Category Archives: Rise of the Judge

Countdown, Part Two

Continued from Part One

Colonel Deshaun Morgan placed a vid call to the desk of the private the Boise PD told him to call regarding the death cult. Good thing he hadn’t stopped with those no-help IBI clowns. 

The call rang five times.

The holo-window blinked and display-ed a twenty-year-old blond private in dress uniform, seated at a workstation in a corp-orate cube.

The private arched his right eyebrow.

“Private, I’m Colonel Morgan.”

“One moment please, Sir.” Snyder pressed several buttons on his computer. “You’re authenticated, sir. What can I do for you?”

“I command the Moscow, Idaho battal-ion. A death cult killed some of my men. I’ve found similar crimes occurred in Boise. The police said you were working on some-thing.”

The blonde private nodded. “Yes, sir. The Boise conspirators had the same game on their consoles, Oerz. I assume you have access to the consoles of the suspects in Moscow.”

Why would a video game matter?

“Just a moment.” Morgan pulled up the con-sole file for Louise Montoya and checked under games.

Oerz-Level 38.

Then Reebok Marceau

Oerz-Level 42.

Then Speedstick Taylor.

Oerz-Level 41.

Morgan said, “Yeah, all have Oerz.”

“What level.”

“Between 38 and 42.”

“That’s a new record. I’ve never heard of anyone going crazy before Level 40. Right now, I’m trying to reverse engineer the game.”

 “Why? Nearly every popular game has a walkthrough of some sort.”

“Sir, I couldn’t find an Oerz walk-through that goes past level 20. On Level 20, a pledge pops up that makes you promise not to reveal what happens here-after.”

“Who keeps a pledge to a video game?”

“Levels 20-26 are so boring, anyone who makes it past that is a hardcore fanatic.”

“How do we know the game isn’t just an inspiration for violence? What makes you think there’s anything deeper?”

“Intuition. This game seems explicit-ly anti-human. Plus it’s an anagram for zero.”

Morgan nodded. “I wish I could find out who in my area is playing Oerz at level 35 or greater, so we can keep an eye on them.”

Snyder smirked. “I can get you that info.”

Morgan whistled. “You can? But that’s—”

“—a cinch for Intelligence.”

 “Let me know if your hunch pans out, or if you need anything.”

Snyder nodded. “Thank you, sir. I will.”

Continued Next Thursday

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Countdown, Part One

Continued from Zero

Private A.L. Snyder burst out the door of the day school carrying an Asian little girl. An explosion knocked him to the ground. The child slipped from his grasp and landed a few feet ahead of him.

A dark brown hand grabbed his. Mama said, “Get up, boy.”

Snyder stood. The fire department moved in. Mama stormed over to the daycare worker who’d forgotten the child. “Girl, where’s your head? You almost killed that baby and mine. You got to mind what you’re doing.”

“Yes, ma’am, I’m sorry.”

“Oh you’re sorry, all right, honey.”

Was Mama trying to embarrass him?

Snyder growled. “Mama—”

Mama Borden continued. “Your job is to take care of the kids. But can you do that?”

Snyder shouted, “Mama!”

Mama Borden turned and sighed. “I guess the important thing is everyone’s okay.”

Thankfully. Snyder walked over to the police car. Bill, his former Secretary B, sat in his squad car.

Snyder asked, “Hey, did they catch the terrorist who planted the bomb?”

Bill nodded. “They’re taking her down to IBI headquarters.”

“Could you take me there?”

“What business do you have in this?”

“This afternoon, I caught a member of her cult aboard Empire Air. Got time?”

Bill smiled. “Let me call Sarge. Things are slow, so they can spare me.”

  Soon, Snyder and Bill outside the IBI’s interrogation room. Bill yawned. “Are you sure Agent Carroll will talk to you?”

Snyder shrugged. “Hey, we got in.”

Carroll walked out of the interrogation room. “Keep this up, Private, and we’ll have to get you a named coffee mug.”

Snyder asked, “Learn anything?”

“She copped out to the bomb. And said her motive was to reduce the oppression of the Earth. I’m leaning towards her being a lone nut disparaging a great sect.”

