chapter: John and the Dogs react to 2nd loss of sat coms

{{{*** 81: John

== 2064: Icarcus Crater, Lunar Farside

Duncan kneeled on the lunar graveled and rolled up the tent’s sun shield. John walked past him to where the solar bank sat. It had already folded itself into a bundle and John lifted it off the ground carried it towards the mules. As he passed Duncan a second time the Dog said “I don’t see what the big deal is – they burned Gamma’s satellites before and nothing happened. So now the peakers burned them again. So what? Why the big hurry?”

Max, who was doing lubrication maintenance on the mules turned away from the machines to face Duncan and John. Max growled and his tail stood up aggressively. “Didn’t you hear what Gamma said about the satellites over Farside?”

“Yeah, so?”

Behind them the tent deflated then gave three beeps as the electrostatic cleaning sequence finished. The memory wire poles started to fold the tent into a tight package.

Max shook his head “Earth can’t burn stuff that’s hidden from them. At least, not using weapons in Earth orbit. Something is going on. Something big.”

“Yeah, but – we were just about to have dinner. And tonight we’ve got apple pie for desert, so can’t we just eat and sleep first, then in the morning -”

Max barked at the younger Dog. “Gamma didn’t tell us “go about your business, everything’s great, I’ll have the sats back in a week.'” He slapped the ground in front of him with one fore paw to emphasize his point. “He told us to get to Zhukovskiy.”

Duncan shrugged. “OK, fine. We’ll go to Zhukovskiy. But I still don’t see what the rush is.”

John shook his head. Duncan was young – and naive. He was second generation, which meant that he’d been a pup when The Team had saved them all from the labs and smuggled them here. The second generation had heard the stories, but they didn’t remember them.

Not like Blue and Rex. They were first generation, and remembered the weeks before the final decision. The lab techs started becoming emotionally withdrawn, political advisers started visiting the facilities. The BuSuR investigation. The leaked plan. The older dogs – not just here, but back at Aristillus – took things more seriously. Each reacted to it differently – Max by being combative and angry, Blue by being introspective and wise beyond his years. John paused and looked at the two older Dogs. Both were tearing down the campsite with speed and determination. They understood that something important was going on. Duncan, though – he was arguing about apple pie.

John turned away from the Dogs and closed the mule’s locker door – or tried to. It bound and couldn’t close the last centimeter. He opened the door again and used the edge of one glove to wipe a bit of dust from the seal, then shut it a second time and felt the bolt snick home. He turned back to the Dogs and wondered – not for the first time – if he was right that most of the difference in temperament was because of age and experience, or if there was some hack in the DNA between the first and second generations. They had most of the records back at Aristillus, but with out trained gene techs the data was useless.

Duncan handed the rolled up sun shield to Max. “If you’re worried about resupply, you can relax – now that we’ve got four mules we’re good for a month or more. Besides, Darcy knows where we are now.”

“I told you already.”


Max didn’t answer – his disgust was clear from his body language as he turned away.

Duncan called after him “Hey! That was a serious question!” but Max didn’t turn back.

John sighed. Max could be a dick. “Duncan – the first time the satellites got burned they were hit when they were over nearside. That implies earth-orbiting weapons – or, heck, maybe just ground based lasers somewhere. But this time Gamma told us just before we lost contact that the satellites were getting burned over Farside!”


“If the satellites got hit when they weren’t in line of sight from Earth, then where are the weapons that they’re using?”

Duncan shrugged. “I dunno…where?”

John closed his eyes and breathed deeply. He understood how Max felt. Duncan was provably a genius, but sometimes it seemed like his brain just wasn’t in gear. He was probably still thinking about his idiotic game or something. “I don’t KNOW Duncan – and that’s the point! Doesn’t it concern you that not only are Earth governments attacking lunar assets for a SECOND time, but now they’re doing it via satellites or ships that are either in orbit around the moon or are somewhere further out and can look down at us?” John punctuated this with a finger jab upwards. “Imagine that you’re playing chess and when it’s your opponent’s turn, suddenly one of your pieces gets toppled…but you don’t know how he did it.” He had Duncan’s attention now so he pressed on. “You figure out that your opponent has somehow changed the rules and has invisible pieces -”

“Oh, that is cool! Have you ever played fairy chess? I mean, not like just skinning the pieces with fairies and trolls and stuff, but those other weird chess pieces like ‘riders’? Although, actually, it is cooler when your do it in AR and you have the skins! I downloaded this one skin from the archive once that was based on the Dragon Cycle universe -”

John closed his eyes. Jesus. He called up the interface and hesitated before adjusting the setting. If he did this he was being as bad as Max. He clicked commit – and muted Duncan. It was rude, but he just didn’t have the mental energy to deal with him now. Whatever. Duncan would pull his head out of his ass and understand the urgency or he wouldn’t.

