Chapter 1



Jim Coleman tucked his ATV into a convenient parking place in front of the bar and made sure his pistol was loose in its holster before he sauntered in for a beer. Before he pushed through the revolving door, he also made sure that his shotgun was hanging comfortably in its carrier on his back. Jim was the peaceable type and not looking for trouble, but one could never be too careful on Sauna.

The planet got its name because the original settlers figured that they had found one. By now, most people had adapted to the 27-hour day, but they still had to pace themselves if they wanted to stay alert during the 13 to 15 hours of daylight. Sauna had almost no axial tilt, so there was little to distinguish the seasons; it was just too hot most of the year, which lasted 421 days. The rainy season lasted from 16-hour to 17.5-hour every day, so you had better plan on getting wet if you were outdoors in the afternoon.

The sun was very active and usually had a rash of sunspots. This played hell with electrical transmission lines on occasion, so almost everybody depended on small fusion reactors. Everything from the personal-use ATVs to whole homesteads were fusion powered. The robotic manufacturing facility turned them out so cheaply that they were never repaired; at the first sign of trouble, the offending power unit was discarded and replaced with a new one. Jim had come into Blister to get a new unit for his house, but he stopped off for a beer, first.

Tradition had it that bars had to be dimly lit, so The Watering Trough was dimly lit. Tradition also had it that the air conditioning had to be set too cold, so it was too cold for real comfort in The Watering Trough. Jim ordered his beer and slapped a coin down on the bar to pay for it. He sipped on the mug of palatable, but not really good tasting, beer and was grateful that it was cold.

Jim was not paying much attention to what was going on in the bar, so he was surprised by a heavy jolt to his left shoulder just as he was about to take another sip of beer. The beer sloshed over his face and chest and made a general mess. Jim looked around at this and was presented with a really mean-looking visage staring back at him. "You damned fool, why don't you make room when a real man wants a drink?" growled the monster wearing the guise of a man.

Now, Jim was not given to fits of temper, but this bastard was really asking for trouble. About this time, the bartender, and owner of the bar, rushed up and said, "I don't want any trouble in here. If you two have got an argument, used the dueling park next door." To make his point, the bartender eased his shotgun from under the counter.

"Come on, pantie-waist, let's go settle this like men." said the monster, so Jim nodded and they went outside to the public dueling facility.

"Pistols or shotguns?" the monster asked.

"Pistols, of course," replied Jim.

The monster put a dollar coin in the timer and both men took their positions withing the marked circles, facing each other, at 30 feet apart. The park was laid out so that, no matter what time of day a duel took place, neither participant had the sun in his eyes. There was a backstop behind each man to catch stray bullets, so casual bystanders would not be injured.

The timer bell went off and both men drew. The monster was fast, but Jim was faster! His .55 caliber double-action automatic put a slug through the other man's chest before he was in position to shoot his own weapon. Jim knew that the other man was dead, so he just walked off. City employees would pick up and dispose of the corpse; that's what Jim payed his taxes for. He would have no trouble from the authorities: the automatic cameras would show that it was a fair fight.

Jim returned to The Watering Tough and ordered another beer. He stood talking to the bartender while he drank it. Afterwards, he crossed the street to the hardware store and bought the replacement fusion unit he needed. Jim put the power unit in the package carrier and left for home.

Jim had waited out the rain at the bar, so he had no worry about rain on his way home. Unfortunately, that was not the only aggravation Sauna had for travelers. Jim was almost home when he encountered one of the local native beasts, a 10-foot tall, flightless, bird-like animal, the "never-turn-your-back," that would attack at the slightest sign of weakness. Jim stopped his ATV and, never taking his eyes off the beast, drew his shotgun in one swift motion. He fired three shots, one at its legs, one into its body, and one into its head. All these shots were necessary because of the beast's distributed nervous system; many of the early settlers had been killed because they had put only one shot into the beast. The auto-loading shotgun carried six shells to give some backup.

Jim slung a loop of rope over the beast's legs and dragged it off the road. It had no salvage value, so he left it for the scavengers. They would be along in a few minutes; Jim suspected that they were psychic, they always showed up so quickly. He wanted to be away before they arrived; not only were they dangerous, but they stank to high heaven!

Jim drove into his garage and parked beside his battle tank. He rarely took that to town, now, since the local fauna had been reduced by intensive hunting. Nevertheless, Jim kept it in good operating condition on the assumption that he would not have time to do a service and maintenance job on it if he ever really needed it. He pulled the fusion unit from the ATV and put it on his workbench; he would do the installation tomorrow when he was less tired.

He went into the kitchen and fixed himself some supper. He wasn't very hungry, so he heated some beef and barley soup to go with two roast beef sandwiches and a large glass of iced tea. Sauna's climate forced one to make sure he was well hydrated, so Jim rarely drink coffee.

