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The Frontier Rebellion
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ISBN-10: 1-55404-737-4
Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy/SF
eBook Length: 269 Pages
Published: March 2010

From inside the flap

The Freedom Alliance consists of twenty frontier planets which revolt against the tyranny of the corporation-controlled Earth but above all against their corporate masters that control almost every facet of life on their planets. The surprise revolt succeeds at first but then the Earth Navy comes back, bringing enough warships and corporation army troops to subdue the rebels, they think. Unfortunately for them they have never come up against people like Maria Santos, Calvin Helos, General Juanita Sanforth and other brave patriots willing to sacrifice all for a chance to run their own lives. Forced underground, they prepare for a second revolt, using their hidden navy built from confiscated transports, obsolete weapons that have not been used for half a century, an underground army training in the jungles and finally a unique ally, the Elves of Weaver. Even then success is not guaranteed. Lives will be sacrificed, ships will be lost and the fight will be fiercer than they ever believed, but the Freedom Alliance is determined to succeed. Their people will live free or die trying.

The Frontier Rebellion is another masterful novel by Darrell Bain, author of Human by Choice, Alien Infection, Starship Down, The Long Way Home and many others.

The Frontier Rebellion (Excerpt)

Chapter One

Maria was running north, trying to get back into a part of the city she knew, where she could hide out until the Fed got tired of looking for her. Federal Express Corp. held the contract for the police, judicial system and jails for all of the West Coast and had for years. The whole corrupt system was collectively referred to as The Fed. She ducked around a corner and grabbed the back bumper of a passing open-bed carrier, intending to clamber into it and hide while it took her to safety. Bad move. There were men already in it.

"Hello girl," the nearest one said with a leer as her face came up over the edge of the bed. "Come on in." He had nothing to worry about. He had a job.

"Whoops! Sorry," she exclaimed. She glanced behind her and saw a chance to jump just as his hands slithered along her arms but before they could get a good grip. Barely avoiding the expensive passenger car behind the carrier, she stood on her toes as another missed by millimeters, then ran to the median. She waited for a break in the traffic, but it was nose to bumper. She looked back and saw uniforms coming around the corner. She crouched behind a dying bush, hoping they hadn’t seen her yet. Damn it, why had she ever decided to take a chance in the south? It wasn’t like she was starving yet.

Suddenly she saw a hole in the traffic, a small one, but a hole nevertheless. To the sound of screeching brakes and blaring horns, she dodged the rest of the way across the boulevard and took off running again. She bounced off pedestrians as she ran, not being big enough to bowl them over. Instead, she had to slither through and around their bodies. Some shouted, some cursed and a few grinned in sympathy, most of them drably-clad working class men and women or, more often, itinerant laborers who hadn’t found anyone to hire them that day. An alley came into view, and she cut right into it, running so hard she almost fell. It was filled with trash and discarded boxes and barrels. By then, she was about done in, out of breath and gasping. She had been running for what seemed like forever. She knew it was a damn wonder she hadn’t already been caught.

She decided to take a chance. She tipped a barrel on its side and crawled in, then used her hands and knees to make it roll up against the alley wall, hiding her from view. She couldn’t hold her breath but did her best not to suck air into her lungs loud enough to be heard. Maria Santos, she silently told herself, if you get out of this one, never go south of the water pipes again! Never! It was too dangerous and juveniles weren’t cared for now like she’d heard they were in the old days: with clean cells, three meals a day and rape the only thing you had to worry about. Right now, she’d almost be willing to submit to rape to stay out of the clutches of the Fed. They were shipping underage kids to frontier planets these days, she’d heard. Word had it that the planets they sent you to were little more than prolonged executions.

Maria hid in the barrel until she could tell it was beginning to get dark. She might have stayed longer, but her legs were cramping and she had to go, bad. She kneed the inside of the barrel and got it turned sideways from the wall. She crawled out and stood up. Pain shot up her legs and back, but she couldn’t wait to work it out. She dropped her panties and squatted by the barrel. After that, she sneaked back toward the street. She peeked up and down and saw no uniforms. She came out of the alley onto the unpowered sidewalk. She was still a long way from home, but at least she wasn’t being chased. It had been a lengthy day, though, and an unprofitable one. She checked her pouch and found enough change to take the upway, the elevated line that soared over the powered freeways. The only problem was finding a station.

