Retired - Chapter Two - Ranch

Post time2-02-2021, 15:17

I had just finished getting ready for the day when there was a knock at my door. I was wearing my pistol in a hip holster. Mud was an open carry world. No one would even look at me twice for having it.

I went to the communications panel and hit the button to call out to the foyer. “Yes?”

“I have a delivery for a Mister Daemon.”

“I will be right there,” I replied. As I headed for the front door, old habits took over. I removed the safety strap from my holster and clicked the safety off on the pistol. When I opened the door a young man stood there.

“Sir, I have a truck and trailer package to deliver to a Mister Daemon.”

“I am he.”

“If you will just confirm your identity,” he said, holding out an identity pad.

An hour later, I was just headed out the front door. My bags were in the truck and I had checked out.

“Drake!?”, Lizell called out from behind me.

I turned to see her in a tight fitting green dress. She was stunning to see. “May I help you?”

“I am looking for the local recruiter’s office. Do you happen to know where it is?”

“It was over on Empire Street last time I saw it. Hop in I will give you a lift over. It is on my way out of town.”

As we approached my new white truck, we both were wide eyed. It was a heavy-duty hover truck with a long livestock trailer behind it. In the cargo bed, a small crane was mounted, and tool boxes lined both sides.

“You must have came into town to buy a new truck,” Lizell said, as she looked at the brand knew half million credit set up.

“Something like that,” was my reply.

I touched the button on the door and the identity lock opened for me. When I opened the door, I hit the button to unlock the passenger door.

As Lizell climbed in, she noticed the gun on my hip for the first time. “That is an awful fancy piece of hardware for a rancher.”

“It and I are old friends. It was a gift from someone who valued what I did for them.” I touched the controls and the trucks pulse engine fired up. The truck lifted smoothly off the ground to hover sixteen inches in the air. When I heard the landing legs retract I pulled out and used the surface lanes to drive to Empire Street.

“I am hoping to pick up some information from the recruiter. If the person came from this planet, he would have had to be recruited through this location.”

I was looking at the rearview camera in my instrument panel. A black hover car had pulled out right behind us and was following. “Can I make a suggestion I know you won’t follow?”

“As long as you know I am not going to take it,” she said with a smile.

“Forget this story and head back home. If the empire has deleted his records, you could be digging into something dangerous.”

“I am sure I can handle myself. A reporter has to be willing to put their life on the line for a story.”

I just shook my head as I pulled in front of the recruiter’s office and landed the truck. I turned to her, “Let me give you my ranch location. If things go south come to me and I will try and help.”

She nodded and I gave her my global location. She took a note of it and then climbed down from the truck.

I watched her walk into the office as the hovercar following her landed a few spaces up. My conscious wrestled with me. I knew who she was looking for. Was I responsible for her life? Should I ask Robert to step in? If she was tenacious enough, nothing would stop her until she got answers or death.

I lifted off and watched as the sedan remained behind. They were following her not me. If she found what she was looking for they would be after me soon. Damn it, Robert! I curse the day I saved your life.

I pulled to a riser location and thumbed the com panel to life. “This is car number CVS1456 requesting air traffic entrance.”

“Please state your destination,” a voice answered.

“I am heading out westward to my ranch.”

“Rise to three thousand meters and enter west bound route fourteen. Outbound traffic is light. Please wait until clearing city airspace before requesting hyper-sonic speed.”

“Affirmative, Traffic Control.”

I increased the charge on the elevator drive and the truck and trailer rose smoothly into the air. They had been right; traffic was light. The travel out of the city was easy.

Once I cleared the city limits, I thumbed the panel to life again. “Planetary Traffic, this is car number CVS1456 requesting permission for hyper-sonic travel.”

“State your destination and requested speed.”

“The destination is my ranch and speed is mach two.”

“Request granted. Adjust altitude to five thousand meters and accelerate to twenty-four-twenty kilometers per hour.”

“Affirmative, Planetary Control.”

Once I was at altitude and speed, I had two hours to kill. The truck had its flight path and would guide me in. I set it to alert me at one hundred miles from my destination. Then I thumbed the private call button on the com panel. I typed in my scramble code and then the identity number.

The transmission rang a few times. This was an old throwback. For some reason, man was really comfortable with that ancient sound before making connection with someone, even in this day of instant communications across a galaxy.

“You have reached Cleo, so you must want to talk to meoh,” a young voice sing-songed across the light years.

“I always want to talk to my niece.”

“Uncle Drake! Oh, thank God you called! I am going crazy.”

“What’s wrong, little bit?”

“Dad has me grounded because I slipped my body guards. I just wanted a few minutes without someone following me around.”

I chuckled. “You slipped your bodyguards, and you want pity from me.”

“Uncle Drake, please talk to him! I can’t stand having six people around me all the time. The boys won’t even talk to me, even if the gorillas will let them get through.”

“You’re only twenty-one. You don’t even know what boys are for yet.”

“If I my father has his way, I will never find out what they are for. Please talk to him and ask him to at least lift the restriction. There is a concert this weekend I want to go attend.”

“Why not have your dad hire the band for a private performance?”

“That would not be any fun. The fun of a concert is the people. Please, Uncle Drake, talk to him, for me.”

“I will talk to him. Now, what is your real question?”

I could hear her pause. The question must have been a doozy. “I want to do a term in the military. Is there any way you can pull a few strings and get me accepted?”

“Little bit, your father would flip out if he heard that. You know he will not even let you consider it. Besides that, how would you ever make it through basic training with body guards following you around?”

“I don’t want the body guards! I want to take my chances like anyone else.”

“I really do understand why you want to do this, Cleo, but it isn’t going to happen. I could pull a star out of orbit, but that would not be enough to get you in. The military would never take the risk to your life.”

“Please, Uncle Drake, I really need to become my own person. I have brothers who can become the heir if something happened to me.”

“I will discuss it with your father. I won’t make any promises on that one, though.”

“Thank you, Uncle Drake! I love you!”

“I love you too, little bit.”

