The Rare Earth War

The Rare Earth War”

by C.R. Hodges


Wingtips resting on an heirloom drafting table that had served as his desk for decades, Bo Wainwright paged through a print version of the Journal of Rare Earth Mining. Took his mind off his shrinking balance sheet. Halfway through the second article, his virtual admin appeared on the wall screen of his spacious office. In crisp British diction, Clyde said, “A photo message from your daughter, sir.”

Some grown children called, some texted, many ignored their fathers. Rachel sent pictures, often hundreds a day. A freelance photographer, Rachel was on assignment in Taipei, covering the Lantern Festival. Someplace safe for a change. “Thanks, Clyde. Open,” Bo said, with a wry grin. At least he got to see what she was up to.

Only after rotating the image ninety degrees could he make out a nondescript skyscraper poking up into a dark cloud. Why she was photographing buildings instead of dancers and light shows was an enigma, but that was his daughter. “Send, ‘Love ya, Kiddo. Dad’.”

Once the pending layoffs were squared away, he’d finagle a business trip to meet her in whatever corner of the world she was off to next. With a sigh, he set the journal down, poured himself some mineral water— he was trying to lose the beer gut—and said, “Stream the second quarter forecast for the Elk Mountain mine, Clyde.” Time to get back to work.

But as animated numbers drifted across the wall screen, a chill wormed up his spine. Not a cloud—smoke. The crystal water glass slipped from his hand. It hit the tile floor and shattered. “Clyde, reopen previous photo and zoom.” Black smoke rushed out of a fissure in the building forty stories up. So much for Taipei being safe. “News scan, keyword Taiwan. Her voice tag too.”

“Dad, we’re under attack.”

The news feed interrupted her. “The People’s Republic of China launched an amphibious assault on Taiwan less than one hour ago. There have been unconfirmed reports of the use of new particle-beam weapons of enormous power. While sabers have been rattling across the Formosa Strait for over a century, the relative calm of the past decade made this attack a complete surprise.”

Good Lord.

The wall screen showed hordes of people fleeing an office building. The last clip captured a burst of blue-gray energy lancing into one side of a building and out the other. They’re using ytterbium, his left brain announced unbidden. Bo flung the sodden journal at the wastebasket, missing. The article on page nineteen had predicted the weaponization of rare earth metals was twenty years out. “Call Rachel,” he said, a command that sounded like a plea.

“No answer, but she is transmitting real-time video, sir,” Clyde said.

“Stream it.”

A column of hover-tanks fanned out across a large urban square. Hundreds of pedestrians scattered in panic. Rachel cursed in the background as she zoomed in on the lead tank. A soldier stood helmetless on the turret, ornate sword raised overhead. The sword slashed downward and the gates of hell opened. The hover-tanks fired simultaneously, hurling enormous blue-gray spears from their main cannons. Rachel zoomed out, panning the camera jerkily. Smaller hull-mounted turrets sprayed thin green beams that sliced through the human stampede like a million razor blades.

“Get down,” Bo yelled at the wall screen. Please God, make her listen.

The camera zigzagged toward the lone soldier on the tank, a tall man with silver hair. The zoom increased until a scar above his left eyebrow and the twin stars on his epaulet were visible. “Gotcha, you son of a bitch,” Rachel said, her voice almost lost in the din. The stubby barrel of a particle-beam cannon swung into view. The screen went blue-gray, then white.

Bo stared, not breathing, until Hannah Jacobs, his CFO and closest friend, popped up in the corner of the wall screen, “Hi, Bo,” she trilled, “the Chinese just embargoed rare earth metals. Wainwright Mining has cornered the domestic market. You’re stupid rich.”


Colonel What’s-His-Fucking-Name

As snow fell on the grave site in the lee of Elk Mountain, Bo tossed the first spade of dirt on top of his daughter’s coffin. With robotic precision, he thrust repeatedly into the mound of snow-encrusted soil, attempting to fill the rectangular void a shovelful at a time. A gloved hand gripped his shoulder. “Others would like to honor her too,” Hannah said, her brown curls limp. He surrendered the shovel, head bowed.

After the final handshake, snow no longer falling but his topcoat as speckled as his hair, he scanned the thinning crowd one last time, searching in vain for the one person he’d hoped would come. Trudging back toward the grave, he nodded at the two young gravediggers waiting to finish covering over his daughter’s life. “A moment, guys.” After they backed off a respectful distance, he knelt beside a bouquet of columbines, already wilting from the frigid Wyoming cold.

“Your mother loves you too, Kiddo,” he said, the same lie he’d told since she was three days old. He pulled the copper cross from his pocket, the one he’d hand-wrought on the night he’d found out he was to be a father. With a flick of his wrist, he tossed it over the rim of the grave. It tumbled end over end, landing soundlessly on the threadbare blanket of snow. “God bless.”

Bo climbed into the limousine. The warmth from the heater stung his cheeks. A tiny fraction of what Rachel must have felt those last few microseconds. “Hire the best damn security firm on the planet,” he said.

“To keep those idiots away?” Hannah asked, gesturing toward three protesters carrying No Trillionaires placards.

“No. To find General What’s-his-fucking-name.”

“He is actually a colonel, sir,” Clyde said, from the limo’s heads-up display. “In the People’s Liberation Army, two stars between two stripes denote—”

“I don’t give a flying fuck. What’s his goddamned name?”

“Lieutenant Colonel Lu Yang Xuan.” A photo of the silver-haired colonel filled the rest of the display.

Pulse racing, Bo said, “Play the video.”

Hannah’s hazel eyes went wide. “Today?”

“She’s dead a week. I guarantee you every e-news outlet on the planet is looping it. Why can’t I? Rachel is my daughter. Clyde, play the damn video.”

The avatar looked at Hannah, who nodded infinitesimally. Bo crossed his arms, set his jaw and stared straight at the monitor as Chinese hover-tanks ran down pedestrians and automobiles alike. He leaned forward as the helmetless soldier climbed out of a turret. When the camera zoomed in on the colonel’s scarred face, Bo said, “Pause.”

“We’ll get the bastard,” Hannah said. “For Rachel.”

“Forward quarter-speed,” Bo said. The particle beam cannon’s barrel inched around in its deadly arc. “Hold.”

