front of the sensor.

“What’s that thing?” Dillon said.

“That is your ticket out of here.”

Out in the hall they heard voices.

“Ma’am? Sir? You’re not supposed to be up here . . .”

Julia said, “Look, I’ll go stall them. You take this,” she gave Dillon the pocket computer, “and get up to the spaceship. You’ll be safe there.”

She turned and looked at the cylinder on the floor. She said, “Take him with you, okay? Port him up too. He needs to leave.”

She stepped back and watched.

Dillon stood, awkwardly holding the pocket computer.

“Uh, I’m not going anywhere?”

Out in the hall voices grew closer.

Someone said, “Search every room and find them!”

Julia said, “They’re probably busy. Stay with the cylinder. They will take you up as soon as they can. Do not lose that pocket computer. I’ll go stall them out there.”

Julia ran out to the corridor leaving Dillon to stare down at the cylinder.

She said, “Oh thank God you’re here! There’s a gunfight downstairs! I ran up here to get away.”

An officer saw her, and relaxed, though he kept his hand on the butt of his gun.

He said, “It’s okay ma’am, the shooter has been neutralized. I’m afraid you and your friend are not authorized to be up here, however.”

“Friend? Oh somebody must have run up here with me. I came alone . . .”

“Yes, ma’am. We’re going to need to search this room, nonetheless.”

“Oh, but . . .”

The officer ignored her further attempts at stalling and opened the disembarkation zone.

“Hm. Nobody here. We’re still going to have to search this entire level.”

“I understand, Officer. I am so sorry I panicked and ran this way. I was so scared with all the shooting going on.”

“Perfectly alright, ma’am. One of our bots will escort you back downstairs.”

The door swished shut.

Dillon, perched on the contamination unit mounted on top of the door breathed a silent sigh of relief.

He pulled the cylinder out of his pocket and looked at its featureless gleaming metal.

“Any day now,” he said. “If they reactivate StarCen on this floor, I’m screwed.”

Condor Rising 23

Screams came like a wave down the spaceport corridor, and riding the wave was a lone gunman dressed in SSI armor, holding his blaster pointed up at the ceiling.

As he raced toward the Sanfords and Natasha, everyone who saw him yelled and dove for cover. He continued running, ignoring the mass chaos the sight of his gun and armor brought.

Behind her, Natasha heard the heavy thunking footsteps of a guardbot, who pulled out its own blaster.

The bot said, “Halt!”

Donald Sanford pulled her by the arm toward a row of lounge chairs that offered cover. Already several people crouched there.

“Come on. That’s one of the models from our company. It’s designed to handle situations like this.”

Thoop!

The guard bot shot the running man in the center, knocking him down.

From the floor, Dillon aimed carefully at the bot’s head.

Thoop! Thoop! Thoopah!

One of the bolts struck the neck area, fritzing its head out. The bot collapsed.

Natasha snorted in disgust. Donald Sanford’s eyes grew wide.

He said, “I’ve . . . I’ve never seen one under fire before. I didn’t know . . .”

Dillon stood and looked around, the visor covering his face. He locked eyes with Natasha. She jumped from the chairs and ran for the fallen bot.

Thoop! Thoop!

She zigged, then zagged, avoiding the shots, reaching down for the blaster. She grabbed it and tumbled forward, coming up in a shooting stance.

Thoop! Thoop! Thoop!

A green bolt deflected off Dillon’s armored shoulder. Another bolt sailed past him and struck down a running passenger farther down the corridor. The man yelled as he fell to the floor. Donald and Tina Sanford stared at her in shock.

Dillon kept trying to get a clear shot, but Natasha kept firing as she moved back to the inner wall, near the lounge chairs.

Dillon angled over to cover, too, trading blasts all the way. Natasha started aiming for his head.

They paused a moment, both hidden from the other’s line of sight.

Dillon heard a commotion behind him and he glanced over his shoulder at a phalanx of police and guardbots advancing down the corridor, guns aimed at him.

He carefully placed the gun down on the desk he crouched behind and turned to face them. His voice came out amplified from the helmet.

“Officers! This way! Tom Bolton, SSI. I need your assistance in apprehending this fugitive!”

Everyone in the group hesitated, quickly trying to determine if he was a threat or not.

The officer in charge said, “StarCen, identify this man.”

“I am sorry, Officer Ricardo. I cannot.”

Ricardo’s face fell. “He must be SSI, boys and girls. Lower your weapons.”

The bots and officers all pointed their blasters down.

Dillon said, “Everyone stay where you are or seek cover. The fugitive is armed and dangerous!”

Worried expressions crossed the human faces. Ricardo made a motion with his head toward the passenger seating area.

“Come on, people. That’s what the bots are for. Guardbots, advance and assist SSI in apprehending the fugitive.”

The officers moved to cover while the bots nodded, their round red eyes and metallic faces expressionless. They continued down the corridor to Dillon’s position.

Behind a row of chairs, Natasha bit back a curse. How did this happen? Who was that? I’m SSI, she thought.

Tina Sanford grabbed her arm desperately.

She said, “What’s going on? Who is that man, Natasha? Why is he shooting at you? Where did you learn to shoot? Make them stop! Donald, tell the police who you are and make this stop!”

“Shut up, bitch.”

Tina gaped at her in shock.

Natasha put the Sanfords out of her mind. The only thing they might be good for now would be to serve as hostages. First, she had to figure out how to get around the dozen or so bots and that lunatic wearing armor.

-+-

In a flash, the ship disappeared. LuteNet ported the Ultima Mule 150 million kilometers away, to another empty point in the solar system.

A few seconds passed in nervous silence.

Jillian looked at Raleigh and said, “Do you think they’ll find us again?”

As if in answer an anti-teleportation grid appeared around them and activated.

Phoom!

The warships popped into existence again and shot at their aft.

ThupThupThupThup!

LuteNet ported them away again.

“No fair using our techniques against us!” Granny said, frowning.

