Sergeant First Class Jonathan Fragger Sparks is a proud, tough, resilient U.S. Army Ranger combat veteran. Fragger's faced and survived the toughest enemies on the planet from Vietnam to Desert Storm I. The problem is, he’s no longer on present day Earth!
He’s been revived six centuries into the future, and the future considers him a Rerun, scum from the past fit only for menial tasks. But, as he soon discovers, he’s a very unusual Rerun. Two warring space powers-EarthCorp and the Ricers- suspect he has some very coveted military abilities, and each power would rather kill Fragger than see him in the hands of their enemy.
Simply by staying alive and fighting back, Sgt. Sparks triggers all-out war. Along the way, he challenges a fossilized society and teaches the future the true meaning of the Ranger slogan: Rangers lead the way!
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The chittering voice of an angry squirrel interrupted Fragger’s recurrent dream.
Annoyed, he ordered the rodent to shut the fuck up. The animal didn’t belong in his sleeping mind, and, above all, Fragger wanted to finish the dream because he was never able to complete it, and that fact pissed him off beyond all reason. He was a soldier-- a U. S. Army Ranger, by God!--and a Ranger always accomplished any task set to him, even a creation of his own rebellious brain. To his frustration, the squirrel ignored the order and rambled on in a bizarre fashion.
--"specifics, they always want the ripping specifics. As if anyone cared about a Rerun, for Corporation’s sake, even another so-called ‘special’ one! As if anyone was present to hear me talking to myself. ‘Oh, get on with it, Leery.’ That’s what Supervisor Wetz would say, if he were here, the fat coward. To take a man of my capabilities and stick him all alone in the middle of the Khanwati Desert—as if there were anything but desert on this dirtball planet--with the enemy in orbit ready to up-and-off me. As if I had anything to defend myself with except a pistol. As if…all right, all right, Leery, calm yourself down. Just record the specifics. It’ll take your mind off the situation and maybe, just maybe, a little attention will come your way."
There was a faint click, and the squirrel continued, "Recording. Revival Technician Lakwirth Leery is the RT of record. Date…"
Leery’s voice paused at series of faint thumps.
Fragger scowled at the familiar sound--explosions. He frowned a second time when he couldn’t figure out how his mind had come up with something so strange as a squirrel, especially a squirrel who could talk and also be a Revival Technician, whatever that was.
"Oh, rip the date!" Leery resumed nervously. "The recorder will note it, anyway. Damned protocol. And if I survive and you hear this, Wetz, I don’t care about protocol. Bird you, you officious, incompetent prick! Okay, here’s the basic information while I wait for the HSP results. HSP. Don’t know what that term means, do you, Wetz, you idiot? Well, I’m not going to tell you what the acronym stands for. No more stealing of my ideas! Let’s see you explain HSP to the Regional Planetary Manager and try to take credit for something you haven’t got a prayer of understanding! You’re such an imbecile, such an incompet…oh hell, what’s the use? I haven’t got enough words in my vocabulary to adequately describe your stupidity. Back to the task at hand.
Uhhmm…let’s see…I implanted the translator as required although the module isn’t exactly OEM, that’s for sure. So, the subject may experience slowness in understanding a few subtle language concepts, but then I had to re-configure somewhere. Anyway, Reruns are dense by nature, aren’t they?
In this case, our subject is Sergeant First Class Jonathan Sparks. Nickname ‘Fragger’, according to records. He’s typical mongrel Earth Stock, nearly two meters tall with a weight of close to 80 kilograms. Hair, black. Eyes, blue. He’d be handsome if he weren’t a Rerun. Just your type, Wetz, you faggot. The subject hasn’t spoken yet, but I gave him the standard voice marker so he’ll have the typical Rerun rasp. Skin—light brown as a result of miscegenation, apparently a mixture of Irish-European, Mexican, and American Indian bloodlines as defined in 20th Century terms. Obviously, Old Americans were more than a little careless about purity of race."
