Main Ruth Longknife's First Christmas
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Ruthie Longknife’s First Christmas by Mike Shepherd Published by KL & MM Books December 2016 Copyright © 2016 by Mike Moscoe All right reserved. No part of this book maybe reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including photocopying, recording or any other information storage and retrieval system, without the written permission of the publisher. This book is a work of fiction set 400 years in humanities future. Any similarity between present people, places or events would be spectacularly unlikely and is purely coincidental. This book is written and published by the author. Please don’t pirate it. I’m self-employed. The money I earn from these sales allow me to produce more stories to entertain you. I’d hate to have to get a day job again. If this book comes into your hands free, please consider going to your favorite e-book provider and investing in a copy so I can continue to earn a living at this wonderful art. I would like to thank the cover artist, Colleen Simpson, and the editing skill of Lisa Muller and, as is ever usual, Ellen Moscoe. Admiral Kris Longknife softy bounced little seven-month-old Ruthie Longknife on her hip, and watched the sparkle of the Christmas tree lights reflected in her daughter’s bright eyes. Kris breathed deeply of the woodland scent from the freshly cut tree. This tiny Longknife would have a real first Christmas. Around them, a two-dozen people were busy making Ruthie’s first Christmas special. Jack’s entire family; his dad, mom, sister, even brother, was here, helping him put ornaments on the sparkling ten-foot-tall tree. Kris had invited her own mother and father, but they had declined due to a scheduling conflict. She winced at the reflection on how low she was on her parents’ priority list. However, Kris’s brother and Member of Parliament, Honovi, was here. He’d brought his lovely wife Linda and his three children with him. In descending order, they were Billy, seven, Goyath, five ; and Brenda, three. With plenty of hugs, they were in ascending order, putting ornaments on the tree just as high as their little hands could reach. Brenda’s lower limbs were a bit disorganized but Linda protected her daughter from her oldest child’s insistence on symmetry. “You didn’t do all that well four years ago, when you were three and did the lowest limbs of our tree. When Brenda’s busy with cookies, you can rearrange things if you insist.” Placated and hugged, seven-year-old Billy, still missing two teeth, went off to add bulbs to fill blanks at his height. Harvey, the old chauffeur at Nuu House, was supervising the tree’s decoration from a chair, an eggnog in one hand. His other pointed to blank spots on the tree for children and adults of various heights to fill in. The indomitable old soldier who’d been chauffeur since Ray and Rita Longknife lived in Nuu House was starting to show his age, as unthinkable as that was to Kris. His wife, Lotty, kept a supply of Christmas cookies, eggnog and the adult flavor of eggnog, flowing smoothly from her kitchen. All of Ruthie’s nannies, some with their husbands and kids as well, were here, helping, celebrating, and enjoying themselves. There were rumors that Santa Claus might visit with presents for good little boys and girls. For once, the livingroom in Nuu House looked warm and inviting. Kris breathed it all in, and hoped this was only the first of many, many Christmases to come. It hadn’t been this way. Not for as long as she could remember. When she went to college and talked her folks into opening up Nuu House for her, she’d had little use for the holidays. Mostly, they meant being with Mother and Father at this or that political event. Minding herself carefully in clothes that usually were scratchy and making sure not to do anything that might lose Father a vote. Once on her own, she did her best to avoid the hubbub. Usually she’d invite her few friends for a couple of visits to their favorite pizza parlor. Kris had been pretty low key during college. Having been burned not once but twice by false boyfriends, she kept most people at arm’s length. The few she let get close to her were themselves low drama types. A pizza for Thanksgiving or Christmas fit them all quite well. Nuu House always had a Christmas tree, a small one in Lotty’s kitchen. If Kris felt a need for some Christmas cheer, real cheer, not political or other cheer with strings attached, she could find it there. The Navy, of course, celebrated Christmas and a slew of other holidays that fell that time of year. Kris paid the appropriate amount of attention to what excited those around her, she was, after all, Billy Longknife’s daughter. Still, none of them had ever moved her. Now there was today. A week after Thanksgiving, Jack had taken Ruthie and Kris out to buy a tree. It had taken a small Marine detachment and Special Agent Foile’s team to approve an acceptable Christmas tree lot. The lucky one was run by Girl Guides to raise money for themselves and veterans. It had taken all the Guides’s goodwill to put up with a full Longknife invasion. Kris had insisted that they schedule themselves early in the day when fewest customers