Maxwell smiled and said, “Good thing our Wu Drives are shielded now, or that would have worked.”

“I suspect every warship’s Wu Drives are shielded now,” Raleigh said. “But they had to at least try it on us, on the off chance we were notshielded.”

The League vessels appeared again.

ThupThupThupThupThupThup!

The Mule winked away from the threat once more.

“StarCen’s on the lookout for us!” Granny said.

“That is correct, Quartermaster Wilcox. Presently she has 28 ships in this system. Twenty are spread out to give her wider coverage, just as I feared. Four are still in orbit around Juventas, while these four are out hunting us.”

The four warships appeared again, and immediately fired into the Mule’s rear.

ThupThupThup!

They popped away again.

“We can’t keep this up, Lootie,” Raleigh said. “How many more hits like that can we take?”

“Not many, Captain, before our shields begin to falter.”

“Then think up a solution. Find someplace nearby the League ships can’t find us!”

The four warships appeared again, aiming at the standard drives behind the ship.

ThupThupThupThup!

The Mule popped away. Then LuteNet ported her three more times.

“Where’d you bring us, Lootie?”

“We are now four AU’s away from Juventas, and outside the reach of their surveillance grid.”

“Okay. Can you still use your sensor?”

“No. I am sorry, Captain, but with a miniature sensor the ship must be within at least one AU in order to gain readings.”

Raleigh turned to the others on the bridge.

He said, “Well, this doesn’t help anything.”

“How can we do anything for them if we can’t see what’s going on?” Jillian said.

Granny said, “We can’t.”

Condor Rising 22

On the second floor of the Yorkton spaceport terminal, in a deserted embarkation/disembarkation zone, a remote AI scanner the size and shape of a soup can popped into existence half a meter in the air and dropped to the floor.

It landed on a flat edge, and thus did not roll away. It silently collected data for a moment and sent it back to LuteNet via the Ultima Mule, gathering information about the current planetary motion of Juventas and other pertinent details she needed.

A few seconds passed, then Officer Biffender Jones and Julia Thrall appeared, five centimeters above the floor.

Their feet hit the surface simultaneously. They had bent their knees before departing, in expectation of the short drop. Julia waved her arms in circles to maintain balance.

Biff smiled at her as they both straightened. He said, “Beats having the bottom of your foot materialize in the tile.”

Julia smiled back. She wore her Catarina Mulligan face, having changed it just before porting. She still wore her framer, disguised as a charm on a necklace around her neck. She no longer needed to wear it once the change was made, but having it around her neck helped her keep track of it while traveling.

She said, “Let’s go find the target.”

The door opened for them as they walked out into a spacious but deserted corridor.

“This is the second floor,” Biff said. “All Republican ship boarding and departures used to occur up here, before the war. Needless to say, it’s been locked up for the last three years.”

He pointed the way to a stairwell, the doorway clearly marked against a far wall. As they approached, they realized the palm panel at the door glowed red.

Biff put his hand on the panel and said, “Officer Jones, Biffender. SSPF badge number 3-4-9-2. Requesting access.”

The panel turned green and the door slid open.

Biff waved Julia through, then followed. They quickly went down the stairwell and walked out into another corridor, identical to the one above. But this one had people walking about. Nobody looked at them too closely, hurrying to departure zones or the building’s exit.

“How are we going to find her?” Julia said.

“I’m a cop, remember? StarCen, I need to locate Natasha Krizinksi.”

StarCen said, “Natasha Krizinksi is in the spaceport, Officer Jones. She is to your right, about 200 meters away in the main corridor.”

Biff and Julia turned and broke into a jog, passing startled passengers along the way.

-+-

Raleigh, Jillian, Skylar, Granny, and Maxwell watched the holoscreen on the bridge of the Ultima Mule as Julia and Biff walked out of the disembarkation room.

“Are you still able to track them, Lootie?”

LuteNet’s voice came from the ceiling. She said, “Yes, Captain. As long as they stay in or near the spaceport, I can tell what is going on with this sensor.”

“Any chance StarCen will pick up on your sensor?”

“I do not think so, Captain. However, there is a risk the Ultima Mule will be detected. Ever since our last venture into a League solar system, and bearing in mind that we are considerably closer to a populated planet this time, there is an estimated 50 percent chance we will be noticed.”

Everyone shifted uneasily. Right now, the Mule was parked in a wide open empty spot, less than one astronomical unit away from Juventas. Ordinarily, such a long distance terrestrial port of humans would be discouraged by the AIs, but LuteNet felt confident if she had a sensor in the desired location she could get Biff and Julia within a safe margin. The math was certainly more complex, with a large planetary body in motion and their ship not parked in its orbit, but with a sensor she felt confident in the chances of success. So, Biff and Julia placed their trust in LuteNet.

They had said their goodbyes moments earlier. Jillian and Julia shed a few tears. Raleigh took Biff aside and gave him some more credit tokens.

He said, “These are worth 10,000 each, so that’s 100,000 credits. You might need it.”

“I can’t take this, Captain.”

“It’s not charity. It’s to help in the mission. Get that pocket computer back to us. And if you do, you can consider it your share of our payout. You and Julia’s.”

Biff said, “I feel kinda funny helping the enemy like this. But Andi . . . Julia . . . has convinced me. I mean, if Tetrarch Thrall’s own daughters are opposed to the League, and if half of what she told me is true about what we’re doing to our own people . . . I guess I’m on the Republican side of this mess.”

Raleigh shook his hand, then Biff and Julia walked inside to prepare for the long distance port while everybody else moved up to the bridge.

Now, they watched the empty room through the scanner.

“I should be down there with them,” Skylar said.

Jillian said, “Me too.”

“Neither one of you gals would last very long,” Granny said. “StarCen would see you and treat you like a chicken snake in the henhouse. But those two belong down there, even with Ms. Thrall in disguise.”

The women nodded, reluctantly.

