The Radicals JM Dragon © 2004 by J M Dragon e-mail: jmdragon
Love/Sex: This story features relationships between adult women. If this bothers you, is illegal in the State, Province or Country you live or if you are under the age of 18, find something else to read. There are loads of general stories out there.
Two years previously…
The lighting dimmed momentarily as the immense power required for the test cycle on the equipment began. A transportation crisis loomed dangerously over present day humanity and this was one of the few possibilities left as a saviour. After years, no decades of research, today could be the culmination of two generations of trial and error, by the Cameron family. Success could finally be in their grasp.
Two soldiers waited patiently inside the tunnel each with a lightweight wristband strapped to their forearms. Their stances were solid and unmoving and their facial expressions were blank. Silence appeared to be a dominant prerequisite for this event.
In the console room, the military’s top brass stood at the back of the room silently observing the state of affairs. Perhaps silence was something they drilled into recruits at the military academy. Next to them were two suits who annoyingly clicked pens thus proving that government people never have patience. Several technicians were seated in front of consoles monitoring every function, from the equipment about to be tested to the life signs of the subjects who were their guinea pigs.
“Al, are we set?” Jim Fever, the co-director of the project, asked his opposite number. His voice held quiet excitement while his hands were rubbed eagerly together in expectation.
Alana Cameron glanced around her as she stretched her slight body in her chair; hours of console work, especially on a test day took its toll on the body. “Yes, diagnostics show green. DNA formulation match confirmed we are as ready as we will ever be.” Her voice resounded with confidence in a deliberate show for the suits as she tried to hide her usual cautiousness. She had to give the people providing the funds for the research no reason to have any doubts in the programme.
Jim Fever twisted to face the military top brass and signalled they had a green light. One of the men, with an impressive array of medals and other imposing insignia adorning his uniform, stepped forward. From where Alana sat, she figured he was the highest-ranking officer amongst the soldiers present.
“Captain Tranter will start the experiment...she enters before Major Lane .” The man didn’t change his impassive expression as he issued what he deemed a simple order.
Jim turned to Alana who shook her head. “Sorry General, that isn’t possible. The sequence has begun and the major was programmed for initial entry first.”
Clicking his heels was the only sign he was annoyed at the comment. He moved back to stand in line with the other military personnel. “Carry on.”
“Excuse me Director Fever, I’m new to this programme, exactly what are we going to achieve today that we haven’t previously?” one of the suits asked. The derisive glance shot in his direction was measured with as much precision as hitting a target at point blank range from a laser rifle.
Jim looked heavenward. They had less than two minutes before the experiment began. Why can’t they ever send the same person from the bureau? He failed to understand that on any level.
“Allow me to introduce Professor Cameron, my co-director. She will explain everything. Please Al, if you would be so kind as to provide the eminent gentlemen from the CIA the short version.
Raising her eyes towards the man, she snorted softly. Jesus, this happens every damn time !
“The project is simple really...we are trying to harness a dimension outside the ones we are familiar with and propel a person in a matter of microseconds distances we can only dream about.”
“Where is this team going?” The agent noted something on his clipboard returning an owl like gaze back at the woman.
“Oh not far. Only the perimeter of the compound where we have personnel monitoring every inch and they will report the microsecond they appear.”
About to ask more, the general in charge whispered something to the man and his mouth closed like a trap door immediately.
“Twenty seconds Professor,” the technician at her side announced abruptly. Alana turned swiftly back to the task in hand. This was the most crucial time of the experiment and she forgot the rest of the people in the room and concentrated on what she did best - her work.
Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one… Major Lane now.” Her softly spoken words travelled like an echo through a tunnel in the console room, much as the personnel were about to do. For a brief moment, the major in question gave the woman soldier at his side a sneer before pressing the switch to begin the experiment…
~ ~ ~
“It’s time.” Alistair Cameron pulled at his long handled moustache in thought as he scanned the final figures handed to him by his co-inventor, who also happened to be his wife.
There would be no going back. Faye Cameron knew that after fifteen years of research and numerous failures, today they actually believed that their idea would work. As always, she was cautious although now she asked the only question that was important to her right now. “Are you sure Alistair? When we sent the chimp, it was a disaster. How can you be sure today will be any more fruitful?”
He smiled indulgently at his wife; she was a wonderful scientist and far superior to him in many fields. Her caution at critical times like these was her undoing. It was probably why they teamed up so well. He didn’t have any trepidation of the unknown, which to him was the most exciting part of what they were doing. “Because my dear, we’ve designed the whole mechanism around human DNA not chimpanzee. Although chimps are closely related it is not enough, I’m afraid, to make the prototype work.”
“We should make another model and try it out on the chimp again." She saw his brow furl. "I know...I know you say we haven’t the funds, but I’d rather have you alive than…well you know, we can start again somewhere else,” she said tentatively. She held back the emotions that she knew would upset her husband. She’d already pleaded with him for the last month to yield. He’d been adamant and once he had the bee in his bonnet, there was no turning back. She had to accept his wishes after all we do need to take this step, her logical mind said as it took over.
“Trust me darling before you know it I’ll be back. Then we’ll have proven our theories correct and be the toast of the science world. Oh and have the champagne ready that we’ve been keeping on ice, I feel it in my bones that today is the day.” Grinning he bent to kiss the worried frown on her forehead...she was such a worrywart and rightly so, one of them had to be, two children depended on them. This had to work all of the money from their personal savings had been sunk into this project. No way did he want to be remembered by his children as a mad scientist who had left them penniless. At the end of the day, her fears were understandable but who else could he send. No one in his or her right mind would take the chance of being disintegrated if the experiment failed. The only people remotely interested had been the military and he refused to become their puppet. No, he was doing the right thing and history would record it so. He was as certain of that as he was about the day he met Faye and fell in love at first glance.
Clipping on the power pack, which weighed about the same as a soldier’s complete backpack, he left the console area and entered the vacuum-sealed entrance. Once he was in the tunnel where the experiment would take place, he waved his hand to acknowledge he was ready. Words were no longer necessary as the three other technicians all looked at the man in differing degrees of awe, admiration and fear of the unknown. Each member of the team knew there was a potential for failure and the consequence of a malfunction was death.
For a split second more, his gaze lingered on his wife’s head. Her focus was now on the panel making sure everything was green for go. His wrist panel flickered to life as a green glow emanated from it and he smiled slowly. This is my life’s work and it is going to work. Confidently he pressed the start button to begin the sequence…
~ ~ ~
Jim Fever watched from his vantage point of an office of glass above the console room. He could monitor everything that happened without actually being in there. As he did, his eyes strayed as usual to the woman who worked endlessly on the project to make it work. Her devotion had proven highly successful but a part of him felt responsible for the constant pressure she put on herself. Unfortunately, with the way things were now, he didn’t have the luxury of dwelling on that point. After the problems of two years ago, they had managed to remain in charge of the project by the skin of their teeth. This was primarily because no one knew the technology or the theory behind the project as well as the woman scanning streams of data for any glitches before the next transport.
She had insisted that if she remained so would he. Her championing of him had made him feel guilty since, at the time, he had been more than happy to leave her to the baying of the military wolves. He had a scientific mind that logically told him someone had to be sacrificed and for him, Alana Cameron fortunately didn’t believe such things. He had remarkably been appointed senior project director above Alana six months earlier. His appetite for success regardless of the cost to human life had been the winning factor. The general in charge of the budget for the research had personally approved him and he wasn’t going to say no, he had ambition too. Standing up, he switched on the intercom. “Al, I need you up here will you spare me a minute.”
Alana glanced up irritated before waving a hand indicating she would be there. True to her word, the woman arrived in his office a few minutes later.
“Jim, what can I do for you?” Her grey slate eyes surveyed the room, it was smart and had every possible technological gadget offered. The top seat wasn’t for her; however, she knew this man relished the status symbol. He was welcome to the trappings, all she wanted was to achieve her goal and they were as close now as they had ever been. The project was damn near perfect except for the fine-tuning. Maybe once this was over she could resume her own life. At thirty-three, she still had time to do something other than sitting and reading scientific data all day long. What that would entail she hadn’t a clue. This project had been her life long before she even knew it had taken control; it was in the genes.
“Alana, we haven’t had a chat for awhile I thought we should catch up.” The man smiled warmly. They had known each other for over ten years and had worked together well he felt.
Giving him a suspicious glance, she frowned, making her plain features plainer still if that were possible. The last time he requested a pep talk she hadn’t liked what he was going to say and today would be no different. “Okay, what shall we talk about?”
“Coffee, do you want a coffee?” Jim stood up and went over to the machine, dispensing himself a hot drink realising he had offered the wrong drink. “Sorry Al, how about iced tea?”
“How about you cut to the chase and tell me what you have in mind?” Her expression was faintly indulgent although the undercurrent of seriousness was never far behind.
“Ah…my dear Al you know me way too well.” The man sat back at the head of his large desk that doubled as a conference table.
“Yep, okay what’s the deal; our friends from the establishment have another agenda?” Her cynical response had her colleague coughing nervously.
Clearing his throat, he smiled sheepishly, “You do know me well Al. Do you recall the experiment two years ago…?”
“Hey don’t go there Jim, it was painful enough at the time.”
“Look it wasn’t our fault I don’t know why you beat yourself up so much about it.”
“Because it was my project and I pushed the final button. If those bastards want to play God again with my ‘baby’ they can take a flying leap into the nearest…nearest cow dung.” The angry response was expected, however the venom was a surprise, never expecting such a response from her, she was the most placid person he had ever met in his life.
“Al, please, it isn’t like the last time you have to trust me. Besides, you can’t say they haven’t been true to their word since then. You wanted non-interference and that’s what you got. Please for me, no, for the project, I need you to be part of the team. Hell Al, you are the team for most of the time.”
“Yeah pull the other one it has bells on, I’ve heard all this before.” Who is he trying to fool? She had seen the additional experiments carried out in the last couple of months. They were always when she wasn’t on shift, which wasn’t often, but she was human and did need to sleep.
“Look I know you hate the military, but we need the funding and they are the only ones who are prepared to give us the dollars and the …guinea pigs to work with.”
“With their underhand tactics I have every right to distrust them. My father was right and I should have respected his wishes.”
“If you had, his dreams would never have evolved. Then your parent’s life work, not to mention yours, would be only a glimpse of what could have been, rather than what is. In my opinion you made the best call, the only call.”
Giving the man a scathing stare she had to admit he was right in some aspects. Her parent’s work would still be in storage packed away like all the other memories of who they were and what they stood for. After their mother’s death, her brother had wanted to incinerate the volumes of notes that had accumulated in their research together. She had defied his wishes and secretly arranged for them to be stored where he wouldn’t find them. At nineteen and in her first year at college she hadn’t the means to do anything else. Upon graduation with a physics honours degree, she wiped away the dust and read every single notation they had made. Her saddest moments were reading the final entries her mother had ever made on the subject - her father’s death. He had tried out the project on himself and died in the attempt. Her heart bled at their misfortune, but her scientific mind dragged her further away from emotional issues to visualise what her parents had seen. A whole change in the way life could be lived if they could enhance dimensional energy.
There would be no more waiting around for the doctor to arrive in emergencies and accidents on the road would be outdated because travel in that mode would become obsolete. Her parents had such high hopes and a philanthropic attitude to how the discovery should be used for everyone. It was never intended for the sole purpose of the armed forces, which is where it would probably end up now. It had taken her two years and all the money she possessed and could borrow to reach the next stage. She had come farther than her parents thanks to improved technology. Though she felt somewhat abashed to think it, her own theories linked with her parents had been the key. A fresh mind on a subject often had startling results and in this case, they had.
Then, she’d done exactly what her father had and become an integral part of the experiment. If it failed then she would end up like her father, dead, but who would even know or care. The criteria for the experiment hadn’t failed as drastically as it had in her father’s case but it had failed. The failure had changed her life completely by creating crippling medical bills and no money with which to pay them. This caused far-reaching conclusions the least of which was the insertion of the military machine.
“Al, please listen to me it’s important.”
She dragged herself out of the memories that flooded back, many of which she wanted to forget forever. “Okay I’m paying attention, what do they want us to do?”
Hearing the resignation in her voice, he knew she would agree. What real choice does she have if she wants to remain in the loop? “They want to send a team out on a mission and need our help.”
Her fingers drummed her anger as she glared at him. “I expressly said there was no way this would be used in such a way it was part of the deal I made with them. They can’t do that. Don’t think I haven’t noticed the extra tests you’ve organised without my approval.”
Damn, so she had known about his increased testing. He couldn’t get anything by her eagle eyes. “I know the parameters of the deal you made Al, however this is different. We aren’t talking about the devil here we are talking about our world’s military.”
She snorted at his attempt to make her see the innocence in the request. The consortium, as she called them, didn’t have an innocent bone in their collective bodies. “They can’t and that’s final.”
“It’s a mercy mission Al, isn’t that one of the reasons for the discovery? Your father would be happy to sanction it if he knew all the facts.” Jim pleaded with her inner sense of right and wrong. It didn’t do any harm to his cause to bring her family into the discussion.
Her father had wanted it to be used to help people. Will I get the truth or a sham of a tale to engage my help? “Tell me about this mission.”
“I knew you’d see it my way, let’s have lunch and I’ll fill you in on the details.”
Groaning at the thought of being away from her work for too long she agreed reluctantly. She hoped it would be a short lunch and not one of his three hour feasts.
~ ~ ~
“The general will see you now Major Tranter.” The first lieutenant opened the door to the room with a brisk action waiting for her to follow inside so he could shut the door behind her.
Tranter walked forward from her silent position waiting in the corridor. Her eyes were constantly watching the area never missing anything that moved in the vicinity, or the officer who was now showing her into the lion’s den. She took in every single action he made from the blinking of his eyelids to the tapping of his fingers on the computer console and the nervous shifting of his body in his chair. She knew he was edgy of her, they all were, and arguably with just cause. Ignorance deemed to be bliss in some quarters and the man she was about to meet had hoodwinked everyone into making it so.
Entering the room, she glanced around. It was a typical top brass office suite with a large walnut desk, adorned with the odd photograph and a stack of official looking papers. She was certain he was no more likely to read them than she was. Various hologram presentations amassed two walls, practically covering any decoration that was underneath. The third wall held pride of place the American flag, underneath a smaller World Order flag with its simple depiction of the globe enfolded in ethereal arms signalling security. Still, it didn’t make sense to her that they had the idea that the world was secure with no wars yet they continued to spend billions of dollars on the military machine. She couldn’t complain because it was her life.
“You wanted to see me General?” she saluted the man she loathed. In her opinion, he no more deserved the accolades on the walls than the politicians who had seen fit to bestow them on him,
“Ah yes Major Tranter.” The general stared hard at the woman. She was quite something and a credit to the programme he had spent the last thirty years perfecting. In the last five years, it had finally become a viable option for world peace. It ensured that the hundreds of billions of dollars of taxpayer’s credits hadn’t gone to waste.
“General.” She acknowledged him as her inky blue eyes traded hard stares equally with the man.
He stood up to his six feet three height. He was a distinguished man especially in uniform although out of it his wife had said no one would give him a second glance he was just the average Joe. Once he donned the suit, he emanated a strength that paralyzed some into fear of what he was capable. “Major, I read the report of your last mission you are to be congratulated.”
Tranter frowned slightly. Her stocky body was coiled like a cobra ready to spring into action as her CO supplied the pleasantries. This could only mean another mission and a covert one at that if the general asked to see her personally. “Sir, do you have another mission?”
Narrowing his eyes, the man walked around his desk and stood menacingly close to the soldier. She may have been a subordinate but her arrogant attitude said otherwise. The basic principles of the Air Force were drilled into the candidates although with the new breed their tolerance for irrelevance was limited. Small talk wasn’t part of their natural skills and was a small price to pay for having the likes of her at his command. “Straight to the point as usual Major.”
“Sir.” She dismissed his remark cynically as she waited for him to relate her mission.
“Good, the point of our meeting today is I do have another important secret mission.”
Tranter flicked her eyes towards the man who loomed next to her. He might intimidate others but not her; she could take him out in a few choice moves and he knew it. Fortunately, for him, she did understand and respect the chain of command. Another mission now there’s a surprise. It must be a little different or I wouldn’t be here Colonel Rivers usually gives the orders to the unit. “Has Colonel Rivers been briefed sir?”
The general smiled at the question. Rivers was a fine officer and would eventually go far, probably take over from him one day if he played his cards right and with the right players. Fortunately, he’d seen it his way two years ago when one of his other secret pet projects had unfortunately gone array. “Rivers is aware of the situation. I felt under the circumstances that I should be the one to…ask if you wanted this mission.”
Cocking her shaved head to one side, she listened intently to an inflection that would give this man away. She had to admit he was good. One usually didn’t quite hit the punch line before him but one day she would it was just a matter of time. “I’m at your command General.” He knew damn well there were no choices for soldiers like her; there was merely obedience.
“Two years ago you may recall the test environment that you and Major Lane participated in?” He watched like a hawk her reactions. Physiological profiles apart he had never actually seen her response to this question.
“Yes.” The clipped single word made him step away as it punctured his body like a dart from a blowgun. Hmm, she didn’t like that question, good, very good.
“And from what you recollect from the event, do you have any problem with entering the same environment?”
For a few moments, Tranter digested the question. She had the correct debriefing session at the time of the original event and anything she had felt regarding the failed mission was logged and accessible to the general. Why is he asking this irrelevant question? “No problem sir. You order my unit executes.”
“I see, this annoys you perhaps?” He saw the highly controlled body move only a fraction but that fraction gave him the advantage of knowing he had hit a sore spot. No matter how hard these soldiers were, there had to be an Achilles heel. They hadn’t quite figured out the perfect solution though over time they would. Each batch gained more than the last thus coming closer to perfection.
“Frustration only, Sir.”
“Is that because the mission failed and it is the only failure you have ever been involved in or is it because Major Lane never came back?”
Tranter bristled at the question. True, it was her only failed mission but she hadn’t been party to that failure. The technicians, scientists whatever they chose to be called were negligent, as was Lane who deserved to perish. I didn’t and that was the thought that whizzed in her brain as she considered her answer carefully.
“The failure was not of my making, it was a technical oversight.”
“You died in that test though didn’t you Tranter? Does your subconscious recall how that felt?” The general had the upper hand for only a short time until the soldier reasserted her own inner power.
“Vague recollections General, it’s all in the report that I made after the event.”
He waved his hand dismissing the answer. He obviously wasn’t going to get a rise from this soldier, another time perhaps. “I want you to use the equipment again. Since the event two years ago, there has been a ninety-five percent success rate and there will be no mistakes this time around, trust me. You are the most experienced in this field therefore I felt you should be the one to command the mission.”
“Yes sir, what’s the mission?”
He grinned and turned his back. These Radicals can always be relied on to soak up any scrap of emotional crap. Veiled affection is all they ever got and it always suits the purpose.
“Anvil Four has malfunctioned we need you and another to take the required hardware to the space station, install it and return. The crew onboard the station will take it from there; the mission isn’t difficult.” The general punched a button on the flat computer console and a hologram appeared in the centre of the room, screening the station and its current orbit. “Do you have any observation to make on the task ahead?”
“Why not send a computer technician, why a soldier?”
“Smart question Major, I have been reliably informed that sabotage might be at the heart of the crisis aboard the vessel. Sending a technician wouldn’t send the right message, a soldier would.”
“You want the perpetrator to know that you are aware of them.”
“Yes, exactly. The Anvil project is important to the world senators; they believe having all weapons of mass destruction floating in space, away from …unstable forces here on earth, important, very important. I’m sure you will agree that keeping the people happy and peaceful allows us to do our job without interference.”
“I understand the situation Sir. If the person who may have sabotaged the station decides not to keep their identity quiet do you want me to dispose of them accordingly?” Tranter felt there was more to this mission than had been said. She wasn’t impressed with the mode of transport selected for them. It really didn’t matter she was a soldier who abided by the rules…some of them anyway.
“You may take whatever action you deem necessary Major. I’ll have the mission brief coded for your eyes only.” Walking back and sitting down at his desk the general smiled briefly. “Oh, you can chose who you take with you from your current team.”
Tranter was being dismissed she heard it in his tone. “General.” She saluted her superior and left the room with a click of polished boots.
Picking up the phone, the general connected to another number. “We have a green light at my end, are you ready?” Whatever was said at the other end pleased the general as his lips curled into a thin smile.
“Excellent, I’ll watch the transition personally. Expect me at twelve hundred hours.” Disconnecting the line, he stared at the mission docket on his desk. If only all my soldiers were as pliable as Tranter or as bloody good, I wouldn’t be taking this action. Such a pity some have to be dispensable for the higher cause.
He barked enter and his aide walked in with a data stream. “From Anvil Two, Sir. They will be in position in three days.”
“Ah very good, I’ll reply personally to Cransky. When is my appointment with the chief?”
Consulting his data diary the younger soldier replied efficiently, “fourteen hundred hours today, you are free until that time.”
Dismissing the man with a shake of his peppered grey head, he picked up the files on his desk. He summarily looked at each one for ten seconds before depositing them in the outbox; his aide could do the leg work and summarise the contents for him.
Prior to leaving the aide asked, “Shall I bring in your coffee now, General?”
~ ~ ~
Denise Tranter left the general’s office speed along the narrow administration corridor ignoring the stares of several of the lower ranked personnel. Quite a few shuffled quickly away from her position retreating with a furtive glance in her direction. She was used to it and even had her idea of fun with a feral stare of her own that she had mastered. It quite scared the shit out of many of them.
Having spent all of her life on this particular site it was home to her. The only time she ever saw the outside world was when she was sent on missions. To her, the outside world was like living permanently in a nightmare. She preferred the high concrete walls and laser-enforced fences to what laid outside the walls. Many of the people on the other side didn’t even believe that people like her existed and thought they were only the stuff science fiction was made of. Let them I don’t care. All that mattered to her and her only goal in life was that she lived for the next mission and completed it successfully.
Opening the exit door into the glare of the early morning sunlight, she smiled, loving the feel of the heat of the sun on her bronzed skin. Flicking back her head, she felt the bristle of a new growth of hair on her neck. It is time for another head shave but first I need to choose who is going on the mission with me.
As her booted feet crunched on the gravel before hitting the tarmac, her strident march changed to a light tap, tap, as she headed towards her objective the First Elite barrack’s room. Crossing over the compound’s main drive area, she glanced at the sign posted in front of the solitary building. It was stark in appearance, serviceable some would say, which was exactly how they liked it.
Radiation. Anatomical. DNA. Infusion. Contribution. Armed. Level.
First Elite Barracks
Quite a mouthful, shortened to Radicals, and in many ways it suited them well, at least this arm of the project. There were three others, science, medical, and commerce, each based on different continents, it kept the power brokers of the world happy. Western Europe had science, Eastern Europe medical, and Asia produced the commercial personnel.
Passing the sign, Tranter entered the building and walked over to the main briefing room, pressing a small switch to summon all personnel in the barracks. Within two minutes, everyone that was not allocated a mission arrived in the room. She surveyed her fellow brethren some would say brothers and sisters in arms, without sentiment. They had been born in the same lab that was all, quite calculating and therefore emotion involvement wasn’t part of the structure.
Sergeant Lewis growled out as clear as a bell, “all personnel present and accounted for.” He then saluted Major Tranter who was the head of this particular group. No one had made it any higher in the ranks; somehow, before promotions they were fatally injured and terminated. The major had climbed the ranks higher than anyone of their kind had before. Some felt that the powers behind the concrete curtain might be finally agreeing that their particular expertise was needed in the world. At least that would explain why Tranter had been allowed to climb the ladder of opportunity.
“At ease. I’ve been summoned by the general for another mission.” A groan went up in the room that held five men and four other women. They all wanted action and she’d been on the last dangerous tryst. “I need a volunteer.” As she expected, all the hands of those present rose in the air. She nodded her head in acknowledgment of their enthusiasm.
“Private Stark, be ready by eleven hundred. The rest of you I’ll see tomorrow and don’t forget we have that challenge with B command coming up. We all know what we want out of that, don’t we?”
The disappointed members of the unit who were rallied to another cause readily responded with shouts of, “To win, win, win, no option but to win.”
The words echoed in the room as they filed out all except Sergeant David Lewis.
“I see he chose only the best once more. From the stats I uploaded most any of the team can handle it, why you again?”
Tranter smiled slowly, her eyes crinkling cynically. “As usual you’ve read my mail Sergeant.” A quip neither of them took seriously as the man narrowed his gaze and gave her a closer look.
“Maybe, he doesn’t like you. Makes you wonder if he’s not telling you everything, I’d be careful Major, he inevitably sends you to a hellish situation. Did he provide any more information than the basic stats I’ve downloaded?” They both knew whom he meant, and it was true, the general always sent for her when the going got tough. Lewis was right, not that she required reminding, she would take extra precautions as she always did after the previous fatal mission he’d personally authorised.
She could ignore the question; Lewis wouldn’t ask again, missions, any kind of mission, were the meat on the bone for them. He was however, the closest to a friend that she had, probably because they had experienced almost as many operations one way or another. That, and they had both experienced death, not many had in the current unit set up.
Her face contorted slightly into an expression he knew meant she was seriously thinking about his request and was about to divulge sensitive information. Trust was the prime mover for them in this unit for they would rather die than give anything away to anyone outside their current fraternity.
“Remember the mission two years ago when I died? They want me to use the same equipment again. Mission parameters demand it.”
The matter of fact tone was expected, “Is it safe now? I heard some pretty strange rumours about what they were going to use that technology for.”
Flicking the soldier at her side a sarcastic smile, “Gossip Lewis, really when did you become a member of the normal race.”
David Lewis bellowed out a hearty laugh that peeled around the conference room. It suited him, as he was a six foot five, solidly built man; a gentle tone wouldn’t have fit at all.
“I don’t gossip, and I’m insulted you want to put me with the rabbles who think they are superior to us. The colonel was doing the gossiping I only overheard the conversation, part of my job.”
Arching an eyebrow at the mention of her superior’s name, where is he anyway? “Ah well I forgive you then, we can’t expect anything else from a mere Normal being can we. What did they say?” She was interested, who wouldn’t be, especially if the first time it ended in your premature death.
“Something about speeding up the cloning process, didn’t understand it myself, the Techie wasn’t around to advise me.”
“Gottcha, well I’m out of here. Keep the others on their toes something tells me there could be more going on than the general allowed me access.” She turned away from the man and headed for her room to shower and change before she rendezvoused with Stark.
Lewis watched her go ruefully shaking his head; the general was a bastard of the first order and worse to the major. Made you wonder what went on in the guy’s mind when he saw the product of his own DNA sent on impossible situations with the possibility of dying. Shrugging he let that thought slip by before thinking, he is worse than a bastard he is the devil incarnate if one believed in such things. He must have a sadistic vein running through him. He was the one who always made sure his daughter was nominated as the prime candidate for the most dangerous missions. Maybe he is using his spawn to do all the things he couldn’t and probably gets off on that in a big way.
Lewis sighed heavily and headed back to the office and the roster, thankful he didn’t have to take orders from his biological ‘father’.
~ ~ ~
Alana stared at her console wondering how she had allowed Jim to convince her that what they were doing was for the best. A part of her knew deep down that it was all her fault, the military intervention, if only…
“Professor they’re here, want to personally check the data into the computer?” Sam Ramsey asked quickly, his voice jolting her out of her wandering thoughts.
“Already,” glancing up at the clock on the wall of the cream walled observation and control room. “I’ll do it we don’t want any mistakes do we.” Little realising the young man next to her felt peeved at the remark, as he would have been the person to input the information.
“I could do it Professor, you’ve trained me well.”
Alana turned to the young man who was an undergraduate from London , spending his sabbatical on the project before his final year. From all accounts, he was the very best of the batch of that senior year, and she had to agree. Sam had quickly picked up the pertinent operations on the project with the speed of a comet travelling through space at twice the speed of light. He wasn’t cocky with it either or at least not with her. In the past, she’d had to put up with some real pains in the butt. Sam was different he listened, learned and carried out what was asked of him, the perfect student. Maybe she should have asked him to dinner and found out a little more about him, then again when did she ever go to dinner. She must be the most boring scientist on the planet save the manufactured ones that she had made a part of the deal with the powers that be. No clone or radical or whatever they were called would be allowed on her project while she was still a dir ector. One day though she would have to concede that it wouldn’t be her project, then what…
“Sorry Sam it isn’t about you, this is something I have to do. Maybe I’ll tell you about it one day.”
The young man with his mousey hair flopping over his face grinned at her, “Soon I hope.” He left her to the final analysis prior to confirming the status.
Pressing her intercom to Jim, she told him that she was going to prep the team personally. Her co-director didn’t have the time to query why she had to do it as the connection died as he peered down into the control room and saw her leaving the room. “She must know best,” he muttered. He was interrupted again by a message to say the general and some other observers were on the way to his office.
Alana negotiated the turn in the corridor leading to the preparation room, opening the door with her access code the door slid open noiselessly. Entering the stark white area, she watched silently several technicians help the personnel involved in the mission complete their cleansing stage. From her vantage point she saw only opaque images of a man and a woman, unable to make out anything distinguishable except they were both well muscled and presumably at the peak of fitness. From this angle, the woman looked more toned than the man did however, the screen could be deceptive.
Major Tranter left the area first and stretched her body that was still stinging from the electronic bombardment of the micro cleansing. Even Radicals had the occasional kink in the muscles. Alana, watching the soldier, had to admit her initial observation had been correct. As the younger man arrived in the clothing area, she could see he wasn’t as toned muscle wise. Alana had a suspicion that the woman was vaguely familiar but she would have to work that one out later.
“Professor Cameron we have the information recorded during the bio-scan.”
Turning away from the two who were suiting up, Alana glanced at the data and then back to the doctor who was in charge of the physical preparation. “No surprises I hope this time Pat?”
The doctor had also gone through her own particular guilt trip over the deaths of the armed personnel two years earlier. Now with all the modifications and the ultra checks, that they carried out it was impossible that would happen again, at least that particular scenario. Doctor Patricia Forsyth knew that Alana worked endlessly to achieve that goal; it was a standing joke with the base personnel who didn’t know her. Cameron didn’t have a life beyond the console experiments she lived and breathed. “Not this time Alana, do you want to talk them through the procedure? Although it might not be necess…”
“Yes, I’ll do that now.” Alana wasn’t listening as the niggling thought that she knew the woman officer on this mission grew. But where?
Patricia Forsyth didn’t say anymore as she opened the secure panel separating the personnel from the rest of the technicians. The professor passed through a small pulse anti-bacterial shower before she entered the clean area.
Entering the room, she was hit by the glare of the white walls and the lights that reflected brilliantly inside. Damn I forgot my goggles!
Blinking rapidly, which wasn’t helping, she spoke to the two people behind the final screen opposite her. “I’m Professor Cameron, I’ll explain the procedure to you and that way it will minimize any reservations you may have.”
Then, there it was, a familiar voice pattern, now why is that. She couldn’t see the person clearly but knew it was the woman speaking.
“Professor there isn’t any need to explain the operational procedure, we know it.”
Puzzled and slightly put out at the arrogant tone she didn’t think clone soldiers were taught arrogance. “Unless you’ve done this before I’d suggest you listen carefully.”
There was a small silence as finally Alana’s eyes cleared and she stared into the inky depths of cold calculating eyes, as the soldier spoke so did her memory.
“I have done this before my name is ...”
“Tranter…Captain Tranter, but you’re dead!” Alana gasped. What does this mean? I was told that both parties had been fatal casualties. It was one of the reasons she had never forgotten the episode; how could she when she felt responsible.
Tranter ignored the dead part of the conversation as being irrelevant. “You recall me, good, Private Stark and I are ready for the transfer.”
She’d heard that voice repeatedly in her head. The scream of pain, the final dying conversation before the whole experiment had collapsed and with it, she thought the lives of two souls. Shaking her head, Alana couldn’t believe she was talking to someone who was dead, even a clone couldn’t be…fully matured in two years. They didn’t have the technology - strike that, they obviously did!
“I don’t understand, why did they tell me you were dead?”
The major cast the professor a long searching glance. One of the skills of the trade was to analyse a person on contact, it was invaluable in most cases. This woman was having a hard time for some unknown reason coming to terms with the fact that she had risen from the dead so to speak. A lack of communication obviously, what else was there a lack of, there was no room for error this time around. “I’m sure when you have completed whatever it is you need to do, someone will advise you accordingly. Now we need to maintain our schedule...or do I pose a problem to the mission?”
Unable to clear the footage running like a documentary in her head, Alana remained silent. She was pulled out of her flashbacks as a voice finally reached her, “Professor, do I pose a problem for the mission in terms of the equipment?”
“No. The equipment is safe or as safe as any form of travel is,” she said defending her baby with gusto. No more deaths on her watch, although she now wondered if any deaths had been attributed to the earlier experiment.
Tranter summed up the situation and probable precarious thoughts the woman had, it happened to these supposedly superior humans, “ Major Lane did die and he wasn’t resurrected. Shall we proceed?”
Caught like a deer in the headlights of an oncoming vehicle, Alana frowned before nodding her head. “Excellent choice Professor.”