would have to be held at gunpoint. “We don’t hold people at gunpoint,” Jack insisted, through a grin. They didn’t, but who wanted to buy a tree when there were a dozen combat Marines in full battle rattle patrolling up and down the aisles. Kris’s suggestion that they be organized into groups, decked out in Santa Claus hats and sent up and down the rows singing Christmas carols did not go over at all well with Gunny. Kris could only shake her head. No wonder she was such a Grinch. Then Jack fell in love with the most beautiful . . . and tallest . . . tree on the lot. It would likely take a place like the living room at Nuu House to give that monster a home. Several Marines were dragooned into stacking rifles and lugging the tree to one of their gun trucks. Kris couldn‐?t help but giggle. The sight of a gun truck with a huge Christmas tree tied to its top had to be one of the strangest sights of the holidays. As luck would have it, the front gate at Nuu House was staked out by a lone paparazzi hoping to get a shot of what Christmas might be like inside. Kris found out later from Special Agent Foile that the photographer got $50,000 for that shot. He couldn’t have made more money if he’d gotten a photo of Kris at the beach coming out of the surf nude. So, the tree arrived safe and sound, and the Longknife family survived getting it as well. It had taken three Marines to get the tree in a secure and upright position. After this decorating party, Kris would be hosting one for her Marine detachment with mainly spiked eggnog, though there would be a bowl of plain eggnog for the underage Marines to drink from. Both would be refilled regularly. The tree decorating party was going so very well. Ruthie couldn’t take her eyes off of the tree. Kris made the mistake of letting her bright eyes get too close, and her pudgy fingers immediately snapped up a string of lights and jammed one in her mouth. Fortunately, her few teeth and jaw weren’t strong enough to crack a well-protected LED light. Several nannies rushed to the rescue with other sparkly things for Ruth to grab and put in her mouth to replace the string of lights. Kris backed off a bit from the tree. Jack’s sister and mom asked for and got their chance to bounce Ruth and enjoy her reaction to the tree full of lights. Momma Montoya was warming to Kris. She had almost forgiven her for seducing her son away from some good Catholic girl. When the topic surfaced, Jack would insist he was not seduced, but his mom never ceased insisting it was so. It was a kind of a running joke between Kris and Jack now. “It’s close to bedtime. Can I interest you in a little bit of seduction?” It was a line either one of them could use to get a laugh and a fast trip to the bedroom. The party went long and was enjoyed by everyone, even Ruthie, although she closed her eyes before the tree was finished and traveled off to that sweet place infants go. The duty nanny took her up to the nursery and set the alarms. Nelly would see that Ruthie slept contented for however long she chose to. She was sleeping through the nights quite regularly now. With the tree done, Santa Claus did appear. He was a retired chief who’d grown the most spectacular white beard in retirement, and grown his chief’s belly into something truly fit for a Saint Nick. He arrived in good humor, gained acceptance from even the most doubting of six-year-olds who got to pull his beard and prove to their skeptical self’s that he really was Santa Claus. Kris had put a significant chunk of change aside to fill up a Credit Chit and told her Secret Service agents and nannies to please select and charge to that account toys for their children, nephews, nieces, or younger cousins. They had been quite surprised by the size of the amount Kris gave each one of them. Every child was so delighted by Santa’s expert knowledge of their wishes and hopes. Even Agent Foile’s teenagers got in the spirit when they found Nelly had chosen new computers for them. Their new computers didn’t come with one of Nelly’s kids, but they’d been designed by Nelly and her kids and would likely beat anything on the market. The boys were dumbfounded. “Kris, they’ve got computers better than mine!” Foile exclaimed. “You haven’t opened your Christmas presents. I think some presents may have magically appeared under the tree for you and your three favorite agents.” The nannies and the leadership of the Marine detachment also had presents. Now, all could be on Nelly Net. If Nelly or Jack’s Sal monitored something Kris or Jack needed to know, it went straight to the top. Nelly was turning into quite the command center. That night, Kris lay in Jack’s arms and stroked them. “Your family is so close. So, ah, family. They hug. Their friendly good humor. Do you think we could be like that in twenty years?” “Of course, we’ll be,” Jack answered without thought. “My folks aren’t like that,” Kris pointed out. “Honovi and Linda look to be well on their way to contented familyhood.” Kris sighed. “Watching Linda hug and caress, even kiss the kids. The way they showered love on each other. That was so beautiful.” Jack said nothing. He’d seen Kris around her family. She didn’t quite have to stand at attention in her father’s presence, but