Jillian said, “I know. But I feel so helpless stuck up here while they do all the dangerous work.”

The holoscreen switched views suddenly to the ship’s exterior. Four Eagle-class destroyers materialized behind them, forward guns aiming at their aft.

LuteNet said, “Captain, we have been discovered.”

All four ships opened fire at once.

ThupThupThupThup!

Condor Rising 21

Natasha stepped out of the disembarkation zone carrying her only bag. She waited patiently for the Sanfords to come out, having decided to remain in character, or undercover, until after everyone had parted their separate ways.

Nonetheless, she scanned the open airy corridor with nervous expectation. The information kiosk was a good quarter kilometer walk from here, if the holosigns were correct.

Donald and Tina walked out and everyone smiled.

Natasha said, “Thank you both so much for letting me come along. I can’t begin to express how grateful I am.”

“Think nothing of it, dear!” Tina said.

Donald nodded in agreement. He said, “You’re welcome on our ships any time. Just ask the Captain and mention our name. He’ll check with corporate HQ and let you onboard.”

“Aww, that’s so sweet. Thanks again.”

That actually might be very useful someday, Natasha thought to herself.

Together, the three of them joined the stream of humanity moving down the corridor.

“So, are you going to stick around here on Juventas?” Tina said.

“No, I’m catching the first flight I can to Epsilon. Hopefully one is leaving within the hour. Or, a few hours at latest.”

Donald said, “Well, since Juventas is a capital planet, I don’t think you’ll—”

Thoop! Thoop!

“Was that blaster fire?”

In the distance they heard screaming. The lights changed from bright white to flashing red and an alarm sounded.

Wahhhh! Wahhhh! Wahhhh!

StarCen’s high-pitched voice came out of the air above them.

“There is a gunman at the spaceport entrance. Gunman at the spaceport entrance.”

-+-

Dillon bounded up the steps of the old subway and stopped to catch his breath. He found an old bag in one of the tunnels, and stored the other blasters there. The stolen armor he wore was relatively light, but nonetheless added a layer of bulkiness that hindered movement.

The visor was cracked, and any enhanced optics or augmented reality it might have offered the original owner was broken. Dillon hoped it would still block StarCen’s face and iris scanners.

He glanced over at the distant spaceport building, a sprawling complex with no skyscrapers nearby. The entrance was about five kilometers away.

Dillon sighed and said, “Well, gotta get going. I wonder if I could get on a bus in this outfit? Nah, that’s not safe.”

He began jogging, passing intersections and making his way down the street. Soon the neighborhood grew nicer. He saw a young man exit a flat and jump onto a skyboard, a flat platform with handlebars designed to float above sidewalks and streets.

The young man palmed the power panel and the machine fired up, its bottom side glowing. It immediately rose half a meter up in the air.

On impulse, Dillon diverted course. He kept running. When he came closer and just before the young man entered the stream of traffic, Dillon shoved him off the board.

“Hey!”

“Stand back, citizen! Official business!”

The young man looked up in alarm at the armored figure taking over his skyboard. Dillon jumped on and it sank in the air a few centimeters. He gunned the throttle and zipped out into traffic.

“I did not say ‘Police business.’ That’s a crime, impersonating an officer.”

A horn honked angrily as he cut off a terrestrial cabbie at the next intersection. Dillon waved at the driver as he sped by, ignoring the man’s rude gestures.

“Of course, killing police officers is an even bigger crime . . .”

He sped down the street as fast as the skyboard would go, zipping around cars and over pedestrians, flying ever nearer to the spaceport.

“But I’ve never actually killed a cop, you know. SSI agents, you bet. Coppers, nope.”

He ran through a light at the next intersection just as a giant truck trundled through. He pulled the handlebar up and pressed down with his feet, twisting to one side so the skyboard turned sideways. He slipped under the truck, righted the board, and kept going.

“Almost clipped my head on that one. No, wait . . . almost lost my head on that one. That’s better. Hey, I was headedthat way when . . . no, no. Aw, forget it.”

The entrance to the spaceport loomed ahead now. He could see the main gate, manned by guardbots. A line of people waited outside to go through security scanners before entering the largest building.

Dillon pushed down on the handlebar and brought the skyboard to its maximum height of three meters. He sailed over the heads of everybody in line. The guardbots below followed his progress, their necks craning up.

“Official business!” he yelled down. “Coming through!”

“Halt!”

He ignored them and arced the board back down to its usual half-meter height as he raced toward the huge double doors leading inside.

The guardbots drew their weapons and fired.

Thoop! Thoop!

The blasts hit him square in the back and he lost control of the skyboard just as the double doors opened. He tumbled to the ground while the board spun out of control, spinning through the doors and crashing in the spaceport. Somewhere inside, a woman screamed.

Dillon sat up, facing the way he came.

“I’m okay! I can’t believe it. Say, this armor is really good!”

Thoop! Thoop!

Two more bolts hit him in the chest, knocking him back down.

He pulled out a blaster, sat up again and fired back at the bots. They hit him three more times, but the armor deflected the blasts. He aimed carefully and shot at their heads, knocking them down. Now people everywhere, inside and outside the spaceport, screamed and dove for cover. Dillon got back on his feet, turned and ran inside.

He found a line at the information kiosk, Everyone turned around and stared at him wide-eyed, with his armor and cracked visor. He adjusted the bag carrying the other blasters on his back and pointed the gun in his hand up at the ceiling.

“Everybody move!”

Thoop!

He squeezed off a shot into the air. The crowd scattered in panic.

He walked up to the droid behind the booth and said, “Where is Natasha Krizinksi?”

Condor Rising 20

“I’m only 18. I wonder if I’ll live to see 19?”

Dillon muttered this softly to himself as he opened the door carefully, stuck his head out and peeked down the service corridor.

