Archive for the ‘Written Works by William DeSouza’ Category

 

 HOME WORLD

A Science Fiction Novel by William DeSouza (c)2013

– Prolog and Chapter One Sample Chapters –

THE FINE PRINT: All rights reserved. No part of the novels or short stories may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise without written permission from the author. The only exception to this is the sample chapters that may be provided from time to time. Any sample chapters or short stores provided may be printed for the users personal use only and may not be reprinted. Electronic copies may be stored but only for a limited time period, sufficient to finish reading.  Although every precaution has been taken in the preparation of this web site, and the materials provided, the author  assume no  responsibility for errors or omissions. Neither is any liability assumed for damages resulting from the use of the information contained herein.

 


 
“The greatest test of courage on Earth is to bear defeat without losing heart.” Robert G. Ingersoll


Prolog

 

John Solomon read the data scrolling across the computer screen and raised an eyebrow in a skeptical expression. Everyone else stood back quietly, already knowing the contents of the data file Solomon was reviewing. The lab was not crowded, with only seven others in attendance, but each person could feel the walls closing in on them as the magnitude of the data was now reviled to yet another.

As director of the astronomical project, it was his shoulders that everyone leaned on to get what they needed. It was his responsibility to ensure that any papers published by the team was fact checked and peer reviewed and it was his ass on the line should anything get out that could not be verified. This – this data however, was not something he ever could have imagined would include his name. As he stared at the screen, he could not fathom how he’d be able to support his own emotions, never mind that of any one else.

The chair Solomon sat in creaked as he leaned back, the last of the text finished flashing across the screen and embedded in his mind, repeating over and over again in his thoughts like an old fashion reel to reel tape that had come to the end but did not stop; instead kept spinning. The end of the tape flapping as it went round and round.

He stood slowly, looked down at the terminal then quietly turned to the others in the room and, pausing for a moment, finally said, “How many times have you checked the data, the signal feed, and has the computer finished decoding the information and verified the contents?”

He had too many questions to ask and what he was looking at only presented him with more questions.

“We’ve checked it all four times. We’ve all seen it and we’ve all examined the raw data and verified our conclusions with the computer model. We even got access to the new processors at Plans de Ville in Quebec. It’s all been verified, checked and double checked,” replied the young assistant, somewhat exasperated.

Solomon continued to gaze at the screen. He had only just come back from a well needed vacation with his family when he received the emergency call to report to the lab. He had said to his wife before going to the facility where he worked, “Go away for three weeks and you find out they can’t do anything without you.”

In hind sight, he realized he should never have come back.

He picked up the hard copy printouts and paced as he flipped through the reams of paper in his hand. He turned to the project supervisor, Terrance Leblanc, his assistant, “Have you gone to anyone else with this?”

“No, not yet. I wanted you to see it first and get the full team involvement. I need everyone’s input and back up before I contact Geneva and Hawaii with my findings. We need to get corroboration on this before we can even think of taking it to the UN.”

“I agree – we don’t want to jump the gun on this one; it just doesn’t make any sense.” Solomon paused to think. His head was beginning to throb with pain, mixed with confusion. “OK, I agree, we do need to look into this further. But I hope you’re dead wrong and the data is faulty. Let’s make the call. Also, we should contact NASA and see about getting time on the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory. We’re going to need additional readings up close and SOHO should be able to give us what we need. But I hope to God that we’re wrong – it’ll be the end of us all if this is true.”

Solomon put down the printouts without emotion, turned, and walked out of the lab quietly, heading back to his office at the end of the hall, a blank gape on his face. He was not sure what to think about what he had just learned. He hoped that it was a dream, a bad dream. He even pinched his arm to check, chuckling to himself when it hurt.

I must be out of my freaking mind, that’s it. This is not real and this is not happening he thought.

“How do you explain the end of the world to your children?” He said it out loud to no one. He couldn’t think past that thought, the only thing that he could hope for now was that the data was flawed in some way and that the team had made a gross error in gathering and interpreting the figures.

He reached his office, opened the door, and ignoring his secretary, went into the inner chamber, closing the door behind him.

—-

Leblanc picked up the ringing phone, “Hello – Terrance Leblanc speaking.” Leblanc’s office was spacious and well appointed but simple in taste. He liked the simple life and although the pressures of his job at the Astrophysics and Geosciences Institute could sometimes get demanding, he could always count on his knowledge and his teams’ abilities to keep everything on an even keel. This time however was different and he wasn’t sure how he was going to cope.

The voice on the other end of the line identified himself as Alexander Falardeau. In a French Canadian accent he said, “It’s good to talk to you again Terrance. We haven’t had a chance to get together in what – must be eight months now.”

“I know – it’s been too long my old friend. I wish the circumstances were different Alexander. I take it you’ve received the email and my attachment?”

“I have – and to say that I’m skeptical is putting it mildly. I’m not sure how I feel about this data you sent. That being said, and in the interest of gathering the truth, I’ve authorized your team three weeks on SOHO to confirm or disprove your theory.”

Falardeau was more than a little concerned that he was playing into a hoax or just plain wasting his time and resources on this. There were other groups that wanted to use SOHO, important and influence people and groups; people like Stephen Hawking and others. And putting Leblanc’s group at the head of the cue caused a minor stink. He had known Leblanc for many years however and knew him enough to know that he did not react on a whim. He would have checked the preliminary data several times over before going this far.

“Thanks Alex. I know you’re pulling in a number of favors and strings to get us this time. I hope that I’m way off on this and we’re wrong. I don’t want to think of the consequences if we are right.”

The call ended and Leblanc was left staring at the wall in front of him, numb with fear and doubts.

—-

Solomon walked along the canal holding his clasped hands behind his back. His shirt and pants were wrinkled and sagging. His eyes were puffy, and he looked like he hadn’t slept in a month. He walked aimlessly, not seeing the beauty and wonder unfolding around him in the park.

Several children were playing nearby while attentive parents and caregivers watched and listened to laughter and song. Birds flew overhead cawing to each other, dancing on invisible air currents. He didn’t hear the sound of the wind blowing gently, the leaves on the trees rustling. He missed the gurgling rush of water flowing past as it lapped against the rocks lining the canal.

Leblanc, sitting on a bench by the canal stood when he saw Solomon approach. He noted that Solomon had an empty and distant gaze as he walked. He hoped that he didn’t have that same appearance.

Solomon almost walked past and only stopped when Leblanc spoke up, “I see you haven’t come to enjoy the park.”

“Pardon?”  Solomon stammered. “What?”

“Oh – I’m so sorry Terrance. I’ve been somewhat distracted of late.” Quickly changing the topic, “I must admit that I was surprised you asked to meet me hear of all places. I wasn’t in the mood for a walk” He looked around only now seeing the beauty that surrounded him.

“I felt a change of venue was appropriate and under the circumstances, the wide open park seemed proper.” Leblanc gestured to the bench he was sitting at as both men took a seat.

It was half past three in the afternoon and on a Wednesday. Other than the park play area, there were not many people about. The odd jogger ran past, as did several people in suits cutting across the park, on their way to work or maybe home. There was no risk of being overheard as the two men spoke.

Solomon, tired and spent, spoke first, “I am guessing by your tone that you don’t have good news.”

“No.” Leblanc turned to face Solomon, crossing his legs at the same time. His corduroy pants made a shifting noise on the plastic recycled bench as he did.

“I’m afraid I don’t have good news. But I do have a silver lining of sorts.”

That last comment gave Solomon a pause. He detected a note of optimism in what Leblanc just said, even if it didn’t show in his expression. He lifted his head, ready to listen to this silver lining.

Leblanc went on, “As we calculated and feared our data was not flawed. The suns hydrogen helium mixture of fuel is running out. It is inexplicable and makes no sense, but at the present rate of decay it will begin to expand slowly in thirty-five to forty years and will engulf Earth and the inner planets in fifty to eighty years as a red giant. This is so new to us that exact numbers are impossible right now. We only know that it is happening.”

So far Solomon was still waiting for the good news. He anticipated that Leblanc would confirm the original calculations and so did not seem surprised, only disappointed.

Continuing, Leblanc said, “I’m telling you this in the same way it was told to me by NASA and like you, I was at a loss for words. I spoke with Alexander Falardeau and he confirmed our findings with the SOHO data. The final projections only double checked this morning.”

Leblanc was becoming irritated and stood, his own frustration showing. He was the head of the project and he couldn’t do anything. He felt helpless, as if he were in a small boat meandering down a river without ores, powerless to affect his direction and not knowing where he was headed, or how fast he would get there.

He spoke again after sitting back down, “One last thing.”

Solomon interrupted, “The question of why?”

“Yes. None of the projections can tell us how or why this process started. None of the data can explain why or how things began to go wrong. Were our own theories of sun formation so wrong as to grossly miscalculate the life and death of a star? I have no answers and nether does anyone else. This is completely out of the scope of our understanding since nothing we know tells us that we were wrong.”

Leblanc stood once more and paced a short distance before walking back to the bench, and after taking several deep breaths, sat.

“I said that there was a silver lining and here it is…” hesitating and with a slight tremor in his voice, he continued, “Operation Exodus, the mass evacuation of planet Earth.”

Nothing was said, nothing needed to be said as Solomon sat staring blankly at Leblanc, his mouth open in total shock and disbelief. After a few moments he began to laugh, shaking his head.

He wiped away a tear from his left eye when he gained control of his emotions. “What the hell are you talking about Terrance? You’ve completely cracked up, is that it? Can you take me to your happy place or share whatever drugs you’re on so I can fee that good?”

It was Solomon’s turn to stand and pace. He walked away, stopped and turned, and still shaking his head went back to the bench.

“Tell me you’re not serous, that you just wanted to pull one final joke over on an old man like me.”

Leblanc shook his head and said, “You’re not that old and I’m not kidding and I would never joke about this.”

“No, of course you wouldn’t. Then tell me what in the hell you’re going on about – and get to the point of this very quickly. I’m in no mood for any levity.” Solomon’s voice was beginning to show the strain he was under.

“When I spoke with Alexander, he said that NASA confirmed what we now know to be the final end of our collective and ancestral home. He then told me about a project that a black operations team had been working on for the past several years – Operation Exodus.  It was brought back to life in 1994 with the discovery and confirmation of a near earth asteroid, 1994 WR12. At the time President Clinton authorized the funding for the projects current incarnation, but it was under Ronald Reagan that the initial concept was conceived.”

Leblanc had to pull out his Blackberry tablet and scan his notes. He unzipped the leather case and flipped up the tablet computers cover. After calling up the file he continued. “When the Star Wars Missile Program was first announced and we were at the height of the Cold War in the early nineteen-eighties, some bright boys at the Pentagon decided that we may not win an all-out nuclear war and that the missile defense shield would not protect the United States. They came up with original concept to – well, simply put, leave Earth and settle on another planet.”

Solomon was dumbfounded. He could not conceive that anything so far fetched could not only get the attention of the President but funding as well. He didn’t want to interrupt Leblanc however so he let him proceed.

“The idea was to settle on pre-fabricated stations set up on the Moon or Mars, wait for the fall out to settle and return.”

He saw Solomon twitching as if he was about to get up and walk away.

Quickly he continued, “Now – before you walk away again, let me finish. The idea was to settle on pre-fabricated stations set up on the Moon or Mars, wait for the fall out to settle, and return. They may have received some initial seed funds to develop the concept further, but that’s as far as they got. Nothing was said of the project again until NASA started the Near Earth Object Program. When we began to find an abundance of potential planet killers in the nineties, 1994 WR12 being one of the first and largest, NASA quietly went to the President and received additional funding to further refine the plan to evacuate the planet – or at least selected members of the planet.”

Leblanc cleared his throat. He saw the look of disbelief and skepticism on Solomon and knew that he had the same look only hours ago. “I know that this is hard to fathom, it was for me too, but that being said, if it can work, it’s the only chance that we have as a species to survive.”

“What about trying to stop the reaction? We just can’t up and leave! And go where? Six billion plus people are not going be able to hop on a bus and just take off to the stars ya-know!” Solomon was livid. In all his life he had not heard such a story. He was sure that Leblanc had lost his mind.

“The exodus is obviously not an overnight thing. There’s years of work ahead to get to a point that will give us a fighting chance, but we do have a head start. This will come as a shock, but some of the ships have already been built, and tested.”

That stopped Solomon as he was about to interject. Somehow it didn’t come as a total surprise to him that some of these ships existed, knowing about all the reports of mystery planes in the sky over remote desert air bases. Leblanc went on, “We will continue to find out how and why this happened. The full scientific and financial weight of every major country is already being mobilized to try and answer the question of why, but no one that I’ve spoken to at our lab, NASA or the European Union thinks we’ll have the power to stop it, and then reverse the process even if we’re able to ascertain the cause. As far as the six billion people…”

Leblanc paused, swallowing hard. “It’s been decided that…” He stopped again, his voice showing strain. “That in the time we have we will only have enough ships and space for sixty to seventy million people.”

Solomon did not speak, the silence becoming almost painful for Leblanc as he waited for a response. Any response would be good right now. He was beginning to think Solomon was suffering a stroke, or gone into a catatonic shock.

After a time Solomon did say something. “Only enough ships for sixty to seventy million? Is that all we can save of the Human race? Out of six billion people? Who gets to play God?”

Questions and more questions with no answers in site. Solomon stood and began to walk along the pathway. His thoughts were ripping apart at the seams as disjointed images began to swirl around in his mind. Images of the sun ripping itself apart and coming back together seemed to be in an endless loop while the sky above turned the color of blood and then faded to nothing. An inky blackness that exploded into more nothing. Flashes of light mixed with images of his family and friends winked on and off as he continued to walk.

Leblanc followed closely but gave his friend room and time to think. Solomon was in a fragile state, and Leblanc did not want to push him further. Solomon’s faith in Humanity, science and his God was being tested right now in a battle that raged in his mind and played out in reality of life and the current crisis. It was anyone’s guess what the outcome would be.

Leblanc had held back and had not elaborated to Solomon that the actions to save Humankind were already unfolding. NASA and their operations team had activated Operation Exodus on the orders of the President. The existing fifteen ships were being readied, and construction on the remainder already begun. As for playing God, that would be left up to a committee formed through the auspices of the Security Council in the United Nations.

The developing plan is to hold a lottery in every country but only those selected would be told, and only just at the last minute. This was to try and avoid mass panic and disrupt the exodus. A few lucky ones would be selected on skills, education, and experience – they would be guaranteed a slot. Everyone would have to have a willingness to leave behind a past with no assurance of a future. Certain death in exchange for the strong possibility of death. What a hell of a choice thought Leblanc.

Solomon’s pace was slow, almost meandering. He stopped and quietly turned to see Leblanc standing just behind him. “Someone once said that the past is all we have. That people remember you for your past deeds, not your future work.”

“I know – it was you that always said it.” Leblanc said softly.

“I guess without a race to remember our past we end up with no future. I’m sorry, I’ve been too self absorbed and letting my personal feelings and emotions cloud my ability to accept the reality. You’re right of course, we need to plan for the only option Humans have for the survival of the species.”

“Your reaction is not unique my friend, we’re all going through it.”

“OK, what’s next then?”

Leblanc outlined the plan in greater detail, leaving out the parts he felt might push Solomon over the edge. When he was finished, he felt reassured that Solomon would be on board and all right. Having a purpose and roll in the project would keep Solomon focused and in touch with the here and now. He also felt better going over the Operation Exodus protocol with someone else. Talking about it allowed him to vet the plan in his own mind.

After they finished, Leblanc shook Solomon’s hand. “I’m off to New York this evening to meet with the operations team. They’ve asked for my expertise in stellar cartography and navigation.”

“Thanks again for understanding. I’m sorry for my outburst earlier. But you will have my full cooperation and support.”

“We’re all going to need as much help as we can get. I also have some jobs for you if you’re up to it.”

Solomon agreed to help out in whatever way he could and after being given a quick overview, the two men parted. Leblanc headed out of the park to hail a taxi. He was still worried about Solomon, but could do nothing more to help him cope.

At the same time he knew that Solomon would be OK in the long run and he would give one hundred percent of himself toward the effort.

The birds continued their dance, singing to each other as they soared through the sky. Two squirrels with long bushy tails chased each other up one tree, jumped the short distance to another then down again. Children could be heard in the distant play area and the light breeze brought along the sweet smell of nature, and life.

Solomon leaned against the railing beside the canal with his hands clasped. He closed his eyes and thought to a distant time when people were oblivious to the realities of the world around them.