Ten minutes later, with all the data computed and Alana back at her console, she watched in bemused silence as the pair entered the tunnel. It was like turning back the clock two years…
~ ~ ~
Two Years Previously
“Captain Tranter transfer commencement, three, two…”
Agonising screams and a loud pitched siren noise permeated the speakers in the console room as the loudspeaker connected to Major Lane emitted what could only be the final sounds of his life force expiring. The room was silent and still, no one wanted to believe that the sounds coming from the speaker were of a man dying…in agony.
“Abort the command for Tranter, abort it….”
Alana couldn’t believe her eyes as she was pushed aside. Her gaze that had been locked for a few precious seconds on the woman who had trusted her was now thrust upon the general. He had remained cold and silent as he punched the console button to complete the sequence and a death sentence.
Seconds later the same noise could be heard but the screams from the woman were muted. For Alana, it was as if the captain was gritting her teeth trying not to feel the pain of the experiment failing and resulting in her certain demise.
With a wretched traumatised scream at Jim, Alana shouted that he have the perimeter checked for any signs of the bodies.
What had seemed like a century but turned out to be a little over a few minutes the partially charred bodies of the two officers were recovered. They appeared exactly where they were supposed to except they arrived minutes later than the immediate exchange expected.
Alana’s eyes flashed upwards at the man. He returned her stare nonplussed a faint smile pursed his lips, he wasn’t human he couldn’t be. The next words proved it conclusively…
“The experiment worked ladies and gentlemen, now to iron out the glitches.” He strode out of the console room with a fawning entourage leaving only the team involved in the project to wonder what had happened in the last hour.
Tears that she refused to shed in front of the military and government personnel finally cascaded down Alana’s cheeks freely. “We killed two people Jim and he didn’t care. He could have prevented one of them from dying, what kind of man is that?”
Jim felt like the whole weight of the world had been placed on his shoulders for the hour that had passed. He didn’t understand why they had failed it shouldn’t have happened. They would have to go over every single equation and notation made in the last six months, maybe even a year, next time they’d get it right…if there was a next time.
“Sorry Al what did you say?”
Alana knew she was speaking to the wall as a glazed expression from her co-worker confronted her. Why did she think it would matter to him, he wasn’t like her, she cared about the project but also the people who gave their lives to see it through. And today, she would remember two more faces and names that had sacrificed their lives to her family’s project. What else could she do under the circumstances…except one thing. The military would no longer control the project, no matter what leverage they used with financial backing. She still did have the last say.
~ ~ ~
“Professor Cameron are you with us?” the voice that haunted her dreams on and off for the past two years insinuated itself into her brain. She didn’t know if she hated that more or him at this moment as her eyes turned to stare coldly at him in defiance.
Jim saw her glance and shook his head. Why now, guess some people never catch on. “Al do we have a green light?”
“Yes…all data is inputted and we are ready to initiate the sequence,” she spoke to Sam who at her side began the countdown. Her clipped tone broke any threads that had attached to her of memories of old.
Three, two, one initiation now!
“Major Tranter on my mark you will press your sequencer, mark.” Alana pressed a button on her console confirming the request as her eyes shifted to Stark and she repeated her request.
“Professor we have initiation,” The senior technician in the holding area closest to the tunnel acknowledged.
Alana held her breath as they waited for the confirmation from the two transporters that they had arrived safely at their destination.
“General, Tranter here, we are at the requested coordinates we will send another communication in fifteen minutes, Tranter out.”
A cheer went up in the console room as self-satisfied smiles and handshakes seemed to flood the room. Except for the two people who manned the console, checking on the data stream that gave them the life-signs of the personnel used in the experiment.
“Sam, good work.”
Sam grinned, his youth excited at being at a place were, in his opinion, history had been made. Alana had to concede that they had literally transported two people thirty thousand miles from their original location. I should be celebrating for this success made possible by my parents and yet I am a worry wart. Obviously, I’ve had too many hours at the console maybe now it is time to find a new life.
“My god Professor this is way cool who would have thought I’d be here to witness this. I can’t believe I’m here, it’s such an honour and look what I have to tell them at the University, wow!”
“Sam, Sam please why not go and enjoy a drink with the others I’ll watch the consoles.”
Sam looked at her. He wanted desperately to make new powerful friends but knew that this woman, though she didn’t know it, was more powerful than them all put together. She had it all in the palm of her hand. No one, and that was no one, knew this project as she did and it was remarkable how humble she was at this time. “Are you sure, you should be there in the thick of things it is your triumph.”
Alana laughed for the first time in ages. She liked the young man’s attitude, at least he had thought of her. As her eyes scanned the room, they found Jim grinning enough to split his face, doing his host bit chatting to all as long as they preened his feathers.
“Go ahead Sam, I don’t drink.”
He scrambled out of his chair and headed for the fun. Alana gave a weary shake of her shoulders. It had been a long road to reach this point, but they had done it and now she had to think of the future.
“This is Tranter I need to speak with base.” The clipped tones of the soldier she had seen only half an hour before and who was supposedly thousands of miles away greeted her.
Flicking on her mic Alana replied, “Hello, do you need anything?”
There was silence for a few seconds, “Are you base communications?”
“Yes, we have twenty-four-seven communication with your superiors, shall I call them?”
“Unnecessary, your name and rank will do.”
“I don’t have a rank at least…Professor, Professor Cameron, my name’s Alana.”
“Professor Cameron we are set to make the adjustments required however, there’s a solar flare up we will be out of contact for four hours.”
“Got that, want me to call the general?”
Alana grinned. Hey, there is hope for everyone if the recruits didn’t like him either.
“I’ll wait here for your communication in four hours Major Tranter.”
A small silence ensued and the next words astounded Alana, “Did anyone ever tell you Professor that you need a life?”
Alana was stunned, this was a Radical speaking and they never commented on emotional stuff… or is that another fabrication about their kind.
“When you return maybe you’d like to help me out in that area?” Alana was amazed she’d said that, what, on earth was she thinking for god’s sake.
“Perhaps, our coordinates are 23-11-07 , confirm?”
“Confirm 23-11-07 .”
The link died as the phone’s shrilling disturbed her chaotic thoughts about the soldier.
“Al, please you have to be here and celebrate with us. We’ve sent everything from backpacks to monkeys all over the globe but now, now we’ve done even better we’ve sent human beings into space.“
“I’m okay where I am, someone has to monitor our…friends.”
“Al, give it up you’ve done it, all of it everything your parents expected…no more than they did, you’ve transcend space itself.”
“I’ll be happy here, you take the congratulations for both of us, that’s more your field.” The link ended as she pressed the silence switch.
She was proud though, very proud of her mom and dad. It made everything worthwhile, everything…and had the Major said perhaps?
~ ~ ~
Stark looked at his superior having no doubt that everything would work out. After all Tranter was the supreme of the military radicals, no one else had achieved as much as she had in their short life spans. She had even died once only to be brought back to life. No one knew for sure if they retained all their memories, although Sergeant Lewis often remarked she was a ‘one of’. He took notice of Lewis for he was honest hard core military.
“Major I’m ready when you are.”
They had encountered nothing out of place but Tranter searched the area anyway. The ship, according to the manifest, was maintaining the status quo and there was no clear evidence of any contamination, none at all.
“What do your senses say Stark?”
“They are clear Major. Are you ready for me to download the programme to check for viruses?”
Something isn’t right. Stark should know he had been top of the list when it came to the honing of his senses. Centuries ago, they had called it witchcraft or psychic powers, now it was the enhancement of the brains functionality in a particular area of the organ. “I’m going to check with the bridge. You load the software and when I give you my mark, have that virus set to go. Only on my mark Stark do I make myself clear?”
“Absolutely Major, on your mark only.” Stark had been honoured to be part of the operation. Everyone knew Tranter’s reputation and if the mission was difficult, the chances were she’d make it easy and bring everyone involved home safe. Barring the one mission, which she had no control over, she had done so and her merit list was too long to recall every mission she’d successfully partaken.
“Watch your back, Stark.” Tranter’s clipped voice echoed a telepathic warning in his younger head. Though, if you looked at it logically, she was probably younger when it came to the number of years she’d been out of the test tube, second time round.
She had one last serious glance at the young private before turning the corner of the darkened service corridor to locate the command centre. No doubt, she would find an irate captain at the helm wondering what the hell was going on.
~ ~ ~
Jim Fever stared at the figure of the woman the console. She hadn’t left the area in over six hours, refusing the invitation by those present to congratulate her. Alana was just way too devoted to what she called her duty. If she could hear herself, she sounded more like a military service person every day, how ironic. Tapping his long chin, he grimaced when he felt the stubble that had sprouted up giving him that rakish look that seemed to please many women. This weekend he was going to take a few days away and chill out. Perhaps even take up that offer from the blonde receptionist who appeared to be offering him more than his phone messages.
That didn’t solve the problem of his workaholic colleague. Maybe I should persuade her to join me for the weekend. Purely platonic as he wasn’t interested in the committed career woman in his bed. He preferred someone more amenable with the right assets that had nothing to do with brains. Picking up the internal phone, he pushed the preset for Alana’s extension.
“Hey champ you can take a rest you know, let Sam have the console for a couple of hours, we’re not due extraction for at least another five hours. I’m sure you want to be at your best for that manoeuvre, what do you say?”
Alana blinked rapidly as Jim’s voice interrupted her thoughts. “I’m fine I’ll have all the rest I need when the process is complete.”
A heavy sigh greeted her response as she heard him mutter something under his breath before his tone cleared as he spoke directly to her. “I could make it an order Al; you aren’t superwoman or one of those manufactured humans that were sent on the mission.”
Snorting at his attempt to tease her she had wished on occasion that she had been one of those kinds of beings. At least it appeared when they had a second chance they came back 100%. “You’ve never indulged in strong arm tactics Jim, leave it to the military…or have you been unduly influenced by them recently?”
“I’m no lackey for the government Al I’m a scientist like you. We just have different ways to measure up for the role that’s all. Take an hour, have something to eat, rest your eyes. You can even have Sam call you in exactly one hour, how does that sound?”
Alana knew he was only thinking of her well-being or probably the projects. He was right she could do with a break, as the final process although the easiest still required her full concentration and right now, she did feel a little jaded. “Okay, I’ll do that want to share a tea with me?”
With a chuckle of satisfaction, Fever grinned into the receiver, “Not now Al, I’m going to take a much needed nap or if I’m lucky sleep for three hours, I’ll be back in an hour before the countdown, see you later.”
With a shake of her head, Alana replaced the receiver and explained to Sam that she needed a break but to call her back if anything changed anything at all. There was no use in calling her back in an hour because she would probably be back in half that time. After all, Jim was taking some shut-eye and he’d never know.
~ ~ ~
Tranter knew the layout of the schematics of the ship she had used her photographic memory on the blue prints. If there were any possible place to hide a device or unauthorised person, she would know of it. Now she had the luxury of checking every conceivable area to find them, or it, with that the solar flare-up taking precedence over everything else.
Anvil Four was the largest of the Anvil crafts in commission, if this particular station went to the wall this would be an area of space no one would venture into for years, perhaps centuries. Even Earth wouldn’t be immune from the impact, seasons would change and the chances were that humanity wouldn’t survive. However, that was merely speculation, her breed might fair better, or at least the technology might save any remnants of civilisation as the Normals called it.
The access point to the bridge came into view as she strode purposefully forward; the doors slipped open easily. Entering the area, she quickly tracked each member of crew in the confined space. Captain Erille at the centre of the main console turned to acknowledge her presence.
There were two other members. Navigator Stephens ignored her altogether and Technician Willard who smiled in her direction which was a strange reaction from one of her kind. Then again, the scientific arm of the project didn’t have the discipline that the military did.
“Have you found what you were looking for Major?” Sorrel Erille had been annoyed with the unexpected arrival of the soldiers. She hadn’t been informed that anything was wrong only that they had used experimental technology to board her craft. What if something had gone wrong, had the authorities thought of the destruction that could cause. Knowing the damn military, she doubted it.
“Not yet, we will. Stark is downloading software to ensure your mission parameters are even safer Captain.” Tranter stared coldly at the civilian who ran the ship. She had read her biography to-date; she had been the ideal candidate for the post. Though the woman probably thought their presence offensive and uncooperative, she would continue with her original assignment and then leave them to their own mission.
“Good that means you will be leaving shortly.”
“Shortly,” the single word reply indicated that this soldier was giving little away and hadn’t in fact finished what she had started.
“Anything else I can do for you?”
“I take it the rest of the personnel are resting?” Having read everything about Anvil Four, Tranter knew there were at least another five personnel aboard she hadn’t seen yet.
“Doctor Fulton will be in medical bay; Reagan is probably creating something wonderful from our lack-lustre provisions to tempt our appetites. Chief Engineer Lake is sleeping; he’s had a hard time in the last couple of days various engine components were malfunctioning. Technician Shibanion is monitoring the systems in his absence. That leaves Corporal Arkan and she’s one of yours. I’m surprised you haven’t checked in with her already.” The captain’s cynical gaze matched the dripping sarcasm of her words.
Tranter's cold expression didn’t change as she continued to trade glance for glance with the craft’s commanding officer. “Captain, thank you for your time I’ll check them out if you have no objections?”
“Me, and if I did do I have a choice?” Sorrel Erille voiced acidly. The exchange between them had a snicker emanate from the navigator who actually glanced in their direction for all of ten seconds before returning to his work.
“We all have choices Captain, however in this instance, no you haven’t.” Tranter slipped out of the command area as fluidly as she entered leaving the captain to utter her oaths about her parentage to the others present.
Deciding that the medical bay was the closer destination Tranter entered that area first, and was surprised to see what she thought was a familiar face. The name hadn’t given anything away and she hadn’t been privileged to all data on the personnel there hadn’t been the time.
“Ah extra security, that’s all we need. What can I do for you…Major…?” Fulton ’s eyes bugged out as he inspected her as he would a dissection.
“Do you know me Doctor?”
Clearing his voice nervously he continued to stare at her. Walking menacingly closer Tranter repeated her question.
“No! At least I don’t think so, not unless you’ve risen from the dead,” the Doc’s quip was closer to the truth than he knew. Now, at least she knew where she had seen him. He must have been part of the initial medical team and one of the last images she’d seen prior to her death.
“Have you experienced anything suspicious onboard Doctor?”
“Nope, been quiet on my front, only cultures and simple experiments on my list, although the engines were playing up, though I think they’ve been fixed now.” The doctor continued to stare at her with a strange expression on his face. She wasn’t about to engage his curiosity and answer his silent questions.
“Excellent, I’ll leave you to your…experiments.” Leaving the doctor with a puzzled expression, ah well he had three years to figure it out and then he could always ask his buddies when he got back to earth.
Tranter tried and failed…actually failed to make telepathic contact with Stark. How very odd she thought as she pushed her com-link asking him he was doing and satisfying her that everything would be in place when they left. This is turning out to be a waste of my time. One of my junior officers could easily have handled this assignment.
She headed for the engine compartment since that was the best place to check, as that appeared to be the only area so far that potentially could have been infiltrated. Minutes later, she entered the confined space for decontamination before entering the large domed area where the heart of the station lay. As she set foot in the room, a tall man quickly loomed next to her catching her by surprise. The fact that she was in space must be sending her senses off course a little. I’ll have to discuss this with the medic-techs back at base.
“Who are you?” the cautious engineer asked. His voice held a tremor as he stared into the cold eyes of the soldier. He hoped it wasn’t going to be the last words he uttered.
A feral smile crossed Tranter’s lips as she glared at the timid man. If she had wanted to take this craft over it would have been easy at this juncture. It was another demerit point and one she would ensure was mentioned in her debriefing session.
“Major Tranter; I’m here to ensure that no one is sabotaging the mission.”
Shibanion breathed out a sigh of relief, thank god for that. Odd though no ship had docked with them that he was aware of and he’d been on duty for over 36 hours. “When did you arrive, I wasn’t called to supervise a docking procedure?” He was sure that Chief Lake would have told him if he’d supervised the operation.
“That’s unimportant, what was wrong with the engine?”
Tranter’s clipped end of discussion puzzled the technician as he pressed a security alarm on his belt.
Allowing the intruder into the large expanse of the engineering area, Shibanion pursed his lips before replying. He needed to stall until Arkan arrived. “If you follow me I’ll show you.”
The nervous tone and the moistening of dry lips alerted Tranter to a possible problem. She would have be disappointed with someone in this crew with such a valuable cargo, if they hadn’t cause for concern at a stranger’s appearance. The man was going up in her estimation and it would save her time locating the security officer onboard.
“The coil diverter was damaged, we replaced it and now we’re functioning okay again. If you look inside the cavity you will see the old coil, the chief wants to check on why it malfunctioned.”
The door to the engine room slipped open and a woman at least five inches taller than Tranter stepped inside with her firearm ready for any trouble. “Shibanion what’s the problem?” The Radical’s eyes had already seen who was with the technician and felt a sense of regret that she hadn’t had a problem to solve. It was rather boring on a peaceful mission.
The technician flashed security a flustered look as he turned to stare directly at the woman next to him, “I thought as a member of your fraternity were onboard you’d want to be here.”
Tranter had to hand it to the flustered man he was doing a good job of digging himself out of a hole of his own making. “You must be Corporal Arkan, I’m Tranter.”
“Major, I was told you were aboard, anything I can do to help?” The officer had been briefed of the arrival of the two military personnel. Virtually gushing, if one of their kinds ever had that emotion in them, over the honour of being in the presence of the most decorated of their kind, it was awesome.
“Shibanion has indicated the problem and that it wasn’t suspicious.”
A clearing of the throat by the man at her side had her cold eyes surveying him once again. Without a word, the mere flicker of her eyebrow asked what he wanted to say on the subject.
“I didn’t say it wasn’t suspicious. Chief Lake is more conversant with the parts but that type of equipment has never been known to malfunction before.”
“I see, how long is Lake ’s, break?”
“The chief was working solid for forty plus hours so I guess when he wakes is the best call or if something goes wrong again,” Shibanion replied smartly.
Tranter’s eyes darted around the engine room. It would be a good place to render the craft disabled temporarily or permanently dependent on what a perpetrator’s goal was. “Arkan I would suggest you remain in this vicinity and contact me every fifteen minutes with an update. I’ll check on the progress elsewhere.”
Leaving the room, Shibanion blinked several times as he felt the relief of the woman exiting the area. “She didn’t look friendly, do you know her?”
Arkan stared at the solid door that had shut behind the officer. “Know her, no. Know of her, oh yes and if she’s here you can guarantee one thing.”
“Christ, don’t tell me, trouble right?” Rolling his eyes at the prospect he’d taken this job because it was peaceful and he didn’t have to put up with the nagging of his lover to make it legal.
“Trouble…no not for us but if we have a problem here those involved will be in trouble, she’s our best soldier.”
Shibanion grinned at Arkan’s description, “If I didn’t know better I’d say you hero-worship that woman. Anyway, I thought all you Rad’s were created equal.”
Arkan gave the normal an icy stare, “Equal from birth perhaps, however after that it is the sum of our experiences that make us what we are and she’s the best we have.”
Sarcastically Shibanion commented, “Guess I should be licking her boots, as she’s deemed to prevent us from…something.”
Arkan closed the gap between her and the normal and gripped his tunic lapel roughly. “Never, ever speak of the major in that tone within my hearing Shibanion or you will mysteriously end up on the other side of the airlock.” The soldier released the shocked man and stepped out of the room to check the storage area in the next bay.
~ ~ ~
Alana stared into the depths of her iced tea, wondering what her parents would think of the project that they had devoted their lives to; which had cost them inexorably their lives. Worse thing was all she tangibly had of her parent’s memory was this project. Now that she had been successful, or would be once they successfully extracted the military personnel, what would happen to her life next? The thing that hurt most was that she couldn’t share the achievement with her only sibling. He hadn’t spoken to her for over a decade after learning about the secret she had kept hidden from him. They’d attempted a brief reunion after her accident, however his terms for that were unacceptable. He wanted her to forget the project and go back to Texas and his ranch. This would have meant turning her back on everything she had worked to achieve. That had been the last time she’d seen him or spoken to him although they did send each other a bi rthday card every year. At least he hadn’t totally cut her out of his life and right now she desperately wanted to share her, and ultimately posthumously, their parent’s grand dream.
The communicator attached to her hip shrilled, as she looked down at the instrument that she rarely wore…today was different. Looking at the message scrolling across the surface she scrambled away from the table as if scolded and headed back to the console room. Minutes later, she whisked into the area and stared quizzically at Sam.
“You aren’t going to believe this Professor.”
“Try me Sam?” Her attention was now on the consoles that monitored the life-signs of the two soldiers involved in the operation. “That can’t be?” Alana whispered in disbelief.
Sam nodded his head in agreement it shouldn’t be but it was. “The monitor stopped transmitting life signs ten minutes ago; I called you after I verified that all our equipment at this end was functioning correctly.”
Alana quickly ran her own diagnostic on the console; Sam was stating the truth the equipment was working perfectly. “How long do we have until we have contact?”
“Half an hour, shall I call the general’s office?” Sam asked awkwardly, knowing the man wasn’t on the professor’s favourite list of people. However, this was different, it concerned the military and they would demand to know if there had been a problem.
“Sam, hold it a second, how about we find out in few minutes if we have a problem. Why worry them unduly? It might just be the solar flare up. I promise I’ll call the general personally if anything is wrong.” Alana looked at the monitor once more sucking in a silent breath. She hoped that she was right and it was merely a glitch, though that wouldn’t account for one of the monitor’s showing perfect signs and the other flat lining. Let’s hope nothing had happened to one of the soldiers. If it did, she’d have to concede that perhaps this family project was doomed with the kiss of death.
Thirty minutes and counting….
~ ~ ~
Tranter’s com link blinked rapidly as she lengthened her stride to reach Stark. He should have downloaded the security software the general had personally entrusted to her when she arrived at the project headquarters. He had insisted that this way no one could tamper with the data and an uncompromised copy would be loaded onto Anvil Fours’ computer.
“Tranter here…are you done Stark?”
Static replied to her question. What a time for her telepathic sense to malfunction; it would be around forty-five minutes before they could contact base communications.
“Stark do you copy?”
After several seconds of static, Stark’s voice finally broke through. “Major you need to see this…” The static replaced anything else he tried to say.
“I’ll be with you in a few minutes, Tranter out.” Switching off her com link, a slightly puzzled look strayed over her features for a fraction of a second before it was gone. Once again, her usual bland expression crossed her face, hmm…so this could be where trouble comes into play. Her feet gathered speed propelling her towards her subordinate.
Rounding the corridor several minutes later she saw Stark leaning into the service hatch obviously engrossed in what he had found. Her feet, moving in precise military fashion, arrived in his personal space. She then leaned in to find out what he had found so interesting.
“Stark, what do you have you for me?”
The private didn’t move. She bent in for a closer inspection, her hand grasping his totally malleable shoulder…he fell forwards into the hatch.
Sucking in a deep breath, she dragged the soldier out of the enclosed space his limp body testament to his silence. A laser burn in the centre of his chest had ripped his heart to shreds. The impact cauterised the wound immediately ensuring that the blood didn’t flow. Placing him against the wall, she carefully withdrew her weapon glancing around the empty corridor. Peering inside the service cavity, Tranter saw that before Stark’s death he had delayed the download of the software. Should she or shouldn’t she continue as her finger hovered for a few seconds over the control panel before pressing the abort switch. Tranter released the slim micro disc from the panel and slipped it into her pocket. The interesting thing was why the ship’s computer hadn’t alerted everyone to the weapon’s fire. Also, why hadn’t they taken the software, wouldn’t that have been the motive for Stark’s death.
Bending toward the body with grim features she retrieved Stark’s personal bio-disc. When she arrived back at base, they would examine the disc and know for certain who killed him. However, she could make preliminary enquiries while she waited for her superiors decided what to do next. Perhaps if the powers that be agreed he would be cloned again; he had been a very promising member of the unit. Carefully storing the disc in a sterile data pocket, she slipped it into the same pocket as the software. No one was going to secure those items unless they went through her and that meant literally.
A couple of feet away she punched the internal communicator requesting immediate medical help at the scene. Then, she demanded to see the captain privately.
~ ~ ~
“What you are implying is ridiculous and impossible!” The station’s captain, Sorrel Erille slammed her fist hard down on the desk in her private quarters. Who the hell does this woman think she is talking to?
Major Tranter coldly stared at the captain. Her face was unmoving ignoring the emotional tirade that she had been subjected to from the moment she’d entered the captain’s presence. It didn’t solve anything and proved even less in her book.
“You’ve heard about my soldier, he’s dead and the doctor agrees it wasn’t self-inflicted, therefore if we don’t have an interloper aboard…” Her gaze became glacial as she saw the women opposite her about to speak…the words were never uttered. “I will need all personnel who cannot verify their whereabouts at the time of Stark’s death to be detained in the mess room until they are exonerated.”
“That’s impossible. I need them to continue their work…this ship doesn’t have the luxury of extra manpower in the event of a crisis. The whole point of the mission was to prevent one.”
Tranter digested the information dismissing it immediately. “Your people sleep captain, and others obviously cover their respective roles.”
“You can’t do this you have no authority!” Erille barked out her face blood red as she passed a hand over her dry lips. She was unable to admit that at this stage she had a murderer aboard her station.
“In less than five minutes I’ll have all the authority I need…unless of course, you plan to take the same action against me that became Stark’s fate?”
With a further slam of her hand against the desk, captain Erille rapidly stared at the major. This was getting them no place fast and she wasn’t stupid; far from it. “I take it you haven’t any clues?”
Tranter heard the change in tone pleased that the captain had seen sense. “No, do you have a decent computer technician aboard the ship?”
“Stephens, my navigator, is the best we have.” She hesitated a moment. “Except, there’s a problem if you were going to show him sensitive data.”
“He’s only cleared for sub-level one data. I suspect the information you brought onboard is far greater than that?”
“Yes, first level two. I’ll request clearance from HQ. I’ll keep you informed of my findings regarding your crew, Captain.”
Erille sat down in her chair and nodded her head, “I’ll send my people your invitation to the mess.”
Tranter quietly nodded her acknowledgement then proceeded to leave the captain’s quarters.
“I’m sorry you lost your soldier Major.”
Spinning on her heels Tranter stared dispassionately at the captain as she replied, “Thank you, however I haven’t lost him…yet.” Her hand went unconsciously to the breast pocket holding his personal data stream. Nope, I haven’t lost him yet. If she had the disc back to the technicians at RAD HQ within the next twenty-four hours, it would be as if he hadn’t died at all the powers that be agreeing the procedure.
Tranter left the room before the captain could ask what she meant.
~ ~ ~
Alana alternated her stare from the communication console wishing it to spring into life, to the clock that apparently was in slow motion. The timepiece was digitally counting down the seconds left to the four hour solar blackout.
Sam Ramsey, felt helpless as he continued to gaze at the life signs, or indeed the lack of, on the monitor that registered Private Stark’s heart and brain patterns. At least the major’s appeared to be functioning at full throttle, so much so the heart beat had picked up in the last hour. He was only an undergraduate, but it indicated to him that the professor’s hope that it was a malfunction appeared a long shot. He glanced across to the woman he wanted to emulate, hoping, he would one day be half the scientist she was. A rueful look crossed his face as his mind wandered over the tough breaks she’d had over this project. Now, it looked like another disaster was looming on its chequered history.
“Professor Cameron, the link should be available in ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one…”
They waited for all of a millisecond before the professor attempted to regain contact with the mission personnel.
“This is Project Command Centre; can you hear me Major Tranter?”
The static that had been evident during the communication blackout would have been welcomed instead of the painful silence that greeted them. At least with the static they would know it was still the after effects of the conditions up there.
Attempting to contact the military personnel again, Alana repeated her question. This time she diverted the bands to take in both Tranter’s and Stark’s personal communication devices.
“I think we need to contact the general , Professor.”
Her face as pale as a ghost turned to his. He felt her distress at the prospect of informing the military that it appeared likely that more of their personnel involved in her family project had potentially perished.
“I know,” she said dejectedly. “Why don’t you take a break Sam, there’s nothing more we can do at this time.” Though her words echoed ominously in his head, he wondered if she was giving up. The tone of her voice certainly indicated that possibility. This hadn’t been anything to do with her the project had worked.
“I’ll stay awhile longer Professor…who knows they might have a delay at their end.”
Alana wished that prospect were feasible although right now she felt that was a bleak hope. Moving slowly away from her console, she picked up the phone at the central command post. Her ears pricked as they heard a faint voice. She was damn sure it was a voice as she pivoted back to her desk so sharply she almost fell out of the chair. Immediately placing her communication equipment in her ear she spoke into her mic, “Major, is that you?”
After several seconds of static the major’s voice slowly cleared. The rich tone of her clear voice could be heard careering off the speakers in the room.
“Yes, I have a situation here I need to speak with the general.”
The clipped, cold words whipped through Alana like a snowstorm, there was no more hope Stark was dead.
“Sam, make the call please. Major, we lost Private Stark’s vital signs over an hour ago can you verify the situation for me? I was hoping in terms of faulty equipment,” her concerned pitch emanating over the line to the officer hundreds of thousands of miles away. The seconds delay could be taken as sorrow for the passing of a comrade, or, merely the fluctuation in time and space, Alana chose to think the prior.
“Your equipment is functioning perfectly well Professor Cameron, Stark is dead. Have you the general on the line yet?”
The matter of fact tone indicated that was all the information forthcoming at this time.
“Do you want a personal line Major?”
“Secure channel only…thank you.”
The thank you was a bonus making Alana smile slightly at the acknowledgement.
“You’re welcome, the general is on-line now.”
Hearing the growling vocals of the general, Alana switched the communication device to privacy and turned to Sam with a sad expression. “I guess we’ll know soon enough if it was anything to do with us or not. Perhaps I’d better wake up Jim…he’ll want to know if there’s a screw up again at our end.”
Sam watched the scientist carefully before replying. “If anything happened to the solider it wasn’t anything to do with you Professor.”
“You don’t understand Sam, this is my project, I’ve committed my life to seeing it through…I guess you’d call it fulfilling a family’s dying wish. I can’t bear to think my father died for no reason if we failed.”
“All the same, I think the project worked. Don’t forget they were on a military operation. I’m inclined to think it had something to do with that rather than anything we did.”
Alana gave the young man at her side a reassuring smile. “Okay Sam, I’ll wait for the verdict before I blame myself.”
Five minutes later the general called asking to speak with Fever. Since he wasn’t there the general grudgingly, spoke with Alana.
“Professor Cameron I have a situation on the Space Station. Who do you have on staff that can be used in your equipment and has knowledge of computers at the first level two entry?” The man’s voice bordered impatience as he waited for her response.
What is he asking? Does he want one of our personnel to resume Stark’s mission? Surely that isn’t part of the deal Jim made. “I’m sorry I don’t…”
“Professor, do I have to spell it out for you? I need a high clearance technician who has their DNA stored into your machine. If I send one of my people it will be at least two hours away plus however long it takes for you to compute their DNA. I want someone with Major Tranter in less than half an hour…that’s the only window available for a successful mission.”
Mulling over the requirements, there were only four people who could be remotely classified within the parameters that the general had requested. Doctor Forsyth, Jim Fever, Sam and herself.
“Name them now Professor.”
Carefully stating her choices she held her breath as he took all of five seconds before he barked back Sam’s name. Without a second word, he issued the instruction for the young man to go and that he would be returning to the research area within the next two hours.
Alana’s eyes rolled as she listened to the man’s instructions. She slowly turned to Sam who was waiting expectantly for the information. “He wants someone with technical knowledge and a first level two data access to help the major.”
Sam’s eyes blinked rapidly. He knew without her saying that he had requested him out of the names that he’d heard the professor say moments earlier. Looking at it logically, he was the only choice; the most expendable. That didn’t make it easy though; he certainly didn’t want to go and become another statistic. Why should he…he wasn’t military.
“Sam you don’t have to go, I’ll find someone else.” Alana had seen the shock quickly replaced by a horrified expression as the penny dropped.
Sam’s features cleared slightly. “But who will you send if not me?”
For a full thirty seconds Alana Cameron remained silent. Then, for the first time in years her mind settled. All the yoga lessons I learned in the hospital have finally achieved fruition, she thought. Logically Sam was the correct choice and if push came to shove she would have insisted and he probably would have agreed. However, sometimes logic didn’t always come into play. Right now what she was about to do had as much to do with logic as having your cards read by a charlatan gypsy at a fairground.
“I’m going.” Holding up her hand to prevent him from speaking out at her decision she continued, “I’m more than qualified for the role, and I know I can trust you with my baby Sam. Let’s begin the DNA loading I’ll talk to you again after I’ve been passed by Doctor Forsyth.”
Sam watched in bemusement as she pressed a small button on her console and a door slid open revealing a pair of gleaming metallic artificial legs. The professor removed from their temporary storage area and with a deftness of years of practice, quickly strapped them into place activating their sensory circuits. Within two minutes, she had collected a data download of her personal statistics and set off for the tunnel.
~ ~ ~
Tranter gave her less than attentive audience a cool stare, taking in their body language as well as her senses allowed. For some reason she was feeling less than one hundred percent in that area. Some adjustment would have to be made for travelling in space, if this was to be a regular occurrence. She dismissed the doctor she had previously spoken with as a possibility; something in his eyes that told her he preferred to save life rather than take it. Chief Engineer Lake , on the other hand, was an unknown quantity. Though he looked like he had been drug out of bed backwards, sleeping in his quarters was a shaky alibi in her book. Then her eyes strayed to the chef, Reagon. He reminded her of a grizzly bear because of his bulky frame and hair that hung past his shoulders; in her opinion it drastically required cutting. Shibanion and Arkan had been each other’s alibis. There had been only one way they could have reached Stark and that would have meant literall y going through her. They had not, unless unbeknownst to her a vanishing cloak had been invented.