Behind him, members of the ELO Tribunal wordlessly filed out a back door on the other side of the room. Dillon suspected there were multiple secret passageways throughout this large underground complex. They would likely get away without any difficulties. Monitors were practically nonexistent down here, and bioscanners on combat suits did not work well through all the ground, metal, and concrete.

The old man called Elephant stopped on his way out and looked across the room at him. Dillon glanced back at him and decided he looked like an actor from those ancient movies he liked to watch. An old and wise black man, with years of experience and a calm voice. Such actors were very popular at one time, and despite Hollywood’s obsession with youth and beauty, the wise old man was a common motif in many movies.

Elephant nodded at him and imparted his wisdom. He said, “Make it to the spaceport.”

“Well, I guess that passes for wisdom.”

The old man blinked, unsure what Dillon meant. He shrugged and took out a blaster from inside his coat. He gently tossed it toward Dillon.

Dillon caught it and nodded back. “First, I’ll give y’all a distraction,” he said.

Elephant nodded with a twinkle in his eye and said, “Okay. But don’t be late for Angel.”

Then he was gone, following the others.

Dillon peeked out the door again.

Thoop!

He heard a scream, and one of the guards disguised as a bum fell backward at the intersection, smoke rising from his chest.

A group of five armed men wearing blaster armor rounded the corner and headed down the corridor. They spotted Dillon’s head sticking out the doorway.

“Halt!”

Dillon pulled the blaster up and squeezed off several shots.

Thoop! Thoop! Thoopah! Thoop!

They spread out and fired back, peppering the corridor with green streaks of energy.

Thoop!Thoop!Thoop!Thoop!Thoop!

Dillon ducked back inside the room.

“Forget 19,” he said to himself. “Twenty would be nice. I mean, that’s two decades, right? Please, God. Let me live at least two decades. That’s all I ask. It’s not much, is it? I mean, the war will be over by then, right? I hope so, God. Make that happen, will ya? In two years, not decades. Well, you know what I mean. I mean, you’re God, right?”

When Dillon looked out the doorway again, he ducked low so his head would not be in the same place. The armored men had advanced several meters. They were now halfway down the corridor.

“Thank you Naval supply depot,” Dillon said, reaching into a pocket and taking out one of the last few mini-claymore mines the Resistance had captured some time back.

Dillon had not been in on that raid, but he was a proud recipient of the loot. Somebody else in Yorkton had fashioned plungers with five-second timers for them so they could serve as makeshift grenades.

He squeezed the plunger, reached his arm out the door and tossed it toward the men.

Thoop! Thoop!

They shot at his arm, and missed fortunately.

“Look out!”

KABLOOM!

As soon as the mini claymore went off, Dillon jumped out the door shooting. Three bodies were down, one man was on his knees holding his head and another stood dazed in the back.

Thoop! Thoop! Thoop!

He shot the two on their feet first. The blasts knocked them back, but the armor protected them somewhat.

Thoop! Thoop! Thoop! Thoop! Thoopah! Thoop!

He advanced quickly, shooting again and again, aiming for their heads. He found his marks as he came closer to the bodies.

Thoop! Thoop! Thoop! Thoop! Thoop!

Click!

Dillon looked down at the blaster, then back at the bodies.

“Well, I hope you guys are dead, because I am out.”

Nobody responded. Smoke rose from the bodies, especially the helmets and cracked visors. Blood pooled in the dim light on the floor, slickening the concrete around the bodies.

Dillon tucked the empty blaster into the back of his belt and bent down at the closest body.

“Can I borrow this? SSI standard issue, am I right?”

He carefully tucked the agent’s gun into the front of his belt.

“You don’t have any . . . I don’t know . . . egg grenades or anything useful like that? Don’t lie to me, I’ll kill ya. Oh, right. Never mind.”

A quick scan of the front of the body showed nothing.

“Shucks. Well, five more guns are good. They call me ‘Gun Bane.’ No, that doesn’t sound right. ‘Troll Bane’ sounds cool, but you guys aren’t really trolls. ‘SSI Bane? No.”

Quickly, he picked up the rest of the guns, and made his way toward the subway entrance. He would have to hurry to make it to the spaceport.

“How am I going to get into the spaceport with weapons?”

He stopped and looked back at the armor-clad bodies.

Minutes later, dressed in stolen armor and a cracked visor, Dillon kept muttering to himself as he ran down the corridors.

“Agent Bane? Bad Guy Bane? Terror of SSI? . . . Guess I’ll stick with ‘Shark.’”

Condor Rising 19

Dillon ducked into an abandoned subway entrance in Yorkton’s impoverished East Side district. The monitors on the street were all disabled, and permanently so. If the CCPF bothered repairing one, it was taken out again with the hour. The Resistance made sure of that.

In fact, Dillon felt very safe walking around East Side without a visor or other means of biomarker obfuscation. StarCen no doubt knew he was in the general area, but he doubted she could pinpoint his location with any accuracy.

“So close,” he muttered to himself as walked down the wide empty stairwell. “So close, and yet so far. I coulda been more famous than Lion. I coulda been a contender!”

Lion was the code name for a famous leader of the Resistance who came up with a plan to remove Vice Admiral Kennedy. That it worked was a testament to the plan’s brilliant simplicity. All it had cost was considerable torture and, of course, Lion’s own life.

Someday, if they were successful, schools, parks and streets would be named after Lion. Whatever his real name was. Dillon had no idea.

“Wonder if I’ll live long enough to ever find out?”

He palmed an artfully disguised pad to the right of the barricade blocking the entrance into the subway. The hidden doorway opened, leading to a separate tunnel angling down.

Dillon decided to stop talking to himself as he headed down the passageway. StarCen may have little to no presence down here, but other people would be monitoring his progress and listening in on anything he had to say. He approached a guard, disguised a bum lying in a pile of trash. The man nodded at him in recognition and let him pass.

Dillon had a long way to go, at least half a kilometer through twisting tunnels, down subterranean flights of stairs, jumping across old maglev lines. It felt longer, with all the twists and turns. Dillon had never measured it, but the confined nature of the trip made it feel longer than half a kilometer.