The image froze on a blue-gray blur. He rolled down the window. The icy blast vaporized his tears and cauterized his lungs. A hint of smoke drifted in through the open window. Perhaps somewhere nearby, a father was reading to his daughter in front of a roaring fire. Bo savored one last frigid breath and rolled the window back up. “Clyde, spectral analysis.”

The avatar reemerged from a corner of the display. “Sir?”

“Bo, this can wait,” Hannah said, her hand hovering over his, tentative.

“No, it can’t. The Chinese subjugated Taiwan in fifteen hours using new particle beam weapons. The same day they embargoed rare earth metals. No coincidence.”

She jerked her hand away as his fist smashed ineffectively into the tinted window.

“Clyde, that material analysis,” he said, shoulders slumping. It wasn’t just one colonel, and it wasn’t just about his daughter. “Please.”

“Raman spectroscopy indicates the particle beam cannons utilized ytterbium.” The only significant ytterbium mine outside of China was here, under Elk Mountain. His mine, a yawning pit into which he’d thrown money for years, or so Hannah had always told him.

“Rewind to the green lasers.”

Hannah cringed again, but Clyde complied.


“Neodymium based, sir. Another rare earth—”

Bo dismissed Clyde with a curt wave. He knew this: less rare but more valuable, used in all molecular electronics. The stock market had crashed minutes after the embargo announcement. Every stock but Wainwright Mining. “Double our neodymium production and reallocate our exploration priorities exclusively to ytterbium.”

“There’s no money in ytterbium,” Hannah said, a familiar refrain. “It has few commercial applications.”

“As of last week, it has one colossal military application. Find more ytterbium.”

“Bo, it will be stupid expensive.”

“I’m stupid rich now. Your words. Do it.” Wainwright Mining’s stock was up eight thousand percent in a week. They’d cornered the domestic market for rare earth metals after the embargo. While Bo wasn’t a trillionaire yet, he was getting there. Ironic as fuck. “Oh, and you can cancel the layoff. We’re going to need all the staff we can find.”

“Already did,” Hannah said, with a knowing glance toward Clyde.

Bo looked back over his shoulder as the limo pulled away from the cemetery. A veiled moon cast a pallor on the rows of dark trees marching up the snow-covered flanks of Elk Mountain. Atop the ridge, the lightning-scarred tip of a solitary lodgepole pine thrust skyward.

In his dreams that night, the trees were Chinese soldiers, Colonel Lu at their van.



Two years after the Chinese embargo had begun, the prices of some rare earth metals had broken the ten-thousand-dollars-a-gram threshold. The economy was in shambles. With a vitriol typically reserved for cannibalistic mass murderers, America had focused its wrath not on China, but rather on the one company, the one man, who controlled the nation’s meager reserves of rare earth metals. Bo Wainwright.

Protesters lined Constitution Avenue as his limo made its way from the hyperport to the Capitol. He’d just flown back from the trial at The Hague. The newly-promoted General Lu had been acquitted of all war crimes despite the overwhelming photographic evidence and testimony from survivors. The Chinese fleet, including two new particle beam dreadnoughts, had brazenly conducted maneuvers in the North Sea, sealing that travesty of justice.

The second travesty played out in a Capitol backroom, which centuries earlier had indeed been smoke-filled. “You’re spending an obscene amount of money while the rest of our proud country is starving,” said the chair of the Select Committee on Rare Earth Monopolies, Senator Allison Hernández.

The veins in Bo’s temples pounded, the only reminder that this was real and not a nightmare. She had the same umber eyes, the same ebony skin. Still trim, yet full curves where there’d once only been camber. He’d followed Allie’s career, of course, from mayor to governor to senator, but this was the first time he’d been face to face with her since she’d walked out, all those years ago.

“We will pay fifty million dollars for the company, or you can face trial for stock market manipulation. Your choice,” she said. A gavel the size of a sledgehammer could have struck and would have had less impact. The other six committee members damn near cheered.

“That’s stealing.” Hannah jumped to her feet. “This isn’t Paraguay—it’s un-American.”

“You’re out of order, Ms. Jacobs,” Senator Hernández said. This time the wooden gavel did strike. “You will not lecture us as to what is and is not American. Another outburst and I’ll have you ejected from this chamber.”

Bo sighed. Take it out on me, Allie, not her.

Hannah glared at the senators for a moment before sitting down, her back as straight as the oaken chair’s.

“What word would you use to describe a forced sale at a fraction of a percent of its market value?” Bo stood, drawing himself up to his full six-foot-two height. He straightened his tie and pulled down his cuffs, furious at himself. When he’d rehearsed this moment that morning in the shower, indeed for many mornings the past years, his voice had brimmed with righteous anger. But now all he could add was, “If not stealing?”

“It is you who stole from the American people,” the senior senator from Georgia said, his wizened hand wavering as he pointed at Bo, the shame on you unspoken. “Eighty-nine billion in profits last year alone.”

“Five hundred million dollars and a twenty-year lease on Tranquility Labs,” Bo said in a monotone. A zombie would have been more persuasive, and not deranged enough to ask for an abandoned lunar laboratory.

“Ninety million,” Allie said. “And you’ll need to pay for the lease on the lab. One dollar a year.”

Loud snickers from every corner of the chamber.

Hannah stared at her black flats, hands clenched together, knuckles pale.

Bo pulled his wallet out and plopped a wrinkled twenty on the podium. “Throw in one of the old moon shuttles you have rusting in the Arizona desert and it’s a deal.”

“Done,” Allie said.

“Are you insane?” Hannah asked as they left the building.

“No. Maybe. Look, there’s something I need to tell you. Can I buy you a drink?”

“I’ll buy. She took your last dime.”

“It was never about money.” A lie, not that it mattered anymore. “But it is about, well, her.”

The gallery was overflowing a month later as Senator Hernández delivered the speech that insured not only the expropriation of Wainwright Mining but also her inevitable election as the fifty-second president.