it wasn’t that far off. “Honey,” Jack said, rolling over onto an elbow and looking down at Kris. “Your brother and his wife are loving and nurturing their children. When Ruthie is three or five or seven, she’ll have a mother that is just as loving and nurturing as any woman on this planet. I don’t know what happened to the Longknifes between Ray and Billy, but it doesn’t have to pass through you to another generation.” “It doesn’t?” Kris said, tasting the words and finding them hard to swallow. “Nope. It doesn’t.” Jack held her tight until she joined Ruthie in dreamland. * * * Yes, Kris was enjoying Christmas this year as something warm and special. However, there was one invitation she didn’t quite know what to do with. Grampa Al had invited everyone to his Tower of Insecurity for a small family get together. Honovi told Kris that these were usually ignored by both him and Father. Kris, however, was being attacked by the spirit of Christmas cheer. Or maybe the eggnog. Or it might have been Ruthie’s snaggletooth grin. “I think we ought to go,” Kris told her older brother. “My Ruthie, your three kids, how often has Grampa Al gotten a chance to see them? It’s Christmas, Brother. He’s offered us his hand. I’m in favor of taking it.” “You sure he won’t hold us all hostage for some profitable business proposal he wants or a law he needs passed?” Kris almost swatted her brother, which was hard to do over the net. She won, of course, in the end, and Honovi brought their father around. Their visit was set for the week before Christmas. It was a good thing they allowed plenty of time. After much coordination between security detachments, that went long and convoluted, it was all decided. Kris’s convoy would be merged into Honovi’s. Then, they would all merge into the Prime Minister’s motorcade. “We’re going to make a mess of traffic,” Honovi pointed out. “It should clear out by rush hour,‐? Kris insisted. “Besides, most people are taking time off. So long as we don’t go near a mall and mess up their traffic flow, we shouldn’t lose Father too many votes.” So it happened that Kris found herself, Ruthie, Jack and a whole lot of her family with several small armies of security details surrounding them driving into the basement of Grampa Al’s Tower of Insecurity. It was interesting to watch Honovi’s kids in this tight security bubble with big gruff men everywhere to be seen. The two older boys stayed close to Dad, often holding his hand, never getting more than a few feet from him. They showed no concern about the busy adults bustling about them. Neither did they show any fear. Clearly, the kids had been trained not to be concerned and at the same time not to wander off when strong men armed were hemming them in. Little Brenda, at three, watched everything with wide eyes from her mother’s arms. Clearly, she’d seen this rodeo before. Clearly, she did not like it. However, with mommy’s arms around her, she was willing to tolerate this without complaint. With luck, this would be Ruthie in the years to come. Aware of her security bubble, but going on about her life within it, just as her mom and dad did. As Kris was watching Honovi’s kids, she spotted the guard stations she, Jack and Penny had been assigned to when they made their failed effort to scale the tower uninvited for a small tête-à-tête with Grampa Al. She somehow doubted they’d get a tour of the space shuttle she’d used to get out of that mess. And into another. “That’s where we started our little assault on Grampa Al’s tower,” Kris told Ruthie. Honovi’s two oldest kids were fascinated that their Aunt Krissie had broken through Grampa Al’s security perimeter. Grandmother Brenda was rather scandalized. “Do you really want to put ideas in these children’s heads?” “Mom, they’re Longknifes,” Kris said. “They need to know what that means. I was rather dumbfounded the first time anyone tried to kill me. It took me several failed assassinations before I realized they were no accident. Forewarned is forearmed.” Honovi’s kids watched Kris in fascination, then they turned to Gramama to return the shot. “Not all Longknifes go around dodging assassins. Kris, you would do well to stay home and then they’d never come after you.” Kris looked at Honovi, then at the rather large armies of security details surrounding them. “Mother,” Honovi said, “the last assassination attempt against you, me, or Dad, was last week. Our security is good. Better than good.” Mother looked to Father. He shrugged. “Sorry, Brenda, but your son is correct. They happen. They fail. We ignore them. I did make a mistake assuming that allowing Kris to join the Navy would move her into a secure environment. It turned out not to be so. Sorry, darling. Honovi, I’m not at all bothered by Kris telling your children stories. However, I do think you might want to talk to the children when you get home, and maybe sleep with the nursery door open tonight.” Honovi nodded in agreement. About that time, the security bubble moved out. Each primary and their team took a different elevator direct to the fiftieth floor where they were asked to hold in a side room. After five minutes, Kris turned to Special Agent Foile and just raised an eyebrow. He spoke into his cuff for a