Beware of the leader who bangs the drums of war in order to whip the citizenry into patriotic fervor, for patriotism is indeed a double-edged sword. It both emboldens the blood, just as it narrows the mind. And when the drums of war have reached a fever pitch and the blood boils with hate and the mind has closed, the leader will have no need in seizing the rights of the citizenry, [who] infused with fear and blinded by patriotism, will offer up all of their rights unto the leader and gladly so. How will I know? For this I have done. And I am Julius Caesar.
When I was no more than eight, and had been reading for only a few years, my tutors gaveme a book on the earliest Earth histories. In the book was a story that every corpsman on this planet must read at one time or another.
It was a tale of a man named Caesar.
Caesar lived in a land by the sea, much like the one we have here. On the map his sea was colored blue. The land he lived in was a powerful one called Rome. It was one of many nations. Caesar gathered together a huge army of men, and marched forth from Rome, conquering cities and countries wherever he went, and in the land of his home the people came to regard him as a great hero. Caesar had become a man of power. He was to be feared.
When Caesar returned to his homeland he became embroiled in a war with the leaders of his own countrymen. The Earth histories called it a civil war. A stream separated the conquered territories from the Roman lands. Before Caesar reached that stream he got word from the Roman leaders that, should he cross it, bloodshed would be certain. The Earth legends say that Caesar looked down at the running waters and said: "The die is cast." With that he spurred his horse on, and led his armies across the fateful divide. War followed, but Caesar won.
The name of the stream has survived down through five Earthly millennia, and nearly a thousand light years to the planet where I am now. This planet is named for the stream. It is a place that holds many dark secrets. It too is a borderline where decisions are made.
It is called Rubicon.
"Man is the cruelest animal."
-Friedrich Nietzche, Philosopher 1844-1900 old-Earth
"Perry, get in the back seat."
An alien scout vehicle dropped from the sky into Hunter Canyon, swooping deep down in the valley like a graceful canyon hawk, its sensors scanning. The sky flashed a halo of red and green pulses.
I looked at the lights and felt my stomach tighten. "Whatís that Dad?" I asked.
"I told you once-now get in the back seat!"
My dadís face froze. He focused like I?d never seen him. I went into to the seat next to my mom.
"Anton, whatís the matter?" she asked.
My Dad ignored my mom and strapped into his safety harness. He turned the T6 hovercraft north and hit the turbojets. I pressed hard into my seat, the g-force exhilarating my muscles.
Looking in between the Northern Mountains I saw another craft, a triangular shaped silver plane that dipped into the valley. It dove and turned like a military fighter. Hunter Canyon was a family retreat, allowing only hovercrafts and sightseeing tours into the canyon reserve. The other planes made no sense.
Was it a secret military exercise?
I watched the second plane fly over snow capped Mount Messier and then cross into the canyon valley. It became a hazy blue, reflecting light from the Alpharus sunset. Flying slightly above the tall Kawalli Cacti it looked like surreal art from a Chomskivonsky art collection. A history book said Hunter Canyon resembled old Earthís Grand Canyon. I heard that many artists used to paint that canyon too. Hunter Canyon was known for its fine orange and yellow desert sands supporting towering fifty-meter cacti. Many artists used the canyon for their art backgrounds.
The setting sun threw a blaze of blue and orange hues across the red desert sand. A few desert lion-coyote desert caterwopes wandered below. About this hour they left cave dwellings to search for food on the cooling plains. Earlier I saw one do their peculiar cat-like hops across a small gully. I loved vacationing with my parents in the canyon. It was an untouched alien world.
My dad turned the T6 again, now heading west. "Thatís a RexToid ship," he said.
My heart raced. I?d read about the RexToids and how the Earth colonies were fighting this newly discovered race. They said the Big War started when the RexToids wiped out an Earth colony called Centurus. A whole planet with thirty million inhabitants, smoked like old-Earth sardines.
History books said we quibbled over planet ownership. My Dad once said, "Don?t ever try to buy property in the Galaxy because itís all stolen from someone at sometime, ya never know who might want it back."