The next morning, Jim installed his new fusion unit; it took most of the morning and he was tired, so he decided to take the afternoon off and go hunting. Hunting consisted of riding around on the ATV until he spotted something worth shooting at. Now days, this was mostly riding around; he had pretty well eliminated the native fauna around his farm, so he could safely work his fields of soybeans.

Actually, he really had little to do between planting and harvest time, since the local fauna refused to eat any plants from Earth and the local flora could not compete. The main danger to his crops was from some of the larger beasts deciding to take a shortcut across his fields and laying waste to a swath of plants as they ambled through.

He was taking a joy ride, aka hunting, through the nearby woods when he heard a plane fly over very low and with a whump-whump-whump noise coming from its engine compartment. The pilot had to be in trouble! No plane ever flew that low, except to land or take off, so Jim took off through the woods at his best speed to try to help when the plane crashed.

He had not gone far when he heard the crash. The plane had broken through the trees and hit the ground hard enough to destroy it, utterly. There was so little left that Jim had no trouble spotting the pilot's safety cage. This was an egg-shaped structure which surrounded the pilot and which filled with an energy-absorbing foam when the plane was about to crash. This safety cage could withstand about anything short of atmospheric reentry, so Jim expected to find the pilot in reasonably good shape.

Instead, what the found was an unconscious woman who had a bloody crease along the back and top of her head. Jim broke out his first aid supplies and staunched the bleeding. He pulled her scalp back into pace and sealed it with super-glue; he had laid her out in the utility trailer that he had brought along to carry anything worthwhile that he shot. His portable medical-diagnostic unit showed that she was not seriously injured, so Jim gave her a dose of sleep-ease to keep her quiet while he took her to his home; that way, she wouldn't move around and accidentally fall off the trailer during the somewhat bumpy trip.

Once they had reached Jim's garage, he parked his ATV and trailer, and carried the still-unconscious woman to the guest room. He laid her on the bed and removed her boots, before loosening her jump-suit and drawing the covers up to her chin; he kept the air conditioning set pretty low inside the house.

He got himself a large glass of iced tea and sat down near the bed to wait for her to wake up. Jim had to wait about half an hour before she started to stir around and another five minutes for her to become alert enough to ask, "What happened? Where am I?"

"You were in a plane crash and banged up your head enough to knock you unconscious. You crashed near my house, so I put you in my guest bedroom until you woke up. How do you feel?"

"I feel pretty good, except for a nova-inducing headache! Can you get me something for that?"

"Sure, just a minute." Jim left and returned a moment later with a couple of tablets of painkiller and a glass of iced tea. "Here you are. Drink as much of the tea as you can choke down; it's been a while since you drank anything."

"Thanks, I will. Besides in your house, where am I?"

"You're about 8 miles from the outskirts of Blister, south of town. Need any data more complete than that?"

"No, thanks, that'll do for now. How long have I been here?"

"You've been in the house for about one hour and it's been about two hours since you crashed. I'll fix you some supper after you've had some more rest. Would you like to change clothes? I've got some clothes that will be too large for you, but it will be clean."

"Oh, Yes. I would appreciate some clean clothes, but I'll need you to help me change."

"My pleasure, but don't expect me not to stare. I'm not a hermit, you know." said Jim, with a grin. "By the way, I'm Jim Coleman. What's your name?"

"Oh, sorry. I'm Jane Arbuckle from over in Carson county."

"OK, I'll be right back with your change of clothes."

"Here you are, Jane. Are you strong enough to sit up, or do I need to do all the work? I have a shirt and pants that you can slip on after we get you out of that jump suit."

Jane was wearing full and conservative underwear under her jump-suit, so there were no embarrassing moments while she changed clothes. Jane lay back down and said, "I do appreciate you rescuing me this way; I don't know what I would have done if you hadn't found me. I don't remember much after I was shot."

"You were shot? Why would somebody do that? Say... don't I recognize you from somewhere?"

"Yes, I must have been hit by a large caliber machine gun from a ground emplacement. You probably have seen me on the TV news, I'm a senator and I chair the Land Management committee. I guess this is related to the water control bills we have been working on. Some very powerful interests don't want their water rights regulated. If you don't mind, I'd like to hide out here for a few days to see what develops. I will pay you for room and board."

"No problem! I'll be glad to have you. It can get pretty lonely out here in the boondocks and you will be nice company. Now, you try to get some sleep while I go work on supper."

Jim thought that he would go "whole-hog" for the first guest he had stay overnight. He managed a standing roast beef with new potatoes, pearl onions, green peas, and a tossed salad. All was served on his dining room table with his (only) linen table cloth and candelabra. He used his best tableware and glasses. He even found a decent wine.

After dinner, Jane commented, "You must have done all of this for me and I appreciate it. I know that you would never have time to fix every meal like this and have time to do anything else. But I do want you to know that I am impressed. I don't know that I have had a better meal in more pleasant surroundings with better company. Thank you!"

"You are quite welcome, Ms Arbuckle. It was my pleasure to fix dinner for such a beautiful guest. I rarely have anyone in for a meal, and certainly no one as welcome as you.