She began walking, mixing with the crowd. That wasn’t hard to do in the age of clothing that lasted practically forever and was cleaned by simply shaking it out at night. That meant those who could afford it bought new clothing as styles changed, while people like herself wore castoffs. As she moved along, she saw pedestrians wearing everything from recent clothing trends to garments that hadn’t been seen on people with money for decades. What she had on placed her in the lower strata of the population, because her jeans, blouse and jacket were from three different clothing fads popular at different times in years past. Many others out walking were similarly dressed so she felt no shame. She did feel bitter at times, though, that only corporate employees could afford new apparel every few years. Usually when those thoughts came over her, she shrugged them off. It was the way the world was and she wasn’t likely to change it. She saw girls and young men her own age or even younger who looked beaten down already. Some of the girls were already holding toddlers by the hand or were pregnant for lack of money for birth control. That was one thing she didn’t intend to let happen to her although it almost had once.

Randall had been so good looking, so much fun even when they didn’t have credit to do much but walk and look and talk about what they would do when they were older. It was just talk, though. If you weren’t born into a corporate family or lucky enough to marry into one, you weren’t likely to ever have much. Jobs for people like her and Randall were all dead-end labor with no future. Still, she thought life had been good, and she and Randall had fun. She loved being with him, kissing and making out, getting closer and closer to the point of having sex. She had held off, hard as it had been, because she knew that pregnancy killed all hope of a better life. Even so, she had finally decided to make love with Randall and use the rhythm method to avoid getting pregnant. It hadn’t happened, because the night she had decided to go through with it, he had died from a drug overdose. She hadn’t even known he was using drugs again after he told her he quit because he knew how adamant she was on the subject.

Drugs had indirectly ruined her mother, and she strongly suspected her brother was getting into the trade. She had made a vow to never, ever get mixed up with them. Randall’s death had been devastating, but she was about over it now and spending time trying to scrounge live books to load into her handpad, the one her father had bought her for her ninth birthday even though there was no money for download fees. She had to depend on freebies or stolen applications others found no use for. Learning was held in poor repute in her part of the county. Still, her father had promised to save the money for access to a feed for her when her next birthday came up, but he didn’t live that long. He was gunned down by accident by a drug runner while coming home from work at the dead-end job he stubbornly worked at to provide for the family. His death had driven her mother to the Play Palaces where she practically lived these days, spending every spare cent living out artificial lives of artificial characters.

An hour later, she saw a pylon and began hurrying. It was well after dark, and while south of where she was now couldn’t be called the worst part of the city, her present location wasn’t all that safe either.

Inside the pylon alcove, she paid for a ten-mile ticket. The elevator shot her upward and opened into the waiting station. It was crowded, just like she liked it. No one would bother a sixteen-year-old girl in a crowd, she hoped. She was tired and irritable. A couple of well-dressed teenage kids gave her the eye, obviously from another part of town and there slumming. They began to edge in her direction until she put her hand suggestively inside her jacket. That stopped them. She gave them a half-smile and turned a thumb down to show she had no hard feelings. She just wasn’t interested, not in that type. She knew what they were after.

The upway, an adjunct to the replacement for the old BIGBART that had in turn replaced the BART from olden days, served all of Southern California. It was a cheap, speedy way to travel. The downside was that it didn’t have many stops. She had to get off a good two miles from the cluster of tall carbon composite apartments she called home. As soon as she hit the street, she took off her jacket, turned it inside out so the red and green colors would show up even in the poor light and put it back on. It told anyone in the know that if she didn’t belong to the Hammers, the block gang, she was at least under their protection. She would prefer not to associate with them at all, but that wasn’t possible. You paid the Hammers for protection, one way or the other. So far, her family had managed cash but she didn’t know how much longer that was going to last.