At last he stood before a non-descript doorway in a service tunnel off the abandoned subway line. The door was old-fashioned. It had hinges and actually swung inward. He knocked three times and he heard the deadbolt slide back.

Opening the door, he entered the small room and faced the ELO Tribunal: two men and a woman all seated at a table and facing him. He did not know their real names. He was fairly certain they did not know his, either.

“Hello, Shark.”

This came from the woman, an older lady who looked like she could be someone’s grandmother. She was of North European stock. She was known as Owl. The two men to either side of her nodded at him, too. One was black, and old like the woman. He was called Elephant. The other man was the youngest. He looked to be of Hispanic ancestry and in his mid-30s. This was Lynx. Together these three formed the ELO Tribunal: Elephant, Lynx, Owl.

“Nice job,” Lynx said.

Dillon shrugged. His disappointment came through in his tone of voice.

He said, “One second. If I had fired one second earlier I would have taken out Cooper.”

Owl, the old woman, smiled. She said, “You scared him. That’s good. Even more important, you dealt another blow against SSI. I doubt Admiral Cooper will allow them to continue their guard detail on his chalet. We think he’s beginning to consider them somewhat . . . incompetent. You’ve helped to further damage their reputation with him.”

“And,” the elderly man, Elephant, said, “you took out five SSI agents, secured four more blasters and destroyed one of their gunships. Good job, Shark.”

The other two nodded in agreement, offering silent praise.

Dillon crossed his arms and looked down at his feet. He said, “I just wish I could have gotten Cooper. I mean, I want to be . . .”

He stopped himself. He was about to say the word famous, but that would not have been an appropriate sentiment to express to the ELO Tribunal, the three people in charge of the Resistance on Juventas.

“ . . . I just want to be effective. Angel took out Tetrarch Lopez. Lion took out Admiral Kennedy andSSI Director Fleming. I had a shot at Admiral Cooper and missed.”

“Well, if you’re worried about making a name for yourself,” Lynx said, “you’ve already done it. Don’t let ambition set you up for a fall. You’ve been trained well, and we admire what you’ve done. You didn’t get greedy after you took down that gunship. A lesser man might have tried to scavenge something off that wreck . . . and been shot down when help arrived moments later. Instead, you grabbed the guns you could and left, adding precious weapons to our arsenal and saving yourself in the process.

“Honestly, it would have been great to have taken out Admiral Cooper, but your one man operation went about as good as it possibly could, all things considered.”

The other two nodded, agreeing with their youngest member.

“Speaking of Angel,” Owl said, “We have received word that she will resurface soon.”

Dillon glanced up, his self-flagellation momentarily forgotten. He had several questions he wanted to ask. Where did she go? How do they know? What would she do now?

Instead he said, “How does that pertain to me?”

Owl said, “We think she’s going to need your help.”

She made a motion in the air above the table and a hologram of a beautiful young woman appeared, with evidence of Asian ancestry.

“This is Natasha Krizinksi. That’s not her real name, of course, but it’s the one she uses most often while in League-controlled systems. Our sources with the Republic tell us she is scheduled to arrive today at the spaceport on a private ship called the Osprey. She is carrying a pocket computer with vital intelligence League spies have uncovered about a new ship the Republic has developed.”

Elephant cleared his throat and leaned forward in his seat. He said, “Your next assignment is to assist Angel in recovering the pocket computer SSI Agent Krizinksi is carrying. You should get over to the spaceport right away and keep an eye out. Krizinski will be arriving today in the embarkation zone reserved for private vessels.”

Ordinarily, Dillon would be inclined to deflate with news of the assignment. It seemed pedestrian and mundane, especially in light of his recent near miss against the Admiral. But, Angel’s potential reappearance cast the assignment in a different light.

He said, “So, this is important.”

All three members of the ELO Tribunal nodded. Owl said, “Very important. Take all due considerations in showing up at the spaceport in time. Keep an eye out for this SSI agent. And remember, Natasha is extremely dangerous.”

“One of their best,” Elephant said, nodding somberly.

Lynx jumped in. He said, “She’s a highly skilled assassin. Trained in practically everything SSI has to offer. She’s one of their top field agents, unfortunately.”

“Okay,” Dillon said, looking back at the three. “I’ll head to the spaceport right now.”

Outside the doorway, muffled shouts filtered through.

“Stop!”

Thoop! Thoopah!

Condor Rising 18

“We want to try and rouse as little suspicion as possible,” Anthony Kim said to the people standing before him in the Mule’s disembarkation room. “So that means we want to send you two down to the surface in one jump, without spacesuits. That also means we want to drop you off in an appropriate room in the spaceport. Preferably one that’s deserted.”

Biff and Julia nodded, taking in his words. They stood in a small group with Raleigh, Jillian, Granny, and Skylar.

“You’ll probably want the D wing, then,” Biff said. “That’s actually on the second floor. It was reserved for Republican ships before the war. It’s not used much these days.”

Granny said, “But to get them there in one jump, Kimbo, we’ll have to get in closer.”

“That’s right,” Kim said, ignoring her nickname for him. “We can’t do a double jump on people without them wearing spacesuits. And showing up in a spaceport wearing spacesuits will look very suspicious. So, we send them in and we pull them out in one jump.”

“We’re both staying,” Biff said, looking at Julia. She nodded in agreement.

“How long are we thinking it will take for you to find and retrieve that device?” Skylar said. “The longer we have to linger in that solar system, the greater risk of detection, right Tony?”

Kim nodded. “It’s certainly possible there’s more sensor coverage on planetary bodies like asteroids and moons in this system. Plus if they disperse the fleet, or what’s left of the fleet, after we show up, they’ll increase what StarCen can see. They’ll provide her with more eyes in the sky, so to speak.”

“Not my idea of our best plan ever, Kimbo,” Granny said.