"Would you like to wait in the living room while I clear the table and bring out the ice cream for desert?"

"Please, nothing more to eat! And let me help you with clearing the table."

It took no time for the two of them to clear the diner table and load the dishwasher. Shortly thereafter, they were in the living room watching the news on TV.

"Senator Jane Arbuckle's plane has been missing for hours and no sign of her emergency transponder. She is believed to be down in the wilderness south of the town of Blister, based on her last automatic check-in with air traffic control. Her small plane was equipped with all of the latest safety devices, so it would be unlikely for her to be seriously hurt by a crash. However, there are many dangerous fauna in that area, including never-turn-your-back, and dangerous scavengers of several types, such as pseudo-hyena. Any of these beasts could prove fatal on a chance encounter. A full scale search party is being organized and will be launched at first light, tomorrow.

"In other news..."

At this, Jim turned the TV off and turned to Jane. "How do you want to play this? If a bunch of amateurs go fumbling around in those woods, somebody could get himself killed. The TV was right about the dangerous animals; that's why I was in such a hurry to find you."

"It looks like I had better 'fess up and announce my presence. I don't want anybody hurt on my account. May I use your radio?"

"Sure, I'll show you where it is. It's already set to the standard communication frequency, so all you have to do is talk. It has full duplex operation, so it operates like and old-fashioned telephone. I'll turn it on and you can talk as long as you like. Just remember that it's not a secure line, and anybody can tune in and listen."

"Thanks, Jim. I was looking forward to spending some time with you, away from the pressure of politics. Oh, well..."

"Hello, Central? This is Jane Arbuckle. Please have someone at Air Traffic Control call me at WK4ARE. I'll be standing by for their call. Thank you."

"Certainly, Senator Arbuckle. I'm relieved to hear your voice. I'll have someone call you right back."

"WK4ARE, WK4ARE, this is Air Traffic Control Central. Senator Arbuckle, how do you read?"

"This is Senator Arbuckle. I read you 5 by 5. Please tell anybody interested that I was rescued immediately after my crash by Mr. Jim Coleman and that I am quite well and comfortable. I am staying at Mr. Coleman's place for a few days."

"Excellent, Senator. I'll relay your message. This is ATCC, out."

"WK4ARE, out."


That morning, about 04-hour, there was a tremendous boom against the defensive wall surrounding Jim's house. This was a 4-inch-thick sheet of transparent polycarbonate installed with a 4-inch airspace around the whole structure. Its purpose was to discourage never-turn-your-backs, and other native fauna, from trying to move in, but it was a good general defense, so Jim kept it in first class shape.

The racket was caused by the explosion of an RPG against the shield protecting the house's utility room, which was where most people kept their fusion power units. It was the logical place to hit first if an attacker planned to destroy the house and everybody in it. A few moments later, as second explosion was felt in the same general area.

Jim rolled out of bed and grabbed up his night-vision goggles. He had them on and was pulling his shotgun out of its rack when Jane came running up from the guest room. Before she could say anything, Jim said, "We are under attack! Put on these goggles and don't turn on any lights! You use the radio to call for help while I see what the hell is going on!"

Jane nodded and ran to the radio, while Jim moved toward the back of the house. He didn't know how many RPGs it would take to blow out his shield, so he didn't want to be in the utility room when another RPG hit. However, he did glance in to see how much damage there might be. Fortunately, the polycarbonate shield still held and there was no damage, yet.

Jane had sent her call for help and it had been acknowledged, so she came running when she saw Jim in the hallway. She told Jim that help was on the way and he said, "Great, Thanks! Let's wait for them in my defensive pillbox on the roof. Its the safest place in the house. It's a holdover from the bandit wars and is damned near impregnable."

They climbed to the pillbox and looked out. Jane looked toward the front and Jim looked toward the back of the house. Both saw several people running around in the yards, but they didn't seem to have very effective direction from a central authority.

Another RPG was launched toward the house and its explosion nearly burned out Jim's goggles before he could turn away. This pissed him off, so he cleared one of the machine guns in the pill box and started shooting at the last RPG's launch site.

The return fire must have shaken up the attackers, since it was accurately aimed and terribly destructive. Several assault rifles, by the sound, opened up on the pillbox, but nothing penetrated. Assault rifles just couldn't have the penetrating power needed to get through Jim's defense. Jim's ire had been relieved by his first round of shooting at the RPG launcher, but he occasionally fired the machine guns at the attackers in the hopes of keeping them distracted until they could be captured by the help that was supposed to be on the way.

It took nearly 20 minutes before the sound of helicopters could be heard approaching Jim's besieged house. Jim assumed that these were from the authorities sent to rescue Senator Arbuckle. They wouldn't have bothered coming to rescue him, since he was a private citizen and expected to take care of himself. Of course, they would take care of him, too, in the course of taking care of her, especially if she put in a good word for him.

The helicopters landed and Jim relaxed.

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Story tagged with:
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