“Not now, no longer are we so naive and complacent about our world. It is a pity.” He spoke to the birds, and trees and wind. Nobody was in earshot of his lament.

“We’re sentenced to die the day we’re born – And that day is upon us all.” He rose up, opened his eyes to look into the sky. “Why God did you allow this to happen? Why condemn the whole planet?”

He knew there would be no answer. “At least we’ll survive as a species, and that should be something.”

Turning, he started to walk back to his car thinking, there is much work to do, and so little time to do it.


Chapter One

 

The small scout ship hung in the vacuum of space, its dark grey composite alloy skin reflecting little of the light from the distant star it orbited. With its main engines shut down, and navigation lights turned off, the HSS Vanguard appeared lifeless.  The solar system it orbited was void of life, only one gas giant, a cloud of interstellar matter and a debris field of failed planet formation existed for light years around.

The ship was far from being lifeless however. Inside a small crew of eighteen men and women silently tended to vital systems and long-range sensor equipment, watching for any movement or indication their enemies were close by.

The only sound came from the vents and a dull, almost inaudible vibration from the power plant.

The Vanguard had been on station for the past three weeks with no sign of an intrusion in their sector. The normal routine was broken only by the monotony.

At last the artificial intelligence that coordinated the automated systems and computers came to life. “CONTACT – BLUE SECTOR – ONE-SEVEN-SEVEN BY EIGHT-ONE-SEVEN BY THREE-THREE-NINE.”

“Lieutenant, can we confirm source?” asked Captain Kodiak.

The galley like bridge was tight but efficient. Nine workstations lined the port side leaving a walkway along the starboard hull wall. The captain sat facing forward on a slightly raised platform, able to see over and down the line of stations. Flat monitors built into the hull lined the port side at each station, the captain having access to three monitors on swing arms reaching down from, and above the command chair.

At the sensor station, Lieutenant Hakim was already pulling the data up on his monitor. The long-range sensors were at the limit of its operable range but Hakim was one of the best sensor officers in the recon force. If there was anything there he would find it.

“It’s faint Captain, but there is a definite contact. AI predicts a cruiser and I concur.”

“It’s good to know you’re in agreement with the computers.” He smiled. “Communications – Relay to fleet the contact and location.”

“Aye Sir.” Ensign Daly said as he keyed in the data to transmit. After several minutes came a reply, “Captain, message from fleet. ‘End exercise – Well done Vanguard. Return to base’. Message ends sir.”

“Acknowledge the order. Thank you ladies and gentlemen, that, I think breaks the record set last month by the Sprit. Navigation, set course for home, helm, take us out to three million kilometers before we jump. I want to be well out of the debris field first.”

Everybody on the bridge revealed smiles at the announcement of the end of training exercises. It was always hard being away from home, family and friends. The Vanguard had been out for a total of four weeks on this exercise, three of them running silent. It was tough to relax fully on the small scout and recon ships.

“I’ll be down in engineering giving everyone else the good news.” Kodiak could have used the ship wide intercom but he was close to his crew and liked to give good news in person whenever possible.

He pressed the retract switch for his monitors as he stood and they silently slid out of the way. Kodiak pulled down his tunic and was about to step through the bridge hatch.

“Captain!” Called Robert Daly from the communications station, curiosity breaking through is normally calm manner.

Kodiak stopped and turned to face the young officer. “Yes Ensign.”

“Sir – Is there a second exercise planned?”

“No – why? What do you have?” He saw the intense stare on the Ensign’s face.

“Well, I’m not sure exactly. It’s a signal, but I can’t identify it.”

Kodiak walked back to the communications station. The other bridge crew stopped whatever they were doing, looking instead over to Daly’s station.

“What’s the source direction?”

“I can’t pin it down to an exact point, it’s degraded too much so the source direction is spread out on a very wide plane. It’s also on an old style carrier wave we haven’t used for over two hundred years. There’s nothing in the database for me to get a point of reference.” He looked up to the Captain in hopes Kodiak would have an answer.

Kodiak wasn’t sure what to make of it. Contacts like this were not rare or extraordinary, with several coming each standard week while a ship was out. They were normally attributed to cosmic background radiation, planetary communication, or echoes of previous ship traffic.

The Vanguard was not scanning in the frequency range for background radiation however, and there were no habitable planets within scan range. As for previous ship traffic, there had been none in the past week or any residual readings prior to the Vanguard arriving on station. These facts caused some concern for the captain.

Daly attempted to fine-tune its reception and was not having much luck. “Captain, I can’t give an exact fix on direction better than just an educated guess. But I can give you a range estimate from the AI. In looking at the data however, I don’t put much stock in it. The numbers don’t make much sense and signal degradation may be throwing the AI off.”

“OK Daly, best possible guess – what do you think it is?”

“I’m not sure what, but I, the AI, would estimate the distance in time at eight thousand light years – sector zero zero one. Or at least in that general direction, but that range could be off by – who knows how many light years. And anything coming from zero zero one has to be suspect.”

Kodiak straightened, not realizing how bent over he was. His lower back creaked and his head was beginning to throb. “What about content? Can we – by that I mean you – break down the signals content?”

Daly grinned at the complement. “I can try – but as I said, we haven’t used that type of carrier wave in over two hundred standard years. Also, if it’s not Human, I may not be able to decode it, and the signal itself …”

Kodiak interrupted, “OK, OK Daly, I get it.” He smiled, “It’ll take time and no guarantees. Record the signal in main memory and get started on it. In the mean time let’s get ourselves back home.”

Kodiak was now more than curious, he was intrigued. He had never seen a signal like this in his ten years of military service and the fantastic notion of an alien race trying to communicate was compelling. It would be good for his career to be part of the discovery team. At least that’s the dreamer in him, the more pragmatic side of him said it could be any number of natural sources.

He stepped through the hatch on his way to engineering. First things first, he thought. The crew will be happy to be going home.

—-

“Captain, signal from orbital dock control. We have clearance to dock at platform one-four-seven.”

“My complements to docking control. Helm, take us in – maneuvering thrusters only.”

“Aye – maneuvering thrusters only.”

The bridge of the Vanguard was busy with activity as everyone cleaned up their stations. Daly placed a number of data storage chips in his tunic pocket as he prepared his station for stand down. He was disappointed he wasn’t able to decipher the mystery signal, but at the same time he didn’t think he would have been able to on board the scout ship. He knew someone in the computer department at the university however and he planned to recruit her assistance.

Before that happened he had to clear it with the captain, he motioned for Kodiak to come over to his station where he quietly asked, “Captain, about my request for outside help?”

“No problem, go ahead and get the help you need, but keep it between us. I’ll let the crew know.”

Kodiak went back to the command chair and switched on the ship wide intercom. “Attention all hands, this is Captain Kodiak. You all know about our mystery signal and we’ve all speculated about what it might be – and what we want it to be.”

Someone on the bridge quickly said out loud, “Little green Amazonian women!” Everyone broke out laughing. Even Kodiak cracked a smile before continuing.

“In the interest of our reputations and the good of the service, I want you to keep this quiet. Speak to no one about it and if for any reason you’re asked about it, you deny any knowledge of it. This also means no discussions with family or friends. Daly will continue to work on it and will be enlisting the aid of a computer specialist friend at the university – who Mister Daly will also ensure her confidently.”

Daly nodded agreement to that last comment.

Everybody else would be on side with keeping news of the signal quiet. No one wanted to be ridiculed and no one wanted to have their careers placed in jeopardy for something they weren’t sure what is was in the first place.

Daly had to be discrete in making his inquires. He wasn’t sure if his friend would help, but he had to try.

The crew completed the docking maneuver and after getting clearance from docking control powered down the ship main engines and switched over to the space stations power. Outside, in the vacuum of space, the boarding gantry extended silently from the stations’ docking clamps to mate with the mid-ship hatch.

Daly was anxious to disembark and catch the next shuttle down to the planet so he finished closing down his station and helped store crew kit quickly. Once Kodiak gave the final stand down Daly was at the head of the line to leave.

The gantry pressurized and the hatch cycled open. A brief rush of air from the pressurizing process met the crew as the door opened.

Crew members disembarking the ship used overhead grab bars to transition from the artificial gravity of the ship to the zero gravity of the gantry tube. Gliding hand over hand they made their way along

Kodiak was always the last of the crew to leave, partly by tradition and partly because he just wanted to make sure that everything was in order before closing the hatch. By the time he stepped on the station, he noted that Daly had already caught a shuttle dirt side.

—-

Daly used the shuttle’s comm to contact his friend as soon as he was onboard the shuttle, so he knew she would be waiting for him. He relaxed now and took a moment to glance out the view port to his left. The green oceans of the planet Hope were sprawled out below, occasionally covered by bits of white clouds that were pushed along predictable currents of winds.

Hope was the first settled Human colony after the mad rush to abandon Earth. And its name, while not grand or original, gave the Human survivors something to look forward to.

Hope was smaller than Earth with a diameter of just under ten thousand kilometers to Earths twelve thousand plus; but with an equivalent land size land mass coving about fifty percent of the surface, with the ocean filling in the balance.

The green colored ocean glistened and added to the lush vegetation, gave the planet the appearance of a large emerald floating in space. The rays of the sun reflecting off the daytime side of Hope only added to the intense beauty, giving it a kind of sparkle as the sun reflected off the ocean.

It was home to Daly and he welcomed getting back to visit.

As soon as the sleek flat bodied civilian shuttle landed, he checked in with the local authorities and jumped on the mag-lift light rail line, riding the train directly to the university.

The ride was smooth and quiet, with few passengers on board. The mag-lift arrived at Daly’s stop after the two hour ride and Daly stepped onto the platform.

The train station was right in the middle of the campus so he didn’t have far to walk, and it was a nice day to be outside. After being onboard a space ship breathing air that was recycled several times over, fresh air was a wonderful change.

The computer lab, his destination, was in one of the older buildings. Constructed of natural locally found materials, stone and woods, it also incorporated more modern composite substances.

He climbed the six short steps to the main entrance and walked up to the large double doors. The built in biometric sensors reacted to his presence once he reached the landing and they opened, allowing him to enter.

Daly knew his friend’s office was near the back of the building so he continued to walk down the long but amply spaced and well decorated corridor. Images of current and past professors lined the walls on either side, interrupted only by the odd e-notice board scrolling messages for students and staff. Large potted plants in ornate cast stands dotted the corridor with the occasional chair and side table.

Several off the doors along the hall were opened, allowing Daly a quick peep of labs, administration offices and classrooms. Almost all of them were empty, with only the occasional student or professor either completing last minuet work or packing up. The majority of students and faculty were on vacation at this time.

“Good afternoon Admiral.” The greeting startled Daly as he neared the end of the hallway, just in front of the computer lab.

Turning, “I hate it when you sneak up on me like that. And its Ensign, I don’t make admiral for another month.”

He opened his arms and the two friends hugged. It was a familiar and comfortable embrace between two long time friends.

“How’ve you been Meghan?”

“Not bad, considering you’re the one with the glamour job.” She teased.

“I wouldn’t call it a glamour job. Although it does beat a desk job opening correspondences.”

“True. So, from your message earlier I take it you have some data for me to look at?”

He smiled. Daly reached into his tunic pocket and removed the data chip containing the signal, handing it to her. “Always getting straight to the point, eh.” He said, then continued, “I’m sorry that it’s not much, I didn’t have time to pick up any flowers.” It was his turn to tease as the two walked toward her lab and office.

Since the university was almost empty during the mid-semester break, Daly wondered why Meghan was still ‘in school’. “Why are you still hanging around here anyway? I thought I would have to get in touch with you at the lake house.”

“I’m in the middle of a research project and with almost everyone away, it was a good time to book lab space.”

They arrived at her office and entered. “We can access the main computer from my office. The lab is a bit of a mess right now. I have my graduate students pulling fiber and reconfiguring one of the test labs for an experiment so there’s not much room. If our experiments work out, we can stop laying kilometers of fiber cable just to have inter-connectivity between our computer systems but maintain security net.” Meghan beamed.

Meghan’s office was small but comfortable. A desk, bookshelf, three chairs and a computer access terminal were all the furniture in the room. Three of the walls were lined with old style magnetic display boards covered in hand written notes and mathematical formulas as well as some symbols and notations in a code Daly did not recognize. It was all well organized and clean.

“This is neat and tidy, I’m shocked.” Said Daly with a surprised grin.

“I just had the cleaners in. After all, I had to have the place ready for the admiral.”

She inserted the data chip into the terminal access port and typed in her password. The screen lit up and quickly prompted her for another password to access the file.

Meghan turned her head, “What’s with the secrecy?”

“Type in MYSTERY for the password – you’ll see why in a minute.”

She did and after a brief moment the signal Daly and the sensors on the HSS Vanguard detected appeared on her screen.

On the left of the split screen was a graphical representation of the signal, on the right the sensor logs and codes. Meghan took only a second to examine the signal and logs before standing and walking away.

This caught Daly by surprise. “What? What’s the matter?”

She stopped and turned, “This is a joke – right? Robert Daly, if this is some sort of a joke it’s not funny. I will bring this up to the highest authority in the service.”

Stunned at Meghan’s response to the data on the screen, it took Daly a second to regain his composure. “What the hell are you going on about? This isn’t a joke Meghan – This is the signal we picked up.”

Meghan sat down behind he desk, her mouth wide open, as if she was about to say something and lost her ability to voice the words. She looked from Daly then back to the screen.

Finally she spoke, “Does anyone else know about this?”

He shook his head no, and then added, “Only my captain and the crew of the Vanguard, but no one will talk to anyone about it; we’re under Captains orders. Why? Meghan, what’s the signal?”

“You know my last name is Leblanc.”

Daly nodded, still unsure as to what Meghan was getting at.

“My great grandfather was Terrance Leblanc.”

All of a sudden Daly’s blank and confused look turned into one of enlightenment. Everyone on the settled Human worlds knew about Terrance Leblanc, Alexander Falardeau and Francis Solomon. They, and their teams, were revered as the saviors of the Human race by developing and leading the Exodus Project.

Daly said softly, “You recognize the signal, don’t you?” There was a part of him that did not want to know the truth. His mind conjured up on nightmare scenario after another in seconds.

“I know it.” Meghan answered with a slight tremor in her voice.

“It’s like seeing a ghost, and I think I must be.” Now there was fear. Fear in her words and in her eyes.

“My whole family knows that signal. It’s human, and it’s from Earth.”

“That’s impossible.” Cried Daly. “Earth is gone, and has been for generations. This must be an echo that’s just reaching us now. And from the distance it would have to travel, that would make more sense.”

Meghan, her head cradled in her hands, slowly shook her head and said, “It’s not an echo. Check the time stamp on the originator.”

“Where do I look?”

She rose and walked back over to where Daly sat beside the terminal. She typed in a command to the computer, she wanted to have it decode the signal so Daly and anyone else, could see the same thing she did. She wanted to share the fear she had.

More data quickly scrolled down the screen then stopped. “There – see the time stamp?” Meghan pointed to the upper right side of the screen. “This signal is no older than sixty-five standard year’s relative time. The computer can’t identify the content because it’s in a code we don’t have the key for. But its origin is Earth and the base code and carrier wave is Human. It’s the same one my great grandfather used during the Exodus.”

She quietly went back to her desk trying to contemplate the possibilities. Everyone knew Earth was gone, but here it is, a signal seemingly coming from Earth.

The shit gone’a hit the fan, she thought. Without knowing it, Daly, leaning back in his chair, echoed her sentiment.

 

– TO BE CONTINUED –

beyond_deaths_door_cover_art2

Beyond Death’s Door: Fortune Favours The Brave

Excerpt of Chapters 1 to 5 (unedited)

A Science Fiction Novel by William A. DeSouza © 2012 


Chapter One

The drop ship engines rotated as the pilot throttled up, the nose lifted slightly as the tail ramp closed like a vice. The main motors whined as the nacelles, one on each wing, shot out a blast of hot exhaust into the ground sending debris flying into the recon team just disgorged from the rear ramp. The four skids shifted slightly on the earth, the weight transferred off the landing gear as it retracted into the belly of the ship, Ten thrust vectoring nozzles around the armored drop ship pivoted, pushing the beast higher into the air. It was a black monster rising higher into the sky, its bite even more lethal than the deafening roar of the motors.

As the ship lifted off, Corporal Heather Brassard ordered her squad to check the perimeter. She was in command of the four man reconnaissance team ordered to scout an area reported to be increasing in rebel activity.

She looked back toward the drop ship as it quickly vanished from site, loose rubble, sand and dust still swirled around in vortex patterns from the powerful main motors.

