Category Archives: Rise of the Judge

Countdown, Part Twelve

Continued from Part Eleven

Snyder glanced over his shoulder. “Dread, what about Morgan?”

Dread bowed his head. “They got him.”

Nice act. You’re as sorry as you would be if I’d bought it. But there’s no time. “Sir, I recommend we put aside our differences for now and find a way out.”

“Private, I’ll accept that recommendation because I have no choice. Do you have a plan?”

“No, I have a lighter. If you can get a hand loose, you could set the ropes on fire. We could break them when they get hot enough.”

“I have a better idea. I can get both hands free, if you give me a few minutes, and we can skip the third degree burns.”

“Good plan, sir.”

Dread wiggled, loosening the ropes nano-meter by nanometer.

Kendell’s clanging in the air duct redounded.

Dread freed his hands and untied Snyder. “My uncle was an escape artist. He raised me. He was very successful. Left me a nice estate after I terminated him.”

Snyder grimaced. Dread would per-petrate the same evil his egg donor did to Grandma.

Dread folded his arms. “Now, wise guy, how are you going to get us out of here?”

“Watch.” Snyder removed his boot and opened the false compartment in the bottom with a small knife, a small glass cutter, a lock pick, and a small vile of acid.

“Where’d you get that boot?”

“Army Intelligence catalog.”

“There’s an Army Intelligence cata-log?”

“Yeah, mainly for field agents. This can come in pretty handy.”

Dread whistled. “I’d take it over a Swiss Army knife.”

Snyder put the glass cutter to the door and made a circular motion, cutting a wide hole in the glass. Snyder pushed the glass through the hole. It shattered on the floor.

“Smooth, private. Good thing the fruitcake didn’t take away our boots.”

Snyder and Dread skipped across the glass to where Rawlings had left Snyder’s backpack and their weapons.

Dread said, “Snyder, set the charge.”

“Sir, with all due respect, we need to get Sergeant Kendell out first.”

“No, we have to get out of here before Dr. Fruitcake learns of our escape and pumps this whole facility full of gas.”

“Sir, the Army Field manual says on page 375, ‘Leave no soldier behind.’”

“The law now is survival of the fittest, not survival of the fattest.”

A cry came from the air duct. “Stand clear! Fire in the whole in three . . .”

Snyder hit the floor. “Duck.”

Continued Next Thursday

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Countdown, Part Eleven

A male wrapped ropes around Sny-der’s body and the man that he could feel strapped to his back. He opened his eyes. A pregnant woman stood guard. He glanced over his shoulder and grimaced at his re-flection in a glass case. Yuck. Of all the people available to get tried up with, why Dread?

The male pulled on the rope. “It’s tight.”

Outside the glass case, a slender wo-man with long brown hair pressed a button. “Your task is complete. You have fulfilled your role in bringing about the reduction of the population. You may reduce yourself.”

The male guard pulled his gun.

“Please do that downstairs. It’s loud.”

The guards both began to leave.

Dread coughed. “Reduce yourself?”

“Unlike the selfish sinners who prize their own lives over the innocent, all faithful servants of Gaia get to choose how we die. He prefers a bullet to the brain. I prescribed an overdose of sleeping pills to his mate. She’ll go to their room, turn on relaxing music, lie down, and quietly drift off the Earth.”

“I assume you’re Dr. Rawlings.”

Rawlings nodded. “That’s right.”

“What are you going to do to us?”

“I prefer company. Once I give Gaia’s final command to her faithful, we die together. Soft classical music playing while Carbon Monoxide floats into the room.”

Is it just me, or is a coo coo clock chiming? “What about the rest of the world?”

“Their due fate for callously ignoring the impact they have on the Earth. They must face the consequences. I have an army with a variety of missions. Some will release fertility-reducing chemicals into the water supply. Others will carry bombs to blow up breeders.”

Dread growled. “You fundamentalists all disgust me.”

Rawlings entered the glass door and pistol whipped Dread. “They object be-cause breeders destroy human life. Gaia objects because they sustain it. Non-persons have carbon footprints, and the organs of Products of Conception feed Gaia’s cancer—us. We must die to save her, and I will see she is obeyed. I’ve created a bubonic plague-small pox hybrid that cannot be cured. Several of Gaia’s faithful will sacrifice the joy of choosing their deaths to decimate the human infestation in large urban areas.”

