Saturday, March 9, 2013

Captain's Log, Day 106: Trenches, Dams, and Tractors

          It was a rather gray day when the family woke up. The eldest of the siblings was rather expecting to have an easy time of it and was halfway through mental calculations on the blanket fort he was planning on constructing with his brother (after he smacked Nemesis for using up all the hot water in the shower, of course) when his mom knocked on his door.
          "It rained last night and the barn flooded," she announced. "Dad is going to need your help draining the water out of the barn and cleaning it out. I think he also wants you to dig trenches in the ice to divert water flow away from the barn."
          Displaying the kind of analytical thinking that usually led to hospital trips, Radar bargained, "Can I use the tractor?"
          "Ask Dad," Mom replied as she left Radar to his cold shower.
          Dad was (surprisingly) just fine with Radar using the tractor. After breakfast, Radar and Nemesis prepared for the morning's work by running for the mudroom in an attempt to retrieve the non-leaky pair of rubber boots. They were about to come to blows...when it was discovered that all the boots had nice holes in them. Nemesis managed to squeeze into a pair of non-perforated rubber boots two sizes too small, while Radar disregarded convention and stuck his feet into a pair of snowboots. "What the heck," he remarked, "I'm going to get wet anyway."
          Dad went to town to see about a pump for the barn after giving Nemesis and Radar the instructions on where to make the trenches to divert water. He also added, "If you can dig out that snowdrift behind the chicken house so the water can flow that way, that would be great...I doubt you'll be able to manage it, but give it a shot if you have time."
          Radar and Nemesis grabbed a shovel and an ice pick respectively and started chipping. It took only about a minute before Radar got bored and threw down his implement. "Be right back, Nemesis " he announced. "I'm going to get the ax."
          After returning with the ax and--bonus!!--a sledgehammer, the brothers got back to work. True, the sledgehammer was quickly discarded when it was discovered that an impact resulted in an ice-cold spray of water being launched up one's legs (leading to a rather high-pitched yell from a nameless party), but the ax and the ice pick worked well together. It worked so well, in fact, that by the time Radar got bored again (50 seconds; he also got hot and took off his hat, hanging it on the fence by the pasture), water was already flowing merrily down a nice trench, draining the lake in front of the barn door.
          Nemesis pointed over at another lake over by the end of the driveway. "I bet, if we cut out that drift, we could just drain that down into the valley."
          "Good idea," Radar agreed. "But let's get out the tractor."
          One dinged-up barn door later (not entirely anyone's fault; the tractor had about an inch of clearance on either side), Radar was driving the tractor at full speed towards the drift, bucket in shovel position. He quickly cut through the drift and accidentally took out the top of the drain pipe that was supposed to help drain water.
          "Oops," Nemesis winced.
          "It's all right," Radar shrugged. "I'll fix it later."
          Nemesis helped chip out the trench, and soon water was flowing away down the hill. Radar did a few donuts with the tractor for the fun of it before driving into the pasture (and into the new lake that was about 6 inches deep) and attacking the snowdrift by the chicken house. Nemesis opened the trench by the barn up a little bit more; a dangerous operation, since the area he was whacking at tended to get filled with manure. Radar remembered this fact when his ears got cold and he went back to retrieve his hat. Nemesis had accidentally shoveled horse manure on it.
          "YUCK!!!" Radar yelled, holding it at arm's length and trying to determine if his ears were cold enough to justify wearing it anyway.
          "Sorry," Nemesis apologized, backing away in case Radar decided to hurl the maltreated hat at him.
          "I will end you," Radar threatened, hurling a snowball at his brother's head before retreating to the house for some new headgear.
          Upon his return, Radar immediately soaked his jeans when he sat down on the tractor; preoccupied with his hat, he had neglected to notice the advent of rain and thus had not protected the seat of the tractor, a seat which was now home to a lake of its own. "Great, now my rear's gonna itch," he complained.
          His brother, predictably, ignored him.