I disconnected the call and placed another one. This one went to an identity number only a handful of people had.

“Hello,” a female voice said softly.

“Hello, Asta. I need to talk to you and Bobby both.”

“If this is about what we did on Sial’nief…”

“No, I have just about forgiven you and Bobby for that. This is about Cleo.”

“Did she call you to beg for relief?”

“That, and another thing.”

“Let me get Bobby and go into his office.”

There was a pause in the conversation as I waited. Then Robert’s voice came on. “Drake, how did you like the truck and ranch?”

“I haven’t seen the ranch yet, but the truck is way too much. Listen, I know I have no right to butt in here, but take it easy on Cleo. She needs to be her own person.”

“Did she tell you what she did?”

“She said she slipped her body guards.”

“Yes, she did that. She also was missing for almost twenty-four hours. She had snuck off to go to a party at a dance club. If someone in the club had recognized her, and told the wrong people, we never would have found her.”

“Bobby, I was told about a young man who tried to slip us more than once, just so he could try to sneak off to a pleasure house.” I reminded him of his boyhood, a long time ago. Asta started laughing in the background.

Robert cleared his throat. “That is not something Asta needed to hear.”

“Don’t worry, Asta -- he never managed to slip out of my sight. He wasn’t that good. Bobby, you have to understand she is a young woman and needs a little breathing room. Find a way to give her some time alone. Maybe arrange a party for her in a controlled environment. Better yet, get Angel to gather some of the younger body guards to cover her and let her go to the concert.”

“Do you think Angel can keep her safe?”

“I trusted her with you, didn’t I?”

“Okay, I will let her go to the concert.”

“One other thing, Bobby. Cleo wants to pull a term in military service…”

“Abso-fucking-lutely not!”, Bobby and Asta both said quickly.

“Listen to me before you get crazy on me. I know she cannot serve. The danger would be too much. However, under heavy guard she could do an inspection tour for you. That would let her see more of the galaxy and get her out to feel like she is part of what is going on.”

Bobby gave a long pause as he considered my idea. “You may be right. She could use a little responsibility and talking with the soldiers would help their morale. It might be a good idea.”

“Talk with Angel and see what she would need for security.”

“Okay. We will talk it through with her and Cleo. Maybe we can give Cleo a little independence and still keep her safe.”

Our goodbyes were heart felt. I talked with Danny and Little Drake before we broke contact. Little Drake was just starting to talk in whole sentences.

I leaned back in my seat and started to doze off.


“Sergeant Major Daemon, for heroics above and beyond the call of duty we owe you another cluster. The problem is you already have gold clusters on all of your medals. It is the decision of this review board, we will award you rank in place of the medals you so richly deserve. We ask that you turn in your pins and accept the rank of Lieutenant.”

I stepped forward and detached my pins from my collar. Then I held still as the two-star general pinned my gold bars in place. The general stepped back and I saluted him crisply. His return salute was filled with pride.

He then turned to the crowd of men who stood in formation. “Space Rangers! Salute the newest officer in our corps!”

I turned to face the men who had followed me into battle over the five years I had been a space ranger. Their salute was crisp and perfect, as they all stood at attention.

I was proud of my men. We had held Abraxis V with no support for more than a week. My career was six years in and I had made an officer by climbing the ranks. I would be second in command of a company of men now.

After the soldiers were dismissed, my new captain came up to me. “Drake, there is a party in the officer’s club for you this evening. Will you be joining us?”

“I would be honored, ma’am.”

For the first time in my life, I walked through the doors of the officer’s club. This was a different type of place. First of all, the officers were as thick as thieves at a jewelry show. Second, there were civilian women here who were looking for a little fun with the officers. Usually, they were looking for a future husband. They did dally until they found their mark, though. I had no sooner entered when a young blond latched onto my arm. “You must be Lieutenant Daemon. I heard you were a thousand meters tall and ate rail gun rounds for breakfast.”

“I am on vacation right now,” I said, as I smiled at her.

“Why don’t you buy me a drink and we can get to know each other.”

I must have had every officer in the club shake my hand that night. The young lady’s name was Grace. She introduced me to a bunch of the officers I did not know. She seemed to know just about everyone.

About midnight she leaned over and whispered in my ear. “Why don’t you take me back to your place and fuck my brains out?”

I started to blush furiously. I could not look her in the eye at all.

“What’s wrong, Drake?” she asked, as she ran her fingernail along my arm.

“Grace, I have… I have never…”

Her eyes grew very wide. Then she leaned in and whispered in my ear. “Are you trying to tell me you are a virgin?”

I nodded as my face turned even redder.

She pulled my face around and gave me a kiss that melted my toes. Her tongue did things to my mouth that I think are illegal on most planets. When she broke away, she smiled almost shyly. “You would have never convinced me of that if you hadn’t blushed. There is a look in your eyes that makes me feel like butter. Whenever you are ready, take me back to your place.”

“Grace, I am not looking for a wife. I can’t give you what you want.”

“You can give me your time, which is all I need. I am not looking for a husband, just a friend.” I looked into her eyes as she spoke. She was being completely honest with me.

I leaned in and kissed her. This time, I took the lead and savaged her mouth with my passion. When we broke apart, I looked into her eyes. “Let’s finish our drinks to the friendship we will grow. Then we can go back to my place.”

As part of my new rank, I had a house on post and a hoverjeep at my disposal. I drove us to my house and led her in. The door had no sooner shut than she attacked me with a passion that floored me. Her hands gripped the button strip on my shirt and she tore it open. Her lips pressed against my chest and sent shivers down my spine. This was a sensation for which I was not prepared. The pleasure of that simple touch nearly drove me over the edge.

I pulled my shirt off as her dress went over her head. Then she pushed me back until we fell on the couch. She kissed down my chest as her hands tore my belt free. She had become an animal in the urgency of her need. I lifted my hips as she tugged my pants and underwear down my legs. Then she moaned with delight as my cock slapped against her chin.