“For two years now we have suffered the greatest recession—no, let us call it what it is, the greatest depression—in our proud nation’s history. A depression caused by a shortage of critical materials used to manufacture molecular computers to run our businesses, implantable devices to keep us healthy and advanced weapons to keep us safe. And while sixty-three million Americans are jobless, while American investors have lost thirty trillion dollars as our stock market has crumbled, one company has benefited from our ill fortune. Today we break the monopoly that Wainwright Mining has on rare earth metals. Today we end the Rare Earth Depression. Today we take back our country. God bless these United States of America.”

The entire nation cheered.

Bo pulled his overcoat tighter, bowing his head as he hurried down the Capitol steps. Why he hadn’t heeded Hannah’s advice and used the VIP exit one last time escaped him. He was greeted by a cacophony of questions, taunts and catcalls. Then a thunderous voice, a tenor worthy of the Met, broke through the din: “What’s it like to lose a trillion dollars?”

Hannah’s response drowned in a rising sea of laughter. It wasn’t just reporters, there were thousands of ordinary citizens—machinists and farmers, dishwashers and nurses—all gleeful the government had nationalized Bo’s company.

“It sucks,” he said, half regretting the words and half beyond caring.

“Hey, Moonman,” a reporter shouted from her wheelchair, “you gonna hock Tling?” The e-tabloids had hounded Bo about his half billion-dollar payment last year for a month-long stay at Tranquility Labs. Likewise, the paparazzi had trampled each other to photograph Tling—trillionaire’s bling—the blue-hued moon rock that he’d had polished and mounted in a pendant.

Bo said nothing. They’d love hearing about the lunar base lease. That part hadn’t been made public yet. With luck, he would be safely abroad when the tidal wave of ridicule hit shore. He was brought back down to Earth by the tenor: “How does it feel to be screwed by the senator?”

“No comment,” Hannah said quickly.

Quite nice, actually, but that was before Allie had betrayed him. Betrayed Rachel.

Hannah pulled him down the steps, past the jeering crowd. He napped in the taxi: no more limos, no more corporate jets. His subconscious mind flitted about. The smells of sex and sweat in that dorm room in Colorado. An infant car seat on his doorstep. Emerald beams of deadly light dancing across the sky. Hannah’s one dimple. A crater wall crosshatched with jagged veins, glowing blue under the fierce lunar sun.

Yet when he awoke he felt oddly refreshed and ready to move on. Maybe he would hock Tling. Ytterbium commanded a premium price these days, or so he’d heard.


The Geek

With the world still mired in a depression, renting a beachside bungalow in Costa Rica didn’t require hocking anything. Bo took to swimming in the surf each morning, tinkering with the generator on a pre-molecular processor Tesla Roadster each afternoon and drinking every other waking hour at an oceanfront cantina.

Bo avoided the internet news as much as he could, except for anything regarding General Lu. He was reportedly supervising the construction of a space frigate, armed with neodymium lasers. An American raid the night before had sabotaged the launch gantry, setting the Chinese back a year. A tainted victory, as both the space frigate and the colonel were unharmed, but worthy of a drink or three nevertheless.

Uno cerveza, por favor,” he told the new bartender, a dark-haired woman old enough to have the same lines on her face as Bo, yet young enough to fill out her bikini top lusciously.

“Lime?” she asked, her accent exotic and anything but local, her perfume far from subtle.

“You bet.” He tried to keep his eyes from drifting down like a teenage boy. “New in town?”

“Arrived yesterday. Needed a fresh start.” She handed him the beer and a shot glass filled with a tawny liquid the same color as her eyes. “On the house.”

“I can drink to that.”

“I’m guessing you’re not from around here either.”

“Was it the pasty skin or the mangled Spanish?”

She laughed, clear and tart. “A little of both. So what are you running from?”

“A woman, sort of.” Bo tossed the shot down. Smooth and sweet.

“Let me guess—she ditched you for another man.”

“Yup. My best friend. His dad had mega bucks. I spent twenty years trying to impress her with my business acumen.”

“Did it work?”

Bo laughed. “For a little while. No, not really.”

A rail-thin man, with white-blond hair and old-fashioned hipster glasses, plopped down on the adjacent bar stool. An unlit cigarillo clamped between his teeth, he said, “Hey there” in a lilted accent.

Bo was strangely relieved that someone else was flirting up the bartender. “Hasta luego,” he told her. There was always tomorrow. He slid off the barstool and found a table overlooking the sea.

“I was hoping we could talk.” The blond geek was standing beside the table, smiling. His wool slacks were wrinkled and too short, not to mention beyond out of season for the tropics.

Shit, he’s flirting with me. “I’m not interested, sorry,” Bo said. That was a first.

A chuckle. “No, no, just a business proposition.”

Oh. “The Tesla isn’t for sale,” Bo said, as he watched the bartender turn to help another customer, a musclebound punk who’d been ogling her.

“I am looking for something a bit faster.” The geek pulled up a bamboo chair and sat backward on it, arms crossed over the slatted back. He reeked of tobacco. “Erik Sjöman.”

“Not much that’s faster than a Tesla, other than a rocket.”

“Exactly. How else does one get to the moon?”

“Look, I…” No, not the geek, the geek. “Are you that Erik Sjöman?”

“As in Erik the Geek? I guess I still am.”

“I think I kinda put you out of business,” Bo said. Erik the Geek had been the wunderkind founder and chief technologist of ESProcessor AB. The world’s fastest growing molecular electronics company, pre-embargo. “How about I buy you a beer? The least I can do.”

“There are no hard feelings.” Erik waved at the bartender. “Two double vodkas.”

When she brought the drinks over, she gave Bo a sensual look that said you could’ve done better.

Oh well. Bo raised his glass. “Cheers.”

Erik lifted his glass, elbow out. “Skål.”

Bo took a nip; Erik drained his in one go.

“And why would you think I have something that will take you to the moon? I’m just an unemployed geologist.”

Erik lit the cigarillo and slid his tablet across the sticky tabletop. “Freedom of Information Act. Says here you own a moon shuttle. And a twenty-year lease on Tranquility Labs.”

Nineteen years now, and counting down. Not only had Bo left the moon shuttle unclaimed, he’d tried hard to forget about it. About everything. “A waste. I got what I paid for.” Part of the reason Hannah wasn’t returning his calls.

“My boss would like to buy it. Rather, he would like to invest in your new company.”

“I have no new company, and I don’t need cash.” Bo’s bar tab wasn’t that big.