Uh-huh. “I appreciate that some of you are peaceful, Carroll, but we’ve had three members of your great sect try to seize an airplane. Could I question her?”

“You have any experience?”

“No, but—”

“But you figure an Army Intelligence desk jockey can out-interrogate the IBI.”


Carroll put up his hands. “Give it a whirl. We’ve gotten some great IBI agents from Army Intelligence. Try it, maybe you’ll like it.” Carroll paused. “Only thing is, as she’s a member of a legal sect, the most…” Carroll licked his lips. “…interesting interrogation methods aren’t available.”

Snyder swallowed the bile rising. “Not a problem.”

He and Bill entered the room. The prisoner sat twirling a lock of her red hair around a finger. She frowned. “What is this? Good cop, bad solider?”

Snyder asked, “So what are you planning for endgame?”

She gasped. “How did you find out about endgame?”

“I learned of it from one of your friends.”

She grinned. “You have no idea.”

Snyder stared at her. “Which video game is it from?”

She turned her head away.

“Thank you. Come on, Bill.”

Bill said, “She didn’t tell us any-thing.”

“Oh, her eyes said plenty.”

The terrorist leapt up. The guard beside her pushed her back down.

Snyder and Bill exited the interroga-tion room. Carroll returned with a coffee cup in hand. “Learn anything, Junior G-man?”

“Can you get me access to their files?”

“We got warrants cleared on both of them. What do you want to check?”

“Their game libraries.”

Carroll arched his eyebrow. “Why would we care?”

“Endgame. She knows what it is. So did the air marshal who hijacked the plane.”

“And you think it has something to do with a computer game?”

 “Couldn’t hurt to check.”

“Just a moment.” Carroll walked to a wall terminal.

Two minutes later, he waved Snyder over. “I’ve got all the suspects’ game li-braries juxtaposed side by side.”

Like he needed Carroll’s help. Car-roll was just saving him the trouble of hacking in when he got back to Chic Hecht. “There’s a pattern. Our suspect and three hijackers all own the same game on their panel.”

Carroll smirked. “Yeah, Solitaire.”

Snyder glared. “These four have a game I’ve never heard of. Oerz: The quest for peace.”

Carroll laughed. “That’s the #3 game in the world. I even have a copy.”

 “How far did you get?”

Carroll sighed. “That’s the rub. It was fun for the first fifteen levels and then it became too involved. You’d have to have no life to win.”

“With 14% unemployment, a lot of people have no life. If you reverse engineer that game, I think you’ll find the solution.”

Carroll chuckled. “I’ll get our video games division right on that, Snyder.”

Snyder sighed. He’d have some work to do once he got back to Nevada.

Continued Next Thursday

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Zero, Part Seven

Continued from Part Six

Snyder settled into the breakfast cove with Mama Borden and two steaming hot mugs of peppermint tea.

Mama Borden picked the lint off her genuine African mud cloth caftan. “I don’t know why you hang around with that Chico.”

“He’s my best friend.”

“Every time I see him, he’s with a different woman. White, Black, Asian. Doesn’t matter. He plays them all.”

If you understood what Chico’s been through, maybe you wouldn’t be so harsh. 

“He’s my friend and I don’t have that many.”

“Son, bad company corrupts good character.”

Snyder laughed. “What makes you think I have good character?”

“I raised you, didn’t I?”

Mostly his grandmother did. New topic. He sipped his minty tea. “So, what’s new?”

“I’m moving.”

Snyder’s eyes widened. “Moving? You’ve lived here since before I was born.”

“Yeah, but it’s time I downsized. All you kids are gone, except Cerulean.”

“What will Cerulean do?”

Mama Borden cast a glance at the door to Cerulean’s workshop. “Baby, he’s the reason I’m moving out. It’s past time he got his own life, found a good woman, married and raised his own babies here.”

Snyder laughed. That notion was surely born of Cerulean being the only sibling genetically related to Mama. The ladies Substitute Daddy’s age would all be menopausal. “Cerulean, marry? He’s as ready as you to have us all out of the house, Mama. He’d be lost without you.”