Fragger started at the mention of purity of race. Jeezus, what the hell is my mind doing dredging up such crap? As if Amanda and I haven’t faced enough racism in our lives! And coming from a squirrel! Stop such thoughts, damn it!
The contemptuous monologue continued, anyway.
"Well, this Rerun might be a mutt, but OldNet military personnel files as well as those nuisance family sites that clutter ancient electronic records indicate he has strong potential.
For one thing, he served in a highly elite military force geared to dangerous missions and still survived two wars in radically different Terran environments—one tropical and one desert. In addition, the words ‘luck’ and ‘lucky’ occur repeatedly, not only on the family site but also in his personnel file. To put it mildly, "luck" is not a usual military term so that indicates definite promise.
Then, there’s the unspecified ‘detachment’ to DARPA—the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency—an agency with an affinity for the grandly stupid projects like sleepless soldiers…Okay, here come the HSP results, finally. Bloody computer is damned slow. You know, Wetz, if we’re going to do up-t0-date research, you might invest in some new equipment instead of skimming the money to feed your fat face. Okay, the HSP results read…can that be right? Let me verify."
Another click sounded. Apparently, Leery had turning his recording device off. Fragger marveled at the ability of his mind to generate such realistic details in a dream even if it--
"Sparks! Wake up, Rerun!" Leery’s squirrel voice shouted at him,
"Fuck off!" Fragger muttered. He didn’t care how realistic his dreams got; he wasn’t about to obey a command from a squirrel, especially an order interfering with his ability to get back to the persistent dream. It was maddening that it never changed and exasperating because it was always so vivid, painted in the too-bright hues of an old Fifties Technicolor movie. In it, Amanda Whitefeather Sparks, his second wife, stood outside base housing which, in the absurd logic of dreams, was painted in camouflage colors against an orange sky and chartreuse grass.
The dream made Amanda beautiful, and she was chuckling about it because she knew she was not attractive—not on the outside anyway. She was short, 20 pounds overweight, and still bore the scars of untreated acne, courtesy of life on the rez. Sparks chuckled with her because Amanda was a great believer in the power of dreams and would appreciate starring in his, especially one that made her gorgeous. He’d never been able to convince her that that was how she always looked to him—beautiful. God, how he missed that woman and the smell of her lilac perfume! How he missed his family!
"Sergeant First Class Jonathan Sparks! Stop laughing!"
"Screw you, man!" he swore at the squirrel as he concentrated on the images generated by his mind.
Libby, their 15-year-old with the same silken black hair as her mother, stood next to Amanda and was busy complaining that her Dad was the dumbest father to come down the pike in history of parenting while simultaneously wondering why he never came home any more.
On the other side of his wife, his son, John, nodded his head in vigorous agreement. Sparks swallowed the anger he always felt at the changes in his boy since he’d gone off to Berkeley—Berkeley, for Christ’s sake, a yuppie liberal haven! John had shaved his head, grown a goatee uglier than a camel’s ass, and become a pacifist during his freshman year. Fragger knew it would all be part of the separation crap psychologists talked about, but it still pissed him off. It was no way for a soldier’s son to act. He brushed aside the thought as he tried to figure out why his family all of sudden cried out, "Come home!", then burst into tears that began washing away the camouflage colors and--
"Sergeant First Class Jonathan Sparks! Fragger!"
"Shove it where the sun don't shine!" Fragger snarled at the squirrel, turning his attention back to the dream. Why the hell was his family telling him to come home? He hadn’t been deployed since Desert Storm and had been at DARPA when….when what? Fragger groaned in frustration as he tried to remember. The effort was giving him a terrible headache. He needed more bunk time to get rid of it, and this puke creation of his brain kept nagging him worse than Karen, his first wife!
Fragger Sparks! I=ve implanted a translator in your head, so I know you can understand Standard. On your feet, soldier!.
Now Fragger was mad enough to wake up even if it was into a dream. This maggot of a squirrel, Leery, was using his nickname and hadn’t earned the right to do that. His Nam team had rewarded him with "Fragger" in Cu Chi. The Rangers had stepped into an NVA ambush, and machine guns in well-hidden bunkers chewed them up until 20-year-old Jonathan Sparks gathered fragmentation grenades and limbered up his All State high school pitching arm.