“Hey, look, I need some shut eye…get this over with will you.” Lake puffed out his muscled chest as he gruffly spoke directly to the major.
“By all means Chief Lake , ” she said curtly. “As you are all aware, we’ve had a death of one of my people onboard the station. I therefore require the doctor here to take samples of your skin for any residue left by a laser scorching. I’m sure you will have no problem with that if you’re innocent…it is a simple procedure and we will know within the hour.”
Lake glared at the soldier. This was not a military ship and the only authority onboard he accepted was the Just who was this jumped up officer to think she could give him orders?
“If you were wondering Captain Erille has approved my methods. The sooner this is done, the faster you can go back to your regular activities.” Tranter gave one of her small derisive smiles then caught the look in Lake ’s eyes. Perhaps her original perception of him had validity for she had seen that look before and knew what it meant.
A voice from the back of the room drew their attention, “Major Tranter has full authority to carry out any tests or interrogations she sees fit. I trust my people; therefore we have nothing to hide and to prove that I’ll be the first.” Erille had slid into the room unnoticed and surprised Tranter with her words and actions. Perhaps the captain had more balls than she had at first thought. Generally, civilians were not known for their bravado, they left it to others nowadays…people like her.
Fifteen minutes later the doctor had taken the skin samples and turned to her with a question brimming from his eyes.
“Go ahead Doctor.”
“What about your skin sample?” His eyes never left hers as she gave him an icy appraisal.
Touché. Stretching out her arm, she peeled back the tunic sleeve allowing him to take a sample.
“As you appear to be so methodical perhaps you need to take a sample from all the crew.”
Mack Fulton turned his face toward hers; there she saw a shadow of a smile play on his lips as he replied, “Already done. I’d hate for you to think I was inefficient.”
Tranter gave the man a sardonic glance as a genuine smile tugged at the sides of her cheeks, “I never thought anything of the kind after all I know otherwise.” With that, she left him announcing she was going to the cargo hold to wait for Stark’s replacement.
“Those military bitches are all the same,” Lake slurred. Sleep beckoned him like a hypnotic drug.
“Actually they aren’t, she’s one of a kind trust me,” Doctor Fulton quietly responded.
Lake gave the doctor a second glance as he headed for the door. “You know her?”
All eyes in the room diverted to the Doctor who turned a minor shade of red as he answered, “Not exactly know her…hmm, more like I’ve attended to her on a professional level a while back.”
Sorrel Erille wandered closer as she quizzically stared at the doctor. Is he a military spy? “Were you once military Mack?”
Mack Fulton smiled warmly at the station’s captain. He respected her and thought he was falling for her; though that kind of activity was out of bounds until the mission was complete. They had shared several meals alone together and she seemed to like him too…maybe not in the same way, but he could hope. They had another fifteen months of living closely together in the tin can they called home to find out if they might try a more romantic relationship. Ah, who am I kidding, she probably has a million guys back home waiting for her.
“Doctor, are you still with us?” Captain Erille smiled at the man. She liked him; he was turning out to be a good friend and one needed that on these long tours. Right now though, he looked like he was on another planet and from his expression it was a pretty good one.
“I’m sorry…I was miles away,” Mack Fulton spluttered as he felt even more self-conscious than before.
“Doc, how do you know the army bitch, for Christ sake?” Lake growled. His grumpiness growing by the second as his lack of sleep induced body kicked in viciously.
Clearing his throat quickly, Mack ruefully answered, “I was the field doctor on a sensitive experiment…she was one of the…a, guinea pigs I guess you’d call her at the time. It went wrong…I helped that was all.”
Lake muttered under his breath as he left the area, “Pity it didn’t kill the bitch!”
Fulton stared after the man for a few moments then thinking no one else was listening quietly responded, “That’s just it, she did die.”
Erille heard the softly spoken words and decided instead of commenting she would go to the command area. There, she had the peace of space to watch over and mull over the chaos that had engulfed her station in such a short time.
~ ~ ~
Doctor Patricia Forsyth was still in shock as she helped Alana go through the final checks before entering the tunnel and submitting herself to the experiment. Although they recently had a successful transfer glitches had happened more often than not. That was why many on the base called the project a secret name, Nemesis. It was as good a word as any as this particular project had seen more fateful endings than successful ones.
“Al, please reconsider…send Sam…you know Jim is going to go ape when he arrives and finds you changed places with your assistant.”
Alana had thought about this scenario a thousand times since the first time she had entered the tunnel. She remembered standing in the very place a few years earlier wanting to be part of the adventure. A part of her knew no matter what, she would attempt it again. And, damn it, she was here and at least this was for a good cause…maybe.
“Can’t Pat, Sam was devastated when he thought he had to go. He’s not ready, I am!”
“I’ve known you for ten years Al and everything that is you is this project. Instead of reaping the rewards for your efforts, you’re going off on some stupid undertaking that you think only you can do. You know if I didn’t know you as well as I do, I’d say you had a death wish.” Pat was exasperated. She was probably about the closest to a friend that Al had, barring Fever, and he didn’t count. He was only out for number one and wouldn’t be where he was without this slight woman. Alana had more daring do in her little finger than he had in his whole body.
“ If you want the truth Pat, whatever the job I’m not sure I can do it. Probably Sam would have been better; after all, he’s the computer whiz kid. But, he didn’t want to go, what choice did I have…send you? Wake Jim up and send him? No, as strange as it may appear to you I actually want to go,” Alana finally responded.
Alana’s enthusiastic words had merit if for nothing more than it saved her from going. The experiment she would have gladly undertaken but this was different; someone had died at the other end. They didn’t have all the facts and the chances it might happen again were a distinct possibility.
“Al, thank you.”
Alana diverted her concentration from the final computations she was making to the woman she classed as a friend. Why did she say that? “Thank me for what Pat?”
Embarrassed the doctor grinned slapping her good-naturedly on the shoulder. “No reason, are you ready?”
Puzzled, but wanting to focus her attention on the task at hand, Alana smiled back. “Yes, we need Sam to start the countdown in thirty seconds when you exit the sterile area of the tunnel.”
“When you return how about we celebrate?”
“What would we celebrate?”
For a few moments, Patricia was at a loss. As far as she was concerned, seeing Al alive and well was the biggest reason, but that wouldn’t go down well. “How about we celebrate the success of the generations of Cameron’s?”
“Thank you Pat, you don’t know what that means to me. I’ll hold you to that. See you in a few hours.” Alana walked towards the tunnel entrance to begin the final preparations.
Patricia Forsyth felt sad and she didn’t know why. All she knew was that at that moment in time she was despondent for her friend; it felt like she would never return as she was and that could mean only one thing - death.
~ ~ ~
Tranter waited for the emissions to settle and the physical form of whomever the general had chosen to replace Stark would emerge. The disorientation of the process had twisted her gut for a few moments when she’d arrived. That may have been an unconscious reaction to her previous travel using this prototype technology. Now, it definitely was new technology and no longer an unsubstantiated experiment.
As the distortion cleared, the major shook her shaven head as she finally saw the techie the general supplied her with…an interesting choice.
“Professor Cameron why are you here?”
Alana Cameron had used her baby only three times. The first had been a mitigating disaster of epic proportions not only on her physical bodily functions, but also to her concession to the military machine. The second had been a year ago when she was unable to bear the guilt of anyone else being injured or worse killed. Particularly as the year before a team was lost, though now that was debatable as the woman she thought dead was as alive as she was. And now this third time, having weighed the pros and cons in the same impulsive mode she made all her important life-changing decisions. Now facing the major she had previously felt sorry for she wondered why. At the time she hadn’t analyzed her feelings for the emotions had hit her hard and instead of working them out logically she had hidden them away for further research.
“You said get a life; well here I am as ordered.” There seemed to be an after effect of the travel for Alana was sure she wasn’t responsible for her response that was so out of character.
Denise Tranter positioned a well placed palm over her mouth to stifle the smirk that bordered on laughter that the remark warranted. To her knowledge, in both her lifetimes she could not recall ever allowing a normal to extract such a response from her. It probably was another damn effect of this travel and more material for the boffins to work on when she got back…if they got back.
“I can see that. The general sent you?”
Alana shamefacedly hung her head for a moment before she answered. “No, they were going to send my assistant…he’s a kid fresh out of Uni…as his superior I decided you had a better chance with me.”
The major gazed at the woman whose comment verged on conceited except that her stance declared otherwise. True, the woman’s IQ might even rival hers; beyond that, her lack of superior attitude didn’t ring the normal bells of an arrogant fool. Anyway, at this moment, they had no time to dwell on the whys just to complete the task at hand. “Okay, Professor I’ll take you at your word…for now. I have Stark’s equipment, which I’m sure you’ll need to complete the mission.”
The matter of fact words stung Alana for a moment. Didn’t the major care that one of her own had died? And, for her peace of mind, she wanted to know just how that had happened.
“I’d like to see Private Stark, Major. I want to ensure nothing in the transfer brought on his demise.” Her grey eyes gazed unwaveringly into the cold ones of the officer.
“We don’t have time for that right now, I need you to complete the mission…and then if you feel it necessary you may view Stark’s body.” The words caused Alana to give the woman, who was briskly moving out of the containment area towards the service corridor, a second look. She spoke of the private’s body as if it was a piece of meat without any meaning. How emotionless could one become?
“Later then.” Alana picked up her own valise containing a few pieces of her own equipment she had brought with her.
A few minutes later, Alana, unaware of his gruesome last minutes, was crawling into the space that had previously held the corpse of Stark. The wound had left no lingering evidence in the area and was therefore clean. Only those that had experience could see the scorch marks and would know that a weapon had been fired recently.
“Here is the software that needs to be linked into the mainframe onboard. I take it you are familiar with the process?” Tranter asked quietly as she watched the professor awkwardly manoeuvre into the small area. It is a good thing this isn’t a timed dry run…she would fail dismally.
“Hmm thanks, no not really but how difficult can it be? A computer is a computer is a computer, right?” Alana daren’t look up. Her flippant remark would have only caused the woman standing guard over her to think she was out of her mind, or worse, incompetent.
“I hope you aren’t serious?”
This time Alana did peer out of the confines of the hollow space. “Sorry, I was attempting a joke, it won’t happen again. I’m reasonably familiar with the links, it most likely will take me longer than your people, but I’ll be in a position to download the data in say three hours.”
“Can’t you do it any quicker?”
“Not if you want it right the first time and I take it you do?”
Pursing her lips, Tranter considered the time frame. The general had been adamant that the data be linked within the next two hours without being given any specific reason. He had engineered this woman to be here instead of military personnel so it had been his call. An hour later shouldn’t be too bad, anyway what the hell could happen in that time? “I’m going to have Corporal Arkan stay with you while I investigate another issue.”
Al was dismayed at the prospect of another stranger looking out for her back. In a strange way, she trusted the major implicitly but who was this other person? “Is the soldier one of yours?”
Tranter heard the uncertain tone in the professor’s voice. Although emotions rarely affected her, she knew the Normals were slaves to them and this was just another proof of it. “Arkan has a background similar to mine, she can be trusted.”
Tranter moved away to the communications panel and requested Arkan’s presence. She left Alana with no option but to continue the task ahead of her which, although not exactly daunting, it wasn’t going to be a piece of cake either. She sighed then selected the data disc and ran the first of several diagnostic operations.
~ ~ ~
Sam didn’t know what to do. Should he call the operations director? Maybe the general has already informed him of the change in plans. Or, should he remain silent until they both arrived and let them make of it what they will? Once he completed the professor’s transit and confirmed with the medical team that nothing problematic had occurred, he transferred her life signs to the monitor that had originally housed Private Stark’s. The professor had been gone two hours and so far so good…no problems. Her last communication to state she had begun the data transfer and would make contact again when it was complete had been forty minutes ago. Staring patiently at the monitor, he hadn’t heard someone enter the room.
“Hi Sam, how’s everything going? My god, don’t tell me Al actually took my advice and is having a decent break.” Jim Fever smiled at the young man. He predicted Sam would have a meteoric career if he set his stall out correctly and being part of this project was a marvellous beginning. Though he would only privately admit it, Sam was gaining the best possible experience from the best in this field and that would be Alana Cameron.
Glancing up with a guilty expression on his face, Sam stared at the director of operations, gulping before he answered quietly. “She isn’t taking a break and I’m afraid we’ve had a problem.”
Jim Fever rushed over to the monitors showing the life-signs of the project principals. “What’s the problem and where is Al?”
Sam gave the man a worried look expecting his thunderous outburst as he hurriedly informed him of the status of the project.
“Why the hell wasn’t I informed earlier? Who authorised Al to do such a stupid thing anyway? My god I knew she felt responsible for the project but this is madness.”
Before Sam could reply, another party entered the room, General Horatio T. McAndrew. He strode inside, his face a blank mask as he surveyed the room, his eyes settling icily on the young technician.
“Why are you here?” His bellow almost blew Sam out of his chair.
Jim Fever answered for the young man, “He’s here because Al decided to go in his place. If anything happens to her General, I’ll hold you personally responsible. Why couldn’t you send one of your people? Mine don’t come under your jurisdiction that was Al’s deal when the project was passed over to you.”
The general surveyed the room with a cynical smile on his face. Ah, this is an added bonus. “I didn’t twist anyone’s arm Fever, has she completed the operation?”
“Not yet, she said she would contact us when it was completed. She began downloading approximately forty minutes ago,” Sam finally answered as calmly as his heightened adrenalin would allow.
Glancing at his watch, the general’s expression was unmoving as he considered the delay and it’s implications to his plans. “Contact Major Tranter, I want to talk to her,” he commanded.
Jim Fever didn’t like this man, he never had; however, his career prospects had risen enormously since hanging onto his shirttails. Right now, he wanted to ban the man from the control room but didn’t have the courage.
“Sam, contact the major please.”
“Yes sir.” Sam made the connection.
A couple of minutes passed before the major’s voice was heard over the intercom.
“Major, this is General McAndrew, what’s the delay?”
Fever and Sam glanced at each other as they heard the barked cold question.
“No delay General, Professor Cameron is processing the data as quickly as she is able to under the circumstances.”
McAndrew’s features tightened as he heard the tolerant tone in his major’s voice. That tone wasn’t part of the makeup with the Radicals; they suffered no emotional lapses it was their ace card. “How long before the download is complete?”
“I will check and be back to you. At the present time I’m completing my investigation into Stark’s death.”
Now the general really did look angry as he snarled into the microphone, “Major, Stark is unimportant, he’s dead end of story. I want you with Cameron now…ensure she completes on time.”
“General your time scale was impossible…”
“You have your orders Major!”
Jim Fever and Sam stared at the monitors then at each other as they noted a faint tremor in the equipment; in the heart rate of the major as the last comment was thrown her way. Any normal person would have been hitting high blood pressure levels at the callous instructions, not this soldier she had barely registered any change at all.
“Yes sir!” Tranter’s communication link was switched off abruptly obviously in response to the orders.
“I’m going for a coffee…you’d better join me Fever in your office.”
Jim heard the words knowing it wasn’t a request but a direct order. For now, he would obey, but if it became a matter of Al’s life or death, he’d…reconsider.
“Sam if anything and I mean anything at all changes let me know immediately.”
“Yes sir,” Sam saw the worried expression on the director’s face. “The professor will be okay sir…I think she was looking forward to the adventure.”
Jim glanced at the young man, if only that were true. He’d known Al long enough to know she was looking for a way out of all the hassles of the project once it was proved and it wouldn’t be in a conventional way. Perhaps she had taken the only opportunity she saw heading her way and gave it her best shot. Damn he wished he’d been here - no way would she have gone - he’d have locked her in her room before he’d have allowed it.
“I’m right with you General.”
~ ~ ~
Alana, with perspiration running down her forehead into her eyes, wiped away the sweat in frustration, as the data began to download at a tremendous rate. For a while, she actually felt as if she was going to have to concede she wasn’t the right person for the job. For an hour, she had tried to resolve a conflict between the mainframe protocol and the update she was adding. She finally resorted to viewing the update on her own enhanced microcomputer that she had prudently brought with her. What she had found at first puzzled her before she finally made a split second decisions that it must have been a programming error. After all, if she had overridden the mainframe protocols then the ship would have been defenceless in the event of attack. This was completely opposite of the missions default settings, no one could want that.
Engrossed as she was, Alana hadn’t noticed that Arkan was in communication with someone until she was asked a question.
“Professor Cameron, the major wants to know when you will have the undertaking completed,” Corporal Arkan, asked her politely. The soldier who had been assigned to watch her back had been vigilant in her task. She never let her out of her sight or left the corridor unattended.
Stretching, she emerged from the enclosed hole in the wall of the craft. The space was tight but it was the most direct route to the computer’s guts. Alana grinned at the soldier; she was taller than the major was and had allowed herself the indulgence of short hair in contrast to her superior’s shaven head. “I’d estimate at the rate it’s running another ten minutes with another five to check the reboot.”
Pressing the craft’s internal intercom Arkan spoke decisively as her eyes furtively checking for any movement in the vicinity. “Major, fifteen minutes.”
Alana was unable to hear the response but had seen the stiffening of the corporal’s back as she listened intently. Wonder what that meant? Maybe she’d get to know maybe she wouldn’t, at least now her work was almost complete.
“Professor, Major Tranter, wants to know how the reboot will affect the station.”
Surveying her surroundings Alana locked back a stray bang before turning her attention to the microcomputer speedily punching in certain pertinent questions. Seconds later, she had the answer requested. “Auxiliary power will maintain the ships orbit, telemetry, and basic life-support. The weapon’s safeguards are controlled from the second computer onboard and will be unaffected by what I do. Everything else will shutdown for three minutes until the process is complete.”
Arkan relayed the information precisely and waited for a response. “Professor, the major would like to speak with you.”
Standing up and away from the cavity where she had spent the last two hours basically curled up inside, she was thankful for her artificial limbs. They responded immediately to her brain impulses to move. If she had her own flesh and bone attached, they would have protested and most likely let her down. As it was, she was springing forward to speak with the officer in charge. Though as she did so, for a few moments she felt disorientated shrugging it off as her imposed situation.
“Major, how can I help?”
The quiet controlled modulations of the soldier’s voice hit a cord in Alana’s heart as she felt it beat a little more rapidly than normal. Hopefully no one at the command centre noticed that or they might ask her what was going on and that would be way too embarrassing. “Any possibility the reboot process could fail?”
Alana couldn’t help it she chuckled at the question. Maybe a few decades ago stuff like that happened but not these days. She had never witnessed that occur and she’d worked with a few generations of computers in her twenty plus years of using the tool in earnest, “No, Major, I think the chances of the computer malfunctioning are about as remote as…oh, let’s say you finding any joke I might make so funny it cracks you up.”
There was silence at the other end and Al had to wonder if the major was hot footing it over to make sure she hadn’t let a lunatic loose onboard. Or, maybe she was, as incredible as it might appear, unable to understand the subtlety of the comment. “Are you still there Major?”
“Put Arkan back on.” The pitch was decidedly cold as Alana relinquished the spot to the lower ranked soldier.
A short time later Arkan stood over Alana’s position where she was slumped on the floor next to the opening in the corridor watching with disinterest the flashing of the data transfer. “Radicals aren’t receptive to…your type of humour, no matter how well meant it is.”
Alana shifted slightly and looked up into the… Could she see a friendly smile upon the soldier’s otherwise bland features?
“I guess I didn’t think, call it nerves.”
Arkan flicked an assessing glance before she nodded her head. “Major Tranter is someone to be nervous of that’s true, although she wouldn’t particularly understand that concept either…not from you anyway.”
Al was astounded; she was actually having a conversation with a Radical. She had always thought, or at least been told from one source or another, that they didn’t engage in meaningless conversations about personal trivia. Shifting slightly she regained her posture from her slouched position and smiled widely at the soldier.
“Do you mind if I ask you what you meant by that last remark?”
“The Major respects you Professor Cameron you are a known entity to her, she accepts you as an equal, or as much of an equal as you could be to her kind. She wouldn’t understand you being nervous of her.” The words floated matter-of-factly over Alana’s head for a few moments as she digested them to the best of her ability.
A flood of colour she couldn’t prevent washed over Alana’s cheeks as she felt a goofy expression travel over her face. She hadn’t felt like this since she was thirteen and had a crush on her form teacher. “Arkan are you different from the major? Other than rank that is, you obviously knew I was teasing your superior.”
Arkan’s eyes blanked over for a moment then she decided to answer, “Yes, I was born conventionally to members of the scientific programme. Because of my aggressive tendencies after ten years in their care, I was transferred to the armed level. I understand a little of the normal tendency to equate humour with nervousness amongst others.”
Alana’s eyes almost popped out of her head as she learned that this soldier had been taken from her birth parents and put into…barracks?
“I don’t understand wasn’t that extreme to deprive you of your parents love, why that’s barbaric!”
Arkan flexed the muscles in her solid neck as she digested the confused and anger in the professor’s tone. These normal human beings had no idea, no idea at all, of what was good for a child. She had lacked discipline in her environment or the right level of discipline to make her a solid upstanding citizen. Although she had a high IQ, she wasn’t nearly brilliant enough to be more than a lowly technician. In the Army she had moved in the ranks and for her this civilian post meant, she wasn’t subject to the minimal lifespan of most Radical soldiers. “Expedient Professor. It was the best solution to my problems at the time. I was one of the lucky ones I knew my parents many don’t and the new breed don’t even have a childhood anymore.”
“Do you still keep in touch with your folks?” Alana was amazed that a child had been conceived in the normal way from what many termed test tube slavery. She didn’t even know that the Radicals could love.
“No, they were killed in an explosion five years ago.”
The words were uttered without emotion, as she would have normally expected. Only now she had the corporal’s story and felt a vague sense of sadness for the soldier. It couldn’t be good for her to repress those feelings. “I’m sorry to hear that.”
“I don’t need the sympathy Professor. It was a long time ago and they went the way they would have wanted doing the work they both loved.”
Alana gave the soldier a sheepish smile and hesitantly spoke, “I guess that’s true in a way that’s how my parents went and how I want to go in the end…doing what I love…or for someone I love.”
The bleep of the computer indicated that the download was complete and that the machine was ready for rebooting.
“You’d better inform the major I’m about to set the reboot into action.”
Alana waited until she received the nod of the head from the corporal. Because of the sensitivity of the spacecraft’s cargo, she held her breath as she pressed the command to reboot. The droning of the systems began dying and the dimming lights were replaced by small beacons of red diffused light. That light allowed them to navigate the craft with a degree of safety.
Under her breath Alana whispered, “This will seem like a lifetime.”
~ ~ ~
Captain Marmaduke (Punch) Cransky pulled at his long tapering chin. At the Academy the others had called him Punch because of its length, the name had stuck with him ever since. Surveying the vastness of the space void in front of his screen he checked his chronometer and calculated that if all had gone according to plan within a couple of minutes Anvil Four would be in his sights. What would happen next would go down in the annals of history as a triumph of superior strength over the weakling intellects who now ran the planet.
He pressed his communication device to contact his operative who would furnish him with the details he needed. It had been several hours since he last was in touch and needed to know what had happened on Anvil Four since then.
“Ponsonby respond,” the clipped tone of the commander of the Space Station spoke clearly. His craft was manoeuvring its speed closer to the target.
There was static build up as he waited. As he anxiously waited his grip on the arm of the chair would have squeezed out any life in it had it been other than an inanimate object. Then, a faint sound could be heard as he recalibrated the communicator pattern.
“Cransky, what do you want?”
“I want the current status report onboard.”
There was silence for a few seconds then the person at the other end of the communication responded with the required information. “Download isn’t complete yet Cransky, I had to eliminate an operative, he was about to find out what we were doing. The general has replaced him with another technician, can’t get close now they would find me...wait, a reboot is in progress the computer is shutting down systems you can make your move now.”
“Are you certain no one has detected your presence onboard? Captain Erille isn’t a fool, before long Tranter will eventually smell a rat and come looking for you…she won’t be a sitting target.”
“My training is the best the company has to offer, no one can detect me. I’m effectively the invisible man onboard; not even a Radical can find me without pulling the place apart and that wouldn’t be practical in the middle of space would it.”
The cocky tone of the saboteur had Punch Cransky sneering cynically at the communication’s console. Ponsonby’s assignment was to carry out the crucial, though perhaps un-necessary, task of disabling the main computer if all else failed. Sometimes he wished he could blast the likes of Ponsonby off the face of the planet, didn’t he know that he was a Radical too?
“I take your point Ponsonby. Remember one thing; if anything or anyone gets in our way, it’s your job to remove it or them. Make no mistake they won’t allow us onboard without a few pertinent questions and the fewer the better, Cransky out!”
Ending the transmission abruptly, the captain mulled over the people he knew of personally on board Anvil Four. He, of course knew Erille from the selection process. Anvil Four, the pride of the peace stations should have been his to command, not some civilian cargo operator. Competent she may be, however not in his league for the sensitive diplomatic role. How could she be, she was merely a normal - there really wasn’t any competition. Stroking his chin was a tell sign that he was thinking hard about something. When this happened most of the crew dare not disturb him for fear of his temper. As he contemplated the information Ponsonby had delivered to him, he, for a split second, regretted the death of one of his own. However, that was what they had been born for and the soldier would at least be remembered as being part of an historical event. It was fitting the soldier should die as they did; working with his heroine Tranter…ah yes major Tranter. Str ange how the general always sent her on what most would class as one-way missions, pity she always came back. Not this time though I will ensure she dies a fitting if FINAL death. I will personally take great pleasure in destroying her bio-disc.
“Captain we have Anvil Four on our radar, shall we proceed?” His navigator informed him of the proximity of the computer blind station. The words dragged him out of his broad-spectrum musings of how he saw the near future.
“We have a green light Stern; move closer I’ll inform the battle team.” Cransky, with a mocking smile, tugged at his lips as he pressed the red alert button on his console to alert his forces to be battle ready. Completing the function, he called up an encrypted message on his computer and sent that via a secure channel…climbing out of his chair he headed for the loading bay as history beckoned him.
~ ~ ~
Jim Fever in recent months had been in high-level discussions with General McAndrew. He expected that he would be involved in the current meeting that was taking place in his office. Several of his subordinates and a couple of other men he hadn’t seen before dressed in civilian clothing attended. He figured the men were probably from the government, who had a propensity to send new people every time they undertook a project. Why, should today be any different…except he wasn’t invited.
“Sam, has Al contacted us yet?”
“No, do you want me to try her again?” the younger man replied. He was becoming somewhat annoyed with Jim who had asked him the same question at least twenty times in the last ten minutes. The professor’s life signs were okay there had been the odd blip or two but under the circumstances that would be expected. He was sure his would have been erratic in the same circumstances.
Making a face that Sam decided was consternation with a big dollop of frustration his boss shook his head. “Leave it for now Sam.” His eyes strayed again to the sight of the people clustered over the large conference table in his office viewing…what exactly?
Sam caught the man watching the scene above them and glanced that way to see what was so fascinating, “Hope you don’t mind me asking Director, why aren’t you there?”
A heavy sigh greeted his question. “Now that’s a question I’ve tried to find an answer too for this last hour. I don’t know is the only thing I’ve managed to come up with.”
Sam turned away back to his conscientious monitoring of the life signs of both the professor and the major. He was surprised, when a comment floated towards him filled with curiosity.
“If I didn’t know better, I’d say the general there is plotting something…something big.”
His attention caught, Sam switched his attention back to the director. “What do you mean?”
Jim Fever gave the young man his full attention as he realised his speculative words had been uttered verbally. “Sam do you still have the spy-bot in place in my office?”
Coughing slightly and turning a bright red as he looked away from the piercing glance given him by his superior, Sam reluctantly nodded his head. “I haven’t used it though not since you caught me that first day.”
Jim smiled at the young man who had tried to convince him that the device might be useful in some cases. He hadn’t been convinced nor had Al, who had torn a strip off the young man and threatened to expel him from the project if he ever tried to do something like that again. Ah Al, she was such a peaceful type most of the time, except to her aversion to military personnel…the general in particular, and anyone who was remotely devious in nature. Thankfully she had never cottoned on to him.
“Can you switch it on, without anyone in the office noticing its activity?”
“Sure, give me two minutes and you can hear and see everything in the room within the bot’s range. Want me to do that now?”
Ah to be young again, Jim thought as Sam’s excitement bubbled out of him. “Sure let’s see what they don’t want me to know, any incoming transmission from Al?”
Sam grinned, that question again! “No Director, I promise if anything streams over you will be the first to know.”
“Good, now switch your spy on Sam and I’ll take it from there.”
~ ~ ~
Tranter reviewed the doctor’s findings for the second time, the results remained the same and none of the crew was responsible for Starks’s demise. Which meant of course one of two things; Stark had blasted himself, or, and the most likely explanation, there was an interloper onboard. Scanning the data again, she momentarily supposed that the doctor could have forged some of the data, but why would he. Besides, she had vigilantly watched over him the whole time, switching samples hadn’t been an option.
“ Fulton did you take a sample from Stark?”
Giving the major a startled glance, he shook his head, “I didn’t think it relevant, unless he was suicidal. Besides there was no way he could have inflicted that kind of injury on himself. Why do you think that’s a possibility?”
“No! No, Stark wasn’t that type, far from it. I’m going to see Chief Lake for the schematics of this place if you need me call.” Spinning on her heel to exit the medical bay her thought processes were working overtime.
“Do you think there’s more danger ahead?” Mack Fulton asked the woman who had almost disappeared behind the closing door as he spoke.
A second later, the door reopened and Tranter gave him a serious look. Her face had a level of concentration that he hadn’t witnessed outside his medical exams. Something definitely was on her mind. “Watch your back Doctor. Until I know what’s happened here I’m staying.”
This time the door remained closed before he had a chance to say more. However, he expressed them to the empty room anyway, “I will, you do the same.” A pointless platitude but he didn’t think the woman was half as bad as some would have him believe; Lake being one of them. Their one on one meeting should be interesting; he almost wished he could be a fly on the wall.
Lost in thought for a moment he pressed the internal communication’s button on his computer console informing the captain of his findings. She thanked him saying nothing more before ending the conversation. Well it sure looked like everyone was preoccupied with their own versions of what was going on here at the moment and no one prepared to share.
As he stared at the microscope on his bench, he smiled. Oh well, I’ll continue my research. Rolling his eyes, he heard the computer issue a warning that all systems would be offline in five minutes, so much for that.
~ ~ ~
“Shibanion I want that reactor working in two minutes or you’re going out the airlock, do I make myself clear?” Chief Engineer Harry Lake growled at the down trodden technician, who needed sleep as much if not more than Lake …the man hadn’t slept yet.
“Sure chief, we have five minutes before the main computer shuts down.” Shibanion knew working with Lake had been a risky option when he’d taken the post. The man’s reputation had him spitting technicians out for breakfast. However, he needed the work and if he made it through the stint, he’d have a wealth of knowledge working with this man. It would have taken him at least ten years to learn as much back on earth with anyone else.
Lake gave Shibanion the evil eye as the technician scurried away to take care of the reactor. As he did the doors slid open and someone he would rather didn’t invade his personal space, did just that. Damn military they think they own the place.
“Whatever you want can wait; I haven’t time to talk to you,” Lake spit out ignoring the raised eyebrow and the thinning of the major’s lips at the insolent remark.
Tranter’s eyes frosted over as she gave him a glacial stare before walking directly into his path; a tactic she found quite useful in such cases.
“Get out of my face Army girl, I’m busy.” Lake sneered at her and attempted to push her out of his way…mistake.
Tranter’s reaction was like a grenade exploding. She swiftly caught his arm and swung him like a rag doll flying across the floor several metres before he collided with the bulkhead with a resounding thud.
Dazed and feeling numb all over, Lake stared up at the woman who he now had to admit packed a punch in a pint-sized frame. “What the hell did you do that for?”
“No one touches me unless I allow it, you were lucky,” Tranter cryptically remarked.
He felt like he was covered in bruises. Shibanion headed in his direction a stretched out his hand that Lake took gingerly. His muscles protested being stretched, as he continued to stare at the woman who had flipped him with ease. “What did you mean by lucky?”
Tranter refused to answer it was irrelevant. “I need the schematics of the ship before we go offline. Now you can check with your captain if you want but waiting for verification might be the last thing you do.”
Giving the major a long speculative look, he walked over to the console and selected the options she needed. He then transferred them to the standby computer unaffected by the oncoming shutdown. “Take my office you’ll have everything you need there. Take it from me though, that you’d have to be a midget who loves enclosed spaces to have a stowaway onboard.”
The major nodded her head acknowledging his offer, interesting how he had understood what she was looking for…he isn’t as dumb as I thought. “It takes all kinds to make up this world Chief Engineer do you have any suggestions?”
“Shibanion is the reactor green?”
“Yes Chief, what else do you want me to do?”
“Take a break; I want you back here in three hours. Go before I change my mind.” A bright smile crossed the younger man’s features as he left immediately ignoring the major completely as he shot out of the Engine room.
The internal communicator summoned her as she was told by Arkan that the computer was about to be rebooted. A few moments later, she switched her attention back to the engineer. “Shall we look for our stowaway Chief?”
