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Tuesday, December 27, 2016

"The Storm" --- coming in 2017!!!

And so it was that Manx learned of his brother’s gift to him and Ingrid. Within the next twenty-four hours they found themselves, along with Stuka and April, aboard a Sunday afternoon flight on the Hindenburg. It was a promotional flight that took guests for a three-hour spin above the skies of Berlin. Even the gangsters found themselves impressed by the spacious interior of the zeppelin. The two couples watched out the windows as the craft floated above the clouds, and once they reached full altitude the girls went off to powder their noses.

“I’ve been wanting to have a word,” Manx said, being unusually reserved on this day. “How do you think Rolf paid for this? The tickets are four hundred fifty marks apiece. That’s eighteen hundred, an entire weekend night’s take at the club.”

“He’s having a good run,” Stuka shrugged. “That crew of his works seven days a week. Thor and the Von Erichs, they’re good earners. We could be scoring like that if we weren’t spending so much time at the club.”

“You’ve gone out with them a few times. Have you seen them dealing any drugs?”

“Come, now,” Stuka held up his hands. “I’ve told you more than once. I won’t come between you and your brother. You want answers, you go ask him.”

“Blitz has really been pressing. You know he beats around the bush, but he’s becoming more direct. The Berlin Police are hitting the streets hard looking for the drug ring. It’s not just his Detective Squad anymore. He tells me the Gestapo is going to get involved any day now. You know what that means. It’s a one-way trip to a concentration camp.”

“And you think that’ll be the end of it?” Stuka smirked. “This is turning into a police state, just like it is in Russia. They’re already getting rid of the Jews and the communists, as well as the queers and the gypsies. They haven’t come after the wise guys because they’ve been taking advantage of all the snitches on the street. Once they’ve outlived their usefulness and the Nazis run out of targets, they’ll come after us next.”

“Think so?”

“Face it, boss, they’ll be closing us down by next year for sure. We should start looking over the border. We can make a deal with the Alsatians and move into Alsace-Lorraine. With the network in Germany disrupted, the black market’ll be booming along the border. We should start thinking of the future before the past catches up with us.”

“All right, forget about it for now. Here come the girls.”

Manx and Stuka watched as Ingrid and April were intercepted by two families who entreated them for autographs. Others noticed the commotion and approached the Hollywood starlets as well. They were joined by a couple of well-dressed businessmen, prompting Manx to stroll over and assert his position. Stuka followed suit, glancing around to make sure they were attracting no undue attention. They stood by as the girls signed menus and shook hands. The rich young men shook their heads as they walked off, wondering how Manx and Stuka had gotten so lucky.

“You two are making people think Harlow and Hepburn are aboard,” Manx smiled.

“Glad you think so,” Ingrid cooed.

The girls took their arms as they proceeded along B Deck of the luxurious craft. They passed the smoking room, which was kept air-tight to avoid the slightest possibility of hydrogen being ignited by a heat source. It was located next to the bar, where the couples sidled for cocktails. Manx and Stuka had LZ-129 cocktails, which were made of gin and orange juice. The girls had Maybach 12 cocktails, which were of a special recipe. They admired the art deco ambiance of the lounge, particularly the jazz murals depicting black musicians. It seemed fitting that it was all so far above the routine of the Berlin regime many miles below.

“Here’s to America,” Ingrid proposed a toast. “May next year be the time we all join together in Hollywood. A new movie, a new beginning. It’ll be wonderful.”

“Hear, hear,” Stuka said quietly. Despite the familiarity of his relationship with Manx, he was impressed by the fact they had come this much closer.

“Here’s to new friendships,” April gazed meaningfully into Stuka’s eyes. “A new tomorrow, a new hope.”

As they touched glasses, Manx silently wished his brother Rolf would find his way out of whatever he got himself into. If it was drugs, he wished Rolf Godspeed.

And he prayed that the SS and Gestapo would play no part influencing his decision.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Rebuilding of America?

(Excerpt from JRD's DYNASTY! The First 100 Days of the Trump Presidency)

The nation and the world continue to watch and wait as the ranks of Trump’s new Cabinet slowly begin to fill. An intriguing new pattern starts to emerge as we see more and more antithetical figures taking positions in organizations they had once campaigned against. Although Dr. Ben Carson was not an opponent of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, he has been vociferous in denouncing the welfare policies it has long espoused.

Carson typifies the self-made black American that white activists consider ‘a credit to his race’. In fact, most of his achievements would leave white supremacists speechless. There is no way he could have accomplished such things regardless of reverse discrimination or social engineering theories. Born in Detroit, he was a graduate of Yale University and the Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Maryland for three decades. Carson credits his belief in Christ for having been able to overcome a violent spirit in his youth. He presents himself as an example of how hard work and dedication can overcome any obstacles in one’s journey through life.

His major arguments against HUD have been over its socialist policies in redeveloping public housing and providing havens for the impoverished in cities throughout America. Over a half century, ‘the projects’ have been a term for subsidized apartment buildings that have become a blight on the urban landscape. They are dumping grounds for welfare families, the unemployed and criminal elements who often use them as a base of operations. Carson’s voice resonates, oddly enough, with white activists and black separatists who see these as blights on society that should be obliterated and replaced as living alternatives for the poor.

