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The Rindhalu heavy cruiser Spear of Rantaloss hung motionless in space, relative to the Jeraptha Ethics and Compliance Office ship Will Do Sketchy Things, both ships having completed exhaustive sensor sweeps of the battle area. To describe the action that took place there as a battle was inaccurate; it was a slaughter. The senior surviving officer of the ECO ship We Were Never Here was Commander Zilleen Fentenu, and she did not have anything useful to report. The second group of Jeraptha ships that were awaiting transfer to the humans, had been ambushed by an overwhelming force of Maxolhx warships without warning. All of the ships designated for transfer were systematically destroyed, along with the star carriers they were attached to, and their front-line escort vessels.
The attack had been a complete shock, but what truly concerned Captain Uhtavio Scorandum of the Ethics and Compliance Office was, why had the humans never arrived at the rendezvous point? They were supposed to meet the second group of ships, to take possession, and guide the star carriers to the remote inaccessible forward operating base the humans had established at the edge of the galaxy. If the human ship Valkyrie had suffered a horrible fate, the balance of power in the galaxy might abruptly change again. Scorandum’s head was still spinning from learning that humans were flying the fearsome ghost ship, and that humans had a cache of Elder weapons.
The most shocking news of all was that humans had been flying around the galaxy for years, doing all kinds of awesomely sketchy things, without ECO being involved or even knowing humans were players.
Clearly, the Ethics and Compliance Office needed to seriously step up its game.
“Captain Scorandum,” the Rindhalu official representative aboard the advanced-technology warship glared, as she appeared on the bridge display of the Will Do Sketchy Things. “We demand an explanation!”
“Yes, thank you,” Scorandum breathed an exaggerated sigh of relief.
“Excellent, then- Wait, what?”
“We also demand an explanation for this outrage,” Scorandum shook his head sadly. “When you
get that explanation from the devious Maxolhx, please pass it along to us.” “From the-” The spider’s hideous mouth gaped open.
“We also wish for an apology.”
“The Maxolhx do not apologize to any-”
“You misunderstand me. We wish for an apology from you.”
“From us?” The spider screeched. Even through the translator, the sound made Scorandum’s
leathery skin crawl.
“Of course. Under our mutual-defense treaty, you are required to defend us against attacks by your counterparts. This was a direct assault by a senior species force, against a second-tier client species of your coalition. You failed to protect us.”
“No doubt you are deeply ashamed by your failure, and will compensate us by-”
“Captain Scorandum! The explanation we demand is how a group of your ships came to be here, after we expressly forbid you to transfer more ships to the humans, and after you claimed this same group of ships was mysteriously stolen.”
“Oh? It seems fairly obvious to me.”
“It seems obvious to us, also. We await your apology.”
“An apology from us?” Scorandum’s main antennas dipped low over his eyes. “Clearly, the
Maxolhx stole those ships.”
“The- You are claiming the Maxolhx stole the ships from you, then brought them all the way
here, before destroying them? That makes no sense!”
“The methods of the enemy are inscrutable, certainly,” the ECO captain sighed. “That is why we depend on our exalted patrons the Rindhalu, to warn us of impending danger, and to protect us. Which, I am reluctant to mention again, you failed to do.”
“Aaargh! If the ships were indeed stolen from you, then please explain why one of your ships, the We Were Never Here, was found among the wreckage.”
Scorandum blinked. “Well, that also seems fairly obvious.”
“Really?” The spider’s voice dripped with scorn. “We await your rationale for that.”
“Clearly, Commander Fentenu of the We Were Never Here discovered the theft in progress, and bravely followed the enemy here, to determine their intentions. Sadly, the heroic efforts of her crew were unable to overcome the heinous perfidy of the enemy. Before she could report her findings to you, her ship was destroyed.”
“That is your story?” The spider was incredulous.
“Honored Representative, I do not see any other possible explanation.” “You do not?”
Scorandum shook his head, his antennas flopping side to side. “No.”
“How about this: those ships were never stolen. They were here, waiting for the humans to meet you, but instead the Maxolhx discovered your plan, and destroyed the ships before the humans could use them against all of us.”
“That is a shocking and hurtful accusation,” Scorandum hung his head, his antennas drooping. “It also does not account for the facts.”