“Yep, when you find them I guess you’re gonna kick ass like you did mine.”
The room seemed to wait in an oddly cold dark silence as she spoke, “I’ll do what I do to most people who attempt to touch me, hurt me, or any of my personnel.”
“Okay, what’s that?”
“They die. As I said earlier Chief Lake , you were lucky.”
Breathing heavily, Lake heard the vicious undercurrents in her voice. She meant every damn word; maybe he’d just let her do her job and he his. Couldn’t help to see what she was doing though, this was Myrtle, his baby, what he didn’t know about this station hadn’t been invented.
“Schematics coming up Major .” As he spoke the drone of the main computer going offline could be heard followed by the life support emergency systems engaging.
~ ~ ~
Colin Stephens had taken the post of navigator on this tin bucket because he gambled, heavily. At least out here in space the most he could lose was the shirt off his back, literally. He could, over the period this ship was away clear up his debts and maybe when he got back his friends might forgive him. He had lost a great deal of their money along the way too. At least with the large pay check and the bonus at the end of the term, he could pay them all back along with his creditors and still be in a position to buy that rundown apartment he’d put a tentative hold on until he returned. He stared out of the scenic window as the main computer died and the reboot began. He wondered if they were the only ones out here in the vastness of the cosmos. A betting ticket in his room, which he’d transacted a week before the mission began, had him at hundred thousand to one odds that extra terrestrials were out here. Hey, if he couldn’t take out such a bet w ho could? And, this one lasted for as long as it took...he hoped it happened soon then all his problems would be over.
Blinking rapidly he thought, he saw movement out there, no it couldn’t be…or could it, were his dreams of a fortune about to be satisfied. Staring once more to the position he had previously seen the movement he concentrated hard. It was like finding a needle in a haystack with the meteor debris that was rolling around this position at the moment. If only their systems were functioning, there would be no problem.
There, there it was again and it WAS getting closer!
“Captain, I need you to verify something for me.”
Captain Erille switched her focus from her impatiently waiting console to the navigator who appeared to be excited about something unusual, as Stephens was known as a poker face onboard. “Yes Stephens what is it?”
“I think we have company,” he pointed in the direction of the steadily glowing object decreasing the distance between them.
Sorrel Erille stared at the area Stephens had indicated it wasn’t possible! No other ship was designated for this area for another six months and that was only to provide provisions and fuel. As she continued to monitor the area she too saw the flicker, something was out there but who and why; hell if only the computer were back online. They didn’t even have internal communications now, if anything was wrong they were a sitting duck.
“Best estimate Stephens how long before they reach our position?”
Stephens quickly calculated in his head the best possible estimate he could with the limited data available “I'd guess four minutes tops…maybe five…could be three though.”
The captain wondered if it was wise to warn the major personally, or stay at her post. She didn’t want to panic anyone unnecessarily, and leaving her post at this critical stage might prove more of a problem.
“Willard, track down Major Tranter, give her the current update on what’s happening up here, primarily we have a foreign entity approaching our position, does she have any views?”
The technician, pleased that he could finally be of some use said, “Yes Captain.” He was going to have the chance to converse with one of his own, even if it was the military . It’s better than waiting around twiddling my thumbs, he thought as he went quickly in search of the major.
Erille twisted her attention back to the moving object. Knowing with their current luck, the damn thing would crash into them before the computer could take defensive action.
~ ~ ~
Alana relaxed for a few moments as the computer in the background happily completed its assigned task. Her eyes wandered to the rigid form of the corporal who basically was her bodyguard. Arkan’s brief synopsis of her life had given Alana an insight into the RADICAL programme and with it, a little more understanding than she had. Up until then her knowledge had been similar to a small star swallowed up in a black hole. Although the project had been in the world’s eyes for three decades the actual details were sketchy to the general public. It was a pity really because that’s how the prejudice and the resentment started... maybe that’s what some fractions wanted , who knew.“Arkan, may I ask you a question about the major?”Arkan turned to face the woman who was seated in what appeared to be an uncomfortable position. Surely her legs must be aching; she knew hers would be and she had superior muscle toning. “Go ahead.&rdq uo;Alana gazed wide-eyed at the soldier, am I actually gossiping with a RADICAL? Wait till I tell them that back at base, if anyone believes me that is. They probably would say I’m hallucinating or something along those lines. “Do you think the major has a social life?”
A surprised expression crossed the corporal’s face before she replied. “Yes, I’m sure she does. We are not robots Professor no matter what your kind think.”
Alana felt embarrassed as she switched her gaze from the blank features of the soldier to the computer and elapsed time. “I’m sorry Arkan, I didn’t mean it that way. I guess…what I was wondering was if she was involved…romantically that is...” Alana trailed off. What am I doing? What if the major finds out Iam asking these types of questions about her personal life. She would probably pummel me into tomorrow and that isn’t what I want at all quite the opposite in fact . Why it mattered so much to her she didn’t know.”
“The military personnel in the programme do not have romantic attachments Professor. Few live long enough to enjoy the pleasure the relationship might offer.”
The simple explanation made Alana gasp, how unfair was that!
Before she could ask anymore the computer began its final reboot sequence and announced it was about to restart. Crawling back into the opening in the corridor Alana watched the final process holding her breath as the computer reopened for business…thank god for small mercies!
~ ~ ~
Willard entered the engine room immediately noticing the light in the chief engineer’s office. As he approached, Tranter looked up and gave him a questioning look although no words passed between them, only eye contact.
“What do you want Willard?” Lake barked at the man gruffly.
“I have a message from the captain, there may be a problem.”
Rolling his eyes, Lake shook his head in annoyance, “What now…nope don’t tell me that advanced crock-pot you call a computer won’t reboot...always knew it wasn’t a patch on the astral series.”
“No Chief, we have an object moving towards us faster than we can out- manoeuvre it if we had the capability. The captain would appreciate the major’s input.”
“You say what?” Lake shot out of the office so he could manually open the portal cover that allowed him a view of the vastness of space.
Tranter had listened to the brief explanation from the technician prior to his arrival, her mind already working on who or what it could be. Telepathy might not be her strong point; Willard had a superior ability in that field. Fortunately for them, it could prove decisive if her dark thoughts turned to fruition.
“God-damn the captain is right and by the looks of her hindquarters I’d say she’s an Anvil series.” The chief loudly bellowed as Tranter walked up silently behind him placing a hand on his shoulder to move him out of the way to view the intruder first hand.
Turning to Willard, they locked gazes again and the technician left in a hurry without speaking.
“Hey what’s with Willard, he left here like a bat out of hell. Does he know something we don’t?” He stared at the ramrod back of the soldier who hadn’t turned to face him or appear to have heard his question.
Swivelling suddenly, Tranter faced Lake . A small smile tugged at her lips, at least he thought it was a smile, could have been a sneer though. “ Lake , I need you to do something for me.”
“Sure, name it.” In the prior minutes while pouring over the schematics Lake had changed his opinion of the major who had been deadly serious about her suspicions. Her knowledge of Myrtle was almost as comprehensive as his was. The nickname he gave the vessel hadn't made any impression except for a brief puzzled frown. Still, she knew his baby and that was good enough for him.
“I need you to consider where, if you were a stowaway on this ship, you would hide without detection. When you have options I’ll assign Arkan to you and perhaps you’d like to find whoever has invaded the …Myrtle.” Tranter’s words were clipped and precise playing along with his sentimentality regarding the ship. Normals appeared to be nourished remarkably, when it happened .
Puffing out his chest like an impressive cockerel Lake smiled; darn tooting he was all for a piece of adventure and no one knew Myrtle like he did. “I’ll do that with great pleasure Major. What are you going to do?”
“I have intruders to repel Lake , call me when you are ready.”
Tranter left the chief engineer as quickly as she had appeared earlier. She seemed to him a kind of an elusive phantom; probably exactly what was required right now. As he peered at the plans pulsing on the screen in his office, the main computer announced it was fully functioning, all systems green.
~ ~ ~
General Horatio T. McAndrew, waiting for their answer to his proposal, pierced all the people at the conference table with a questioning gaze. From where he sat, there were no dissenters...just as well really, because he’d already taken the appropriate action. Glancing down at his gold band watch, a twenty-fifth wedding anniversary gift from his wife, the deed was already in action.
“Do I have your approval?”
One of the two men in suits, as opposed to the mass of uniforms, stood up and cleared his throat ready to speak. “I’m speaking for us all General McAndrew. We accept that this is the only way and approve you taking over Anvil Four and the weapons aboard until we can arrange a more appropriate government.”
A tight smile followed the answer as the general stood up and faced the ten bodies around the table, “You won’t regret this and to give you peace of mind the task is already underway. I expect to hear from my people in …oh I’d say an hour, to inform me they have control. Now, if you don’t mind, I need to retrieve a member of one of my units from Anvil Four before the final phase. Wouldn’t do to have too many outside this room know what we are doing would it?”
Several nods of heads and a murmur of agreement followed his comments as they filed out of the room, speaking in hushed nervous tones with each other as they departed.
The general looked at the plan of action strewn over the conference table as he gathered up the sensitive data. Soon now, very soon, he would hold all the aces in the pack and it wouldn’t be any new government in charge, no sir, HE WOULD!
~ ~ ~
Jim Fever and Sam sat together looking more like conspirators than the people who had been having a secret meeting in his office above them. What they heard had shocked and disturbed them to the core.
Gulping quickly, Sam switched his attention to the director of operations, “Did he really imply he’s taking over Anvil Four? I thought that there were special defence grids and weapons onboard to prevent that type of action taking place.”
Jim Fever flicked a stray hair out of his eyes as he too considered with incredulity the situation. Sam was right there was a laser defence net that stopped any object even an earth craft from being within a mile of the Station. No one but the World Governing Assembly had the authority to override the prime directive of the computer onboard. That failsafe had been programmed into the ship when it left Earth. “There is Sam, but if someone in the Assembly has been compromised the codes could have been stolen.”
Sam reflected on that for a few moments then shook his wavy hair like a shaggy dog. “Nope not possible, each member of the assembly has their own unique code and all have to be entered into the computer in a pre-sequenced order or it doesn’t work. No way can everyone be compromised in the Assembly...didn’t you hear what he said? They wanted to overthrow the current government.”
“I heard Sam, I heard. What I’m concerned about at this moment is Al...we need to get her out of there now! Can you try contacting her again? She needs to be back at base within the next hour I’d say or she might never get back…alive.” Jim Fever paced the room and felt that someone was watching him with evil intent. His eyes naturally strayed up to the glass front of his office and a cold granite gaze caught his briefly. Did the general know that they knew, no way, he couldn’t have known about Sam’s spy-bot, he couldn’t.
Sam agreed and hoped that this attempt would be successful as all the others having failed. “The computer should be online by now I’m sure we will contact her this time.”
Jim Fever made the most unusual decision of his life as he picked up his jacket and walked towards the airlift to his office. “I’ll return soon Sam. Tell Al whatever it takes to have her back here...even if you have to make something up...like I’m dead or something.”
“Where are you going Director?” Sam switched his attention to the man about to leave the room; the tone of his voice had an unusual aspect to it.
Flicking the young man a brief reassuring smile he spoke,” into the Ogre’s den Sam. Fetch Al back safe for me, I’ll return soon.”
Before Sam could warn him to be careful, the airlift had taken the director out of sight.
Wiping the sweat from his brow, Sam concentrated on the task ahead to bring the professor home…
~ ~ ~
“Captain Erille, any idea of who is the commander of Anvil Two?” Tranter stared coldly at the looming spacecraft that was now able to send a party onboard if that was its mission.
For a few moments, Sorrel Erille pondered that question. How she had forgotten amazed her, after all the guy would have killed her given the opportunity when he knew he hadn’t gained the coveted post of Anvil Four. It was after all, the most prestigious and important vessel of the Anvil space stations. “Punch, that is Captain Cransky, I believe he’s one of yours.”
Denise Tranter assimilated the information, however wasn’t familiar with the soldier. He must be from another continental base. “I don’t know him; do you know why he would be here at this position and at this time? Rather convenient wouldn’t you say especially with the computer down.”
“Are you implying that I informed him of our problems?”
Tranter’s glacial eyes captured the captain’s, “I never imply Captain. If it wasn’t you then who could it be?”
Erille wanted to scream at the cold bitch that appeared to think that she was embroiled in some kind of sabotage of her own vessel. How far from the truth could someone be? “If you concentrate on finding out whose responsible for the death of your subordinate perhaps we might have the answer.”
Tranter’s gaze shifted as she watched Anvil Two maneuver. manoeuvre. “What do you make of that position?”
Stephens swivelled in his chair to face his captain and the major, his eyes disturbed and shocked at the current situation. “Captain if you don’t mind my interrupting…”
“Go ahead Stephens.” Erille switched her concentration to the navigator.
“They’ve managed to traverse the security laser net when the computer was down but we now have all functions at green. Shouldn’t we contact them it’s a dangerous position to be in?”
Erille felt embarrassed and ashamed of herself. She didn’t need her second to advise her of her job, although at this time apparently she did. Her focus had been taken up by the major who had antagonised her. “Open the secure channel Stephens; let’s hear what Cransky has to say for himself, video and audio please.”
The navigator attempted to communicate with their sister vessel, as Tranter located an internal communication port. Quickly she contacted Arkan with a swift revision of the corporal’s orders. Her new task was to accompany the professor to the bridge and then report to Lake ...there was a special task for her when she saw the chief engineer.
“This is Captain Sorrel Erille of Anvil Four, why have you breached our security net Anvil Two?” Her voice was filled with authoritarian outrage. Interestingly enough, something Major Tranter approved of immediately. It wouldn’t do to let the enemy see you were in shock.
Static filled the room as the channel, opened to full capacity, crackled ominously silent of words.
“Answer me Cransky, what the hell are you doing in my space?”
Still no reply, another nail in the coffin for whoever was onboard Anvil Two if they wanted to make anyone think this was merely a navigational error.
Erille turned to the soldier who was silently waiting for a response. “Do you want to try? After all, he is one of yours.” Her sarcastic rejoinder amused Tranter for a split second before she answered unequivocally.
The single negative word response astounded Erille who stood up from her chair. “No? What kind of answer is that for god’s sake?”
“The only one worthy of this situation. If you activate the net what happens to Anvil Two?”
The precise intonation left Erille in no doubt that the major saw Anvil Two as the enemy. Couldn’t it be? It was part of the Civil World Defence Fleet, albeit it was not carrying any of the weapons of mass destruction, they had those, or at least the vast majority. One and Three had the older weapons of the last century, not as destructive but nasty nonetheless. Two was the communication and security grid safeguard, effectively the router in space for the other three space stations.
“I asked you a simple question Captain Erille or was that never an option firing on your own people?”
The door opened onto the bridge as Erille licked her dry lips before answering. Her eyes took in the arrival of a stranger, though one the major obviously knew. Therefore, by simple deduction it must be the replacement for the murdered private. Thank goodness, her mind was still functioning, although to the major she was making a fool of herself and she had to wonder why. She’d been trained for enemy intervention just not this exact scenario.
“If it was any vessel but Two, I’d say we had the capability to obliterate them.”
Alana Cameron heard the tail end of what appeared to be a critical situation as her eyes scanned in amazement at the deck of the space ship. It was her first trip in space, anywhere really outside her base of operations as normally her life was stuck behind a desk, without her artificial legs. Then her eyes locked on the viewing panel showing the vastness of space. Though it wasn’t that vast for there was a damn space ship close to them. Is that normal? Her gaze shifted immediately to Major Tranter, hoping to hear something less aggressive than obliterating someone or something. Listening intently to the reply, she placed a hand over her mouth to prevent an audible gasp at the next words.
“I think we should obliterate them before they try anything untoward to this vessel.” The clipped words appeared to echo around the enclosed bridge.
“Not so easy Major, Two is…was our safeguard. She can eliminate any threat to herself and any of the other Anvil Stations, by entering a special pass code from Earth.”
“I thought you might say that. Okay we need to gain time any suggestions...it is your vessel Captain after all?” As Anvil Two was here in this part of space taking up an aggressive stance, in Tranter’s mind at least, there was no doubting they also had a pass-code from Earth. The next question was who had leaked the pass-code and why. Though taking over Anvil Four was a safe bet in gaining superiority over the Earth and that opened up a whole kettle of fish. If they took over command of Earth she was technically bound to serve the new leader, an interesting situation.
“ Lake , he could destabilize the hatches to prevent entry…that is unless they can do what you did and arrive unannounced?” Erille replied sarcastically pondering other avenues to prevent invasion of her ship. It had been bad enough when Tranter and his people appeared. Although she had to admit, the technology that brought them to the station was a marvellous prospect for the future…in the right hands.
Alana entered the conversation at that moment. “No, no they can’t at least I’m not aware that anyone else has the technology.”
Erille turned to the woman who jumped into the conversation before the major was able to answer. That was some risk taking if the few hours she’d already spent in the major’s company was anything to go by. The soldier wouldn’t like that one little bit.
“Are you sure Professor?” Denise Tranter found that being usurped by the professor had stung a little. However, she had been the prime candidate to field that particular question therefore, she allowed her pride to accept the situation for the time being.
Alana shifted her gaze away from the space station in close proximity to them and returned the major’s measured gaze. “I’m sure, or as sure as I can be. However, let’s face it the military always has several agendas so who’s to know. Perhaps when I was sleeping they copied everything I’ve done and gave it away to the highest bidder.”
Sorrel smiled a feisty character in sheep’s clothing it would appear. She didn’t sound like a RADICAL and if she wasn’t how the hell had they hooked up together? It was like chalk and cheese. “I take it you’re not military?”
“Sorry Captain, no, I’m Professor Cameron, Alana Cameron, and the TEMPEST programme is my project.”
All eyes appeared to be levelled at Al as she spoke quickly, “Yeah, it was my father’s pet name for the project, and it stuck with me. The military have their own name for the work, Equinox. And then, there are the people at the base who call it ….”
“We haven’t time for small talk, Professor I want you to return to base and inform the general personally of our predicament.” Holding up her hand as Alana tried to interrupt, “I don’t trust the transmissions from here, we haven’t found the person who killed Stark and until we do we have to assume everything is compromised.”
Disappointed, although understanding the direction she was being told to take Alana nodded her head. “Anything else?”
For a brief moment, her eyes caught Tranter’s and she was certain there was something…an indecipherable message being sent to her. Fat chance of the soldier ever actually saying what it was though.
“Yes, will you take this to Sergeant Lewis at RADICAL base and only him mind you, no one else, that’s paramount! He’ll know what to do.” Tranter slipped a disc out of her pocket and handed it to Alana.
“Okay, anything else?” A part of Alana wanted Tranter to say come back although she knew that was only wishful thinking. What else could she do to help anyway? She wasn’t a soldier and right now, that’s what was needed if the strained atmosphere inside this craft was anything to go by.
Denise gazed at the woman. It was odd really, she felt an attachment to the professor that she had only ever felt with her own people and not that many of those. You could count on one hand the number of people she was comfortable enough with to let her steel guard down. A part of her actually found the professor quite…different. She felt at ease when the woman was nearby even though she did say some strange things. “Nothing more professor .”
Alana bent her head fractionally as her hair covered her face, thankfully preventing anyone from seeing her disappointment. Except she hadn’t been quick enough for Captain Erille had noted the raised awareness between the major and the professor… Hmm maybe something was going on with those two, that would be a first for a military RAD, and especially that one, by all accounts Tranter was the mold they made the rest from.
“I’ll return to the coordinates for transfer.”
Tranter gave the professor a slow smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes but who cared it was close enough, “I’ll escort you to the coordinates Professor. Captain, have Lake make the changes you described earlier and anything else that might help. Will you also have Doctor Fulton meet me in the galley?”
Without another word or before Erille could utter one the two women had departed. Why on earth did she need Mack Fulton in the Galley?
~ ~ ~
Walking silently down what appeared to Alana the longest corridor she had ever circumnavigated in her life, a sense of rightness assailed her as she walked side by side with the major. It was true she wasn’t prone to flights of fancy, however right at this moment she suspected she was in a dreamscape and didn’t want to wake up any time soon. They neared the point of initial entry, which was a coordinate that would be easy for Sam to reconnect with to bring her home. Alana wondered if she dare spend her last few seconds with the major making small talk… nah won’t work. The soldier didn’t appear to understand her version of teasing or a joke, but still she didn’t want to leave like this. In a way, for her at least, it would leave a part of her life unresolved. She felt that once she was back on earth and became embroiled in the project again that this would be the last she would see of the major. A real big part of her didn’ t want that to happen.
“Major, it is good that I changed a few things on that disc you gave me or we would have been in big trouble now,” the lightness of her tone indicating that it wasn’t a big deal.
The regimented precise steps the soldier beside her stopped immediately as a strong restraining grip attached to her arm prevented her from moving any further. “What did you say Professor?”
Startled at the abrupt action, Al stared innocently at the major whose expression was a mix of blandness and interest - if those two could ever be expressed on the same face.
“I tweaked the software; it hadn’t been set up correctly. If I’d loaded it without those checks I insisted on doing the security network and pretty much all of the major operations of the space station, wouldn’t have operated. I figured that an error had been made and …”
Alana stopped in mid-conversation as she saw an understanding gleam penetrate the usually cold grey orbs. Although they remained focused on her they were a million miles away or as good as.
“This changes everything,” Tranter muttered. That was another first as the soldier was, without doubt, one of the clearest speakers she had ever come across.
“I don’t understand, Major, have I make a mistake in changing the data?” PerturbedAlana, with a wideeyed expression, waited for clarification.
Tranter’s eyes softened a little, not much it was fair to say. However, to her it was like the sun shining through on a frosty day immediately warming your body through. She felt exactly that way and more so when Tranter genuinely smiled at her. “You made the right choice Professor, I’m glad you arrived to help. I have a change of plans for you...do not and I repeat do not tell the general anything other than you did what you had to do and left. He’ll want all the details, but I’m sure you can evade those. I want you to make contact with Sergeant Lewis immediately he’ll know what to do.”
Al blinked rapidly and knew what was wanted of her. She would relish not involving the general in any of the information. However, she wondered if that would be was wise under these circumstances. “I don’t mean to question you Major, is that wise in this situation...I mean...to ignore the general? He can send you help, we can do it through…”
A finger was pressed firmly to her lips to prevent any more words being spoken, “Trust me Professor Cameron, I know what I’m doing. Sergeant Lewis will need your help and it could be dangerous...even a matter of life or death, will you help him?”
A split second later she retorted, “Do you trust Lewis with your life?”
“I do and with yours too. He won’t fail you or me unless he’s dead. Give him the disc and this message, the wolf is rogue.”
“The wolf is rogue? Are you certain he’ll understand that?”
Major Tranter gave Alana a brief smile, “Yes he will. I need to go I can hear movement outside, good luck Professor.”
Unthinking, she placed a hand on the major’s arm. It was a gesture she wished she hadn’t done when she saw the flint in the grey eyes regarding her closely. “I wish you luck too Major… and maybe when you return you can explain this all to me…over dinner perhaps.”
Tranter would have normally swatted the small hand from her person, however, the tie she felt to this woman dictated otherwise. This damn space must be doing weird things to my senses. “If I return you can count on it.”
Without waiting to hear a response, Alana was left alone. The last words the major spoke to her made her uneasy as she punched the communicator and waited for her signal to be answered. A welcome sense of relief overwhelmed her as Sam answered the call.
“Sam, transport me home, it’s urgent.”
Sam’s next words puzzled her. However, she would find out what was going shortly, as the disorientation of the process overtook her and she felt herself in the dark void of nothingness with Sam’s words buzzing in her head... “I’ll second that, it’s all hell here Professor.”
~ ~ ~
Chief Lake had been impressed with the major, and not much impressed him these days. Whatever else was said about the Radical programme, he was glad they, at least, had a couple of that type aboard the vessel. His eyes fleetingly moved to Corporal Arkan who had spoken more to him in the last few minutes than she had since they had embarked on the mission six months before. Damn strange breed, but what else can you expect from a test tube and a few drops from a syringe.
“Have you secured the hatch Arkan?”
“Yes, where next?”
He glanced at the schematics of the vessel. He knew them by heart but at this juncture, it was better to have a blueprint as well as his memory...especially if something happened to him. “We have choices, the galley, captain’s room and the medical centre.”
Arkan slipped down the ladder with ease as she faced the engineer. “Captain’s quarters next it’s the closest to this position. Can the Doc help...he could take care of the medical area.”
Lake shifted his gaze from the diagram in his hand to the woman. She was right on the button with this one. “Can’t see why not. I’ll send Shibanion to help him.”
“Which means engineering will be left unmanned is that wise?”
“Oh, don’t worry about that Arkan, I have that covered.” He pressed the internal communicator and Lake advised Shibanion of his new task. He also told the technician to input the prime code into the engine room.
Arkan listened intently, waiting for him to complete his instructions before speaking. “What is the prime code Lake ?”
Lake grinned, allowing his craggy face to adopt a more pleasing expression as they arrived at the Captain’s quarters. “Shibanion and I have a private code for the engineering area, if we have to leave it unmanned. It would take the cleverest computer hacker in the universe to figure it out so...everything is secure in that area. Now, let’s get on with our shoring up because I want to find the son-of-a-bitch who’s a stowaway on my Myrtle.”
Arkan gave the man a thorough searching with her piercing eyes before she followed him. Let’s hope nothing happens to Lake or Shibanion or we won’t have a clue on how to disengage the code. Has the chief thought of that instance? ~ ~ ~
Jim Fever didn’t knock on his door as he would normally when someone else was using his office. This was no time for politeness or protocol, the man inside…no strike that...the whole damn crowd who had been in the office moments earlier were all crazy! The general stared at him with a cynical annoyed expression. It was clear that General McAndrew was verging on a megalomaniac and someone had to stop him. At that moment, the only person who was in any position to try was himself.
“I haven’t finished with your office yet Fever, what do you want?”
Jim traded glance for glance with the general until the man’s eyes seemed to burn into his sockets bringing a vicious stinging sensation. Shifting them to his conference table and the papers strew over them he spoke clearly, “The computer is back online. I’m expecting Cameron and your officer back shortly; I thought you’d want to know.”
For a second, and it was only that, Fever thought the general looked disconcerted. “Has Major Tranter confirmed the status?”
“No not yet, Alana knows her computers I don’t foresee a problem.”
McAndrew moved towards the director of the project and for a split second looked as guilty as sin. That could only mean there was more crap flying than even he’d anticipated from the conversation he and Sam heard. “Anything else?”
Jim’s Adams apple moved convulsively swallowing was proving to be difficult. He knew what he had come there to do and it certainly wasn't small talk. “I know what you’re doing General and if you don’t call it off I’ll have no option but to report you to the Council.”
General McAndrew stared hard at the man who had confronted him. Now what exactly does this weak livered civilian think he knows? Dammit all. Unless...I have a spy in the camp and that's highly unlikely. “Please Director Fever, I’m all ears. Exactly what do you think I’m doing that requires your intervention?”
“I heard your conversation with the others and know you have something nefarious planned for Anvil Four!”
The general moved his head fractionally cracking his knuckles as he indicated for Jim to take a seat. “I see. Would it be of any use to you to know why I’m taking the action I am? How foolish of me...no it wouldn’t would it? You suddenly have found scruples, right Fever? That's strange really, since you’ve usurped Cameron for years and prevented her from taking the top post here. Does she know that?”
Jim Fever turned a bright red as he heard the accusation. It was true…in a way, but Al never wanted the promotion. She was a hands on kind of girl and there was no way would she have left the project to others in order to satisfy a government accountant’s questions. Perhaps he’d been underhand in the beginning and maybe he hadn’t supported her when he should have... From this moment on, all that is going to change…drastically. “Professor Cameron has never made it a secret that she despised being a boot licker to the military. I’m sure you are aware of that with your dealings with her. Whatever you think I’ve done General is peanuts to what you are planning.”
A cynical expression crossed the general’s features as he watched the man take the proffered seat opposite him. Just how stupid could the general populous be if, Fever, thought to be one of their more proficient minds, was the sum of their brain power. Even that bitch Cameron would have, he suspected, thought seriously before confronting a person in his position with the type of information Fever thought he possessed. Ah, even intelligent people can be duped by their foolish naivety.
Sitting down in Fever’s chair, he gave the director a hard stare. H was perspiring profusely brought on no doubt by nerves and fear. That was the precise reason he preferred to have his soldiers all from the RADICAL programme. At least they never gave way to the emotional maelstrom that so-called normal human beings wallowed in. They were the perfect army to be the spearhead of his campaign and no one, not even his compatriots, knew the real deal. “Perhaps they haven’t informed you yet, but the project is going to be under the wing of a new general shortly. Did you know that Fever?”
Nervously he glanced at his hands rather than at the too friendly military officer sitting in his chair. Something wasn’t holding up and he didn’t know what, have I played my hand too quickly perhaps. “No, usually we are the last to be informed, who’s the unlucky sucker?”
He raised his eyebrows a fraction. Under normal circumstances he would have stood on Fever like a bug for the remark, but at that moment he would let the man say what he wanted; after all it really didn’t matter. By now, things would be far too advanced to rectify from Earth. How satisfying it was going to be to see all the sunken sallow faces cow towing to him, especially that bastard Louis. He might be the chief of staff, but he didn’t have the balls to be a real soldier. The fact that she had surpassed him and placed that weak kneed ass wiper Randolph in his place had to be gross negligence. Randolph had no idea what the project was about and the Radicals would gobble her up and spit her out before breaking a sweat.
“Lieutenant General Sheryl Randolph, I doubt you’ve heard…”
Fever grinned at the name and jumped in before the general had completed his sentence. “Why that’s wonderful! I’ve heard marvellous reports about her, she’s new blood I believe General.”
A ruddy colour traced McAndrew’s complexion as he stood up. An angry expression vied for dominance as he puffed out his cheeks trying to remain calm. Who the hell does this man think he is, what does he know about the military? Finally schooling his features to the bland mask he normally wore, he responded coldly, “Yes, she’s new to this area.”
“Al...I mean Professor Cameron, might be more amenable with a woman at the helm. You know what these feminist types are like.” Fever smiled, forgetting for a moment why he was actually there; it was great news if it was true. Randolph was approachable and committed to whatever area she was assigned. Although the military aspect was paramount with her, other non-military personnel said they were treated with the same respect; a total reverse from this general.
“Professor Cameron is a feminist? I really hadn’t envisaged her as the bra burning type.” A speculative expression replaced the angry one he had worn previously.
“Perhaps that was a little to harsh of an expression, she may respond a little better to a woman’s influence. You know what the female kind is like; they react to the gentle approach from time to time. However, that’s not why we are here is it General. Are you going to call off your hit against Anvil Four?”
A low chuckle escaped the general. Predictable, of course very predictable is the shift in conversation. How easily these people forget the important agenda. So smothered in their own little worlds anything mentioned that changes what they know puts them off-guard no matter the importance. This was why it is going to be so easy to dissolve the threat this man might have been had he been savvy enough to direct his pleas to the World Council. Instead, the idiot came to me the perpetrator of the action.
“In one word Fever, no!”
Jim Fever blinked rapidly. The general looked so confident and relaxed seeming not to take his knowledge seriously. “Don’t you believe me?” disbelief paramount in his tone.
General McAndrew gave the man a sardonic smile; the kind he gave to defeated and ineffectual opponents. He shrugged his shoulders and rested his hands on his hips in a smooth movement that Fever missed totally. “Of course I believe you Fever; you think you know what’s going on however you know nothing. If you did, do you think I’d allow you to speak freely. Perhaps there’s a bug in this office…ah I see there is by your expression, how inconvenient. Did anyone else listen to my private conversation with my colleagues?”
Fever hung his head a sure sign to the general that the man had something else to hide. Ah, so there had been another or perhaps others in possession of my plans. He would have to deal with that shortly right now it was of no consequence because it was too late...way too late. Moving with a speed that astonished Fever, the general stood by his side. He attempted to rise out of the chair but the large heavy hand of the soldier’s rested on his shoulder preventing him from moving.
“You won’t get away with this action general, I’ll make sure others know about it.” Jim’s eyes were filled with anger and fear as he defiantly stared up at the man who was supposed to be a defender of their world. Now, he had dramatically changed his spots to take up the mantle of terrorist in an attempt to take over the world’s arsenal.
“A great pity you have to see it that way Director Fever.” Without a blink of an eye, the general reached for his sidearm and shot the man in the forehead, his brains splattering fluidly onto the floor behind him. The sound had been silenced evoking no more than a muffled echo in the room. Thank god for the new style handguns . They were as effective as the old except they could be, with a flick of a few buttons on the electronic hand piece, turned into a silenced weapon with minimal splatter. Bending slightly to reposition the man who had slumped forward he propped him up; he looked to the casual observer as if he was working at the conference table.
“Just as well Fever, you would have hated to be demoted when I place my own team at the head of this project. I will have at my fingertips the world’s weapons of mass destruction, a RADICAL army and this new technology that can place my people anywhere at the press of a button. Who could possibly stop me now?”
Walking over to the window, he gazed down at the boy working over a piece of equipment. If he had been listening to the conversation with Fever there were no visible signs. Hmm, maybe there is activity and Major Tranter is about to return. He would make his final call and check it out for himself.