“He is offering more than money, and yes, you do have a company.” Erik handed a printout from his briefcase to Bo.

“I’m not interested in whatever you’re selling.”

“I am not selling. As I said, I am buying.” Erik tipped an empty glass. “Skål.”


Bo wadded the paper up and tossed it into a wastebasket in his bungalow. Five minutes later, after leaving yet another message for Hannah, he retrieved the crumpled page. It was in Swedish, but Bo got the gist. Someone had formed Wainwright Jacobs Sjöman Aktiebolaget, paid a seven hundred kronor application fee, and listed the business address as Kiruna, Sweden. Scribbled on the back was a long list of technology upgrades to the moon shuttle that Erik had seemingly already worked out.

Wainwright Jacobs Sjöman? He had his phone in hand again when he heard a knock. “Hannah,” he said, as he opened the door. “What are you doing here?”

“Investing my severance pay in your new company. Our new company. Good to see you too, Bo.” She’d lost weight, almost too lean now.“May I come in?”

Thankful he hadn’t accepted the bartender’s unspoken offer, Bo said, “Of course. Let me help you with your… no bags?”

“It’s complicated.” She stepped out of a pair of flip flops and handed him a backpack.

“Uh, there’s only one flight into Limón each week. How did you get here?”

“The Swedish Air Force sent a jet for me. Nothing but vodka and pickled herring in the galley, but I managed.” She wiggled her toes on his threadbare carpet.

“Why did the Swedes… Let me guess, you’ve met Erik the Geek too?”

“Yes, although he’s Erik the Swedish Minister of Technology now. He was most persuasive.” She held her arms out at forty-five-degree angles from her body, palms up, head cocked. “Here I am.”

Hannah wore shorts, same as him, except she wore them… better. Bo set her backpack down. “Here you are. Here we are.”

An awkward second and then he gave her a bear hug fit for a grizzly.

She returned the hug with equal ferocity, hazel eyes turning up at the end.

“Can I get you a drink?”

Another knock on the door. Erik ignored Bo’s proffered hand and hurried into the room. An elderly gentleman in a rumpled sweater despite the heat and two blond men with bulges in their black suit coats followed.“The bikini-clad bartender you were flirting with is a Chinese spy. We need to be leaving,” Erik said.“Oh, and this is my new boss.”

“Hello again, Mr. Prime Minister,” Hannah said, after casting Bo a sideways glare with the intensity of a neodymium laser.

“I’ll be blunt,” the prime minister said while shaking hands. “Sweden is about to be dragged into its first war in centuries. Maybe not this month, but it’s inevitable. We have one percent of the free world’s rare earth metals, but our mines are depleting fast. Our army is small; our navy is smaller. But we have a spaceport in Kiruna, an expatriate cosmonaut living in Malmö and money. You have a moon shuttle, a lunar base and firsthand experience finding rare earth metals on the moon. You’ll have complete control of the new company, and while our funding will be a fraction of your former entertainment budget, we’ll do what we can to pay for whatever is needed.”

“Plus you get me.” Erik handed Bo a napkin on which was scribbled a schematic for what looked to be a robotic excavator.

“But we must go, snabbt,” one of the blond bodyguards said, his head tilted fractionally toward the ear with the flesh-colored bud. “The spy has bribed polisen.”

“You’re down with this?” Bo asked Hannah.

“Got my name on the masthead, so yeah, sure. Clyde’s in too; I hacked his files that last day in Washington.” She swiped her tablet.

“I didn’t know you could hack.”

“I might have taught her, sir,” Clyde said, from the corner of the small screen.

“There are a lot of things you don’t know about me, Beauregard Wainwright,” Hannah said, in a sultry voice that would have been slightly comical if he hadn’t missed her so much.

“Quickly,” repeated the bodyguard.

Erik flipped a butt into the kitchen sink. “A word that means get the hell out of Dodge in English.”

“The moon awaits.” Bo retreated to the bedroom, tossed his clothes and his mother’s Bible in a suitcase, and left the key under the doormat.

“It gets pretty cold in Sweden, doesn’t it?” Bo asked as he threw down a supersized shot of vodka while they taxied to the runway.

“Frigid. Way too cold for bikinis.” Hannah shot him that glare again, leaned her seat back and fell asleep. An hour later, however, her head was resting on his shoulder. He sat stiffly for the long flight, her curls caressing his neck.



Kiruna, Sweden was half a world away, but its isolation reminded Bo of Wyoming. Their office was furnished secondhand and decorated with Rachel’s photographs, including the infamous shot of General Lu. Its haunting presence kept him focused. And angry.

Bo had hired the expat cosmonaut on the condition that he sober up. Ivan had celebrated by getting bar-brawl drunk, not a promising start. The moon shuttle, rechristened Mjöllnir, had been refurbished in Toulouse and now perched on the back of the pair of Saturn VIs on the launch pad, silhouetted against the low winter sun like a mythical frost giant. Erik worked on it twenty hours a day, the list of completed upgrades pages long.

Hannah joined Bo at the frosted window.“You have a visitor inbound.”


“Your old friend.” Hannah examined her boot laces.

He noticed for the first time a few gray locks hiding amidst her dense brown curls. “Huh?”


“Oh. She’s headed to Moscow for a state visit, isn’t she?”

“Air Force One lands in an hour. Stockholm granted President Hernández special clearance for a layover.” Still staring at the linoleum.

“Decades of denial, and now she wants to meet? It’s too fucking late.”

Hannah looked at him and shuddered.

“Sorry, that came out wrong.”

“She’s invited you onboard.” Hannah smiled awkwardly, her one dimple showing. “For cocktails.”

He grimaced and then forced his own smile. “Command performance, eh? I’ll put on my best turtleneck.” The wisecrack fizzled too.

Her façade eroded and she looked away.

The hypersonic Air Force One was parked at the edge of the runway in the falling snow, a regular occurrence above the Arctic Circle in November. Hannah drove him out in the company car, an ancient Saab. “She’s running for reelection next year. Don’t trust her; don’t let her take anything more away from you.” Hannah’s head was down but her eyes peeked up through curly bangs, doe-like. “From us…”

“I won’t,” he said, his smile genuine this time.