But how was everyone else doing? John looked around. Blue and Rex had packed up the last of the miscellaneous equipment scattered around the site and were standing near the mules, ready to leave. Max was a dozen meters in front the mules, looking over his shoulder, waiting for the rest of them.

And Duncan? He was sitting on a rock, absentmindedly rubbing the spot on his space suit where John knew his gold coins were cached in an inside pocket.

John caught Max’s eye and tilted his head towards the horizon. Max nodded and started walking. Blue followed immediately and Rex a moment later. The mules stood from their crouches and pranced in place, waiting until the entire party was underway. John followed the Dogs and the mule clambered after him.

A few minutes later John felt his guilt over muting Duncan bubble to the surface. Duncan had probably noticed by now and deserved an apology for the slight. John switched Duncan’s channel back on – and caught the the Dog talking to him. “- so if you ask me, ALL of the Night Riders are pretty cool, but the Ork King is the best. But here’s my new idea – putting in the cannon piece from Xiangqi – that’s Chinese Chess. THAT would be awesome. Battle Arena, which is a FPS with puzzles to unlock gun features. Have you ever played that?”

John blinked. “Ah, no, I haven’t played that.”

“Well, that’s OK. What I really want to talk about is the march East to Mordor today. My lembas supply is low, so I was thinking of hunting, but the HobDog racial skills don’t apply in this terrain, so I thought -”

John excused himself from the conversation – he’d had more than enough talk about games over the last few months.

He felt a weird jumped up energy – he knew they were in the shit, but he didn’t know what was going on, and there was nothing to do about it. He was restless and edgy and wanted to take some action. Hopefully when they reached Zhukovskiy – where, presumably, Gamma had yet another secret installation – they’d learn more.

In the mean time, he felt the urge to talk, to distract himself from a situation he could do nothing about.

Who should he talk to? Max? No – that’d be the furthest thing from distraction. Apocalyptic predictions, ranting – no.

Blue? Melancholic, pensive – another no.

He placed a call. “Hey, Rex, you have anything to talk about that’s not gaming related?”

Rex sighed. “Oh, I don’t want to talk about the game!”.

“Getting sick of it?”

On the in-helmet camera Rex looked at John as if he was daft, his big brown eyes expressing dismay. “What? No. It’s just – what’s the point of getting enthusiastic about the game now that we’ve lost coms again? I’ve got NO idea what’s going on in the discussion forums. What are the futures markets doing? I had 30k riding on the battles today, and another 15k in side wagers. But the way the contracts are written, I might lose it all. It depends if one of the volunteer AR game administrators tries to spin the communication blackout as a plot development. If the narrative fragments, and I win a battle here, but my avatar loses a battle in the mainstream branch of the game, then when we’re back in touch that’s got to be retconned in. And you know what that means.”

“Uh…what? No, I don’t.”

“It goes up for a vote! And what happens if the vote goes against us? Then the mainstream branch wins, and whatever the battle results are there is canonical – unless we go to arbitration!”

Rex ended the with a sigh, as if the insanity of such an idea was self-evident.

John nodded. “Uh – uh-huh.”

Rex took this as encouragement and continued “…and so here I am, just flipping back and forth between overlays and comparing the Misty Mountains up ahead with the actual terrain, and wishing that I had connectivity!”

John flipped to the Dog’s gaming overlay. That line of mountains up ahead must be the Misty Mountains Rex was talking about. Whatever. He flipped back to his regular forest overlay and walked through that environment for a while, then, in the end, switched to a real view of the actual lunar terrain. He let his eyes slide up, beyond the boulders, up beyond the crater wall, to the black sky overhead.

What was going on?

What was up there?


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3 Responses to chapter: John and the Dogs react to 2nd loss of sat coms

  1. Max Lybbert says:

    I’ve been wondering what kinds of changes you’ve been making during the rewrites. While I thought the story and characterization was well-developed before, I have to agree with your last few months of posts: this added material shows how much room there was for improvement.

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