“That’s not healthy, son. He needs to find his own way. Hopefully not down to South Carolina like the rest. I don’t under-stand why they’ve all gone back there.”

“It’s because they love you, Mama.”

Mama Borden raised her eyebrow. “Anny, they left their mama all alone because they love me? I’d love to know how you figure that.”

“Mama, this pond is three percent goldfish. If you’re going to insist they only catch goldfish, they’ve got a lot more gold-fish to choose from in South Carolina.”

Mama Borden grabbed the car keys off the table. “Let me show you the retire-ment center.”

Snyder walked out of the house. In their run-down West Boise neighborhood, Mama’s well-maintained house stood out like a sore thumb next to its dilapidated neighbors.

They drove down Curtis and cruised past trees lining the road into Garden City. The light turned red at Chinden and they stopped.

A stream of cars passed by, many of them illegal gas guzzlers. Loan sharks, dishonest car dealers, and adult book stores dotted the armpit of the Treasure Valley. Activists blamed Garden City on the Em-pire, but other than the public harem at the corner of 42nd and Chinden, Garden City had been like this for more than a century, at least according to old timers.

The light turned green. In under a minute, they were past the ugliness and back to trees lining both sides of the road. Curtis became Veterans Memorial Parkway and changed to 36th Street when they pass-ed the Dimitrovs Grocery Store and another public harem.

Snyder cleared his throat. “So, where am I going to stay if you sell the house?”

“Life is great at Super 8.” Mama laughed. “Anny, you’ve been in town four days in the last two years. They’ll let guests stay at the retirement home for up to 48 hours, and I don’t expect you’ll need more than that.”

Snyder stared out the window.

A redhead with a white purse exited a preschool. He caught a brief glimpse of a zero keychain latched on the purse.

“Stop the car.”


“Stop, or I’ll jump.”

Mama Borden slammed the breaks.

Snyder jumped from the car and ran after the ecoterrorist. He pulled his Colt revolver. “Stop, or I’ll shoot.”

She kept going.

Mama called something, but Snyder’s focus blocked the meaning. He caught up with the ecoterrorist and tackled her to the ground. He reached into her mouth and got bitten. Screaming, he pulled the cyanide capsule from her mouth.

She cursed. “What are you doing?”

He glared, nursing his sore fingers. “Back at you, sister. That zero on your purse is the emblem I saw with two hijack-ers. What did you do at that preschool?”

The ecoterrorist smiled. “You’ll find out in about three minutes.”

Snyder sped for the preschool, pulled his phone out from his pocket, and dialed 9-1-1.

“9-1-1 emergency.”

“A terrorist has planted a bomb at the 36th Street Day School. It detonates in two minutes. The suspect is fleeing on foot, headed north on 36, female Caucasian, red hair, blue eyes, about 60 kilograms, 160 centimeters. White purse, a zero emblem keychain attached.”

Snyder dropped the phone and raced in the school. He flashed his Intelligence badge. “Everybody out! Emergency!”

He ushered twenty little girls and two teachers out of the school. The teachers counted heads. The younger gasped, her hands flying to her mouth. “Marmalade!” She rushed towards the building.

Snyder grabbed her. “No, get back.”

A police car pulled up. Snyder dashed inside the school.

A four-year-old Asian girl stood out-side the bathroom. “Hello? Hello?”

Snyder ran over to her and picked her up. “We got to get out of here.”

He ran towards the door and opened it. A loud click sounded.

Behind them, the building exploded into flames.

Continued Next Week in Countdown

Continued Next Thursday

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Origin of the Emerald Avenger, Part Twelve

Continued from Part Eleven

The next morning, Captain Welch stood in the Seattle chief of police’s office with his seated boss.

“We’ve got a vigilante on the loose, sir.” Captain Welch handed the chief a picture of the drug dealer’s injuries. “This is the shape the hospital found an ex-con in. I warned you something like this would happen.”

The chief turned green and covered his mouth. “Powerhouse didn’t do this.”

“That’s what the guy said. He said it was somebody more frightening.”