The recon team was on their own now, with just enough supplies to fend for themselves. This was a quick, no contact mission. ‘Recon and Return’ was the order and Heather was more than happy to comply.

Her squad was made up of three fresh minted newbie’s and this would be a good way to break them in.

Heather checked her arcs and surveyed the area. They were dropped near an old sports field; a gothic styled two story building surrounding the playing area in decay. One entire side of the building was shattered, leaving her a good view of the inner playing area.  The bleachers on either side of the field framed the empty, open and long disused playing surface. Twisted rubble lay among the tall weeds and grass. On each of the two levels, arched entrances spaced out behind the bleachers open to the dark shadows of what was once a cultured and vibrant civilization engaged in sport, art and music.

From what Heather could see, it had been some time since anyone watched an event or played on the overgrown turf. Giant poster boards either hung at awkward angles from posts and the sides of the arena, or lay crumpled along the ground. Some showed upcoming concerts while others still had images of the last event to be held here, a football match between a local and a visiting off planet team.

A large digital score board lay half leaning on the ground and the wall it once hung on, garbage strewn all around it. The scene of destruction was spread over a wide area, evidence of a decades’ long struggle between humans for control of a population that couldn’t even remember what started the war.

It was time.

“Liam, take point,” Heather ordered over the squad net, the internal communication kept silent within the enclosed combat helmet.

Trooper Liam Hudson didn’t hesitate as he checked his front, stood, and moved forward about thirty meters before the rest of the squad followed.

Heather advanced the squad, stopping every hundred meters to take measurements and scans of the area. The routine lasted for the next three hours before their first break. They encountered no other life and found no rebel activity; at least no recent activity in the recon area.

Heather set up a defensive perimeter as she chose a defendable spot for their breather. Each squad member ensured they had overlapping arcs of fire as they kept one eye open for any activity while grabbing a quick bite of a nutrition supplement and water.

The air was hot and thick, with shimmers of heat rising from the black rock and debris strewn about the streets. It was still early in the day and UV light from the sun passed through the thick cloud layer that blocked much of its visible light, heating the planet and cooking the local life.  It would get hotter once the cloud layer was burnt off by a rising sun.

Entire sides of houses and low rise buildings were blown out while others stood as though nothing had happened. Transports, public and private ground effect vehicles could be seen from the squad’s vantage point. Some burned out, some lay crushed under the weight of the rubble while others just looked as if they were quickly abandoned by their drivers. A number of bodies, bones really, could be seen, some piled in heaps, others where they first fell.

After ten minutes, Heather got her squad up and moving forward, line abreast, keeping parallel with the buildings as they followed the prearranged trace. They checked each doorway, window and blast opening they came to.

There was an eerie silence to the place. Heather cranked up her helmet pick-ups, trying to force some sound to be made. The only sound however was crunch of gravel or branches beneath the combat boots of the squads combat armor.

No animals or insect sounds could be heard either and that concerned Heather. She had the squad spread out even more to avoid bunching up. In a way, the lack of noise was tranquil and inviting. It was also something to be cautious of.

All that calm changed quickly as rounds suddenly rang out around the four man squad.

Each member dived for cover as automatic weapons released burst after burst of deadly seven millimeter darts. They smashed into the ground around the squad. Heather slammed hard against a fallen stature of some long dead local colonist. Liam and McDonald dived behind a low wall while Fortran ducked into an old bomb crater at the entrance to a shell of a building.

As they took cover each trooper released their safety and fired a wild burst into the air in an effort to keep whoever opened up on them down.

“What the hell is that,” shouted Fortran as he hit the bottom of the crater head first. The first thing he did was curl up into a ball hoping the rounds being fired at him would bypass his head and body, his head ringing from the pain of impact with the bottom of the crater.

Heather scanned the area and still found no electronic signatures, telling her that she was fighting against people that either found a way to mask their signature or removed all their electronic gear, turning off all electronic piece of equipment. She chose to believe the latter.

“That, trooper, is someone trying to kill you, now keep your head about you and find us a target,” Heather tried to scan the area directly in front with no luck. She was hoping to see a muzzle flash but no such luck in the early afternoon sunlight.

She was also surprised at how calm she sounded.

McDonald lifted his weapon above the wall and fired widely back hoping to hit something but he wasn’t sure where the fire was coming from. Feeling frustrated, he switched his weapon selector to grenade and let loose a two round volley at a hundred meters.

“Grenade!” he shouted on the squad net, adrenaline pumping through his body.

The explosion sent rocks and other debris flying but the enemy fire did not let up.

Rounds pinged off the marble body of the fallen statue protecting Heather, causing her to duck lower for cover. It also forced her to look for different cover. If they have her squad ranged in, something heaver was headed their way. Disengaging her site she held it up just above her cover. The view being patched through her helmet display was not encouraging.

Finally she spotted some alternative cover, “Liam, McDonald, Fortran, on three, we move toward that low building, just on the right of the shed at seventy five meters. Fortran, pop smoke at twenty five and fifty meters.”

The other’s all looked up when Heather finished, each one seeing the new cover using the same process as Heather. The gray and white walls of the two story building were pitted with holes. The windows were blown out and part of a wall had collapsed in the front, but it did have all the compulsory bits and pieces that made it a defensible position.

It would be a run to get there, but at this point, Heather did not see much of a choice.

They all acknowledged the move order as Fortran switched the ammo selector on his rifle to smoke.

“One, two,” she took a deep breath, then, “three,” Heather finished counting and they all rose up, fired off covering rounds in the hopes their attackers took cover of their own, long enough for the four troopers to make a run for it.

Fortran popped the smoke rounds as ordered. Less than three seconds later they exploded just above ground, sending a dense cloud of dark smoke wafting in the air.

Dust and pieces of stone erupted where Heather’s squad fired in unison. Debris fell to the ground in the area of impact as darts exploded off the side of buildings. She hoped that this was enough to create confusion upon those firing at them.

As she took her third stride, Heather caught site of a puff of smoke or dust followed by a large flash from the corner of her eye. The helmet vision enhancers made it clear that someone just fired at them with something bigger than a rifle, and in that instant she knew this was not going to end well.


Chapter Two

Heather stood, supporting her weight by leaning up against a wall, her armored back pressing hard into the cold stone and composite support column. Her breathing was labored and heavy as the pain medication began to wear off. Heather wasn’t used to feeling this much pain but her wounds were beginning to rip open and the sensation of flesh ripping apart by shrapnel was once again at the forefront of her thoughts.

Quickly she scanned her surroundings, trying to keep her mind focused and divert attention from the wound and her pain.

The support column was one of twelve holding up a crumbling ceiling located in what used to be the main public transit station for this city. Years of conflict had reduced the once grand and mighty building to an empty shell. Overhead, light fixtures once touted to be the most grand and ornate on the planet, lay in ruins along the length of the building.

She was on the second floor concourse overlooking the large space. Heather could see its gothic arches and pillars, no longer the prominent feature of years gone by. Two of the meter wide pillars lay across the floor, each one shattered by the impact of a smart bomb dropped long ago. Heather looked up to see a hole in the roof several meters wide where the columns once intersected, reinforcing rods bent at odd angles.

The cream coloured marble walls were pitted, gaping holes blown through into adjacent rooms or to the outside. What doors she could see were hanging off on their tracks or hinges, many of them just leaning up against debris or on the ground. Smalls arms fire clearly evident on much of the surface. Small painted murals or laser etched works cut into the marble for passerby’s of an earlier period in time were now faded. Some walls had growths of creeping vines while others covered in debris or furniture piled along lengths, set as barricades for firefights.

Heather also saw the human side of this long drawn out conflict. Two bodies, well, what was left of them. The first was more a skeleton than body, still in its fatigues, lying behind a low wall. It was about thirty meters from Heather but she could clearly make out the hole in the skull. The second was mostly body parts, the remainder of what was human now lay scattered around the open floor on a lower level, further away than the first. As she continued to follow the carnage that took place here she became aware of more skeleton remains, one with flesh still dripping off the bone. It was evidence of more recent action.

“Time for another dose,” she said quietly, the pain getting worse as she winced.

She hated the meds but thankful for them at the same time. There was always a risk they could dull the senses, making her more of a target than she already was. There was also the risk of passing out from the excruciating pain.

“Stop over thinking this Heather and take the meds trooper”, she said to herself between clenched teeth.

She pressed her back against the pillar for support, and keeping her injured leg as rigid as possible, she lowered herself into a seating position, grimacing as she did.

Heather laid her T12 pulse rifle across her waist with her left hand while removing the dust cover from her body armors medical control panel. She selected the dosage and keyed the button that sent relief through her body and into her leg.

Afterward she checked the seal on the quick patch at the entry point for the metal barb that pierced her leg. The blood had stopped and the seal was still in place, however she thought, that it would be time to change it soon. Replacing the cover on the panel, she let out a quiet sigh.

The explosion from the grenade could have been far worse for her if it wasn’t for the fact that it landed on the far side of her recon team. For three of the four man team it was as bad as it could get – they didn’t make it.

Body parts scattered around the area along with various other debris. A one meter piece of metal reinforcing rod ended up flying almost twenty five meters, coming to rest in Heather’s leg just above the knee. It just missed the femoral artery, the large blood supplying artery that begins in the lower abdomen and travels down into the thigh.

A centimeter or two on either side and it would have likely been game over, she thought.

In the aftermath of the explosion and flying debris, she found herself hurled into the air, landing beside a rubble pile. Dirt, rocks and building material scattered about in heaps as if someone tried to clean up the mess. It lay just on the edge of a drainage canal running the length of the street toward a row of houses. It was not previously visible from her vantage point but clearly, if she had seen it that would have been a better point to run for. Hind sight is twenty-twenty is the old saying she thought.

Heather needed to work quickly, her ambushers may think she was dead with the rest of her squad but they would make their way down to verify that assumption.

She had to remain conscious, and she needed all her strength and concentration to remove the metal rod. The pain was as close to unbearable as she fought the urge to pass out. She first cut the penetrating barb as close to her wound with a laser cutter and mustering all her will, pulled it out, sealing the severed flesh with the medical laser. Her blood loss was minimal as the barb had sealed the artery, so blood only flowed when she removed it. The warm and dark liquid that fed the body with life began to flow quickly until the medical laser sealed the leaking artery and skin.

Heather wasn’t a hundred percent certain she managed to seal the all the artery but she did not have the training or time to check. She had to get out of there in a hurry, no time to think, only to react and stay alive. She activated her med kit and pain killers mixed with a cocktail of antibiotics streamed into her blood stream from the self injector built into her combat armor.

She rolled down into the canal and disappeared into the smoke still drifting about, finally making her way to safety.

Now, after an hour of running and trying to evade her pursuers, she sat back against the pillar. She would mourn the loss of life and her team later, if she lived.

It always came down to that, living or dying. Both options followed a hard road with twists and turns and every trooper had to figure it out for themselves. You did not have free will when it came to dying in a combat zone, that option was left up to the enemy. But you could affect the outcome by using everything you learned in life and battle school; if you used your head and had a certain amount of luck on your side.

Right now other more pressing things needed to be dealt with, death would have to wait.

After the pain killers came the antibiotics. Heather first removed the old seal and compress bandage, careful not to pull on the wound itself. She then pulled a new compress from the medical pouch on the tac-harness and striped the protective back off. The antibiotic compress would cover the wound area and protect it from infection and dirt.

Heather did a quick ammo check, “Just fuck’en marvelous.” She exclaimed after counting only four and a half mag’s plus another half load in her rifle. With each mag holding fifty darts, she knew the remainder of the seven point five millimeter darts would exhaust itself in no time if she was caught in a fire fight. The grenade count wasn’t much better.

She chided herself for not policing up the ammunition, weapons and explosives from her dead team. At the time the pain and her immediate survival was the top priority. Their attackers were not about to wait for her to get settled and any future action she may have to take did not enter her conscious thoughts. It was a first year rookie mistake and she was undeniably not first year.

She took the time to put a fresh mag into her weapon, redistributing the two half mags to make one and reloaded her grenades. To help conserve her ammo she put the fire selector switch to single shot. Each dart had to count now. The power pack would last and she had one other so that wasn’t an issue.

She rested, but she struggled to control her breathing while waiting for the pain medication to kick in. Heather took the briefest of moments to close her eyes. It was a vulnerable time for her and she knew it. She must focus her mind on survival.

In combat, treating the wound was only part of the equation for staying alive. Not only could your injuries kill you but you also have others still trying to kill you finishing off what they started. She counted herself lucky for getting out of the grenade blast area before a cleanup crew came in to check on the dead. Whoever fired off that grenade would not have just run off, they would have come in and finish off any survivors.

She knew there were no other survivors of her recon team. Her tactical combat helmet readings showed no life signs from them.

Corporal Heather Brassard was part of a rear breed of Humans, a trooper in the Terrain Armed Forces. The TAF only took the best humanity had to offer from the colony planets around the New Confederation. A veteran at four years she had already proven herself in combat several times over and this was just another mission to her. Life and death was a constant part of her world and she would never change any of that.  Death was something to avoid at all costs, and that struggle gave you the main reason to live.

Heather opened her eyes, startled by a noise. The combat helmet she wore amplified the sound and if she still had a team, she would have known exactly what direction and distance it came from. The pick-ups from each trooper would exchange information through the data comm link and triangulate the source. This time however she was alone and all she had was her own personal equipment, her wits and experience.

I’d be dead already if they knew where I was. She reassured herself with that thought.

Without moving her body too fast or too much, Heather released the safety on her weapon and lowered the helmet visor. As soon as the visor locked, thermal and other sensor data scrolled across her heads up display.

The sound could have been anything – a ventilator fan moved by the light breeze, an animal scavenging for food, loose debris falling, anything. Something, call it instinct, told her that the source was human however.

The self administered medication was beginning to kick in. The pain was still there but it was bearable, a dull throb instead of a sharp stabbing. It was enough however to help her focus on the current circumstance.

Heather, still leaning against the post with her back began to slide down slowly. She needed to get flat in order to roll over onto her belly without string up any dust or bringing attention to herself. As she repositioned she heard another sound, this one clearer but still unfamiliar.

Once on her back, Heather took a deep breath. With her face shield down no one would hear her breath. Any noise she made would have alerted her enemies.

The break-away rebel faction the TAF was engaged with were well armed, well trained but not always disciplined. Heather was counting on a mistake or two being made by the other side if she was going to live. A hell of a lot of luck couldn’t hurt either, she thought to herself.

Without making a sound she rolled over in place, making sure she remained behind the cover of the column. She winced when the skin on her leg stretched near the injury, treating to rip it apart.

It was now she realized breathing was a good thing and took two deep breaths. Heather wasn’t even aware she was holding her breath. She could only hope she didn’t stir up any dust.

Slowly she removed the gun-site camera from her rifle and activated the imager on her helmet display. Holding the rifle camera in her left hand and keeping it close to the ground, she moved it past the column, giving her a panorama of the far end of the building.

What she saw was discouraging and heartening at the same time. At least six rebel soldiers were making their way toward her position. They were line abreast about two meters apart sweeping the debris. Heather could only assume they were searching for her, maybe part of the group that took out her squad.

On the up side, she thought. They’re doing such a clumsily job, I could just get lucky.

The other positive was the squad searching was one level below her on the far side of the concourse and this provided her with a good field of fire should she have to engage, which at this point seemed very likely to Heather.


Chapter Three

In a high geosynchronous orbit onboard the Terrain Armed Forces Navy Ship Athabaskan the communications room was ablaze with activity. Much of that activity focused on finding Heather and her squad. TAF sensor drones orbited the planet sending out a spider web of sensor signals, trying in vain to reach the recon patrol sent to investigate reports of rebel activity in an isolated section on the planet.

“Status!” barked the comm officer as she entered the room. Commander Latrell was small in stature standing only one and a half meters tall but her presence was felt everywhere she went. She had a voice that would put the best drill sergeants to shame and she was as intelligent as she was beautiful. Her blond hair fell on her shoulders in waves. This only highlighted her deep blue green eyes and a body that men, and some women, would kill for.

“No return signal from the recon team Commander. Their last check in was seven hours ago and they are one hour overdue.” Came the reply from the senior NCO at the off ship comm duty station.

“Has their CO been notified?”

“Aye – they have been. Commander, they have also been ordered to stand down by Flag. The orders just came in as you arrived.”

Latrell cocked an eyebrow. “The flag ship ordered the unit stood down?”

