Welcome! ‘Uncommon Bravery’ is the second story I’ve written as a serial. What’s a serial? For me, it’s a story that I’m writing, one chapter at a time and releasing it before I move on to the next chapter. This presents a challenge, in that I dilligently try not to go back and revise previous chapters. When I’m finally done, I’ll combine the chapters and publishing the story to retail outlets. It will, however, always be part of my website.
It’s an alien invasion and three friends stand between the bugs and their home town of Elm Bluff. Jeremy Tinker, Lester Knight and Clara Daws have been best friends for as long as any of them can remember. After high school, their lives took dramatically different paths; Tinker’s to engineering school, Knight’s to the Army’s elite Rangers and Clara’s to her father’s heavy equipment company. A decade later, the three find themselves back in their home town on the eve of the invasion. The only problem is Earth’s governments aren’t telling its citizens.
“Tinker and Knight, just like old times.” Clara Daws sauntered into Elm Bluff Diner. “I didn’t know you were in town, Jeremy. Are you back for the summer?”
Jeremy Tinker turned from the counter and took in the enigmatic woman. A blush rose on his cheeks as he considered his long-term, not-so-secret crush and once again found himself unable to form intelligent sentences.
Lester Knight set his coffee cup on the counter and elbowed his flummoxed friend in the ribs.
“Uh, hi, Clara,” Tinker finally responded, which brought kind amusement to Clara’s eyes. “They shut down the university. You know, until things get worked out.”
“Makes sense. What are you knuckleheads up to, then?”
“Sheriff gave me the day off.” Lester Knight stepped around his befuddled friend. “We’re taking the Hill Buggy over to Dog Bluff. Tinker’s working on that gravity system he installed last year. He says it can go totally negative slope. Right, Tinker?”
Tinker found his voice. “Shouldn’t be a problem. I pulled the system off a low orbit shuttle. It’ll hold a lot more than a buggy. Want to come along?”
“Sounds fun, but no can do. Dad has some big meeting with the National Guard,” Clara said. “Knight, I’m surprised Sheriff Elmore gave you the day off, what with those Kroerak bug ships in orbit.”
Knight lifted his eyebrows. “I didn’t hear the Guard was in town. You think it has something to do with those bugs? Last I heard, Mars Protectorate showed up and is kicking bug ass. And for the record, I’m just a deputy.”
“Just a deputy with a Ranger commendation medal,” Clara said, rolling her eyes. “Apparently, the Guard wants Dad to build an earth dam at the bottom of the hill on Highway 32, before the bridge.”
“You’re closing the highway?” Tinker asked. “There’ll only be one way out of Elm Bluff if you do that. What if someone east of here wants to get to Omaha? It’s fifty kilometers to go around us.”
“Just for the record, nobody asked for my opinion.” Clara paused for dramatic effect. “My job is to pick up breakfast. I don’t know much about what Dad and Captain Big-pants are planning. Fact is, though, it’d take days to move enough material to close off the road, so I’m guessing that’s not what we’re doing.”
“Order-up.” Joe Fisher, the grizzled owner of the diner, slid a bag across the counter to Tinker. “We’re almost ready with your order, too, Clara.”
“Catch up later?” Tinker nervously smoothed his unruly hair.
“Absolutely. Finally, the great and wise Dr. Tinker can explain to me everything he’s been learning at that big school in Denver.”
Tinker smiled mischievously as the turn of phrase presented itself to him. “For the record, I won’t be Dr. Tinker for another month.”
“You still have it bad,” Knight said as he carried a crate of water bottles to the back of the buggy.
“For Clara? Yeah. She seeing anyone?” Tinker asked as he transferred the bottles to the trunk of the vehicle they’d built virtually from scratch.
The frame of the buggy was a light-weight, nano-crystalized steel, salvaged from a construction machine they’d unearthed at a scrap yard outside of Kansas City more than ten years ago. The remainder of the buggy had been built in much the same way, as the pair became acquainted with every scrapyard within a few hundred kilometers of their home.
“How’d you get the gravity box working?” Knight asked, changing the subject. He didn’t want to talk about Clara on Tinker’s first day back.