“But who?”

Good question. “I don’t know.”

“Look here.” The chief tapped the photo. “On his back, there’s a Z.”

Welch took the picture. “But, look there, there’s also a  V.”

“The perp is imitating Zorro, except with a whip. The V probably means five, so to start, we can label the perp Zorro V.”

“What does that tell us?”

“Nothing. I just like to label things.”

“Of course.” Welch added a curse under his breath.



Frank Ross leaned across the board room table. “Marcos, what have you learn-ed about the guy who put our dealer in the hospital?”

That I don’t want to meet this guy in a dark alley. “Code name is The Emerald Avenger.”

Ross laughed. “Ooh, that’s original.”

“He’s scared Night Lord’s organiza-tion. A third of his dealers quit. Night Lord’s afraid the ship’s not done leaking people, either.”

Ross sighed. “What’s it coming to in this world, when it’s not safe to deal drugs?”

“I’ve asked myself the same question.”

“Powerhouse might have put me in jail, but this Avenger would kill me. Put a contract out for $1.7 million.”

“Consider it done.”

Continued Next Tuesday

Tales of the Dim Knight is coming out as book September 1st.

Zero, Part Six

Continued from Part Five

Three hours later, Snyder sat at thegray plastic table inside the airport security office’s interrogation room.

Across from him, the twenty-some-thing IBI bureaucrat who’d introduced himself as Agent Carroll said, “Private, I guess that’s the last question.”

Snyder sneered. “You sure? You didn’t ask my underwear size.”

Carroll scowled. “Watch the attitude.”

“Your processes just seem a little overdone.”

“Thorough, private. Thorough.”

“Can I ask why they did it?”

“They’re terrorists who have hijacked the Earth Liberation Movement, a peaceful member organ of the United Church of Herald. Through the prophet Jeconiah, may he leave no children to pollute Gaia, the queen goddess decreed that humans are an evolutionary mistake and must sacrifice ourselves so she can live.”

Coo-coo, coo-coo. “Peaceful? How is wanting humanity to go extinct harmless?”

“True ELM teaches nonviolence, to simply be sterilized and seek to reduce our carbon footprints as much as we can. I got my vasectomy on my eighteenth birthday.”

Ew. People were way too open about this type of thing. “I’ll be in Boise until tomorrow night and then back at my position. If you need anything else, please don’t hesitate.”

Carroll stood and gave Snyder a half-hearted handshake. “Nice meeting you.”

“You too.”

You couldn’t care less and neither could I.

Snyder grabbed his jacket and opened the door. The former Air Marshal was be-ing dragged away.

She screamed, “You will pay! You will all pay when endgame arrives!”

Snyder stared over at Carroll.

Carroll laughed. “Sometimes crazy people do things because they’re crazy.”

And sometimes IBI bureaucrats are idiots.

But it wasn’t his problem. Busting death cults was the IBI’s territory. Unlike the local cops, Carroll didn’t want help, and Snyder had better things to do.

He walked out of the security office, into the airport’s underbelly.

“Hola, amigo!”

His swaggering Vice-President waited by the luggage carrousel, standing a good three inches taller and a little meatier than the teenager he’d left behind four years earlier. Snyder ran and embraced Chico. “Man, it’s been forever.”

Another guy said, “I thought men didn’t hug?”

“I made an exception.”

Snyder released Chico and turned to take in Bill Whittier, his Secretary of the Posterior. Bill had gained some muscle, though only an inch in height.

More importantly, he was in the uni-form of the Boise Police Department. No more gangbanging for Bill, either. Snyder smirked. “You don’t look too cuddly.”

Bill smiled. “I’m all broken up.”

“Good to see you. Here on official business?”

“I wanted to see you and also make sure you don’t plan on making trouble.”

Snyder laughed. “You know me, B. I don’t go looking for trouble. Never have.”

“It always seems to find you. Look, I’m still your friend and all, but I’m not going to do you any special favors if you start anything. It was hard enough getting a badge with my background.”

“Of doing a better job keeping the streets clean than the 5-0?”

