Author’s Note: This is an excerpt from my latest book Jade’s Dish. Here are links to prior installments.
Excerpt: [SOME SPOILERS AHEAD!]
I walked back to the storage compartment of the Celestial Dart and removed the tent kit. Jade and I then opened the miscellaneous bags and set the projector on the ground. We then placed the body panels over the projector tips where the poles would be deployed and extended from. After pressing the button, the tent poles projected up in arches and the body panels were magnetically sealed to the poles. The last portion was the rain fly. This was connected via the same magnetic system the body panels were connected by. After almost ten minutes of labor our tent was ready. Jade unpacked some camp cookware. I checked my supplies for surveillance. I had all I needed. I just needed to prepare an observation post. We knew where his RV Lander was now and the next step was to confirm where he was exactly.
Also, to maintain proper cover, I would have to be seen with Jade and blend in. We would have to look the part as a couple on vacation. This would mean being seen by other people and having them look upon us a couple. Being a discreet hermit around this group would likely backfire, as many loners oftentimes cause trouble and they’re just viewed upon as that and automatically blamed as being anti-social in more than one way. We would have to be seen.
Along with being seen we would have to be observed as enjoying ourselves, fitting in. Being glue against a surface and like an adhesive, adhering to our surroundings. This was going to be a hard challenge. It was always easier said than done. The good news is that Jade would have the easier part of our job which was maintaining the presence at our camp: she could cook, make a fire, etc.… I would have to find a good potential observation post. For now, we would hop into the ships, I would obtain a good view of the claimant’s RV Landers and his campsite. And we would also be able to see what the land was like around that campsite. I wanted to know the population density of the area and the likely paths of egress to potential destinations planet side for this claimant.
“Shall we?” I asked Jade this as I closed the Celestial Dart’s hatch and started walking towards the hover lift craft. “Yes.” She replied as she closed the storage compartment to the Blue Eclipse. She started walking over too. She was in her flight suit still like I was. It was blue in color, and mine was olive drab. “Do we need anything from the convenience store?” I asked this as I started the engine to the hover lift craft. She thought about it and her finger rested on her chin as she did so. “Maybe just some water and some extra kindling for the fire. I don’t think you packed enough.” I laughed at that. “You are right. I likely didn’t pack enough. It has been a little while since I’ve been camping.” She laughed back as she buckled herself in. I accelerated the hover lift and our ships disappeared from our view. We created a small cloud of dust as we tore down the road towards the tree line.
In a forest like this you could expect to see herbivores like Terran deer and/or predators like Terran bears, wolves, etc.… But these woods were silent. I couldn’t even see a mushroom too to decompose the dead. This was more of a forest preserve for trees than an actual forest. I also didn’t see any tree bearing fruit either. My wristcomm alerted me via a vibration that we were nearing the claimant’s campsite. I prepared my wristcomm’s holocam as I kept the hover lift vehicle steady while travelling over the gravel path.
Light peaked out of the tree line once more. The shade was ending. We were entering another clearing. I slowed the craft down just a bit we were going only twenty-five miles per hour as opposed to the fifty-five miles per hour we were travelling at earlier. I spied the RV lander. It was parallel to another one that looked identical to it but except for orange and gold stripes on it. I pointed my wristcomm at these two landers while increasing the speed to thirty-five miles per hours. The holographic camera automatically recorded the two RV Landers and the area near them. I could see security foot-mobile drones around the two landers. They were armed with what looked like hunting laser rifles. They were of the Gamekeeper-270 variant that I had seen before.
These Model 270 drones stand as high as an average human male. They were oftentimes made without synthetic skin. These androids were programmed for security. Executive protection, counter surveillance, and loss prevention units were available too. These were called Gamekeepers because of their ability to protect outdoor areas and assets from intrusion or poaching. In this case, they were a threat to me for their excellent counter surveillance ability. They had an effective sight of one thousand yards. They could pick someone off with their laser rifles at about half of that distance before the beams would start to burn out. They aren’t as effective at long range like a starship’s cannons. You’d be better off using a shoulder-mounted railgun than a simple blaster to try to kill someone past six hundred yards, or there were always the firearms from Old Terra that proved to be effective to pick off a target at long distance. A colleague swore by his ancient Mosin-Nagant. That fired a .30 caliber round that was just as wide as most beams fired from a laser rifle. I would have to be mindful of their presence.
I looked in the opposite direction. The tree line swept across the other side of the clearing in a serpentine pattern. I threw out a map marker via the wristcomm eleven-hundred thousand yards out. I’d see if there would be a good concealed area for an observation post later at that distance. I would be doing fixed surveillance on this camp site along with doing mobile surveillance while on foot or in this vehicle and via unmanned drone.