          Nemesis attacked the leading edge (a small one) on the outside of the fence; Radar demolished the huge drift on the inside of the fence with the tractor, using the displaced snow to create a dam to prevent further water travel to the inside of the barn. He drove back outside the pasture to help Nemesis with his portion of the drift, creating a nice, wide canal for the water to drain out of the pasture and forgetting to close the pasture gate--an oversight which one of their horses, Dakota, decided to take full advantage of. He vanished into the hay storage area (which they had also neglected to close).
          "Nemesis..." Radar began.
          "I'm on it," Nemesis sighed. "I'll get him out, you herd him with the tractor."
          Once they had shooed out errant horse back where he belonged, Nemesis jumped on the back of the tractor and the brothers drove into the pasture to have some fun. By dropping the bucket of the tractor and charging the canal they had dug, they essentially "swept" the water from the lake and sent it shooting through the canal, into the trench, and over the hill. Fifteen minutes of this (they were easily amused) and the brothers were able to see a significant drop in the water level in the pasture.
          "Alright, I think we're done here," Radar announced.
          "Hey, do you remember that one day, that one summer, when we drained the hot water from the house to flood the driveway and made dams and creeks and stuff?" Nemesis asked.
          "You bet," Radar nodded, wiping his nose. "Good practice, huh?"
          "Those were the days," Nemesis agreed, sounding like an old guy.
          Radar thought for a moment. "Too bad we didn't have the tractor back then. We could have gotten in even more trouble...hey, do you think I could build a huge snow fort with this thing?"
          Nemesis wasn't listening. "Hey, Dad's back," he announced.
          "Guess not," Radar admitted.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Captain's Log, Day 105: The Chameleon Project

          This is a new concept for a book that I came up with when I was sleep-deprived on a plane ride last Friday. Does anyone have any thoughts on this concept? I titled this one The Chameleon Project. That's not to say that I'm abandoning my other book(s), I'm just considering a new title while I think of where I want to go with my other ones.

          “Mark Three Interceptors coming about through Quadrant 4,” Commander Riley came through over my audlink. “This is it, gentlemen. Breakout on your captain’s marks.”
          I clenched my fist, feeling the plasarc barrel push gently against the skin between my knuckles. My HUD came alive with specs on the Mark IIIs, but that was pure reflex on my part—I’d been studying them for almost a year now, and fighting simulations for half that.
          It was good to finally see some action.
          “Captain?” Justin asked softly. “Now?”
          I narrowed my eyes, letting my vision zoom in on the incoming fighters, making a routine sweep of the streets. Like anything ever happened here; Earth had been pummeled into submission for a while. There was no way these things would be ready for anything, much less Chameleons. “Give it a few. Patience is a virtue.”
          I couldn’t fault him, though. My four squadmates had every right to be impatient. I flexed my legs and took a last sip of my coffee, setting the cup carefully down on the table and throwing down a generous tip. There really weren’t enough good outdoor cafes around, and I wanted to keep this one running. “Breakout in five,” I muttered. “Lock targets and don’t squabble over territory. There’s plenty of marks to go around.”
          My HUD lit up with the countdown as I snapped target locks onto the front two Marks. I tensed slightly, feeling both my enhanced muscles and hydraulics respond. I did a quick diagnostic; everything came back positive.
          The countdown ended. I snapped my arm out straight, plasarc barrel ripping through my skin and spitting the superheated plasma in twin arcs straight at the visor of my first Mark as I exploded up from the table. The plasma punched through the visor with little effort, hopefully cooking anything behind it. I flipped in midair to slam my right heel into the second Mark’s chest-piece, sending the heavy machine careening backward. It couldn’t keep its footing and crashed to the ground. I planted, spun and leapt back at the downed fighter, extending my fingers and locking them in place as fluidknives extended out my fingers, joined, and locked. The monomolecular cutting current snapped on moments before both of my hands drove straight into the machine’s neck, completely severing the head. I pulled the fluidknives back into my hands, the nanomites that had opened my skin efficiently sealing it back into place behind the departing metal as I quickly looked for another target lock.