I used my feet to push my boots off as she continued to push my pants down my legs. My mind was struck with lightning as her mouth wrapped around my steel-hard shaft. The sensations she gave me made me wonder if there was anything that could possibly feel better than what she was doing now. My hand had nothing on her delightful mouth.

Her tongue swirled and tickled around my shaft. A flick here, a lick there, and I was on the edge of an explosion. Then her mouth ran down until her nose was buried in my pubic hair. I could not help it, I had to stop her or our night was going to be over very quickly. “Grace, I am going to cum.”

Her answer was to use her finger to massage the skin behind my balls. I lost control and climaxed into her mouth. I could not have stopped it if I tried. She did not choke or cough. She swallowed greedily as my offering flowed into her mouth.

I jerked and spasmed as she continued to suckle and lick at my now-sensitive staff. She had me in her power -- I was completely defeated. Then she let me free and started to climb my body. “Now you can return the favor until he recovers.”

I had fantasized about doing what she now requested. The powers that be know I had fantasized. Now I was being offered the chance to fulfill those fantasies. I pushed her back and she went willingly. She lay back on the couch and I slid between her legs. I was inexperienced, but she guided me to what made her time-bomb tick.

She taught me to lick around and across. She showed me to suck in her delicate lips and run my tongue across them while I hummed. She showed me to suck in her clit and flick it with my tongue, while I squeezed it with my teeth. The next thing I knew her legs clamped on my head like a trap and she began to shake. Her delicate flower became sweeter as she came from my efforts. I wanted to taste every drop of her nectar and lapped at it greedily.

“Oh! You’re going to do just fine. I think you should practice that every day.” She said with a smile. Then she gave a little coo of delight as I rose up and my reinvigorated sword stood out proud. She crooked a finger at me and made a come-hither motion.

I knee-walked forward as she took my cock in her hand. She guided me to the gates of heaven. Then she pulled on my hips and started to set the pace for our joining. I had to readjust my thinking. This was even better than her mouth. Her tight orchid gripped and massaged the shaft that thrust into her. It felt so tight and wonderful.

I would last longer this time and I took full advantage of that. I thrust with passion and power. I sped up and slowed down. I felt her rock through several orgasms as I drove my way into her. Then I felt myself approaching the destination. I wanted this to last forever though. I lifted her into my arms and stood up. Her legs were on my chest while her body was in my arms. I stood and drove into her like an animal.

Grace moaned and shook in my arms. Her cries sounded like pain and pleasure. Her moans were animal in nature. Those sounds started me up that hill again.

I put her down onto the couch and got her to roll over. I began to drive into her from behind, as she continued to moan and shake. Each time we changed positions, the time before I had to change again was shorter.

I picked her up and walked to the table. There I laid her out and again started my drive.

Next, I lay her on the floor and put her legs on my shoulders. Then I bent her over the arm of the couch. Next was with her on the coffee table, then the chair.

“Drake, please I am nearly orgasmed out. Give it to me,” she begged, as we wrestled on the rug in front of the fireplace.

I gave her what she wanted. When the time came I did not change position. I finished my charge and took her prisoner. She screamed out as I came inside her body. We grunted and cried out together. Our voices became a harmony of animal passion.

We lay there panting in the afterglow of very powerful sex. I felt her slowly start to relax and knew she was about to go to sleep.

I picked her up and carried her to the bed. Once she was under the covers, I walked around and climbed in beside her. By the time I snuggled up to her she was sound asleep.

Three days later my unit was in orbit around Stenis III. We were not sure what we would find down there. The planetary communications had stopped two days ago. Our company and seven others were dropping in to investigate.

“Lieutenant Daemon, I want you to take half the company and move to these hills to the south of our landing site. I need eyes to tell me what is ahead of us.”

“Yes, ma’am. Watch your back.”

She smiled. “I have been through battles before.”

Our launch was effortless, as the fast drop shuttles took us in. The landing was rough, but we all made it. My two platoons headed out to the south and we started our job.

We had been moving for about fifteen minutes when I heard the incoming mortars. I scattered the men to make us harder targets but the mortars went right over our head. They were headed for the main part of the recon force.

I activated the bob in my ear. “Recon force! Incoming mortar fire! Scatter! Scatter! Scatter!” Three seconds later, the muffled explosions a mile away started.

I started my force on a double-time run towards the hills. The fire had come from them. As we ran, my bob activated. “This is recon force. We are pinned down behind a small ridge line. Can we get air support?”

“Negative, recon force, we are taking missile fire and cannot launch,” came back from the carrier.

“This is Lieutenant Daemon to Emperor’s Delight, pull back until you are out of range of the missiles. My force is within striking distance of the enemy forces. Recon force, hold on and stay alive.”

As I spoke, we arrived at the base of the hill. There were two gun emplacements which opened up on us instantly. I heard and felt the screams of my men. I pulled out my rail pistol and took aim. A light squeeze of the trigger and a round screamed into the open gunner’s port for one emplacement. The gun fell silent as I rolled out of position. The area where I had been standing was ripped apart by rapid-fire rail rounds.

I popped up and took aim. This time I popped the other nest. Then I rolled again as the first one opened fire. I needed something besides small arms fire, or this was going to take forever. After my third shot I rolled up to one of my men. I could not identify what was left of him, but his grenade launcher was intact. When I popped up this time, I pulled the trigger on a rocket-propelled grenade. The front of one of the emplacements exploded in fire and rubble.

My roll this time was delayed, and it nearly cost me my life. I felt the round tug at my leg, and when I came to a stop I looked down to see the neat hole through my boot. The round had passed through harmlessly but it had been really close. The second grenade sped forth and took out the other emplacement.

“I want that property, soldiers!”, I shouted, and men came out of the jungle to charge up the hill. At the same time, insurgents charged down the hill. My pistol sang until it ran out of power. Then I drew my combat knife. It took us ten minutes to get to the top of the hill. Once there I un-slung the grenade launcher from my back and pointed it at the mortar launchers.