Exploitation of the housing market has been a plague on society since the turn of the 20th century. Landowners often provided space for refugee families dating back to the Great Depression. They allowed people to set up tents and build shacks, providing water and outhouse amenities in exchange for rates they could barely afford. As people migrated to large cities in search of livable domiciles, tenements became a viable choice for new residents. They were often located in neighborhoods that soon became overcrowded and fell into neglect. The slum became a term to describe these downtrodden areas, and the rise of the slumlord paralleled that of exploitation and housing scams that would permanently disfigure communities across America.

Controlled housing was a gentleman’s agreement by which slumlords would fix rates so that welfare families could afford to pay the rent through a voucher system. The slumlord would then abandon the building to its own devices. He would often provide a manager with free rent in exchange for maintenance services. The manager took care of basic electrical and plumbing repairs but had no remedy for major hazards within the building. Many became overwhelmed by vermin, structural damage and inadequate resources. Once the manager vacated the property, families could only watch their homes collapse before their eyes.

Another phenomenon that gained in popularity in the late 20th century was blockbusting. Real estate brokers would buy a property in a targeted area for a bargain price. They would immediately sell it to an ethnic minority, mostly blacks. The white neighborhood would begin to panic before the broker began soliciting homeowners. They would take advantage of the situation, warning potential customers that they should sell before their property values began to fall. The exodus began as the broker replaced white families with black ones. The Flatbush area of Brooklyn NY is a classic example of middle-class white residents superseded by black minorities, mostly blacks from the Caribbean Islands.

The blight that devastated neighborhoods throughout the Midwest from Detroit to Chicago, St. Louis to Milwaukee soon spread across the USA. Yet the projects were where the situations metastasized, the nesting spots from where the subculture spread. Welfare families took advantage of HUD programs that gave them the false hope of owning a home of their own. What they actually received was a worn-down building in a high-crime neighborhood, exchanging their apartments for family-size dwellings with no significant change in environment or living conditions.

What HUD administrators did not understand or could not control were those very conditions that afflicted the communities. Police and security forces were vastly undermanned and could not control the criminal activity plaguing the projects, much less entire neighborhoods. The gang culture dominated such areas in providing a sense of belonging for children of dysfunctional families. They offered means of earning money from criminal activities in the drug trade, gambling, prostitution, theft and robbery. No matter how lofty the goal of building modernized and attractive housing projects, eventually they would fall victim to the very people they sought to shelter from the urban blight.

At the turn of the next century, Generation X made an impact on urban society in a way that proved entirely unpredictable. The Punk Revolution gave way to alternative music, much of which could be characterized as industrial music. It was a computerized sound that was a soundtrack for a generation of youth inundated by state of the art gadgetry and electronic equipment. If the Blank Generation was about individuality and rejecting authority, Generation X was defined by communities of unique characters drawn together by a common need to build their own subculture amidst a cult of conformity. And they had to find a way to establish their new parameters.

What happened next was the urban trend towards buying warehouses and turning them into loft apartments. Artists, musicians and yuppies eagerly began renting these spaces, turning brick-wall and high-ceiling industrial spaces into stylistic dream homes. Lower-class kids were astonied by the results and dreamed of ways to become part of the new urban phenomenon. They opted to rent out storage areas, aluminum sheds on fenced properties allowing customers to safely secure their property away from home. Musicians began using the spaces as rehearsal studios, and soon others began living in the sheds.

This hit a peak in the early 21st century as small groups began pooling their resources in renting warehouse buildings in the same manner as the original loft pioneers. Only they became more imaginative, with mechanics, welders and other trade laborers moving in alongside artists, musicians and commuting students. The lack of building supervision turned into a major problem. It eventually garnered national attention after a warehouse fire during a rave concert in Oakland claimed over thirty lives.

Therein lie the challenges facing Ben Carson. There must be some way to establish and reinforce housing guidelines that allows for property owners to acquire funding for urban development. Beyond that, there has to be a way to supervise and maintain properties to assure to safety and integrity of the housing projects and their residents. The ‘build it and leave it’ mentality must be replaced by that of investors resolved and dedicated to develop their properties as long-term investments. There are many programs available to homeowners who can acquire funds to remodel properties provided they live in the home for a specified time. This principle should be the exception rather than the norm, and penalties should exist to make the agreement enduring and disadvantageous to speculators and opportunists.

It is what makes Carson the best choice for the job. Knowing the business is not what will revolutionize the housing industry. Someone who is devoted to change the moral and social integrity of HUD agreements is required. More than likely, no one is better suited for the undertaking.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Enemies Closer?

(Excerpt from JRD's DYNASTY! The First 100 Days of the Trump Presidency)

President Trump’s appointment of Nikki Haley to the position of United Nations ambassador in his new administration proved to be another eyebrow-raiser among pundits across the nation. Yet it can be argued that this may be another Trumpian maneuver designed to provide a false sense of security to the country’s rivals and enemies. It may also serve to placate opposition forces at home as well as give Trump enormous leverage in taking preemptive action against subversives both foreign and domestic.

Nimrata Randhawa is the daughter of Indian Sikh immigrants, a graduate of Clemson University with a BA in accounting. Her marriage to Michael Haley complemented her Anglicized nickname in becoming Nikki Haley. She became one of six Asian governors in the United States upon her election in South Carolina. Though she was a vocal opponent of Donald Trump during the election, she is a pro-life advocate and a supporter of immigration reform.