Billions will die. This whacko lady could topple the Empire in a matter of days.

Dread asked, “So why aren’t you staying around to see your triumph? I’d want to be the last man to die in your position, to ensure all goes according to plan.”

Snyder laughed. “Sir, when that virus hits, she’s going to be the most wanted person in the world. She has the best chance of coming with a cure, and with the entire world dying, the IBI would stop at nothing to find her and make her do their bidding. With her dead, it’ll take years to find a cure. By which point it’ll be too late.”

Rawlings smiled. “The cancerous tumor should shrink by ninety percent, to 600 million humans. The collapse of civil-ization will restore the survivors to har-mony with Gaia.”

Snyder snorted. “What I don’t under-stand is why you’re telling us all your glorious plans like a Matinee villain.”

Dread chortled. “Why else? A lot of work went into this, and few even know what’s about to happen. She won’t be alive to see her infamy. We’re her only shot.”

Rawlings beamed as if Dread were her star pupil. “You understand me, Colonel. Of course, there’s one question you haven’t asked: where is your beloved sergeant?”

I was kind of hoping you’d overlooked her.

Klang! Klang!

Rawlings smiled. “I believe that’s her now, clambering up the air duct.”

Klang! Klang!

Dread sighed. “Exactly what I’d ex-pect of Large Marge Kendell. As subtle as a rhinoceros in a coffee house.”

Klang! Klang!

Rawlings shrugged. “I must give her some credit. She figured out the elevator was booby trapped, knew she couldn’t take the stairs after what happened to Snyder, and is coming to the rescue the only way she can think of.”

Dread snickered. “I bet she stopped to get a double-decker sandwich first.”

That’s enough. Snyder jabbed an elbow into Dread, who screamed in pain.

Snyder said, “Sorry, sir. Muscle spasm.”

Rawlings laughed. “Men, so childlike. It’s quite futile regardless. The grates are titanium, and we found the backpack with the explosive on Private Snyder. She has no prayer of getting through. The other end of the duct has been sealed, so she can’t escape. Now that’s all taken care of, I can relax and edit my speech.”

Rawlings left the room.

The door locked behind her.

Continued Next Thursday

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Countdown, Part Ten

Continued from Part Nine

Colonel Morgan fired a round into the eco-terrorist. The guard crumpled.

“Nice kill,” Dread said. “There shouldn’t be more than four live guards down here now, along with our mad scientist.”

Colonel Morgan said, “Or upstairs. I wish they’d stop sneaking up on us so I can capture one. I don’t quite have Snyder’s memory to find my way around. Speaking of him, Dread, I’d like to know why he hasn’t been promoted.”

“Do you really want to discuss personnel matters right now?”

“Seems as good a time as any.”

“He’s a juvenile delinquent. He re-mains a private until I have sufficient evidence to rid Intelligence of a security risk.”

“I see. Well, I’ve put in a recommendation with the personnel board to promote Snyder to Specialist. I expect that to go through with the full support of his commanding officer.”

Dread laughed. “Not even you can make me do that. Personnel decisions are mine.”

“Then I have no choice but to inform the Steward you’re a fraud, which will lead to your disgrace, court martial, and infamy.”

Dread faked incredulity in the con-vincing way only sociopaths can. “What are you talking about, sir?”

“Check to the east and the west before we proceed.”

Dread glanced around the maze’s corner and turned back. “It’s clear, sir.”

“It’s curious. When Dimitrov’s mis-deeds were uncovered¸ both Snyder’s cap-tain and his row supervisor were promoted. His file notes the change in his reporting status.”

Dread proceeded. “Am I not allowed to recommend promotions?”

Morgan followed. “Certainly, but it’s quite curious that you promoted his row supervisor two ranks and only seven months after his last promotion. Tell me, who else have you heard of going from Private First Class to Staff Sergeant in nine months?”

The sickly light bird stared blankly.

Morgan smiled. “Why so surprised? That’s normally checked. Unless of course you’re in too much of a hurry to cut a deal to gain someone’s silence.”