She smiled back, and when he opened the passenger door she grabbed his face with both hands, jerked his head around, hesitated, then pecked him on the cheek. “For luck.”

Erik met him on the tarmac, cigarillo in hand. “We need her support, Bo. Rumor has it you have some pull.”

“Meaning she regrets stealing a trillion bucks from me?”

“Meaning you have a common…” Erik sighed and laid a hand on Bo’s shoulder. “I mean Rachel, sorry.”

Bo stared back for a moment, but there was no malice in Erik’s azure eyes. “And how is it that your spies ferreted out something the tabloids and her political opponents never did?” Bo asked. Allie’s internet mogul father-in-law had been surprisingly adept at burying those secrets.

“Perhaps luck,” Erik said as he blew a smoke ring. “Perhaps a municipal clerk in Colorado whose grandparents emigrated from Linköping. We also hear there is some bad blood between you two that needs to be put to rest. Please, hear her out.”

White-clad soldiers guarded the plane. A muscle-bound Secret Service agent said, “The President is waiting for you, sir.”

Memories three decades old fired up. The dingy aroma of marijuana. Her muffled screams, a dorm legend the tabloids also had never uncovered. The Saab suddenly seemed very inviting, but Bo allowed himself to be led up the gangway.

“Come in.” Allie had aged since the Senate hearing, her dark face lined, her black hair braided in a simple plait.

“Madam President, I’m honored.”

“Cut the crap, Bo. You’re surprised, probably pissed, but honored? I doubt it.”

“Er, yes, Madam—”

“Use the M word one more time and I’ll have the Broncos’ linebackers…” She gestured to her agents, “toss you in the cargo hold.” She laughed, familiar yet distant.

“You weren’t at the funeral, Allie,” he blurted out. Something he’d wanted to say for years.

“I’m sorry,” she said, a politician selecting her words, “about your daughter. But we had a global crisis that week, as you may recall.”

The one word stung like a giant scorpion, but that was Allie. He’d never understood the why, but at least she remained consistent. Somewhere he still had the stack of papers that she’d signed as casually as if she was selling him a used car. “Rachel was…” He shook her hand on autopilot, his mind reburying skeletons. “She was a good kid.”

“Quite the photojournalist too. I hear she’s up for a Pulitzer.”

And you’re up for reelection. Ambition had always been Allie’s muse. Yet if that was what it took… He locked the thought away.

She pulled him into the Presidential Suite by the cuff of his blazer, closing the door behind them with her foot. For five heartbeats they stared at each other. She lunged forward and hugged him. Bo was unsure how to react until he heard the first sob. He held her, stroking her hair silently as she cried. Just as suddenly she disengaged, plastered her game face back on and motioned for him to sit.

Bo chose an overstuffed chair; she slid off her gray pumps and settled onto a loveseat. A bucket of beer sat on a side table, Coors. Nostalgia? “How’s Jorge?” he asked, to break the silence.

“He hated being First Gentleman for about twenty minutes. You know Jorge.”

Knew. Jorge Hernández had been his best friend at Colorado School of Mines, until Allie had opted for a ten-point boost with future Hispanic voters over a research geologist with an infant daughter. “What do you want?”

“Do you expect me to gloat? To apologize? To seduce you one last time, just to prove I still can?” Her smile was the same.

No, not nostalgia. Coors had been Jorge’s beer too. Bo opened a bottle anyway. “I don’t know what to expect. It’s been three years since the Senate hearings.” Five years, four months and twenty-one days since Rachel’s death. And twenty-nine years, two months and seven days since Allie had walked out. Not that he kept track.

“I know we screwed you. I screwed you. But the country was dying.” Her pace quickened, her eyes defocused, reading from an imaginary teleprompter. “Our electronics industry was comatose. No one could build molecular processors when neodymium was one hundred times more expensive than gold. Our military was bringing guns to a laser fight, and a giant fight was brewing. I couldn’t not do it.”

Did she have the same dream of the People’s Liberation Army marching up Elk Mountain? There was much he wanted to say, but instead he asked again, “What do you want from me?”

“United States Mining.” The post-nationalization moniker for what had been Wainwright Mining. A wry smile. “Go ahead, say it.”

“You already took that.”

“Good, but next time with vitriol.” The smile vanished. “Production is down thirty-two percent, and new deposit finds are off forty percent. The opposition is having fun with that; my generals aren’t.”

“Not my problem,” he said, too quickly.

“We need you back. Your team, your expertise. We desperately need ytterbium, but Elk Mountain’s vein is depleted. It doesn’t matter where—the world is with us—as long as it’s not in China.” She sat up straight, feet slipping back into shoes. “The Chinese just tested a gigawatt particle beam, ytterbium based. Makes the ones they used to raze Hsinchu look like penlights.”

“You expropriated Wainwright Mining. You stole trillions of dollars from me and my shareholders.” His voice was harsh, but the rage that might have been in his words was missing. “Why should I help you?”

“You know why. It’ll be someone else’s daughter next time.”

Bo clenched the beer bottle, silent.

“We have the science and technology; we have the fighter pilots and tank commanders. We just don’t have the raw materials to build these new weapons.” She sighed. “We need your help.”

“Rare earth metals are literally—”

“Yes, I get it. I went to a mining school too, remember. They’re fucking rare. Where can we find another Elk Mountain?” A command embedded in the question.

“I’m a geologist, not a dowser. Wainwright Mining logged thousands of test bores. We spent an obscene amount of money—your words—using the latest technology to seek out new deposits.”

“I have nightmares so bad that I shake. Jorge holds me, but it doesn’t help. I’m drowning with our sailors in the East China Sea; I’m fleeing a firestorm in Seoul with those students.” Allie sucked in a breath through her nose. “I’m in that square in Taipei. Then I awaken and remember I have a responsibility. I put my hand on a hundred-year-old Bible and vowed to defend the country. The people. My people. Every damn one of them.”

You had a responsibility to little Rachel too. You just signed those papers, got Jorge’s father to seal the records and walked away. “And General Lu?”

Her umber eyes bored into him for a long moment, unblinking. “Fourteen.”

“Excuse me?”

“I’ve lost fourteen Special Forces operatives trying to nail his ass. But that’s fucking classified. Where can we find another Elk Mountain?”