“If the humans were supposed to meet us here, where are they? We found no evidence any human
ship was ever here.”
“Well-” The spider’s eyes blinked.
“I mean, unless you found evidence that the humans were here, and chose not to share that
information with us?” “We did not-”
“Perhaps,” Captain Scorandum glared at the image on the display, “your people wished to make sure those ships were not available for transfer, so you stole the ships, then gave the Maxolhx their
location. Let your counterparts do your dirty work for you.” “How dare you?” The Rindhalu official raged. “We-”
“Right now, I do not know what to believe. It appears the only thing the two of us can agree on, is that your people failed to live up to your treaty obligations.”
“That is not-”
“Honored Representative, I am not accusing your people of acting in bad faith. Not yet.” “You had better not be-”
“It is possible that simple incompetence on your part is responsible for this tragedy.” “AAARGH!” The spider’s image disappeared as the transmission was cut.
Scorandum cut the feed from his end, turning to his second in command. “Kinsta, are we caught in a damping field?”
The officer checked his console to verify. “No, Sir. We are not actually waiting for a formal
apology, are we?”
“No. Jump us the hell out of here. I don’t want to push our luck.”
“Dad?” Dave Czajka called softly as he stepped out the sliding glass door into the backyard.
His father was supposed to be watching the grill, making sure the bratwursts didn’t burn. Instead, he had stepped off the deck and onto the grass, staring up at the sky. It was near sunset of a pleasant
day. The sky was free of clouds other than high-altitude contrails of jetliners headed south. All the planes flying south were full. The northbound legs, mostly empty, were being diverted around the heavily traveled routes, to clear airspace for the southbound flights that were earning money.
“What are you looking at?” Dave asked, when his father didn’t respond.
Using the tongs, his father pointed at a white streak to the northeast. At the front of the contrail, sunlight glinted briefly off the aircraft, a flare of gold.
“What do you think?” His father asked. “Winnipeg to Cuba, with a stop in Chicago?” “Chicago?” Dave squinted at the high-flying jet, then turned toward the south, where Chicago
was unseen over the horizon of the suburbs of Milwaukee. “No. If they have to refuel, they’ll do it in Atlanta, probably.”
The plane had to be packed with Canadians, fleeing to Cuba, or somewhere in the Caribbean.
Some place that would still be reasonably warm, when the planet began to freeze. He knew the flight, assuming it originated in Canada, could not be destined for Florida, or any other traditional US destination for sun-seeking Canadians.
The United States had banned non-citizens from residing in, or even visiting, anywhere in the country that was below the 37th parallel, a line just north of the border between Virginia and North Carolina. That southern area was filling up with Americans who were already emptying out the northern cities, a steady trickle that was becoming a flood.
Cuba, Venezuela, and a handful of other Latin American countries had opened their borders to Canadians, and citizens of the EU and Britain. Many countries in Africa had programs to accept people from northern climates. Refugees were welcome provided they had cash, and plenty of it. Enough money deposited in a local bank, to pay for housing and food and medical care for five years. Plus a ‘temporary citizenship’ payment that was increasing in price every month, as the value of currencies around the world plunged.
Americans did not have the option of going to Cuba, and at first, found they were unwelcome south of the US border. Until the government in Washington struck a bargain with Mexico, Columbia, Ecuador and others, to provide cash payments and other direct assistance. Crossing the Rio Grande southbound was still limited to Americans and Canadians who already owned property in Cabo, Cancun and other tourist destinations. Or those who were willing to buy property without seeing it first, which many were happy and even eager to do.
The northern US states were emptying out, despite the federal government urging calm, and the predictions of scientists that it would be years before the first effects of the cloud could be felt, and years more until the climate fell into a miserable Little Ice Age.
Or perhaps more than a Little Ice Age. No one knew for sure. There wasn’t enough data, nor were climate models on Earth set up to account for a rather sudden and unprecedented decrease in sunlight reaching the surface.
“Hmm,” his father grunted. “Good luck to them, then. Lucky bastards,” he added under his breath.
Then he looked at his son and smiled. “More poutine for us, right?”
“Right, Dad,” Dave forced a grin. There were a lot of forced smiles going around, people literally
trying to put a brave face in spite of the looming disaster.