Dread laughed. “All that from a per-sonnel file? Sir, you make Sherlock Holmes look simple. What am I supposedly covering up?”

“Snyder found Dimitrov’s diary.”

“That punk! He’s a hate criminal from JD mistakenly tossed into Intelligence by someone who lacked any.”

“Dread, head to the north end of the building.”

The two turned.

Morgan continued, “I must disagree. In my estimation, Snyder has well proven the courts right to give him a second chance.”

“This was pure luck. He’s never contributed anything of any significance.”

“Really?” Morgan laughed. “Then how do you explain the wilderness training with a paid leave of absence that you gave him? That also coincided with the discovery.”

Dread stood speechless.

“I know the program you sent him on. It costs $9,000. It’s not something that you send all your men through, so it must have been a reward. But you didn’t want anyone to know you were rewarding him so you could take all the credit. Really stupid, Dread. You would have gotten a lot of credit as the commanding officer anyway, but you had a need to deny him. You’ve got a chip on your shoulder regarding that kid and have put your entire career at risk over it.”

“You think you’ve got me, don’t you?”

“Unless you explain the wilderness trip, a board of inquiry would agree. Dread, let’s turn down this corridor.”

The two turned right.

“Dread, at minimum, discovery will mean demotion and transfer to a post far less pleasing than the noncombatant post your temper has already earned you. But it’s worse than that because you lied to the Steward, and this would reflect poorly on him. That’s why I’m willing to offer you a deal. For Donovan’s sake.”

Dread sneered. “So I promote Snyder to Specialist and all is forgotten?”

“Not quite. Snyder has a real career ahead of him. He would make an excellent member of the Army Intelligence Liaison core. I expect to see him promoted to Ser-geant within a year, and then within a year and a half to join the Liaison core as a Warrant Officer.”

“Sir, I won’t be at Chic Hecht by then.”

“Because you’d like a battalion com-mand by then? Believe me, Dread, waiting two and a half years for a full bird beats what’ll happen if I blow the whistle.”

Dread pointed his gun at Morgan’s chest.

Morgan laughed. “Brilliant! The au-topsy will find the bullet was fired from your gun.”

“Why would anyone order an autopsy on a combat mission?”

“My will dictates, whenever I die, there is to be an autopsy.”

Dread holstered his weapon. “You seem to be a man who makes enemies.”

“I know how to deal with them. Now, let’s get back to the matter at hand.”

A male and a female guard emerged from behind a wall. Morgan and Dread fired at them, and they crumpled to the ground. 

Dread said, “Let me check the bodies and see if there are any clues.”

Morgan moved ahead. “I’ll make sure no one else is coming after them.”

Silence ticked by. “Find anything?”

“Yes,” Dread said behind him. “A solution to my problem.”

A bullet sizzled through Morgan’s back. Morgan turned.

Dread put the gun in the hand of the dead ecoterrorist. “Ivan had the right idea with your kind. It will be a pleasure to watch you die.”

Morgan spat blood. “Cracker.”

“Freeze!” an eco-terrorist screamed.

Morgan laughed. “You idiot, Dread.”

Continued Next Thursday

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Countdown, Part Nine

Continued from Part Eight

Snyder marched through Lolo National Forest with Kendell, Morgan, and Dread.

Morgan said, “Your wilderness training has come in handy, Snyder. Dread, I have to compliment you. How many Army Intelligence officers have gone through this training?”

Dread coughed. “Snyder, how far until we make it to this compound?”

Snyder smirked. “Sir, we should be right on top of it.”

Morgan frowned.  “You didn’t answer my question, Dread.”

“None, sir,” Dread mumbled.


Snyder stared at his person detector. The official story insisted the device tracked traces of DNA, but it actually received tran-smissions from the ICA chips implanted in the wrists of everyone but Christians and terrorists, which the Empire considered re-dundant. A light came on, indicating the presence of a human being within 300 yards.

Snyder said, “Sir, we getting close. Maintain silence.”

They crept on. The detector picked up ten live persons and six hundred recently deceased. The ICA chip transmitted when vital signs had ceased for up to thirty days to make it easy to locate bodies in a disaster. Snyder stared ahead at the wire fence surrounding the compound.