Chico frowned at Bill and shoved him like a brother. “Pose much, hombre? It would’ve been even harder to get your creds had Snyder fingered us when we attempted to hang Tio Rodrigo.”

Bill shushed Chico. “You want to go down to the station and share that?”

Snyder laughed. “Chill out, Sergeant Friday. I’m just here to see Mama. I’ll be out of town in thirty hours, I promise.”

“I didn’t mean it that way, man. I’m sorry. I’m just very scared.”

“You must wake up afraid the slug will recognize you and tell your buddies.”

Bill grimaced. “That’s hate speech, Snyder. But, given how I know what you mean, I’ll give you an unrecorded verbal warning.”

“Thanks. Want to get together?”

“Sure, the Sportsman Grill, tonight, sound good?”

“It’ll do. See you, John Law.” Snyder accompanied Chico out the revolving door and across the terminal’s drive way.

They climbed steps leading into park-ing area. Near the back of the lot, Chico opened the door of a 58 YE Red Ferrari Hybrid.

Snyder whistled. “This is your car?”

“Can you believe somebody tried to junk this? I got her for eight hundred dollars and spent the last year fixing her.”

Snyder got in the car and felt the leather seat under him. “Well done, my friend. Well done.” He glanced longingly at the ashtray. “Mind if I smoke?”

“Go ahead, hombre. Just open the glove box and fill out a form first.”

Snyder reached into the glove box and pulled out an electronic smoking permit. “Oh, come on. There’s not even a kid in the car.”

“Where have you been? That hasn’t mattered in two years, hombre. If you don’t sign the permit, a cop will stop me.”

Snyder snatched up the unit’s stylus. “Stupid nanny state.”

Chico said, “Hey, hombre, it’s all about protecting the public.”

Snyder looked up. A barefoot black girl strolled towards them on the sidewalk, arresting his eyes with the sleeveless black mini-dress the law required sexually mature harem girls to wear. He tore his gaze from the mess screens displaying the poor girl’s most private parts.

“We’re protecting the public, all right. For every old standard we cast aside, we make up a hundred petty crimes and a thousand vices to fight, all to justify the evil we’re permitting.”

Chico’s eyes followed the slave girl. “Hey, the world is what it is.”

Snyder grunted. “Here, put the permit in the window. I want to see my mom.”

Continued Next Thursday

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Zero, Part Five

Continued from Part Four

The flight attendant lunged. Snyder kicked him in the stomach and delivered an upper cut to the jaw that sent him sprawl-ing. The flight attendant gasped. “How did you know?”

“Your thumb ring had the same em-blem as the psycho air marshal’s wallet and that lady’s purse.”

The flight attendant laughed. “Most don’t notice it.”

“I’m in intelligence. We’re trained to notice. So what’s your game?”

“The human population should be zero.”

Snyder blinked. “That’s it.”

“Yes, and I’ll do my part.” The flight attendant chomped, swallowed, and began to gag.

Snyder grabbed him. “What’s going on?”

“Cyanide.” The flight attendant’s body fell deathly limp.

Snyder rushed to the psycho air marshal and pried her mouth open. At the back of her mouth was a false tooth. Snyder pulled the tooth out as she chomped down.

“No!” she screamed.

Snyder pulled the gun out. “Quiet down.”

“Kill me, whatever you want.”

He hit her with the gun, knocking her out again. He took off the dead flight attendant’s belt and used it to tie up the psycho air marshal. He glanced at the monitor.

The sewing lady stood outside the cockpit. She handed her captive female flight attendant a vile. The hostage poured the vile on the lock.

Snyder searched for the intercom button. He hit it. “A. L. Snyder of Army Intelligence here, Captain. The plane is being hijacked and one of them is about to break through. I need you to throw her off balance, make this a little less pleasant.”

The plane turned downward.

Snyder pushed the drink cart from coach through the entrance to first class. “Clear the aisle!”

The cockpit door exploded open.

The hijacker turned.

Loosed, the hostage jumped out of the way, into a vacant seat. The cart slammed into the hijacker and knocked her off her feet. The co-pilot grabbed away the knitting needles. The first class passengers burst into applause.