moment, then frowned. THEY SEEM TO BE HAVING AN INFESTATION OF NANOS. MOST OF WHAT THEY’RE FINDING ARE SCOUTS, BUT A FEW HAVE HAD EXPLOSIVES ABOARD. THEY ARE TAKING A BIT LONGER THAN THEY EXPECTED TO CLEAN THIS ROOM. NELLY? Kris asked. THE NANOS ARE LAST YEAR’S TECH, OR OLDER, SO IT IS JUST A MATTER OF ELIMINATING THEM. I AM REVIEWING THE SITUATION. I’LL TELL YOU IF I THINK YOU NEED TO BE MORE CONCERNED. Three minutes later, they were invited to take the next bank of elevators up to the one hundredth floor. They were now divided into two different elevators. Honovi and his brood on one with their security team. Kris’s team was reduced to barely more than Special Agent Foile and three of his best as she was added to her father’s elevator, full of Secret Service agents. As the ride began, Nelly said, “We have a battalion of defensive nanos aboard out elevator car. They are trying to eliminate the bots and nanos that are still with us or got in with us. I note that the elevator is not moving at its most efficient speed. I suspect they are using the time to destroy invaders.” As they rose, the seconds were punctuated by small pops and sparkles in the air. Kris put the blanket over Ruthie’s baby bucket, but Nelly did better, converting the transport bucket into a survival pod with its own air filter. There were advantages to having a baby bassinet made by a supercomputer out of Smart MetalTM. Ruth was the safest person in the whole tower. So, Ruthie missed out when Kris said. “Dad, how did Grampa Al get his hands on Sarin gas?” “Sarin gas?” Mother asked. “What is Sarin gas?” “Nothing, love. Kris, I really wish you wouldn’t say things that disturb your mother,” Dad said, not answering the question. Not at all. Kris exchanged glances with Jack then her father then back to Jack. IF YOU’RE TELLING ME ‘LET’S YOU AND HIM FIGHT,’ I’M NOT GOING TO DO IT, Jack answered on Nelly Net. YOU GET HIM TO ANSWER YOUR OWN QUESTION OR IT AIN’ T GONNA GET ANSWERED. Kris’s question went unanswered They finally reached the hundredth floor and it was time to change elevators again. This time, they were held in the vestibule of the elevator they’d just ridden up as defensive nanos scoured them. Security personnel in black suites, ear plugs and all, went over them with wands, not once but three times. “This must be a very stubborn nano infestation,” Special Agent Foile said to one of the fellows overseeing the pat down. He said nothing. I WON’T BE SURPRISED IF SOME OF THESE NANOS DON’T GET ALL THE WAY TO AL’S OFFICE, Nelly said to all on Nelly Net. THE NUMBER OF SLEEPER NANOS ON YOU IS DRIVING THEM CRAZY. I BELIEVE THEY HAVE SUGGESTED TO THEIR SUPERIORS THAT WE BE RETURNED TO THE BASEMENT, AND FORCED TO STRIP NAKED THERE AND BE SHOWERED. NEITHER IS AN OPTION THEIR BOSS WANTS TO SUGGEST TO HIS EMPLOYER. They were finally allowed to move around to the next bank of elevators. Once again, they rose slowly. In fact, they slowed down even more as they passed the 125th floor. Nelly told them, but Kris was able to feel it herself. They stopped at the 150th, were allowed to change to the fourth bank of elevators and again slowly climbed to the very top, 200th floor of the tower. Kris knew from experience that the top most floor was reserved for offices. Grampa Al had his personal suites on the two floors down from there. SO, THIS IS A BUSINESS MEETING. KRIS, HE COULD BE WORKING UNTIL WE GET HERE. EITHER WAY, JACK, IT DOESN’T NOT BODE WELL. OF THAT WE CAN AGREE. The elevator opened on a huge expanse of carpet. Here three secretaries at three different desks widely spaced around the vast plain of royal blue carpeting waited patiently for anything to happen. Since all three looked like graduates of Wardhaven special forces, Kris doubted that typing was their main concern. Kris and Honovi led the way to the middle secretary. They had experience with taking their children to visit their grandfather. Billy Longknife had not talked to his father for nearly twenty years. The two had not exchanged a word since Al had demanded that his son withdraw from politics after the death of little Eddy. From the way he hung back, it was quite possible that he was prepared to go another twenty. The one thing Kris noticed was the total lack of Christmas cheer in the wait area. There were several visual bits of art that Kris strongly suspected were holograms, but not a holotree anywhere. This time the secretary did not attempt to slow them down. He was up and out of his chair, buttoning his suit jacket to hide his automatic, and leading them to the door to Al’s office. Kris and Honovi paused there for a moment while their security details and the Prime Ministers did a quick check to verify that the reputed most safe place on Wardhaven was, indeed, safe and up to government standards. Done, they withdrew to wait just outside. Only the Longknifes entered to meet with the man they all descended from. From the smell of it, Grampa Al had splurged on a real tree. It was fully decorated and sparkling with lights next to a conversational pit. Once Honovi’s kids spotted the presents under the tree, their best behavior vanished. The boys dropped their dad’s hands and Brenda wiggled out of her mom’s arms. Together, they bolted right past