The opening of If Tomorrow Comes: Book 2 in the Yesterday’s Kin Trilogy.
Judith Ryan shoved her way to the front of the crowd, moving people with her elbows, her cane, and her age. It took her twenty minutes to get from the car to the cordon; the crowd was vast and Judith, eighty-five, was slow. When she reached the cordon, she was still 500 yards from the spaceship, gleaming and silent on its little hill in the autumn Pennsylvania countryside.
“Step back, ma’am,” the soldier said. He wore riot gear and a gun. “You can’t go any far—I said to step back!”
“Please, Judith quavered, “my grandson—”
The soldier glanced quickly around, looking for a child that might have slipped under the cordon. Nothing. “Step back, ma’am.”
“You don’t understand! He’s on the ship! I have to talk to someone and warn them!”
The soldier scowled. Nothing like this had been covered in his briefing. He fell back on clear orders and native skepticism. “Uh huh. Makes no difference. You can’t—ma’am!”
Judith ducked under the cordon, even though the motion made her left knee buckle. She jabbed her cane into the grass to right herself. The soldier grabbed her. People nearby raised cell phones and cameras.
“My grandson! I have to warn somebody!”
More phones raised. An officer strode across the area inside the cordon. “What’s the problem here?”
Desperation wrinkled deeper the lines on Judith’s face. “I have to tell someone! He’s aboard the ship—I only just learned! I found something, a….but he isn’t—”
“Her grandson,” the first soldier said.
The officer glanced back over his shoulder and then at his watch. Then Judith knew. The ship was doing what the car radio said it might: lifting hours earlier than announced, perhaps to foil any last-minute attacks.
“Aaaahhhh,” went the crowd, while news cams and crews scrambled to catch up.
The silver egg, dazzling in the sunlight, rose silently and without fire into the blue sky. The alien technology that had built her, only beginning to be understood on Earth, was of no interest to Judith. No one had listened to her. And even if they had listened, all she could offer was her unsubstantiated word, her heart-deep knowledge, the emblem she had found buried in the garden while mulching her roses. Nobody would heed any of that.
The officer, his face kind, said, “Ma’am, everybody aboard the Friendship got the most thorough physical and mental check-ups possible. Your grandson will be fine.”
Judith stared at him. He didn’t understand. It was not her grandson she feared for.
Too late. Way too late.
“I’m here,” Leo Brodie said, slinging his regulation duffel onto the bunk and following it with his rifle, ammo, and dope log. “Christ on a cracker, I’m really here!”
He didn’t expect an answer; the five-by-seven sleeping cubicle on the USS Friendship was empty. Flawless gray walls made of God-knows-what, human-designed wall screen, storage drawers underneath the two-foot-wide bunk—it all left Leo a strip of deck two feet wide to stand in. He’d been in more cramped spaces, but not for a while.
The knock on the door was expected. Leo flung it open. Owen Lamont stood in the narrow passageway. Leo flung his arms around him. “Owen! You’re the one who got me here!”
Owen detached himself; too late, Leo remembered Owen’s dislike of being touched. “Yeah, and now that you are here, we have rules you need to follow.”
“Always,” Leo said. “How did you—”
Owen shoved Leo aside, crowded into the room, and closed the door.
“—pull it off, Owen? My orders only came through yesterday, I was on transport all night. I’m not—”
“Not 75th, no. But you’re still the best damn marksman in the entire Army. Could come in handy on Kindred.”
“That’s what they call World now? Fuck, every planet is a world!”
“That’s why they call it Kindred. Don’t you ever access the news?”
“No,” Leo said. “Too depressing. Christ, it’s good to see you! But why do you need the best damn marksman in the entire Army? You expecting trouble on Kindred?”
“Nobody knows.” Owen’s thin, deeply sunburned face lost its grin. “It’s terra incognita, bro.”
“Tara Inca Nin̴̴̴̴a—Mayan girl. I knew her in Peru.”
“The Incas weren’t Mayan and the Mayans weren’t in Peru.”
“Whatever. God, it’s good to see your over educated ass again, Owen!”
“Lieutenant Lamont. Try to remember.”