“No Commander, Flag actual. I suspect he has something else in mind.”

This was a surprise to Latrell. Whenever a unit or squad was in trouble and needed to be retrieved, it was the squads’ base unit that would have pulled the rescue mission. In this case it should have been the Terrestrial Light Armored Guards, Heather’s home unit.

“The old man must have something special in mind for him to pull us from the rescue.” She said to no one in particular. “Has the captain and the unit CO been notified?”

“Aye Commander, just prior to your arrival.”

Lets see how this plays out then, she thought.


Chapter Four

“Launch CAT” The Admiral was matter-of-fact, hiding the reality and magnitude behind the first CAT mission.

Rear Admiral Walter Affleck sat in his command chair onboard the flag ship York, showing no emotion. He was hoping not to have to use the CAT teams so soon after their formation, but it was as good a time as any for a real world test.

In front of him, the flag bridge was silent as his orders were passed to the CAT commander.

The envoy from the New Confederation government looked back at the Admiral at the command chair and asked, “Ah, sorry to interrupt Admiral, but what is this CAT team? I was informed that this was only going to be a reconnaissance mission but at the sign of any action, I assumed that you had ground troops ready and we would be treated to a show.”

Nevus Stevens was part of a delegation from the New Confederation budget committee looking at how the military functioned. It was hoped that the new members of the committee would gain a better understanding of the reasons things ran as they did with the military and the immense responsibility the New Confederation had towards the many worlds that made up its membership. The others in the committee had left the flag bridge when action stations were sounded, content to see what was happening from a briefing room several decks below, all except Nevus however.

The Admiral did not look directly at the envoy. The disgust he was feeling now would only spill out and he was not sure what the consequences would be. He was tempted to find out however, should Nevus continue to be a pain. Biting his lower lip instead helped to subdue the rage that he felt for bureaucrats and this one in particular.

Not long ago the corrupt bureaucratic system was purged and what was left was an efficient and coherent system of government. The purge however did not remove all of the incompetent individuals. Some inept individuals had had been missed.

Affleck had to deal with this medium level pen pusher, at least for now. He was sure that the purge would catch up to those stragglers representing what he considered to be the lowest facet of human evolution.

Taking a slow, deep breath, the Admiral answered, “CAT Mister Stevens is short for Combined Arms Team and this is their first operational – combat – mission that you know about. They are ground troops of a sort – they are an off shoot of the Joint Task Force, but while the JTF functions as individuals and in very small unit operations, the CAT team operates in squad to platoon size units and with a highly specialized mandate. They would be the equivalent of an old Earth marine unit.”

Affleck took another deep breath before continuing, “I will be happy to answer your questions,” pausing briefly to add emphasis. “After this mission and my troops are recovered.” The sting in his tone was evident and Nevus took the hint, backing slowly away into the corner of the bridge, just behind Affleck’s command chair.

—-

Major Jerold Braun watched his team gear up with a proud smile. His CAT team’s first active mission was starting out on a high note and it would afford him the opportunity to gauge the effectiveness of the CAT concept – at least in a limited operation.

“Major, all drop ships report ready for departure,” Captain Norton, Braun’s team commander, said as he approached.

“Very well Captain, you know the drill, time to prove this concept.”

Norton saluted, turned and with a spiral wave on his right hand in the air gave the ‘go’ order for the pilots to seal the hatches and start pre-launch drop procedures.

“All personal clear the bay – all personal clear the bay,” repeated the AI voice over the intercom. “Drop ship sequence has begun – launch in tee minus two minutes.”

Major Braun saluted and quickly removed himself from the bay, joining the other navy personal. One by one the blast doors lowered into their recesses, sealing the launch bay. Red lights flashed on as the warning klaxon sounded.

Swing arms, attached to contact points on the dorsal of each drop ship lifted them as the drop bay doors swung open to the vacuum of space, cutting off the klaxon at the same time. Without air, there was no sound. Braun watched as water vapor condensed and disappeared as quickly as they formed when the bay doors began to open.

Braun activated his headset, “Flag actual this is Major Braun, drop ship launch has begun.”

—-

From outside the enormous troop transport ship, the drop ships paled in size as they exited the bay. The four black drop ships would not even be seen if it wasn’t for the outside running lights of the massive transport.

Inside, Captain Norton checked the status of the troopers through the telemetry link. All showed green as he gave his final orders, “Squad leaders, we still haven’t picked up a transponder from the recon team but the initial drop point is where we start our search. Landing sequence is CAT two, three four and one.”

The squad commanders knew the rest of the mission orders and all acknowledged the landing sequence.

Sergeant Maya Schenk switched the comm channel to her squad,

“Fifteen minutes – stand by.”

The drop ship shuddered as the engines rotated to slow it from mach five to less than five hundred kilometers per second. The drop ship gunner scanned for targets as the pilot lined up on the landing zone.

“Stand up – prep for action,” ordered Schenk.

Each trooper reached over the shock frame and released the safety, swinging the frame over their heads. They reached for their weapons and loaded them, inserting a fresh magazine, then put their safeties on. No trooper said anything. Just before the rear ramp lowered, they would remove that safety, allowing death to rain down on anyone who impeded them from the mission.

As the ship neared the ground, at twenty five meters, the pilot flared the nose, raising it up while the tail dropped. They were coming in hot and expected enemy fire as soon as they landed. The gunner had previously picked out possible targets based on years of experience and training and he let go a salvo of Hyper Velocity Missiles or HVM.

From under wing pylons, the sleek short missiles shot across the sky to impact with the ground around the LZ. Plasma bursts fired from the belly turret burned through the air, killing anything in its path. Anything that was alive in the landing area was now dead.

“Ten seconds!” barked Schenk as he stood by the ramp controls.

Experience gave Schenk the sixth sense to know exactly when to toggle the control key, dropping the rear ramp and giving everyone a view of the ground below them. The squad started to move out a split second before touchdown and they fanned out to either side of the drop ship, taking up a perimeter.

As soon as the last man left the ramp the pilot throttled up and rotated the engine pods. Dust and other loose rubble flew about as the ship lifted off to assemble in orbit with the other drop ships.

Schenk barked his orders through the internal communication of the combat helmet, gathering his squad as they headed out in their assigned search direction.

Just as the last squad left the LZ, Norton’s ship landed and the command section, along with the heavy weapons detachment disgorged, allowing the drop ship to blast back into orbit. They would await the pick-up orders or act as close support, where they would release their arsenal of missiles and plasma weapons.

—-

“Admiral, the CAT is on the ground and searching,” reported the communication officer on the flag bridge.

Affleck sat waiting for confirmation, “Thank you.”

He showed no emotion on the outside, but on the inside, hidden from prying eyes, he felt pain for every injury or death inflected on his people. It was a personality trait that he was told would eat him up from the inside, but Affleck did not care for that assessment. He felt that it gave him the strength he needed to make the right command decisions. He would not give an order that had no gain or made no sense and he would not second guess his own orders.


Chapter Five

The six men searching for Heather stopped moving forward as the lead rebel soldier signaled, holding up his left hand. She was seen as the puppet of their enemies and had to be killed; to be made an example of. It would not do to allow this one survivor escape.

—-

Heather was not sure if he was the squad leader at this point or just the scout for the squad. Nor did she care. The six men took up a clumsily position behind anything they could find for cover.

She looked for any escape, trying to find a way out without engaging the people out to kill or capture her. Checking the exits available to her only confirmed that there was no other ways to escape the group below. Nothing she did would give her a free pass. It was about to come to a fire fight and she wanted to make sure she had the upper hand.

Scanning the group, she spotted one of the men pick up a portable radio from his pack and say something. She could not make out what was said, even with the enhanced pickups in her helmet, but her instincts told her that this was the most likely leader of the group, and her first target.

Her mind raced through different scenarios as to what would happen once she let go the first round. Where would the others run to? Would they go to ground? Or would they just become embolden and attack with renewed anger.

As she contemplated her alternatives, training and instinct took over as she replaced the gun site camera on her rifle. Slowly she moved the rifle to the edge of the pillar and sited her first target, gradually squeezing the trigger.

The man on the radio did not hear or react to the sound Heather’s rifle made. His head split apart from the back, sending blood and brain matter to the ground behind his body.

One of the others closest to the dead man stood and shouted a name, horror on his face as the first man died in front of him. Heather did not care why at this point, but aimed at the new target and fired.

The second man slumped down to the ground as the dart ripped through his heart, joining his comrade in death.

The other four men in the rebel squad avoided make the same mistake, instead, they began to fire anywhere they thought Heather was located. Some of the rounds came close to her, ricocheting off the wall above and beyond her. Her training told her that she was still hidden as their rounds were scattered and not aimed, so moving at this point would only serve to draw unwanted attention to her position.

Time and the odds were not on her side, but with patience and training there was improvement.

Heather did not have a direct line of site to the remaining four so she decided to use a couple of grenades in the hope of drawing them out into the open.

In the front of her thoughts was conservation of ammo as the counter changed from green to yellow and the number of rounds showing decreased with each shot. She would not mind if the shrapnel or concussion from the grenades killed or wounded the remaining hunting party. Switching the fire selector from dart to grenade, she sited-in on the impact area and fired off two grenades in quick session.

The first round landed just to the rear of the stone information kiosk being used as cover. The grenade was set for impact detonation, allowing the explosion to throw as much debris and shrapnel in the air.

Heather cranked hp her magnification on the helmet camera and watched for any sign that the solder would attempt to escape the massacre, assuming he was still alive.

She got her wish as he dived out from behind cover on three limbs, with his free hand dropping his weapon in the process. Heather squeezed the trigger just as he looked up, his thoughts registering his impending death.

One of the remaining rebels stood up to fire on Heather’s position, her muzzle flash giving away her location. He only managed to let loose a quick burst as the second grenade went off. The concussion throw him forward into the low table, his arms flung forward throwing the rifle loose as his head slammed into the top of the table. Slumping to the ground as his legs bucked out from under him.  Heather sighted on the soldier but lost sight as he fell behind the table, not getting a chance to fire a round into him.

Heather, realizing she still had the magnification ramped up on her helmet display, adjusted it down giving her a wider field of view. She scanned the area hoping the remaining two would show themselves.

She could hear the two of them shout something, but her audio pickups could not decipher what was being said. Whatever it was, it was not in Standard English. Still, she only had two left out of the original six to contend with.

—-

Schenk had his section fan out, ten meters apart in a line abreast and moved forward once the drop ship cleared the LZ.

“I want to hear a sit-rep before anyone opens up,” he ordered.

Each trooper acknowledged the order as they advanced quietly through the brush, toward the edge of a large city park, now overgrown with trees and low growing foliage.

As the squad approached the edge of the park, Schenk looked up above the tree line that was now beginning to thin out and saw the top of an old stadium, one side of it missing. He ordered a halt and took out his hand scanner.

Passing the scanner in an arc just in front of him, it picked up no other life but that was never the only tool used to accurately determine if someone was in the area. It was easy enough to mask a human’s body signal if you really wanted to.

“Dostoyevsky, set up the track-mine. We don’t have a lot of time but I want cover if we have to get out in a hurry.”

“Right Sergeant.” Responded the young trooper as he removed his pack, taking out a tripod and tube.

Trooper Dostoyevsky popped the tripod open and leveled it. Quietly but with deliberate purpose he secured the one meter tube at a connection point and plugged in the fiber optic cable to the power supply attached  to the tripod. As soon as he did, a three by three centimeter control panel opened at the mid-point of the tube and telltales changed from red to green after the built in computer powered up the tracking mines arming sequence.

“Mine is up and running Sergeant,” said Dostoyevsky as he took up a position just left of the now active mine.

“OK people, this is the route the recon squad took and we’ll follow it till we find something or get a recall.”

—-

Heather’s original despair began to diminish as the odds were beginning to improve and she started to feel better about her chances. It looked as if she would survive this brief battle and she had forgotten about the pain with the adrenalin rush she was experiencing. Her muscles began to relax and she found herself breathing again, not realizing she was even holding her breath for a second time.

That initial elation she felt quickly disappeared though when she was forced to withdraw as automatic weapons fire knocked fist size chunks of marble from the column and it rained down around her.

“Shit!,” she cursed trying to avoid being hit.

Having to back track from the edge and loose her line of site was not doing her any favors. This was a rookie mistake and she chided herself for it. She let down her guard for just a split second and it was going to cost her if she could not gain back the advantage she just had.

The fire coming down on her position was not aimed, more random covering fire. “Dam it, they’re trying to get under the walkway,” she said out loud.

As one of the solders provided covering fire, the other took full advantage and ran toward the door at the far end of the concourse. It led to a service stair to the upper level walkway where Heather had taken refuge. Getting to the door he slammed his back against the wall. He gestured to his comrade, holding up five fingers, then four, counting down.

At zero he fired a grenade up the stair case to the second level where Heather was situated under cover.

The grenade detonated on contact with the door to the second level sending it flying off its track. Bits of building material, dust and shrapnel exploded out from the stairwell entrance forcing Heather to roll for cover again.

Acting on instinct alone she snapped the selector switch on her weapon to grenade and fired through the now open space to the stairs. It thumped and clanged as the grenade bounced off the wall and fell toward the bottom of the stairs. Heather, now well back from the edge of the walkway and out of site of her initial targets, quickly realized a classic distraction tactic and threw herself back toward the column, taking aim at the rebel soldier begging his run toward cover. Heather instantly moved the fire selection switch from grenade to automatic fire and get go a quick burst just in front of the target.

Darts ripped through his upper body dropping him to the ground. At the same moment the grenade she fired exploded at the bottom of the stairs. A muffled cry could be heard as she turned toward the open doorway, ready for action should someone come charging though.

Nothing happened however as the dust settled and pebble size pieces of material fell to the ground. She increased the audio pick-ups on her helmet and could hear a faint moan from below.

The scatter of dust and smoke cleared as Heather made a move toward the stairs. Leaning against the column for support she pulled herself up, standing with the most of her weight on her uninjured leg.

As she reached the door, she braced herself and tentatively moved her gun camera around the corner and aimed it down the steps. At the landing she spotted the lone rebel sitting with his back against the wall. His head was slumped forward and his arms limp by his side. Heather looked for his weapon but could not see one in the area.

She began to enter the stairs when her audio pick-ups heard the unmistakable sounds of more solders coming into the station.

Her heart fell at the thought she was not getting away this time. Well, it was a good fight and a good run she thought.

Instead of going back down the steps, she made her way back to the column and settled in for what she assumed was going to be her last stand. Double checking her ammo status, she counted one and a half magazines of darts and two grenades.

She thought, that would take care of half a squad if my luck lasted that long.

Her injured leg began to throb again and she felt it become cold and wet as the blood leaked out from the quick patch. “Fuck it, I may as well go out lucid – to hell with the pain meds,” she said out loud.

She watched as a full squad entered the far end of the station, this time however, they were dressed in armor.  Then she saw it, TAF armor. It was her people.

—-

“Watch for snipers people, this is where we picked up automatic fire,” warned Sergeant Schenk.

Switching over to a TAF emergency frequency, he called, “CAT Team Bravo to Recon Two-Six Alpha.”

Heather was never more excited to see anyone, other than Peter Talbot, her on again off again lover. “Recon Two-Six Alpha, Rodger. Look up CAT Team.” She sat up and using her rifle waved toward Schenk.

Schenk returned the wave and sent the medic and three of his squad to secure the upper area and treat Heather’s injuries.

For Heather, the blood loss was beginning to have an effect as she slowly felt very sleepily, darkness beginning to overtake her senses. The relief of seeing her rescue was enough for her mind to relax, and body to give way to the adrenaline rush and shut down.

After getting a preliminary report from the medic on Heather’s condition, Schenk switched frequency to the platoon net and called for recovery. “Have a med team stand by, we have one survivor and she’s lost a lot of blood.”

To Be Continued…..

Deaths Door Cover Art

‘Heather readied herself for the release. Her pulse quickened and she felt her heart beat faster as she anticipated the moment. She loved the rush a combat drop gave her as adrenalin was pumped through her veins.

Below each drop ship, wide doors opened with the aid of huge hydraulic rams as swing arms securing each ship from above, lowered them into their initial position. At the same time red blackout lights switched on in the bay; mixed with the yellow warning lights spinning like an insane ballerina, the bay was awash in the colour of stained blood.

Heather’s pupils increased in size as they dilated and more blood was pumped through her veins.

The speakers came to life with a feminine but artificial voice “Warning, drop ship launch sequence has begun, all personnel evacuate bay area.”