Grampa Al and didn’t stop until they were kneeling in front of the tree, excitedly reporting that some of the fancy wrapped boxes had their names on them. “Can we open them?” “Can we, please?” “Oh, please, please!” was the youngest and cutest. She had a bit of a lisp at present. “Ask your great-grandfather,” Honovi said, which led to a second round of begging. Al had ignored the children, being busy asking the adults what they wanted to drink. “You may, in a little while. If you are good.” So three kids, settled on their knees by the Christmas tree, being very good and very silent but making sure the tree and its presents didn’t make a dash for the door. Mentally, Kris shook her head. Al had ignored these tiny Longknifes only to play his power games with them when they begged for his attention. This ends. This ends here. All this cold bullshit ends with my generation. I don’t know where it came from, but I will nourish my children. This will not pass to Ruthie and I so hope Honovi and Linda are as successful as they seem to be. But to all who looked her way, Kris wore a smile as Al insisted on serving all the adults a drink of their choice. It was three o’clock, but Billy actually talked to his father as he ordered a scotch and Brenda a daiquiri. Honovi and his wife asked for white wine and Al produced it with a flair. Kris and Jack asked for and were served Chamomile tea with a bit of a scowl from their host. While Alexander proved himself the congenial host, the three couples settled onto the three available couches. Beside Kris, Ruthie’s baby bucket becaming a small bassinet under Nelly’s quick and easy control. So naturally, Ruthie announced she wanted up. As soon as Kris had her in her arms, the cantankerous infant wanted down. Kris set the smallest princess on the carpet. “Is she crawling yet?” Linda asked. “No,” Kris said. “She’s got this other thing she does.” And as they watched, Ruthie did it. Her pudgy hand and legs waved about but never quite touched the carpet. Her milk belly kept her quite high and it looked impossible for her to go anywhere. Still, she giggled and cooed and wiggled and next thing anyone knew, she was over next to the couch with Honovi and his wife. “Did anyone see how she did that?” Kris asked. Brenda went to pick Ruthie up, but the infant quickly objected to her grandmother’s attention and Kris relieved her mother of a fussy infant. She held Ruth until she decided she’d seen enough and closed her eyes and fell asleep. Kris laid her carefully in her bassinet and laid a blanket over her. She sucked happily in her dreams. Only when Grampa Al was satisfied that everyone had a drink did he settle down in his big chair and smiled at the other, “I am so glad to see all of you here,” he said. “We don’t get together nearly enough as a family.” He got six nods, but uttered not a word in answer. “So, I hope you will stay for supper. I’ve had my cook prepare a Christmas goose and black pudding according to an old recipe from Earth.” “That sounds delicious,” Linda said, desperately trying to fill the void. Nothing followed that. “Can you stay for dinner?” Alexander finally asked. “I think we can,” Kris said, glancing toward Honovi. “I’m not sure I can trust my little pixies at a fully dressed dinner table. Little Bill is not yet out of his hot dog phase, and tiny Brenda is more likely to want cheese than anything else.” “I am aware that children often do not perform to expectations,” seemed to hint that the three carpet rats around the tree might not be the only humans unable to perform to expectations. “I had my cook prepare a small table in the kitchen. I thought the three youngsters could eat in there. Likely they’ll also want to play with their new toys.” “That might work out very well,” Linda said, glancing at her husband. “Won’t it, honey?” “Yes, I think so,” Honovi allowed. While this strained conversation was going on, Kris had been hearing a strange hum in the background. It grew louder and louder, until even Al was looking for it. “What in God’s seven hells is that racket?” “Nanos are hurling themselves at the window,” Nelly reported. “They have taken off the aluminum reflective coating and are now starting to abrade the glass.” “That is three inch, bulletproof glass,” Grampa Al said, not rising from his chair, totally secure in his Tower of Security. “The nanos are under some control,” Nelly said. “They are also attacking the steel holding the glass panes in. I think they are making more progress there and reinforcing the attack. “Computer, inform me what is being done to defend the windows of my office,” Al demanded. “Nothing, sir.” “Why forever not?” “There is not an attack on your office windows, sir.” “Computer, get me Security Central.” A moment later Al continued. “There is a God awful noise outside my office window. I am informed that they are under attack by nanos. Confirm or determine the error of this report.” “Nanos outside the 200th floor, sir?” “Yes.” “We don’t have anything that goes that high.” “Well, get someone on the roof and report what they see. Now! What do I pay you for?” “Yes, sir. Immediately, sir.” “Nelly, can you repulse a nano attack?” Kris asked. “With what, Kris? Alexander Longknife, do you have any Smart