Raleigh smiled at her.

“So you’ve said, repeatedly, Granny.” Raleigh turned back to Kim and said, “How close do we think we’ll be arriving after the Thespar vessel?”

“Lootie is a little hazy since she doesn’t know much about the Osprey, but she’s been stretching out our jumps as much as possible. We might get close. If we’re lucky, within half an hour or so.”

Raleigh grimaced. He said, “I wish it were sooner.”

“We’ll find her,” Biff said. “StarCen will help, actually. Worse case, I can put out an APB.”

Raleigh said, “Well, I hope you don’t get in trouble with your department showing back up unexpectedly like this.”

“They’re not paying any attention,” Biff said. “I don’t expect any trouble, in that regard.”

“Alright,” Raleigh said. “Let’s meet back here within half an hour of arrival and we’ll go over the final plans.”

As the group dispersed, Jillian stayed with Julia. Biff seemed to want Julia for himself, if his body language was an accurate indicator, but Jillian ignored his signals. After a while he gave up and left them alone. The two sisters walked down the corridor alone.

Jillian said, “I just really hate the idea of you going back to Juventas, Julia. When am I going to see you again?”

“Don’t worry about me,” Julia said. “I’ve got some programming tricks up my sleeve with StarCen. You’re the one to worry about if anyone is going to worry. I’m not sure ‘pirate’ is what you’d call a safe occupation.”

Jillian smiled. She said, “With Chris and the Mule and all the crew, I feel like I’m finally doing something with my life, you know? I know you arranged for me to take the holo to a contact, and that spy stuff was thrilling. But I’m not sure I’m made out to be a spy. Not like you are, anyway.”

“Well, to be effective as a spy, there’s a lot of prep work and months and months of boring stuff before anything exciting happens.”

“Like getting married?”

They both laughed. Julia said, “Biff has his uses. Since he’s a cop, I had access to everything he knew. That proved very useful when push came to shove. He’s useful in other ways, too. You know, I enjoyed married life for those brief months we shared a flat in Yorkton.”

“Do you love him?”

“Yes. Absolutely.”

“But you left him.”

“This war . . . stopping it . . . stopping Dad . . . that’s bigger and more important than anything else, Jillian. It’s more important than a marriage to somebody Biff thought was somebody else. It’s bigger than my love for him.”

She stopped walking and stared into Jillian’s eyes.

Julia said “Does that make sense?”

“Yes. But you still love him, right?”

“Yes.”

“And does he love you, even though he now knows that you are not Andi Jones but in fact the Tetrarch’s daughter and part of one of the most powerful families in the galaxy?”

“Yes. I think so. I mean, he certainly acts like it. We’ve done a lot of talking the last few weeks, and he seems like he’s come to grips with it. I mean . . . there are times he wants me to wear my old face, you know? But I think he understands that no matter what I look like on the outside, I’m still the same person on the inside. The face he fell in love with belongs in our past. But he seems to be in love with me now . . . the same person, only with a different face.”

“Hm. I can see how that’d be hard on him. Guys are so focused on looks, you know?”

“I know. But underneath all those muscles, Biff has a heart of gold. And I do believe he loves me. The real me, not the face of Andi Jones.”

“Nice pseudonym, by the way, invoking Mom that way.”

“I know, right? I miss her. I thought I was honoring her by taking her name.”

“Let’s just hope nobody puts two and two together.”

Julia shook her head. “They won’t. Not as long as the alterations made to StarCen’s core hold up.”

“You’re confident in what those programmers did?”

Julia smiled, grimly. She said, “Yes, I’m very confident. I’m staking my life on it.”

Condor Rising 17

At long last, the Sixth Fleet ships had been sent off to join Kwan’s forces in Operation Golden Return. Personally, Admiral Cooper thought the whole thing should not have been named Operation Golden Return, because that was the underlying motivation of going back to Gotha Mu in the first place. StarCen should have tried to obfuscate the ultimate purpose, somehow. This name advertised their reasoning to the whole galaxy.

War was expensive. Besides the personnel, there were more ships to build and repair, more robots and androids and high tech resources needed, operations to fund, support people to find and feed, and the list went on and on and on.

Who knew that a minor colony like Seychar would have a dwarf planet loaded with gold ore? The fact that the Republic won the day at the start of this conflict had rankled Tetrarch Thrall. This Cooper knew beyond doubt. It was not just that they won, they won by the hair of their teeth. The fact the Republic had a single, solitary ship left when the dust settled was salt in the old man’s wounds.

Now the League would be returning in force with over 90 ships to claim the prize. Even after three years of mining, spies confirmed there was a veritable fortune in gold ore left on Gotha Mu. Entire square kilometers of rock with large streaks of gold were all over and under the surface.

The League was coming back, and claiming it all. Tetrarch Thrall would be reasserting the League’s dominance in the galaxy. And then . . .

And then they would make their final thrusts toward Diego and hopefully end this war once and for all.

Cooper had no idea how the defeated Republic would be brought to heel, from a governance standpoint. Perhaps the Tetrarchs would divide their territory, and form new tetrarchies or fold them into the existing ones. Perhaps the Republic would become a series of colonies under League control.

He pondered which scenario would be the easiest under existing power structures, and which one would be more preferable in the long term.

Ah well, he thought. Plenty of time to decide power structures later.

He stood and stretched, working the kinks out of his body. He glanced at the clock in his mind’s eye and realized he had been at the office over 14 hours. Again.

He walked around the desk into the open part of his office and said, “Port me home, StarCen.”

He popped into existence in the courtyard of his mountain chalet, several kilometers outside the city. One of the maids had evidently been keeping an eye out for him. She ran forward to greet him, all smiles.

Cooper smiled back. This young woman was rather attractive, he thought, dressed in a traditional black and white outfit. But he wondered how much in salary and food the human staff cost his office. He had surrounded himself with Naval staff, but at this chalet if he dismissed the civilians they would have nothing. So, reluctantly, he reversed his earlier decision and let them stay in place. They certainly seemed grateful. This young maid, for instance, seemed very eager to please.