Although South Carolina was a Confederate state, its antebellum demographics changed over two centuries. It is estimated to have a seventy percent white population, the majority being Southern Baptists. The remaining third of the state is largely comprised of blacks, most of whom belong to the African Methodist Episcopal Church. The economic downturn of the 21st century had a major impact, and the state supreme court ruled that South Carolina was failing to provide minimally adequate education. It was also ranked as thirty-third out of the fifty states for quality of health care. It is also of interest to note that the Palmetto State was once considered a bastion of the Ku Klux Klan in the previous century.

Haley’s rise as a default political leader was facilitated by weak opposition from state Representative Larry Koon in 2004 and Governor Vincent Sheheen. She found support from Sarah Palin and Mitt Romney, both of whom had collapsed before Barack Obama’s campaigns in 2008 and 2012 respectively. There was also support from the estranged wife of the ex-governor, Jenny Sanford. Power vacuums are characteristic of sociological paradigms predicating weak leadership. One considers the admonitions of the apostle Paul, who considered outspoken women in the congregation as ‘shameful’. Scholars note that it is not based on misogyny; rather, the lack of male leadership prompting a female to rise to the occasion out of necessity.

Haley took a stand against Trump during the election, citing his seemingly extremist stance against immigration as well as his failure to denounce support from the KKK. Trump fired back with remarks about her weak position against illegal immigration. Yet it appeared as a sitzkrieg between Republicans divided by what was proving to be an internecine war of attrition. Trump’s extension of an olive branch was surprising but not as stunning as his overtures towards Mitt Romney after winning the election.
The immediate benefit to the fledgling administration is the inclusion of an Asian female to the ranks. Haley’s comely looks and Southern accent make this far less sensational than it may seem. It is also of note that Haley has characteristically downplayed her race and gender, focusing instead on her resolve and integrity. Breaking racial barriers has been a necessity along her journey through Southern politics. Only the race card may prove a vital asset along the next leg of her sojourn.

The geopolitical nature of international relations in the 21st century makes this an essential factor. Although Sikhs and Muslims are as different as Catholics and Protestants, they share common ground in the polemics against European Christianity. There has only been one white Christian holding the office of UN Secretary General since 1961. It reflects the changing of the guard in world politics, where Third World nations are growing more powerful and homogenous in their unity. Having someone like Haley representing Trump before these multinational emissaries will have obvious benefits.

The shock waves rippling across America has had a delayed effect on the global community. The military presence of the Obama regime around the world as well as its impact on international terrorism have left the nations in bewilderment. Many expected a black leftist Muslim president to have withdrawn from the Middle East and to have sought peace with ISIS and Al Qaeda. The increase in deportations of aliens from the USA proved to be even more perplexing.

Only now the ascendancy of Trump to the presidency has come with a sharp curtailing of his campaign rhetoric. He calls for unity among all Americans regardless of race, color or creed. The sloganeering of ‘making America great again’ comes as general relief to the world community. For everyone knows that the USA has provided artificial providence to most of the planet over two centuries. It gives financial support to its enemies, military protection to its allies and agricultural relief to countries on the other side of the Earth. This has ultimately resulted in a ten trillion dollar debt that threatens to collapse an already weakened Goliath. If this return to grassroots principles transforms America into an Antaeus, how can the world help but be a better place?

No competitor ever wants to stand against an omnipotent foe, and this is where Haley’s ‘weaknesses’ will become her assets. Despite the world community’s call for inclusivity and diversity, many Third World nations are decidedly chauvinistic in nature. A major Trump criticism of the Clinton Foundation was its acceptance of millions of dollars in contributions from Muslim nations where women are treated as second-class citizens at best. Delegates from such countries will be naturally inclined to think that Haley, as Trump’s advocate, is a subliminal indication of the magnate’s weakness. They would hardly suspect that the opposite may be true.

In an increasingly Muslim European Union, Haley’s appointment will be seen as a major concession. The influx of refugees from the Middle East is rapidly changing the constituency of the continent. The desperate need to assimilate is causing extreme reactions, from white nationalism to radical Muslim activism in every country. Many nations have elected female leaders and Muslim politicians in attempts to restore equilibrium. Seeing a mirror image in an American UN delegate will reassure the EU that things are the same all over, yet not as bad as they seem.

Alternately, the United Kingdom’s ‘brexit’ reflects accelerated effects beyond those seen on the Continent. In a desperate attempt to rediscover their national identity, they have isolated themselves though finding their ties with the US as a stabling influence. They will look past Haley in seeking assurance in Trump, just as the Moral Majority throughout America. They overlook what he is doing in expectation of what he promised to do. And so the Anglo-American alliance waits and prays.

Nikki Haley is a link in a new chain of command, though nowhere as weak as may be perceived. She offers hope and assertion that there is strength in unity, though many may fear she is but a velvet glove covering an iron fist.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Coming In 2017 --- JRD's "The Storm"!!!

The Storm centers on the exploits of Manx Herzberg, a Berlin gangster and club owner in 1933 Germany. He is trying to weather the storm brewing after the recent election of Nazi Party leader Adolf Hitler to the office of Chancellor. Local gangs are preparing for the worst, as are homosexuals, Communists and many other groups threatened by the Nazis. Manx’s cabaret club, the Black Pussycat, is the hippest nightspot in Berlin. Yet it is being targeted by the Nazis for its social decadence. Manx is faced with the option of selling the goldmine and leaving Germany. Only vacating his underworld throne is a difficult choice to make.