Metal at hand that I could convert into nano defenders?” “Of course, not! Why would I have Smart Metal up here?” said the man who owned the patent on the stuff. “To save your life, sir,” Nelly growled, clearly wanting to replace the sir with something else. Kris was already reaching for Ruthie. “Take the bassinet,” Kris ordered. Even as Kris lifted Ruthie into her arms, the bassinet began to erode away as it evaporated into millions of defensive nanos. “I will form a defense bubble around you, but you need to get in close,” Nelly said. “Children. Here. Now,” Honovi commanded. It told well of their upbringing that the children abandoned the shiny packages and ran to their father and mother. The boys took their father’s hand. Brenda was pulled up by her mother. Around Kris, her family closed in on each other. For the first time in a very long time, Kris found herself touching her mother and father. Honovi and Linda stepped in close to Kris and Jack. Only Al remained in his chair, sipping his scotch. “This is preposterous. There is nothing to fear.” “Sir,” came from Al’s computer assistant. “We sent several men up to the roof. They were attacked. Two were killed. More nanos got in the building before we could slam the door. Some of the attackers are micro bots and carry explosives. We will release all our defensive nanos. That should defeat this attack.” “There is a great distance between should and will,” Kris said. “Grampa Al, get over here.” This time the man came. “Nelly, can you hold?” “I do not know, Kris. I may need your help,” and suddenly Kris saw the room in a totally different perspective. She and Jack with their two powerful computers were the central node in a series of nodes that spread out from them. She could not make out all the tiny nanos at the end of all the nodes, but she knew they were there, the same as she knew her fingernails were at the end of her hand. “Can we fight and beat them here?” Kris asked. “Should we retreat into the central office and get everyone on the floor into this bubble?” “The windows will not hold long,” Nelly said. “My scouts already report attack bots and attacking nanos in the office space. I agree Kris, we could better protect all the humans here from a redoubt in the center of the office.” “Folks, we are going to walk slowly, and carefully, everyone hand in hand, until we get to the waiting room,” Kris ordered. “Al, get your minions to report to your secretary’s desk.” “I will not . . .” “Do it now or they die,” Wardhaven’s premier fighting commander ordered. Her grandfather meekly told his computer to call his people out of their offices and to his secretary’s desk. Meek was a strange thing to see on Alexander Longknife. “Jack, you cover the rear, please,” Kris said as she, with Ruthie in arms, led her family toward the door. Once there, Billy stepped ahead to open it for Kris, then waited as his family filed out, going through only a step ahead of Jack. “Should I close the door or leave it open?” Jack asked. “Keep it open,” Nelly ordered. “It’s not going to hold back anything that can break through those windows and I need to be able to move my nanos.” Outside was chaos. Several bodies lay dead across the vast expanse of the waiting room. The three truncated Longknife security teams had their weapons drawn and had formed a circle, weapons out, but there was little they could do. Mahomet had his black box out, so at least the teams knew what they faced, but their weapons were worthless. Kris took her family into the circle the security people had formed, then organized her defensive perimeter with Jack. Now two dozen men and women in business suits hurried from offices toward the central desk. Several of them did not make it. There was no pattern to who fell, or where or why. Death came randomly. Kris moved her family and security team at a slow walk toward that desk. There, she told everyone to sit down in as tight a space as they could manage. She sat on the desk with Ruthie in her arms and her back to Jack. They were in both the most protected place on the 200th floor, and, at the same time, the center that if it fell, the entire leadership of Nuu Enterprises as well as the prime minister of Wardhaven died. “Can’t we take the elevator down?” Grampa Al demanded. “How easy is it to cut a wire?” Kris answered, then quickly added, “Nelly, patch me through to the Security Center.” “Who is this?” came quickly. “This is Admiral Kris Longknife, I command a redoubt on the 200th floor. I am defending your boss and his entire family from a hostile nano attack. Now, listen to me. Evacuate the building. Do not use the elevators. Understood?” “Yes, Admiral.” “I need Smart Metal up here, soonest. Get me some and send it up the elevators.” “We don’t have any, ma’am.” “Then get some. Your boss’s life depends on it. Move. Now!” “Yes, ma’am.” Kris hoped that he could do something. Ruthie’s bassinet had formed a limited number of nanos. Around her neck, Kris felt the simulated diamond necklace that held Nelly begin to melt away to the minimum needed to hold her in place at Kris’s collar bone. Likewise, Jack’s tie tack began to shrink, contributing all it had to Nelly’s defensive nanos Nelly was calling in her last reserves. There was