~ ~ ~
Cransky sat atop the viewing podium carefully scrutinizing his surroundings before he gave the no going back command to board Anvil Four. He hadn’t heard from Ponsonby either way and as far as he was concerned, his orders stood. He was to take Four with as much force as was necessary until he had total impenetrable power over the craft. There would be no mercy...all crew affiliated with Anvil Four were to be killed immediately regardless of any white flag entreaty they might muster. That was the general’s order.
“Commander we have power sparks appearing in the net, do you want me to eliminate the threat?”
Captain Cransky considered that matter with even more care. The computer virus had either been neutralised or it had never been transferred. Either way that didn’t matter they had all the power now and he was more than happy to take advantage of the situation. “Go ahead, initiate shutdown of Four’s main computer.”
“Yes Commander.” Punching in the sequence to activate the shutdown of Four’s computer system the process indicated a fifteen minute window before complete power loss. “Fifteen minutes and counting Commander.”
Nodding his head, Cransky accepted the information while turning his gaze to the beauty that was within his grasp. The general had promised him overall command of the Anvil Stations if he agreed to help and he wasn’t one to turn down an offer like that...no RADICAL could, it was, in his mind, the ultimate accolade . Major Tranter might be the golden girl of the programme as far as the other soldiers were concerned, but that brought with it no power at all. He had the faith of the general himself and one day he was going to have a rank far superior to Tranter. Then let’s see who the pride of the programme is!
He pressed the internal communication device, “Five minutes and counting, all personnel take their positions, initiating operation RETREVAL.”
~ ~ ~
Denise Tranter walked decisively towards the galley where she expected to see Doctor Fulton waiting for her. She found him there along with Chef Reagon.
“Good, we haven’t much time. Doctor are you familiar with the airborne virus Sirafaz?”
Mack Fulton stared in surprise at the question. Sure, he’d heard of the virus it had been used extensively in Africa by bastards who wanted to pillage the lesser able countries without bloodshed. It had caused a big outcry twenty years before and now it was banned like everything else that could wield massive disruption.“Sure who hasn’t, why?”
Tranter pursed her lips slightly before answering, “I take it you have some aboard the station?”
“Yes, however that doesn’t answer my question why?” puzzled his eyes shifting from the major to the chef who was standing casually against the counter with amusement filling his expression. If he had been a betting man, he would have laid odds that Reagon had been the guy who killed the soldier earlier but his DNA hadn’t matched any of the evidence.
Tranter gave him a cool glance.“Excellent, I need you to locate and load it into the air-system.”
Completely forgetting that she hadn’t answered his question at least not directly Fulton glared at her. “You can’t do that it will paralyse everyone aboard even you!”
Slowly smiling a smile that didn’t equate to any joke or amusement, Tranter nodded her head. “Yes it will, now do as I say. How long will it take, you have less than five minutes I’d calculate.”
Mack Fulton didn’t believe his eyes, had the major run this one by the captain? “Does Erille know what you are planning?”
“No, if you don’t go about your duty Doctor I’ll have to do it for you and believe me I’d have no compunction in choosing a weapon that can do far more damage and not blink an eyelid.” Tranter turned to the chef who was smirking at the doctor’s discomfort. “You help him, every second is valuable.”
Mack, shaking his head, walked over to the exit glanced at the major once more. “I’m not sure how much I can load into the system in five minutes it’s going to take me time to locate the virus.”
“Do what you can…oh and you might warn the captain to have everyone issued with a ventilation mask, we can’t have our crew under the influence can we.” Tranter watched the doctor leave with a protesting chef tagging along. At least she knew what the cook was up to. It unwise at this mement to have anyone unaccounted for. Checking the elapsed time she hoped that the professor hadn’t taken a side trip. Now, more than ever, she needed backup she trusted.
~ ~ ~
Alana arrived back at the exact coordinates she had left several hours previously. Her goal now was to find the Lewis person the major wanted her to give that strange message to. As she looked up, Doctor Patricia Forsyth quickly came forward to check her vital signs.
“We missed you Al, how was the trip?” her cheerful question was buoyant in vast contrast to Sam’s mood when she had spoken briefly with him. Whatever Sam was worried about certainly hadn’t filtered to this area.
Smiling at her friend and colleague Al waved away the help to remove the wrist equipment. “No leave it Pat, I need to go someplace else, now.”
Unsure what was going on, Patricia gave the professor a puzzled frown. She hadn’t been informed that Al was going back again so soon. “I haven’t had any instruction…”
“No you haven’t Pat, I need a com-link to Sam…a private one.”
Pat was unable to decipher what was going on and thought maybe Al was having a strange reaction to the process. It hadn’t happened before but who was to say what happened; they’d never attempted a space transport before. Flicking a hand towards the console in the far corner of the room, Pat indicated that Al could talk with Sam there.
“Thanks Pat, you’ll understand soon enough but right now I haven’t time to explain.” Walking over to the console she punched in the direct access number to Sam.
“Control, have we a problem, where’s the professor?”
“I’m here Sam, look I need you to reload my data into the machine and locate the major’s base of operations. I need you to put me inside the RADICAL mess room.”
“What the hell do you want to do that for Professor? Wait up until you know what’s going on at this end...when you know what we know you won’t want to do that, trust me.” Sam’s voice raised an octave as he pleaded with her forgetting protocol as he cursed.
Alana smiled slightly. It was true, she didn’t know what they did, however it couldn’t be worse than what was happening out in the darkness of space. “Perhaps not Sam, but right now I haven’t time to argue or find out. Will you please do as I ask? Where’s Director Fever?” Al had half expected him to be at the console chastising her for what she had done; it would be just like him. Their friendship was a strange one in many ways. He was all the things she wasn’t and he was welcome to some of the traits, but he was as committed to the project as she was. He used underhand techniques that he thought she wasn’t aware of but she was; there was always someone out there ready to gossip at the drop of a hat. The major had indicated that what she was asking was dangerous and she had considered that knowledge only briefly when she’d opted to go in Sam’s place. Now, Stark was dead and it hadn’t been an accident so whatever happened to her could be deadly. Fortunately, Fever could replace her easily with his knowledge and her work and that of her parents would continue.
“The director is with the general in his office want me to call him?”
“No! Under no circumstances are you to relate any of this to the general! And, that means the director too if he can’t be trusted.”
Sam sighed heavily, too much shit was bouncing around at the moment it was making his head spin. “Okay what if he asks?”
“Tell him you brought me back, I was tired and went to take a nap.”
Snorting at the remark the young man laughed. “You think he’ll believe that?”
“No, stall him anyway you can Sam, I know you’ll do your best.”
Alana grinned as she rested her forehead on her arm for a moment. Her legs were killing her; crouched in that corridor was finally taking its toll on her. She rarely had her legs on for that long and couldn’t remember a time when she had in several years. Oh well, Soon she would pass the message on, find out what Sam’s problem was and then relieve herself, for a time, of the need to use the legs .
“I have the coordinates Professor are you sure you want me to do this?”
Alana gave the console a rueful glance as she stood there. “Absolutely.”
“Patricia do we have a RADICAL soldier called Sergeant Lewis in our DNA banks?”
“I’ll have the data base checking as I prep you.” She was then told to go ahead with the process dispensing with the prepping as it would only delay matters and they didn’t have that luxury. She shook her head, mystified by the order. “Al, this isn’t like you.” Pat reminded the woman who looked like she was about to do battle with the devil. The expression on her friend's face was clearly filled with immense concentration and determination.
Al smiled. “I know Pat, but what the hell. We all have to break away sometime and this must be my rebellious time. Contact me when you know about Lewis, it’s important.”
“You got it, good luck Al. Beginning process, Sam you can initiate as of now.”
Doctor Pat Forsyth and Sam Ramsey watched their respective screens as Professor Alana Cameron disappeared once more into the abyss of her project.
~ ~ ~
Captain Sorrel Erille stared at Anvil Two that was encroaching their area of space, knowing she couldn’t do a damn thing. All she could hope for was that the RADICAL who had boarded her vessel wasn’t part of the team since it looked increasingly like they were hostile. However, her gut told her that Major Tranter wasn’t part of the traitorous movement that had obviously formed on Earth since they’d been gone. Nevertheless, even gut feelings were wrong and the major hadn't seen fit to consult with her about any of the actions she was taking. Mack had duly reported that she wanted to use Sirafaz. It was not a virus of her choice although on reflection, it was a damn good call if it played out how the major obviously wanted it to. Scrutinising the airlocks via the computer terminal she was surprised to see that not all had been disabled. Hadn’t Lake and Arkan completed that task? She pressed the com to contact her chief engineer, “H arry are you almost done?”
“We are done Captain. We closed up the last one a couple of minutes ago and are heading to the area where the major thinks the saboteur might be hiding.”
Pursing her lips she digested the information. “Where is that exactly Harry?”
“Docking bay three, there are several places the son-of-a-bitch could hide without detection, why?”
“I think you might be heading to the right area but wrong direction. Check out the airlock at the end of the corridor of bay two, you might find a fugitive hiding around there.”
A curse or perhaps several caused Erille to raise her eyebrows fractionally as the engineer decided to turn the air blue wherever he was located. “We’ll take that bastard down, let’s go Arkan.”
“Captain the main computer is beginning to shut down again what shall we do?” Stephens asked.
“On its own?”
“Yes, Captain, the instruction is from Anvil Two.”
“I see. There’s nothing more you can do. Keep a close eye on things here Stephens...if anything changes keep me informed. I’m going to find Tranter.”
Erille stood up and left the command post. What use was she there anyway? The computers were shutting down, traitors were about to invade her ship and all she was doing was sitting there crossing her fingers that all would be right… well it isn’t. If I don’t play a part in this fiasco then I can't expect much more from my personnel. I might be a civilian but there's no way I'm a coward. She knew when she took the post that it could entail a life threatening situation and right now it looked like that was the case. The question is, am I up for it? I won't let that imbecile, Punch Cransky, take my command without a fight anyway!
~ ~ ~
Sergeant David Lewis scraped back his chair glancing at the roster for tomorrow. He was satisfied that all personnel had been allocated sufficient duty time along with those not already posted to various missions. Glancing out onto the yard he smiled as he saw some of his privates practising their basketball techniques. Keeping fit was something that came easily to them, a genetic enhancement they were proud of having.
A commotion in the corridor outside his office had him striding purposefully forward pulling back the door with such a force it almost unhinged itself. “What’s the matter Private?”
“Sergeant, this woman was loitering in the mess hall...said she had a message for you.” The young private barely out of his test tube roughly pushed the interloper forward. Her disheveled appearance and angry flashing eyes told the Sergeant that the young privates zealous capture hadn’t been taken well at all.
Pulling at his chin in consideration he was amazed when the woman angrily spoke up. “I don’t have time for this are you Sergeant Lewis?”
Lewis straightened up to his six feet five and peered at her curiously. Most would have been intimidated or even frightened when he entered the scene. His size alone sent a measure of fear in many and that was before he used his many acquired combat talents on them.
“Yes I am Ma’am, how can I help you?” Tranter was going to fume when she found out about this. Her pride was that no one, especially uninvited guests, entered the barracks without an invitation or accompanied by one of their own. Taking in the woman’s appearance she certainly wasn’t in the RAD programme; too sickly looking and she was limping too. Is that our doing or a problem she already had? Sending a message to the private telepathically, he asked if he had injured the woman. His response was adamant that he had done no such thing.
“I have a message from Major Tranter, its important.”
“A message you say, why doesn’t the major send it personally?” Lewis was concerned, however his skeptism was buried under the surface. Where had that lousy bastard send Tranter this time? I knew that there was more to that damned mission than met the eye.
Alana stared pointedly at the young private who stood waiting for instructions with his hand on her arm like a vice refusing to budge. “Okay Private, I’ll take it from here, good work, I’ll mention it to the major on her return.”
The young private bristled with pride when the sergeant mentioned the major. Is it my major he's referring to? Al wondered colouring slightly as she realised she had taken ownership of the major in her mind, “Yes Sergeant, thank you Sergeant.”
Lewis noted the strangers interest when he spoke of the major to the private; especially her heightened colour, hmm should be an interesting conversation. “Please enter. This is my office no one will disturb us.”
Alana rushed inside gazing around furtively. “I haven’t much time and I think the major has less. She asked me to give you this.” She reached inside her pocket, pulled out the disc that the Major Tranter had given her and placed it in the soldier’s outstretched hand.
Lewis surveyed the disc and in seconds knew it was authentic. Just who is this woman, he thought as he directed a cool stare her way, “Anything else?”
“She told me to tell you as quickly as possible what was happening.” Alana summarised the situation, amazed when the blank expression of the man remained that way. Doesn't he have any emotions. “Her final request was that I tell you, the wolf is rogue , she was particular on that point.”
Lewis did change his expression slightly as she spoke the simple message. He walked over to his desk and dialed a number speaking gruffly but decisively into the instrument, “The wolf is rogue. ”
“I’m grateful for your help Ma’am, now how do I find the major?”
Alana hadn’t received any information from Pat so she could only surmise he wasn’t on the programme list. “Unless you’ve had your DNA stored in the project’s data base there isn’t anything you can do for the major. At the moment she’s on her own in space.”
“How quickly can DNA be stored?”
“It isn’t that easy. You have to be vetted and triple checked, for any anomalies that could kill you.”
“I’ll take the risk. How long?”
“A matter of minutes without the protocol, however I’m checking that you aren’t already there.”
“I take it this project that has the major floating in space is capable of sending more than one individual?”
“Of course it can but…” Alana knew she was wasting time in arguing with the man. He was right, there wasn’t time for anything other than go for it...hadn’t she pretty much said the same thing to Pat earlier. “Forget it, let me have all the DNA that you want to send out and I’ll personally see to it.”
Lewis smiled briefly.“Okay, it will be transferred via our database as soon as I contact our medical staff. Was the major okay when you left her?”
Alana smiled warmly back. “She certainly was when I last saw her; anyway she owes me dinner when this is all over.” The flippant remark brought a speculative glance her way. “I figure she owes me after all this.”
“When, all this, as you call it, is over there will be more than Major Tranter owing you something Ma’am. You can trust me on that one.”
“By the way, my name is Alana Cameron and I’m the lead scientist on the project that put the major in space. Oh, and Sergeant, dinner with the major will be all the thanks I require.”
Lewis moved a hand over his face; he wanted to laugh at the quiet comment. Ah, so the major could wow the Normals too, way to go Tranter. “Right, let’s get this show on the road shall we?”
“I’m with you there Sergeant.” Alana’s mind fully focused on what she needed to do next.
~ ~ ~
Tranter focused her mind on one thing and one thing only, the defence of the station. The personnel inside were obstacles that she could really do without. But, in this instance, the bodies working inside the craft actually had guts and brains and she hoped it was enough to impede the intruders until backup came their way. Although, she had to consider that the message never arrived in Lewis’ possession thereby making her literally on her own with this merry band of civilians.
The wolf is rogue!
The sentence invaded her thoughts as the situation became crystal clear. General McAndrew probably had designs on this scenario for years and particularly if any of the politicians decreed a line he didn’t approve of. Retiring him had been the crossover point. Not many knew of this development but Lewis had his contacts and the base gossip labyrinth so nothing was secret for long. The most interesting factor had been that nothing had been leaked of this particular plot. Probably why Cransky was given that particular post. Maybe he had the usual brainwashing sessions altered in some way, because otherwise he wouldn’t be doing what he was doing. None of their kind would; it wasn’t part of their programming.
It must have irked the general to have one of his own surpassed by a Normal who was not of military rank but a mere cargo civilian operator. Bet that’s when the general sowed the seed of his plan to Cransky. He probably offered him a massive promotion and other perks that are not normally associated with my kind. The biggest puzzle to her was why did he sent me here? There had never been any question of her loyalty to her unit or the World Council. She had been the ultimate dedicated soldier willing to died for her profession - and she had. She did not believe that others had seen her as a threat either.
She glanced at her chronometer and noted that time was ticking by fast...way too fast. Her ears picked up the droning sound of the main computer initiating another unplanned shutdown. That bastard Cransky appeared to hold all the cards. They maybe had one or perhaps two wild cards in the deck that had been handed down to them. Who knew, it might just be their edge. Then there was the other ace up their sleeve in one very able Professor Cameron. If she could do her magic and send a detachment to the station in time things might go in their favour; at least the bastards might get a run for their money. Pressing the internal intercom she asked to speak with the captain.
Just as the message was relayed to her that the captain wasn’t on the bridge Tranter heard a cough behind her. Swiftly turning she saw the captain standing there.
“Captain, I’m surprised you left the bridge at this time.”
Erille gave the woman a nod of her head. “So am I, but there’s not much more I can do from up there. The computer is under Anvil Two’s control and I thought I’d be more useful out here turning back the horde.”
A thoughtful expression crossed the major’s features for a split second.“I’m on my way to the armoury. The doctor has the virus and is ready to place it into the ventilation system on my…your command.”
Erille acknowledged the information. They both knew that Tranter was controlling the situation, it was after all her forte. She was merely a cargo captain and at this stage in the process it was well out of her league. “You know who’s behind this don’t you?”
The clipped affirmation surprised her as she expected a cryptic evasion to her question. It was refreshing though disturbing. What does it mean when a RADICAL gives you a straight answer? Guess I'll find out soon enough. “Thanks for not lying to me. Can we win out with the odds we have?”
Tranter considered the question strategically. It wasn’t one she usually asked herself because as far as she was concerned there was only one situation in her mind and that was to win; losing didn’t figure in the planning. “At the moment the situation is critical and doubtful. However, if the professor is able to deliver my message to my unit and use her process to extract them here…we will have the odds shifting.”
Erille smiled slowly as the computer advised that the shutdown would be complete in five minutes. “I guess I’ll have to hope that she did. We need to reach the armoury before the doors close automatically in that area.”
“I agree.” Both women didn’t walk down the corridor they sprinted as hard as they could knowing that every second was precious. The time for talking had passed and all that was left was action.
~ ~ ~
“Sam, have you seen Fever yet?” Alana asked as she consulted with Pat on the DNA samples that had streamed over to them as fast as she had traveled back to the project base. Her one hope was that Jim was keeping the general occupied. As far as she was concerned the longer the better so she didn’t have to answer any obscure questions from either of them.
“No, thought he might have been back by now, but he’s still sitting up there.”
Exhaling at the answer, it relaxed her slightly as she ran down the files in the medical area before the soldiers arrived. “Good. Look Sam I know I haven’t told you all the details but soon very soon I will. Is that okay with you?”
Sam Ramsey shook his tousled head with a cynical look on his face before answering. “Sure Professor. I have things to tell you too...we’ll exchange notes over a coffee break.”
Alana heard the cynical rejoinder and couldn’t blame him. She was probably in his eyes totally out of control not to mention off her head too. But right now, other factors were more important…saving the world for one.
“Sounds like a plan to me Sam. Now I need you to initiate a transfer from the co-ordinates I spoke of. It’s never been done before and as with everything Sam, there’s always a first time.”
Sam smiled wryly as he punched the sequence in to his computer console. He hoped she knew what she was doing; this had never been done before, tricky business all round. “Green light Professor.”
Within minutes the room filled with the bodies of ten soldiers, including Sergeant Lewis who had been the first to transfer.
“Are you ready sergeant?” Alana asked the tall soldier with a slight smile.
He gazed at her with a twinkle in the eye, do RADICALS do that? Obviously they did or was it her wishful thinking again. “Yes we are Professor that was sure a strange way to travel.”
“I wish you luck sergeant and when you…” her voice trailed off. What did she want to say anyway, she was wasting valuable time.
A slight turn of the head and a beaming smile was her answer as the man inclined his head with a knowing expression in his eyes. Then the process swept him and the other soldiers into the abyss of space and hopefully landing them whole on Anvil Four.
A crackle of silence greeted her as she waited for confirmation that the soldiers had indeed arrived safely…
“Professor, Lewis here. All present and correct, we’ll be in touch, out.” Alana heard the clipped precise response. The static built up again and she was unable to counter it with any words of support before the connection went dead.
Standing up from the console she had worked at feverishly since arriving back at the base, she stretched her arms over her head. She felt tension and the spasm of pain that the artificial limbs were causing to her lower body. Oh well, at least she could go back to her post and wait there. That would allow her the luxury of dispensing the limbs into their usual hiding place inside the special compartment of her desk. She glanced around and felt that leaving now would be a cop out. She felt that she could help further, but how was the question.
“No way,” Pat voiced as she peered at her exceptionally talented friend.
Puzzled, Alana stared at her friend. “What do you mean Pat?”
Placing a hand on her arm, she shook her head at the smaller stature woman. “Last time I saw that expression you went to that RADICAL base. You’ve done everything asked of you Alana, let the professionals handle it now.”
For a few moments Alana pondered her friend’s advice. Sure she could do that, exactly that and no one would think any less of her except…herself. “I need to go back Pat. I think I can be of more help there.”
“That’s ridiculous Alana! You’re of more help here, what if they need extraction quickly?”
“Sam, with your help and Jim’s, can pull that off. The hardest part was getting them there in one piece. I have a feeling there’s more I need to do and it isn’t here, it’s up there with them in the thick of things.” Her voice held a conviction Pat hadn’t heard before; not even when she talked passionately about the Tempest Project which was her life’s work.
“What about your legs? I know they must be killing you by now. Want me to give you a pain reliever?”
A smile covered her face as she realised that Pat was going to allow her to do her own thing, even if she didn’t quite agree. She was showing genuine support and who could want more from a friend. “Thanks Pat, please they are giving me jip, I really must use them more often.”
Seconds later Pat had injected Alana with a mild pain killer, as she reprocessed her own DNA for another trip to space. A part of her couldn’t believe that within the space of hours her project…no, her families project, was being used in exactly the way her parents would have wanted even with the military involvement. Her personal military were the good guys and she figured that would be okay. Now her only thoughts were to be in the thick of it...she needed to be there. A reaction in her stomach told her as much and right then she wasn’t going to ignore it regardless of the consequences.
After a few words of caution and disbelief from Sam, she was again transmitted into the darkness of the free fall of her transition into space. Her last thought before the blackness touched was, will the major approve of my return. She fervently hoped so.
~ ~ ~
“Sir, General McAndrew on the line,” Cransky’s communications officer clipped out professionally.
“I’ll take that in my briefing room,” he barked harshly. He strode away from the platform, the captive view of Anvil Four, now being invaded by his troops, disappeared as he closed the door silently behind him. He flicked on his private console, “Cransky here General.”
“Have you completed your mission?” The barked question, to Cransky anyway, was the normal tone of the man. He didn’t appear to have any other volume or pitch to his vocabulary.
“Sir, I estimate that we will have total control of the Anvil station within ten minutes.”
General H. T. McAndrew drew a deep breath as he stared at the corpse of Jim Fever before stroking the stubble forming on his lower jaw. He needed to attend to that soon, as he was particular about a clean shaven face in his army. “What’s taking so long Cransky? Aren’t you up for the job? If it were Tranter she’d have the station heading to the new coordinates by now.”
The mention of Tranter’s name had Cransky turning red in anger. He had a dislike that bordered on psychological hatred for his fellow officer, especially when the general used her as his yardstick. He wasn’t going to let Tranter interfere with his goals and his future or have her as a constant thorn in his side. “The computer virus apparently hasn’t been activated and our man onboard hasn’t confirmed the situation either. I’ve therefore initiated shutdown from Anvil Two and ordered my men to blow the holds!”
“Cransky, I want Anvil Four in your possession when I call you back in fifteen minutes. If that hasn’t been accomplished I’ll relieve you of command and you know what that means.” McAndrew stared hard at the man on the screen. If only Tranter hadn’t been so damn perfect or worse yet, loyal to the brainwashing they imposed on the RADICALS. She would have been the one he’d sent on this mission. Oh well, Cransky is dispensable as is all their kind. Beside, I have another waiting in the wings who would do anything I ordered ; a side line to the brainwashing that he had personally controlled. For every hundred soldiers they brainwashed, the procedural way, he selected ten for his programme…namely, they would respond to his command only, overriding any other direction. It was fortuitous under these circumstances because right now he needed to get that rotting carcass of a scientist out of this office without detection.
“Yes General, is that all?” Cransky saw the general’s attention span leave him and chose that opportunity to end the link in an attempt to speed up the process on his end.
“Yes, stop wasting time talking to me and get on with your mission…McAndrew out.”
Cransky glared at the monitor as it became the dull blue empty console then punched the communication button rapidly. “I want the men to enter the station now!”
“But sir, we haven’t completed shutdown they might be compromised.”
“Do as I say Sharman or I’ll have to relieve you of your duties.”
Cransky returned to his position at the command centre and watched as the first docking door explosion lit the darkness of space.
~ ~ ~
Tranter, with Erille gasping for breath behind her, reached the armoury before the first of the internal doors slid closed behind them.
Surveying the armoury, Tranter’s eyes assessed the potential, as the woman in the room with her continued to take control of her laboured breathing. Ah, what it is to be superior! And, they thought they were, how sad. With a satisfied smile on her lips that went unnoticed by the captain, Tranter moved carefully over each storage area. She wanted to memorise every weapon at their disposal, even if the likelihood was that she might never get to use them…all!
“Major…do you need my help?” Erille finally sucked in a deep breath as her measured voice finally returned to her. Aware that, no matter what anyone else said about the RADICALS, she sure couldn’t fault their damn fitness. The woman isn’t even perspiring for god’s sake.
Tranter swung her attention to the older woman who now looked better than she had when they first entered the room. Thankfully, first aid hadn’t been required. Giving mouth to mouth wasn’t one of her favourite skills. She much preferred the artificial equipment in the medical kits that covered that aspect.
“Have you or your people had weapons training?”
“Basic stuff on my part. …hmm I don’t recall anyone other than Arkan, of course, being deft with any special armoury training.”
Tranter digested this information. She suspected that Chief Lake probably had military training at some stage. He had that glint in the eye when she talked to him. He wanted to kick her butt but knew all about the chain of command…at least her version of it anyway. The others, she assumed if the captain was correct, had no prior training other than whatever basic was. “Exactly what comprises basic Captain?”
Erille scratched the back of her neck sheepishly before she replied embarrassedly. “Well, for me, it’s the self defence stuff… martial arts that kind of thing.”
For a second Tranter wanted to laugh before raising her eyes to look directly at the woman. “No firearms?”
“It wasn’t deemed necessary by the Council. After all, who was going to steal…okay I take your point. My dad taught me how to shoot rabbits when I was a kid will that help?”
“Only if you were a good shot…were you?”
“For your information, yes I was!” Erille was affronted at the cynical question.
“Okay, you can use a pulse rifle and we’ll take along as many small arms as we can for the others.” Tranter herself mused over which weapon to choose. On a vessel like this, there was the choice of a lifetime. Or, should she say, the world’s lifetime. It made her wonder about mankind when she looked over their arsenal of mass destructive weapons.
“What about you? I can’t see you with a small weapon. You already have one don’t you?”
Tranter’s glacial expression didn’t change. It was too important now not to lose focus of the end game and this chatter wasn’t getting them anywhere. She abruptly grabbed a couple of the laser-stormers, which had been quite the weapon in their day. No one would suspect them to arrive on the horizon.
Erille’s eyes bulged at the choice of the firepower the major was going to use. In their day, laser-stormers had been the most lethal thing on the planet. It could track a target within a hundred meters and each round could be programmed to the particular DNA of its victim. Bottom line…if you were targeted you didn’t stand a chance. The downside was that they could be used as a standard weapon with devastating results at short range. If placed in the hand of someone inexperienced the chances were they would blow a hole in the ship and they would all die. Clearing her voice, she spoke to the major who was selecting her weapons and the ammunition. “You are trained in the use of that weapon I take it Major because…”
Hearing the uncomfortable note in the captain’s voice Tranter spun around once more and directed a steady confident almost cocky glance in her direction. “There isn’t a weapon produced from any era that I haven’t mastered, does that answer your question?”
The tone of the voice brooked no further conversation on the matter as far as the major was concerned. Erille bit her lip for a few moments as she contemplated the answer. What exactly does master mean to the major? It was a question she wanted to pose but decided against asking. After all, what choice do we have? If I’m going to die, it might as well be in defence of Anvil Four.
“Let’s go Captain we haven’t any time left it’s now or never.” Grasping as many armaments as possible, both women opened the armoury door manually and headed in the direction of the mess room. That is where everyone was ordered to meet after their tasks had been completed.
~ ~ ~
Shibanion arrived at the medical centre glancing around seeing no evidence of anyone in the vicinity. Where is the Doc…isn’t he supposed to be here? Further investigation saw that the docking holds had been secured although the activity above them grew louder as the seconds slipped by. Ensuring, for one final time, that no one was there he decided to venture back to engineering; it was, in his opinion, the safest place. It would take a bomb to raid his and the chief’s area since they had designed the system outside of Anvils’ normal computer programming. It was the chief’s little idiosyncrasy of a severe dislike of systems he wasn’t familiar with. The new computer which had been put onboard Anvil Four only days before they left Earth had been a slap in the face to the chief engineer who knew nothing of the change. Every last nut and bolt on Myrtle, as he called the station, had a place in Lake ’s memory except for the comp uter.
Stepping outside into the corridor, he was alerted to a shadow that fled down the hall. What the hell was that? Pressing the internal communication console on his arm, he called for Lake and received no reply. The chief must be in stealth mode looking for the saboteur, he thought before another consideration crossed his mind. What if what I just saw was that person?
Pressing his com button again, he hailed the control centre before being patched into Navigator Stephens console.
“Shibanion, what’s the problem?”
“Is the captain there Stephens?”
“No, she’s with the major, want me to patch you through?”
There was silence for a few moments then the shadow that had caught his attention flickered again at the end of the corridor. It looks like a person…at least it might be…what if? “I think I might be chasing shadows Stephens, I’m outside the medical centre…I’ll contact you again shortly. Shibanion out.”
Stephens tried to call the technician back but the com was dead. Quickly he activated the communicator rapping his tense fingers on the shinning panel in front of him while he waited. Nervously he watched as the activity outside escalated.
Shibanion raced to the end of the corridor and drew in a deep breath as he turned the corner and was amazed by what he saw there…
~ ~ ~
Arkan was poised ready to shoot at whatever might be hiding in the place that Lake had predicted was the only place that could decently house a human being who would have to be small in stature. “Are you going to open it or not?”
Lake glared at the soldier, there was something different about Arkan. She didn’t fit the mould of what he considered one of her kind; poles apart from Tranter who was what he would call the elite of her class. “Yes I am, have patience Arkan I don’t want you to blow my head off if you miss the target.”
“And you think that’s a possibility? No way, even if a head as big as yours only gave me a centimetre of target.”
Arkan’s quick retort made the chief smile slightly. Harry Lake released the fastenings on the panel that his gut told him was where the stowaway was waiting. As he did so he sprung back allowing Arkan a clean shot…she didn’t need it there wasn’t anyone there.
“Damn, my gut is rarely wrong,” the chief engineer said as he released a hidden breath and shook his head at the empty space.
Peering inside closer, Arkan glimpsed something and bent down to pick it up. “Take a look at this Chief. I think your gut is right on the mark. To the best of my knowledge they don’t slip the odd emergency ration pack in the walls…or do they?” She handed the packet to the man who then looked it over seriously.
Lake sniffed the contents with Arkan giving him a strange look as he did so. “Is that necessary?”
The man grinned at the disdainful glances he was being given by the soldier. With a snort, rather than a laugh, he informed her that the packet was less than an hour old.
“How the hell did you draw that conclusion?”
Knowing it would aggravate her, he tapped the side of his nose he winked at her.
“I’m not the major you can’t rile me that way Chief I’m nothing like her…”
“Nothing like whom,” the clipped voice of the major interrupted their conversation.
Lake glanced down to his feet while Arkan saluted the officer with a guilty look on her face.
Gulping slightly, Arkan pointed to the pouch that had held food. “ Chief Lake thinks it’s been opened in the last hour Major.”
Tranter was decked out like an armoury with the two laser rifles on her back and several other weapons stowed in her jacket and trousers pockets; a walking arsenal one could say. Captain Erille looking less gung-ho though she certainly wasn’t far behind with her cache of weapons in every possible storage place in her uniform.
“Obviously they moved on, we can’t waste any more time on that now. Do you have your masks? Doctor Fulton is ready to infiltrate the air purifying system with the virus.”
Both nodded their heads. “If you don’t mind Major, I would like to find the bastard that came onboard illegally.”
Tranter gave Lake a long serious look before answering him. “You’ll have your day with that person Chief Lake count on it. Right now, I need you to take a weapon and be ready. From what I can hear on the hull, they will penetrate the station shortly. We must defend engineering, the command centre and…”
“Why the command centre it’s useless to us now. Shouldn’t we get Stephens out of there so he can help us take on the invaders?” Captain Erille asked, unsure what the major now had in mind. Sure defend engineering and the collection of stored weapons, but the command centre…it just doesn’t make sense to me.
“Yes, we need to defend the command centre, the medical area and the armoury. The rest they can have if they get that far.” The major disliked being interrupted but allowed the question only because it was Erille’s command. Otherwise, she might have blown that person away for questioning her judgment.
Arkan walked towards the major. “I’ll take one of those laser rifles Major.” Tranter gave a nod of her head; she had anticipated as much. It was a glimmer in what at this moment looked bleak, even allowing for the virus interaction.