He=d thrown strikes into the bunker ports and then led a flanking maneuver to rout the attackers. It=d been the most embarrassing and yet proudest moment of his life when, after the fire fight, Colonel Tennison had called him the Afastest and luckiest fucking maniac I=ve ever seen. in front of the surviving Rangers and tagged him with the nickname he=d carried up through Desert Storm and DARPA and...
Fragger shook his head, trying to remember what had happened next, but nothing specific came, only a vague recollection of some Aspecial. project. The inability to recall any details made him angry so he snapped, AStop calling me >Fragger=! My correct name is Jonathan..
Fragger forced his eyes open as he made the demand. His voice sounded harsh and grating as if his vocal cords were vibrating in gravel not air. It also seemed detached from his body as if it were floating around the bright lights on the ceiling. He squinted through gummy lids trying to get a better look at Leery and laughed at what he saw.
The Revival Technician wasn’t a squirrel. He was a man—a sweaty little pile of crap who looked squirrel-like—but a man nonetheless and wearing a strange uniform.
"On your feet, soldier!" the order came again.
Fragger attempted to get up to brace the little fucker right up against the wall, but either he didn't have any feet or he couldn't feel them. Dream terror surged.
"A mine?" he asked, forcing his body upright and discovering he was naked. He hated being naked, even in dreams. "Did I step on a mine?"
"What? No," Leery answered. The Revival Technician couldn’t decide where to place his focus. He alternated between gawking at Fragger as if he were some exotic beast and glancing anxiously at a resumption of the distant explosions while wiping perspiration from a sallow forehead. In the odd logic of the dream, the detonations appeared to come from a wall-sized painting of a bizarre chilly landscape dotted with rust-streaked rocks under a dusty pink sky. "You have all your extremities."
Fragger checked his body just to be sure. His feet were still there and all ten toes, but with limited sensation. AWhat the hell’s wrong?" he demanded. "I can=t feel much of anything. Am I paralyzed?"
"No, no, it's a side effect," Leery reassured him. "It goes away within a few minutes."
"Within a few minutes of what?"
"What on earth are you talking about?" Fragger asked, annoyed by the little man's anxious rubbing at pale skin beneath a twitching eye, apparently a reaction to whatever the hell was going on outside the building. As he waited for an answer, the Ranger decided that while Leery was definitely not an actual squirrel, he was as close to one as a human being could possibly get. The man had puffy cheeks and a slight lower lip which he sucked at with two long front teeth. His black eyes were buttons of fear.
Fragger guessed the technician was no taller than five-six. An oversized gray uniform trimmed with red epaulets did little to hide the slumped shoulders and paunchy gut. A big red "EC" insignia was stitched above the left pocket of the shirt. Leery’s name was below it in white letters. A holstered pistol the likes of which Fragger had seen only on episodes of Star Trek hung from a wide black belt. Ankle high black boots completed the picture—a picture that made Fragger think of his son when he was a young boy trying on his father’s uniform. Leery was obviously a civilian playing military dress-up or, more likely, had been pressed into service and was not happy about it.
Scientist, Fragger guessed. Squirrel-face has got the look of another kind of rodent—a lab rat. Definitely a rear echelon motherfucker. Damn, can’t get away from REMFs, even when I’m asleep!
"Well?" Fragger barked impatiently when Leery couldn’t seem to drag his attention away from the noise.
Leery twitched and jerked his gaze from the painting back to the Ranger. "Like I said, man. Revival. You know. Reborn, rebirthed, revived, cloned, good karma in a previous life, cool, that kind of thing, far out. Rock n= roll, booyah, mess up the Mohammeds."
Fragger glared at the jittery technician and snapped, "Are you trying to be funny, you damned squirrel?"
A startled expression crossed Leery=s face. "No, why? What’s a squirrel?"