Making things more challenging is the arrival of Hollywood starlet Ingrid Strasbourg. She has been invited by Reich Minister Josef Goebbels to work on an upcoming movie. She makes an appearance at the club and tells Manx she wants to help him upgrade his product to meet Reich standards. He is unaware she is working for the American OSS to leverage the SA in their bid for power in the Reich. The SA and the SS are in a bitter struggle, and few know that the SS is planning a blood purge to eliminate their paramilitary rivals.

Manx’s younger brother Rolf is a known homosexual currently having an affair with SA Captain Artur Bremer. The co-leader of the Herzberg Gang, he is a psychotic killer with a reputation as a criminal mastermind. He is aware of the plot against the SA and is plotting a pre-emptive strike against the SS on Bremer’s behalf. Manx is appalled at the thought of failure and imminent SS reprisals. He confides in Ingrid, who offers to intercede by engaging the aid of ‘influential friends’. She begins bringing OSS agents into the club, and soon it becomes a center of activity for foreign spies seeking to destroy the SS and possibly oust Hitler from power.

The conflict develops as rival gang leader Dot Schellenberg is hired by Communists for a joint campaign to take down the SS and turn the public against Hitler. They reach out to the SA, only to find the Storm Troopers to be fanatical Hitler supporters. The SS finds out about the overture and use it as the foundation for their own project in destroying their SA opponents. Ingrid learns of the machinations and warns Manx. He tries to warn his brother to abandon Bremer to no avail. Rolf is convinces that an armed showdown between the SA and the SS will convince Hitler which is the greater and more valuable force. Manx is faced with the prospect of betraying his brother or allowing him to continue on to his doom.

Rich with the glamor and glitz of Berlin nightlife, packed with action and suspense surrounding the events leading to the infamous Night of the Long Knives, this is a romantic adventure novel that any and all audiences will find unforgettable.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Death Of A Legend --- JRD's Tribute to Bowie?

He was known by as many names as he gave himself, from the Thin White Duke to the Chicken-Headed Straw Man (as Lester Bangs once called him), the Man Who Fell To Earth, Aladdin Sane, Ziggy Stardust. He was a founding father of glam rock, the godfather of new wave, pioneer in disco and alternative music. Call him what you will, but one of the greatest influences in 20th century pop culture is gone.

I was one of the disillusioned rockers watching rock music sliding down the tubes during the progressive era of the mid-70's. All of a sudden there was the Alice Cooper Band and an eccentric from England named David Bowie. He was doing all this space-themed stuff (Space Oddity, Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars). Behind the scenes, he was hooking up with Velvet Underground founder Lou Reed and garage rock legend Iggy Pop. Next thing we knew, Reed released Transformer alongside Iggy's Search and Destroy. People accused Bowie of manipulating the underground icons, but they laid the foundation for the Punk Revolution thereafter. Who could argue with that?

He went on to put out over a dozen albums between the Seventies and Eighties, riding disco to its grave before jumping on the Next Big Thing and making it happen. Pop, alternative, rhythm and blues, electronic music, you name it, he did it. He appeared in several movies, most recently The Prestige (as Nikolai Tesla) with Bale and Jackman. As the decades passed, we realized he wasn't manipulating anyone, he influenced and enhanced their careers. And no one who worked with him could ever forget him.

Entrepreneur, rock artist, producer, songwriter, actor, cultural icon, the list goes on and on. What do you call someone like David Bowie?

Call him a Legend. A legend who will live forever.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

JRD's sci-fi thriller "The Empire" - A Sneak Preview!