Lake requested two high impact handguns. He’d used them a long time ago when he was doing his army service. Now, with the likes of Arkan and the major around, it was now no longer a prerequisite. Pity, he thought. It did a fellow good to defend his country, even if it had always been a peaceful existence.
“Right, we’re heading back to the Mess hall until the doctor has completed his transfer of the virus. When he does, there are two bodies to each vector. Captain, alert Stephens, he needs to be ready for this.”
“You got it.” Before she could advise the navigator, he contacted her with a brief explanation on Shibanion.
“Stephens use the security code to lock out all intruders to command and control and meet us in the mess stat!”
Tranter had listened to the short exchange, this changed things drastically.
“Okay you go to the Mess as planned. When you get there Captain, advise the doctor to do his best work.” The major turned to walk in the opposite direction, unaware that all eyes were on her back. Or was she? She swivelled around quickly and gave them a quizzical expression. “To save any more time I’m going to find Shibanion. Arkan don’t even say it.”
The corporal had been willing to go in the major’s place; she was more important than a foot soldier. “I’d be the correct choice Major,” the woman replied adamantly.
Tranter pulled the younger woman to one side waving the others off. “The position Stephens mentioned was in close vicinity to where I left the professor. There might be a remote chance that she’s been able to contact my sergeant. If she did, I need to be the one he sees not you…there would be little room for prisoners if he felt that you were a threat Arkan. The only one he can trust right now is me…I have to be the one to go.”
Arkan felt that the major wasn’t telling her everything. However, it sounded plausible and she wasn’t about to become a causality to the wrong side. She wanted her piece of the action if it came down to the wire. “I understand. Have you any special instructions for me Major?”
Tranter hadn’t ever committed sentimentality into her repertoire, although right now in these circumstances she felt a few seconds of such an emotion. It must be that damn travel into space again…the techies had better have answers for me when I get back. “When was the last time you updated your bio-disc?”
“Two days ago.” Arkan was puzzled by the question, what did that matter now.
“Do you have it with you?”
“Yes Major, of course, we are taught from birth never to be without it.”
“Give it to me Arkan. I’ll have it sent back to Earth. If all goes to hell in a flying saucer you will at least come to with no knowledge of this event at all.” Tranter held out her hand for the disc as Arkan placed the object there without question.
“Thank you Major.” The younger soldier felt both elated at the request and saddened by it too. A catch twenty-two situation in many ways; she would survive if she died and never know of any of this. To many, that would have been a wonderful aspect but it made her feel that the major didn’t have one hundred percent confidence in the mission. No one wanted to go into battle with that thought at the back of their minds, especially if you had to convince a normal human being that all was going to go well. They didn’t have the luxury of a data disc to bring them back.
“On your way Arkan and keep up those spirits. By the way, my data disc is staying here on the station with me until all this is over.” Tranter left with those words echoing around Arkan.
Well the sly dog was the Corporal’s upbeat thought.
The major then set off running down the corridor in the opposite direction to her. She followed suit sure she would catch up with them before they hit the Mess.
~ ~ ~
Sam eyed the viewing position above him and then glanced down at the time again. Fever should have been finished with the general surely by now. Diverting his gaze back to the office above, he glanced away quickly as the general looked down at him. Damn my luck!
Sam refused to glance upwards again as he didn’t want to stare straight into the gaze of the general. He did wonder where Director Fever was and speculated that perhaps he was being forced to stay up there against his will. Maybe the general hadn’t liked what he had to say and with the way director’s mind was heading it was highly possible.
His communications console bleeped indicating he had a message from Doctor Forsyth. “Yes Doctor?”
“Have you heard from Al…ah, Professor Cameron?” Her voice held slight agitation as she asked the question.
“No, are we expecting her to contact us? She didn’t say anything…I didn’t know she intended to go back there, are you worried Doctor? I can call Director Fever if you wish?”
“No! No Sam leave it for the moment, I’m sure she’s fine.” The voice held apprehension and coming from a doctor that didn’t bode well.
Sam looked up at the glass window overlooking this part of the operation. The general had no way of knowing what was going on unless he came down here and as long as the director was doing his job, he wouldn’t. “You sound unsure about something Doctor, maybe I can help?”
Patricia Forsyth shook her head at his genuine offer of help. If only it was as simple as that. “I’ll call you if I need you Sam, thank you. Hasn’t Jim finished with the general yet?”
“Apparently not, I guess they are still discussing the mission. Incidentally, all life signs are good at my end Doctor. I call this an excellent day for the project regardless of what’s going on around it. Wouldn’t you?”
The pride that flowed from the young man’s voice brought a reluctant smile to the doctor’s face. Her thoughts turned to the person who had risked everything to have the project reach this moment. Al should now be out celebrating what must surely amount to a Nobel accolade in the future. Instead she was doing…god knows what out there in space. “When the professor gets back Sam, I’m sure we all will be having a long overdue celebration; we deserve it!”
“I have to go Doctor; the internal comm is buzzing me from upstairs. It must be the director wanting to know what’s happening.” The communication ended with brief goodbyes as Sam connected to the incoming message.
“Ramsey, has Major Tranter arrived back yet?” the general’s voice startled Sam. He felt sure that Director Fever would have been the one to contact him. Why is the general asking me directly? It wasn’t like him to override the chain of command especially with his solid military background.
“No General, nor has Professor Cameron.” Though the general hadn’t asked, he didn’t want her forgotten in all that was currently happening. Of course, it could be that it was their imagination and nothing out of the ordinary was happening except their experiment.
For a few seconds there was silence before the general responded. “Ah yes, Cameron…no matter. Contact the major and have her return NOW, if she doesn’t want to obey extract her immediately.”
Sam didn’t know what was going on but all he could think of was that the professor had sent more soldiers aboard the station and the general hadn’t been party to that decision. How was he going to fend this order off?
“Sir, I’m afraid I can’t extract the subjects, only the professor or Director Fever can do that. I’m sure if you ask…” He was cut short as the communication went dead and Sam glanced upwards towards the director’s office. The general was talking with another soldier who saluted him after a few short sentences and went out of view. At this moment, all Sam knew was that things didn’t look good. It was not good at all for any of them. Where is Director Fever?
~ ~ ~
Sergeant Lewis cracked his knuckles releasing his shoulders slightly to ward of any tensing in the muscles from the transfer. Remarkably, there wasn’t any after effects, amazing.
Staring at the figures of his combat unit, he inclined his head to confirm all personnel were in perfect health. All answered telepathically that they were. Lewis then probed the area with his equipment and was satisfied they were the only ones in the corridor. The monitor also picked up a virus in the air as Lewis quickly exchanged the thought with the others. Their ventilation masks on their body-armour automatically activated.
Using only the telepathic transfer of orders, Lewis quickly split the soldiers into groups of three. They were to position themselves in the designated locations until he received further orders.
The three groups split to take their positions. Lewis, with the remaining soldier, checked the schematics of the station before heading for the command centre. He hoped that his telepathic probe to find the Major worked. If there was one chink in the Major’s armour it was her low telepathy rating. Technology in that particular area had been experimental when her original DNA had been stored. The new RADICALS were injected directly with the enhancement into the original cell. Unfortunately, no matter how many times the major was resurrected she still wouldn’t possess the superior power that was available today. Technology being technology, meant things moved along and even his telepathy link was outdated. Though you couldn’t exactly call it a flaw in the major’s personal armoury she made up for it a thousand fold in most every other area.
Moving towards the corridor leading towards the command area they heard blasting outside the Station. Craig incoming watch your head. Lewis relayed to the soldier at his side as they quickly moved to the right of the corridor with weapons drawn to greet the intruder. They didn’t have to wait long as four military people dropped through the forced hatch into their clutches. The intruders were disorientated for a few seconds giving Lewis and Craig all the time they needed to stun them into unconsciousness. As they progressed towards their destination, Lewis received several reports of skirmishes as his troops battled towards their targets. He smiled several times as he considered that the unexpected wasn’t going to be the prerogative of the outsiders only.
Reaching the command centre Lewis requested access and wasn’t surprised when he received no response. At least the bastards hadn’t reached this level yet; there was no breach of the door. Sending out a telepathic probe to contact the major he grinned when he received a reply, which changed to one of mild surprise as an unusual voice in his head answered his probe.
I’m Command Technician Willard. I’m in the mess hall with the rest of the crew of Anvil Four. The major initiated the Sirafaz virus into the air system to eliminate as many of our new friends as possible.
Lewis knew that there were a couple of RAD’s onboard, though he hadn’t had enough time to assimilate who they were. Could this be a trap? He then considered that it would be the major’s way to use such a vile virus to give her extra time. Perhaps this Willard person was telling the truth…only way to find out. We’ll be with you in… assessing the distance, seventy-seconds, where is the major?
Willard answered immediately acknowledging the time phase. She’s locating a stray officer from the crew.
She went towards the medical hub, opposite direction to the mess.
Several seconds elapsed as Lewis contacted the other teams who were closer than he was to the medical area. He progressed towards the mess area.
Ellerson, Greaves, Boyd leave your present assignment and meet at these coordinates. Major Tranter should be there.
Enthusiastically each soldier from the three teams accepted the change to their task. Anything for the major was the general gallop of thoughts that were transmitted to Lewis. He expected nothing less from members of the platoon. The major was their hero though they weren’t supposed to have those kinds of feelings. Pride in a fellow wasn’t the sole prerogative of a normal nor was hero worship.
Patch me into the major when you make contact, Lewis out.
Turning to Private Craig who was walking step for step with him, he conveyed, when we get through with these interlopers Craig we might be heroes too! They both were grinning as they closed in on the mess hall, which was now just around the bend.
Craig didn’t answer as he aimed his weapon at the door of the mess room. Lewis activated the door switch and watched with weapon at the ready as it slid silently open….
~ ~ ~
Tranter felt like she was in some kind of drug-induced state as she leaned against the wall of the corridor; her equilibrium totally out of kilter. She had been travelling down the corridor at breakneck speed on her way towards the coordinates she had been given by the navigator. Her mask was in place to protect her from the inhalation of the air born virus that was introduced into the filtration system minutes before. Then her senses went into overload and her brain refused to understand the action as she keeled backwards and landed on her butt in the empty sterile looking corridor. If the enemy had been in that particular place at that time, she wouldn’t have stood a chance. It had taken all her energy resources to crawl up the wall and land herself upright. Attempting, with difficulty to focus, she slumped to the ground again. She held her head, which seemed to her like it was spinning out of control. What the hell is happening to me?
Feeling a terrible rumbling in her belly she didn’t know what to hold onto - her head or her stomach. Then she did something alien to her by dragging off the protective mask seconds before she retched onto the stainless steel floor. Her mind tried to focus on what was happening to her and the dangerous nature this particular situation represented. Now her mind was fixated on the horrible looking solution on the floor. Her brain was analysing the contents of her stomach in the weird surreal world she was trapped in at that moment.
“Major are you ill? How can I help you?”
A familiar voice that she felt she could trust echoed in her head. She didn’t know who it was as her glazed eyes attempted to reconnect to the real world. Her normal training, instilled at birth, refused to allow her to admit she was in trouble. A dainty hand leapt out in front of her and gently touched her face. At first, she flinched at the touch but then tried to ignore what her body was trying to tell her…she needed help big time.
“I’m fine!” The semi-authoritative voice seemed to echo around the corridor. She finally raised her eyes and peered up at the person who offered her aid. She closed her eyes and opened them again wondering if this was her imagination for she was sure she saw the professor. But, it can’t be...can it? “Professor Cameron?”
A tinkle of nervous relieved laughter answered her, “Yes Major, now how about I take you to the medical centre onboard for a blood a sample and send it off to the project lab. It could be something to do with the experiment; you don’t exactly look one hundred percent fit to me. When did this begin? Did you feel like this when you first arrived? How are you…?”
“Enough! I’m fine Professor. You should be the one to worry you haven’t a mask for the virus, here take mine…” The feebly offered equipment was denounced immediately.
“Then you wouldn’t have a mask either. If it was that lethal in here surely you would have succumbed to its threat by now.”
“I’m expendable Professor you aren’t, you must know that.” Tranter slowly groped for leverage on the wall. At any other time, she would have been mortified that anyone had seen a weakness in her personal shell, except maybe for Lewis. Right now, she felt that the woman whom she’d met only recently was becoming as much a friend as Lewis. Perhaps even more so although it could be the intrusive feeling she had that was making her act this way.
“All I know only is that you aren’t yourself and right now you need me, let’s go.” Alana gripped the soldier’s arm with as much power as she could. She was barely able to drag the woman away from the wall to fully support her. “Where’s the doctor?”
Disorientated at the sudden movement, Tranter felt the sickness invading her system again. “I feel sick again.”
Alana looked at the pale complexion of the woman she held close. She had been right to return for something had told her to do it and here she was regardless of the threat to her own safety. The virus the major mentioned might be a serious threat but at the moment it just didn't matter. “Okay, we’ll take it easy and if you need to be sick go ahead. There are so many other issues going on now that I’m sure no one will worry or take notice.”
“I do…” With that, Major Tranter best known for her fortitude through most everything ignominiously retched once more. A puzzled and even more worried professor was at her side.
Alana watched helplessly as the soldier threw up whatever was left in her system. In a strange way it was good to know that a RADICAL wasn’t immune to normal reactions like the rest of the world. However, right now she would have preferred to be in the presence of the iron clad invincible warrior she had come to think of the major. This was not exactly the time for her to become… normal, with all the ailments that went with it. After what seemed like eons, Tranter appeared to become her old self except for the pale cheeks. Her legs had progressed from the jelly feeling like stage to a more solid stance. Alana wasn’t sure if she should continue with the physical help deciding at the last minute what the hell.
Glancing at the arm that held hers securely, Tranter wanted desperately to shake away the gentle touch. However, for the first time in her life she actually needed help and it had arrived from an unusual quarter; not one of her own. What the hell was happening to her, was it the beginning of the end, had she reached the final curtain? No one knew for sure how old RAD’s lived. She was, after all, the first viable experiment and who knew how many times the DNA disks could be regenerated. At this moment, failing at the final hurdle wasn’t in her sights. If she was going to die and stay dead she was taking that bastard McAndrew with her there would be no bargaining there.
“I can walk perfectly well without help Professor…thank you for your concern I appreciate it.” The clipped words held embarrassment for her predicament. She was not as harsh as she would have been because she didn't want to hurt the feelings of the woman who had aided her.
Alana glanced quickly as her hand dropped away from the strong muscled arm of the soldier. As she did, she saw the heavy artillery the woman carried. Maybe her feeling sick isn’t a surprise; all that added weight on her body must be colossal. So much for breaking down barriers.
“Did you contact Sergeant Lewis?”
Sighing heavily, Alana progressed down the otherwise empty corridor with the major. The sound of mini-explosives on the hull of the station made her look up at the ceiling every few footsteps. “I did more than that Major, he’s onboard with several of your people.”
Although Tranter felt like shit, she managed a tight smile that creased her lips for a few seconds at the smug words, “Excellent, where did he enter the station?”
“The same place I did. Obviously you must have just missed each other as I was only minutes behind him.” Alana was astounded that the two hadn’t seen each other although it occurred to her that the station was large and who knew what might have been going on when the soldiers arrived.
Tranter's glacial eyes, the inky blue virtually black in the dimmed lighting, gave the corridor a sweep. Nothing appeared to be out of the ordinary with no evidence that the enemy had infiltrated the area. As they turned a corner, her eyes landed immediately on the cluster of bodies lying on the floor. Ah, so Lewis has been active. Now her smile genuinely lit up the depth of her eyes as the blackness glowed into indigo for a few brief moments. The catch of breath from the woman at her side forced the soldier to glance back to the professor. “They are incapacitated Professor, trust me.”
Alana returned the gaze with one of her own, complete with the innocent implicit trust she had in the major. “I do.”
The simple words brought Tranter away from the doubts of a few moments ago to the reason she was here at this time. Why she had been created and it was as simple as the trust that had been placed in her by this woman. She was here to protect the normal's on Earth and that was exactly what she would do or die in the process. A loud explosion came from behind them followed by the heavy footfall of what could only be soldiers from the invading force. Without further thought, Tranter grasped hold of the professor’s hand and virtually swept her off her feet. Then she pushed her own mask over the professor’s face ignoring the feeble attempt to dislodge it. Her hope was that until they found the doctor for help, the virus might be delayed in their bloodstreams if they shared the mask. She pulled the shocked woman down the corridor past the crumpled bodies of the alien soldiers and towards the next corridor. She fervently hoped that not only would her stomach b ehave but also that the professor could run as well as she apparently did everything else in her life thus far.
~ ~ ~
Raoul Ponsonby had evaded the search party by a fraction of minutes. He had watched them reach his original hiding place that had, he thought, been the most secure position in the station. No one would think of anyone hiding there…he’d been wrong. Or, had his operation been compromised? He heard the activity on the hull and knew that soon they would take control of the station and his work would be done. Even if it had been claustrophobic for the past week, it was a profitable few months of work. He had been stored in suspended animation for much of the journey his unit had been activated remotely several days earlier. Then, he knew that the time for his work to begin had been initiated. It had been a piece of cake to deactivate and disable some of the computer’s main systems thereby allowing the next phase of the operation to commence. He hadn’t bargained on having to kill one of them. The general had indicated his people would enter the s tation, initiate the virus unknowingly into the computer and then his job would be to ensure that it was doing what it should. Once that was completed, the general would transfer him off the station in a much simpler operation than he had entered. There was, of course, the monetary issue. It was the only reason a mercenary such has he would voluntarily involve himself in such a deadly and traitorous activity. The money would allow him never to want for anything…until his greed overtook him again. Knowing his appetite for every luxury imaginable on the planet, he expected that it would be sooner rather than later in life.
Now he had to wait in as secure a place as possible for the outcome. According to the general, there was only one result and it had nothing to do with defeat. The task of persuading Major Tranter to leave the station voluntarily was, in his view, a little like asking if the Pope was Catholic. She would never leave; her type never knew when to quit. He was glad he’d been created into the Commerce classification. His taskmasters differed in that view when he developed less than honest tendencies. Fortunately, they didn’t consider him a danger until it was too late to capture him. For the last ten years, he'd been a scoundrel much like his counterparts in the Industrial sector. At the time, that hadn’t been his training for he was being taught to be the perfect commercial agent. In the end he found that to be a double-edged sword when he discovered his teachers were less than honest themselves.
He scanned the area with the miniature equipment given to him by the general himself and found no one around. Now would be as good a time as any to leave his current less than secure location. His destination would be the command centre since the general’s forces must have overrun the station by now. It had to have been a piece of cake with a non-military force onboard. Yep, a piece of cake for sure.
Opening the door to the outer corridor cautiously, he smiled at his luck. No one was around.
~ ~ ~
Ellerson, Greaves and Boyd rounded the corridor closest to the coordinates of the major’s last known position and saw another empty space. It was empty in the degree that no one was moving. Several bodies were scattered on the deck in a comatose state. Communicating with Sergeant Ellerson, who had the strongest telepathic connection, he reported their progress. Lewis issued the command to continue the search until they found the major.
Passing on the orders to the two other soldiers, Ellerson took lead position as they carefully kicked over the bodies of the soldiers in their sights. Concluding that they posed no threat, they continued and within a few minutes, they entered another corridor. Suddenly they pulled quickly back when they encountered a minimum of twenty armed soldiers packing the tight area. The soldiers had an emblem on their uniforms that they didn't recognize as any they had ever seen on Earth...a black wolf howling ferociously. Ellerson transmitted the description of the emblem and their location to Lewis immediately.
The unexpected telepathic reply from Lewis was to watch their backs and run silent no matter what. Within a few seconds, they knew the exact reason for the order. Several soldiers turned the corner and confronted them with weapons drawn. Immediately weapons fired rapidly sending the mean scrambling for the only cover afforded to them...the soldier’s bodies lying on the ground. Up until that point, the bodies were not dead but in a comatose state. In no time at all, at least five of the bodies were carcasses riddled with ammunition from what could only be called friendly fire. Greaves signalled for Boyd to cover him as he leapt up and fired a volley that took out two of the opposition. This barrage carried on for several minutes and the three soldiers appeared to be holding their own. Unfortunately, the steady stream of their fire power towards the enemy was rapidly depleting their supply of ammunition. Ellerson breathed deeply and thought, it's been a good ba ttle while it lasted, before standing for the final time and levelling another round at the soldiers. He then slid back down on the floor as Greaves and then Boyd expended their final caches.
Inside each of their body armour was an explosive device that could only be triggered while wearing the item. Some called it the suicide vest while others considered it a final heroic stand to give their comrades extra time. In the end, however it was thought of; each soldier knew his or her duty. Ellerson, who had minor superiority over the others, gave them the sign that he would do his duty and allow them time to retreat. At this stage, it served no purpose for them all to expire since the major and her mission still had priority.
Greaves and Boyd, in silence as instructed by Lewis, used the bodies of the fallen to bolster their positions. Ellerson, with a deep breath, withdrew his bio-disk and threw it casually to Greaves. In a swift movement, the soldier caught the small object and slid it into his pocket watching as the troops from the end of the corridor began to advance cautiously. As they moved, Ellerson stood up and his body was immediately bombarded as shots riddled sending him to his knees. He turned his dying eyes to his comrades one last time before he placed a hand to his heart and triggered the device on his vest. The explosion that erupted caused the station to rock on its axis as the lights disappeared and the screams of soldiers caught in the immediate blast echoed around the acrid smoke ridden corridor. Taking advantage of the confusion, Greaves and Boyd took off down the corridor running as fast as possible towards the next directional change. Hopefully they would either fi nd the major or divert the enemy enough to buy her more time.
~ ~ ~
Tranter’s eyes glazed slightly as she heard the firepower going on behind her. Her first thought had been to retrace her steps and join the battleground. However, one look at the exhausted and pale professor at her side momentarily dismissed that notion from her. She needed to get the woman to a place of safety. Right now, the only secure place she knew of for sure was safe was the mess hall were everyone else were residing. The only problem with that was it was completely opposite of where they were. In safer circumstances, they could have used the ship’s internal transport system, but with the station's computer control in the enemy’s hands that wasn’t a plausible possibility.
“I can’t go on Major, I’m sorry,” Alana wheezed out as she tried to catch her breath. The pace the soldier had set had been a shock to not only her legs, which hurt like hell, but also her respiratory system that seemed like it was on fire. The tables had turned in a matter of moments from her giving aid to be the one that required it.
Tranter glanced at the professor. Yes, she’d set a decent pace to secure their safety for the moment, but that didn’t explain the state of the woman at her side; she looked like death. She probably was in far worse condition than she had looked a few minutes earlier. Thankfully, her system had righted itself and now she was able to function once more at a hundred percent. The really strange and disconcerting issue was that neither she nor the professor had succumbed to the virus. That could mean only one thing - the bastards had flushed out the ventilation system as soon as they knew of the threat. “Okay Professor, can you give it one last push? When we turn down the next corridor we will reach engineering and we will be safe there.”
Alana turned misty grey eyes to the soldier and drew in a deep breath before she lifted her shoulders from a slumped position willing her legs to go for one more hurdle. Gratefully the major wasn’t in possession of all the facts about her or she would have known that the artificial limbs weren't a replacement for the real thing. In some ways the major's lack of that knowledge was a blessing yet in another a disappointment. She felt that the major took it upon herself to know as much as possible about the people she came into contact. She would have thought in her case, as they had a history, albeit a tenuous one, the major would have known. “Let’s go Major.”
Tranter gripped Alana's hand in what could only be described as a vice grip. This sent a pulsation of pain into her fingers that normally she would have said something about. But, at them moment, it would be pointless to do or say anything other than move as fast as possible towards safety.
As the door to engineering came into view, the station rocked sending both women reeling. Tranter hit the side of the corridor wall so hard she was certain that it had dislocated her shoulder; right now, it was incidental. Alana had the cushion, if you could call it that, of hitting the sinewy muscles of the major as they both landed on the deck. Alana was virtually atop of the major. Before she knew it, the major, with strength Al had never seen in a woman before, picked her up like a flyweight and righted them both in one fluid movement.
The corridor lights then dimmed several times flickering continuously. They were like a candle about to extinguish with a light breeze that never quite happens. “What’s happening?”
Tranter saw the door to engineering open and close in a continuous motion. There must have been a malfunction in the systems from the explosion. Out in space, no matter how sophisticated the equipment was, it still only required a rupturing of the hull to influence a series of disasters that would disable and possibly destroy the ship and all onboard.
Calculating the open and closing sequence, Tranter turned to the woman at her side. There was a fear in the eyes that caught hers, but something else was there too. In the eyes that held hers was a clear message… I trust you no matter how dangerous it is. That message made Tranter realise that her kind really did have a place in this world.
“Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one…”
Al listened and was about to ask why the woman was counting when she was propelled through the open door landing on her backside with a definite thud. Seconds later the major slid through the opening in a much more dignified way.
Spluttering she tried to speak only to fail due to fatigue and the pain in her legs. Finally, she managed to say, “What was that all about?”
Tranter did something totally out of character, she winked, or if it wasn’t a wink then the major had a tick in the eye. “There was no time to explain and there still isn’t, I need to secure the door if I can, you rest I’ll be back.”
The major then disappeared into a small office area leaving Alana with her mouth open. Deciding there was no point in debating the subject with herself, she took fatalistic stock of her own situation. Her legs were shot, she knew that and soon Major Tranter would too. Her lungs felt like they were being pricked by a thousand needles making her breathing painful if not worse than the shooting twinges that were hitting the nerves attached to the leg implants. The pain killers that Pat had given to her before leaving the base had dulled the sensation for a short time, but not enough to see her through whatever was the next phase of this particular adventure. Yet, here she was thinking that she might be of help. What kind of help could she be now? Her only purpose was a hindrance that had been clear in the features of the major a few minutes ago before the station had rocked. Now, here alone, sitting on the cold floor, she wondered about the jolt and its meaning to the station. It can’t be good in anyone’s book.
Pondering in a melancholy way her predicament she was surprised when dark shadow of a figure loomed in the flickering glow of the lighting. A feeling of terror erupted silently in her. Oh no, is this the end? Her mind screamed as her lungs refused to obey her brain and call for help from the major.
~ ~ ~
Lewis stared at the motley crew of massed figures assembled in the mess hall. Although massed was hardly the word as the number could be counted on one hand.
“Which one of you is Captain Erille?”
Doctor Mack Fulton puffed out his chest and stepped forward before the captain had a chance to answer. Her questioning gaze as to what he was up to went unanswered by the doctor. “And who are you?”
Sergeant David Lewis gazed at the man in frank assessment. Hmm, not a soldier. That was certain he didn’t have the bearing although he certainly seemed brave enough. He certainly isn't the reason the major is risking her life by disobeying her orders to leave the station, he thought. Motioning for Craig to watch his back, Lewis moved into the room and surveyed everyone there. Yep, a motley crew all right, who the hell had sanctioned this lot to take care of the weapons of mass destruction from Earth, is beyond me.
“I’ll only ask politely once more, who is Erille?”
Sorrel Erille knew what Mack was doing and felt proud of him. However, at the same time, they didn’t have the luxury of such a chivalrous scenario. Her gut told her that these soldiers belonged to Major Tranter and if they didn’t Lake and Arkan would take them out. That was the plan anyway.
“I’m Erille, and you are?”
Lewis grinned. The ambiance about him gave him the demeanour that made people want to give him a cigar and pat him on the back. “Glad to see we aren’t beating about the bush, we haven’t time. I’m Sergeant Lewis, Major Tranter is my CO, and Private Craig here is part of my command as are nine others. Which one of you is Willard?”
Surprised, Captain Erille turned to stare in surprise at the technician. Lewis smiled, these normals can’t keep a straight face to save their lives; It wasn’t a wonder to him that he won at poker whenever he participated in a game back at base.
While Willard stepped forward, Lewis pulled at the stubble on his chin silently assessing the man. “I will need your services Willard if you are willing?”
Erille wondered what that meant. “Willard is under my command Sergeant. Whatever it is you want of him has to go through me first.”
The woman’s demanding stature would, in the right circumstances, be understandable, but right now they were at war or, as close as any of these civilians would ever encounter, and it was darn right annoying. “I need Willard’s telepathy capacity Captain, any objections?”
All eyes turned to the technician who shuffled a little at the stark comment. Few of the normals knew of the added abilities of the RAD programme and that included telepathy.
“Well send me to hell Willard, that’s why you could always win at those damn black jack sessions, you read our minds.” Chief Lake broke the tension that had begun to weave in the room.
“You have our cooperation Sergeant. How can the rest of us help?” Captain Erille, with a heavy sigh once again relinquished her position and accepted her rank as secondary to the military.
Lewis smiled. “Willard I need you to track down the major…the messages from me aren’t getting through. Will you do that immediately?”
Willard merely nodded his head and closed his eyes in concentration. He really didn’t need to close his eyes but the glares he was receiving, particularly from the chef, deemed it a wise move.
“Major Tranter gave us weapons to help, where do you want us?”
Lewis knew that Tranter wouldn’t have placed weapons in any of these people hands if they anything to do with the sabotage onboard. He, at least, considered that a step forward. Just as he was about to speak he felt a painful shocking resonation in his telepathic connection with his troops. He glanced quickly at Craig, who with eyes slightly glazed at the power of the emotion he’d felt, gave him a puzzled stare.
“Sergeant Lewis, I asked you what my crew can do to help.” Captain Erille was annoyed with the lack of attention to her question. Didn’t this soldier consider them a force that could help?
Shaking away the demoralizing connection Lewis gazed directly into the unwavering eyes of the station’s captain. “Captain, you and Craig remain here to defend this position. I want your navigator and all the others to leave with me...we have a command centre to retrieve.”
Erille was about to ask why she had to remain when the sergeant pre-empted her question. “If you’re wondering why you have to remain Captain, the answer is simple. You are the only one who has the command codes for manually destroying this tin bucket. Am I right?”
“Well, yes but I need my navigator’s code too, a failsafe.”
Lewis smiled wryly. “Ah, but of course you people and your fail-safes. Okay have the navigator tell you the code and then we’ll be on our way.”
Lewis then turned to Craig and explained what he wanted of the young private. “If we don’t take the command deck, initiate Operation Destruction and ignore any other order except the major’s. Is that clear Private?”
“Yes sir!” the solider replied with a salute. Lewis headed for the door as the whole station rocked. He felt his senses overwhelmed once more but this time in a completely different way. A black abyss enclosed him for a fraction of a second; he’d lost a man. With a slightly ashen complexion, he saluted Craig and gave the captain one last glance. As he headed out of the mess hall, the chief engineer was screaming at him that the station was in trouble and he needed to be in engineering immediately.
~ ~ ~
Tranter hadn’t done her homework, which was a foreign concept to her. Why was it that she hadn’t found out more about the professor? Did a part of her perhaps subscribe to the normal’s human emotion of privacy? Ridiculous of course, though it was disturbing her to have several of her normally honed supercharged senses breaking down. She could put those down generally to the experiment of this new mode of travel, but her lack of attention to detail regarding the professor, well that was something else altogether.
She knew, of course, that the professor was the top in her field and that her parents had begun the project inception some years before. Beyond that, she hadn’t deemed it necessary to waste time on trivial details. Looking back, she had two years to look into the background of the person who had, figuratively speaking, sent her to her death. It was one of the mysteries of her life; how things transpired and caught up with her. Besides, the chances that they would get out of this scrape unscathed were minimal. Although, there was always an element of surprise to any battle plan and she was a master tactician or so they informed her frequently enough; now was a time when she needed it most.
Pressing several of the control pads, Tranter glanced at the doorway and saw a shadow that shouldn’t be there. Damn it, her thoughts took flight as she had another unexpected experience, anxiety. Her eyes flew to the woman crouching on the floor beside the door pretty much where she’d been flung to the ground earlier. She silently wished the professor would move her ass out of there.
Running, with her weapons raised at the ready, towards the doorway she pushed the professor to one side. She heard, with horror, the slight body crack against the wall. That’s going to hurt! She aimed her laser weapon at the figure that ripped off his facemask to reveal a terrified Shibanion staring in trepidation.
“Shibanion, what the hell are you doing here you should be in the Mess,” Tranter gruffly voiced as she lowered her weapon fractionally.
Shibanion clamoured to gather his scattered wits as he faced the soldier. Swallowing the lump that threatened to choke him as he began to explain, “I felt the explosion Major, and I came to see if any of the overridden systems had been damaged...I see I was right.” He looked pointedly at the door that slid open and shut in cycles.
“See to it.” Tranter released her death grip on her weapon and bent to check on the unmoving figure slumped against the wall.
She felt for the professor's pulse that was barely there. She then wondered if her current condition was a direct result of the force of the push she'd inflicted on the woman or something more. Surveying the woman once more, she determined they needed the doctor immediately.
“Shibanion check the internal comm links, I need to contact the doctor.”
A few minutes later, with the professor cradled in her arms, Tranter tried the internal link…it failed. “Sorry Major, it was a long shot at best. The computer has deactivated all communications inside the ship.”
“Can you reactivate the security here?”
“Oh yes Major that will be a piece of cake. The chief and I worked on this system for some time to get it just how we wanted it,” Shibanion announced with pride.