Kendell wrinkled her nose. “What’s with all the dead bodies?”

Snyder grimaced. “Today’s endgame. All but those needed to see this through have either killed themselves, or were killed one.”

Kendell shook her head.

Dread chortled. “On the bright side, this will help the retirement trust fund.”

Everyone stared at Dread.

He shook his head. “Death is a fact of life. You figure what advantage to make of it.”

Morgan said, “Right now, I want to figure out how to get over that fence.”

Snyder laughed. “That’s what she wants, sir. Look at the grass around the compound. It’s not been disturbed in months, but surely she has been in and out of that place a dozen times. My gut says, even if you can get over that fence, you’ll get killed by what she’s got hidden on the other side. It’s a booby trap. She’s coming in underground.”

“Then we need to find the tunnel.”

“Actually, our builder friend is in the habit of storing blueprints on his network drive. If I don’t miss my guess, a hundred yards west of here, we can break through without compromising the integrity of the tunnel.”

“Lead the way, private.” Morgan added in a whisper, “Snyder, did you dis-cover Dimitrov’s treachery?”

Snyder nodded. How had this guy figured it out?

“That’s what I thought.”

After a hundred yards, Dread said, “Okay, Snyder, Kendell, start digging.”

Morgan glared. “Dread, we brought three shovels. Dig.”

Dread glowered. “Yes, sir!”

In fifteen minutes, the three dug through three feet of dirt to the under-ground passage. Morgan slapped Snyder’s back. “Excellent work, private. Now hurry. Have your weapons ready to fire.”

Snyder pressed a button and switch-ed his riffle to targeting mode. He clutched his Colt. Dread had ordered manual weapons replaced with auto fire weapons, but Snyder wouldn’t be caught with a useless gun in an EMP attack.

Inside the tunnel, Snyder reached in his backpack and pulled out a converted Taser. “What’s that?” Morgan asked. “Looks like one of those old Tasers.”

Dread whistled. “I loved those before they came out with shock forks.”

Snyder said, “It detects electrical activity  and can overload electric circuits. If we spot any sensor, I can take it out.”

Morgan asked, “Where’d you get it?”

Snyder swallowed. “It’s a prototype someone at the listening post was develop-ing.” They didn’t need to know that some-one was him. If the Army ever realized all he was truly capable of, his life would never be his own.

Colonel Dread cleared his throat. “Snyder, why don’t you lead the way then?”

Yeah, so I can get “accidentally shot” by your friendly fire.

“Sir, I’d like you by my side.”

Dread frowned. “You will obey—”

Morgan shoved Dread. “Get beside him.”

Dread snarled. “Very well.”

“Excuse me, would you like to make a revision to that statement?”

“Very well.” Dread swallowed. “Sir.”

“Better; lead the way.”

The four walked two hundred feet. The detector beeped to indicate electric activity was within fifty feet. Snyder said, “Okay everybody, we’re close to something.”

They slowed to a snail’s pace.

Forty feet ahead, Snyder’s prototype exposed black marks on the wall. “Two censors. I’ll take them out.”

Dread said, “It’s more than that. Look up.”

Snyder looked up and sneered. “Just great! A security camera.”

“We take out that camera, and we have to be prepared for someone to come out.”

“We don’t really have a choice, sir.”

They moved closer. Once within ten feet, Snyder fired the beam.

Dread said, “Now, let’s hurry.”

Snyder shook his head. “Sir, the blue-print showed several pits in the ground that were to be filled later. Most likely booby traps.”

“Then why didn’t you bring the blue-print so we’d know where they were?”

Because I don’t need the blueprint, you nitwit. I’ve got a photographic memory. “I can navigate, but we must be careful. Everyone follow me.”

Snyder made his way through the danger area, avoiding the traps.

The electric activity detector beeped.

Kendell asked, “More sensors?”

“No, it’s moving.” Snyder raised his rifle.

A guard came around the corner.

Snyder pressed his rifle’s targeting button. Before the guard could even fire, the four of them had embedded eight bullets in his chest.

Snyder robbed the guard’s body of his gun and put it in his backpack. “Okay, move this way to the door.” They bustled along the same zig zag the guard had taken to get to them and reached a large steel door.