In all his time with war preparations, he had not yet focused much on the civilian side of governing. He would have to get serious about it, and go in depth on the budget for the entire quadrant. How were the finances on Juventas and the other three planets? He had no idea, but he resolved to find out.

Together, he and the maid walked back toward the entrance of the chalet. They heard a whistling sound coming from high above. Both looked up and over their shoulders.

The blood drained from Cooper’s face as he recognized the sound of an incoming shell.

“Run!”

He pushed the maid roughly forward and they both rushed for the door. It swished open and they scambled inside just as a mortar exploded in the courtyard.

KABLOOSH!

Cooper found himself lying on the floor, the maid tangled up with him. They held on to one another tightly and he could hear her heart pounding. Or was that his?

He stood and reached down to help her up. Staff from elsewhere in the chalet came running.

The butler ran up with a worried look.

“What happened? Admiral, are you alright?”

“We’re fine. Terrorists happened. Somebody lobbed a shell just as I ported in. StarCen, identify those responsible. Give us a location and send a strike team out.”

“Affirmative, Tetrarch Cooper. A lone individual is one mountaintop over. An SSI team is on its way.”

“Good,” Cooper muttered.

SSI was in charge of security for the chalet, a holdover from Lopez like the human staff. That, he decided, would have to change. He would order a Marine detail to take over security in the morning.

-+-

Eighteen-year-old Dillon Dvorak pulled his electronic scope down and frowned. He had misjudged the mortar’s timing, evidently. He did not see any bodies lying on the ground, only a crater in the chalet’s courtyard.

Oh well. Maybe he could still score some kills today. He smiled in satisfaction as the gunship took off from the SSI security bunker at the base of the distant mountain. They would be coming for him. He grabbed the portable mortar launcher, threw his scope in a backpack and ran down the trail leading off the mountain.

Brown hair, brown eyes, and a wiry build, Dillon traced his ancestry to the Czech Republic. He stood six feet, or 183 centimeters, and his long legs raced downhill, rapidly gaining distance.

The gunship shot across the valley toward him. He did not have much time.

Thoop! Thoop!

The first green blaster bolts sailed over his head. The gunship was still too far away for accuracy. Dillon ducked and zigged to the left.

“Almost there!”

The crevasse he had picked out ahead of time grew closer. He ran full tilt, ducking as another bolt sailed over him.

Thoop!

He jumped downhill across the last meter to the crevasse, roughly hitting the side of the narrow cleft in the ground. He tumbled down two more meters to the bottom, scuffed but not seriously injured. He looked up and watched more green bolts fly overhead.

Inside the crevasse, he backed up into a shallow alcove near the floor.

“Not quite a cave,” he said to himself, “but good enough!”

The gunship arrived on scene, hovering above the crevasse. Half a meter wide, and two meters deep, it offered no view from above of Dillon hiding in the alcove. The pilot maneuvered over it, tilting down so his front blasters could tear apart any sign of life. But he could not find any on scanners or visually.

The gunship rose vertically and backed away. It settled down on a flat outcrop of rock uphill and five SSI agents jumped out, dressed in black combat fatigues with rifles at the ready.

They spread out and headed down toward the crevasse.

Dillon exited the alcove and set the mortar down on the ground, pointed up at the clear sky at a pre-arranged setting. He stepped back, covered his ears and mentally activated the switch.

Pooom!

A missile shot out, arcing almost straight up. The SSI team members craned their necks to follow the rocket trail . . .

KABLOOM!

The mortar landed in the middle of the team. Bodies flew in all directions.

“Idiots,” Dillon said, hearing their death cries.

He made a couple of mental adjustments over the neural network, recalling where the flat spot of ground was that the gunship was most likely to land. He then quickly sent another mortar up.

Pooom!

The pilot aboard the gunship had an idea this one was aimed at him. He pulled back on the stick and the vessel levitated into the air . . . too late.

KABLOOM!

The gunship spiraled down quickly to the ground and burst apart.

Dillon shimmied up and out of the crevasse, the mortar tucked away once more into his backpack.

He poked his head up at ground level and smiled at the carnage nearby.

“Success! Oh, man, what a success.”

He jogged uphill toward the bodies and quickly grabbed blasters, ignoring everything else. Four looked serviceable, but the fifth gun had been badly damaged in the explosion.

He passed on examining the gunship’s wreckage.

“Don’t get greedy, Dillon.”

He turned and started running downhill again.

“Now for the hard part. Really getting away this time.”

StarCen would be monitoring the area closely now with all the explosions. He needed to put distance between himself and the scene of the crime.

“At least running downhill’s easy.”

Condor Rising 16

“I hope you realize this is suicide,” Granny said.

Gertrude “Granny” Wilcox sat at the conference table in the Captain’s cabin with an unlit cigar clenched in her teeth at a jaunty angle.

“I have to agree with Granny,” Elijah Maxwell, the giant First Officer said. “StarCen is no fool, and you can’t trick her twice the same way. She is going to know something is up with our long-range teleportation technique since it was successfully used on Clarion.”

Raleigh crossed his arms. He looked over at Anthony Kim and Michael Pak, who sat on the same side of the table as Biffender Jones, Julia and Jillian.

“What do you guys think?” he said.

Pak spoke for the two engineers. He said, “Technically, the risks should be about the same. I mean, it shouldn’t matter if it’s a capital planet or not. The solar system is just as vast as before, and they won’t be monitoring every corner of it.”

“That’s gonna be different now, I tell ya,” Granny said. “StarCen has had time to go over what happened at Thrall Manor. She’s going to deduce that the princess here was spirited away by outside teleportation. Since an AI is the only thing capable of terrestrial teleportation, she’ll have figured out that either a Republican or a pirate ship came in to drop people off and pick them up. She’ll be on guard this time.”