I pulled both triggers and let the grenades fly. The mortar crews had tried to abandon their weapons, but they were too late. The grenades ripped the nest into a tattered crater filled with parts. Then I looked around for a head count. There were five of us left.

Eighty-five men charged the hill. Five walked back down. I activated my bob again. “Recon force, the mosquitoes have been swatted.”

“Thank you, Patrol, state status and condition.”

“Five of us own the hill, ma’am. We are searching for wounded.”

“I will send support.”

“Negative, ma’am. Recon never gives ground. We will hold.”

Five hours later, three other carriers jumped in with a shit-load of men. Two weeks and the planet had been pacified and the rightful government freed. Insurgents had taken them hostage and destroyed the relay satellite.

I was in charge of the force that went in after the leader of the insurgents. It was a fight but not much of one. They had been cut off from all support and we had solid supply lines. I came out of the bunker with Admon Quaid in chains. I had captured the supreme leader of the Spinners.

“Captain Drake Daemon, please step forward.”

I stepped forward and saluted the man in front of me. He was the Grand Marshal of the military. He returned the salute crisply. “Captain Drake Daemon, for services to the empire above and beyond the call of duty, I have been directed by the emperor to award you the Imperial Medal of Honor. Through your actions, and the men under you command, you saved the lives of over three hundred men and women.”

“Thank you, sir,” I said, as he pinned the ultimate award to my chest.


The guidance alarm woke me as the truck made its final approach to my ranch. I looked out the windshield and through the slip shielding. There lay the fence to my land. I was still more than seventy five miles from my new home. Damn it, Robert. I am supposed to lay low, not run a ranch larger than any other on the planet. I thumbed the mapping system to life. My land covered over fourteen million acres. I was definitely going to spank Robert when I saw him again.

The truck slowed, and I thumbed communications back to life. “Planetary Control, this is truck CVS1456 on final approach to destination. I request clearance to drop to one thousand meters and out of guidance control.”

“Request granted.”

“Affirmative, Planetary Control. Have a good day.”

I dropped my altitude to private flight level. This was the highest you could fly outside of city limits without planetary control getting involved. I circled the ranch house as it came into view. I had to laugh. Robert had it built to my drawings -- times ten. This place was huge. I had designed a three-level ranch house with four bedrooms. This place had to have forty bedrooms. Robert had to overdo everything.

I landed on the roof pad for the garage, and waited as the lift lowered the truck and trailer into the garage. Sitting in my garage was a sport flyer and several hoverbikes. Robert had set me up like a playboy millionaire.

I went to the door from the garage into the house and thumbed the identity plate. The door unlatched and swung open. I nearly had a heart attack when I saw the woman standing there.

“Good morning, sir. I am your house android. May I get anything for you?”

“What is your name?”

“I am CFT521.”

“You will answer to Cindy from now on.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Are there any other house droids?”

“Yes, sir, there are three additional female droids inside the house and a group of twenty male ranch droids to work the herds.”

“Herds? How many head of cattle are on the ranch?”

“There are thirty thousand, one hundred and twenty two cows at present and seven bulls.”

“Are there any other livestock?”

“There are ten thousand, one hundred and forty-four chickens. Seven thousand, three hundred and thirty-six pigs, and four thousand, seven hundred and twelve sheep.”

“Call the droids to the house when it is convenient for them. I will meet and name them all.”

“Yes, sir.”

I walked into the house and headed to the front room. It was set up as a formal gathering hall. Robert must have thought I was going to turn into a party animal when I retired.

A couple of the droids passed by, carrying my bags to my room. I wondered why they had decided to make them so human looking. If you did not know what to look for you would not know they were droids.

Then something hit me. “Cindy, please come here.”

Cindy came into the room quickly. “Yes, sir.”

“Are you… fully functional?”

“Yes sir, I am operating at one hundred percent.”

“That is not exactly what I meant. I mean do you have all the parts of a normal woman?”

“No, sir. I do not have a circulatory or digestive systems.”

I shook my head. “I mean are you capable of coupling?”

“Yes, sir. I can link with any of the computer systems in the house at need.”

“You’re going to make me say it, aren’t you?”

“Sir, I am not sure what you mean.”

“Are you designed to have sex?”

“Yes, sir, I am fully versed in giving pleasure to a man or woman. All of the house droids are designed for this purpose.”

“Thank you. You may go about your business.”

“Yes, sir.”

When she walked away, I caught my reflection in the mirror on the wall. I looked like a danger light. My face was so red I could guide craft in from space.

I spent the day checking out my new house. The indoor swimming pool was a surprise, especially since there was an outdoor one as well. There was also a jacuzzi and sauna in both places. The gun storage room was exactly as I specified, and stocked as I had listed. The problem was there were ten of them under the mansion. The kitchen was a chef’s dream. But the master bedroom was the shocker. It was massive. You could throw a formal dinner party in the shower. The closet had an assortment of clothes and shoes in my sizes. The man’s vanity was set up with all the grooming supplies I would need.

There was a gymnasium on the bottom floor, along with a theater, bowling alley, and shooting range. The game room had a pool table, ping-pong table, several gaming systems, and a library of games for them.

When I finished my tour of the house, I went to a com panel and typed in Robert’s identity number. Then I typed a text message of one word, “Asshole”.

My day was one of shocks and surprises. Why wouldn’t the next day continue this?

I was awoken the next morning by the house computer system. “Property line alert! A craft has crossed the property line on a direct path for the house.”

I jumped out of bed. “Is there a visual available?”

“Affirmative,” the system said, and brought up a holo-view of the vehicle.

I moved to the holo-view and used my hands to zoom in on the hover car. The red hair gave her away. Lizell was coming for a visit, and the look on her face was one of anger.

As I moved to get dressed, the computer spoke again. “Property line alert! A craft has crossed the property line on a direct path for the house.”

“You already told me about it.”

“This is a second vehicle, sir.”

My head snapped around. “Show me.”

The holo-view showed a black hovercar this time. In it were four men in black suits.

I thumbed the com panel to intercom mode. “All droids proceed to safe holes and remain until contacted by me.”