For a few moments while watching the still almost lifeless expression on the professor’s face, Tranter had the strangest thought. Mouth to mouth resuscitation. She now felt a completely opposite reaction to her feelings of distaste when the captain had been in a similar predicament earlier. Now, she had a yearning to practice exactly that on the woman she held in her arms. This was in contrast to anything else she'd experienced before regarding the physical side of any relationship she had encountered. Then, much to her relief and at the same time regret, the professor came to.
"Where am I?" Alana was certain it must be in her bed at the base camp because it felt so comfortable and …right.
A strong hand wiped away a wisp of hair that crossed the professor’s forehead and a relieved sigh accompanied the voice that followed. “Hey there Professor, I thought you’d decided to leave me to do my own thing.”
Alana glanced up, her faculties finally righting or as much as they were going to she suspected. She knew her breathing was laboured and her lungs hurt like hell every time she sucked in a breath. Then, there was the pain she felt not only with her legs but now in her collarbone too, which could mean only one thing. She had either broken it when she’d been pushed aside, or it was badly bruised. Sometimes bruises were almost as painful as a break in the short term. “Me, leave, when we are entering the exciting stage, no way Major. Though I think you might have warned me to wear extra special padding where you’re concerned.”
Her eyes reflected a warmth Tranter hadn’t expected. She would have been livid with anyone for speaking to her, in such a manner for what she considered a correct action. “I’ll remember that for next time.”
For Al, Tranter’s inky depths held a promise and she’d hold the woman to that too if they ever got out of this predicament. “What do we do now?” Al asked hoping that the major wasn’t going to insist on another break-necked speed trek through the ships’ corridors.
Tranter hadn’t broken away from the woman in her arms. Normally this close personal contact would have given her a deep sense of revulsion but not so at this moment. In fact, it felt so good to be touching the professor that she had a hard time releasing her. But, there was a battle to win and she would have to let her go if that was to happen. Carefully she placed the thin woman against the wall and gave her a small smile. “Shibanion is recreating the security field in this area and then he’ll work on the rest of the station, I’m going to find my people.”
The devoid of emotion the way the soldier spoke told Alana that there was no discussion on the matter. It was, after all, why she was here; to protect and she would with her life if necessary. The message she received clearly from the inky depths of the major’s eyes was that she would no longer be allowed to take a part in the action. For a moment while being held close to the sinewy body, she was sure they had connected in a way she never had with another in her lifetime. But, she was probably mistaken. She knew that if she survived, which wasn’t certain in her case anyway, the soldier wasn’t likely to remember her once this was all over. The major, on the other hand, would survive; she was like a cat with the luxury of several lives regardless of how she died. At this moment, Al was envious of the major’s ability to reincarnate although, on reflection, multiple lives weren’t for her. She would rather have one life and pack as much in to it as possible. If she got out of this and Earth wasn’t in some madman’s hands she was going to take some well earned time off. She would spend it living and with a furtive look at the soldier…loving.
“You look far away Professor?”
With a light laugh, Alana nodded her head. “I was, a long way from here in another world really. What do you want me to do?”
“Rest until Shibanion creates a security field then I want you to contact your people and have them ready to get as many of the crew out of here alive if we are unsuccessful.”
“I’m not sure…”
A strong hand touched her cheek with a gentleness that she didn’t think the major had in her. Then the fingers trailed lightly to her lips to cut off her words. “I know you’ll do the best you can. Ensure you’re the first to leave as soon as Shibanion is ready. That’s an order Professor if you thought of doing otherwise.” Tranter was as serious about the order and hoped that the professor would heed her direction. The professor was the integral part of the project as well as its conscience. Who knew what might happen to them if someone else gained access to project.
“Actually I was but you caught me out. I’ll do as you say, on one condition.”
Al waited for the major to ask what that was. A cold, blank expression drew over her features as the soldier inclined her head for the professor to continue.
Holding out her hand Al spoke quietly but determinedly. “May I have your bio-disk Major? If physically you can’t make it out of here, I want to know that they can bring you back… Earth needs you.” The last words stuck in her throat as she pondered what she’d said realizing that she prevented herself from saying that she needed her. The soldier had barely acknowledged her emotive words and she realised how foolish her thoughts were. Tranter was everything they said of the RADICALS - they had no deep emotions. .
“Take this.” A disk was slipped into her hand. The major, with a last instruction to Shibanion, marched out of the relatively safe environment of the engineering area to god knows what.
Al clutched the tiny object in her hand. To her it was like holding the life of another in her hands and she’d protect it with her life. Oh yes I will, she thought as her hand moved to her chest where she cradled the object to her heart. Then she looked down at the name on the disk. She opened her mouth in dismay and ultimately in understanding; the major valued the life of another soldier over her own. In bold type one word was etched there…Arkan. Damn why didn’t I check before she left!
~ ~ ~
“Sir, we have reports that an explosion has occurred which has made the station unstable, shall we bring our men out?”
Commander Cransky glared at his second in command who had asked the foolish question. Everyone was expendable; he knew that first hand from the general. His superior had made no bones about the matter if he failed that was the end of his career or ambition. “No! Have we taken the command centre?”
“About to enter that area now . Lieutenant Franks advised that they have encountered heavily armed forces onboard. He has suffered a third casualty count but is progressing as ordered.”
Cransky frowned. The station had been manned by civilian personnel except for the security officer who wouldn’t have been able to inflict that kind of damage. Tranter, damn her to hell, she wasn’t going to be coming out of this smelling of roses if he had his way. “I’m going over there. Have Franks relay all further communication to my comm. link.
“Sir is it wise; we haven’t secured the station yet…” The look he was given silenced the officer immediately as he patched into the boarding party and issued the instructions as his commander left the bridge. He then muttered under his breath, wise ass is going to get him self killed.
Cransky headed towards the loading area where a small team was waiting for his arrival. It had been planned that he would enter Anvil Four once the station was secured. However, in light that there was an outside threat onboard the craft made that impossible if he went by the time frame the general had stipulated. There was now only one thing to do...kill Tranter himself with the added bonus of destroying her bio-disk to prevent her sorry ass from turning up again.
Five minutes later, he was heading towards the disabled station. As they closed in on the nearest entry port to the command centre, Cransky saw a huge hole in the side of the hull. The station was precariously functioning as Anvil two’s computer constantly modulated the gyro’s preventing it falling out of its orbit. Considering the damage, he doubted that the station was anything but crippled until extensive maintenance could be carried out by technicians other than those on the station. This made the situation a very different ball game. The original plan had been to take Anvil Four to a secret orbital destination out of range of the authority’s highest specification radar equipment and then use the fear of the weaponry aboard to topple the current leaders of Earth. Then the General would take over as Supreme Commander and install his faithful followers in key positions. The plan was a simple one and convinced Cransky once again that the normal h uman race wasn’t strong enough to rule the planet. No, it needed someone of superior intellect and courage to do what the general was doing and though he wasn’t one of them, he was as close as it came. The father of the RADICAL programme in its infancy he had been the caretaker of the programme and ensured that it didn’t fall away like the fads of earlier generations. At one point, the venture was considered for banning as the normals called it nothing more than an anti-social experiment. The general had battled hard to prevent it and succeeded.
“Sir, we have an incoming transmission from Lieutenant Franks.”
“Patch to my personal console.” Cransky decoded the incoming transmission smiling as he heard the message. Franks had taken the command deck, now all that was left was to rid the station of any insurgency. His people had been hand-picked by the general there would be no problem with that...none at all.
~ ~ ~
“Willard have you contacted the major yet?” Lewis sharply asked the man who had been concentrating on making a telepathic connection with her. He had no luck so far, which was a little strange as the major had been receptive to him hours before.
“I’m sorry Sergeant, either something is interfering with the communication process onboard or, she’s injured and unable to ….”
“Not a chance Willard, the major will…”
“The major will what Sergeant?” A familiar voice asked the sergeant who with his back turned began to smile. His lips stretched as far as possible without ripping his face apart as he heard the voice of the major.
Spinning around he saluted his superior, his smile slowly retreating, so much so Major Tranter gave him a mock cold expression. “Is something funny going on around here Lewis?”
“No Ma’am, I was just using Willard’s extraordinary ability to help us with our mission.” His smile finally retreated to the background; the relief of seeing her lifted a heavy weight off his shoulders. Though how they had missed the telepathy link being so close to her puzzled him a little, but not enough to take his mind off his duty however.
“How many are in the team?”
The words were spoken rapidly ignoring the man’s irrelevant explanation. “Nine, we have recorded three casualties all fatal. Greaves, Boyd and Markham are about to take the command centre. Craig is with the captain in the mess area ready to self-destruct the station on our command. Solomon and Tretcher are eliminating anyone else they find securing each section as they go.”
Tranter looked at the group assembled. Chef Reagon, Navigator Stephens, Willard and the doctor. Where are Arkan and Lake ? “Where are the chief engineer and the security officer?”
Lewis gave the major a rapid response. “When the station had the explosion disruption the chief requested that he go and check out engineering. I sent Arkan with him for protection.”
“Good call. Arkan is capable and she’ll do what has to be done. Willard I want you to contact Arkan telepathically and give her this instruction….” Moments later, they were on their way to the command centre. As they cautiously surveyed the area before them, the sound of gunfire greeted them.
Fortunately, their contingent had arrived prior to them and taken the brunt of the firepower from the opposition. Markham sustained a serious head injury with Greaves and Boyd covering his body to prevent any further damage.
At the sight of the reinforcements, especially with the major leading the party, the faces of the soldiers brightened significantly. Now they would win. A slight nod from the officer had the two capable soldiers remain where they were. A telepathic message from Lewis ordered them to retrieve Markham ’s bio-disk and join the others. Without question, they did as ordered and left their fallen comrade to his own fate.
“I’m not going to be in the frontline, that’s what you lot were born for,” the irritating voice of Chef Reagon announced pointedly as he was pushed forward ahead of the doctor and the navigator.
Tranter glanced his way for a second then personally stepped forward and brutally pushed the man hard against the steel wall away from the others. His cry of pain made the major smile slightly; she hated cowards. Her eyes then travelled towards the other civilians who they remained where they were seemingly unable to decide what to do. “Doc, I need you to check on my soldier. I can’t offer you any protection…we need all the firepower we can muster to take the command section.”
Mack Fulton smiled wryly. “No need to worry about that small thing, looking after the sick and wounded IS my job regardless of the conditions.” The words clearly exaggerated for the benefit of the chef, who had the shame to look away.
“I’ll cover the doc’s back if you can spare me,” Navigator Stephens piped up. One way or the other he was in the thick of things although he wasn’t that good with a gun. His odds of getting out of this alive would be better with the RAD’s. They had the experience. However, the doc would be defenceless if he was tending the injuries of the downed soldier, at least he might be of some help.
“No, Stephens we need you with us. Once we take the bridge I want you to make sure that we close down as much as possible of the computer’s control by any means possible.” Tranter felt that they were wasting time talking. It was one of the reasons she hated working with the normals ...they talked around a problem instead of getting on with eradicating it.
“Sorry Doc,” Stephens shrugged his shoulders as the doctor inclined his head in appreciation of the offer. Picking up his medical kit without another word, he slipped across the recess to the prone man who wasn’t moving as blood oozed profusely from the wound on his head.
“Okay, let’s go. Willard you stay at the back with Stephens, we’ll protect you both as much as possible, keep alert. Sergeant, blow that door to kingdom come.”
Lewis and another member of the team placed strategic explosive devices on the control panel of the door and rigged it to blow within seconds of them moving away.
The door exploded into several large pieces that imploded into the command deck thereby ensuring that any soldiers were close to the door on the other side they would be the first casualties. The black as soot smoke gave them the cover of darkness to enter the area but they would have only one shot at getting inside without being blown off the face of the station.
Panicked voices were heard, as well as coughing as the smoke filled the area. Tranter, with a feral expression, motioned for them to enter as they all moved forward to face whatever was in there to greet them.
Minutes later, having eliminated any offensive action from the confused opposition, the smoke began to clear slightly and Tranter surveyed the area. What she hadn’t expected was a weak voice from the forward bridge. The small area had an expansive view where the captain of the station usually watched what was happening in space. Lewis climbed through the debris and was the first to inspect the particles of the captain’s chair. It had flown across the room and crushed whoever had been unfortunate enough to be sitting in it at the time.
“You’ll want to see this Major,” Lewis called out as he stared at the face of the enemy pinned by several enormous shards of steel.
Tranter glancing around the area to ensure that all was as she expected. She motioned the stressed, but otherwise unharmed Anvil Four crew to do what they could to disconnect the computer’s control. They immediately sprang into action, as it was better than looking at the carnage around them, which was making them squeamish.
She then proceeded towards Lewis and seconds later glanced at the features of the person pinned under the rubble. “Why hello, you must be Cransky, this is a surprise." Her eyes evaluated his uniform and gauged his rank it could only be Cransky. "Have you gotten soft forgetting the first rule of a commander...not to risk themselves unless absolutely necessary or if the risk is minimal.” A groan and defiant glare from the man’s pain-filled eyes had her smiling genuinely. “Are you pleased to see me Cransky?”
A choked response followed her taunting, “I’ll see you in hell first Tranter, you’ll not win this one, he has too many friends in high places.”
Raising her weapon, she wanted to shoot his head off. The veiled mention of the general who had set this up and killed some of her team in the process angered her. “I’ll win Cransky, I always win. Let’s face it, I’m like him and can even think like him if necessary. Sergeant we have the rest of the station to secure.” She turned away from the man who tried and failed to stop her.
The agony of the pain he felt with any movement was etched clearly on his face but seemingly had no effect on the major. “Aren’t you going to get me out of here, I’m dying?”
She spun around. Her stance was one of command and total control, the streaks made by the smoke and sweat in the heat of battle were visible as warrior markings. “Maybe, who cares? We have no use for you and I hate the formalities of taking prisoners.”
“No! I can make it worth your while Tranter, he’s expecting my communication, help me please!” The man knew he’d lost this battle and he wasn’t going to die, not yet anyway, he hadn’t even left his bio-disk onboard Anvil Two. He had been so confident that there wasn’t any direct threat to his life. Right now he needed medical help and the only person able to provide that was walking away to leave him to bleed to death.
Stiffening at the words, Tranter mused over the information. Perhaps he could be useful for a short time although she didn’t trust him. “Sergeant, get that man out of there and find the doc...only after he’s finished with my men first. And Cransky, if you do anything that endangers my people I’ll personally put a bullet in your brain and smash your bio-disk.”
Lewis nodded at the order and requested help as he watched Tranter move towards the navigator and station technician to check on their progress. Willard had already informed Craig that the command centre was theirs and the captain was now on her way there. “Let’s get this traitor out of here men…”
Rapid rounds of gunfire in the corridor had two of the soldiers along with the major leaving the bridge quickly to assess the situation.
~ ~ ~
Doctor Mack Fulton hadn’t noticed Reagon retreating down the corridor. He had been far too occupied tending his patient who had rallied somewhat. The soldier had opened pain-filled eyes and given him a trusting look, though his chances of survival with the injuries sustained appeared bleak, and that trust might well prove unjustifiable. What he hadn’t been prepared for was a figure lurking in the circulation vent of the corridor.
The saboteur Ponsonby watched the events taking place from his hideaway spot and knew that his original escape plan was now impossible. He’d seen Commander Cransky arrive and enter the area only moments before the enemy soldiers had arrived. The gunfire following that event had Ponsonby waiting a little while longer before he ventured out. Even if that idiot Cransky had thought it safe, he hadn’t, not yet anyway. What occurred left him in no doubt that his only possible exit was to take a hostage, and the medic looked as easy a target as anyone. The guy who had fled down the corridor moments earlier wasn’t worth following. RADICAL soldiers weren’t likely to trade for a coward no matter their rank or perceived importance in the scheme of things. It was like a code of honour with them.
Climbing out of his secure position, he flexed his supple double-jointed body to reshape it. Progressing silently, with his back to the wall, he crept up unawares on the two men in the corridor. The soldier wasn’t about to do any one any harm since he looked dead from Ponsonby’s vantage point. Aiming his weapon a scant breath away from the doctor’s temple, he spoke softly, “I’m taking you hostage medic. Get up and leave that bastard to die, a dead RADICAL is the only RADICAL in my book.”
Fulton , taken by surprise, rocked back on his haunches and stared at the intruder. Damn! He’d pushed his weapon aside to help the prone soldier and now they were defenceless. By god, he had a patient to help; no way was he going anywhere. “I’m not leaving with you, period!”
The gun hit his temple with a sharp crack that provoked a wince from the doctor at the headache type pain he’d received for his bravado stance. “I’m not here for the small talk or bedside manner, I’m here to survive. Either you come with me, or I’ll blow your brains out; make your choice.”
Glancing down at his patient, who appeared closer to entering the other life than remaining in this one, he noticed the soldier give him a strange look. Then, with a final spurt of extreme energy, the patient willed his dying body into action one more time. He pushed aside the astonished doctor casually as if he were of no importance. Then he levelled his weapon which was on automatic fire and shot Ponsonby into smithereens. The saboteur’s astonished expression disappearing as his blood, and body parts, covered every surface in the near vicinity including the shocked doctor.
Ponsonby, taken by surprise, had managed to trigger his own weapon in an automatic reaction. His life ebbing dramatically away as each shot displaced pieces of his body. His last thought was that he was being used for target practice.
The gunfire galvanised several figures within the command area. The first soldier into the corridor was fired upon and fatally wounded. Ponsonby’s slumping body fell to the ground and with it a change of direction of his weapon towards the entry of the soldiers. As silence echoed around the smoke filled corridor Tranter surveyed the damage. Her eyes scanned the area for any further enemy occupation, who might have thought it an ideal opportunity to enter the fray; they didn’t.
Glancing down at one of her fallen soldiers, Greaves, Tranter nodded to Boyd to take the soldier’s bio-disk. She then knelt down beside the remaining two prone figures of her team in the corridor. Markham was also dead. The doctor she found was in shock with bullet in the shoulder, but he was otherwise unharmed; he was a very lucky man.
“I guess you’re going to have to cure yourself Doc,” Tranter quipped quietly as her eyes completed her comprehensive scanning of the area. For a few split seconds, her thoughts then travelled to the professor and wondered if she had rallied enough to go back to earth. If she hadn’t they needed the doc in good order.
With a shaking voice, accompanied by a feeble laugh, the doctor looked down at the soldier who had saved his life. “I thought it was going to be the other way around.”
Unsure what the doctor was talking about, Tranter gave him a quizzical glance. Then Fulton elaborated silently by motioning to the dead soldier at his side. Nodding her head in understanding, Tranter for the first time, with a mark of respect for a fallen comrade, knelt close to the man. She gently closed his open eyes. Her whispered words were audible only to the doctor. “A hero in death deserves another chance to be free in the next life.”
“Where’s Reagon?” Tranter snarled his name as she realised he was missing from the scenario. It would have been easier for her had he fallen prey to the saboteur. He hadn’t, which meant she had to find him; he was a menace to everyone in his cowardly condition.
“I didn’t see him go. He must have travelled that way though because he didn’t pass me.” Fulton answered quickly as he scrambled in his medical bag for supplies to stop his own bleeding. As he did so the captain and private Craig joined them.
“Good to see you Captain. I believe you can be of great service at this moment; Doc Fulton needs your help. Craig you’re with me. Boyd, keep Lewis company and send Willard out to see me.”
Erille didn’t need to be told to help the doctor, as she quickly dropped to her knees to his aid. Her quiet words of concern caused Tranter to smile briefly as her thoughts mulled over the scene in front of her. Damn ‘Normals’. They are so wrapped up in their own emotions, not even a war around them prevented that taking precedence. It really is quite odd; thankfully, I’m not around them for any length of time.
Willard entered the corridor, “You wanted to see me Major?”
“Yes, Craig here is our best telepath onboard. Concentrate on his signal; we have to leave the area. I want a report every five minutes or when anything unusual happens, understand?”
“Yes Major.” Willard wondered what the woman meant by unusual. The whole situation since she’d arrived was unusual.
Tranter, with Craig striding confidently beside her, left the area following the path of Reagon.
~ ~ ~
“She said you had to leave. Now that the Chief and Arkan are here its safe for you to do so,” Shibanion reminded the professor. The woman was looking paler by the minute the sooner she was out of here the better.
“I know what she said Shibanion,” the professor replied in anguish.
“Then what’s the problem?” Turning to Arkan, in an exasperated voice he appealed to the soldier, “You tell her.” With the shake of his head he muttered, “The Major isn’t going to be happy.” Then he left the professor and Arkan alone.
“He’s right Professor the Major gave you an order. Knowing her reputation, she wouldn’t take it lightly if you disobeyed a directive.” Arkan watched the professor in concern, she looked ill. It could be the stress of the situation but she had an idea that this woman had a strong personality. In recent hours, she had proved that therefore stress was ruled out almost immediately.
“What’s she going to do put me in the brig?” Accepting seconds after her outburst that the soldier was right and her emotional outburst was unforgivable. Alana punched the communicator to Earth base on her wrist.
“Could be, you never know with that type.” Arkan smiled warmly. She’d seen the interaction between people before and a definite chemistry appeared to be happening between the professor and the major.
Alana felt so dreadful that it bordered on catatonic. It was as if she had drunk gallons of beer and had the worst hangover ever. Her body protested at every turn feeling less lucid than she usually did. Her priorities at this moment were to ensure the major was unharmed then proceed back to base. Hopefully Pat would be able to work out what was happening to her body.
A crackle of static along with Sam’s voice brought her back to reality. “Professor, are you ready to be uplifted?”
She was unsure, if it was her weakened senses or otherwise but Sam sounded worried, tense or something along those lines. “Yes, Sam, I’m ready to come home. Track my coordinates from here it isn’t safe to go back to the original transfer point.”
“Sure thing Professor. We’ve achieved everything else so far with the experiment this should be a piece of cake. I’ll reset the equipment. Thirty seconds to extraction.”
Al sighed heavily as she wondered if she should tell Arkan why she wanted to stay. “I just wanted to …” The remaining words disappeared, as Arkan looked at the empty space that the professor had once inhabited.
“I know.” Arkan’s softly spoken reply to the void made her smile at her own weakness. Arkan returned to her original purpose to check up on the engineers who were nearing a break through.
~ ~ ~
Captain Erille gave the doctor a concerned frown. “You could have been killed. What made you forget about your weapon?” After following his instructions on bandaging his arm, which fortunately for him the bullet had passed cleanly through the flesh, she had to concede he was a very fortunate man.
Mack Fulton wanted to be angry at the woman’s response. In fact, the words a typical woman’s reaction came to mind. However, today nothing had been typical; it had been totally out of any of their normal lifestyle experiences. “Well, you could just say you loved me, and I was trying to get out of a commitment, that might work.”
“Was that the reason?” the puzzled concerned tone had Mack rethinking. What he had thought a light reply to the tense situation apparently wasn’t taken that way. He did wonder if he was ready to go down that particular path with this woman or any woman.
“No, no of course it wasn’t.” He felt the tension building between them as he scratched the side of his neck in agitation. What should I say next?
“Does that mean you love me?”
For several seconds Mack wondered if he had been transported to another world. Sorrel had never mentioned love when they had been together. Nope, the good captain had kept her cards close to the chest.
“May I say that I have strong feelings for you…do you love me?” He quickly turned the question back to the captain. With his words came the feeling that his life was out of control; almost worse than being in the centre of a gun battle.
Captain Erille gave the words a once over as she did most things. The truth of the matter was that she’d never been in this kind of circumstance in her life. For god’s sake, what am I waiting for? Everyone knows men didn’t like to be the first to admit they love someone. It is up to me. Surprise of all surprises was she did love him and his injury had merely brought the matter to a head quicker than she expected.
Mack Fulton knew there was a battle going on inside the head of the woman he loved. Yep he loved her. As crazy as that sounded to him, the last hour in his life had made certain areas crystal clear and this was one of them. What the hell did it matter who was the first to say it…unless it wasn’t mutual.
“I love you,” they both replied at exactly the same moment.
~ ~ ~
Sam Ramsey had a green light from medical bay. Doctor Forsyth had confirmed that the professor had been extracted and indicated that the professor wasn’t in a fit state to report to the control room. After some time, she finally admitted that the professor’s status was critical and she had been confined bed.
Groaning at the news, Sam was unaware that the general had left his ivory tower. His arrival in the control area was a shock to him. “Have you extracted the Major, Ramsey?”
Swivelling in his chair, Sam glared at the man. What was it with these military guys? They had only one focus and it had nothing to do with everyday folk. “No General, as I said…”
With the flick of a hand, the general stopped the younger man’s irrelevant chatter. Presently, he was the only one able to use this technology, with any degree of competence. Otherwise, he would have had no compunction in shooting the cocky youngster and sending him to the morgue with Fever. He wanted Tranter clear of the situation. Cransky was a good soldier but he had none of Tranter’s tenacity. The major was going to be a good ally for his future dealings with the rest of the RADICALS in the present ranks. They respected her and would do what she ordered. He was going to make sure she did exactly what he ordered by reprogramming her, just the way he had the others. “I heard you talking with someone about a successful extraction. If it wasn’t Tranter who was it?”
Sam knew he’d been caught out. At this moment it would be useless to expect the general not to do further checking. With the professor, according to the base doctor, in no condition to be of help, he might as well be honest. “Professor Cameron was extracted she’s…”
The general didn’t wait for him to finish his sentence. He left the control room as quickly and silently as he’d entered; his destination unknown. Sam could make a pretty good guess as to where he was heading and he automatically punched in the communication band for the doctor. He might not be able to stop the general arriving, but at least the doctor would be warned.
After doing his duty, as best he could, he flipped on the screen to show the various personnel being monitored by the equipment. His state of mind was worried and frightened as he saw several of the monitors had stopped responding. With the little he knew it wasn’t an equipment malfunction, they were dead! Now, after the visit by the general, his concern escalated. Staring up at the glass wall that covered the office suite of the director, he decided to leave his position for a few moments and check if director Fever had left a number where he could be contacted. This wasn’t like the director to leave without saying something to someone. It certainly hadn’t been his intention when he’d left to confront the general, quite the opposite. Of that, Sam was certain.
~ ~ ~
Chef Reagon cowered in a corner of his kitchen. It was the only place he felt any measure of safety. Now, that everyone thought him as a coward, he knew it wasn’t likely that he would be allowed off the station alive regardless of who won. He wasn’t a soldier, never had been or any had inclination to be. He was a chef. He prepared meals for people and functions that was his claim to fame. He wasn’t cut out to be gung-ho; the nearest he’d ever been to that had been playing with toy soldiers as a kid. He’d soon grown out of that as well, preferring to play with his sister’s dolls dressing them up. If it hadn’t been for his colour blindness he’d have followed the real love of his life of fashion designing. However, with the deformity, as he termed it, he embarked on another creative form, cooking. He’d made a decent living out of the career too. Until the idiot he’d been living with had put rat droppings in t he kitchen when they’d broken up. Unfortunately, a malicious person had already informed the authorities and his restaurant license had been revoked for five years. He’d taken the job here because it paid well and he would have enough to start up two restaurants once he’d completed the two and a half year term in space. Now, in the midst of another life crisis he’d run again. He’d scurried away from a deteriorating relationship, his career, and now he was running away from people who had been, if not exactly the most jovial, friendly to him in their own degrees…even the captain.
A noise in the corridor had him backing even further, if that were possible, under the shelving of the pantry area. He wouldn’t be able to see who entered the mess hall but he didn’t care as long as they didn’t see him. Listening intently, he heard the door slide open and two sets of heavy regimented military style footsteps enter the room. He held his breath hoping that they would speak. At least then, he would know who was in the area and be able to determine if he’d be shot on sight or given the opportunity to, recant his previous cowardly behaviour. If the captain was still running the show, he could show remorse for his actions. He was certain that major bitch wouldn’t allow him that luxury. The footsteps quickly circumnavigated the main area as he closed his eyes. Hoping, as he had done as a child when he’d been gripped in childish fear over something, that the object of his fear would simply disappear.
A few moments later, as the door slid open then slid shut he finally breathed out a heavy sigh after concentrating heavily on holding his breath. He fervently hoped that no one had heard him…
“Remaining a coward to the end Reagon.” Major Tranter shot her head under the bench. Staring at him, her ice filled eyes shattering his composure, as he began to sob out waving his arms around that he didn’t want to die.
With a final disparaging glance, she dragged the weakly protesting man out of his hiding place. Private Craig re-entered the area with a smile pinned on his face. “All clear Major. The others have reported minimal resistance to those forces left aboard and several ships are returning to Anvil Two with their tails between their legs.”
“Craig, I think you can take it from here. Have this…person, cook up something to eat for the men, they deserve it. Inform Willard I’m on my way back and have Lewis prepare Cransky.”
As she turned to leave, her thoughts travelled to the engineering section. For a split second, she had wanted to talk with the professor and advise her personally that the threat to the station was extinguished. She could go home proud of her actions. It was only a few precious moments as her thoughts gathered on the final hurdle, General H T McAndrew and his demise. He either would be put to death or be incarcerated; she knew which one she’d prefer to inflict on him. And, it didn’t have a long sentence attached to it.
~ ~ ~
“General, Professor Cameron isn’t in any fit state to have visitors, she’s barely lucid.” Doctor Patricia Forsyth barred the way to her patient’s bed. The general, with a menacing growl, pushed her roughly aside ignoring her cry of protest. The professor’s sickness had no relevance to him; all he wanted to know was how much she knew of what was happening on Anvil Four. Also, he needed to know exactly what Tranter knew and what she was doing about it.
Pulling the privacy panels aside, he stared down at the thin frail woman in the bed secretly admitting that she didn’t look well. However, it had little significance; she was the least important thing on his agenda right now. He was virtually ready to take over her project; a close friend of his from the early days of the terrorist’s wars in Europe had personally selected personnel who would take over with little formal training. After all a RAD scientist was far superior to a Normal one. It was all in the genes just like the military.
“Professor Cameron can you hear me?”
He stepped closer asking the question again, “I told you she wasn’t in any condition…”
“Shut up doctor! When I want your opinion I’ll ask, otherwise be quiet or better yet check on another patient.” The general’s hard stare had Patricia moving a discrete distance away, though not enough that she couldn’t be at Alana’s side if anything distressed her friend.
This time the general towered over the bed whispering into the professor’s ear, “Come now Professor I know you must be able to hear me. Just how is our mutual friend Tranter?”
The general was impressed. The woman moaned, barely opening her eyes as she gazed glassily at him, her mouth moving but the words were silent. He wasn’t sure if it was his bedside manner, or the mention of a certain party that had the required response, either way she was almost with him.
“I need your help Professor. The Major is in danger if she remains on the station; therefore, we require her immediate extraction. The boy you have working for you indicated that you are the only one who can do that.”
Alana had been disorientated since she had been transported back to the base. Unable to speak coherently, doubting anyone would believe her if she had spoken because it probably sounded more like a fictional tale. At the moment, she felt like she was in a dream. It had to be a dream; for so many terrible things were happening that there was no way could they be right. Could they? There was one good thing out of this terrible dream though, Major Tranter. Even if she was an obscure reincarnation of the woman who had died in her earlier experiments, she felt happier knowing that if things had been different they might not have been friends.
“Professor, come now, the major needs your help at this moment, not in several weeks time.”
Shifting slightly in the bed she realized that the weightlessness feeling must be because her artificial limbs had been removed. Thank god for that, they had been a trial and incredibly painful at the end. Weird how I can experience so much pain in a dream, hope I wake up soon.
“Administer something to make her lucid Doctor. She is the key to some of my people’s lives.”
Pat Forsyth glowered at the general. He might think he had absolute power; he didn’t here, only Fever could dispense that kind of order to her. Sam had indicated that Jim Fever wasn’t on the premises, which was odd. Fever might not be as totally blinkered as Alana might be to the project but he would never have abandoned her when she was part of the experiment. He cared for Alana a little bit more than he allowed himself because she certainly gave him no reason to think that she cared for him in any other way than as a close friend.
“I’ve already subjected her to various drugs to stabilise her condition. If I administer anything else who knows what might happen. I’m not prepared to take that chance.”
Her adamant position had General McAndrew fuming. With a blank expression on his features, he turned to face the woman who had angered him. Hissing between his smoke stained even teeth he said, “You will do as I say, or I’ll personally take charge of her welfare. Believe me she won’t survive my butchery after I receive the information I need.”
Pat knew he meant every word. It was the tone of his voice and the look in his eyes. An evil glinting that had nothing to do with being a soldier. It had all to do with the state of mind of a mad man. At this juncture she suspected that the general had toppled into that category with the things that were going on around them. Events becoming so dreadful and in secret she suspected Alana was in the thick of things. From her point of view, her friend wasn’t going to be a sacrificial lamb to this egotistical madman. No way was she going to let that happen. “I’ll give her something. Don’t expect too much, we still don’t know exactly what’s happened to her or what she’s suffering from. All we do know is that her nervous system is disintegrating and we can’t stop it.”
Pat injected Alana with the serum that would boost her immune system. Allowing her friend to wake her for a period, though what that time phase was would be anyone’s guess.
“Give her a minute.” Pat carefully stroked back the damp hair that flopped over Alana’s eyes. She smiled gently as her friend became more lucid then moved away to allow the general into her friend’s sight. She then saw the immediate defensive expression in her friend’s eyes as the general closed the small gap between them. He came as close to her as he could without touching her to whisper once again in her ear.
“I want Tranter out of Anvil Four now! Tell Ramsey how to do it.” There was no quiet irrelevant gesture of sympathy for her condition. He demanded action and didn’t care about pulling any punches.