The AI warning repeated itself two more times with the sound of the klaxon in the background’

Read the first three sample chapters at

http://www.williamdesouza.ca/documents/deaths_door_sample_1to5.htm

 7

Visit me over at my other blog (BlogSpot) http://williamdesouza.blogspot.ca/2012/12/what-will-future-look-like.html to read my latest New Years Essay, ‘What Will The Future Look Like?’

Its filled with drama, love, passion, space armadas, aliens…. okay, its got NONE of that. But it is fun and may just provoke some discussion.

Check it out at http://williamdesouza.blogspot.ca

Read Part 2 of my two part Feature Book Review of ‘Babylon Confidential: A memoir of Love, Sex & Addiction’ by Claudia Christian and Morgan Grant Buchanan.

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rampage logo

Frustration and anger boiled over in Detective Kuan-Yin Lui as he pounded his fist on the desk. Papers, files and CD’s flew onto the floor as everyone in the small squad room jumped, startled by the outburst.

“Forty five cases since November!” Lui shouted as he stood. “Eighty seven people dead and countless others injured and we’re still not closer to finding out what’s going on.”

Kuan-Yin Lui, born in Henan Province in China, was not accustomed to public outbursts. Growing up in Zhengzhou, the capital city of Henan Province, Kuan-Yin Lui lived what one would call a privileged lifestyle. His parents were both Party members in the Central Committee so he attended the best schools, associating with high officials and learning to hide ones emotions. He was not accustomed to let his emotions get in the way of doing his job. Lui even developed a nickname, with many of his friends coming to refer to him as the Chinese Spock; where logic and the purging of emotions were normal.

“Lui!” yelled Inspector Karpov. “If you’re through beating up on your desk, get in my office.”  The Inspector stood by his open door, hands on his hips. After a moment, he lowered his aggressive posture to a more inviting stance, gestured with his head toward the inner office.

Inspector Karpov, a twenty five year veteran of the Ottawa Police Services, was solidly built at one point nine meters and even without trying he came across as intimidating. It was something he used to his advantage when the situation required. This was not one of those times however so he adjusted his posture and tone.

“Anderson, you’re also invited to this meeting.”

Staff Sergeant Jeffery Anderson, Lui’s junior partner was trying to speak with someone on the phone while taking notes through the din in the squad room. He responded to the Inspector with a wave of his hand as he held up his index finger indicating he’d be there in a moment.

Anderson had transferred from the Edmonton Police Services to Ottawa when his wife was relocated. Her career in the Royal Canadian Air Forces shifted quickly after being promoted to Colonel and she was assigned a position at Defense Headquarters in Ottawa as part of the team overseeing the replacement of the CF18 fighter jet with the Euro Fighter.  Truth be told, Anderson did not have any misgivings with the move. He lost his seniority and part of his pension, but his own career in Edmonton force was, stalled. Beginning to get routine and he didn’t like where he was going. He jumped at the opportunity; and the Ottawa force was in the middle of a re-org in the detective squad so the move came at a most opportune time.

Anderson glanced over at Lui pointed to the tablet he was typing on, indicating he would not be long.

Lui, still frustrated and now slightly embarrassed, turned toward the rest of the squad room and with a slight bow, apologized to the other officers for his outburst. His strong belief in his Chinese heritage would not let that kind of public display of anger go without some act of contrition.

He was a very likeable officer, joining the Ottawa force just over four years ago and was always known as a calm and precise individual, not one to let frustration get the better of him. Lui immigrated to Canada from China with a distinguished police career and nothing like this was ever noted on his record.

That calm demeanor was being tested by this current case however and it was having a noticeable effect on Lui. Un-pressed shirts and ties, pants that looked as if he’d slept in them, along with his lower tolerance were all signs that he was under extreme pressure to solve this case.

Once the room settled back to routine, Lui walked toward the Inspectors office and went inside, standing beside the desk. Anderson hung up the phone and grabbed his note Blackberry and Playbook tablet computer, as he too hurried into the office.

Inspector Karpov closed the door and sat down, inviting the two officers to sit. He then looked at Lui and waited.

Lui quickly said, “I apologize for my outburst Inspector. I’m not sure what got into me and I am sorry.”

Karpov surprised Lui with his response, “You have nothing to apologize for,” he started with a sigh. “I know you and I share your aggravation. Let’s face it, we have nothing but guesses, conjecture and nothing else.  I’m not even sure what direction we go from this point. I can bet however this is not the last incident though. Bring me up to date from the beginning.”

“Well, we have a series of apparently unrelated rampaging attacks across the city. All starting, we believe, in November last year when Frost Elementary School was attacked. Four children and three teachers died in that case. Since then, we’ve seen dozens of people dead and scores wounded.  The assailants have no common background or connection, at least nothing we have found so far. All data has been sent to the RCMP crime computer to check for commonalties.  The attackers used knives or whatever object was handy in their attacks, making this seem to be unmediated.” Lui paused to check his notes on his Playbook tablet before continuing, “The attacks were targeted at kindergartens and elementary schools in the beginning. Other attacks were at the courthouse, and then random victims at markets and on a train just out of the station headed to Montreal. This last attack yesterday was with a front end loader at a construction site on Bank Street, which at last count resulted in eleven dead.”

Anderson chimed in at this point. “The attacks have prompted calls for more efforts to diagnose and treat serious mental illnesses and have ignited fears in the medical community about undiagnosed issues in so many people. The city council have authorized increased security at schools and public venues along with orders to limit media coverage of the incidents; trying to discourage copycat attacks. The Ontario Provincial Police crime lab, Solicitor General’s office and the RCMP crime labs have all offered any assistance we may need.”

“And with all that effort we don’t seem to be any closer to containing this,” said Commissioner Donald, surprising the three as he stepped into the office quietly, closing the door.

Karpov stood and shook the Commissioner’s hand before offering him a chair. “It’s good to see you Commissioner, but this is a surprise.”

“A surprise yes, but you must have known I would be paying you a visit soon enough about this case. You’ve been turning off the heat in this place Karpov? It’s like an ice box in here,” said Commissioner Donald, joking with the Inspector as he blew into his hands, feigning trying to warm them up.

“Sorry sir, I’ll crank up the heat.”

“Sit Karpov, I’m fine and I suspect it’s been plenty hot around here lately.” Donald looked over at Lui.

“You’re the lead investigator Lui, what’s your assessment of this mess? Is there anything that I can take back to the mayor?”

Lui glanced at his partner who nodded, as if to say ‘go ahead, tell them’.

“Detective Anderson and I have a theory, but it’s only a theory at this point and quite frankly it’s not complete. It’s also a…” he paused, not sure how well his hypothesis would be received.

Anderson jumped in, “It’s just a bit ‘out there’ sir; but we’re looking into a few things first before we jump at it.”

Lui was grateful for the save, then continued, “So far, we are saying, publicly at least, that the incidents are as a result of individuals with serious mental illnesses. Some diagnosed, others not; and many were copy cat cases of violence. The problem with that however is I’ve checked with the Royal Ottawa Hospital and Doctor Diovan confirmed that even in the cases with a pre-diagnosed case of mental illness existed, it would be beyond the wildest of odds that all of them would have committed these acts at the same time. In fact, only fifteen percent of the assailants had any previous confirmed mental illness. Also, of the cases with no psychosis, there have been no issues previous that would lead anyone to believe there was a mental problem. Many were family men with active and productive social and employment histories…”

“Come to the point,” interrupted Donald and sounding frustrated.

“My point Commissioner is that we’re not looking at any insanity as the cause of these incidents. We’re looking at something else – I’m sure of it. We just haven’t figured out yet. I Just know it could not be mental illness…,” Lui paused for a moment before continuing, “…and I think that this may have happened before.”

The others gave Lui a queer look.

He explained, his voice softened, “eighteen years ago in China, I was a very new and young police officer when the force was thrown into total confusion. Over two hundred very similar incidents happened over a three year period and sores of men, women and children were killed or injured by people, which for no explained reason, went on a rampage. Very much like what we’re seeing here.

“I think I remember something about that. It was all over the news at the time; local men, good fathers, husbands, going crazy and hacking at children in junior schools. What was the cause there? What happened in the end and why haven’t you mentioned this before?” Karpov demanded.

“Nothing…it just stopped. The media was told to keep quiet about the incidents after the first dozen incidents made the international news; and only a very limited amount of stories ever made it out to the public within China itself. We found no cause or explanation and it was all attributed to mental illness, just like now. The authorities said these were all isolated cases. And I haven’t said anything because it was so bazaar that this could be anything similar, that I wanted to make one hundred percent certain that we are dealing with the same thing. In China we are brought up to keep quiet until we have definitive proof of fact. Even after forty cases….”

Anderson jumped in at this point, adding and confirming part of Lui’s suspicion, “I just got off the phone with the coroner and she’s found something interesting that may support our case for an alternative theory. In the eighteen cases where the assailants died, there was what she called ‘an unusual swelling of the brain’. She said that it was unusual because these were healthy people with no prior history of trauma, illness or concussion. She followed up with family doctors and none have any history of, or current tumors. There was also no history of medication or drug use in any of them and she could find no…” he paused to read off his notes, “…outward signs or reasons for the swelling. The toxicology report also showed no known toxins, drugs or stimulants in their systems. She is running more tests and will contact us if there are any other findings.”

“I’m telling you Commissioner; this is not mental illness gone wild. This is being caused by – something. We just have to figure out what.”

“What’s this ‘we’ stuff Detective; this is all yours. If you can’t find out what’s really going on and stop this, the shit that’s hitting the top brass now will begin to roll right down to the bottom of the pile and guess what… you’re standing right where it’ll land.” Donald stood abruptly and went for the door.

At the door, he turned and said in a more consolatory tone, “Gentlemen, whatever you need to fix this, you’ve got it. I’ll sign off on it – just get it done.” With that Donald opened the door and walked out, letting the spring hinged door close on its own.

“Well gentlemen, what’re you waiting for? If it’s not mental, then find out what’s causing apparently normal healthy people to go berserk and put an end to it. You’ve got a squad room full of officers on this team at your disposal, use them. Just keep me in the loop.”

Lui and Anderson stood and walked out quietly, leaving Karpov sitting at his desk shaking his head.

Lui turned to Anderson as they walked back to their desk and said, “Grab your coat, we’re going for a ride. I want to see the last crime scene again.”

“We’ve picked through it already Lui, why go back out?”

“I think we’ve missed something. I want to revisit it and maybe go see the others, starting with the first one at the kindergarten school. Bring your Playbook with you too.” Lui then turned to the other squad room members working on the case with him. “Right ladies and gentlemen, we’ve got some work to do and we’re moving in a different direction. I want each survivor and assailant re-interviewed along with their families. We need to know if there is any commonality. We need to know where they’ve been, what they’ve eaten, their friends, neighbors, clothing, school, work, shopping, everything. Find out who their doctors are, were they sick with the cold or flu; did they have a neighbor or friend who may have known or been known amongst them. Six degrees of separation needs to be narrowed down to zero. There has to be a common thread and we need to find it.”

The officers and detectives sighed, but only slightly. Everyone knew this had became the top priority in the city.

The two men stopped by their desk and picked up all their gear, and making sure that notes going back to the first case in November were downloaded to their Blackberry Playbook. Lui stopped, turned and picked up the phone, dialing a number.

“Doctor Grace Allan please,” he asked. “Yes, Doctor Allan, its Detective Kuan-Yin Lui, you were speaking to my partner a few minutes ago. Yes, that’s right.  I wanted to ask you if you’ve had a chance to visit with the other accused.” A pause, “That’s what I thought. What authorization would you need to meet with them and can you take…I don’t know…samples or something to see if they also have or had any brain swelling or common issues?”

Anderson waited beside Lui listening, as he quietly put on his overcoat.

“Thank you doctor. Make it a top priority please and me know as soon as you get any results,” Lui hung up and the two men left the squad room.

The squad room was a beehive of activity with civilians and police personal milling about, back-checking reports and statements, or on the phones. Ever since the first attacks took place the force had been on high alert trying to piece together events. After the first attack in the kindergarten, the police had quickly caught the attacker only to have him commit suicide, jumping off the roof of the two story school head first into the playground structure.

It was random and brutal with five children and one teacher killed. Then came another school attack, then another, then a car dealership, the courthouse, and on and on they came. Each one being explained as random and unrelated; as the public demanded answers and a halt to the carnage. Yet the police could not explain why and that nagged at Lui.

At the elevator, Anderson asked, “What was that with the cornier?”

“I want to know if any of the other perps have the same brain swelling she found in the eighteen dead ones. We have to start someplace and this is the first real lead we’ve had since the beginning. Back in China there was no way to properly link the cases. Many of them happened in remote villages and no autopsies were preformed on the killers.”

“Even if we run with this latest theory, what do you think we’ll find at the scene?”

“Not sure right now. I’m hoping for a smoking gun; and maybe I’m – what’s the expression? – grasping at straws, right now but a drowning man has to grasp at something to maintain hope of survival.” He smiled.

“Is that one of your famous Confucius sayings?”

“No, it’s pure Lui,” he beamed. “Look, even if every one of the perps had some brain swelling, lesions, chemical imbalance or something else that caused the berserk behavior, there has to be a cause for it. We may be in for a lot more attacks and this city will go into a mass panic. We won’t have to worry about shit rolling down on us…it’ll be hip deep and all over the place – no one will be spared.”

The elevator indicator chimed and the door opened, allowing three people to get off and the two detectives to enter. Lui pressed the basement parking button and as the door closed, he glanced over to Anderson with a worried, pensive look about the future.

As the doors opened on the parking level, Anderson took two steps out of the elevator, leaving Lui behind. Turning, he quickly reached out with his hand to stop the door from closing, which brought Lui out of whatever thoughts occupied his mind.

“I want to make one stop before we go to the scene,” said Lui.

“Where?”

“Chinese embassy on Saint Patrick Street. It’s a long shot but I want to see if we can get a follow up on the murders fifteen years ago. I want to look at any autopsy results from that time. I don’t ever remembering reading anything about swelling of the brain in that original investigation. And after speaking with our good doctor, I think we should revisit the past.”

“You do live in a funny world my Chinese friend. You know they’ll never give up the intel; especially not to you.”

“A couple of people over there owe me a favor or two. I’m going to call in – what’s the term, the marker – and see what happens. At this point we have nothing else to go on.” Lui didn’t want to sound defeatist but that’s how the words flowed.

His whole demeanor lately and his normally sunny outlook on the world around him was shattered by the thought that what happened eighteen years ago could be starting up again and he had no clue as to how to stop it.

The parking garage was well lit as they walked toward the unmarked black coloured Carbon Motors police car. It sat along the far wall and as they approached it they spotted a lone man leaning against the hood of the car.

He wore a dark blue suit and his white shirt collar button was open, his black tie loosened.

Lui spoke first as they approached, “Can we help you?”

“You can Kuan-Yin, you can end the investigation you’re conducting right now.” The Chinese accent was unmistakable as the man spoke.

“Who are you?”

“You have a short memory Kuan-Yin if you do not remember your old partner.”

“Sheng? Sheng Wey Un, What are you doing in Ottawa?”

Lui approached closer and as he neared enough to see Sheng clearly, stopped and bowed slightly, then reached out and shook his hand warmly.

“Kuan-Yin Lui, you are a site my friend.” Sheng returned the bow. “It seems that you have not slept in some time and I suspect this case is why.”

“So what’s this about shutting down the investigation? What are you talking about and again, why are you here?”

“I was asked to come and meet with you. Our government…”

“Your government,” interrupted Yui.

“..The Central Government has requested that you stop this line of investigation and attribute the killings to a kind of mass mental illness that was previously undiagnosed.” Sheng held up his right hand, “Before you interrupt, I know what you are thinking and I agree; but I have my job and still have to ask.”

“If you know what I am thinking then you already know the answer to the request. I must humbly decline.”

“Don’t be a fool Lui, what can you possible achieve by trying to find some elusive cause. You know the result we had in China; the manpower and resources we expended. We found nothing and you will come up with the same answer here.”

“I am surprised that your government would even suggest that we…”

“It is your government and people that we are speaking of Lui. Don’t try and pretend you are not Chinese,” interpreted Sheng angrily. “We are concerned that you may bring shame and dishonor on the force and do not want the Central Government’s name dragged down.”

“You have nothing to worry about Sheng. I am already pursuing another line of investigation that will, if nothing else, prove that we did not fail in China, but rather did not see the path we should have been on.”

“Bah!” scoffed Sheng, throwing up his arms, turning and walked away.