Snyder reached in the hijacker’s mouth and yanked out the cyanide capsule. “Get up, lady.”

The hijacker stood, and Snyder led her to the back of the plane.

Continued Next Thursday

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Zero, Part Four

Continued from Part Three

Snyder opened his eyes. His saluting elbow had landed in his seatmate’s face.

The middle-aged business man sitting next to Snyder said, “I’ve heard you guys could do your job in your sleep, but this is ridiculous.”

Snyder put his arm down. “Excuse me.” He got up and slipped into the cramped toilet.

After flushing, Snyder opened the door. The lady with the knitting needles stood. Sharp wooden points extended out of the needles. She grabbed the flight attend-ant and put a choke hold on her.

The black-haired young woman be-side the middle-aged terrorist leaped up, brandishing a pistol. “Everybody down!”

Snyder grabbed a fire extinguisher and ducked back into the toilet.

“You!” Footsteps approached the closed door. “Come out, or you’re dead.”

Snyder kicked the door open and threw the fire extinguisher in the woman’s face. She fell. Snyder grabbed the black-haired woman’s gun and tucked it into his belt.

How did you get aboard this bird with a gun?

Snyder turned her over and retrieved her wallet from her jacket pocket. The wallet had an engraved zero on the cover, like the purse. He flipped the wallet open. An Air Marshal badge gleamed.

It’s lovely when these folks go psycho.

A male flight attendant came back. “Nice move, sir.”

Snyder stood. “Where’s the other one?”

“The cockpit. We’ve got a security array by the drinks, if you want to check on camera.”

The flight attendant pressed a button by a large bottle of wine, revealing a series of cameras throughout the plane.

Snyder eyed the zero emblem on the guy’s thumb ring. “Nice. Now sit on the ground, hands behind your head.”

Continued Next Thursday

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Zero, Part Three

Continued from Part Two

Snyder located his gate. His row was called, and he made his way to his seat on the massive 747. He found his seat near the back of the plane. He settled in, pulled a holobook out of his carryon bag and resumed reading The Count of Monte Christo.

Five pages in, two cheery flight at-tendants gave a presentation on what to do if the plane crashed for the twentieth time this year. Listening to this four times a trip had to be his least favorite hazard of intro-ducing churches to the gospel of modern encryption.

“Thank you for flying Empire Air,” one flight attendant said as the plane began to climb.

Snyder glanced around the half-empty cabin. A few chairs ahead, across the aisle, a middle aged woman knitted over a purse with a gold zero emblazoned on the side. Next to her, a young, black-haired woman in a ladies’ suit sipped from a wine glass.

Snyder yawned, his eyes heavy. He shut the holo-book. Unless he was the pilot, he never got to enjoy a flight other than take off and landing.

He entered a great hall like his grandmother’s living room only far larger, with large tables set up. Each one seated saints, dead war heroes, and Founding Fathers. Only one table, far as he could see, had a seat open. He approached it and blinked at the golden card. Reserved for General A. L. Snyder.

This surely had to be intended for some other Snyder. Nonetheless, he took the seat and peered at his tablemates: St. Joan of Arc, President George Washington, General Patton, President Eisenhower, and Mel Gibson dressed as William Wallace from the original Braveheart movie.

St. Joan said, “There’s injustice and violence everywhere.”

Washington nodded. “Indeed, every-one does injustice and no one stands to oppose it.”

Gibson/Wallace said, “We’ve sought diligently for someone to make things right.”

Snyder asked, “Why don’t you do it? You’re the toughest people in history.”

Gibson/Wallace sighed. “Lad, we’ve finished our courses. The call must go to each generation.”

Snyder sat forward. “I can do it.”

Washington leaned back. “You have no idea how much it will cost.”

“Doesn’t matter.”

“It will, but you must stay the course. That’s your charge.”

Snyder saluted. “Yes, sir.”

“Hey!” shouted a voice from outside the room.

Continued Next Thursday

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Zero, Part Two

Continued from Part One

Snyder stood outside the airport ter-minal. He waited through two rings. Father Bernard’s voice came on. “Hello, Snyder.”