Nobody spoke for a moment.

Finally, Raleigh said, “Lootie, what’s your opinion? Do you know anything about what’s going on at Juventas?”

LuteNet’s contralto voice came from the ceiling. She said, “Presently, PLAIR’s sources indicate the Sixth Fleet is stationed at Juventas. However, half of those ships have departed recently. Presently StarCen has only 30 League Navy ships in orbit around Juventas, with 22 destroyers and eight support vessels.”

Everyone’s expressions dropped.

Granny’s cigar drooped. She said, “Suicide. Half a fleet is there waiting for us to show up. We can’t take on two Eagles at the same time, let alone 30 Navy ships at once.”

Raleigh said, “What are the odds we can sneak in and drop off a couple of people at a distance?”

A long pause.

“I do not have enough information to form a qualified risk assessment, Captain. While we were successful the first time, it is entirely possible StarCen may be on the alert now in all League solar systems. Engineer Pak is correct that the space to be covered is large. But, with 30 armed ships at her disposal, StarCen could easily spread them out once she became aware of our presence. That adds a higher level of probability that we will experience interference in the mission.”

“Okay,” Raleigh said. “Say they find us. Can you take counter measures? Port us out of there before things get too hairy?”

“Of course, Captain. Provided they do not have new anti-teleportation measures with which I am unfamiliar, we will be able to port away to safety. The problem will be retrieving the party you send down. While porting, or at too far a distance outside the solar system, I will be unable to bring them back. In order to do so we will need to come close again and stay put for a while, placing the Ultima Mule in greater danger.”

“Alright,” Raleigh said. “That settles it. Lootie can at least get a party in. Whoever goes down will be tasked with recovering that drive. Then it’s up to us to get them back.”

“We’ll go down,” Biff said, looking at Julia.

She nodded and said, “Biff is from there, he needs to get home anyway.”

“Yeah, but you’re not,” Jillian said. “Besides, you’re wanted for murdering the Tetrarch. If SSI doesn’t get you, the Navy will. Or the local cops. No offense, Biff.”

“I’ll return as Catarina Mulligan. StarCen has been programmed to recognize that alias. I think it’ll be okay. Don’t worry, little sister. I’ll be alright.”

Raleigh said, “Lootie, will PLAIR be happy with the destruction of the pocket computer, or does she need it returned intact?”

Over the quantum-matrix, LuteNet and PLAIR conferred with one another, the interaction taking place immediately.

LuteNet said, “Since the device is going to League territory, she would have no way of confirming its destruction. To receive the agreed upon five million credit payment for this mission, she wants it returned intact to an appropriate agent of her choice, or destroyed under my observation.”

“Hm. Well, that complicates matters. The only way it can be destroyed under your observation is onboard this ship.”

Raleigh faced Biff and Julia and said, “We’ve got to stick around in the system until you two are able to send back that computer. Well, nobody ever said making money was easy.”

“That’s exactly opposite of what you told me when you recruited me to join this company,” Granny said. “You said this was the easiest way to make money ever.”

“Did I ever say that?” Raleigh said with a smile. “That doesn’t sound like something I’d say.”

Granny glared at him, the unlit cigar pointing upward at an angle from her clenched teeth.

-+-

The seconds ticked down as the Mule raced toward Juventas. Jillian and Julia spent some moments together, each one sensing they would not be seeing one another for some time after parting ways again.

Jillian suggested they go for a walk to help burn off some nervous energy. The sisters strolled the length of the crew deck, then took the elevator to the flight deck.

“Several people use the flight deck as a jogging trail,” Jillian said, leading Julia in a circle around the fighter drones parked on the tarmac.

They stopped at the portal, and looked out through the forcefield at the stars blinking by. Every second a new set of lights appeared as the ship teleported from point to point.

Jillian said, “I really wish you didn’t have to go back there. Why can’t you let Biff go get the pocket computer and come back with us?”

“I appreciate what you and what everybody on Lute is doing in this conflict. But, I’ve invested a ton of time and effort into working against Dad on the inside of the League. There are things going on and people at work that you know nothing about. I can do a much better job on Juventas than I can on Lute.”

Julia took a deep breath and said, “Juventas has a history of yearning for independence, more so than any of the other capital planets. It’s got a strong resistance movement. I think it’s key to toppling the whole Tetrarchy.”

Jillian took a different approach. She said, “Aren’t you afraid you’ll get caught? I mean, you murdered Tetrarch Lopez. They’re going to be out for your blood.”

Julia shook her head. She said, “I told you, StarCen’s programming gives us certain privileges. She won’t betray me. She can’t. It’s not in her wiring. The only thing that could trip me up is if somebody did a deep dive on the DNA evidence I left behind. And even then, StarCen will obfuscate things if I’m disguised as someone else.”

“How does that work, exactly? I mean, you’ve told me there’ve been some major hacks, but what has StarCen been programmed to do? And who did it?”

Julia smiled sadly. She said, “Little sister, there are some things you are just better off not knowing. I’ll just say that the efforts arrayed against our father are far larger and more widespread than many people know.”

Jillian suspected Julia would not be sharing much else with her. Instead of trying to pry more out of her, she wrapped her arm around her sister’s and together they watched the stars go by in silence.

State of the Tome and Special Offer for May Patrons

I decided to release Pirates of the Milky Way as a web novel in part as an effort to broaden my audience. Today, May 1, I feel confident that effort has been successful. I have almost 20,000 views on Royal Road and 10,000 on ScribbleHub. The story has also generated hundreds more on such sites as SpaceBattles and Sufficient Velocity.

Efforts are ongoing, and I released the latest chapters for Book IV, Halcyon’s Heirs, on Patreon this morning. I have a special offer for new patrons coming in at the Crewmember level or higher in May: a free copy of Ghostsuit: An Empathic Detective Novel on Amazon.

Thanks for your ongoing support! Look for Book IV to be completed later this month.