I quickly dressed and headed to the front door. I waited until I heard Lizell ring the bell. Then, as quickly as I could, I opened the door and yanked her inside.

“What the fuck!”, she yelled at the top of her lungs.

“You stupid fool, why couldn’t you just leave it alone!”

“I went to the recruiter and he looked for the record. He couldn’t find it so he went back through his notes from years ago. He found the record number from where he had noted it when he originally entered it. Imagine my surprise when the name belonged to Drake Daemon.”

“Imagine your surprise when those men following you put a rail round through your head. You stupid fool. You have put your life in danger. You have put my life in danger. You have put every person on this planet in danger. I am an ex-Praetorian. Those men will stop at nothing to kill me and you. They will kill anyone and everyone who gets in their way.”

“You’re a what?”

“A Praetorian Guardsman. I tried to retire, and now that is gone because of you.”

“You were a, Praetorian Guardsman? You mean you were an imperial bodyguard?”

“Yes, you fool. I told you to leave it alone. I told you they deleted the file to protect the soldier.”

“What have I done? Oh, God! I am so sorry!”

“That is going to be a lot of comfort to the people who die because of you.” I grabbed her arm and moved to the com panel. I thumbed it to life and entered Robert’s identity code. Then I entered another text message. “Burning blanket.”

I hit the send button and watched. As I watched the status changed from “active” to “Satellite acquisition failure”.

“Fuck!”, I screamed, as I slammed my fist into the wall next to the panel. “We are cut off!”

I started dragging her towards the hidden stairs down to the closest gun room. As I turned the corner, rail slugs started ripping into the front room. Glass and plaster flew like shrapnel. I pressed the hidden identity plate and the door popped open. “Get in there and stay down!”

I followed her down the stairs as she ran in front of me. The door closed behind me. Once at the bottom of the stairs, I started to pull out weapons. I tossed Lizell a fully charged rail pistol. “If anyone comes down those stairs that is not me you are to kill them. Do not hesitate! They will kill you.”

I started to strip off my clothes and change into the black and gray of the Praetorian Guard. Once my boots were on my feet I started putting on weapons. Four Vibe knives went in each side of my belt. Four Vibe knives went in each boot. Four more Vibe knives went into a hanger on my back. A rail pistol went on each hip. Then on my back went a set of Japanese style swords. Over the top of those went a compact sniper rifle. Then, in my lower back, I placed a pair of old fashioned semi-automatic pistols. On each wrist, I placed a band filled with little throwing spikes. On my chest, I hung a high cyclic rate machine rail pistol. Then I hung straps with extra magazines and power cells on myself.

I turned towards the back of the gun safe. “Stay here and stay alive. I will identify myself when I come into the room.”

I thumbed the com plate in the wall to life and switched it to camera mode. The tunnel on the other side was clear. I opened the hidden panel and went in. Once I was a hundred feet into the tunnel, I flipped the switch to set off the grenades that would collapse the tunnel behind me.

I headed towards the end of the tunnel which would let me out in the yard. I had to be as quiet as possible for as long as possible. I needed to kill without thought and avoid being killed in return.

When I got to the end of the tunnel, I checked the com plate. There was no one on this side of the house. I slid the tunnel cover out of the way and climbed up. Then I closed the cover behind me. The longer I could keep them from learning about the tunnels, the better off I would be. I moved to the side of the house and peeked around the edge. There were two men standing by the car. Damn it! They were too far away for throwing spikes. I cursed Robert in my mind again. He just had to make this damn house so big. I slid down the wall, trying to creep past the window next to me. When I was in a squatting position, the wall above me suddenly exploded outward as rail rounds ripped through it. If I had remained standing I would be dead.

I rolled fast past the window, and rail rounds ripped through behind me. I made it to the back corner of the house and stepped around. I drew both rail pistols, then I spun to face the wall and fell back and out. As I was falling, the two men from the car came running around the far corner. I pumped rounds out as fast as I could. Both men were ripped apart as the heavy rail slugs tore through their bodies.

I rolled back around the corner just as rail slugs exploded out of the wall I had been near. My count left two of them inside the house. I was up and running the length of this fucking massive house. I had to get to the far end and in the kitchen door before the two men reached it.

I burst in the kitchen door just as one of the men came in from the hallway. We both opened fire. I felt the slug as it numbed my left shoulder. I am sure he felt my slugs as they ripped into his face and chest.

I dropped behind the counter to check my wound. It was just a scratch. I had gotten lucky and I knew it.

Somewhere in the house was an armed man. I moved to the control panel and turned off all the inside lights. Then I darkened the windows. We were now on equal footing. Dim light conditions and neither of us knew where the other was.

I started to move silently through the house. I listened for any noise that might tell me where he was. We stalked each other for a long time. Then I heard a pounding sound. It was coming from the hidden door to the gun room. Damn that woman! Did she not have any mind at all!

I moved quietly towards the door and waited. There was nothing. No movement -- just the noise of her occasional pounding at the door. I waited and waited. Then I started to move towards the door. When I got in front of the door, I checked the identity plate. It had not been accessed. I turned away from the door and, as I did, the floorboard gave an ever so slight creak.

The rail rounds ripped through the closet door across the hall. I felt the one slam through my left shoulder and into the wall behind me. The second one went through my leg. I fell to the floor and tried to keep from making a noise as I reached for the identity plate. As it clicked, the door to the closet was kicked open and the man walked out with his weapons pointed at my head.

Then the door behind me slid aside and I fell backwards down the stairs. Rail rounds went past me and I heard the scream from the top of the stairs. Lizell had done what I asked. She had fired without hesitating. She kept firing though she emptied the clip and still kept pulling the trigger.

I looked up calmly. “If you are going to keep pulling the trigger, at least change the magazine.”

“Drake, are they dead?”

“You just took care of the last one. Now, could you hand me the med kit on the wall, please?