The RexToids claimed the Centurus colonists were invading their property. The Overlords censored the war vids of the RexToids, saying that just looking at a picture of a RexToid was enough to make a Citizen puke caterwope chunks. Well, maybe not caterwope chunks, but something like that. Later they distributed censored vids to motivate people for the war. I?d seen bootleg copies and didn?t understand the big deal. The RexToids looked like a combination of lizards and apes. Big deal. The RexToids were hundreds of light years away. So my dadís comment made no sense. Neither did the planes.
"Dad, are you sure?"I asked.
"Yeah I am. We?ve got two following us. Mary, make sure you buckle the upper safety straps."
My dad turned the T6 awkwardly to the left and over swung slightly south. I hated his driving. I could fly a thousand times better. I?d learned how to fly this bird two years ago when I was only five. And with the training from my tutors I didn?t let emotions get in the way. My Dad did. Dad was a base engineer on planet Irene and knew a lot about fixing planes but flew like an extinct old-Earth dodo bird.
My dad finally got the T6 across the valley toward the west-end Lirronda Mountain range while my mom put on my upper safety strap. As she started to put on hers a blast hit the left side of the V6 near my father. The T6 shook like she?d lost an engine. The gravity dampener computers compensated but my dad fell from his seat. I saw part of the front window melted. A laser or some type of missile from the second ship had cut through the starboard side. Dad fell to the floor with his face bleeding. My mom and I rushed over.
"Anton! Are your okay?" My mom used a cloth to wipe some blood from my fatherís face.
"I?m cut," he grumbled. Blood ran down the side of his face. "I can?t fly...Perry, get us outta here."
I couldn?t wait to take control. My Mom held her hand on my Dadís neck, trying to stop the bleeding.
I felt an urge of sadness, but as an Irenian child I had my emotions buried deep, and with the training of my tutors I was as cold as any RexToid lizard.
"Fly this thing to the Borrego refueling station," ordered my father.
I jumped into the second flight seat and tried not to think about my Dad. I instinctively turned the T6 away from the incoming ship and closed all window ports. The cabin turned pitch black except for the red, green and orange instrument panels.
"Can you see?" asked my mom.
"I can see," I said. My heart raced.
I knew the lasers wouldn?t penetrate the carbon-padomium meteor shower window port shielding. Now I was flying on instruments only in a transport designed for visual only. I improvised. First, I reconfigured the radar weather tracking system to modulate sinar pulses to get a location of the two planes. It worked just like in the games but these two RexToid ships were flying at Mach 2 and closing. I redirected some of the engine lubricant to an outside exhaust valve and lit it with the jet exhaust. The T6 now billowed out hot burning black oily smoke. I knew the oil would put the lizardís infrared and visual tracking offline. They probably still had old-fashioned radar or polarized neutrino scans, but that required more work for them and would give me some time. My dad sat up. I looked over. He looked like bloody hell.
"Perry, can we make it to the Lirronda Mountains?" he asked.
"The computer says the first ship will reach us inabout twenty seconds. Thatís long before we can get into the tree line." I looked at the computer and checked the fuel status.
My father looked at my mom. I knew he loved her and probably figured we were all about to die. I couldn?t think about that.
"Dad, does this V6 have e-engine set-up?" I asked.
"Yes, itís set. Why do you want to eject an engine? They?re working fine."
"Don?t worry." I selected engine three and redirected as much fuel into the reserve tank as she would take. Engine three was the center engine attached to the T6 reserve fuel tank.
My mom and Dad looked at the main screen as I redirected fuel.
My fatherís faced frowned. "Perry, you?re not supposed to put fuel in an ejected engine. It?ll blow up!"
"I?m planning on it."
"Are you crazy? You?ll kill us all!"
"Not if my plan works."
I waited until the first craft was within about 200 meters. I shut off all engines to keep them from igniting the ejected engine. As we glided I ejected engine three with its full and leaking reserve fuel tank. I waited for it to reach 100 meters behind the T6 and turned on the turbojets. It ignited a trail of fuel that lit the ejected engine. The engine and reserve fuel tank exploded. The T6 shook. Soon there was a second explosion and vibration. My makeshift radar showed only one ship. The RexToid ship closer to the exploding engine exploded, but the other was still kicking. Still, hope raced through my veins.
