RoF’s Amazing Open House on February 6th!
Ring of Fire Press’s Open with special guest S.M. Sterling will happen on February 6th at 1 pm EST.
Use the Zoom link below to join in on the fun. We’ll see you there!
RoF’s preview of David Brin’s High Horizon Series!
Ring of Fire is preparing to release book Colony High, Dr. David Brin’s first book in High Horizon series and to get everyone ready we have the SECOND part of Chapter 1 for your enjoyment!
Alexandra Behr wasn’t as easy to deal with.
“Do you have any idea how hard we lobbied Principal Jeffers to get that wall? It’s our shot at getting some X-Sports accepted inside! You better not blow it for us, Bam.”
Mark shot her a glare as they walked toward the bike racks. He’d never liked the nickname — Bam-Bam … later shortened to Bam — though its macho quality beat most alternatives. High school could be a social nightmare for any transfer student, especially if you got off on the wrong foot. Anyway, the Extreme Sports bunch had been first to accept him. Mark couldn’t skateboard worth a damn, but none of them had ever gone trekking in the Atlas Mountains, so it all evened out. Why not help pioneer a new sport at TNPHS?
“It won’t happen again,” he told Alex.
This time the promise felt sincere. He had let her down, foolishly losing focus. In the real world, a slip like that could be fatal. Besides, he needed the ascent team, to boost upcoming college applications. Lacking Alex’s grade point average, and a bit short for his age, this might be his one chance to varsity at anything.
“Well, okay then.” Alex nodded, accepting Mark’s word. She punched his shoulder, knowing uncannily how to strike a nerve. He quashed a reflex to rub the spot.
Dang girls who take karate. Mark had grown up with the type, on a dozen military outposts around the world. Oh, they could be great pals. But a more feminine style also had appeal. Anyway, Alex was only a sophomore — not even sixteen and still gawky. Mark inclined toward ‘older women’ like Helene.
Unfortunately, they went for older guys.
Barry Tang awaited them at the bike racks, his Techno already unfolded with gleaming, composite wheels — hand-made for last year’s Science Fair. With unkempt, glossy black hair and a misbuttoned shirt, anyone could tell how he interfaced with Alex — on her non-athletic side. They were both Junior Engineers.
“What kept you two?” Barry asked, a little breathlessly. “I want to show you something!”
“Gimme a break, will you? My carcass is still practically twisted in half and covered with bruises. And I gotta be at work by four.” Not that he relished bagging groceries. But Dad said any kind of job built character. In lieu of allowance, he pitched in a buck for every one Mark earned himself — mostly for the college fund.
“So? You’ve got twenty-three minutes, and Food King is right over there.” Barry pointed to the supermarket, beyond Jonathan’s Shell Station and across the street from Twenty-Nine Palms High.
“Come on, Bam.” Alex took the back of Mark’s neck with one slim, strong hand and started kneading. “I’ll work these knots, if you like.”
He suppressed an impulse to brush her away. Alex was a pal, after all. Though every now and then …
Barry glanced over at the two of them with a grimace of feigned jealousy that was maybe partly real. “Are you rewarding this guy for messing up, at practice? Maybe I should get some bruises too. Somebody’d rub my — hey! Stop that!”
Mark had grabbed Barry in a headlock and was knuckle-digging his temple, not very hard. Just enough to be true noogies. When Tang protested again, he let go.
“Why’d you do that!”
“You were asking for bruises. What’re friends for?”
“Well,” Barry ran his fingers through his mussed hair. “You know what I meant! Anyway …” His eyes suddenly widened. “There!”
“Over there, beyond Olympic!” Barry shouted. “I see one!”
“See what?” Alex asked, releasing Mark’s neck just when he was closing his eyes, ready to admit it felt good. By the time he looked up, both of his friends were pedaling ahead, past the alley where denim-clad bikers always hung out after tearing around on the dunes. Mark had to chase after, swerving to avoid a muttering bag lady’s junk-laden shopping cart, barely catching his friends near the minimart on Main. Barry jabbed a finger north along Bing Crosby Boulevard, toward the Marine Corps base and a vast expanse of desert beyond.
“I don’t see —”
Mark blinked. Indeed, there was a van — dark blue, with windows tinted opaque gray. An oval area along one side had been painted over raggedly, without much effort to match shades. A tarp covered some kind of bulge on top.
“So? I don’t see —”
“That color and model, I recognize it from the fleet at Cirocco Labs! There’s at least a dozen — maybe more — cruising all over the place. Must’ve been in a real hurry. See how they just slapped some paint on the company logo? And I’ll bet you that blanket’s hiding sensors. Maybe some kind of a search radar!”
Barry looked so excited — and happy — that Mark hesitated to doubt him aloud. Especially when Alex cast a warning glance, shaking her head.
Is this going to be like a few months ago, when Barry kept yattering about giant Russian transport planes, landing in the middle of the night?
“Haven’t either of you heard all the helicopters cruising overhead the last few days? I can spot two of em right now, from where we’re standing! See that glint near the horizon?” He swiveled. “And there beyond the RV park, over Joshua Tree. They must be looking for something!”
Mark and Alex shared another glance. Neither of them had to say it. In Twenty-Nine Palms, the sight of copters flitting about was as surprising as spotting your own shadow. “An exercise,” Mark ventured. “Hotshots from Pendleton —”
“My parents have been nervous about something, the last few days,” Alex murmured. “When I asked about it, they went all weird on me and clammed up.”
Mark shot her an accusing look. You too?
Then something occurred to him.
I haven’t seen Dad in two days.
Oh, that alone wasn’t troubling. It happened several times a year. A note on the fridge, plus an envelope with some cash. No instructions. Just implicit confidence that Mark could be trusted to take care of himself for a while.
Only now he found himself worrying. Could it be an alert?
With so many hot spots in the world, units were always being called up and sent to far places that he never heard of, fighting in little scraps that never got called ‘wars.’
He didn’t recall anything in the news that seemed threatening. No looming crisis. But folks at the nearby base — and at Cirocco Labs — might be involved with something on the horizon, acting long before the media or public got wind of it.
“I joined the Math Club for a while, when I was a freshman,” Barry said, his voice cracking slightly. “I still know a couple guys. We play chess now and then.”
“So?” Mark just knew he was going to regret asking. Then the connection dawned on him …
… those silly rumors. Oh, no.
“So,” Barry finished. “You guys want to find out what’s going on?”