The Global Intelligence Agency was a public-supported organization that provided information about the other planets and nations in the solar system. Back before the Great Colonization, the GIA had been considered the most powerful agency in the history of mankind. At this point in time, it had outlived its usefulness and was seen as a glorified interplanetary travel agency at best.
Only at this juncture, it was rumored that the Allied Federation had recommissioned the GIA in this time of national emergency. Despite media assurances to the contrary, most citizens felt that the Interplanetary Council was in turmoil. Rumors of war circulated throughout the Federation as spaceships were being hijacked and destroyed as never before. Piracy was increasing at an alarming rate and it was suspected of being encouraged by foreign governments.
Von Kilgore had been summoned to New System City in Imperia, the center of commerce in Panamerica. Although Serenity was the capitol city of the world, New System City was considered the core of the Federation. It was the first city to have been established when planet Alpha was colonized. Although the Scientific Coalition was helping develop the Quadrant at incredible speed, the City remained well ahead of the field and was considered the best place in the entire solar system.
The magnificence of its architecture and infrastructure never ceased to amaze him. He was bedazzled by its majesty as he took the shuttlecraft from the Space Center to GIA Headquarters located in the downtown area. Its skyscrapers stood an average of nine hundred meters tall, glittering against the blue crystal sky and its eternal rainbow. Unlike most of the countries throughout the solar system, the City enjoyed nine months of constant daylight. Only during the winter solstice did it go into day to night mode.
He took the elevator to the one hundred seventieth level where the executive suite was located. It was magnificently furnished in hypermodern style, its chrome and crystal features never failing to impress. The receptionist did a retina scan before admitting him to the inner office of the Executive Director of the GIA, Keith Morpheus.
The Director was a paunchy man with a beard, his blue-eyed gaze analyzing all he surveyed. Legend had it that he was one of the pioneers of the Agency back in the day, back when the power struggles threatened to plunge the world government into civil war. His cyber skills and diplomatic acumen played a major role in the government’s campaign to unite the global community for the common cause. Only Morpheus’ covert activities were never revealed or recognized. He was awarded the government’s most prestigious honors in secret. Most felt it contributed to his mental and physical decline.
Yet he still was a force to be reckoned with. Although Von stood in awe of no man, he still held Morpheus in high esteem. He sat across the desk from the Director after they shook hands, and Morpheus studied his face briefly before commencing.
“I understand that you turned down our offer to reassume your position as a Federal agent,” Morpheus folded his hands over his stomach, leaning back in his chair.
“Yes sir, I’m rather preoccupied at this particular time,” Von replied. He was a tall, handsome man at two meters tall and ninety kilos. His auburn mane enhanced his steely blue gaze and Cupid bow lips, his pale skin reddened on wind-swept moons and sun-drenched asteroids. “I’ve got a merchandising company on Oryx that’s just starting to earn credits. We’ve established some trade routes with the Betans that are turning a profit.”
 “Are you dealing with the Betan government, with licensed traders? Or are you out there playing the black market?”
“I refuse to answer on the grounds it may incriminate me,” Von replied with a straight face before breaking into a smirk. “Come on, Keith. You know the Terranean tax rate is fifty percent, and it costs five million credits to buy a traders’ license. You have to earn a fortune on your first deal just to stay in business. Besides, no one I know is dealing in weapons or illegal chemicals. All anyone is trying to do is make enough to come back to earth and go corporate.”
“I’m not going to beat around the bush,” Morpheus met his gaze. “You’re one of our best agents. Always have been, always will be. We’re on the verge of a System breakdown with the Stone kidnapping crisis. If we don’t recover that girl soon, the Scorpions are going to build outposts along our borders that will lead to a gamma showdown. They’re already deep inside the Terranean and Deltan quadrants. If their position grows any stronger they could build enough leverage to cause an economic depression.”
“No one wants another war, everyone knows that,” Jon insisted. “Mankind can’t survive another one. The entire human race is hanging by a thread. Even the Scorpions aren’t crazy enough to take us down that road.”
“With Vernu Hyte in control, anything’s possible. Intelligence reports indicate he’s appointed Qom Diabolus as his Imperial Star Marshal. If that’s the case, then there’s no doubt they intend to radicalize the entire System. We’re not just dealing with a totalitarian regime any longer. We’re dealing with fanatics.”
“Hyte is a humanist, he’s anti-religion,” Jon pointed out. “I read his profile on Starnet. Why would he throw in with a bunch of religious freaks?”
“Same reason why anyone else would,” Morpheus shook his head. “He doesn’t want to get his head chopped off, or get hit with the Plague, or whatever else those psychos do.”
“So what’s in it for me?”
“Intelligence reports indicate that Sheliya Stone was skyjetting with her friends outside of Eden City off the Paradise coast. State Police found four wrecked skyjets along the shore, only three bodies. Two weeks later there was a message to the Presidential Palace on Starnet. It said Ms. Stone was being held captive until the Federation signed the Non-Aggression Treaty. A satellite scan showed that a Deltan warship was in the area shortly before the abduction occurred. The Deltans are denying any involvement and have placed a five hundred million credit bounty on the kidnappers.”
“That’s a lot of credits,” Von whistled.  
“Look, we both know that the Deltans will probably renege on the deal. We’ve got enough leverage to make sure they pay at least half. That’s enough for you to retire on. You could start an asteroid colony or colonize a moon in the Betan Quadrant with that many credits. Plus the Government is offering a two hundred million reward for Ms. Stone’s return. That is payable on demand.”
“So what’s the downside, besides tracking down a Deltan warship?”
 “This man,” Morpheus accessed his console and booted up his desktop hologram. “Captain Gravas Drachna, Imperial Starfleet. He fought under Star Marshal Shaver during the Cetan Civil War. He’s a war hero, he’s earned every one of their highest honors. He’s the last of Emperor Scorpius’ Old Guard, all the rest are retired, cashiered or murdered. The Dark Knights have taken over the Imperial Guard, and Drachna’s the last holdout.”
“What’s the Empire got to do with this?”
“Drachna met Ms. Stone at a Presidential banquet a couple of years ago. A diplomatic and military delegation were invited, and observers said it was love at first sight. They’ve met a couple of times since then and exchanged correspondence on a regular basis despite the blackout between nations. When he found out she was kidnapped, he went on the warpath.”
Von studied the image of a tall, muscular man with well-styled black hair, fierce dark eyes and a cruel mouth. He figured Drachna was about his size, give or take a couple of kilos.
“He commandeered an Imperial starship and went out in search of the warship. The Empire denied the rumor, since they claim they only have three starships in accordance with the Non-Proliferation Pact. Nonetheless, we’re getting reports of Deltan warships being destroyed throughout the System over the past month. Drachna’s on their trail and they’re running for their lives.”
“So I have a rogue warship holding the President’s daughter hostage, with seven hundred million credits in bounties on their heads. It’s probably manned by a crack team of Deltan mercenaries, who have an Imperial starship on their tail. And I’m supposed to get them first and collect the prize.”
“If anyone can do it, you can, Von,” Morpheus insisted. “You’re our best agent and you’ve got connections all over the System. The kidnappers can’t stay on the run without fuel and supplies. You trace their credit trail and you’ll find them.”
“Okay,” he was reluctant. “I’ll need a Federal credit line, and I’m taking Zane Ramjet with me.”
“Of course, your right hand man. Where would you be without him?”