Al gave him a careful glance as she answered, “Jim can do that you don’t need me.”
With a look that pierced Alana’s soul, he gave her a slow evil smile. “Sorry my dear the director is no longer able to help.”
Alana felt her stomach churn. The sickness she felt at his words left her in no doubt that Jim was injured or even worse dead. The general had him killed, but why? Why! “I won’t help you General, over my dead body.”
“Bravado my dear is of no consequence in this situation. From what your doctor implies you don’t have much longer to live anyway. There is however the small matter of preventing me from taking my temper out on innocent people. Young Mr. Ramsey for instance, or perhaps the good doctor here. Now what do you say?”
Had she any choice? He obviously didn’t know about Sergeant Lewis and the other members of the RAD team onboard the station or he would have said something. She could delay him for a time. Perhaps in that time Tranter would request exit. It was a long shot, one she was going to give the major. Maybe this was the final part she had to play.
“Are you going to allow that Professor? I’ll not wait any longer for your answer; it’s either yes or no.”
“Yes. At least, I’ll have to do the extraction myself. It would prove too difficult for Sam. I might forget to tell him everything and it could be fatal. Pat, please give me something to get out of here for a short time.”
Her eyes beseeched her friend to understand. In light of how the general described her condition she did not know if Pat would agree with her request or be in a position to do anything to help her.
Quietly her friend agreed. “I’ll do what I can Alana. With your determination you’ll be at your desk in half an hour.”
The general gave the two women a disparaging smile as he moved towards the exit. “Excellent I knew you would see sense. Half an hour and don’t make it a minute longer.” He left without another word.
“I don’t know what you think you’re doing Alana, this is crazy! You aren’t in any condition to help yourself. Never mind work out a complicated process. Surely he can’t make you?”
“He can Pat, and I think he’s done something awful to Jim…maybe even killed him. He just threatened you or Sam, or possibly both. He’s gone crazy, so crazy he’s putting the whole planet in jeopardy.”
The doctor’s raised eyebrows indicated her shock at the statement. “You can’t have heard him right Alana. Especially about Jim, it’s impossible! The general is one of the most influential people outside the World Council there is. Why would he do such a thing?”
“I need to buy some time for the major, she’s going to work this all out I know it. Sam was helping me earlier out by not telling the general the truth - he can process the extraction. I guess in our own ways we are all buying as much time for everyone as we can. Right now Anvil Four is in danger and that’s enough for even the most timid among us to help don’t you think.”
The mention of the station had Pat gasping. Her eyes blinked rapidly as it sank in that Alana actually believed all this stuff and wasn’t hallucinating with the cocktail of drugs she’d been given. It all made sense now. Her friend was right they all had to do their part and she was going to try, even if it meant that her friend’s life was put in danger. “This could kill you Alana. You know that, right. I don’t know what’s wrong with you.”
Alana squeezed the hand that touched her forearm. “I know. It will be worth it trust me.”
“I do trust you Alana. Drugs as powerful as these don’t discriminate against good or evil. They will kill anyone regardless, if too many are taken.”
“I guess I’m going to have to pray that I don’t need too many.”
Pat selected the drugs she was going to use. Her mind concentrated on her friend, praying that she wasn’t going to kill her.
~ ~ ~
“Ma’am, Anvil Two has released the computer control and is awaiting your instructions,” Navigator Stephens announced triumphantly.
“Excellent work Stephens. Captain I believe that’s your call now. I’ll be leaving my people onboard to help you. Sergeant Lewis will be taking command of Anvil Two until the World Council has despatched a replacement.” Tranter gave the captain a small smile. As she waited for Cransky to perform his party trick in contacting the general, she was informed that the remaining personnel onboard Anvil Two and surrendered. Additionally, the captain and Doctor Fulton had decided to make the repair time on Anvil Four a honeymoon. Guess it was as good a place as anywhere under the circumstances. To her mind she would have preferred something a little more private.
“Does the World Council know what’s happening here?” Erille asked, surprised at the comment. She had thought that perhaps the major intended to take command of both vessels until otherwise released of the burden. After all she had beaten back the marauders without getting into a sweat.
Tranter gave the captain a long hard look, “Yes, I sent a coded message which they probably received in the last few minutes. I’m travelling back to the project base now. The general and I have a rendezvous that requires my personal brand of attention. If you need anything, or have any trouble on either ship, Lewis will deal with it as well as I would. My people are at your direct command Captain. Although, if I were you I’d have Sergeant Lewis give the commands on your behalf when it comes down to military protocol on Anvil Two.”
Cransky had been good to his word and informed the general that all was well on Anvil Four and they had control. He also stated that Tranter was ready for extraction and had been segregated and knew little of what was going on. The performance had convinced the general or so it had appeared to the untrained ear. Tranter thought otherwise. He was far too willing to accede that she had not been in the thick of things. Being divorced from her goal something she would normally never allow, barring incapacity or death.
“I understand the chain of command Major. Thank you for your guidance. I’d also like to thank you for your help; things would have been so different if you hadn’t…”
“No need to say any more Captain. It’s my purpose to defend Earth and the people who live on the planet. I was only doing what I’ve been born to do. I wish you luck in your endeavours Captain and with the repairs to your station as well as a safe journey back with your crew.” Tranter sighed slightly saluting her men as she left the bridge. Walking towards the engineering area, she wanted to ensure that everything was as it should be. In particular, a certain professor had left the station and returned home.
Arkan was the first to greet her. Complete with a dramatic salute that made Tranter laugh silently. The soldier needed to take a refresher in that area of military discipline. Regardless, she was a damn fine soldier and she’d be proud to have her under her command if the need ever arose again. “Arkan, what’s the status?”
“Everything is under control Major. If you can call limping through space, control. Anvil Two is flanking us and that should help things along especially if any major functions deteriorate. The weapons area is secure and guarded. However, Chief Engineer Lake ’s in mourning for Myrtle. He thinks she’ll be scrapped. Guess he has a soft spot for the old tin can.” Arkan grinned as she mentioned Lake ’s concern for the station.
“Good.” Tranter scanned the area and saw Shibanion and Lake working feverishly inside the hollow of a corridor covered in cables.
Arkan saw the major taking in the number of people inside the engineering area. She had no doubt who her superior was really looking for. “Major, Professor Cameron left the station as instructed. Currently unconfirmed at this end although I believe she arrived back in one piece.”
Nodding her head Tranter stared out of the porthole. It gave her an infinitely small piece of space to view, its darkness transmuted by the debris of shards of the damage to the station that had been ejected into space.
Finally, she drew in a breath, filling out her chest, and bracing her broad shoulders as she turned to leave the area. “Excellent. Captain Erille is now in control again.” Tranter left the engineering sector without another word and headed for the area of the station where she had first entered it. What felt like days in reality had been only a few hours. Now, to take out the general! And, if it was the last thing she did in her lifespan she would be pleased with the conclusion of her mission and if necessary her life.
~ ~ ~
Sam had been shocked by the professor’s appearance. She looked haggard and totally not the woman he was used to working with as doctor Forsyth wheeled her into the control room. The doctor also looked drawn, except he suspected for different reasons. The general and two other soldiers accompanied them. What is going on here? It looked more like a prisoner situation than the professor arriving to do her routine work.
“I know Sam, have you contacted the major?” She settled at her normal console with her shaking hands a testimony that she wasn’t in control of her own body’s functionality. It was something that she hadn’t had time to understand or work out exactly what was happening to her. All she knew was that it was really quite scary.
Sam turned to monitor his console. Knowing that she wanted him to carry on as normal or as much as one could in the circumstances, “Yes, the major is at the original coordinates shall I begin the extraction countdown?”
The general heard the words that passed between the two colleagues realising that the boy had duped him. Ah well, he wouldn’t be around for much longer, therefore, his mischief making was now irrelevant. This knowledge was akin to his knowing in his gut that Tranter was up to something. No way would she have succumbed to anything Cransky had asked without his direct order or by dying first. It was of no significance now. He was now in absolute control or would be as soon as he had Tranter in custody. Soon everyone in the world would know about his secret mission and they couldn’t do a thing to stop him.
“I want Tranter here in this room now!” McAndrew growled menacingly. He’d had enough of the easy-going approach, now he wanted what was his, Tranter.
Sam looked to the professor for instruction. With a slightly shaky nod of her head, she indicated that they could begin the process. The project was stable and it would pretty much send and return people wherever they wanted. Just as her parents had predicted and had worked hard but failed to achieve.
“Do it Sam,” Al spoke quietly as she remained focused on the events around her rather than the worsening effect of the drugs on her body. This was causing her to want to throw up at any moment, which brought about the recall of a similar event with the major and her nausea on the station. Not only that, she was suffering with a kaleidoscope of colours threatening to make her unconscious. The thought of the major gave her renewed strength.
“Initiating extraction, ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one…extraction.”
Alana hit the button. If this didn’t work she didn’t want Sam to be the one who had made the final call. It had to be her and her alone.
In what seemed like eons to her, Alana saw the major appear. She looked as she’d done when Alana had left her. A few scorch marks on the face gave her a roguish appearance that definitely was not out of character. It looked good on her, real good, mixing well with her already bronzed skin tones.
Doctor Forsyth quickly sped over to the soldier to ensure she was as whole as she should be in the circumstances. Forsyth was thrown aside by the two soldiers who grasped the major’s remarkably unresisting body as the general stood menacingly before her.
“Ah I thought so, you know everything, or as much as you could glean from Cransky. He was only ever my second choice. You were always my first choice. Circumstances didn’t allow you to be prepared efficiently for that mission.”
Tranter gave the man she had respected a long time ago a long steady stare. He was, of course, now in her eyes only a normal man complete with a crazed superior look in his eyes telling her that he would never be the same again. He was better off dead. Knowing him, she was sure he might try this again in a different way. He still had some power left in certain secret factions that the World Council would find difficult to trace. An asylum would be too good for him in light of his misdeeds, way too good.
“I know enough General, as does the World Council. It is only a matter of time before they track you here and arrest you for treason.”
McAndrew stared at the woman who was biologically his daughter, enhanced it was true, nonetheless his daughter. She was everything he wasn’t. The soldier he had yearned to be himself and more. If he could make her see that to retire him had been grossly wrong on the part of the authorities perhaps she would side with him. Now was not the time to speak of such things. After a session with his people Tranter would be under his control again.
“Ah, the council will take time to deliberate over what action to take. And by then, I’ll be long gone to a place they can’t find me. I will have my revenge. And, when I’ve finished with you Major, you will be alongside me all the way.”
The look of distaste on Tranter’s face told everyone exactly what she thought of that scenario. Focusing her eyes on the two soldiers holding her prisoner, “Do you want to go down with the general for treason? Or, hasn’t he told you every detail.”
The general saw the tactic and it might have worked. It was a little like his tactic of explaining why he’d gone rogue to Tranter. He knew that only a medical enhancement change would accomplish that in the end. She had, after all, his grit and determination - it was all in the genes. “They only respond to me Major. Forget any psychological plea it won’t work on them. I programmed these two personally.”
Alana saw the fleeting look of disappointment on the major’s face knowing she had to make one last effort to help the soldier. There was no trusting the general. She didn’t want to think of the major being programmed into, what she could only call a zombie, at the ultimate behest of this man and his maniacal suggestions. No, that wasn’t going to happen to her major…and yes, Tranter was definitely her major.
“General, I can make you disappear just as we made the major reappear. As I haven’t your DNA recorded on file yet, do you know what that could do to you?” The words were uttered carefully. As Alana’s speech slowed significantly as she attempted to demand more of her body than it was prepared to give. Sam saw the look of sheer exhaustion on the professor’s face. He knew, without her words, exactly what she wanted to do and furiously punched in coordinates.
General McAndrew swiftly gave his attention to the two scientists. It became then a decision of whom he should target first. As he screamed at the two soldiers to let Tranter go and stop the two at the consoles. Obediently, the soldiers did as requested pushing both away from the computer consoles. As they released her Tranter deftly pulled out her gun. Without blinking, she shot the general in the heart twice ensuring he would never rise up and torment earth again.
The two soldiers swivelled to see the general slump to the floor. As they drew their weapons, Tranter dismissed them into the darkness much the same way as she did the general, spraying blood everywhere.
Pat Forsyth wasn’t sure which casualty she should look at first. It was like a blood bath in the control room. Then she focused immediately on the one person who she considered needed her services more, Alana Cameron. She was lying motionless on the ground where the soldier had thrown her fragile body.
Surveying the carnage all about her, Tranter acknowledged Sam’s nod of the head to indicate he was fine. Then like a cinema slow motion she captured the doctor positioned over the professor. With a feeling of doom crashing all around her she dropped to her knees beside the two of them.
“Is she going to be okay Doctor?”
Pat Forsyth looked up, tears glistening in her eyes. She then brokenly spoke to the concerned soldier, “I’m not sure, she’s lapsed into a coma. I need to get her to the medical centre stat!”
Tranter stared at the woman who she now saw didn’t have any legs, how the hell!
However, that was for another time to speculate now she had an idea. “Sam, configure the coordinates for the RADICAL base hospital. I’ll take the professor with me. You can follow Doctor and bring all you have with you on her condition.”
Pat wanted to dispute the order given by the major but she couldn’t. Perhaps their doctors could fathom what was wrong with her friend because she certainly hadn’t.
“I’ll collect my notes.”
With what seemed liked hours, but in retrospect was only a minute, Sam transported the major and the professor to the medical facility at RADICAL headquarters…
~ ~ ~
There were strained expressions on the faces of the medical staff that had been assigned to what they perceived as a novelty case. Although, the novelty soon wore off when they realized they were unable to stabilise the patient. For the moment, the woman, merely tagged as Jane Smith for the base records, diminished before their sight. Leaving them with little to do but monitor her situation and watch her die.
If that wasn’t unique enough for the day, one of their own sat by the bedside holding the patients frail, virtually lifeless hand in a much stronger grasp. Major Tranter had succumbed, it would appear, to that one critical emotion no one had expected of her. She had found compassion for this unknown woman. She had broken all protocol and demanded that her condition was treated without further delay or confirmation from command personnel.
To make the day even more momentous, rumours abounded the base that General McAndrew was dead. This was accompanied by a tale about a plot had been foiled to sabotage and overrun Anvil Four the main weapon station in space. Though details were sketchy, the finger pointed towards the major and the mystery woman being involved with the action.
The swing doors, unusual in the sophisticated set up of the medical area, opened. A woman they hadn’t seen before rushed towards them. Demanding that she see the new patient, Doctor Patricia Forsyth was in no mood to be stonewalled by military bureaucracy especially when her friend’s life was in danger. Doctor Ramon watched the woman converse with the administrator for a few moments prior to intervening.
Pat, angry at the delay and upset at not knowing what was going on, looked at the man in annoyance. “Yes. Where is she and who the hell are you?”
Nodding his head, the man held out his hand for the folder she had in her hand. “Doctor Forsyth I’m in charge of the patient you are concerned about. May I have her notes please? It might give us new insight into her condition.”
There was no question about passing over the notes. As she did so, she wondered how he knew her name. She then realised that it had to have been either the major or a telepathic message that had informed him. She knew of some of the extra abilities afforded to the RAD’s but not all. That particular gift she felt had merits on some occasions like now.
“Have you been able to help Al…Professor Cameron?”
“Sadly we have not. She remains critical. Unless your data is of any conclusive help I do not foresee her making it through the next twenty-four hours.” As he saw the pain cross her features at the prognosis, he felt an element of empathy for her predicament. It was never good to lose a member of the team. Here at least, they had the opportunity to bring them back from the dead if decreed. Therefore, it never did have the same impact. “I’m sorry Doctor; I’ll take you to her.”
In a daze, Pat walked beside the doctor who was now handling Alana’s case. What had been the point in taking her away from the place she called home if they could do nothing for her? What had been the damn point, her heart screamed out silently. Through the glass window she saw her friend hooked up to so many monitors it was hard to see where she started and they ended. What are they doing to her?
“You will observe Doctor that our monitoring is …dare I say it, more advanced. We can pinpoint to a millisecond when a particular area of the body shuts down and likewise if it reactivates. For that, we needed more wires of course. Something medical science has yet to eliminate, though I know our scientists are trying.” As the words flowed from the man at her side, Pat could hear what she thought was pride in the accomplishment of his kind. Wasn’t that another no-no of the RAD’s or had they been duped for years into thinking that this enhanced human being was some kind of monster without feelings, akin to a robot.
Her eyes caught the other person in the room. She was amazed to find it was the major rather than a medical professional. “I didn’t think the major would still be here.”
Rubbing his whisker free chin, the doctor gave a thoughtful sigh, “oddly she refuses to leave at this time.”
Entering the sickroom slowly and quietly, Patricia watched the major hold her friend’s hand. It was an astonishing thing to see. From what she’d experienced of the major, there was no way on earth she would have thought the woman could be that tender in anyone’s lifetime. Alana must have had a profound effect on her.
"Major, how’s she doing?”
Tranter glanced up in surprise. Her normal sensitive hearing would have picked up even a tiny pin drop, although it would seem not at this moment. Another item for the med’s to check when she finally had the time to have her mission complete check-up.
Pat wondered if actually saying those words had been as painful as hearing them because she saw the major flinch at the statement much as she would herself. Her career had taken her to high and lows in the medical profession and right now, this was the lowest ebb she had encountered. Can today become any worse? I certainly hope not.
“Do you mind if I sit with you? I guess my medical knowledge isn’t a patch on the people here though. They probably think I still work with a hacksaw. It was a good call of yours Major.” Smiling slightly as she tried, knowing she’d failed, to lighten the situation for a moment.
Tranter didn’t much like humour. It had no place in her hardened world, besides she rarely understood what the people were talking about. The situation, as she saw it, did not merit anyone smiling especially, not one who called themselves friends. “I need to go shortly for my debriefing, you arrived at the right time.”
Pat lost her composure at that moment as the tears dripped on her pale cheeks. “You call this the right moment?”
“Perhaps the words were slightly inaccurate. Professor Cameron, will, I’m sure, feel happier knowing you are here rather than a virtual stranger.”
About to respond to the bleak statement they were both shocked when a weak familiar voice spoke, “you are no stranger to me I need you to stay.”
Tranter sank down beside the prone woman again with a look of disbelief marring her features. She pushed back the stray locks that always managed to slip into the professor’s eyes. For some, she was sure, it would be quite endearing. To her, it was an unruly fraction requiring training. “I’ll stay as long as you need me.”
Intelligent eyes, dulled with the drugs, caught the major’s inky blue eyes in an unfathomable gaze. Then she slowly moved slightly in the bed to face her friend. “All this isn’t your fault Pat. You only did what I asked of you. It was the right thing to do.”
“The right thing to do Alana, would have been to keep you in sickbay and not allow that monster to manipulate me. If I had, you would never be in this position now.” Pat’s tears flowed freely and she didn’t care who saw. Bottom line, she blamed herself for the condition of her friend and she had to live with it for the rest of her life.
“He manipulated everyone Pat. Including the major here so you are in good company.” Alana heard, rather than saw, the change in stance of the major who virtually bristled at the comment. If it weren’t too painful to laugh, she would have done so. Right now, she felt the most lucid she had in hours. Perhaps things weren’t as dire as the faces on these two appeared. It didn’t matter though if she died, not now, it really didn’t matter because all her aspirations…save one had come true.
“I’ll leave you to talk with the major before she leaves. I’ll return Al with some good news.” Pat bent to kiss her friend’s cheek as she squeezed the frail hand that wasn’t in the vice grip of the major’s.
“I’ll be here Pat,” Alana tried to re-assure her friend as she watched her leave the room. Once she had, the room appeared slightly claustrophobic though it was a large area.
“How are you feeling?” Tranter’s words echoed on the beige tinted walls. In a daze, she could almost see the words being etched like graffiti on the surface.
Although the monitors, inches away, constantly blinked the temperature a cool strong hand settled gently on her forehead testing the warmth of her body. It was way too high for a normal. “I feel better, at least not really better but…”
“I understand. Preserve your strength talking saps it. Did you know that?”
Alana smiled weakly. So the major does have a sense of humour after all. Maybe she has a heart too…one that might love. Her mind was in chaos again as she vainly tried to shrug the mental picture away. It relented and refused to leave, causing her to feel that all her thoughts were a jumble making it difficult to think of a coherent sentence. Would it matter if I said something that the major might disapprove? After all, she wasn’t likely to survive since everyone looked at her as if she were dying, even the major.
“Are we all safe now Major, Earth and… everyone? What about Jim Fever?”
“As safe as anyone on this planet can be. You should be proud, without you Professor it wouldn’t be so. I don’t know about Fever at this time but I’ll enquire for you later.” Tranter spoke the words genuinely certain it was the truth. Deciding that now was not the time to discuss the situation regarding the director of the project. She didn’t have the answer anyway though she could guess his condition.
Alana spoke softly, “Major, may I ask you another question?”
Alana was pleased there had been no hesitation. Though what came next might elicit a pause from the soldier. “If I told you that I thought I’d fallen for you what would you say. Would you mind?”
Tranter was staggered by the question and the reasoning behind it. Surely, the professor was hallucinating. She would mark it down as that thereby tolerating her behaviour. “I would say that you don’t know me well enough to have those feelings Professor.”
“You don’t really know me either though do you. Yet, at the same time, I doubt you would be here if you didn’t have some feelings for me. I know you won’t like it but I think I love you.” This time, Alana did take the bull by the horns instead of alluding to the emotion she had admitted to blandly.
Taken momentarily aback at the sincere words, Tranter scrambled around in her brain’s databank for help in this type of her situation…she didn’t have any. The professor obviously had some kind of deeper emotion for her for it was clear in the eyes that refused to turn away. Giving the professor a serious long stare, she saw the innocent truth of the statement in every feature of her broken body. It could never be forged. It was akin to the single key, which unlocked the doors to all the secret places in a person’s heart. “ Normal ’s express empathy with strangers and that’s all this is Professor. You and I have been through a difficult situation, life and ….well, let’s just say at the moment you are not yourself.”
“I know I’m dying Major it’s in everyone’s eyes even yours. I also know that if I don’t express the feeling I have had for you from the moment we met again I wouldn’t be honest with myself. It maybe amusing for you as I know you don’t feel anything for me…”
The heartfelt words crushed Tranter’s resolve. “Please, I want to say something. I know one certain thing out of this Professor, I do care about you in a way that I haven’t felt for anyone before. Not even those I command. I can’t call it love I have no reference to that emotion.”
Alana heard the sincerity in the words and her heart soared like an eagle climbing heights she hadn’t figured she ever would or had ever wanted to before. “Are you feeling sorry for me perhaps?”
This time tenderness flooded the single word reply,” no,” as her strong finger traced the thin almost translucent skin. Tranter realised that if this wasn’t a form of love she didn’t know what was since the emotional connection she had with this woman was profound and disturbing. Her blood, already heated at the thought of trying to solve the mystery of sharing a relationship with someone, threatened to boil over. A smouldering look danced in the eyes of the professor. Tranter wondered how the professor could be on the brink of death and yet, at the same time, have the essence of life sparking in her eyes.
“Will you kiss me?”
Gulping down the nervous feeling, another type of emotion she was unfamiliar with, Tranter steadily looked deep into the eyes of the woman. Alana was offering her a place in the world that had nothing to do with the military. She was asking her to be like anyone else on the planet by offering her love. There was no demarcation point between them. They were just two people in this time, at this moment, with the chance to share something incredibly special.
Without words, the shaven head bent down and with lips that were as strong as the rest of her body captured the soft yet willing pair of the professor’s. The woman who offered her the chance to glimpse into a magical world that previously she’d only read about. The flame that engulfed them sent both women’s pulses racing towards a joining that made complete sense to the universe.
Knowing she was out of control but glorying in the emotional maelstrom, Tranter felt the professor suddenly go limp in her arms. Breaking the contact, she stared down at the ashen skin of the woman. She looked like she was sleeping peacefully with a wonderfully content expression on her features.
Unable to take in what was happening for those few seconds until her mind finally caught up with her heart. She was surprised when the door sprang open and several doctors, including Forsyth, rushed into the room. Alarms were loudly protesting in the room. However, Tranter hadn’t heard them. Why was that?
“We need the space Major,” Doctor Ramon insisted of the disorientated soldier as she backed away. Finally, as they worked on the lifeless form of the professor Tranter left the room to walk down the corridor. A piece of her that she had recently found died along with the person that might have actually loved her for who she was. And, maybe she might have loved her as well.
~ ~ ~
A year later…
General Sheryl Randolph approached the training session at the RADICAL base. She had taken up her post earlier than planned after the death of General McAndrew. The past few months had been fruitful, particularly in the process of integrating normal soldiers with RADICALS on missions. In fact, she had been impressed with several of her officers. In particular, colonel Tranter, who, had merited the huge accolade of being doubly promoted because of her bravery and loyalty a year earlier. Her skills in leadership surpassed anyone she had ever encountered in her career thus far. In truth, the colonel was her right hand. Her new posting given that morning would only enhance their working team. Stories abounded of the many exploits of the woman who was to many a legend. She herself had found the soldier, committed, resourceful and completely trustworthy, complimented by a compassionate disposition.
Things had changed dramatically on many fronts after the attempted control of Anvil Four by what was cautiously referred too as a destructive third party. So much so that the new technology developed by the Tempest team and headed by the deceased James Fever was now being used vigorously in more applications both military and commercial. Before long, the mode of transport once fashionable would be a thing of the past like the horse was replaced by the automobile.
Anvil Four was being decommissioned. The weapons of destruction were being dispersed to differing parts of the globe or to specially constructed stations in outer space. It would be hardly worth anyone trying to divert them for evil ever again. And if they did, she had teams specially trained for such an event.
A soldier saluted her and she returned his acknowledgement of her rank as he walked towards her.
“You gave the message to Colonel Tranter as instructed?”
“Yes Ma’am, as we speak she should be at the medical centre. Her final results are due so it is good timing.”
“Thank you Captain Lewis. Now how are the new recruits this morning?”
~ ~ ~
Doctor Patricia Forsyth smiled at the soldier who waited silently for the test results that had brought her here.
“Nice to see you again Colonel Tranter, I almost forgot your change in rank. I never had the chance to congratulate you I’m sure you were a popular choice for the merit.”
Tranter gazed at the woman who had been transferred to work at the base as an integration of the two types of medical personnel. Some would call say that the military and all other fractions had been infiltrated. According to most, she was working out far better than expected; her intelligence level was on a par that could be tolerated. What she lacked in superior intellect she more than made up for with her common ‘normal’ sense and compassionate nature. “Apparently my superiors think so. Thank you Doctor.”
There was, as always, no small talk with this particular soldier. Her thoughts turned to her old friend as she wondered how she had found a crack in the hard shell that surrounded this soldier because sure enough Alana had.
“Well, I guess you’re here for your results and I’m pleased to report that everything is now functioning at 100% of calibration. The residual effects of the virus that you came across on Anvil Four are now a thing of the past. Would you believe it was a microorganism that affects only a miniscule number of the population? You and …well, as I said, you have the all clear. I’ll send the report to your commanding officer.”
Pat watched the Colonel assimilate the information both knowing who else had been affected. The other party had not been as lucky as the colonel had been. A cure for the virus had taken several weeks and, had it not been for Tranter’s superior metabolism, she would have been a fatality also.
“Thank you Doctor is that all?”
With a slight smile, Pat waved the soldier away. A parting remark had her grinning mysteriously as she left. “May I suggest you drop by room three on your way out? You’ll find something of interest there.”
Tranter had made a decision regarding her emotional state on her return to earth after the anvil four mission. The effects of the virus on her system had broken down barriers that should never have been breached. Even though sometimes in the depths of a deep sleep she would wake with professor Cameron’s name on her lips and the touch of her soft pliable lips on hers. Tormenting her dreams, reminding her of what could never be, even though she had glimpsed it for a few short moments. How could she ever know if it had been the truth? They had both been suffering from the airborne virus. She had been the fortunate one to live the professor had not…
“Ah Colonel Tranter, there you are I’ve been waiting for you. Or, should I say she’s been waiting to see you. I will give you five minutes we need to do a final series of tests. Please go inside. ”
Puzzled, Tranter stared at the doctor who, smiled warmly at her. Ramon hadn’t indicated they had an appointment… “You did it? They agreed?”
“Oh yes indeed. I know you’ll be happy with the results, allow me. ” The doctor opened the door to room three. Tranter almost lost her balance as she stared at the seated figure in the room.
The person in the room turned sharply at the sound then gave the bemused soldier a welcoming bright smile. “Major Tranter at last…I am so glad to see you.”
Using all her powers of supreme control Tranter stepped forward. A wry smile tugged at her lips as she acknowledged that the woman was indeed alive. “I see that Professor Cameron. How are you feeling?”
Spinning around in the chair she stood up, “I’m wonderful. Your people are marvellous they’ve made special implants for my legs that you can’t tell them apart from the real thing. I call that a more than a fair-trade for being in a coma all those months. Have you time to tell me about what happened after I was knocked out by the general’s goons?”
“When did you wake…from the coma?” Tranter had to take a deep breath as she realised that the emotions she had put down to the virus where in fact real. It was a massive effort on her part not act upon them although she now knew there was no possibility of that not now.
“Oh, I’ve been awake for a week or two. They told me you were on a secret mission so I had to wait for your return before they let me out of here. I guess you owe me at least dinner for my patience Major, what do you say?”
A feeling of sorrow at the loss of something that had been so fragile was immediately replaced by one of happiness at the professor’s return. Someone, she hadn’t until this moment, realised she had tangibly missed so much. “The doctor needs to run your final tests he gave me a five minute window. How about I return tomorrow and we can talk about things?”
For a moment, there was sadness in the eyes of the woman staring at her then it cleared as a glow and a shimmering of mischief appeared. “Okay…that will make two dinners you owe me.”
Tranter smiled at the comment; yep it really was the professor in the flesh teasing her. “I guess we can table that as part of your after care.”
Alana grinned happily back at the solider. She knew deep down they had a connection; she had felt it from the moment they had met again at the project base. With the passing of the months as she laid in a coma, it had become tenuous much like a dream. However, the closeness she felt to the woman on immediate contact proved that her senses were correct and they had a bond.
“Professor, apart from going stir crazy how do you feel?”
“If you want the truth, I’m good but I have the strangest dreams,”
“Go on.” Tranter felt her heart about to burst waiting for the revelation of the kiss they shared even though she knew there was no possibility of that recollection.
“I can see what happened on the station and the events that led up to the soldier knocking me unconscious. Then I get the distinct feeling I died…you know really died. It was painful yet strangely happy. Anyway, it’s only a dream I’m here right.”
Tranter slowly blinked as she listened to the ramblings of the woman. She’d experienced it herself once…dying that was, and being brought back. “Yes Professor you are definitely here now. I’m sorry to cut this short but duty calls.”
“Will you promise to tell me everything that happened after I was knocked out Major?”
It was a plea from the heart for the gaps of the past months in her memory caused by the coma. What was that on the major’s shoulders do I see more braid on her uniform? She deserves it after all we went through on the space station. Alana felt that her world had finally righted itself now that she had seen the Major again. Pat had told her about Jim’s murder the day before and she had shed a few tears. They were not as many as she expected since deep down she had known his fate. Glancing down at her new legs, she pondered the thought of a vacation. Maybe now was the time to make up with her estranged brother. Who knew, if she was lucky, maybe the major might keep her company, she could dream anyway.
“Sure, I’ll be seeing you Professor.” Tranter left the room almost cannoning into doctor’s Ramon and Forsyth.
“What do you think? She’s doing remarkably well for a normal don’t you think so Colonel? When you have to consider that her bio-scan was taken under extreme trauma and then being reborn into a new more efficient body. It was a marvellous strategy of yours to bring her here before she became brain dead.”
The enthusiasm couldn’t be frowned upon it had been a miracle of a kind. The bio-scan had been taken immediately when the professor had arrived in the medical base and preserved until permission had been granted to use it. There had never been such an occasion to do so, it had always been a no go area. The powers that be had deemed the practice similar to playing god and it had been outlawed barring permission for specific groups of RAD’s. However, the world council, in light of the professor’s actions to save the planet, had deemed it a one-of very secret reason to allow the process. There had been no guarantees that it would work. It had, wonderfully well.
They could never tell the professor of course since she hadn’t approved such a medical practice. Tranter’s determination and lobbying of the council had made it happen. Forsyth had been sceptical; although she wanted her friend back, it had been a difficult choice to make. For, if the professor found out the chance was she would not trust Tranter or want Pat as a friend. Tranter had done what her biological father, the general, had done when orders were not clear. She had made the decision for everyone, including the professor. Though some might say she acted as if she were a manipulative god, for her there had been only one choice and one conclusion…the professor alive, clone or not.
“I think the Professor is exactly as she should be. I’ll be back tomorrow we have things to discuss.”
The statement seemed to echo down the corridor as the two doctors glanced at each other. Now what did that mean?
Tranter glared at the ‘normal’ doctor, “yes we do. The professor is critical to my new assignment. We are to work together controlling the professor’s project Tempest!”
With that, the soldier left the building to carry on her work.
Forsyth had a large grin on her face as she muttered to no one in particular, “Al you’ve got a second chance to get under the skin of a RADICAL. This is going to be fun to be around…maybe I’ll ask for a transfer back to the project.”
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