His father sighed, looking up again, this time at nothing. “A clear sky. We won’t be seeing many of
those once the cloud gets here. That’s what they say.” Shaking his head, he walked over to the grill.
“The cloud will just look like a hazy summer day. Nothing we can see up there, just the Sun a little less
bright than usual.” He held the tongs up and clicked them, before picking up a brat to check it.
“Hard to believe that will freeze the whole planet,” Dave agreed. “Dad, did you and Mom talk
“Texas? Yes. Hey, hand me those onions.”
Dave picked up the tray of onions and set it next to the grill.
“You gotta cook these slow,” his father imparted wisdom learned from his father. “You want to
caramelize them just a bit, not burn them. It’s a fine line.”
Dave knew his father was talking about grilling onions, to avoid talking about something more important. “I know. Dad, Steve called me this afternoon, he-”
There wasn’t anything to be said, that hadn’t already been said. Over and over. His parents had to make the decision on their own. They were adults. So why did Dave feel responsible for them?
His older brother Steve lived near San Antonio. The day after the announcement about the cloud, Steve called to invite, no, urge their parents to come down to live with him. It would be a tight fit, Steve had two children in a three bedroom house, and his wife’s aunt was already coming to stay for at least several months.
“Your mother,” his father said as he slowly placed onions on the grill. “Said the dealership took an RV on trade-in for a truck last week. Twenty-five feet, something like that. It needs a new
transmission, and some other work.”
“I don’t mind wrenching, you know that.”
“Dropping a tranny and putting in a new one is more than wrenching. But, thanks.” “You’re getting it? The RV?”
Dave knew that meant his parents had made the decision.
“The dealership is scaling back,” his father continued. “They gave your mother a notice for her last two weeks, yesterday.”
That made sense, even if it made Dave angry. His mother had worked at the dealership for twelve years, and now managed the parts department. Now they were letting her go.
He knew he shouldn’t be upset. No one was buying cars anymore. Trucks, maybe, and few of
those. People weren’t buying motorcycles either, the Harley-Davidson plant announced a furlough, but everyone knew the place was shutting down. Who wanted to ride a motorcycle while the planet froze?
“What about your job?” Dave asked.
Ed shrugged. “Power demand is down nine percent already, compared to last year.” His father worked as an engineer for the local electric utility. “The company tells us people will need power to heat their homes but,” he waved tongs to point out the houses around them. Every week, more of those homes were abandoned. “No need for heat around here, if no one is at home. There’s talk about power plants up north feeding energy demand down south but, that’s only temporary.
Transmission losses across that distance make it impractical. Now, San Antonio? They’ll be expanding the grid down there. Always need engineers. Your mother is worried but, I’ll find work. Son,” his father looked directly at him for the first time. “We’d like you to come with us. Steve plans for us to park the RV in his backyard, for your mother and me. You can use his camper, for a while.”
Dave kept the grimace he felt from showing on his face. He was familiar with his brother’s camper, it was a pop-up unit, barely big enough for two people. That was OK, all he would be doing was sleeping there, and not for long. As soon as his parents were settled in Texas, he would be- What? Contacting the Army, probably. After he found out what Jesse and Shauna were doing.
“Sure thing, Dad. When do we leave?”
“Well, we can’t sell the house,” he pursed his lips. “Nobody’s buying, not around here. We’ll
drain the pipes, board up the windows, see about-” “Dad. I’ll help.”
“Thanks. I’m going to miss this place.” “Me too. Uh, that bratwurst is burning.”
“Oh, darn it,” Ed snatched it off the grill with the tongs. “I’ll hide this one on the bottom of the pile. Don’t tell your mother.”
About the Author
Photo Content from Craig Alanson
Craig Alanson used to create financial reports for a large IT services company. Writing fiction at nights and on weekends, he finally independently published three novels on Amazon. Within 6 months of his first ebook release, he was able to quit his day job and pursue a full-time writing career. The breakout success of Columbus Day (Expeditionary Force, Book 1) reached new heights when Podium Audio released it in audio format, narrated by Audie Award Winner R.C. Bray. The Columbus Day audiobook was a huge hit, and a finalist for an Audie Award as Audiobook of the Year.