About a half hour later, Von met with Zane at the Saturn Tower a couple of blocks from the GIA Tower Building. They met at the Galactica Lounge, an upscale facility that was restricted to Class I and II citizens. It was located on the 140th floor, its glass walls affording them a panoramic view of the cityscape and the shuttlecrafts cruising above the streets at different levels.
They were irked at getting carded but knew that it was about wearing their Class III combat spacesuits. They ordered drinks after being seated at a corner booth and being served by a Deltan waitress.
“I’ll tell you, I’ve got a thing for green-tinted women,” Zane chuckled as he watched their waitress sashay back to the service area.
“I prefer those blue-skinned Cetans myself,” Von nodded, stirring his Chrysalis Crush. “Though they’re getting as scarce as natural wildlife.”
“Say, you boys need a jump?”
They looked up and saw two green-skinned Deltan women scantily clad in tight-fitting spacesuits. They were attractive though rough around the edges. They produced a transactor, and Von swiped his ID stick to make the buy. The women then crawled under the table and hooked their joysticks up to the partners’ jumpsuits. Immediately the sensory experience of carnal ecstasy jolted their nervous system with indescribable force.
“Damn! Damn!” Von managed to gasp as his body began to spasm.
“Hope you enjoyed the ride, gentlemen,” the women detached the joysticks and crawled out from under the table. The experience was such that the partners mentally experienced an hour of unbridled sex with the women in less than a minute.
“I don’t think I’ll be able to finish this,” he reached for his glass as Zane slumped lifelessly in the seat beside him.
“I’m pretty sure it would finish me,” Zane croaked.
“You know, this establishment frowns on that kind of activity,” a tall manager came over. “We’d appreciate it if you reported any such solicitations in future.”
“Yeah, well, I’ll report it now. They damn near killed me.”
“Thanks for your cooperation,” he walked off. “Enjoy your evening.”
“So you coming in on this?” Von asked, giving the manager the finger as he returned to the service area.
“I think I’m gonna pass,” Zane said softly as he stirred his Dandelion Daze. “I’ve got some family problems I got to take care of.”
“Family problems? Are you kidding me?” Von raised his eyebrows.
“I told you I’ve got a sister and other relatives living along the Betan frontier,” Zane explained. He was a swarthy man with a hawkish face and an unruly mop of black hair, standing two meters tall with a wiry frame. “She contacted me and said that they’ve been dealing with border raids for months now. One of my uncles was killed last week. The Empire has been sending troops across the border on a regular basis and the Terraneans aren’t doing anything to stop them.”
The Beta Quadrant was ruled by the Terranean Alliance, heirs of the European Council which collapsed after World War III at the end of the century. They were in a constant state of flux in dealing with shortages and power struggles that kept them in a state of near-anarchy. As a result, their territories were largely ungoverned and overrun by pirate gangs and mercenary armies. The Empire was establishing military outposts in Betan territory though constantly denying their incursions before the Interplanetary Council.
“Look, we can sink two ships with one shot,” Von insisted. “In all likelihood, the kidnappers are hiding out in the Beta Quadrant. They’d be suicidal if they were in the Ceta or Delta Quadrants. And they’re damn sure not in Alpha. We can go in there and help your family relocate. We can do some recon and develop some leads while we’re there.”
“I’ll tell you, Von,” Zane was hesitant. “You and I have been friends for a long time. I’d never ask you to risk your life if it wasn’t necessary. You don’t need to be part of this. The Empire’s coming down hard in the territory. I don’t even know if I’ll make it back. I just can’t stand by and let my family get slaughtered.”
“Hey,” Von grabbed his wrist. “Are we brothers from another mother or what? How many times have you saved my life? There’s no way in Sheol that I let you go alone. We get this done, then we go find Sheliya Stone and go get paid.”
“All right,” he agreed. “I just want you to know that I’m gonna stay there as long as it takes. I’m not leaving the colony without them.”
“You got it, partner,” the men exchanged hand chops. “You wouldn’t be my first mate if you did,”