“Before you leave in haste my old friend, you may save me a trip to the embassy.”

Sheng stopped but only looked back, not turning his body, “What do you ask of me, old Friend?” He said old friend like it was poison.

Stepping forward, Lui spoke with determination, “I want our old case files, intact, complete and uncensored. I am looking for similarities between our cases. I believe that we did miss something all those years ago and it is not over. The ‘illness’ may come back to haunt you and the department if we are not successful. I also believe that if I am correct in my theory, then we are in for, as they say here, a world of hurt.”

Sheng turned to face Lui, “What did we miss?”

“This is not mental illness Sheng. This is something that is far worse and far more sinister than simple undiagnosed mental disease. I think that there are commonalities that we overlooked, either by our narrow view of events or by design and I have a need to find out and stop it. I also want to focus on the autopsy results from eighteen years ago.”

“What you ask is not impossible, but dangerous for me. Can you assure me that it will not follow me?”

“You have it with you, don’t you?” Lui said with some surprise.

“I suspected you might require some – information.” Sheng reached into his overcoat and removed a small data memory stick. He twirled it around between his fingers with a forlorn and distant look. It was a look of resignation mixed with determination and fear all rolled into one.

No one spoke for some time, then Sheng tossed the memory stick to Lui who caught it with his left hand. He never removed his eyes from his old partner, and friend.

“Give your word to me Lui – promise me that I will never see you or that data stick again. Promise me that no one will approach me on the streets of Beijing and tell me what I have done today.”

“You have my word that no meeting between us has taken place my old friend. You also have my word that I truly believe that we did all we could those many years ago with all the resources we had at our disposal. We could not have solved this case then.”

Sheng grinned, turned and began to walk away again. On his way out he did say one last thing, “I truly wish you well in putting this crime to bed my old friend.” Sheng walked through the open door of the parking garage leaving Lui and his partner in silence.

Anderson broke the silence, “Well, that was strange.”

Sheng had been Lui’s friend and partner since joining the detective squad in China. Up until that moment however, even with the circumstantial evidence and the new direction the investigation was taking, Lui had his doubts.

“Strange is not the word my friend.” Lui turned to face Anderson and took a step closer. “Why would the Chinese Central Government want to have me stop a murder investigation, in Ottawa, and attribute the crimes to some natural or unknown cause? What happened in China was eighteen years ago.”

“I read your brief on the Chinese incidents, but tell me something Lui, did anyone ever come to any conclusion as to why it stopped?”

“Once the killings stopped we went on for about a month but were told to wrap it up. We never did truly finish the investigation.”

Anderson thought for a moment, turned and walked around toward the driver’s door then opened it. Lui followed his lead and walked toward the passenger side.

Anderson sat down and closed the door before turning to Lui. “I’m going to throw this out and I want you to think about it for a moment.” He was cautious in choosing his words, mulling it through as he spoke. “You say that the killings ended. They didn’t taper off but just stopped. Why? Why does that happen in any case we’ve ever worked on?”

Lui thought about it, and began to follow Anderson’s line of thought.

Anderson continued, “If the killer was caught, or died, or moved, whatever was happening would have stopped. What other reasons would cause the events of eighteen years ago to end?”

“I do not know my friend, but I agree, it is odd; it was odd then just as much as it is odd today.” He took out the memory stick and looked at it as it he could read the data just by staring at it.

Anderson took his phone out and pulled up the number for immigration Canada. “I’m going to call an old friend at Canada Border Services. Let’s see if what sort of immigration we’ve had from China in November last year.”

“Good idea, but get the list prior to November. Begin in January right up to November.”

While Anderson was on the phone, Lui placed the memory stick in the police cars computer and called up the data. As he anticipated, the files were in Chinese. He read through the catalog index and noticed one section he did not anticipate seeing.

“May my ancestors be thanked. Anderson my friend we have our first break.”

Pressing the end call button, Anderson turned to his left, “And that break is?”

“You asked the question why the killings in China just stopped. Your thoughts to check CBS for new immigration from China can now be added to this list of Chinese who have been imprisoned for the past eighteen years.”

“What? “

“This memory stick has a list of individuals that were imprisoned at the time when the killings ended, with their release dates. If we can find a match we may have the beginning to a plausible working theory.”

Anderson found it difficult to keep his skepticism from showing. “I would suggest you keep your emotions in check as this is just a wild guess on my part. It could be something or nothing.”

“Yes, but it is a straw from a wagon full of straw that is different. It gives us some hope.”

“Confucius?”

Smiling, “No, Lui again.”

The two detectives drove in silence as they weaved their way through city traffic toward the last crime scene. The streets of Ottawa were busy with summer construction blending into the fall construction season. Most trees were bare, their leaves long fallen, giving the normally warm, green and inviting boulevards a stark, cold and forbidding look. It was a city of contrasts as they drove South on Queen Elizabeth Way toward First Avenue where they turned right.  Ottawa is a city of the very old mixed with the very new as it tried to redefine itself into a world class metropolis. It never seemed to hold itself to that high standard however as Lui observed many times.

He always felt, deep down, that Ottawa was more of a small town disguised as a big city. Some of his friends and colleagues seemed insulted by this observation, but many saw it as a complement. That somehow Ottawa never lost its warmth and historical charm. It mixed that old Victorian heritage with the newer, modern high tech edge world capitals aspired to be. And that was, in his humble opinion, a good thing.

Lui let his mind wonder as they drove west along First Avenue toward their final destination just off Bank Street in the Glebe. He forced himself to think of other things, trying to give his thoughts comfort and rest from the case.

As they approached Bank Street, Anderson found an empty parking spot, pulled the car over to the curb and parked.

“I’ll start canvassing again. Maybe some of the store employees around here noticed something. We may have missed some individuals that left right after the incident.” He grabbed his tablet and got out of the car, headed north on Bank Street.

Lui took agreed that was a good idea, and walked toward the actual construction site where the front end loader was taken. That was two blocks south from where they parked; and technically speaking Lui thought, the large machine wasn’t really stolen, since it was the legitimate operator that went on this killing spree. As he turned onto Bank Street, he noticed a news paper box with the headline:  DEATH TOLL AT 17 AFTER KILLING SPREE

He deposited change into the box and removed one of the papers; wanting to see how the press was treating this latest incident

The Associated Press – Ottawa Ontario Canada – 03 August 2012

 The death toll has risen to 17 after a drunk driver at the wheel of his bucket loader tore through a coffee shop and bus shelter on Bank Street in Ottawa in an area known as The Glebe, residents said Tuesday, the latest in a string of grisly rampage attacks across the city. 

 Families of the victims mourned their loved ones at funerals across the city after 38-year-old David Eward, went on his killing spree. 

 Shattered buildings, crushed cars and splintered trees testified to the severity of the damage inflicted by the massive machine.  Eward drove off in his loader Sunday afternoon after killing his boss at the construction site where he worked. No one at the site could remember Eward recalled him drinking, but it was apparent from his behavior and subsequent actions that alcohol may have played a factor. 

 After killing his Forman in what is described as a deliberate attack, he apparently picking his victims at random, Eward smashed his way down the tree-lined mixed residential and small business street, running over motorcycles and small cars and ripping first into the busy coffee shop. In some cases, he stopped to flip the vehicles with his bucket before crushing them under his wheels, residents said, adding that the youngest victim was five years old.  Witnesses, some hanging onto the side of the vehicle, attempted to stop the mayhem, one of them stabbing at Eward several times with a kitchen knife after he ran out of a kitchen supply store.

 Eward, after ripping into the crowded but shelter, drove back to the construction site and, bleeding heavily, brandishing a crowbar he climbed down from the cab of the machine.

He was finally overcome when another construction site foreman, Wang Xinjiang, climbed over one side of the front end loader, and tackled Eward, kicking him in the groin and pinned him to the ground. 

 “He came down [from the vehicle] and shouted ‘I’m a dead man anyway! I’m dead anyway,'” said Wang, a former soldier in the Canadian Armed Forces. 

 Friends and family gathered to offer condolences at one home where the bodies of a 34-year-old housewife and her young daughter were laid out in coffins, according to their custom. 

 “We didn’t know him. We don’t know why he did it. It is just like some natural disaster that came along,” said the woman’s husband, who identified himself only by his surname, Jacobs. 

 Eward was taken into custody and almost certainly faces numerous 1st degree charges for murder. Calls to local government officials and the Ottawa Police Services rang unanswered on Tuesday. 

 A series of apparently unrelated rampage attacks across Ottawa in recent months have left dozens of people dead and scores wounded. 

 Assailants, most of them wielding knives, have targeted kindergartens and elementary schools, a courthouse, and random victims at markets and on a train. 

 The attacks have prompted calls for more efforts to diagnose and treat serious mental illnesses, and have ignited fears about the nation’s capital city emotional’ health.   Authorities have responded with increased security at schools and other public places.

It was what he expected as he read the article – not much on facts but lots to fuel panic he thought. Looking around as he walked, he noticed several make shift memorials where individuals left flowers, pictures and lit candles to remember the dead and injured.  Many people, families, children, and individuals, from all social classes, stood or sat on the ground to pray, cry and try to make some sense of the carnage. Lui could not think of anything that would allow someone to make sense of this.

He arrived at the construction site and saw the front end loader parked on a mound of debris where the driver, the killer, had left it. The site was eerily quiet for what should have been a busy weekday.

Lui stood far enough back to get some perspective.  He was a methodical person and his visual scan of the scene began from his position at the edge, moved forward toward the far left of the site and then moved toward the right edge, where the construction site met the existing sidewalk. It was as it was left at the time of the incident. The taped off section where David Eward killed his first victim was left undisturbed. Other than the police tape however, there were no other changes.

Continuing his scan of the area, he began to see a pattern. He opened his tablet and accessed the original police report; looking for the TOI. The time of incident was thirteen hundred and ten, just past one o’clock – lunch time by all accounts. That was when the calls first started to come into the nine-one-one dispatch. This corroborated what he was seeing – lunch bags, thermoses’, and sandwiches left where they were dropped by panicked workers.

Lui then checked the report again. David Eward had never shown any signs of anger, psychosis, or abnormal activity in the past. Everyone described him as a loving family man, kind, honest and caring. He was also described as someone who never drank outside of the holidays or social occasions and never to excess. So what triggered him?

The crime scene map, as it was drawn up by the attending constables, showed Eward’s location prior to him taking his loader. Lui checked the map with the on ground position and walked to where Eward sat with his fellows and ate lunch.

What he saw was lunch for seven individuals including Eward scattered. The witness said that Eward did not run, panic or freak out; he just stood up, smiled and turned, walking toward his loader.

Carefully, Lui examined each lunch. He noted in the report that this was not done at the time and he concluded that this was sloppy work on the part of the on scene constables.  As he checked each lunch, he noted that there really wasn’t anything that looked, smelled or seemed out of place. Corn beef on rye, peanut butter and jelly, ham and cheese, coffee, orange juice, pop, water…. and then Eward’s. Now that was different – Fish. Odd for a construction worker thought Lui. He pulled out several small evidence bags and took samples of each lunch, marking the outside of the bag with its location and then placing the corresponding location on the map in his tablet.

Lui looked around at other lunch meals left deserted by the workers and none of the others seemed to have had fish.  It was different as first noted, but nothing too out of the norm of human consumption.  In his native China almost all the lunches would have some sort of fish after all. Lui made note in his tablet and moved on from there.

Police investigation is part science and part luck. It is the collection of evidence at the same time the reconstruction of a past event. In either case, it’s the cop on the ground that has to decide that is or is not evidence. It is the cop on the ground that has to decide how one should reconstruct the past event.

The problem Lui was having right now is he could name a dozen different occasions where the direction of an investigation took a wrong turn because of the narrow views of that cop on the ground.

It wasn’t enough to collect evidence as one never really knew what was or was not evidence. The original investigation in China had so many ‘cop’s on the ground’ that much evidence was missed and the reconstruction of the crime went in diverging directions. That was clear enough after the fact, but at the time, no one pointed out what should have been obvious.

They was also the usual political interference as the Communist government of the Central Committee made it very  clear they did not appreciate the international scrutiny brought on by the killings. There was enormous pressure for investigators to find a solution. Whether or not it was the correct solution did not matter. In all cases, it came down to the quickest explanation – human frailty of the mind.

That was when Lui began to question his own commitment to his job, his career and his country. He began to see, in case after case, his colleagues end an inquiry only to spout off the party policy. It became very clear that the truth did not always matter as suspect after suspect was charged, given a trial and sent to jail or executed. He had to admit that things were changing and the Central Committee was more receptive to an open and fair process, but there were still too many limitations to finding that truth. Truth, after all, can be an inconvenient intrusion when it makes one look bad.

He believed in due process, in the investigation to uncover the truth and at times, the original suspect was not what the truth uncovered.  That was what he pursued now, the truth. He always considered himself to be an idealist. He chuckled at that thought.

There was not much more to be found at the construction site. Not at this level anyway. He looked up at the unfinished skeleton of a building. Scanning, he spotted a ladder leading up to the second story and then another further inside that led to the third floor.

Lui climbed up and walked toward the edge. He knew the crime scene investigators had gone over the area with a tweezers but it never hurt to the job yourself. He had already found the inconsistency with the lunch samples after all.

His first question as he climbed the ladder was why go after the big loader? If Eward had an issue with his boss, the first victim, why not use what was at hand? The witness statements said he made a deliberate chase for the foreman with the loader. There were over a dozen different possible murder tools Eward could have picked up between his location as he sat down for lunch, to where the foreman was at the time.

Lui checked the crime scene map on his Playbook against what he was looking at from the third story of the building. There was something that did not make sense; something out of place, but he just couldn’t put his finger on it.

Just then he heard, “Lui…. Lui, where the devils are you?” it was Anderson.

“Look up!” he shouted back down.

Anderson stopped and craned hi neck upward to see Lui staring down at him. “Now how the hell did you get up there? And why the hell are you up there?” he asked, shaking his head in disbelief.

“The ladder… just past the loader. Come on up.”

Anderson moved to see around the big machine, spotted the ladder and made is way over to it.

“I trust you have good reason for making me climb up this thing.”

Lui handed him the tablet on his arrival and asked, “What do you see down there my out of breath friend?”

Anderson took the device and gave Lui a disgruntled look. He studied the map first, then, holding onto an exposed iron girder, leaned out to get a better view of the ground below. He saw the front end loader, the taped off area where the foreman was killed, and the location where co-workers first noticed Eward climbing into the loader.

“OK, what exactly am I looking at?” he asked, with some mild frustration.

Lui answered, “Put yourself in the place of Eward. Start at the point where he was having lunch. Now go after the foreman.”

Anderson, skeptical, did what he was asked. He first sought out the lunch spot, then began to trace a route from there to….. then he saw it.

Excited, he said, “There was nothing about a pre-confrontation in the witness statements.” He half shouted.

“Let’s go down to his level first before we get too excited. This may be nothing, it may be something.”

The two men climbed down the ladders as quickly as they could in dress shoes; then carefully running over to the lunch spot.

“OK my friend, I am Eward. I will follow the witness statements to the letter. You too are Eward, but you will do what any single, fixated obsessed mind would do if you were bent on killing your foreman.”

The two men began at the same location; they began to walk in the direction of the loader, and the foreman. That’s when it became clear. If Eward wanted to just harm the unfortunate foreman, Eward would have had a better, faster and more effective way of killing him.

The witness statements said Eward walked past where the foreman, and others who were also eating, were sitting down. None of them reported Eward in an agitated state or seemed upset in any way. If anything, they said he smiled, stopped to make small talk, and then went off to where he parked his machine.

If Eward was targeting the foreman, why not just pick up a crowbar, pri-bar, spanner, rebar, brick, bolder or any other item to smash in his head. He was supposed to be frantic, hysterical, frenzied – totally out of control.  Yet none of that was taking place as far as any of the dozen or more witnesses reported.

Anderson cut in at this point, “The other witness I just canvassed all reported that Eward was just – well, just driving the loader as if he was on his way home from work without a care in the world. No panic, anger or emotion on his face. This would have been better to see from the position of the driver in the loader. And the statements are consistent.”

“Look at where you are standing now,” said Lui. “See, it is not even in the direction of the loader. You are walking away from it, toward the foreman. No my friend. The foreman was not a target; just someone in the wrong place.”

“But once Eward got into the loader, he drove it around as if looking for the poor basterd. As soon as the foreman,” Anderson paused to look up the foreman’s name. “As soon as Martneau sited the loader coming in his direction, he took off. That didn’t matter however, as Eward followed his every direction. Besides, look at where the loader was parked before he got in. On the other side of that shed, behind the tractor trailer full of rebar. That’s a long way to go just to chase down one man at random.”