          There were none. My team had quickly and efficiently taken out an entire squad of ten battle machines without a single casualty in our ranks. I checked my hands for blood; I’d heard tales of early Chameleons bleeding to death due to faulty nanomites. I didn’t appear to have that issue at the moment; but then, my boys and I were the tenth generation of Cammies to be developed. And the first to see combat.
          It felt good.
          “Cannons ready!” I barked, locking my knee in place and feeling the two halves of the armor-buster cannon implanted in my left leg join together. I’d wished several times in practice that the cannon could always be ready and activated, but the length of barrel required for dumping excess heat from the super-powered laser meant that it had to take up my entire leg. In order to bend my knee, the cannon separated into two halves on either side.
          “Cap, I got Mark IIs coming over the hill, 30 targets,” Brandon reported.
          I knew that, of course; we all did, HUDs supplying us with the radar movements of the incoming fighters; plus, we already knew there was an outpost on the other side of the hill. Brandon was just nervous. “Lock up on your targets as soon as you get visual confirmation,” I ordered unnecessarily. Target locks only worked visually, and the other side of the hill was decidedly not visual.
          We all raised our legs, balancing in guard positions. Peripherally, I saw civilians either staring at us or the downed machines or running indoors. The ones who stared had a right to; we’d just made history. Humans (and unarmored ones at that) had just taken down battle machines.
          I did some quick mental math. Five of us, thirty targets…we each got six locks. The battle machines came pounding over the ridge, sending civilians running. I snapped locks on the first six, or I would have if Skyrin hadn’t locked onto one of my targets first. At least I got five of them. I scanned the ranks and locked onto the only one remaining.
          Laser fire erupted from our heels as we scythed our aim across the formation. My onboard computer directed my muscles and hydraulics flawlessly, ripping the laser across the quickest paths to the vulnerable points I had targeted. My squad and I were so fast that only one Mark II got off a shot—a missile that my computer locked onto and destroyed with a plasarc burst almost before I realized it was there.
          I dropped my leg, letting the cannon separate and unlocking my knee. I felt the nanomites already closing the exits from the weapons on my heel and hand. “Well, I think that was an overall success. Strip the plasma guns and lasers off the Mark IIIs and dump them in the storm sewer. Underground should be in place now to pick them up. After that, let’s go to ground—and Andy, please quit with the combat stance every time you stop. The whole point of our existence is to blend with the civilian population.”
          “Sorry, Boss,” Andy apologized, already using his finger cutter to slice off the plasma turret on a Mark III.
          I strode over to the decapitated Mark III and ripped off its weapons systems, quickly throwing them down the drain. Before I left, I turned and knelt down next to the discarded helmet, curiosity causing me to slashing it open. I saw then what I’d only ever seen in recs before: the face of our oppressor.
          The still, scaled features of the Trix’axi stared blindly at me.
          “Step one,” I muttered. “You may not know it yet, but the revolt has started.” I tipped it a mock salute as I stood back up. “Alrighty, boys, let’s get out of here. Mission accomplished.”
          Cutters and fluidknives retracted, irises spiraled back down to normal size, nanomites closed skin. We stepped out of the street and lost ourselves in the alleyways of Detroit. Overhead, a repcraft blocked out the sun as the reaction from the Trix’axi finally came. Too little, too late.
          “Hey, Kitch, how did the other teams do?” Andy asked.
          “We’ll find out when we get back to base,” I replied, shrugging. “We can’t run audlinks anymore—Underground pushed it a little too much setting us up. Any more comms and the Trax’axi will be able to triangulate base in a heartbeat. The only reason we got away with it before was—“
          “Right, the element of surprise,” Andy finished for me. “Seriously, if you say anything about our element of surprise, I’ll take a swing at you myself.”
          “You won’t make it, because you just lost your—“ I caught his glare and conceded. They didn’t need a lecture today. “Alright, fine. Great job, all. We made history. Let's get some more coffee."