It was the time of night when pedestrians roved about. She kept her eyes open for pocket thieves and snatchers who liked to grab young girls off the street and take them away, either to rape or, if they were pretty enough, to sell. Happily, a few Hammers were about and no one dared accost her. She threaded her way past a wad of homeless drifters near the covered entrance of the Downs, the place she lived. It used to be known as the Eiderdowns back when that part of the state was affluent. The drifters were constantly trying to edge in under cover, forgetting the protective field until they were shocked back onto the sidewalk. Eventually they’d sober up and remember why they couldn’t get any further and wander away. Their presence was a sign the family really ought to move, but she knew they couldn’t afford it, not with Mom spending all her spare cash in the Palaces. It was disheartening.

The elevator was down, no juice that time of night, not in this neighborhood. It took money, and no one here had enough. They did good to pay rent and eat. Maria was luckier than most. At least she’d had a few years of schooling while her father was alive, plus three more years of net classes she’d hacked from a stolen viewpad when no one else wanted them. Someone should have grabbed those lessons, she thought. She learned a hell of a lot about how the system worked from them, how the corporate conglomerates ran the world and were gobbling up everything useful in space, including newly discovered planets. The corporations, syndicates and cartels ran Earth’s government and its nearby colony worlds. It was independent only on the surface. Elections were a farce, because no candidate was allowed to run without corporate approval. Almost all government services were privatized now, even the military.

Lately she had heard that some of the far frontier worlds were trying to change the system, but she had no idea how they planned on doing it. If those worlds were anything like Earth, there was no possibility of resistance. Still, she had seen what her father said were honest newscasts when they were still paying for a clandestine feed. They told of some frontier colonies that were agitating for freedom and a piece of the profit from traffic the starships garnered. That had only led to Earth increasing the number of its privatized warships to enforce its rule. Maria thought that maybe sometime in the far future some colony worlds might band together and get what they wanted, not that it would do her any good. It was fun to know about the other worlds, though, even if she knew she could never go. Not willingly. The only way people like her traveled in space was as prisoners bound for the frontier to serve long sentences at hard labor.

"Hey, Maria, Babe! You’re coming in late. Problems?" The tall Hispanic boy was the same age as her but not nearly as mature. She knew him from riding the ways, out hustling for credit like everyone here. He made a half-hearted attempt to block her progress.

"Yeah," Maria said. "I nearly got crammed. Last trip south for me." She continued on past him, neatly deflecting an inquisitive hand that tried to encircle her waist.

"You holding?"

"No. Nada. Nothing. Too much heat."

"Fucking blockheads," he muttered, meaning the Fed police who wore the blocky hats that powered their HUD, Heads Up Display.

Maria didn’t answer. She was tired and irritated and not in a mood for idle chatter with some guy she barely knew. All she wanted now was a shower, a bite to eat and some sleep. Tomorrow, she intended to head north and try again. Maybe even try for a job, although the prospects were almost non-existent. Still, she had no objections to earning money rather than stealing it when the opportunity presented. In fact, she’d much rather do it that way. She had worked almost six months as a towel girl and backup instructor at a Girltuff franchise before they caught on to her real age. That had been a great gig while it lasted. She’d made as much money as she could have at graft or theft and even learned a little about self-protection from one of the women trainers in addition to a few old books she’d given her to read on unarmed combat. And the management let her keep ten per cent of her tips.

She took an exit from the stairs three floors up and walked down the long hallway until she came to their door. She knocked twice, twice more then a rapid one two three and waited. Two raps came back and she answered with two more. She heard the inside bolt being drawn and the door swung open. Immediately, she was engulfed in Ronaldo’s arms. She let her older brother hold her for a moment before breaking free.

"I was worried, Maria," he said, although he looked more like he was happy than upset.

"You shouldn’t be. I’ve always made it home, haven’t I?"

"Did you score?"

"No. I’ll try again tomorrow." She said nothing about almost being crammed by the Fed.

"That’s alright. I made a hit. Look!" He pulled a roll of bills from his pocket and riffled them to show the high numbers.

Maria cringed. She knew before asking but questioned him anyway. "Where did you get that much? Not around here."

"Yeah, I did, too. JoJo gave me a job."

She sighed. "Damn it, Ron, I told you to stay away from that shit. Don’t you understand? It’s a term offense if you can’t pay the fine." Being caught selling heavy drugs like pips or sims meant a huge fine or a long sentence in a Fed prison. No one wanted to go to one of those places. The big dealers and most of the mid-level sellers could pay the fines. The ones like Ronaldo, who stupidly allowed himself to be talked into street peddling, couldn’t manage it in a million years. And they always got caught, if not at first then before long. Or if not caught, then killed by a rival dealer.