Snyder put his backpack down and pulled out an explosive. “Everybody, back up. Stand ready to fire.”

He placed the explosive. The door blasted open. Two guards behind it fell like paper dolls. Snyder stared around the chamber. Death hung in the air, wafting from the bodies of the recent mass suicide.

Morgan said, “Where do we need to go?”

“Our mad scientist will either be upstairs at ground level or down in the labyrinth bunker in the sub-basement.”

“Dread, we’ll take downstairs. Snyder and Kendell will take upstairs. Be careful everyone.”

Snyder grunted. “Let’s take the elevator.”

Kendell curled her nose. “No way. The up button’s too clean. Nobody’s been using it. Let’s take the stairs.” 

Snyder opened the door to the stair-well and went in. At a noise behind him, Snyder turned. “Sarge?”

Kendell lay on the ground just out-side the door. Snyder ran back. In the door, electricity coursed through him. He screamed and fell into pitch black fire.

Continued Next Thursday

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Countdown, Part Eight

Continued from Part Seven

Sitting on his bunk, Snyder swallowed the last bite of his grits.

Kendell looked down at her watch. “Only ten more minutes until my relief gets here.”

Where was Colonel Morgan? They didn’t have much time. 

The door opened.

Colonel Morgan entered with Colonel Dread walking behind him.

Snyder and Kendell stood at attention.

Dread said, “Sergeant, open the door.”

Kendell unlocked the cell. Snyder came out. Morgan asked, “What did you learn?”

“I’ve figured out who is behind end-game. Dr. Toyota Rawlings has surreptiti-ously set up a compound in the Lolo Na-tional Forest.”

Dread frowned. “Where? “

“That’s the problem. She blindfolded the builder and his crew. In his personal diary, he figured, based on how far they’d driven, they were in the Lolo National Forest, though not close to the main road.”

“Did you check satellite images?”

Snyder laughed. Incompetent had been an understatement. “Sir, to avoid causing the wild life undue stress at the thought of a man-made object being stationed in space above them, we can’t get close enough to the wilderness to get a decent shot of the terrorists hiding there. Best I can tell, the camp is within a five mile radius, somewhere deep within the forest.”

“I’ll talk to Colonel Briggs. He’ll locate and launch a full scale attack on the compound.”

A full scale war would definitely upset the wildlife and get them all court-martialed. “Sir, Dr. Rawlings prepared that place for a full scale onslaught. A response that’s too large will lead to us getting bogged down while she gets away, or sends her doomsday message by remote.”

“What would you suggest?”

“A small strike force. It’ll be harder for her to detect and easier to hide from the eco-nuts.” Donovan’s allegiance there was a serious flaw, but no hero could be perfect.

Morgan tapped his chin. “I believe four would be about right. I’ll have a copter ready in fifteen to take us to Missoula. You three, be there in full battle gear, including body armor.”

Dread cleared his throat. “Sir, I have important meeting and such a delicate situation necessitates an Army Intelligence operation and Army Intelligence choosing the personnel, and I would hardly think it appropriate—”

Morgan frowned. “If Army Intelli-gence had wanted to take the lead, you shouldn’t have had your head stuck in a rule book. We don’t have time for a bunch of briefings. Everyone here already under-stands what’s going on. I say that’s good enough. I’ll call Colonel Briggs, let ‘em know we’re coming. He’ll get us a good ve-hicle. Oh, and Snyder, I want the personnel files of everyone on this mission.”

Colonel Morgan headed upstairs with Colonel Dread.

Sergeant Kendell unlocked Snyder’s cell. “Is Morgan always like that?”

“Nah, from the reports I’ve read, he can get kind of pushy.”

Continued Next Thursday

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Countdown, Part Seven

Continued from Part Six

Colonel Morgan stood outside of Colonel Dread’s door. It’d be Lieutenant Dread by the time he was through. Dread was still in bed at 0700 hours, the sign of an undisciplined officer. Morgan knocked. Loud snoring answered.

He knocked again. “Colonel Dread!”

A groan emitted behind the door.

“Colonel Dread!”


Morgan kicked open the door.

Dread covered himself with a sheet and sat up. “Who the blazes are you?”

“Colonel Morgan of Moscow, Idaho.” He added to the light bird, “A full bird.”