a whoosh of air through the floor as a glass pane fell away from the face of the building. In Kris’s mind’s eye, she could see as Nelly pulled back her defensive perimeter to just those around her. Now, several waves of defense nanos stormed forward to meet the invaders in Al’s office. There, they fought. The big attack bots were easy to spot, even to the naked eye. They looked like little more than flies, or gnats. Nelly’s nanos attacked them, stripped them of their wings and sent them crashing down. But not all bots died easily. They began to explode as soon as they lost their wings, taking their attacking nanos with them. Kris ordered a change in her own nanos attack. Now they weakened a wing root. The bots flew on, then lose their wing a few centimeters later where their explosion hurt nothing. Kris didn’t actually make the decision for her nanos to do things different. Her thoughts solved problems at the speed of light, and her orders went out at the same speed. Was this what it was to be Nelly? Somewhere another window went down, or maybe the door up to the roof gave way. Suddenly, a wave of attackers hit them from the stairwell. Kris peeled as many nanos as she could from the defense perimeter around those she loved and sent them hurtling out to give battle to this new onslaught. She pulled nanos back from Al’s office to reinforce her defenses, then sent more nanos to fight in the space between the central desk and the elevator and stairwell. The fight went long and hard. Nelly’s nanos were far superior to these, but the saturation attack took its toll. Kris finally had to order all her remaining nanos back to the defense perimeter. There were just not enough left for a defense in depth. Now they were surrounded by attacking nanos and micro bots. Held back from the humans, the nanos and bots changed their attack mode. Some began picking away at the ceiling tiles above them and brought them crashing down. The tiles were made of foam and fiber and weighed nothing so they did no real harm to the humans. However, some of boards trapped defending nanos under them. Nelly became more careful and now usually pulled her forces back before a tile fell. The enemy was taking out more of its own nanos and micro bots with tiles than any of Nelly’s. Still, Kris had only so many nanos and the attacker seemed to never run out. Then an elevator dinged and its door opened. Inside was a bit of art. An ugly statue of something. Kris wasn’t at all sure what. What mattered to her was that it was made of dumb metal. Dumb metal was very much like Smart MetalTM with one key exception. It could only be reworked twice. After that, it just disintegrated into a puddle of shiny goo. That particular exception had once almost killed Kris. Now Kris was very grateful for the stuff. Nelly took control of the programmable matter and gave it the last shape it could ever take. Nanos streamed off the piece of art and began attacking the nanos and bots from the rear. Now, some of Nelly’s nanos merged to form micro bots of her own. They slipped past the line of attack nanos flowing into the line and followed them to their source. Four minutes later, Nelly had a picture of several trucks parked three blocks from the entrance to the Al Longknife business complex. Jack had ordered a platoon of their Marines out of Nuu House the moment it became clear they were under attack. They were two minutes out, and were only too happy to be retasked with hitting that launch site. While Kris and Nelly continued the battle around their loved ones, now going much better thanks to the dumb metal reinforcements, Jack and Sal took over the counter attack. The Marines and their gun trucks raced through the streets, looking for all the world like they would charge down the street into the Longknife office park. The attackers’ base was totally unprepared when the Marine trucks slammed on the brakes, skidded into a turn and gunned down their street. Half from one direction. Half from the other. The assault team had their hands up before the Marines dismounted. Jack had nanos searching the launch site. He knew exactly what machines needed destroying. The first Marines into each truck emptied a clip into a shiny gray box with lots of dials. Around Kris, the attacking nanos and bots lost all control. They flew in straight lines and crashed into walls. They flew in circles and Kris’s nanos clipped their wings. They lost all interest in doing anyone any damage. “The attack is falling apart,” Kris said aloud. “We have all the culprits in our control,” Jack reported. “Two of them are babbling like mad men about who paid them to do this. Al, I think one of your competitors may be going to jail.” “He almost killed me! Killed my son, my grandchildren and my great-grandchildren. My entire family,” Al said, his eyes wide, seeing nothing. Then he collapsed. “We need a doctor here,” Kris ordered on the security net as he grabbed for Al. “Al Longknife is in medical distress.” Five minutes later, a major medical reaction team raced out of the elevator. They had Al on a diagnostic bed in half a minute, and had a diagnosis of shock and a possible series of mini-strokes. They were already treating him as they rushed him toward the elevator. Most