        * * * * *
                                                                                                                             Over a billion kilometers away, a Deltan warship hovered in the stratosphere above a barren asteroid along the outermost regions of the Beta Quadrant. It had dispatched a squadron of scavenger vessels to the surface in search of provisions. The ship’s command was on edge, not only hoping to find sustenance for its forty-man crew but that they would not be detected by a military patrol unit.
          “Have we made any progress with the prisoner yet?” Captain Misch asked as he perused the scanners on the command deck.
           “None whatsoever,” his first mate Commander Xamon replied. “She grows more resistant by the day. She demands that we either kill her or release her. We’ve tried everything. Air and sleep deprivation, vitamin diet, drug interrogation, and mild to moderate torture techniques. The more she endures, the more obstinate she gets. She is like her mother, with a head of titanium.”
          “Damn her,” he said, switching on a monitor that provided a direct link to her cell. “Citizen Stone. This is Captain Misch.”
          “Good morning,” the forlorn girl sat hunched on her cot in the barren room. “Or is it still night time?”
          “It is morning. I trust you had your breakfast.”
          “Is that what you call it?”
          “Trust me, Citizen, the entire crew is on rations at this time.”
          “So what kind of Army are you people running?” she demanded, standing up to face the video camera. She was a beautiful woman, standing just under two meters, with an athletic full-bosomed physique. She had long auburn hair, ivory skin, alluring violet eyes and ruby lips. When she was captured she was breathtaking with makeup, but her natural beauty was even more striking. It was as comparing a work of art to an exquisite flower.
          “We are quite far from our home base, rest assured. There are many ships on alert searching for us. Yet we are resolved to elude them as long as it takes. All we need you to do is plead with your mother to sign the Non-Aggression Treaty. Once she agrees, we will release you to the Federation and peace will be returned to the System along with you.”
          “Never!” she raged. “I’ll never betray my planet! Your people have violated the original agreement time and time again. You and the Empire are trying to control the entire System, and you’ll use military force if necessary. We have a right to defend ourselves, and we’re not going to disarm and leave our nation unprotected.”
          “I’m not here to discuss or argue politics with you,” Misch said crisply. “I just wanted to let you know we will be skipping lunch today.”
          “You can stick it up your---!” Sheliya yelled before she was cut off.
          “This was a terrible mistake, a horrible blunder,” Xamon was forlorn. “We should have waited for the order from the Military Council. Now the entire System is in pursuit of us. We have nowhere to run, no place to hide.”
          “We’ve discussed this over a dozen times, I grow tired of it,” Misch was gruff. “It was the best available opportunity. The girl was under constant surveillance by the Secret Service. We could have never captured her had she not chosen to go skyjetting with her friends. It would have looked like an accident had we not shot them down over the seashore. Yet if we had waited and fired when they were at a higher altitude, they would have died from the fall. We would not have had to shoot them as they fled.”
          “Then we would have killed her as well,” Xamon moaned. “What are we to do?”
          “Do? What can we do?” Misch growled. “Either this bitch makes that video or we all starve to death unless we are destroyed by an enemy ship. If we force her to comply, the Federation      ‘s analysts will detect it on the transmission. She has to be a willing participant or the Federation will accuse us of torture. They will sever diplomatic ties with the Republic, and we will be court-martialed and executed.”
          The Republic of Delta was a reformed coalition of nations that once comprised the Asian Confederacy of the planet Earth. After the Great Colonization, the Confederacy held a summit conference on Delta and declared itself a Socialist Republic. The Republic was essentially a military dictatorship though its political philosophy was dictated by its corporate leaders. Both factions reluctantly conceded the fact that the military could not run an industrial conglomerate, and vice versa.
          As it was from the beginning, the capitalist Federation was the forerunner in technological advancement as scientists and engineers were well compensated and rewarded for their contributions. Their society was complemented by the socialist Alliance, which also compensated entrepreneurs though providing excessive support for dependent colonies that ultimately hindered growth.
          Alternately, the totalitarian Deltans forced everyone to work for the State at a set wage and equal benefits. The Empire was just as uncompromising, though more of their budget went to military expense instead of social programs. Religious indoctrination was as the opiate of the masses, and all who resisted were liquidated.
          “What of the rumors on Starnet that Captain Drachna is hunting for us with an Imperial starship?” Xamon lowered his voice.
          “That is nothing but capitalist propaganda,” Misch dropped back into his defensive rhetoric. “You know that enemies of the State will use every deception to further their agenda. First of all, Drachna is a member of the Old Guard, all of whom have been eliminated by the imperialist regime. He no longer exists. And even if he did, do you believe the Empire would authorize the use of a starship to search for us? If he had gone insane and commandeered a ship according to the reports, what crew would have gone along with him? Upon return every single one of them would be subjected to a slow, grisly death.”
          “It’s what’s going to happen to us,” Xamon’s voice trembled.
          “Nonsense!” Misch bolted from his seat and walked over to a far corner. “Once that girl makes the video, we will be hailed as national heroes. She cannot hold out forever. She has been in solitary confinement for nearly a month, living on a starvation diet. She has been subjected to constant psychological and physical stress. After coming from her sheltered environment, eventually this will become more than she can endure. Time is on our side, let us remain patient.”
          “I worry about you, I worry about us,” Xamon put his arms around the waist of his domestic partner. Though the Republic had set a hardline against homosexuality, they disregarded it in the military due to its exclusion of women. Like ancient Sparta, the Republic saw it as the lesser evil facing troops deployed in outer space for years at a time.
          “We will be fine, my dear,” Misch glared around at the deck hands, who busily diverted their attention elsewhere. “We have not come this far to meet with failure and exile. This is our time, our destiny. This girl will be the means for our advancement, our golden opportunity for our future together. Yeoman Chon, let the Commander see what we have in store for our guest.”
          The stout woman came forth with a small plastic container. Xamon’s skin crawled as he beheld a tilton in the box. The tilton was a mutated palmetto bug, genetically deformed by radiation exposure. It was six centimeters in length and two centimeters thick, with long hairy legs and the head of a horsefly. The ugly insect was coated with a sticky substance that caused terrible itching, exacerbated by bites from the creature.
          “I have a dozen of these insects that I will release in her cell after we extinguish the lights. We will restore the lights once they are crawling all over her. I have never met a female who could stand the touch of an insect. Wouldn’t you agree, Yeoman Chon?”
          The heavy-set woman cringed at the thought.