My Dad looked up at the viewscreen. "Where?d you learn that trick?"
"T6 simulators," I replied.
On radar I saw the second ship approaching. The explosion was too far away to damage that ship. Using only the remaining two engines the T6 was a little sluggish. I pushed the craft close to the ground to get more ground effect and continued at full speed. I entered the Lirronda canyon and turned a hard left, barely missing a large boulder.
"Be careful Perry," said my father. He sat up.
I glanced over at my Dadís face. The left side looked like chopped up caterwope meat. I had to get him to a Medic facility soon.
I turned on the M-2 two-way radio but it was filled Mintaur music interference, most likely jamming. I opened up the front window port protector and scanned the forest. The tall blue menko trees made a natural canopy. I lost contact with the second plane and assumed he?d lost me. I weaved in and out of mountains and trees like a mouse running from a cat. We were running out of fuel and would not make the Borrego station. I had to lose the other plane and land. My Dad sat next to my mother and patted me on the back.
"You fly better than I do son."
"You always knew that Dad, didn?t you? Geez you look bad. We gotta get out of here." I looked at the fuel. We were almost empty. At that moment I?d wished I hadn?t ejected the reserve fuel tank, but there really wasn?t any other choice.
My Dad shook his head. "Son, you?re going to have to land. Land over in that field and take the turbobike into Borrego."
"What about you and mom?"
My mom hugged meand whispered into my ear. "Your father and I will be fine. He can?t ride and I need to take care of him. You?re a better rider anyhow. Go into town and get someone to come and help us out."
My father looked at my mom. "Wait here."
My dad walked me to the cargo area holding a bloody rag on his neck. He gave me a serious look. "Leave soon, that other ship might come." From a rack he pulled a box and opened it, "And take this."
My dad handed me a small explosive compound bow with three arrows. We?d used it for hunting caterwopes. It shot like a regular bow and arrow except had twice the distance because of the explosive pellet boosters.
My dad hit the switch to open the cargo bay doors. "Son," he whispered, "Promise me that if we don?t make it that someday you?ll check out the Mintaur music from old Earth. Listen to it because I think thereís something wrong with Rubicon. Don?t tell anyone. Get going-now!"
My Dad appeared delirious, even at a time like this he was still talking about his crazy studies of Mintaur Music. I didn?t like leaving my parents but I had to get help. I put the bow and arrows under the turbobike seat and started the engine. I drove out of the V6 without looking back. The bike had an electronic positioning map that told me I needed to drive fifty kilometers to Borrego. As I raced on a trail and turned a corner I heard a large explosion. I slowed the bike behind a large tree for camouflage. A large silver RexToid ship hovered over where the T6 had landed. The T6 was smoking. About 50 meters from the T6 stood three beings. They were big, at least two and a half meters in height. Their skin looked like a lizard green-blue that blended in with the blue menko trees. They wore black leather waistbands. Their heads were shaped like an Irenian mammal called a Juxt. I?d read that a Juxt resembled a mix between an Earth ape and a turtle. These were the biggest Juxt type creatures I?d ever seen and looked stronger than the ones on bootleg war vids. One looked my direction. I saw glowing red eyes scan the forest. I felt a devil look my way. Did he see me? He looked away but I could feel him in my bones. I wanted to go back to my mom and dad. One of the lizard men talked into the back of his hand. The hovering ship let out a bolt of blue green flashing light. The V6 disintegrated.
My father and mother were extinguished.
So was my childhood.
I sat behind a large menko tree, wanting to scream. I knew if I did I would be caught and killed. Instead I silently decided that I would extract my revenge later. First, I had to get through the woods and into town. With a RexToid ship hovering nearby my chances would be slim. The training of my Tutors would help, but I knew I would need some luck. I prayed to the Gods of Rubicon and slowly pushed my bike deeper and deeper into the dark woods of the blue menko trees.