of Al’s people milled around, if not in shock, certainly bereft of direction. Kris gave no orders. She’d used up her order book for at least a week. “Well,” Billy said, looking around. “I wonder if that Christmas goose is still warm? Anyone here know where the dining room is?” The secretary did indeed know where his boss ate his formal meals. He led the rest of the Longknifes down a wide flight of stairs into the living quarters. There was indeed a cook prepared to feed them. Despite his boss being absent, he was most willing to serve them. The secretary excused himself and returned a few minutes later with all the presents for the Longknife children. Honovi’s kids squealed with glee. Ruth just wanted a breast to nibble on. She was getting breast milk less and less, but just then, Kris needed it as much as Ruthie. She found a chair that rocked and settled into it. She dropped her top and began nursing her infant. The other three kids quickly opened their presents, to find some very expensive toys that they weren’t all that excited about. What seven-year-old wants a train set? How many seven-year-olds even know what a steam locomotive was? Honovi’s youngest, who was more interested in the ripping into packaging than what was inside it, was only too happy to open all Ruthie’s presents. They included a silver spoon, a golden rattle and a silver brush with the softest of bristles to brush a baby’s hair. All were engraved with Ruth’s full name, including Longknife-Montoya. On some of them, it took several lines to get the whole name down. As dinner finished, Nelly announced, “Grampa Al is sedated and doing fine in the clinic on the 149th floor. He’s asleep so we probably shouldn’t visit.” So, Ruthie’s very first Christmas visit with her Grampa Al proved to be very survivable, as was also her second assassination attempt. Kris could only shake her head. Now she was having to survive assassination attempts on other Longknife lives. It didn’t seem possible that living here, at home, nowhere near a warship or space station that she would still have to be ever on alert, ready to dodge incoming fire every moment of the day or night. “Poor Ruthie. You were born a Longknife. May you ever be fast on your feet and quick with a counter attack. Merry Christmas, little one. May you have many, many more. All of them survivable.” Coming Attractions In 2016 I amicably ended my twenty-year publishing relationship with Ace, part of Penguin Random House. In 2017 I will begin publishing through my own independent press, KL & MM Books. I have high hopes of bringing a lot of fun stories to you in 2017, and then again in 2018 and 2019. We will kick off the year with Kris Longknife’s Replacement. It will be published as an e-book January 5, 2017 at Amazon, B&N, D2D, Kobo and, I hope, ibooks. Audible has agreed to produce an audio book. The exact date is to be announced. Later in the summer, I hope to produce a trade paperback. Kris Longknife’s Replacement tells the story of Grand Admiral Sandy Santiago as she discovers whether a mere mortal can fill a Longknife’s shoes. Especially Kris Longknife’s shoes. Sandy has problems galore: birds, cats, vicious alien raiders. Oh, and she’s got Rita Longknife as well! Rita Longknife - Enemy Unknown is the first book of the long awaited Iteeche War series. It will be out in e-book March 5, 2017 from your favorite source. Audible and trade paperback to follow. Rita has had enough of Ray Longknife gallivanting around the universe. No sooner is little Al born, than ships start disappearing. Is it pirates, or something more sinister? Rita gets herself command of a heavy cruiser, some nannies and heads out see what there is to see. Kris Longknife - Emissary begins an entirely new story arch for Kris. It will be out in e-book May 5, 2017 from all your favorite sources. Here is the story of what it takes to get Kris out from behind a desk. And for those of you betting in the pool, you’ll get your answer. More I cannot say. July 5, 2017 will see another book set in Alwa as Sandy Longknife continues to battle aliens of various persuasions and not a few humans. September 5, 2017, Rita Longknife - Enemy in Sight will resolve the unknowns left by Enemy Unknown as humanity slips backwards into a war it does not want and may not be able to win. November 5, 2017, Kris Longknife - Admiral will see Kris up to her ears in warships, enemy and friendlies maybe not so friendly as battlecruisers square off against battlecruisers. A fight where both sides are equal is a bloody fight that often no one wins. In Admiral, that is exactly what Kris faces. Each month that a book isn’t published, a short story or something from the cutting room floor, a scene that had to be cut from an overly long book will be published. Some will be for free, like Ruthie’s wonderful story. I have secured the services of Scott Grimando who did the wonderful Kris Longknife covers for Ace to provide the new covers for all the books going forward. It truly will be art to enjoy. Stay in touch to follow developments by following Mike Moscoe or Kris Longknife on Facebook or checking in at my website www.mikeshepherd.org. I hope to soon have a mailing list you can sign up for, but it’s not there yet.