"A little rodent, just like you. You're talking like I'm some damned moron. You're aping my speech. Making fun of me."
The crrump! of explosions grew louder.
Leery winced at the noise and explained quickly, "I haven't got time to make fun of you, Sergeant, believe me. I just used the speech pattern indicated for your particular part of the Terran Twentieth Century, that's all. Revival Technicians are trained to do such things."
Fragger studied the man's face to see if Leery was playing out a practical joke that wasn't particularly funny, but the squirrel eyes showed no humor. They had the look of prey certain that a predator was about to strike.
"My particular part of the Twentieth Century?" the Ranger asked.
Leery flashed an insincere grin. "Happy Day of Second Birth, Sparks. As of today, you're about six centuries old. I hope you live to celebrate it."
Confusion swirled in Fragger=s head. "What? What's going on?"
"Never mind," the technician replied, his hand hovering over the oddly shaped pistol. "I’ll get you some clothes because we need to move right now!"
Fragger followed the man's eyes toward the wall painting, wondering what Leery found so fascinating about it. As far as the Ranger was concerned, it was a terrible work of art, all pink sky and red dirt. It looked like a terribly boring part of the Painted Desert.
Then lightning-quick motion streaked into the middle of the painting.
It's not a painting at all! Fragger realized. It's a window. A very thick window onto a very strange world.
Outside the window, the blur stopped and transformed itself into a solid object.
This is rich! It's a robot, a damned robot, armed with a sword and a shield of all things! And it looks like a samurai! I spent way too much time studying military history and obviously far too many hours on the Japanese military. My mind is mixing the past with the future!
As best Fragger could judge, the robot was close to seven feet tall and unmistakably Japanese in origin. The sword the machine wielded glittered with unnatural brightness and shimmered with some internal source of light. Flared like a tori gateway, a helmeted head swiveled toward the window.
In a motion so swift Fragger wasn't sure at first it had really happened, the robot charged the window and laid the blade into it. Although the glass looked to be at least a foot thick, a single stroke shattered it. Warm air blew out of the room, replaced by the in-rush of a cold, bitter wind.
Fragger shivered under its impact and gasped for breath as the robot shouldered its way inside the building, sword raised high. The Ranger turned toward Leery to see what kind of defense the technician could offer. He had no confidence in Squirrel-face, but as long as a man had a weapon, there was a chance.
Fragger's heart stuttered at what he saw
Leery had the pistol trained on him, not the robot.
Shit! Fragger swore as the technician took shaky aim. What a dream! Everybody’s trying to kill me! Man, I must have eaten too much pizza to generate this kind of nightmare!
As if to confirm bad digestion, the dream twisted in a new direction. In an instant, the robot blurred into action and put its bulk between Fragger and Leery. A bright light pulsed and splashed against the samurai’s armor, lighting the room up in a garish green hiss.
My God, that pistol Leery has is a laser! Fragger realized. And a helluva powerful one. Can the robot handle the impact?
Sizzling like a downed power line, the sword hummed through the air, and Fragger’s question was answered nearly before he'd asked it. Leery's head, sliced from his body, thumped onto the floor and rolled toward the window. The stroke had been so swift and surgical the technician's expression hadn't had time to change. Leery still squinted his squirrel eyes as if aiming his weapon at Fragger. Before the body hit the floor, the robot spun around with the tip of the curved sword pointed directly at the Ranger. The technician’s laser hadn’t even left a mark on the armor.
Damn! Fragger thought with grim amusement. Out of the frying pan, into the fire. I might have survived Leery’s attack, but my dream sure as hell isn’t going to let me escape this monster.
"Finish me off, robot," Fragger said, determined at least to keep his dignity even if the situation wasn’t real. He was a Ranger, after all, and Rangers kept their cool under any circumstances. "I don't have a weapon, and I want out of this dream..
To Fragger’s astonishment, the robot paused and then lowered his sword.
Trying to catch his breath in the increasingly thin and freezing air, Fragger waited as the machine stood still, seeming to ponder the situation.
