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Call the Bluff

It Costs A Lot To Win. And Even More To Lose.

by O.E. Tearmann

Call the Bluff - O.E. Tearmann
Part of the Aces High, Jokers Wild series:
Editions:Paperback: $ 14.00 USD
ISBN: 1791937985
Size: 6.00 x 9.00 in
Pages: 238
Kindle: $ 4.00 USD
ISBN: B07LGF6DCS

It costs a lot to win. And even more to lose.
Seven Corporations rule the former United States with seven codes of conduct based on their ideas of morality. Comply with the code of the Corporation that holds your Citizen Contract, or suffer the economic consequences.
Or fight back.
For sixty years the Democratic State Force has been fighting to return representative democracy to the country. Living in the no man’s lands between cities and hanging on by their fingernails, the thinly spread guerrilla force hasn’t gotten far. But they have a secret weapon: their finest unit, Base 1407. Handle: The Wildcards.
Pulled together after disaster by Commander Aidan Headly, the Wildcards are on top of their game again. They’d better be. They’ve just been called to act as backup in a mission bigger than anything the Force has attempted before. The team that went in first is probably dead.If they pull their mission off, everything will change.If they don’t, they’ll be lucky to survive the year.
Life’s a bitch. She’s got the game rigged. Keep the cards close to your chest.

Excerpt:

“It’s open!” Kevin’s voice called through the thin plastic of his door. Aidan slid it to one side, giving it a shove when the panel stuck on its track.

“When did you get in?” Kevin asked, glancing up from his reading with a smile. “Did you eat at Sector? You missed dinner here, I’m afraid.”

Aidan shook his head. “I’m not hungry. Can I stay for a bit?”

Sitting up, Kevin gestured to the bed in one of those unconsciously graceful gestures Aidan loved to watch.

“Feel free. You look done in, by the way.”

With what felt like all the energy he had left Aidan crossed the room, unlaced his boots and flopped on the bed. He met his boyfriend’s inquiring eyes with something like a smile.

“Been home about half an hour. Just got out of the showers. Janice doused me with reclamation water when I got in the door.”

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Kevin cringed. “Oh dear… Damian’s remanded the kids to helping in the kitchen under Andrea’s eye for the foreseeable future, if that helps at all.”

Slowly, his smile faded as he watched Aidan’s face. Reaching over, he tapped his tab, then put a hand on Aidan’s knee. Soft music began to play.

“Unless it was raw sewage, you seem just a touch overly upset by it. Janice isn’t concerned about damage to the systems, if that’s what you’re worrying about. It really wasn’t as catastrophic as it seemed.”

“I’m not worried about the pipes,” Aidan replied. “I’m worried about the mission Magnum gave us.”

In the background, an artist with an earnest voice was singing something about carrying on when you felt lost, soothing and uplifting at the same time.

He wished he could snag seconds like these and live inside them.

“What’s playing?” he asked quietly. Kevin stroked his hair with absent fingers. “This? It’s ‘Carry On’, one of the last pre-dissolution bands that was worth anything did it. They called themselves ‘Fun’ oddly enough.  I’ve always liked it for bad days.”

“Yeah.” Aidan agreed, his voice odd in his own ears.

For a moment they sat in silence. Aidan listened to the music. Carry on, the singers chorused. The words of the song poked pinpricks into his numbness.

“So, this mission?” Kevin asked softly.

Aidan sighed and pulled up the mission files he’d been given on his tab, handing it to his boyfriend.

Kevin adjusted his glasses, studying the screen. “What is it? If it’s more new ID entries I can take the hard copy in, have them uploaded to one of the NatBank computers we can access and be back in the afternoon.” He glanced up. “But you look like this is something bigger than that…”

Aidan closed his eyes. “Read it?” he murmured.

Kevin’s hand stroked his hair. “That bad?”

Aidan allowed himself to lie back on the bed, weariness pressing down on him. “Pretty much.”

Eyes closed, Aidan heard Kevin draw in a breath a little while later. “Good God above.” Kevin’s voice had an awed note.

“Yeah.” Aidan agreed quietly.

“And they think we can pull this off?”

“Yeah,” Aidan agreed, his voice cracking on the whisper.

“What’s in these vids?” Kevin asked softly.

Aidan closed his eyes, opened them again quickly. He didn’t want to see the things those words brought up in the dark behind his eyelids.

“We’ll watch them together tomorrow. I’ve got a base-wide debriefing set. I’m going to have Billie take the kids until we’re done.”

Kevin glanced at him. “Billie? Really?”

Aidan nodded. “This stuff is a brain fuck. I don’t want her or the little guys seeing it.”

Kevin nodded, his face taking on that distant look. “I see.”

There was the rustle of sheets, and Kevin’s body traced his. Long fingers stroked his hair.

“Well, sufficient to the day is the evil thereof.”