Lizell moved over and grabbed the kit. When she brought it to me I opened it and used the wound seal to plug the holes in my shoulder and leg. Then I gave myself a pain blocker and a shot of antibiotics. As the medication started to work I heard the computer. “Property line alert! Five craft have crossed the property line on a direct path for the house.”

“We have to get out of here now. Grab those two bags and follow me.”

When we got to the garage door I asked her, “Can you drive a hoverbike?”

“No,” she said, as she shook her head.

“Throw the bags in the back of the sport flyer. Get in, sit down, hang on, and shut up.”

As she climbed into the car I touched the com panel at the garage door, “Computer?”

“Yes, sir,” the computer replied.

“Code, ‘Burning blanket’! Set detonation on motion detection inside the house.”


I opened the rear garage door and climbed into the sport flyer. I moved the power control forward and the car retracted its landing legs. Then it started crawling forward at a walking pace. I carefully manipulated the controls until I was three feet off the ground. Then I accelerated to nine hundred kilometers per hour. I did not want to break the sound barrier yet.

It was only two minutes later when my new mansion exploded in a thunderous fireball. Once that was done, I lifted to about six hundred meters and accelerated to mach three.

“We will be outside the starport in a little over an hour. Try to get some sleep.”

“I can’t sleep! I killed that man!”

“He would have killed you. You did what you had to do.”

My com unit came to life. “Car CVS1457, you are exceeding the low level speed limit. Slow to two hundred kilometers per hour.”

I reached under the dashboard and yanked out the identity beacon.

“You can go to prison for that!”, Lizell said in a panic.

“If we live, I will get Robert to give me a permission slip.”

“Who is Robert?”

“Davinal Robert Stavio-Noir the fifth”

“That is the emperor!”

“I told you I was a Praetorian Guard.”

“Oh, God! What have I stumbled into?”

“You stumbled onto a big sign that told any one of a huge number of enemies where I am.”

“Who would want to kill you?”

“It could be any one of a number of counts, earls, or dukes, maybe Spinners or even a mob lord.”

“Why would you have that many enemies? All you ever did was protect the emperor.”

“Think about how many people want him dead, for various reasons. I stopped them from killing him.”

The com unit came to life again at that point. “News bulletin: Starjump City is under the control of unknown hostile forces. Avoid entrance into the city.”

“Well, that limits who is trying to kill me. It now has to be someone capable of having private army. That drops all the counts and earls out.”

“Where are we going to go now?”


“Why are we going there? The people trying to kill you are in control.”

“That makes them easy to find. Now try and get some rest. You are going to have a busy afternoon.

She leaned back and lay her head against the cool glass of the window. As she tried to relax my mind drifted back.


“Colonel Daemon, your battalion will be assisting the Praetorian Guard on Ryslan IV. You are to provide all assistance they require,” General Maragrass said during my briefing. He was our new commanding officer, replacing General Tainer. Our former general had moved on to a new rank and was riding a desk at mission planning. He now wore two stars on his collar and blamed me for getting him promoted.

“Yes, sir. Who is my point of contact with the Praetorian Guard?”

“Your POC will be here this afternoon to discuss the mission with you.”

“May I inquire as to why my unit was chosen for this mission, sir?”

The general actually started laughing. “Drake, you got selected for this because of more than a hundred combat medals, including three Imperial Medals of Honor, in ten years. You were chosen when the Praetorian Guard asked for my best battalion. I had no choice.”

“Sir, my battalion will earn your faith.”

“Go get your men ready. You have a free hand for equipment requests. Dismissed.”

I walked across the compound, listing the equipment we would need. I wanted my battalion upgraded to the new insert communication bobs. I also wanted all my men to have the new self-adhering breathing filters. I might as well use a free hand to get the equipment we needed.

I was not even startled when a tall black-haired woman fell in step beside me. She wore the dress black and grey of the Praetorian Guard. “Colonel Daemon?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“We need to talk. Can we go to your office?”

“Yes, ma’am, if you feel more comfortable sitting while talking, we can go there.”

I saw her smile out of the corner of my eye. “I had heard you were a real hard ass, a man who feared nothing.”

“Ma’am, I fear lots of things. I find it is better to step on your fear and do what needs to be done. Are you expecting trouble during this mission?”

“We are the Praetorian Guard. We always expect trouble.”

It was my turn to smile. “We have something in common. I will need to know the security arrangements, so I can brief my command staff.”

“The crown prince is traveling to Ryslan IV to meet his betrothed for the first time. The Lady Astalynn Rythan Melcoir is to be escorted by her personal guard. We will greet her at the space port and take over her security while she is with the prince. Your job is to maintain security on a two kilometer perimeter from our location.”

“Disposition orders?”

“Any threat is to be neutralized on identification.”

We arrived at my office. I was seldom here. My job was with the men, not behind a desk. I motioned for the woman to take a seat. “Is there anything I should know about the situation?”

“Be ready for anything, and expect everything.”

We talked for several hours as I made a list of the equipment my men would need. This mission should be a cake walk. I was taking in equipment as if we were being dropped into hell.

A week later, our carrier sent our landing shuttles in. These were bigger and slower than a fast drop shuttle, but they carried more men and equipment.

I started the men moving out. Our first priority was securing the space port itself. Anyone with no reason to be there was escorted off the compound.

I stationed four men in the control tower and another four at the base of the lift. Once the tower was secure we started a sweep of the space port. My men had chemical sniffers to detect explosives. They also had radiation trackers for anything radioactive.

The sweep turned up nothing, so I ordered my men to go through it again. When the second sweep also came up blank, I secured the compound and gave the clear for landing. I stood at the edge of the tarmac watching the ground crew as they readied for the two incoming shuttles.

The large shuttles both came in on a clean landing vector. My men kept the patrols and radio contact with each checkpoint maintaining constant radio contact. The shuttles came in and made a perfect landing.

I watched as the Praetorian Guard exited the imperial shuttle and moved out to check the compound. The black-haired woman came towards me. “Colonel Daemon, status report.”

“All access onto the grounds has been secured. All non-essential personnel have been removed. The explosives sweep has been conducted twice.”