“I had a successful meeting.”

“And I assume their friends will be interested.”

“Oh, they’re gonna have an Empire-ware party.” Snyder paused. “Father, on another matter, I was hoping I’d get to see you. It’s been months since we’ve talked face to face.”

Father Bernard said, “I’ll do the best I can, but between the Tupperware parties, parish work, and your job, it’s quite a mat-ter to arrange schedules.”

“I get back into Vegas on Thursday Night. We could get some dessert before I go back to base.”

“I’m sorry, son. I already have an ap-pointment. Perhaps Father Rayburn can come and pick you up.”

“No thanks.” It wasn’t Father Ray-burn who’d helped him come back to the church and mentored him.

Snyder sighed. Was Bernard avoiding him? Why would he? “I hope to get into town in another month. Maybe I’ll catch you then.”

“Will do. Bless you, my son.”

“Talk to you later, Father.”

Snyder picked up his carryon bag and approached the security gate.

The guard said, “Private, you need to check your weapon.”

Snyder pulled the gun out handle first towards the guard. “Yeah, I know.”

The guard took the gun. “Step for-ward into the biometrics scanner.”

Snyder stepped into the plastic arch-way that protested if he carried on him any-thing even as sharp as a butter knife.

The scanner beeped. “Private First Class, A. L. Snyder, Imperial Army Intelli-gence. No warrants outstanding. No contra-band found.”

 “A few moments while the computer records your gun information.” The guard stared at Snyder’s uniform. “How long you been in?”

“Four years.”

The guard laughed. “Four years. When I did my hitch, I had been a corporal for a year. How do you stay so long and still just be a private?”

It doesn’t help when your commanding officer hates your guts and is disappointed you didn’t get hung during your first tour of duty. “How do you stay in your job for so many years without getting a promotion?”

The guard cleared his throat. “Your gun is checked, Private. You’re free to board.”

Continued Next Thursday

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Zero, Part One

“Open up!”

Private First Class A.L. Snyder stood with his gun drawn outside a townhome in San Diego’s suburbs. He waited thirty seconds and kicked the door in. “Freeze! Face down on the ground! Now!”

The young Latino couple seated in the living room rushed to obey. The redheaded kilted marriage counselor, from the looks of things, stood and made direct eye contact. “You don’t want to do this, son. Now, how can I help you?”

Being scared at an Imperial raid would help. How was he supposed to scare this cell straight with the pastor acting like he’d come to borrow a cup of sugar?

“Private A.L. Snyder, Imperial Army Intelligence. I came to warn you I came across unencrypted information from your cell.”

The redhead said, “We don’t need fancy computer encryption, we have a cipher.”

“Yeah, and I have a program that breaks ciphers. It took twenty seconds to get vital information about your operations. I checked, and we already have a decades-long sheet on your cell—more specifically, on your family, Dr. McIntyre.”

The redhead wrinkled up his nose. “Please, young man, it’s Brother Kael. We’re all equals in the sight of God.”

Take him back to Mama Borden’s Baptist church why didn’t he? “Look, I realize from the Christian viewpoint, a rap sheet like what your family’s got is a prestigious resume, but from the Empire’s standpoint, it’s the height of ugly. Had someone else found what I did, you’d be on your way to jail. With what’s already in your file, I don’t know why you haven’t been locked up yet, honestly.”

Kael grinned. “All in the Lord’s good time, I assure you, and not a moment sooner will I receive that honor.”

“Hey, I agree. Nothing wrong with being imprisoned for the Faith. Being im-prisoned because you used cheap and out-dated security is another matter. I can get you proper encryption, and I can provide instructions so every contact point within your cell is fully protected.”

“Why would you do this?”

“Because, I’m a Catholic, and no, we don’t follow the false pope. “

Kael glanced down at Snyder’s wrist. “You’re tagged.”

“We may have a slight disagreement on that, but if I were here to bust you, I’d already done it. I’m offering my help, and I’m offering it for free.”

Kael laughed. “My favorite price.”

“Good, show me to your terminal.”

Continued Next Thursday

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