Tinker brightened. Knight didn’t always show a lot of interest in the technology. “They fried the insulated pathways. Demagnetized them. I took ‘em to the lab at school and re-polarized and re-programmed. It wasn’t that hard, once I got into it.”
“Maybe not for you, but that’s not the sort of thing I learned in the Rangers.”
The pair couldn’t be more different. Where Tinker was tall, thin, untanned and had piercing blue eyes, Knight was slightly shorter, but deeply tanned and well-muscled from regular exercise.
“Hop in.” Tinker jumped into the open cockpit and pulled on the five-point harness. “Put this on.” He handed his friend a helmet that in its current state looked more like a cutoff sweatshirt hood than it did safety equipment.
“Where’d you get this?” Knight asked. When he put it on, the hood stiffened, conformed to his head, and extended a six-centimeter glass lens in front of his eyes. Moments later, the helmet registered with the data stores and AI in his clothing. Once registered, the clear glass darkened to his preference and a HUD popped up in his peripheral, awaiting any command that would require it to take a more prominent position in his visual range.
“We replicated a bunch with a military surplus pattern I found at school.” Tinker’s voice came through the helmet’s speakers.
“We never had anything this nice in the service,” Knight said. “Better armored, maybe, but the audio is excellent.”
“We might have tweaked the pattern with some IP (intellectual property) of dubious origin.”
“I’m a sheriff’s deputy. Let’s avoid confessions.”
“Strap in. Wouldn’t be good to have you bouncing out.” Without further warning, Tinker mashed the accelerator, causing a spray of dirt and gravel to rooster tail behind the vehicle.
“Frak, Tinker, take it easy.” Knight struggled to clip the ends of the harness together as they catapulted down the washboard gravel drive of the Tinker family homestead.
“Felt like you were being evasive when I asked about Clara earlier,” Tinker said, his voice coming through louder to compensate for the sound of wind whipping through Hill Buggy’s open cab.
“Let’s not hit this right now,” Knight said, his HUD showing they were moving at thirty-five meters per second and still accelerating. “And you need to slow down.”.
“Feel how smooth that is?”
The town of Elm Bluff sat at the top of an odd, geological formation at the western edge of Iowa called the Loess Hills. According to scientists, ancient glaciers pushed great mounds of dirt and deposited them in a two to ten-kilometer-wide, three-hundred-kilometer-long, elevated strip that rose sixty meters above the otherwise, relatively flat plains of the state.
At that moment, however, the most significant aspect of the bluffs for Knight was that Tinker’s homestead was only two kilometers from the edge. Even more important was that Hill Buggy chewed up more than fifteen hundred meters of that distance and Tinker showed no inclination of slowing.
“It’s smooth,” Knight agreed. The gravel drive had given way to rough ground several hundred meters back, but for whatever reason Hill Buggy didn’t seem to be hitting every bump like it had in the past. “You’re starting to worry me, though.”
“Just tell me, already,” Tinker said. “You’re horrible at keeping secrets.”
“Damn it, Tinker,” Knight said. “What happens if your gravity system doesn’t hold? Falling sixty meters will kill us if we don’t have an inertial damper.”
“True enough. Feels like a good day for a test run, don’t you think? And, when did you turn out to be such a pansy? You were a frakking Ranger already.”
“Frak. You know. Don’t you?” Knight said. “You bastard. When did you figure it out?”
“So, it’s true? You and Clara?”
“Only for a few months. She dumped me six weeks ago.”
Tinker pulled hard on the steering controls and put Hill Buggy into a sideways slide. Knight watched with nervous anticipation as the edge of the bluff approached at an alarming rate. His heart pounded in his chest when Hill Buggy came to a stop, its tail mere inches from the edge.
“She dumped you?” Tinker asked, smiling happily.
“Are you frakking crazy? We could have died!” Knight punched Tinker in the arm, barely pulling back.
“Shouldn’t have done that,” Tinker said, rubbing his arm.
“You were freaking me out. I thought you were going to…”
“Kill us?” Tinker pulled the acceleration stick.
Knight watched in horror as a spray of grassy dirt erupted from heavy treaded wheels and Hill buggy catapulted from the cliff. His stomach lurched as they hung in the air for just a moment before it plunging downward.