He studied the set of her jaw, the clenched fist hidden under her other hand. “You—the American people—own the finest mining company on the planet. The best mining engineers and geophysicists now work for you. Ask them.”

“All but one.” The briefest of smiles.

“I wish you luck.” He was picking his words carefully now. “But I don’t think you’ll find your salvation anywhere on Earth.”

A tap on the door. “Wheels up in five minutes, Madam President.”

She stood. “What will you do on the moon? A little mining perhaps?”

“Take a long-overdue vacation.” he said, smiling awkwardly, fingering Tling beneath his shirt, aware she was watching.

“Bring me back a souvenir.” She gripped his hand for a long moment. “Preferably something rare.”


Lady in Blue

The Swedish Army delivered a huge crate four weeks later. Inside Bo found a sophisticated molecular instrument beyond his ken, a handwritten note and a ring. He asked Clyde to summon his partners, pocketed the ring she’d never returned and took the note out onto the tarmac to read.

Mjöllnir was Thor’s hammer. No, I didn’t know that, I looked it up. Your Mjöllnir isn’t just for mining, is it? It’s a hammer of vengeance too. Don’t take all of your vengeance out on me.



In the bottom right corner of the linen stationery, the number 22 was scrawled in red ink.

The hangar door opened and Hannah entered, a gaunt look on her face. “It’s from Washington, isn’t it?”

“Yes. President Hernández sent presents.” Bo took Hannah’s gloved hand in his, his other hand in his pocket clutching the copper ring, hand-wrought in the materials lab along with his daughter’s cross so many years ago.

Erik joined them, his face equally concerned, the ever-present cigarillo missing from his lips. “Everything all right?”

“Yeah,” Bo said, not convinced. “See what’s in there. Looks like your kind of toy.”

Spectacles drooping from his nose, Erik rooted through the crate. There was no documentation, no markings other than a tiny Made in America insignia. “Need to get it into the lab, but I suspect it is a stealth field generator.”

“Huh?” Hannah asked.

“Think of it as an invisibility cloak.”

“As in cut class without being seen kind of invisibility cloak?” Bo asked.

“As in keep our moon shuttle from being shot down by the Chinese kind of invisibility cloak,” Erik said, without looking up, as he connected a fiber optic cable to the access port. “She knows where we are going, and why. Which means the Chinese do too. If they want to retain their monopoly on advanced military weapons, they will try to stop us.”

“Take it into the warehouse, not the lab. Work on it nights and weekends. Only you. And Ivan, if you can water down his hooch. Doctor the gizmo up to look like something weird. Like a moose shit analyzer.”

“Sure. Moose shit analyzer it is.”

“Do you think you’ve just been mocked?” Hannah asked, after they’d helped Erik load it onto a pallet jack.


That night, Bo padded barefoot down three flights of stairs to the basement of his apartment building. But the heating system utilized a modern natural gas unit, not the coal-fired furnace he’d somehow imagined. On his way back up, he stepped outside and tossed the ring into a moonlit snow bank.

It clanked off an unseen rock, bounced, and disappeared. As he climbed the stairs, he called Hannah. “Uh, it’s me. Would you like to go get a drink, or something?”


“They must have a bar in this one-horse town,” he added. “Okay, it’s a dumb idea.”

“There’s a club across from the railway station. See you in an hour. Dress nice.”

A bouncer with more zits than chin hair eyed Bo’s oxford cloth shirt and blazer skeptically despite the club being half empty. A hundred kronor note—damn near twenty bucks—failed to resolve the issue. “Look, I’m meeting a lady,” Bo said, pissed. His blazer was a Brioni for Chrissakes.

The bouncer said something incomprehensible in Swedish, crossed his arms and shook his shaved head.

“What the—”

“He is a friend of mine,” a male voice said, followed by more Swedish gibberish. Erik, in black leather pants and a purple silk shirt, his arm halfway around the waist of a similarly clad young man half as wide as he was tall.

The bouncer responded rapid-fire, pointing at Bo. They all laughed.

“The cover charge is two hundred kronor,” Erik whispered as his companion pulled him toward the dance floor, still laughing.

Apparently, a lot more folks in town owned black leather pants—or skirts—than Bo would have guessed. And nary a blazer, Brioni or otherwise, in sight. But the lady sitting at the bar in a short blue dress, her bare back to him, took his mind off his multiple faux pas. Bo smiled to himself and surveyed the room, looking for Hannah.

“Hi, Bo.”

He spun around, almost knocking a pink-tinged drink out of her hand. Oh. “Uh, nice dress.” She looked good in blue.

“Thanks. I don’t get to wear it much up here.” She mimicked shivering, a crooked smile on her face. “May I buy you a drink?”

“I don’t suppose I can get a beer?” he asked, smiling back.

“Vodka martini coming right up,” she said, “with a twist.”

He tried unsuccessfully to not watch her sashay to the bar.



“Where landing zone, Moonman?” Ivan asked. The former cosmonaut had sobered up, but his English was worse than his Swedish. He was taller than Bo, his brown crew cut tucked under an imitation Stetson. “War big ass now.” The prime minister’s fears had been justified, with Sweden and the European Union reluctantly joining the United States and Russia in declaring war on China. A war the Chinese were winning.

“We need to choose, Bo,” Hannah said. It was three weeks until launch and they still hadn’t selected a landing site. The first set down would be at Tranquility Labs, just before nightfall local time. Once the terminator line passed them into a fortnight-long darkness, they would deploy Sleipnir, Erik’s latest brainchild. A hybrid rover slash short hop rocket, Sleipnir emitted neither heat nor an electromagnetic signature, thanks to CO2-based boosters—waste product from the oxygen recyclers—and Allie’s stealth generator.

During Bo’s first lunar sojourn, he’d prospected across the Sea of Tranquility, finding Tling just inside the lip of the Moltke crater. They would revisit that small lode first, to stock up on enough ytterbium to power the Sleipnir and the hydrostatic extractors. Tling’s size notwithstanding, there weren’t enough rare earth metals in the lode to satisfy Stockholm, much less Washington.

Not enough to avenge Rachel.

“Like I told the President, I’m no dowser,” Bo said.