We came back into the tree line and a sign along the path mentioned that we were several miles out from the convenience store and the lake that Rick mentioned earlier. The hover lift craft was now going at about fifty miles per hour again. There was no need to dilly-dally along the straight path. Here I could see the tens of other campers. They waved and I slowed the craft down as I saw a group of children playing to the left of the hover lift craft. These were families with children in tent camp sites, primitive or otherwise.
Some of these campers had brought their Recreational Landers in. They had obviously flown them in but then they dropped the wheels to drive them into their campsites underneath the tree canopy. I could smell burning campfires and meats cooking on grills. A group of children were walking parallel to the trial single file holding fishing rods. These were old fishing rods with hooks, lures, and lines instead of the new magnetic field projectors that you’ll find in competitive settings. It was neat and rare that these kids could see such a pristine world like this. Terraforming seemed to be more plausible than ever.
We were out of the trees after ten minutes I could see the lake. It had to be eight square miles. A golf course was on our left. A jetty with paddle boats and hover skiffs was to our right. I could see more recreation landers ahead of us. Likely they were landed in the typical way without their wheels down as I saw them on skids ahead. I could see massive solar panels above these landers. This was likely the campground’s administration building where the convenience store was housed. There we would see the administration building and possibly the claimant.
As I stopped the hover lift craft I could see the claimant’s backside through a higher recreational lander’s gap from its chassis to the ground. It looked like he was walking their dog or other animal. Those legs were a Casseorian’s. It would not be a good idea to tail them there as they were bypassing the administration building. I waved to a few parents with their kids as they carried wood and ice towards their recreation lander to attempt to start up a fire or something. Jade followed suit and smiled at them too. We approached the administration building and the automatic door opened to the admin building and the two of us entered the structure.
She led the way I followed. The interior of the administration building was a cream white color on the walls, the tile floor was plain. The shelves were bare, but there was a map identical to the paper one we had hanging behind the touch screen register. The female human clerk was older, she had to have been in her sixties or her seventies. “Welcome! How ya doing today?”
She was friendly. Brown hair fell to her shoulders, she had mahogany to brown colored skin and her eyes were hazel. She wore a gold T-shirt and blue pants of an unknown fabric to my eyes. She was boisterous and friendly. That was better than silent, but it had to be controlled during a sensitive undercover infiltration like this. “We’re both great! We’re happy to be here. We’d like to buy some kindling, some ice, and if they’re available, some vouchers to use the boats and the golf course.”
“They are, hun.” She handed us each of the goods and even surprised me with a portable ice maker too. A cyrogel tube mixes with water to create a few pounds of ice. “Ten credits for the lot, and you can call the ice maker a free rental as the camping fee makes up for me charging you to rent that. Where you folks from?”
“We’re from Goharti, Ma’am. We both work for Dynmaka Corporation and we wanted to escape from it all. Say can we dock the boat closer to us if we rent a boat here. Can the hover lift craft drive itself back to our campsite?”
“Sure! Yes, it can, dear.” She said this in a sing-song voice.
“Great. We’ll be needing that voucher then.”
“Okay, hun. Fifteen credits for the voucher.” I handed her the credits and then she pointed to the dock. “You probably spied it as you came in.” I laughed inside at the mention of the word ‘spy.’ “We sure did. Thank you.” “You are welcome. And one more thing, folks….”
I was ready to get out of there and skedaddle. I was eager to catch up with the claimant and maintain a tight set of eyes on him. He wasn’t going anywhere, but my job was to surveil him. And I couldn’t do that while being interrupted. “Sure.” I said to the woman slowly as I could see Slyeth’rai move via the window that pointed towards the front entrance of the building.
“We’re having a potluck soon. Best Old Terran camp style food in all categories will be awarded anything. It can also be new style recipes as well. Feel free to create something excellent. You can cook anything: hot dogs, brats, ribs, s’mores, etc.… We just need it made and in our banquet hall by day after tomorrow night. It isn’t really a cooking competition, but it is also a potluck with competitive elements.”
“Sounds like fun!” Jade said this not me. I nodded and smiled back. It was a good thing if she was excited and it allowed for her to be a part of maintaining my and our cover more effectively. “It does sound fun.” I piped in. The lady handed her a pamphlet highlighting the contest from off the bulletin board. I looked at it and saw that a lot of this stuff would be up Jade’s alley.
“You’d definitely contribute to the potluck and cookoff they’re advertising. How much to sign up, Ma’am?” As I said this I looked out the window and saw the claimant conversing with another fellow about something of interest to both as they were both intent in their eye contact and their hand gestures were sweeping.