Impatient, the Ranger urged, "If you’re going to kill me, do it now! Damn, this is a really aggravating!"
The robot ignored his plea. But, a second later, it spoke in a harsh, but clear amplified voice, "I am not a robot. I am a powered armor soldier of the Royal and Imperial Commonwealth of Nipponese Empires. And this is no dream."
Fragger ignored the intense reality of his sleeping mind and said with a shrug, "Who cares? Real or dream, either way, you're going to kill me. End it, so I can wake up."
"Watanabe does not kill unarmed men. Even if they are Reruns," the samurai said in a heavy, breathy voice that indicated damage had been done to his respiratory system.
"Rerun? What the hell is a Rerun? Why does everyone keep calling me that?. Fragger asked. This part of the dream was bewildering. The only time the Ranger had heard that term used was in referring to the repeat showings of television programs. AAnd what=s a >Whataknobby=?.
AYou are a Rerun! And Watanabe is my name. Isoruku Watanabe. The correct way to pronounce it is, >Whaat-a-nob-bay=..
AWhatever you say,. Fragger said, resigned to letting the goofball dream run its course while at the same time trying to force more air into his lungs. "Well, WhattaNobHead...samurais are supposed to hold honor as their highest standard. So, prove it. Instead of just letting me let me die fromYcold and lack ofYoxygen, why not make it quick? Kill me with that sword of yours. Or are you a coward? Remember…" Fragger searched his head for a quote from ancient Japanese military history that was rattling around in his head just beyond reach.
"Remember what, Rerun?" the samurai asked with the infinite patience of an executioner who had all the time in the world that his victim did not.
"Oh, I forgot…no, wait a minute…’he…he who advances is sure of heaven, but he who retreats will suffer eternal damnation.’ So, advance damn it; otherwise, you’re a coward!"
At this remark, the samurai bent toward the Ranger and held the sword close to his throat. Its power buzzed in Fragger’s ears.
"Rerun, insults from experiments are usually rewarded with instant death, but this time you are lucky. Unlikely as it may be, you may have worth to us, so I'll spare your life for now and take you to a place of safety."
Fragger had had enough of this nonsense and decided to talk to himself rather than a creation of his imagination. "Experiment? Now I’m a freaking experiment? Okay, Sergeant Sparks, let’s cut this crap short. You’re a soldier who’s got duties to perform. Wake up and wake up now!
His mind wouldn’t obey!
Watanabe uttered a noise of annoyance before grabbing several items from a table and tucking them into a belt. Then, he seized Fragger. The Ranger squawked as the samurai tucked him under an arm as if he weighed no more than a bag of feathers, raced out of the room and then lifted up into the pink sky to hover above a building that reminded Fragger of a giant, plastic Quonset hut. Watanabe twisted in the air, pulled an object from his side, and dropped it straight down. A few seconds later, the building blew itself into debris, followed by an oddly thin and thunderous concussion. For a moment, Fragger was afraid they’d be caught in the cloud of ashes and sand boiling upward, but the samurai simply jetted away from the detonation.
What a great dream! Fragger thought as the icy wind generated by the samurai’s acceleration numbed his mind into unconsciousness. Damn, Rangers lead the way! We even do dreams better than anyone else!
As best Fragger could judge, the robot was close to seven feet tall and unmistakably Japanese in origin. The sword the machine wielded glittered with unnatural brightness and shimmered with some internal source of light.
Flared like a tori gateway, a helmeted head swiveled toward the window. In a motion so swift Fragger wasn't sure at first it had really happened, the robot charged the window and laid the blade into it.
Although the glass looked to be at least a foot thick, a single stroke shattered it. Warm air blew out of the room, replaced by the in-rush of a cold, bitter wind.
Fragger shivered under its impact and gasped for breath as the robot shouldered its way inside the building, sword raised high.
The Ranger turned toward Leery to see what kind of defense the technician could offer. He had no confidence in Squirrel-face, but as long as a man had a weapon, there was a chance.
Fragger's heart stuttered at what he saw
Leery had the pistol trained on him, not the robot