“Yes, and where does it say the others ran? Into the building, away from the loader since it could not possible get through the maze of steel support columns. If Martneau ran into the building he may have been safe, and alive today. No… I do not believe this was a targeted killing. I do however believe there is more to this ‘hysterical madness’ than meets the eye. This only proves that Martneau was not a deliberate target. Not why Eward went berserk. ”

Lui took out his phone and dialed a number. “I am checking something with the coroner again.”

“Doctor, its detective Lui. I wonder if you can check something for me. Did you get an opportunity to examine Mr. Eward, the latest suspect….. Yes, the dozer killings…. Please, put this at the top of the list. Can you do a CT scan and MRI of his head? I will send a BBM message to the station and have the escort and medical test papers ready for when you arrive. I will not say what I suspect but yes, it is related to our last conversation….. And doctor, this is a priority at this point; I need the results of the scan as soon as possible with the report from the other attackers. Yes…Thank you.”

Lui hung up and returned his Blackberry to the leather pouch attached to his belt.

Anderson stood on a small rock pile, hands on either hip, surveying the area. When Lui was off the phone, Anderson asked, “Are you going to tell me what you’re thinking at some time?”

“What I am thinking has not changed, and I am even more convinced that this is not some random madness but a deliberate act of murder – and Mister Eward and the other assistants’ are just as much a victim as the dead and injured. I am not able to prove my theory as yet, but I believe that once we have the coroner’s test results and we study all the data from my previous cases in China we will have something… more concrete to bring back to Inspector Karpov.”

“We better head back to the station then. It will take time to review the files you have and wait for the doctor’s results. We have no evidence to back up our theory and we will need more than a hunch or a gut feeling to take this further.”

Taking one last look around the construction site, the two men walked back to the car with a renewed determination. Even without direct evidence, their working theory was starting to show signs of being at least plausible. Which is far more then they had to go on before.

At the car, Lui asked, “Did you manage to find anything new in the canvas?”

“Nothing, zip, bubkis. People are freaked out and the newspaper headlines are not helping. I thought the media had agreed to tone it down.”

“The media will do what they do best, sell papers whether the news is fact based or gossip. And the general public will buy into hype.”

Nothing more was said on the return drive to the station. After parking the car, Lui removed the memory stick from the car laptop and pocketed it. “We will pull the squad together and get an update before the two of us sit down and review our next step. I am hoping the good doctor will be in touch before that.”

In the large meeting room, one floor down from the squad room, Lui began the check in of detectives.

Sergeant Gorge Campbell was the first to speak, “Wellesley, Marcotto, Saputo and myself just wrapped up the evidence review. We haven’t been able to find any commonalities between the assailants. We checked financials, education, family, clubs, social and employment and nothing. Even medical connections came up zero. No common thread at all.” Campbell almost slammed the tablet to the table as he finished.

As each team reported in, the results were the same and the emotional and physical effect on each officer was palpable. Weeks of nothing new and no leads can bring the most energetic of teams down and Lui felt, and shared, their frustration.

“I want to begin by congratulating all of you on doing a great job on such a difficult case. We can all share in the frustration and until now, you have all done very well. It is understandable that you are feeling anger, stress, and what can only be described as a sort of futility in finding out what is going on and stopping it. It is after all why we became police officers.” Lui paused, looking at each officer in attendance. Everyone nodded to show agreement. “Anderson and I have been formulating a theory that will move the investigation in a different direction and until now I had hesitated to bring it forward. However, in light that we have nothing else, it is beginning to seem….. more conceivable. A great detective once said ‘that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth’. I do not know if this will lead us to the truth, but it is, in my humble opinion, worth the effort.”

Lui outlined the theory over the next thirty minutes. No one spoke but many heads bobbed in agreement on key points. A couple of the older detectives, more set in their way, seemed hesitant or uncertain at first, but Lui’s logic began to make more sense than whatever they could come up with; which was nothing at this point. It was the only thread the drowning investigation had left to hang on to. Yes, it was grasping the preverbal straw but it was the only straw left in the pile.

After the meeting broke up, and Lui had assigned additional tasks to his squad, he and Anderson found an empty booth in the computer research lab on the seventh floor of police headquarters. He pulled out the memory stick and booted up the records. In Chinese, Anderson wasn’t much of a help in the actual search, but they did agree on a number of key words and phrases that Lui should look for.

Meanwhile, Anderson contacted Canada Border Serves to follow up on that list of immigration names and compared that to the list of names of Chinese prisoners arrested eighteen years ago and released just before or between January and November.

As he scanned down the list, “Lui, do you know how many Chinese immigrated to Canada last year? Eight thousand six hundred and twenty eight. Do you know how many people were arrested eighteen years ago and released last year? Thirty two thousand, nine hundred and sixty seven. Do you know how long this is going to take?”

“What, you have a date? It does not matter how slowly you go so long as you do not stop.”

“Great, more Lui?”

“No my friend, that one is all Confucius,” Lui beamed from ear to ear to the dismay of his partner who just sat there with feigned indignation. “What? I am Chinese you know.”

“Ya, you’re a real Charlie Chan.” Anderson laughed.

The next few hours were spent drinking coffee, eating stale tuna sandwiches,  huddled over a computer terminal and on the phone to numerous individuals at a dozen or more agencies trying to focus on a time, event, place and name;  something that could put the pieces together. Lui was convinced that this puzzle did have all the pieces they needed, but he was trying to build it with no starting picture, no framework to guide him and his team.

The day slowly dragged on to evening and now the night. It was close to ten o’clock when Lui’s Blackberry rang, “Hello, Lui here. Yes, hello doctor, what news do you have? You’re kidding, do you know what time it is and you want me to g where? All right, calm down Anderson and I will be there in thirty minutes.”

“What was that all about?” inquired Anderson.

“Doctor Allan wants to meet us at the Elm Street entrance in the Market Garden Sheridan. She said they found something and she will be at the bar.” Lui’s voice trailed off, not knowing what to make of the good doctor’s strange request for a meeting place.

“Only one way to find out I guess. I’ll go get the car and meet you in front if you want to secure this room. I’m sure we’ll need to pick up where we left off sooner than later.”

Lui agreed and suggested they begin a preliminary computer search on the key words they’d come up with so far. “We can let it run while we are out.”

Anderson grabbed his coat and hat before leaving while Lui entered the search command in the computer before he also left, locking the door behind him. On the digital status board to the right of the door he typed in the booking conformation and ensured the lock code on the door panel was changed to allow only the two of them access.

On arrival at the Market Garden Sheridan Hotel, Anderson drove under the mirrored entrance. It was dotted with dozens of LED lights giving it a pleasant star light effect. He pulled the unmarked police car into the parking spot reserved for emergency vehicles, took out the police vehicle sign from the glove box and placed it on the dash.

Both detectives entered the upscale hotel, Anderson pointing toward the Elm Street sign, to the right of the revolving doors. It was an open space with two large ornate columns on either side of an oval half wall. On the wall, spaced equally apart, was oversize flower pots and to the left of that was the bar entrance. The words ELMSTREET BAR arched over the opening in brass lettering. Small pot lights provided the soft, subdued illumination in the bar area, in contrast to the harsher lighting of large hotel lobby. The English Victorian style of the bar gave it an upscale look, with natural dark stained woods, leather chairs and brass accents.

People milled about and soft jazz music could be heard above the din of hushed conversations. The conversation themselves all melted together as the sounds merged into one.

Anderson spotted the doctor first, pointing her out to Lui. She was sitting at a lounge area in the bar. A group of four high back brown leather button wing chairs, a low round table in the middle. Doctor Allan looked up then and spotted Lui and Anderson, waving them over.

“Good evening Doctor Allan.”

“Gentlemen,” she held out and shook both detectives hands. “I suspect that we are going to be working closer on this case and you may as well start calling me Grace,” she smiled.

Lui invited her to sit back down, noting she had already had a glass of red wine on the marble table. A well dressed and very formal server came over at that moment and asked for their orders. Anderson asked for a rye and soda while Lui ordered tea. The doctor gestured to the almost empty wine glass and signaled a refill.

Once the server left, the doctor began, “I apologize for dragging you two out at this time, but I was on my way back to the lab after getting the CT and MRI scans of Mister Eward. I, or should I say we, lucked out and also received some preliminary test results from your queries. Simply put, the results, all combined, don’t add up to something I can easily explain. “

The server interrupted, placing the tea and drink on the table before leaving.

The doctor continued once he left. “Mister Eward’s scan, the post mortem samples, and three of the other surviving assailants tested so far, all show a tumor the size of a pancake with tendrils growing on parts of the brain that control everything from consciousness, automatic body functions, memory, pain, cognitive functions. It makes no sense. I have, and I can tell you that none of my staff, doctors at the hospitals, techs, no one, has ever seen anything like this.” She drank half the refreshed glass of wine before continuing. “The dame thing sits primarily on the Parietal Lobe with dozens of….. branches, snaking its way throughout the brain. It’s the damnedest thing and I can’t find any other record anyplace to explain what the hell it is or how it could have formed.”

“Doctor…”

“Grace, please.”

“Sorry, Grace, if I understand what you are saying, this tumor, growing on the assailants brains could have caused them to behave in a manner…. Inconsistent, with their natural actions?”

“What?” she turned to Anderson and grinned, “You’re right, he is the Asian Spock.”

Anderson chuckled and turned away from Lui, who he was sure was now thinking of painful ways to get back at him.

“That is exactly what I am saying. This tumor would have caused anyone with it to behave without cause, remorse, knowledge, or even react to pain. That’s why your witness statements say that even after being injured, the assailants seemed to have no reaction. But for the life of me I can’t understand how that many people contracted it, why it grows the way it does or even how fast it might grow. There is no record of anything like this.”

A noise caught the ear of Lui and Anderson and both men stood up to see what all the commotion was about. Someone, many people screamed right then and everyone in the area of the elevators and lobby stampeded for any exit they could find.

“What the hell!” exclaimed Lui as the two men ran from the bar toward the centre of confusion.

What they saw caused both of them to reach for an pull out their side arms. Lui removed the safety from his Glock police pistol. A lone figure, a young woman in her late twenties, was covered in blood. Her hands, dripping and stained in blood, held onto an umbrella. The point of the umbrella had what looked like flesh, hung from it as she held tight. She had no expression, no emotion on her face as Anderson took up a position off to the right of the elevator, parallel to Lui. The woman, wearing a knee length skirt and brown leather jacket dripped blood as she walked forward. As she cleared the elevator door, Anderson could see three bodies on the floor, a man and what looked like two children. It was hard to be certain however at the angle, what had gone on in the elevator cab.

Some people were still in the lobby area, everyone huddled down on the floor, behind desks or chars. Many of them crying or whimpering softly in utter shock and dismay.

Lui, speaking in as soft and calming a voice said, “Hello, my name is Detective Lui of the Ottawa Police Services. Can you put down the umbrella for me?”

“I have to go to work. I’m running late and it’s raining. I can’t give you my umbrella. I need it.” There was no expression in the woman’s voice, no emotion, not even an awareness of what just happened or what was going on around her.

Anderson quietly pulled his police radio from its belt pouch and called into dispatch, ordering medical services and police back up to the hotel. He tried to move for a better shot and to see further into the elevator but couldn’t without drawing attention to himself. Right now the woman was focused on leaving and with Lui directly in front of her, she did not pay attention to anyone else. Anderson wasn’t even certain she could see anything around her. It was as if no one else was there.

Doctor Allan had made her way to the side of the elevator, just out of site of the woman. She bent down, opened her medial bag and pulled out a vile and syringe. She removed the needle safety cap, inserted it in the vile and drew a measured amount before placing the vile back into her bag.

Lui could see the doctor and realized what she wanted to do, agreeing with a slight nod his agreement. He slowly backed up toward the door, allowing the blood covered woman to move forward. The doctor waited till she passed the wall and in one swift motion lunged forward to meter distance, plunging the syringe in the woman’s neck.

Under normal circumstances, anyone that had just had a needle inserted into their neck would react. They would pull away, jump, grasp at the injection site, something. This woman did nothing; no reaction and no indication she even knew what had just happened.

It took a few more steeps and seconds, which seemed like minutes to Lui, before the woman first dropped the umbrella and then fell to her knees, then forward on her face.

Doctor Allan ran over to her as Lui kicked away the umbrella toward the open elevator. “Thanks for the assist Grace, nice timing.”

“I’m glad I could help, but I have to say I’m surprised this woman is still alive.” She checked for a pulse and began to assist for any injuries as she spoke to Lui. “After seeing her behavior I realized we may be looking at another ‘incident’ and up the dosage. A normal dose would not have done anything if she was in this hyper-state and the dose I gave her would have knocked out an elephant. Her pulse is far too strong for an average person under this sedative. We need to get her into a hospital.”

Anderson approached slowly, replacing his sidearm into its holster. “I’ve already called for paramedics and back up. Ah, Lui, you may want to see this. Doctor, you too please – the elevator. I’ll watch her.”

“Lui finished putting binders on the woman’s hands and the doctor placed her in the recover position.

The two moved quickly to the elevator opening, the door jammed open with a sign Anderson found. Inside was carnage that made Lui cringe.

Doctor Allan gasped, “Oh my God!”

She rushed inside and checked the two children, they couldn’t have been more than three and five years of age. Doctor Allan looked up to Lui and shook her head confirming his worst fears. They were huddled together, fear frozen on their tiny faces as blood pooled below them. The man, maybe in his thirties, was bent forward, crumpled to his knees and slumped, his head on the floor, hands grasping his neck and head. When the doctor checked his neck, she pulled her hand away in reflex. Her fingers found not skin, but a hole that went straight through; the left eye hanging out of its socket as if pulled out by force.

“She most have used the umbrella to kill him first then the children.” Doctor Allan stood moved out of the elevator car. She leaned back against the wall beside of the door so she could not look into the car.

“get her tested for the tumor right away Doctor. Escort her to the hospital and get the scans done. I need to know as soon as possible. “

“Yes. Yes, I’ll phone you as soon as I get confirmation.”

Lui saw a purse on the ground surrounded in blood. He bent down, opened it and pulled out the wallet. Inside was the drivers’ license of the woman; the photo matching the woman lying on the hotel lobby floor.  He patted down the man and found his wallet in a front pant pocket. Her husband and the two children matched pictures in her wallet – her children.

With the hotel secured, witness statements recorded, forensic evidence taken and the woman removed to the Ottawa Hospital, Lui and Anderson drove back to police headquarters in quiet contemplation. Nothing needed to be said as the tragic, and gruesome, events of the night spoke volumes on the urgency to solve whatever was happening.

Inside the computer lab, Lui sat down quietly, Anderson taking the other chair. Anderson spoke first, “I thought I had seen it all in my carrier. But I have never something like this.”

“The only way to end this is to solve it.

TO BE CONTINUED IN

‘RAMPAGE – THE DEAD SPEAK’

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The Outer Colonies – by William DeSouza ©2012

Draylan Kir leaned back on the small bar chair raising its two front legs off the polished floor. That was a mistake as the ten plus drinks he’d just finished this morning affected his ability to balance himself, and the chair.

The slightly overweight ninety-seven kilo Draylan, the chair and his current glass of amber coloured alcohol went crashing to the floor. Gravity had a way of doing that from time to time. The small but boisterous crowd at the table lost themselves in a roar of laughter.

Draylan however was indignant, “Son of a bitch, I wasn’t finished my drink yet. Bar-keep! What kind of establishment are you running here?!?! These chairs are defective!” The words were slightly slurred but he was happy with the message.

“Draylan my friend, if you’re not careful, they’ll cut you off,” laughed an equally intoxicated Murdock Jokinen, his thick Finnish accent slurred by an equal number of drinks.

Murdock reached over and clasp arms with the red faced Draylan, first steadying him, then pulling him up. Draylan checked the chair for damage, then finding none, quickly repositioned it between his buttocks and the ground – grumbling the whole time to anyone that would listen.

It was noon and the tavern was thick with people having a quick meal and a good time. Music of some kind played loudly in the background through hidden speakers, causing patrons to shout even louder to be over heard in the din. Two bar tending bots dispensed various coloured and locally fermented beverages into mugs, sometimes spilling the alcohol as servers and customers grabbed trays to pass around.

“Sergeant Jokinen, never poke fun at your seniors,” said Draylan after composing himself.