"I won’t get caught. We needed the money."

Ronaldo was like an infant. Or a teenage male. He thought he was immortal and immune to falling into the clutches of the Fed. Neither was remotely true.

She went to a shelf and pulled down a drink. She twisted the tab. It made a fizzing sound as it cooled rapidly. She sat down at the kitchen table and drank thirstily.

"Where’s Mom?"

Ronaldo shrugged. "The usual. She left at noon."

"You should have kept her here."

"How? She won’t listen. Soon as I turned my back, the old bitch was gone." He curled his lip in disgust.

"She’s our mother, Ron."

"She ought to act like it, then." He scowled, making his handsome young face look predatory.

Maria has no idea how to reach him. She knew where mingling with JoJo and his minions would eventually end. One of them would be caught and Ron would be offered up in his place as a sacrificial lamb without a qualm or quiver. If something even worse didn’t happen.

"Did she make anything to eat before she left?"

"No. All we got is the usual. Eat it all if you want it. I had something while I was out."

"And you didn’t think to bring anything home?"

He managed to look embarrassed for a moment. "Sorry, Sis. I forgot."

Maria went back to the pantry and looked inside. More drinks and the usual packs of synthoid meal. Her stomach tried to coil away from the thought of it, and she almost laughed. Instead, she took out a pack and pulled the tab to heat it. She took it back to the table and sat down with her drink. She began to eat, doing her best to pretend the meal was something besides processed garbage and yeast. While mechanically chewing and swallowing the stuff she’d tasted a thousand times before, she thought of their mother.

Once upon a time when she was younger, life was better. They still lived in the great sprawl of South California County but it was in a better section. Not by much, but with a man in the house, they ate a wider variety of food and always had enough. She and Ronaldo went to school then, a neighborhood cooperative that taught the basics of English, Math and an overview of how economics played such a vital role in their lives. Some of it she didn’t understand then, but she did now. The rich. Always the rich had things their way, because they held stock in the corporations. Those included the criminally rich who, she thought, constituted the majority. The little school also taught a limited amount of geography. That meant maps of southern California and northern Mexico which showed where the excluded zones were, places where the likes of them were never allowed. Fortunately, it also showed the areas where they were permitted to work. That was how she’d gotten the job at Girltuff.

After their father was killed, they had to move. Naturally, he had no insurance. He frequently said, with a great amount of accuracy, that life insurance was worthless, because the insurance companies could always find a reason not to pay off. The only two redeeming features of where they lived now were that some areas were worse and, on nights when the pollution clouds weren’t too thick, she could see the arrow-straight ionization trails of antigravity drives pushing spaceships into high orbit. The trails were brighter when the ship was heading directly away from earth. Often, she wished she were on one, going somewhere that offered a decent life.

Maria finished eating and disposed of the trash. "I’m going to find Mom," she said to Ronaldo. She could have asked him, but right at the moment, she didn’t trust him not to stop at the nearest palace and zone out. Frankly, she didn’t understand the appeal of the palaces, no matter how real the action seemed nor how deeply involved you got. Not only did she prefer the real world, but she’d seen too many people addicted to the never-ending fictional lives of the actors they became. Mom had taken her a few times before she learned about that. She came from the reality-experiencing dramas with too much of a longing for what she knew she could never have. Better to stick to her own life, no matter how drab it seemed at times.

"Wait up, I’ll go with you."

"No. Stay inside. Word will already be around that you made a hit. Put some of it up and order in for a few days until it dies down. Let some other sucker get robbed."

"I won’t get robbed. Not now."

She stared at him. He looked back defiantly, and she knew he must have bought a weapon of some kind. "Ronaldo, you’re stupid. A gun or knife won’t save you from a fucking gang. All it’ll do is get you hurt or killed. Stay inside!" She kept her gaze steady, and at last, he dropped his. She doubted that he intended to follow her advice though.

"Stay here," she emphasized. She hurried out before he could offer another argument.