Clyde appeared on the small wall screen, his bow tie askew. “Which is why we have been doing remote spectral analysis for years. Erik has reengineered everything and Hannah has jerry-rigged the financing of this entire boondoggle. Ivan is even sober, mostly. Now you, sir, need to sit down and review the data, run the equations. Dowse if you need to. But find us that bloody lode. Sir.” Clyde retreated back to the corner, his upper lip quivering. “Sorry.”

Every eye stared at Bo. “Okay. I’ll need the differential equation solver installed, a pot of coffee and a little booze,” Bo said.

Clyde took care of the software; Erik made Swedish coffee thick enough to chew. Ivan donated a half-empty bottle of vodka. “Was my babushka’s,” Ivan said. “Moonman drink.”

“You sure?” Bo asked. The dusty bottle still had a CCCP tax stamp on it. “This is damn near priceless.”

Da. You find metals, pardner.” Ivan tipped his hat to Hannah and sauntered out the door.

Hannah stood quietly behind him as he attacked inverting first matrix. Her hand rested on his shoulder as he hunched over the drafting table. He felt her lips graze the top of his head before she padded out of the office. The vestiges of a smile remained on his face for hours.

Three days, ten pots of coffee and four fingers of disgustingly-good vodka later, Bo solved the last equation and drew a circle on a digital map. As he trudged back up Kiruna’s main street to his flat, his phone rang.

“You okay, Bo?” Hannah asked.

“Yup. I know where I’m going now.”

“Do we have a landing site?”

“I figured that out too. How about dinner tonight?”

“You haven’t slept in days.” Silence for a dozen steps. “Take a hot shower while I pick up takeout.”

He quickened his pace. “I’ll leave the door unlocked.”

She let herself in long before he was out of the shower. They ate the kebabs for breakfast.



On their final orbit before reentering the Earth’s atmosphere, Clyde popped up onto the nav screen of Mjöllnir. “Sir, Chinese Space Command is hailing us.”

“From Wenchang?” Bo asked. The Chinese equivalent of Kiruna, only ten times larger.

“No. From their new space frigate.” The screen showed a stub-winged spacecraft the size of a shuttle bristling with weapons.  “Over Guam, sir, headed east fast. We’ll still be fifteen kilometers above the atmosphere when they intercept us.”

“So much for our stealth generator,” Hannah said. “I told you not to trust her.”

“It is impossible to conceal the retro-rocket burns, ma’am,” Clyde said, a touch defensively.

“Call home, Clyde,” Bo said.

An unfamiliar voice responded, “Kiruna Control.”

“Where the hell is Erik?”

Another voice, older but familiar. “This is the prime minister. Erik’s body was found outside an hour ago. Murdered.”

One smoking break too many. “Damn. What happened?”

“He was garroted. Statspolisen apprehended a female suspect on Interpol’s watch list. A Chinese national. You should assume Chinese Space Command knows your flight plan. Communications are likely compromised—” The ground channel went dead.

“We need to start reentry, now,” Hannah said.

“We’re nearly four thousand kilos overweight, ma’am,” Clyde said. They were heavily laden with rare earth ore from a month on the lunar surface. “If we commence reentry now, there is a ninety-nine point two percent probability of immolation in the atmosphere.”

“God help us,” Bo said.“Open an external comm channel. Let’s find a better plan.”

A silver-haired taikonaut filled the screen, the scar blackened now.“This is General Lu Yang Xuan, commanding the space frigate Zhenghe. Heave to and prepare to be boarded.”

Bo stared. Hannah grabbed his hand, her grip an iron vise.

“Sonny Bitch from photograph?” Ivan asked.

“Yes,” Hannah said. “It’s the SOB.”

“This is the Swedish merchant spacecraft Mjöllnir. We know who the hell you are.”

“I know you too, Dr. Wainwright. We have been tracking your mission since Kiruna. I trust you have brought me some. . . souvenirs.” A faint chuckle.

“You murdered my daughter. Go fuck yourself.” Bo flung his headset at the image of the general frozen on the screen. So much for a better plan.

“I’d rather burn up over Mongolia than let the bastard seize our cargo,” Hannah said, as she latched her safety harness. “And I’m not going to rot in prison in the middle of the Gobi Desert.”

“Have shit-crazy idea.” Ivan pointed at the main screen. “Make spaceship picture again.”

Clyde complied.

Zhenghe just stupid-ass copy of twentieth-century Soviet Buran design,” Ivan said, still pointing. “Beached whale with nasty teeth.”

“Meaning it’s not very maneuverable?” Hannah asked.


“Meaning we can ram him.” Bo squeezed Hannah’s hand. “Shit-crazy and stupid-ass and it just might work.”

“We are weaponless,” Clyde said.“We shall all be dead long before we impact Zhenghe.”

“Can it evade us if we close under maximum acceleration?”

Zhenghe is armed with neodymium lasers, sir.”

“That’s not what I asked. Can the Zhenghe fucking evade us?”

“I understood the question, sir.” Clyde squared his shoulders and strode to the center of the heads-up display. “The lasers cannot vaporize Mjöllnir, or the cargo, and Ivan’s metaphor is correct as to the space frigate’s maneuverability. But it is suicide. Sir.”

“Our options seem to be a fireball, prison, or a fireball and glory,” Bo said, the lump in his throat growing. Hannah clenched his hand between hers. “You didn’t sign up for this.”

She leaned over and kissed him hard on the mouth. “Yes, I did. And I would have married you, had you asked. Let’s send the bastard to hell.”


The maneuvering thrusters gave his response. Mjöllnir yawed to starboard, giving them a brief look at Wyoming as they completed a hundred-and-eighty-degree course change.

Clyde displayed the radar image of the two spacecraft headed toward each other.“Sir, I have four new tracks.”

“More Chinese?” Bo asked. The moon shuttle vibrated as Ivan increased power to the main rocket engine.

“Doubtful. They are rising up from Nevada,” Clyde said. The radar showed the four new dots converging on the space frigate. “Interceptors.”