Dread groaned. “Sir, you’ll pardon me if I don’t stand to salute.”

“That infraction I can forgive, but it’s the only one. Are all your people asleep?”

“No, sir. Everyone else was up at 0600.”

“Indeed, everyone in this army was up at 0600, except for you.”

“Sir, what brings you here?”

“Private A. L. Snyder provided me vital information and you put him in the stockade.“

“He violated regulations.”

“So you are concerned if your under-lings obey regulations? In this case, he did what was necessary, and I’m demanding his release.”

“Begging your pardon, sir, but you don’t have jurisdiction. My direct line of command is General Wolfe, and he hasn’t ordered me to release the prisoner. And while you do outrank me, I would point out that I have special status as an Imperial hero.”

Morgan smirked. “Really?”

“I uncovered evidence of Ivan’s treachery that vindicated his just execution in the eyes of the public.”

“That’s nice. Six years ago, I was a captain serving in the African theater and saved the life of a young man under my command. I was rewarded with a promo-tion to Colonel.”

“So what?”

Morgan laughed. “I can call him for you. I’ve got his personal number on my speed dial under D. He’s always willing to chat, though he gets grumpy if I call this time of the morning. He takes his personal time now and doesn’t like to be interrupted.“

“Are you implying the boy you saved was Donovan the Steward?”

“That it was, Colonel. Do you want me to call him?”

Dread sighed. “Let’s get Snyder.”

“Glad you see it my way, Colonel.”

“One thing, Colonel. It’s confusing to call each other Colonel. We’re very close in rank, how about we call each other by last names?”

“I’ll meet you half way. I’ll call you Dread. You can call me sir.”

Dread grunted. “Yes, sir.”

Continued Next Thursday

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Countdown, Part Six

Continued from Part Five

After Morgan closed the HV connect-ion, Kendell turned to Snyder and frowned. “What was that all about?”

Something I would rather not explain.

“Why are we taking orders from a Colonel in Idaho? How are you even communicating?”

Snyder sighed. “I’m on to something big. Thousands, if not millions of lives are at stake and Colonel Morgan is helping me save them. As to the communication, it was the same way I was playing guitar.”

Kendell said, “What time is it?”

“About 0315.”

She repeated the time quite loudly. “It was just 2030. How did—you drugged me. You little weasel, you drugged me. You ought to be fast asleep with that codeine, but you’re not because you switched cups when I wasn’t looking.”

“Look, I’m sorry. I needed to access my files and didn’t think you’d let me.”

“I shouldn’t have. Like I shouldn’t have let you play a holo guitar. But I would have. Dread doesn’t know the first thing about intelligence and carries a lot of petty grudges. That’s why I’m here on guard duty.”

“What did you do?”

“He wanted me to entertain him and I told him no. He’s hated me ever since. Anyway, the Colonel said for you to get some rest, and I think I’ll get mine back at my quarters. Where’s Sergeant Monroe? She’s usually on time.”

“Your relief is Sergeant Mezzner at 0800.”

“So I’m stuck here for the next five hours.”

“On the bright side, you only have to work half a day, and you get to sleep in.”

“Don’t try to sound like you’re doing me a favor.”

“Like you said, Dread doesn’t know squat about intelligence, and there could be millions of lives at stake.”

“Remember, he told you to get some rest.”

“The operative word is ‘some.’ I’ve got more to piece together before morn-ing. I figure at 0500, I’ll be able to get a couple hours sleep before Colonel Morgan gets here.”

“You need more than two hours sleep.”

“With all due respect, Sarge, you’re not my mother.”

Kendell stepped back as if he’d slapped her. “No, I’m not anyone’s mother. I’m going back to sleep. Wake me at 0500.”

“Yes, Sergeant.”

Now to pinpoint their exact location.


“Yeah, Sarge?”

“I didn’t really have a date tonight.”

“Night, sarge.”

Continued Next Thursday

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Countdown, Part Five

Continued from Part Four

Colonel Morgan awoke to tapping on his door. He groaned. Dear Lord, what is it at this hour? The clock by his bed read 03:09.

Colonel Morgan said, “Who is it?”

“Sir, Corporal Perry, sir. There’s a priority red message from Army Intelli-gence.”