Leo mocked a salute and hugged Owen again. This was his best friend in the world, and fuck all those people who said they made a weird pair: exuberant upcountry Leo and serious, prep-school Owen with the most deadly skills in the elite 75th Regiment of the U.S. Army Rangers.
They’d met in the Ranger Assessment and Selection Program at Fort Benning. Leo had been sent on recommendation of his CO in Brazil, as a result of Leo’s hitting a target with the M107A1 sniper rifle at 2100 meters. It had been a holy grail shot, straight-up luck, although it was true that he had the ability to nudge a little more out of his weapon than normal. Kentucky windage and Tennessee elevation. He had finished RASP and gone on to Ranger School, the most physically and mentally demanding leadership school in the Army. There he had washed out during the mountain phase of training—well, not washed out, exactly, but the details were too embarrassing to think about. Leo was good at not thinking about things.
Owen, in contrast, had finished Ranger School, winning the William O. Darby Award for Distinguished Honor Graduate, and had joined the 75th. The Ranger tab gleamed on the upper left shoulder of his uniform. Since then he’d served in the Mideast and in the Panama Canal Food Wars, earning a Silver Star for valor under fire. Leo had been sent on a second tour in Brazil, but for the last two months he’d basically sat on his butt at Joint Base Lewis McChord in Seattle, watching deployment after deployment kank as various political situations changed.
Leo said, “So how many troops aboard?”
“Six? That’s all? And you’re expecting enough trouble for the Army to send a Ranger squad and request a sniper?”
“Nobody’s expecting anything,” Owen said with exaggerated patience. “That’s the point, Leo. We have no idea what will happen on Kindred. But Colonel Matthews had to fight to get even six. It’s a tiny ship, only twenty-one berths. Not our choice.”
The ship’s size, Leo knew, had been the aliens’ choice, along with everything else about the Friendship. She had been built from plans left by the Denebs (who weren’t from Deneb—Leo remembered that much) in exchange for—well, Leo didn’t exactly understand what, but it had to do with biology and the spore cloud and the vaccines and other scientific shit. Apparently the Deneb ship, which had gone back to World—no, to Kindred—had been just as small, although he didn’t know why.
He returned to what was comprehensible and immediate. “This Colonel Matthews—a good guy?”
“Yes. Did RASP five times.”
“Impressive.” Officers of the 75th didn’t coast on old training; each time they were promoted, they had to do the Assessment Program all over again. The 75th had no overweight, out-of-shape leaders. “Who else do we have?”
“Three Rangers and you. Enlisted are Pfc Mason Kandiss, Specialist Miguel Flores, and Specialist Zoe Berman.”
“A girl Ranger?”
“One of only three and the only one with combat experience. Bomb expert. Don’t look like that. She’s off-limits, Leo.”
Leo smiled. “Just fucking with you.”
Leo nodded; he’d expected this. Everything in Owen’s manner had just changed, from facial expression to body posture; the informal reunion was over. Owen was an officer and from now on that would be the relationship. Leo didn’t mind. He’d rather serve under Owen—and this unknown colonel, since Owen vouched for him—than anyone else in the entire United States Army. He nodded again, to show Owen he’d gotten the message, and said, “Sir, can I ask who else is aboard?”
“Five ship’s crew, all Navy under Captain Lewis, six scientists, and four diplomats led by the U.S. ambassador to Kindred, Maria Gonzalez. Colonel Matthews has ordered fall-in at thirteen hours.”
Owen smiled, reluctantly. “Well, that’s a problem. Besides personal quarters, the ship’s got the bridge, the common area you came through when you boarded, a storage bay full of supplies, and behind that an area that is wardroom and gym now—we share it with the Navy—and will be a laboratory on Kindred. It’s crammed with lab benches and exercise equipment and a big foldable table. But it’s all we have. Be there at thirteen hours.”
Owen—from now on and at all times, Lieutenant Lamont—left. Leo stowed his gear.
He didn’t even feel it when the Friendship lifted, smooth as a dancer. If the wall screen hadn’t suddenly blossomed into a view of Earth rapidly falling away, Leo wouldn’t have known that lift-off had occurred. No strapping in, nothing—damn, that alien tech was something! And thanks to Owen, Leo was here. Really, really here.
Going to the stars.