“The Praetorian Guard will do a third sweep and personnel check.”

“I would expect no less.”

It was an hour of boredom as the conducted their sweep. Then the lady was escorted off of her shuttle. Once she was on the ground the Praetorian Guard started bringing out the prince.

I watched the lady’s personal guard as they waited with her. It was a slight movement that caught my eye. My reaction was a split second too late.

As a group, the lady’s guardsmen pulled their weapons and opened fire on the Praetorian Guard. I was in motion and drawing my pistol before the sounds of the shots fully registered. “Space Rangers, secure the package. We have rats in the henhouse. The lady’s guard have broken covenant.”

As I ran I saw the lady’s guards grab her arms from behind. One of them put his gun to her head as others went for the prince. Men were starting to move all around me as they broke location to move on the guard.

I raised my rail pistol and squeezed the trigger as I ran. The two guardsmen headed for the prince went down hard and fast. The prince was too stunned to move.

The guard holding the lady started to turn towards me. I leveled and fired again. The round passed through the lady’s hair, then plunged into the face of the man behind her. My next shot took the guard on her other side.

The Guardsmen and the prince started to break for cover as I continued my dash. I saw more of the Praetorian Guard coming off the shuttle.

I arrived just as one of the enemy popped up from behind the landing gear of the shuttle. I dove across and in front of the prince. The rail round slammed into my armored vest, knocking me out of the air.

As the enemy shifted his weapon to target Astalynn, I pulled my trigger. My shot was dead on.

I rolled to my feet. “Both of you get behind me, now!”

The people I would later come to know as Asta and Robert broke their stasis and moved behind me.

The area beneath the lady’s shuttle suddenly became a beehive of rail rounds as my men opened fire, trying to give us cover. I was about to back Robert and Asta towards Robert’s shuttle when I saw the trail of smoke leave the other shuttle. The rocket plunged into the engine housing of the imperial shuttle.

“Back towards the big hanger!”, I shouted over the buzz of rounds flying through the air.

As we moved back, I was suddenly flanked by a wall of Praetorian Guardsmen. They were forming a living shield for the package. I spoke over my bob to my men. “Make a strategic withdrawal to the large hanger on the south end. Establish a defensible perimeter and give covering fire.

I watched as my men made a leapfrog withdrawal. They were keeping the hail of rounds going, but I knew they would run low soon. I looked at the praetorian guardsmen on either side of me. The one on my immediate right had a sniper rifle on his back. “Give me that weapon.”

He hesitated only a split second before un-slinging it and handing it to me. I holstered my side arm and pulled the large rifle to my shoulder. Then I stopped walking.

I cleared my head and slowed my breathing. I took careful aim at my target. I ignored the man who had risen to target me. I squeezed the trigger gently and heard the light chuff of the weapon. I watched as hydraulic fluid started to spray out of the cylinder I had hit. Then I felt the round slam into my chest. My vest slowed the round so it did not penetrate, but the impact was like a sledgehammer.

I fell backwards and again raised the rifle to my shoulder. I took aim again and squeezed the trigger. A second cylinder started to spray hydraulic fluid. Then the sledgehammer hit me again. This time I felt ribs give way and a pain in my chest that told me I had a punctured lung.

I shifted my aim again and targeted the third cylinder. The back half of the shuttle was already lowering. My third round took the last cylinder and the landing gear started to retract into the shuttle. The men underneath it would have to flee or have a shuttle sitting on them in a few seconds.

Another round slammed into my chest. I fell back and lost my grip on the rifle. I managed to roll onto my side and draw my pistol. Then the first of our enemy came out, trying to flee. I pulled the trigger and blew his leg off. My sight was blurring -- I had aimed for his head.

I felt more rounds slam into me. One caught my right leg and ripped through like a hot knife through butter. I raised my pistol again and aimed as best I could. The fleeing men were being picked off but I knew there were still men on board the craft. I was having trouble keeping my gun pointed as I aimed. Finally I pulled the trigger and watched as the windshield of the shuttle exploded into shards. Then I sank into blissful unconsciousness.

I woke up lying in a hospital bed again. This time there were more than a doctor and nurse in the room. I opened my eyes and blinked the sleep blur out of them. The first face I saw sent a shiver down my spine. I was looking at the emperor.

I tried to sit up and salute. The nurse held me down.

“Relax, Colonel Daemon,” the emperor said softly. “There is no need for that right now. I wanted to come by and thank you personally for saving the life of my son and his future wife. I was told by Beck you acted like a Praetorian Guardsmen in all actions while the incident was going on, to the point of refusing to die.”

“I did my duty, your majesty.”

“I was told you would say that. I was also told you have enough medals to start your own jewelry store. I am afraid you will have a few more soon. Beck told me to tell you that she would be honored if you would stand beside her as a Praetorian Guardsmen. My son wants you as the leader of his wife’s future guardsmen. I would be honored to put the lives of my family in your hands.”

“Your majesty, I am a combat soldier. I would not even know what to do as a Praetorian Guardsman.”

“You would fight to protect your charges. Think of it as babysitting, with guns.”


The proximity alert startled me out of my reverie. I looked at the guidance computer and we were still five hundred miles out. The alarm should not have gone off for another four hundred miles.

Then the rail slugs ripped though the rear of the flyer. I grabbed the controls and started myself into a dive. Coolant alarms were going off and Lizell started screaming. The craft started responding slowly almost immediately. They had struck the cooling system. We had less than a minute to bail out.

“Strap in! Now!”, I yelled, as I tried to pull the craft out of its dive. I managed to pull up just as the craft scraped the tree tops. The engines sucked in huge quantities of leaves and twigs.

As I pulled up, continuing the loop, smoke started to pour out of the engine cowling. Lizell screamed again as she saw where the craft was headed. At the top of the loop, I corrected my aim and dove straight for the pursuing craft. I accelerated to top speed of mach four and yanked the ejection handle.