“I’ll take it. Feed it into my HV.”

Private Snyder appeared in his bedroom window inside what looked like the stockade.

Colonel Morgan frowned. “Private, what are you doing on this frequency? Priority red messages may only be sent by officers.”

“Sir, my apologies. Were you aware the information you had me send you could only be released by the commanding Colonel?”

“I asked Intelligence and was denied. I have a responsibility to protect Latah County. I can’t waste precious time jump-ing through bureaucratic hoops.”

“I feel the same way about using the Red frequency.”

“Fair enough. By the way, Private, is that the stockade?”

“Sir, this is where honoring your request got me, and I need you to get me out. I’ve uncoded the last part of Oerz. End game is tonight. And I can’t stop it from in here.”

“What’s going to happen?”

“Oerz’s endgame asks the player to buy certain items. I haven’t been able to identify the purpose of each, but I can positively identify that a couple chemicals are key explosives. The rest I’m having the computer decode.”

“Snyder,” said a dazed female voice behind Snyder. “What’s going on?”

Colonel Morgan asked, “Who is that?”

“Oh,” Snyder said, “Get up, Sarge, it’s Colonel Morgan.”

“Colonel Morgan? Who’s he?” A female master first sergeant pushed up off the floor, her eyes drooping, with her short blonde hair in a permanent.

Colonel Morgan frowned. “You okay, Sergeant?”

She snapped to salute. “Yes, sir.”

“And what are you doing?”

Snyder said, “She’s guarding me, but was taking a little rest. It’s been a long night.”

“I’ll be out in the morning. Get a little rest yourself. We have a busy day ahead of us.”

Continued Next Thursday

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Snyder reviewed Kendell’s message history to ensure he captured her texting style and didn’t arouse suspicion.

Countdown, Part Four

Continued from Part Three

CThree hours later, Snyder sat on his bunk in the stockade. Sgt. Gina Kendell paced the cell block. “Why’d you have to get yourself thrown in the stockade?”

“I’ve told you five time now, I didn’t even know I was doing anything wrong.”

“I had a hot date. But am I going out? No, I’m babysitting a private being prose-cuted for a clerical error.”

Snyder’s head throbbed. “Sarge, I’m sorry. My head hurts.”

“You ought to take your pain pills.”

Yeah, but they have codeine in them, and if I take one I’ll be out all night. “Sarge, you want to listen to some music?”

She laughed. “Kid, you’re lucky Dread lets you eat more than bread and water. No radios allowed.”

“I can play the guitar.”

“No way am I going to your quarters to fetch it.”

 “No need. I can get a guitar here with-out anyone having to fetch anything.”

 “I’d like to see that.”

Snyder reached into his jacket and pulled out his pocket computer.

Kendell frowned. “Shouldn’t that have been taken away?”

 “Yeah, but it wasn’t. And what Dread doesn’t know—“

Kendell finished. “—won’t hurt him. It’s my motto when I have to guard this hole.”

Snyder pulled way a panel from the prison wall. “This’ll go back in place.”

“And what pray tell does this have to do with you playing the guitar?”

 “You know the holographic game table in the break room?”


Snyder pressed a button on the computer. A holographic guitar appeared. “It also works for music.”

“Where’s the image generator?”

“It’s hidden in the wall. Up until last year, new cells were built with HV so that defendants could be tried virtually.”

“What happened last year?”

“The Steward learned via an anon-ymous e-mail that taxpayers were being bilked, with huge profits going to one of his predecessor’s front corporations. And the e-mail mentioned that in a pinch a particular cell could be fitted with HV for much cheaper than having it in every cell.”

“Did you send that e-mail?”

Snyder cleared his throat. “So, you like country?”

“Rural Nevada born and raised, you bet.”

Snyder played an old Toby Keith melody, “Beer for my Horses.”

“That sounds familiar, know the words?”

Snyder stopped playing. “Yeah, but don’t ask me to sing.” He stopped that nonsense when his voice changed.

“Fair enough, private.”

Snyder played next “Old Man River” and “This Old House.”

“I could listen to this all night.”

Yeah, but I have work to do. “Could you get us some tea?”

“Sure, be back in a second.”

