The StormKeepers Chronicles
Volume V "Rebel Conversion"

Copyright (c) 1999 by Low Ee Mien
All references to Hercs and the StarSiege Universe (c) 1999 Dynamix Corporation

Chapter 1 : Trigger Unhappy

my notes

Valkline Dust Plains
StormShadow Valley
Planet Mars
1850 hrs Valkline Local

Far from the nearest hints of civilisation, across a vast plain of reddish-brown, emphasized ever so slightly by a distant sun edging its way into the horizon, an odd contraption of a vehicle was racing on a peculiar journey to nowhere.

Powered by a single ion-hybrid turbojet and balancing precariously on its four corner thrusters barely a meter above the ground, the one-man low-level flyer stole its way over small variations in the terrain, jinking its way past larger obstacles, its course taking it on a southward journey away from Valkline Estate.

"Hmmm - ought to be far enough," mumbled Roger Simmons to nobody in particular, swinging his ride on its tail, bringing it to a wobbly stop just short of a rocky overhang. The formation was part of the StormShadow Valley, which was constituted by an almost unbroken chain of high mountains and steep sides thousands of miles long - a natural protection for Valkline Estate and dozens of settler townships like it from the ferocious Martian dust storms ravaging the land in unpredictable bursts of random fury.

Main jet cut off, quad thrusters reduced to a mere whisper, Roger brought the flyer down as gently as he could manage, for he sincerely did not wish to be witness again to a spectacular crash like he did to his previous home-built RS Speeder II, which had happened long ago, another planet away.

The desolate landscape was a perfect setting. Roger shut off all comm systems, not that there were many to begin with. After taking the customary walk around the craft to ensure that everything was proper and intact, Roger settled back into the cockpit with a datapad on his lap - and began to dream.

For Roger Simmons was a dreamer - a dreamer with the mind of a mechanical engineer, and practical hands that shaped tools and parts, transforming his dreams into reality. He had homework, of course - every college student has had so-called tutorials long since time immemorial, even long-distance college students like himself. And, it was as boring as it could usually be. Finding a solution to the surface-effect cornering balance of a quad-thruster lift configuration was much, much more interesting - and a lot more practical than academic exercises, as well.

The son of a scientist and a systems programmer, Roger was no stranger to all manner of technology. His parents had allowed him to practically tear apart obsolete computer modules since young - and had watched him learn to put them back together again as he got older, and helped him graduate on to lessons in physics, mechanics, computing and even a smattering of bio-chemistry, as his mother, Karen Simmons, was a real true-blue xeno-biologist.

Assigned by Science Division to study the development of plant and animal life on planets in the process of undergoing terraforming, Karen was one of the cadre of 'field scientists' - those which actually went out to get hard data while the rest of the Earth-bound Imperial staff argued over the numbers, produced hypotheses - and wrote lengthy papers. She had been part of that too, until the office politics got tiresome, and the science part of the work got a little muddled.

Which was why the Simmons family had ended up on Mars. Karen Simmons had volunteered to be part of the group to relieve the returning two-year field team. Henry Simmons had, at the time, merely shrugged, and packed up his stuff, and that was that. With the ubiquitous OmniWeb reaching into every corner of the inhabited 'system, a systems programmer could work from practically anywhere. The hardest part had been to get then 14-year-old Roger to actually tidy up his bedroom and leave most of his accumulated belongings - and junk - behind.

Thus it ended up that Roger had to leave all his friends behind as well. It was a sobering experience, transiting from a happy, fun-filled existence in a nice city-side suburb on Earth to the vast, dust-choked, empty expanses of Mars. He had tried to talk to some of them via RealChat, but comm costs escalated, and quickly became prohibitive. And Roger ended up lonely, and finally rejected most human company altogether, preferring to take his high-speed, flying creations into the vast landscape, the better to soak up the quiet surroundings, to think up newer and better designs. The rest of his time, he spent in the garage, building, demolishing, repairing, re-building. Then it was back to dreaming, and thinking, and calculating again.

Bernoulli equations. G-force effects. Centrifugal acceleration. Almost there. Roger voiced, and keyed in the last of the factors to run his latest sim model that would be the basis of RS Speeder IV - if and when he got around to actually building it would be another matter. Roger was almost happy - here, far from all distraction, he could work at his typical pace, which was just two steps short of maniacal.

The tremors were almost unnoticeable at first. Hand drifting over to check the main turbojet cutoff switch, Roger ignored the quavers, thinking it was just the idling ion portion of the hybrid drive. The simulation model was running through its final phase of compilation - the workstation class Delta-5.3Gx64 processors sitting in a ruggedized box at the back of Roger's Speeder III strained hard to keep up with the dizzyingly-huge data arrays.

It was when rumble changed to thump that Roger looked sharply up - and around. Marsquakes were unheard of, at least as far as this sector went. It wasn't really impossible - just improbable...

It was only when bits of the rocky ceiling began to crumble under the latest vibratory assault that startled Roger enough to quick-start all five engines and zip out - into an impossibly-bright sky.

The phenomenon was awe-inspiring - and frightening, so much so that Roger did not even notice the collapse of the rock under which he had been sitting mere moments ago.

Northward, from a distant point source, thin purple staccato beams of light radiated groundward. Every few seconds, a blindingly-bright bluish discharge would manifest itself. Meteor showers - or were those meteors? - streaked nearly vertically downward, in haphazard directions.

Every now and then, a flaming arrow would seem to be aiming in Roger's direction, ending with a ground-shaking thump. Convinced that that was a bad, very bad sign, Roger threw his craft in random directions, until he calmed down enough to realise that the near-vertical approach aspect made every such meteorite seem to come toward him.

Curiously drawn by the strange happenings, Roger sped northward, but that direction seemed somewhat... wrong. It took him a full five minutes to make the connection - the mental blow struck him worse than a direct hit from one of those would-be meteors. Frantically keying in relative co-ordinates and triangulations into his datapad, Roger confirmed what he thought he was seeing. He tore himself away from the console and stared at the sky.

It was impossible.

It couldn't be happening.

They were not supposed to - it couldn't be facing - no.

Mars Imperial Orbital Defense Platform MDP-3 was opening fire. At the ground. Orbital bombardment - of the worst sort. The entire arsenal of an awesome weapons array designed to ward off an opposing space-borne enemy fleet had somehow been brought to bear on a ground target.

And it seemed painfully obvious by now that the ground target was none other than Roger's hometown - Valkline Estate.

Mother would be at home. Preparing dinner.

Father would be at home. Working.. programming.

Screaming incoherently, Roger shunted all available power to the ion-turbojet, ignoring the automatic alarms as Speeder III went way past its 280 km/h do-not-exceed limit.

The last thing he felt before the shock wave came and obliterated everything into uniform whiteness was a kind of crazy spinning as Speeder III met with stresses it clearly was not designed for, and flipped end over end clear into the air.

It would be a long while before consciousness would return, but at the moment, everything went blessedly dark.

... continued