“There’s no charge to just cook something. There is an entry fee though to be judged. Fifteen credits.”
“Great.” I handed her fifteen credits. Then we were off to rent a boat. As we exited through the front entrance of the administration building I could see the massive power cords that stemmed from the batteries underneath the solar panels. I could see the claimant and his wife. They were walking around the lake. This was the perfect time to rent that boat. I pressed the button on the hover lift vehicle to send it back to its place alongside our campsite almost a whole mile and a half away. Jade and I managed to make it across to the quay where a little paddle wheeler was moored. I saw the machine that controlled the quay’s billeted boats.
INSERT VOUCHERS HERE FOR HALF-DAY RENTAL.
After inserting the voucher Jade and I boarded the vessel and we started paddling our way out of the quay. I could see the claimant moving onto the gravel path, just partially obstructed by the tree line. From there I realized that it was now the time to update Bud. He didn’t answer the wristcomm hail, so I sent him a text message. He messaged back and informed me that he would get back to me briefly and that things were going well if I confirmed his location and could obtain footage of him now.
Things were going well. As I held on to the bars the holocam built into the wristcomm captured minutes of video as he walked his dog with his wife two hundred yards away from us at the lake. Now and then he stopped to talk to people. We used that to our advantage. We would turn the paddle boat away from the shore. I put my arm around Jade during those moments and acquired more footage.
I imagine you are now asking, Okay Mr. Veska, why are their paddle boats because you used a hover lift craft earlier? Why wouldn’t these be a hover craft like vehicle as well? The answer is simple: nostalgia. You see these paddle boats are a popular recreation vehicle. The hover craft are to get from point a to point b around a good sized land mass. One is for serious travel, the other is for putzing around a body of water like this one. Jade was enjoying it.
“Ever done this before?” I asked. “Yes.” She replied with a smile. “Where?” “I was a little girl and it was on Old Terra.” “Cool!” It was neat to get to learn more about her as the claimant and his wife kept walking along the lake side here at the campground. I know had about twenty minutes of footage. They were both walking two dogs by leash, each of them had one of the ankle biters by a leash. I could not tell the breed, but it definitely wasn’t a Terran breed with the little spike clusters and the rear eye stalk. The claimant had said earlier in a report that he could hardly lift a glass of water or a cup of coffee. This was one of those moments in the business where you know that the claimant is blatantly lying. We kept following them discreetly parallel to the shore. We passed through a strait adjacent to the shore and the island. Jade interrupted my focus on the claimant and his wife as they slightly increased their speed. They hadn’t caught on to us or realized we were there, but they knew that we were nearby. Our boat was yellow and that wasn’t my first choice when it came to a discreet color.
“They’re going to shoot fireworks off from that island tomorrow.” Jade said this and it first it didn’t make any sense to me but then I realized that she probably had read it somewhere in the building. “Where did you see that?” I asked this while keeping my eyes on the claimant. Twenty minutes had now turned into thirty and this was going to be good for my video percentage. I’ll discuss that metric later when I could take a moment.
“I spotted it at the building we were in. It was behind that lady.”
“I imagine we’ll enjoy them and I’ll be busy during it still the same.”
It hit me now. We were now less than forty feet away from the claimant. I grabbed Jade by the shoulders in an embrace and then I planted a kiss on her lips. I could see the claimant nearby with his wife. He raised his thumb up in approval creepily and then I used my tongue and glided it around Jade’s open mouth. I met her tongue and we both glided our tongues together. She began to caress my back. She either knew this was a part of the cover or she was enjoying it too. Perhaps both ways?
I stopped the paddle boat and let the claimant and his wife gain more distance away from our boat. I shut the wristcomm camera off. I would mention this in the report as the “footage was interrupted to perform cover-related activities.” Sometimes the video percentage had to drop in times like these. And I’ll admit I wasn’t expecting to be doing this with Jade, but it seemed like the best idea to maintain our cover as a couple while in the paddle boat parallel to the claimant and his wife. Once he was out of sight we stopped our kissing session.
“That was nice.” Said Jade as she adjusted her hair around her shoulders. “It was.” I added. I could taste a refreshing flavor on my own lips as I licked them. “What kind of gloss do you use?” “Peppermint Dream.” “It is enjoyable.” Jade patted me on the shoulder and then glided her hand down to my lap. “What other things will we be doing to play this act? I’m game for almost anything.” “Me too.” We paddled over to the dock on our campsite’s side of the lake. Once we made landfall Jade and I got onto the path and followed it into the tree line.