* * * * *                                  

          The farming colony on the Herne asteroid had begun to stir just hours earlier. Established over three years ago, it was a haven for Class III citizens with no prospects other than bare survival in the resettlement colonies. Living under government subsidies, they were provided with basic agricultural machinery and a limited budget for trade and commerce. The farmers worked from sunrise to sunset in the artificial atmosphere, laboring to stimulate crop growth from the barren soil.
          It was around noon when the workers took their lunch break. They sipped water, doused themselves and rested their bones as their womenfolk came onto the field with soups, stews and bread. It was the high point of the day in most cases. At the end of the day, most of the men were too tired to do anything but return to their homes and sleep until dawn. Yet they shared the dream of turning a profit and one day being able to hire others to carry on the work.
          On this day, there was an ominous droning noise coming from the mountainside. At first they thought it was a government supply ship, but knew it was far too early in the month. They watched in unison as transport crafts appeared from the clouds, slowly descending until they landed just outside the fields.
          They watched in bewilderment as they saw four-man teams emerging from the transports. They wore black helmets, face masks and cloaks over their combat suits. They carried xaser weapons and bore the insignia of the Dark Knights. It was a black rectangle with a pentagram against a white circle. One man carried a banner which he brought over to the flagpole where the Alliance flag was flown.
          “Hail, friends,” the leader of the colony stepped forth. “We are having our midday meal, but we have enough to share. I’m sure you have traveled a distance to get here.”
          “We are here under the authority of the Order of the Dark Knights,” a lieutenant came to face him. “Our mission is to confirm your loyalty to the powers that rule over this Solar System.”
          “We are loyal citizens of the Beta Quadrant, and have pledged our allegiance to the Terranean Alliance,” the man seemed puzzled.
          “And which god do you serve?” the soldier demanded.
          “Why, we are Believers,” the man was reverent. “We worship the One True God.”
          “Sun worshippers,” he said mockingly, turning to his colleagues. “You have been deceived by your government, tricked into following an ancient belief system that no longer exists. Can’t you see how they have abandoned you, cast you aside in this wasteland where you will work until you die for nothing?”
          “Our labor is beginning to yield results,” the man smiled softly. “We have finally come to the point where we have surplus crops to trade at the market. We may not have more than enough, but we do have enough to give to you and your men for your journey.”
          “You give to us?” the commando was derisive. “We have ample supplies of meat and dairy products on our ship. It is we who come to give to you. Today we bring freedom, liberation from the weak and useless system that enslaves you.”
          “We are free citizens,” the man asserted. “We have come here of our own accord to raise our families and build a future.”
          “You are building on barren ground, citizen,” the soldier hissed. “We are sons of Belial, the god of this universe. We now give you the opportunity to declare your allegiance to Belial and turn away from your false idolatry.”
          “What is this?” the man was confused. “Religious freedom is one of our basic rights. Perhaps you have reason to stand against the government, but you cannot ask us to deny our God.”
          “You are a fool,” the soldier raised his weapon. “Either your head will be lowered to the ground as you bow in reverence before Belial, or it will roll across the dirt as we cut it off your neck.”
          “I will not deny my God,” the man was steadfast. “Do as you will, but let my wife and children not see this.”
          “They will bear witness to your foolishness before they are given the choice between life and death.”
          “Take my hand, O God, I am coming home,” he said as he was forced to his knees by another fighter.
          At once there were a series of explosions in the sky, followed by another buzzing noise more shrill and insistent than the first. The multitude watched in astonishment as a swarm of drones descended on the field as a metallic cloud. The commandos were shocked as the drones began firing xaser bursts at them, burning as molten lava upon impact. They tried to fire back but the drones flew directly at them when hit by a xaser beam. The drones exploded against their victims, and soon the field was covered with dead soldiers and wrecked drones.
          Eventually a black shuttlecraft came down from the sky, and black-clad soldiers bearing the Scorpion insignia rushed onto the field. They kicked the miniature aircraft out of their path and stepped over the corpses, training their rifles on the terrified colonists. At length they made way for a helmeted man in black, his black cloak swirling in the wind.
          “Who else is here?” he demanded. “Are there any Deltan troops here?”
          “Deltans?” the leader trembled. “No, kind sir. Only these soldiers. They claimed to be the sons of Belial. They were about to kill us. You saved our lives.”
          “Sons of Belial,” the man scoffed. “The offspring of idiots. Are you certain they were not here in pursuit of Deltans?”
          “No sir. We have seen no Deltans here.”
          “Unfortunately I cannot leave any evidence of our presence behind,” the man said. “You will have to evacuate this asteroid before we destroy it. You have fifteen minutes.”
          “Sir, we have no means of escape. Please spare our homes.”
          “The Betans will recompense you under their Resettlement Act,” the man replied. “Are those not shuttlecrafts parked nearby?”
          “Yes, sir, but where will they take us?”
          “I saw a warship hovering above the clouds. Can you fly one?”
          “Yes, but they only carry sixty people at most. There are a hundred of us.”
          “We will carry the rest to the nearest populated asteroid. From there you can summon assistance. All I demand from you is your solemn oath that you and yours will never admit to having seen us.”
          “You have my word,” the man agreed.
          “Good,” the man in black nodded. “Lieutenant, escort the people to the shuttlecrafts. Give the order to the crew to stand by for the destruction of this asteroid in fifteen minutes.”
          The soldier saluted his superior and proceeded to follow orders.

          The colonists watched in awe as Captain Grav Drachna returned to his aircraft and ascended into the clouds.