“What’s that mean?” Aidan asked quietly, feeling the pressure in his chest beginning to ease.

“In less exalted terms, it means we’ll worry about it tomorrow.”
Aidan nodded. “Yeah. Um. Kev?”

“Mm?”

“Can I stay here tonight? I’ve got to get some sleep, but… I’m having some trouble.”

Warm arms wrapped around him.

“You don’t need to ask, Aidan.”

“Thanks.” Aidan whispered against his skin. “Help me figure out how to tell everybody about this in the morning?”
“Of course.”

************

The vid screen was already loud when Aidan and Kevin stepped in the next evening, some crazy drone-racing tournament thing on the screen. Sprawled on the couch and the floor, the crew had segregated itself into two teams and was taking turns to groan and cheer for their favorite. Alice’s latest knitting project uncoiled like a deformed snake across one arm of the couch. On a desk chair in the back of the room, Tweak sat and watched with what looked like mild amusement. It was hard to tell with her.

“Hey guys, when’s halftime?” Aidan called into the racket. Sarah glanced up, spotted him and grinned. Snatching the controller, she waved it, pausing the program.

“What’s up?”

Aidan tried for a smile. “I want to get that debrief out of the way. We got assigned a pretty big mission. Billie? Can you take the kids?”

With a quick smile, the teenager gathered Tommy, the twins, and Henrietta.

“We, as in all of us?” Lazarus asked once the children were gone. Aidan shrugged. “At this point, no idea. Maybe. But we’re all going to want to see this stuff. I’m not going to say anything, I want you guys to get your own perspectives first. But heads up, this stuff’s a brain fuck. Seriously. If anybody wants to give it a miss, now’s the time to head out.”

Nobody moved.

“Now that you’ve got us in suspense, you going to let us see?” Damian asked patiently. That brought a grim smile to Aidan’s lips. Taking a seat beside Kevin, he brought the Folder’s table of contents up on his tab and sent it to the main vid screen. That done, he braced himself. Kevin’s arm laid itself gently across his shoulders.

This time, he watched the faces of his crew as the vids played. He saw the shock first. Yvonne’s jaw dropped open. Topher stood up for a better look, craning over Alice, which got him inadvertently stabbed with one of her knitting needles. Quiet curses hissed around the room. Kevin’s arm tensed against him.

By the halfway point, Andrea had tears tracking down her face, and so did Liza. Blake had scooted down the couch to sit beside the personnel officer, gently rubbing the younger woman’s back and murmuring something meaningless and comforting. Dozer’s fists were white-knuckled on his knees.  At his feet, a stone-faced Sarah sat with her shaking wife. Yvonne would occasionally bury her face against Sarah’s collarbone before forcing her eyes back to the screen. Blank-faced, Lazarus rhythmically flicked a folding knife open and closed as he watched.

Behind the couch, Tweak was pacing, eyes glued to the screen. The squeak of her boots was a monotonous counterpoint to the sounds on the vids.

The look on Kevin’s face could have frozen nitrogen.

“Holy Christ fuck me sideways on Sunday.” Janice whispered when the texts flicked on to replace the vids.

“Nobody’s going to believe any of this,” Damian stated, his voice flat.

“Nobody can fake proprietary blockchains and everybody knows it. And there’s unbelievable amounts of proof. This thing’s a terabyte.” Aidan replied quietly.

Studying the page floating in the air, Janice’s eyes narrowed. “Okay, that’s serious an’ all. Now what’re we doin’ with it?”

“Dropping it into the user profile of every client on the Social Feeds before New Years’. In a form the Corps can’t delete,” Aidan stated simply, numb with the words he was speaking.

The room exploded. Everyone talked at once, drowning one another out. Aidan stood, took a couple of deep breaths and waited for the noise to die down.

One by one, the crew saw their commander standing quietly and shut up. When the room was quiet again, Aidan spoke.

“It’s a big job. Hell, it’s insane. It’s already killed a couple other bases. But it’s our job now.” He drew another slow breath, let it out. “So, help me out here guys. How are we going to do this?”

The crew glanced at one another for a heartbeat.

In the silence, Tweak’s boots squeaked. Walking to the front of the room, she studied the holographic screen, tapping one foot slowly.

“Lotsa work.”

“Yeah.” Aidan agreed. Tweak turned to stare at him. She glanced around the room. Then she gave Aidan a knife-sharp grin.

“This’s gonna end them.”

Aidan returned the smile. “It’s a start.”

The talk in the room revved up again. This time, it went on for hours.

COLLAPSE

About the Author

O.E. Tearmann lives in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains, in what may become the Co-Wy Grid. They share the house with a brat in fur, a husband and a great many books. Their search engine history may garner them a call from the FBI one day. When they’re not living on base 1407 they advocate for a more equitable society and more sustainable agricultural practices, participate in sundry geekdom and do their best to walk their characters’ talk.


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