Clyde toggled the virtual telescope, and 3D animations of all six spacecraft replaced the dots. But they were close enough to see Zhenghe. A green flash, and one of the interceptors exploded. More bolts of green lightning. Mjöllnir’s starboard wing shuddered. Ivan put Mjöllnir into a steep dive toward the upper atmosphere, wingtips glowing, air frame trembling. Another interceptor vanished from the 3D display. Ivan pulled the stick back. “Still ram Sonny Bitch?” he asked as the third interceptor split into two pieces, one narrowly missing the space frigate.

“Fuck yes,” Bo said. The underbelly of the space frigate was growing in the forward view screen, not translating across. They were lined up. For Rachel.

“Giddyap,” Ivan said as he slammed the throttle forward. The booster rocket ignited, pinning them back in their acceleration couches. Twin laser turrets, appended to the frigate like medieval bartizans, rotated, coming to bear on Mjöllnir. Ivan barrel rolled but kept the throttle redlined.

“Impact in eight seconds,” Clyde said. “Please brace.”

The last interceptor screamed past them, corkscrewing wildly. Zhenghe’s turrets pivoted again. The lasers fired, missed, and fired again. A small explosion amputated the port wing of the interceptor. Streaming globules of fuel, the interceptor slammed into the space frigate’s cockpit. Even across the vacuum of space, the explosion rocked Mjöllnir like it was a canoe in a battleship’s wake. All that remained was a rapidly-expanding cloud of debris.

“Abort,” Bo and Hannah yelled together.

“Yee haw.” Ivan waved an imaginary hat as he put Mjöllnir into an Immelmann loop.

“Find a way down that doesn’t involve fireballs. I’ve a ring to forge.” Bo already had the center stone. Not Tling, for that had been used to power Sleipnir, but a modest cousin, as of yet unpolished. He squeezed Hannah’s hand.

“This calls for drink.” Ivan pulled what was left of Babushka’s vodka from his flight bag.

“Let’s land first,” Hannah said. “I think I’m gonna hurl.”

Bo squeezed her hand again. She squeezed back.

When they were safely through the atmosphere, he placed the call. “Madam President, Allie, it’s Bo.”

“You’re headed home.” She sounded haggard, a war president who’d lost two stars from her nation’s flag.

“We owe you thanks, I suspect.”

“You owe thanks to the families of the pilots who volunteered for a one-way mission. I’ll lose sleep over them too. But not right now. Did you bring me any souvenirs?”

“We’ll be landing at Edwards shortly. Six metric tons of rare earth metals for you; the rest for our Swedish friends. More each month once the robo-freighters are online. Oh, and we’ll be sending you a big invoice.” He winked half-heartedly at Hannah.

“Whatever. But is there ytterbium? I have two dreadnoughts to christen.”

“A ton and a half.”

“Good. My admirals were worried the Hawaii and the Alaska would have to go to war armed with iron cutlasses and bronze cannons.”

“Allie, you also got General Lu.”

“I know.” A pause.“Twenty-six through twenty-nine.”

Thirty, including Erik. “Thank God that tally is final.”

“Amen.” Another pause. “Congratulations on your pending nuptials.”

“You bugged my ship?”

A sparse laugh. “You left your comm link open. Godspeed.”


Our Daughter

By the time Bo reached Wyoming from Denver International Airport, it was well past midnight. The roads were icy in places, with a spring snow starting to fall. The only sound was the whump, whump of the rental car’s wipers as they struggled to lift each load of wet snow up and over. He barely recognized the turnoff to the mine. The granite monument sign was gone, replaced with a rusty Government Property, Keep Out plate nailed to a lodgepole pine. When he reached the Elk Mountain cemetery, he doused his headlights and rolled down the window, coasting noiselessly beside the wrought iron fence. By the time he parked, his shoulder was already covered in snow, so he left his old topcoat in the car. With a little fiddling, he jimmied the padlock on the gate.

The snowfall subsided as Bo trudged through the Elk Mountain cemetery, just a few large flakes floating down. A wilted bouquet rested in the lee of Rachel’s headstone. “You have a little brother now, Kiddo,” he said. head bowed. “Robert Hector Marie Deion Wainwright-Jacobs. Yeah, all those names are gonna be murder in school, especially the one, but we named him after the four pilots who saved us. You’d like his mother too. She’s smart, pretty and, well, there.”

“As I should’ve been.” A voice from behind him.

Bo froze. Remembering to breathe, he slowly turned. “Hello, Allie.”

She wore a gray snowsuit, her hair tied off in a tight ponytail, a matching ski cap covering her head.“Hello, Bo.”

“What brings you to Wyoming?” he asked. She held another bouquet of flowers in her bare hands. Columbines, the state flower of Colorado. Oh. “Oh.”

“We installed an emergency command bunker under Elk Mountain when the ore vein petered out, but that was just a front. Presidential privilege and all that crap. I try to make it here every month or so. We’re winning, you know.”

The change of subject was sudden but not unexpected. Same old Allie. He waited.

“The Second Battle of Anchorage was a decisive victory, thanks to the new dreadnoughts. As a result, India joined the Alliance and opened a third front.” She knelt by Rachel’s grave. A burly agent draped a winter camo jacket over her shoulders and retreated into the dark. Her voice dropped. “We just launched a new class of stealth cruisers. The first ship of that class sailed from Bremerton last week.”

“Armed with neodymium lasers, I hope?”

“I can’t say. The ship is so secret even her stern carries no name. But in the captain’s safe, her papers read the USS Rachel Wainwright.”

“You named a ship after my daughter?”

A thin gap in the clouds revealed a crescent moon. Allie laid the fresh bouquet before the headstone and pressed her bare palm to the frozen earth. “I named an entire class of ships after our daughter.”


C.R. Hodges writes speculative fiction, from ghost stories to urban fantasy to science fiction. Over thirty of his short stories have been published in markets such as EscapePod, Cicada, and On the Premises, and he is a first-prize winner of the Writer’s Digest Popular Fiction Award, the Colorado Gold Rush Literary Award, and the Pikes Peak Writers Zebulon Fiction Award. When he isn’t writing or playing the euphonium, he runs a product design company in Colorado.

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One Response to The Rare Earth War

  1. Paul Carlson says:

    Technothrillers are popular, and too many of them are boilerplate.
    This one’s brief, almost too much so, in fitting the requirement. It could easily be a page-turner of a novel.

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