The passenger pod tore free of the flyer as the drive section dove into the black hover-car following us. Lizell was still screaming as we tumbled through the air. Then the airfoil exploded out and slowed our decent. The jungle below us seemed to reach out its arms and gather us to her bosom.

The pod came to rest hanging from the airfoil ropes. We were still about thirty feet above the ground. I reached down and popped the emergency handle to open the pod. Then I looked over at Lizell. “Are you alright?”

She looked at me and shook her head. “You’re going to get us killed! You’re crazy!”

“No, I won’t get us killed. If you listen to me, and do what I tell you, I will get you out of this alive. It is what I do. Now, are you hurt?”

She shook her head, “I think I am alright. How are we going to get down?”

“There is rope in one of the bags. I will rig a sling and lower you. Then I will climb down.”

It took me about fifteen minutes to get us down out of the tree. I then lifted one of the bags onto my back and held the other in my right hand. We have some walking to do. It may take a few days to get to Starjump.”

“What will we eat and drink?”

“Water is abundant here. I have a few rifles and a lot of ammo in the bags. I will be able to hunt.”

Lizell looked at the bag hanging from my right hand. “You right handed, aren’t you?”

“Yes,” I said wondering where she was going.

“You need that hand free to shoot with. Sling the second bag on my back.”

I started to argue and she reached up to poke at my shoulder wound.

“Your left arm is not at peak. Give me the bag.”

I nodded and helped her sling the bag on her back.

We started walking and I soon estimated our time. At her rate we would take almost twenty days to reach the city. It also did not take long for the pains in my leg to break through the pain blockers.

It was starting to get dark when I heard the hovercar. It was flying low and slow towards us. “Lay down on the ground.”

“What, it could be a rescue craft.”

“Lay down, if it is, I will bring them to you.”

She lay down on the ground and I pulled a couple thermal Blankets out of her pack. I spread one of the blankets over her and covered her and the pack. Then I ran towards a clearing just ahead.

Once I was near the clearing I took my pack off and leaned it against a tree. The bag was warm from my body heat. Then I ran across the clearing and lay down on the ground. I spread the other thermal blanket over me and waited.

It was only a minute later that the vehicle came over the tree tops. I could tell by the way they circled they could see the heat signature of the bag.

The black hovercar settled to the ground and two men got out of it. I did not wait for them to do anything. As soon as they were out of the car I squeezed off two shots.

I retrieved my bag and threw it into the hovercar. Then I went to get Lizell. “Come on, I bought a car for us.”

“You bought a car?”

“Yes. It only cost two rail slugs.”

When we reached the clearing, she stepped rather carefully around the two bodies. She tried not to look at them.

I took the bag off her back and opened one of the compartments. I pulled out a micro computer and then I threw the bag into the car.

“How are we going to fly this? These cars are identity coded.” Lizell sounded a little dubious about the car.

I smiled and plugged my micro computer into the access port under the dash. Then I activated it and touched several buttons. A few moments later it beeped and the car’s engine came to life.

“That is a code cracker. Those are illegal.”, Lizell said as she heard the car fire up.

I smiled at her. “I will get Robert to write me a pass.”

I touched the controls and the vehicle lifted off smoothly. As we cleared the tree tops, I reached under the dash and pulled the identity beacon.

“I know, you will get Robert to give you a pardon.”

I laughed and accelerated to this cars top speed of seven hundred KPH.

Soon we were coming into the lights of the city. I turned southward and started a slow circle of the city. There on the south side was what I was looking for. This town used to have a mass transit system. The underground trains had been shut down for years, but the tunnels were still there.

I flew into the mouth of the tunnel and headed for the center of town. There were no active sensors down here any more. The city had shut them down to save money. That was fine with me. I landed the vehicle on the platform just outside of the controller office for the subway. This long abandoned office was about to become our bedroom for the night.

I got us out of the car and led her into the office. Once there, I pulled a warmer unit out of one of the bags and placed it on the floor. Then I pulled out a couple sleeping bags and compact pillows. “This is home until either help arrives or I win. You might as well lie down and get warm. I will try to get us some food.”

She chuckled lightly. “I will take an earth lobster and rib eye steak with roasted vegetables. I think a proxima punch to drink would go well with that.”

I chuckled as I headed out to find us dinner. Something about the men trying to kill us had struck me as funny. These had not been terrorists. They were professionals. That left the mob or a duke I had pissed off. The mob tried to work behind the scenes. The open confrontation and taking over the city was not their style. That left a duke.

I found an access hatch and moved up the ladder. The city above was quiet. No one was on the streets at all. That was not good. That meant there were enough men to force a curfew on the populace. I moved from building to building, keeping in the shadows. I found the sandwich shop and moved to the back door. It was only a few seconds work to break in and move to the kitchen. I made a couple large sandwiches and wrapped them in paper.

I moved back to my access hatch and slipped in. As I was closing the hatch I saw a patrol pass on the street at the end of the alley. When I did I started cursing under my breath. I recognized one of the men. He was the leader of Duchess Daria’s personal guard.

I quietly closed the hatch and climbed down the ladder. Lizell was almost asleep when I got back to our little camp. I extended the sandwich and a cold drink out to her. “Sorry, I had no idea what kind of sandwich you would want.”

“It is perfect, Drake. I am so hungry I could eat the ass end of an angry bull while he was still alive.”

I smiled, as I unwrapped my sandwich. I took a bite and the roast beef was good in my mouth. “If you want to eat one of those, you will have to catch it yourself.”

“Is this what your life was like? Were you always on the run and trying to keep someone alive?”

“Sometimes. Other times, it was months of boredom broken by weeks of monotony. After you eat, try to get some sleep. We may be on the move a lot tomorrow.”

“This may sound strange, but would you hold me while I sleep? I just want to feel secure.”

“I was going to ask you to hold me and make me feel safe.”

She laughed out loud. “I think I am more dangerous to you than our hunters are.”

We finished our meal and she spread the sleeping bags. Then she zipped them together and climbed in.

I climbed in behind her and put my arms around her. Her red hair was in my face as she laid her head on my arm. I could literally feel her relax.

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