Snyder opened his pill box and re-moved four codeine tablets. Hate to do this, Sarge. You’re a doll, but this is too important. It’ll just put you out for a few hours.

Kendell came back in and let herself into his cell. “One cup for the guard, one cup for the dangerous desperado.”

Snyder laughed. She was closer to the truth than she knew.

Kendell sighed. “I wonder if Dread has ever heard of ‘confined to quarters’?”

“So, any other music you like?”

“When I was younger, I was into the pop scene, but not anymore. Classical rock is good.”

Snyder crushed his codeine into his tea. “I can do that. Elvis Presley, a little U2.”

“You who?”

“Some band Grandma made me listen to. By the way, how long are you on?”

“Let me see.” Kendell turned to look at the wall chart. Snyder grabbed her tea cup and switched it with his.

“Sergeant Monroe will be in at 0200. Don’t try any of this music stuff on her. She’s a hard woman.” Kendell turned back to the tea cup. “How long will you be able to keep playing?”

“Oh, for an hour, maybe.“

“That’ll be just in time for light’s out. Let’s drink up and get back to the guitar.”

Snyder downed Kendell’s tea.

Afterwards, he played “Heartbreak Hotel” and “Jailhouse Rock.”

Kendell laughed. “That’s an interest-ing song to play in here.”

“Seemed appropriate.”

“You remind me of someone.”


Kendell yawned. “Oh, an old boy-friend, a musician.” Kendell yawned again. “I’d never think of Intelligence Techs as musicians.”

“Why not?”

 “Musicians are sensitive and deep. In-telligence techs logical and mechanical.” Kendell stood. “I need to move. I can’t go to sleep.”

Snyder began to play Brahm’s lullaby.

Kendell yawned. “What are you doing?”

“Sarge, you’re tired, sit down. I’m the only one here, and I’m not going any-where.”

Kendell laid down on the floor. “May-be, it wouldn’t hurt for just a minute.”

Snyder continued to play.

“I should—” Kendell closed her eyes and began to snore.

Snyder finished the lullaby and grab-bed his blanket. He removed Kendell’s cell phone from her pocket and covered her. “Sorry, Sarge. But the stakes are too high.”

Now to send a text message to the relief Sergeant telling her that Dread had ordered Kendell to stay on duty so a relief wouldn’t be necessary.

Continued Next Thursday

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Snyder reviewed Kendell’s message history to ensure he captured her texting style and didn’t arouse suspicion.

Countdown, Part Three

Continued from Part Two

Snyder leaned back in his cube, stretching. He’d finally finished decoding Level 48.

A chill tingled down his spine. Level 48 had Oerz destroy a school of young Unhams before they could grow up to threaten Oerz and his cute woodland forest creature friends. A giant Unham chased him into Level 49. It’d taken him five nanoseconds to figure out Unhams were humans. Only three levels left to decode, and he’d know if this were more than sick and effective propaganda.

“Private Snyder!”

Snyder turned. A smile broadened Dread’s lips. It was bad news when Dread was smiling.

Dread sighed. “It’s a pity you didn’t do this in your first enlistment, as you’d face the gallows. But at least I get to court martial you out of intelligence.”

Uh oh. What tracks had Snyder for-got to cover? “Sir, what are you talking about?”

“You gained unauthorized access to confidential segments of citizens’ profiles.”

Snyder swallowed. “Sir, that infor-mation was sent at the request of Colonel Morgan.”

“Who is not an Army Intelligence officer and cannot grant you this permission. You could well be dishonorably discharged for this stunt, Snyder.” Dread’s smile broad-ened. “And I will ensure that you are.”

 “Sir, I know we have our differences, but I’m working on something big.”

“A Judge Advocate General is coming tomorrow to prepare you for your court mar-tial. Meanwhile, you’ll be escorted to the stockade.”

“Permission to speak freely, sir?”

“Go ahead.”

“You are an idiot.”

Dread laughed. “Take him away.”

Continued Next Thursday

Subscribe to Laser & Sword by Email to get the next part and all the rest of our free offerings delivered to you. To find out what happens sooner, visit theLaser and Sword Online store and download Issue 1 for free or purchase the Annual Editioncontaining 11 action packed stories