“Sergeant Kir, you my friend are only my senior in age, not in rank.”

The two men, both dressed in their garrison uniforms, broke out with a gut wrenching belly laugh.

Their camouflage tunics were open down to their waists and secured only by the wide unit belt bearing the insignia of the Marine Recon Unit. Stains of different colours could be seen on their shirt collar, almost blending in with the camouflage pattern of the uniform. The dark green undershirts they both wore were sweat stained as well. Their tan coloured pants, once pressed and creased, were now stained and wrinkled. Kir had one leg bloused at the top of his boot while the other hung loose. Both men were missing several unit insignia and the odd button on their uniforms, but nether cared. It’s not like either one was going to be inspected at any time soon.

Humanity has used military men and women to fight against itself in countless battles and wars throughout its history. From the Assyrian Conquest of Syria in 853 BC, the Wars of the Roses in 1461, the Hundred Days wars, American Civil War in 1862, right up to World War Two in the 1940’s and the Third Global Conflict in 2036. We have fought each other between planets and colony worlds. Our history is one of conflict that spans generation after generation.

In our colorful and violent history, we have also known peace, although it was once said that attaining peace was a human folly. Normally found in the period between wars and conflict, peace was elusive and fleeting at best. This time was different however.

This peace has lasted almost four hundred years, the longest span of zero conflict in human history. Humanity has used this period of prosperity to explore the mind, medicine, physics and the stars. We have stepped out of the shadow of our violent past, choosing instead to nourish the mind. Humanity has finally learned to play nice with itself.

With such an abundance of brotherly love around the galaxy, there has hardly been a need for a military. Sure, humanity still has a few criminals and bad guys. After all, it’s only been four hundred years, and human nature can’t adapt that quickly. However these lawbreakers have been handled nicely by the local Constabulary.

What is left of a military was spread out across the settled colonial worlds and used more for rounding up drunken smugglers that ply the space lanes and marching in colourful parades. Their hardware consisted of a few transport ships held together by a limited supply of spare parts. Never mind anything resembling a fleet. Sure, they had small arms, but a not many and only a short supply of ammunition that was closely guarded.

“Sergeant Jokinen, Sergeant Kir, I’m sorry to interrupt, but your presence is wanted in the garrison headquarters.”

Jokinen’s looked startled, and almost spilled the ale he was quickly finishing off. Kir was equally surprised by the interruption, not really paying attention to who was speaking and in his current state, not sure that someone was even there.

Recovering slowly, Kir finally spotted a very young corporal standing at attention. “Who the bloody hell are you?”

“Corporal Minsk, Sergeant,” snapped the corporal. “I was sent here to find the two of you and escort you back to the commandant. I believe he said something about using irons if I had to.” Minsk voice crackled when he spoke.

Kir spoke first, “What the crap does our leader want of us?” he belched loudly, “Tell him that the good Sergeant,” he pointed, “and I are….indisposed and once we sober up, we’ll be happy to report.”

Jokinen’s and Kir both looked very pleased with themselves as they diverted their attention back to their friends and their drinks.

“Sorry Sergeants’, I can’t do that. You’ll have to come with me now please.”

“Look little boy, go play solder someplace else. We’re busy.”

“Sergeant, I really do not want to use force if I don’t have to.” Minsk said with only a hint of trepidation.

Jokinen spoke up, “For the love of…. You are really starting to piss me off Corporal. What army are you going to use to force us to come with you,” he laughed.

The young corporal waved at four beefy military police officers waiting at the door to step forward into the light. Each one armed with a side arm, stun stick and muscles powerful enough to crush led.

“Oh,” mumbled Kir. “Well, he did say please Jokinen. Maybe we should go with the lad.”

Sighing, Jokinen agreed, “Right, let’s not keep the commandant waiting young Corporal.

The three men left the tavern, first Kir, then Jokinen followed by the corporal and four military police. A fifth officer was waiting at the ground transport. It was dark outside, the sun not yet raised above the horizon. The air was thick however as the humidity was near eighty five percent. They climbed aboard and drove off toward the base.

The drive was just short of two hours on the dust covered back roads.  While the command compound was not very far from the bar, the route they had to take due to construction on the main boulevard brought the transport around the rear of the training area. As for the two drunken sergeants, it felt as if they were driving for days.

“My friend, you have to stop me the next time I suggest drinking that slop. It gives you a quick buzz but stop drinking for a bit and my head pounds,” Kir held his head between his knees.

“I think the driver hit every hole in the road, including some that he must have dug out just for this trip.”

The two ton transport squeaked to a halt, adding to the sergeants’ discomfort.

”Jokinen, Kir, get in here right away. You two can sober up later,” shouted Commandant Bugatti from the open door to his office.

The Commandant stood with hands on hips and a scowl on his face. He was shorter than the two sergeants but could impose a sense command not seen in ranking officers for some time. His hair was cut short to fine stubble and his face clean shaven.

The air was still thick and the sun still obscured by the mountains in the distance and then by broad storm clouds hovering above the high peaks. It was much earlier than either sergeant realized but very little was happening on the base. There was hardly anyone even living or working on the main base these days. A few communication technicians, maintenance persona, support officersl and of course the military police detachment, of which Kir and Jokinen’s were more than a bit acquainted with.

“Yes Sir,” replied Jokinen as he rolled himself off the back of the transport. “Right away Sir.”

The sergeants buttoned up their tunics and tried to straighten themselves up a bit before walking into the commandants’ office, followed closely behind by Corporal Minsk.

“You two are in a sorry state,” began the commandant.  “I can’t blame you though. It’s not like this is a real military unit – not in the old sense of the word,” Bugatti sat on one corner of his desk. “Have a seat you two.”

“Thank you sir,” they said in unison as they sat down in the only other chairs in the office.

Turning to the corporal, still standing at attention, Bugatti said, “Thank you corporal, that’ll be all.”

Minsk saluted, gave a snappy parade square turn and marched off.

“You’ll have to forgive our young corporal gentlemen. He’s new and surprisingly idealistic. Now I won’t offer you a drink because you’ve had enough and I need you both very sober for this mission.”

Kir and Jokinen glanced at each other, Kir speaking first, “What exactly is this mission sir?”

“Just over two years ago the outermost rim colony set up on a planet in the Golla System. The system is at the very edge of the galactic border. The only thing beyond that is a great big empty. The planet, Golla Two, was by all accounts ideal for Humans with a temperate zone similar to Earth, and no dangerous wildlife or indigenous life that was hostile to humans. Six hundred and seventy two colonists, mostly miners and their families set up shop. They began an ore extraction and processing facility there. Everything was fine, cargo ships stopped by every three months and colony directorate had regular monthly contact with them. five months ago we lost all contact. Maybe I’ll have that drink instead. You two want coffee?”

Bugatti paused, pouring himself a tall drink and the sergeants a large mug of coffee.

He continued, “Four months ago we lost contact with CurtisFalls. Three months ago we lost contact with the colony on Aegis Three, and two months ago Sonora. Are you two getting the picture?”

Jokinen stood and walked over to the large screen on the far wall. He typed in some commands on the consol a large galactic map focused on the screen. He typed in the colonies Bugatti mentioned and tightened the focus to show only those. Behind him, Kir gasped in shock.

Each of the planets highlighted, when strung together, formed an almost straight line that started at Golla Two and ended with Sonora. The planets glowed red and with the white line running through them looked like a necklace being strung with semi precious gems. The time interval between each loss of comm was between forty and forty five days. On each of the planets there was a yellow question mark, a simple punctuation on five planets indicating a simple question – ‘what happened?’

Bugatti broke the silence, “I think you both see why Central Command is just a little concerned about the loss of comm’s. The…” he paused, “…situation gets stranger gentlemen. The obvious next step was taken as we sent out a ship to find out what was going on. Colony Directorate tapped the merchant barge Gaskin to follow up on their next regular run. The Gaskin set out for Golla Two within two standard weeks after we lost contact. What it found, and did not find, is what makes this so odd and a top priority. ”

“Look Commandant, you’re starting to dance around something and it’s not getting clearer. What did the cargo ship find?”

“They found the planet, its buildings and settlement, even the comm system fully intact. It did not find the colonists.” Bugatti blurted it out as if the words were stuck in his throat and he needed to catch his breath.

‘What?” exclaimed Kir and Jokinen in unison.

Jokinen followed up the thought, “What – no people at all?

“No people, no bodies, no bones, no sign of any life what so ever. And there’s more, not even the local native species of animals. There was no sign of any life and nothing from solar flares, radiation, natural or human catastrophe.  Nothing was found and no sign in any of the colony administration or personal logs to explain what happened. The logs just ended one day as if everything was fine. Even the colony ship was still docked at the transfer station.” Bugatti pored and took another drink.

“So what do you want us to do?” asked Jokinen with some trepidation.

“I’m not sure what I want you to do; I never signed up for this shit. In the fifteen years I’ve been in the military, the most difficult decision I’ve had to make is what uniform to wear. Life was supposed to be easy, we’re not at war, we barely have any crime at all outside of a few drunks or the odd pirate.” he glanced at the two sergeants who quickly turned away.

“I think he means us,” Kir mumbled to Jokinen. “At least the drunk part.”

“Right then… at this point I need the two most experienced people we have to head out to the targeted planets and find out what you can. Eyes on the ground and all that. It’s up to us to figure it out since we’re the closest jump off point. Gather what intel you can then beeline it to Preston’s Moon, the next colony in line with the others. If the timeline is steady, they will experience a loss of comm in twenty eight standard days. Evacuate them if you have to. You’ll have full authority to do whatever it takes to solve this mystery.”

As if to emphasize the urgency, he pointed to the large screen on the wall, widening the field of view.

“I think this will point out why headquarters has a larger than usual bug up their ass for answers.”

The magnification of the galactic map drew back to include dozens of systems. The solid white line changed to a dotted hash line and continued superimposed through some minor and then major population systems and near the end of the string was a glowing sun with a minor looking blue planet, Earth.

“I hate to break it to you Commandant, but what are we supposed to do? Head out in a scout ship and ask for information along the way – have you seen our colonies?” Kir was sarcastic but had a point. “All we have are lightly armed scout ships. What if we come up against something bigger? ”

“You run like mad and get word back to Central Command. I have a very bad feeling about this. Not knowing what happened to all those people is starting to scare the crap out of me. Command is pulling every cruiser, missile carrier and battleship out of moth balls. We’re using the cover that this is an administration exercise, trying to keep the civvies calm. Oh, and one more thing before you go…. From what we can gather using remote link up to the computer, the colonies database has been accessed – after the loss of comm. It beats me who, or what did it and why. It’s been the same for each of the planets.”

“And I see that you waited to the end to break the best news to us,” mumbled Jokinen.

Kir and Jokinen left the meeting in silence and fully sober. Outside the building the streets were empty and the sky just as dark as when they arrived, the only illumination coming from the lights lining the narrow road. Looking off toward the distant sky a faint sliver of light was beginning to crest the horizon, but not enough to brighten the mood of the two sergeants.

They glanced quickly at each other, the same morbid thoughts swirling through their pounding and hung over heads. There wasn’t much for either of them to say at this point as nether of them had any clue as to how they should be feeling.

They joined the armed forces decades ago with visions of glory and adventure and quickly became jaded. Peace had a way of sapping the life out of military personal very quickly and parade square drill was not giving them the adventure rush they sought.

They had both seen action on a number of covert ops on far off planets very early in their careers, but that was against the odd criminal gang or pirate. Back in the day, this type of mission would have been welcomed – then.

Now, all they wanted to do was drink to excess and get paid for it. Neither Kir nor Jokinen knew when they ‘changed’, but they both agreed, in silence anyway, that they had. Today, at this point in there lives; this was not a welcomed mission.

It took a full day and a half, but they had the only interstellar shout ship left on the base readied for launch. Fully automated, the ship could be operated by the two and have enough cargo space to evacuate up to two hundred people. Three hundred soles could be packed into the hold if they stripped it down with no provisions or comforts. A disturbingly small amount if they had to run with evacuees’.

The only armaments on the ship was two exterior missile tubes with a rotating auto loader and six mark eight anti ship missiles a-side. They also had an outdated laser pack firing four high powered lasers. These were outdated, the term ‘high powered’ having lost its context over the years. Even the shout ship armor could withstand a barrage of laser fire from similar platforms.

Just as the ground crew connected the fuel lines to the scout ship for the final act before launch, Kir exited the control building, running into Jokinen carrying a large kit bag.

“I hope you have enough toilet paper in that sack of yours,” Kir teased. “You’d think that in millions of years of Human evolution, we’d be rid of the need to even use the stuff.”

“I’ll have you know that the outer rim is not known for its comfort in that department. I have enough for both of us to last six months.”

“Let’s hope it’s not going to take that long to sort this out. I guess at this point it’s too late to just turn and run?” Kir only half joked, a sad looking grin showing he was still not ready for the mission.

“Look, it won’t be that bad. We go take a look, head to the next colony in line, pass on any warnings and get the hell out. We’ll run as far as we can as fast as we can. A shuttle full of supplies and fuel can take us a long way if need be.”

“I guess you’re right. Well then, what are we waiting on? Let’s get the show on the road,” Kir’s grin widened.

The launch was uneventful as the ship left the system and went into hyper, its Faster-Than-Light main motors kicking in just past the outer planet in the four planet system. Inertial compensators protected the crew form the massive gravitational forces exerted in acceleration and deceleration maneuvers. That was the easy part of space flight though. FTL flight is always hazardous. You were both in and out of the universe, a kind of void where you didn’t exist. The danger was mitigated by the technology and a strict adherence to the laws of physics as they are now known; but it was by far the most perilous activity humans did. Without instruments, Kir and Jokinen would never have known they were travelling faster than light.

The ship was not without its creature comforts. A small space for a gym, separate sleeping quarters with washing facilities and a well equipped galley and games room made the one month trip tolerable. The most difficult part was the lack of alcohol.

The Commandant took the precaution of having the ship and personal kit searched before launch and neither Kir nor Jokinen was aware that the booze had been removed. The first week of the trip was spent cursing Commandant Bugatti.

After that, the two sergeants made due with more mundane pursuits. That was until they neared the Golla planetary system.

Kir sat at helm controls and entered the command to drop out of FTL five billion kilometers from Golla Two. That left them just outside of the Golla planetary system and gave them time to vector in on the planet while bleeding off speed.

“Launching probe.”

“How long for intercept?” Kir asked as he secured the helm station, switching over to auto-pilot.

“Just over twenty eight hours at this speed. We should begin to get telemetry around the fifteen hour mark.”

Kir rolled his eyes, “Better get some sleep then. I’ll be in my cabin if you wake before me. Don’t let me miss the party.” Both men rose and after making sure all bridge alarms were set, retired to their respective cabins.

‘ALERT, ALERT, ALL BRIDGE CREW TO STATIONS. TELEMETRY DATA RECEIVING WITH HIGH PRIORITY TAG. ALERT, ALERT.’ The computer voice billowed throughout the ship. It was an unmistakable intrusion on ones thoughts and both sergeants awoke with a resigned sigh.

Jokinen was first onto the bridge, followed within seconds by Kir. Jokinen took up his place at the engineering station and reconfigured the terminal to read the telemetry from the survey probe. His eyes widened as he read the data downloaded from the probe they launched.

“Son of a bitch!” he exclaimed. “Bugatti wasn’t kidding when he said there was no sign of any human life. There is nothing left and not a single trace of DNA is present,” he paused, “It’s as if all life has been removed.”

“Removed? Removed how?” questioned Kir.

“Don’t ask me, I can’t explain it. I checked the entire planet after the probe made a full rotation and – nothing. No human DNA detected at any level. No DNA! I can’t say it any simpler,” he began to show the frustration in his voice as he continued to read the data scrolling down the screen. Human, animal, plant, all registered DNA life wiped from existence.

Kir, sitting at the secondary navigation station, shouted, “Jokinen! Grab the helm, turn us around – Now!”

Taken by surprise, Jokinen replied, “What the hell are you going on about?”

“Pull up the long range sensor map.”

Jokinen keyed in the command and a sensor map of the system enlarged on his screen, replacing the previous life form data. He quickly realized why Kir had freaked as a red icon slowly came into view from the far side of the system.

Hidden from view by the light of the sun, they only saw ‘it’ as the distance narrowed and the small ships sensors made sense of the data. Magnetic fields from the local sun masked much of the planet and surrounding space to sensors, but Jokinen isolated the glowing icon and magnified it.

As he did his mouth dropped open. The ship, if you can call it that, was as large as a small moon. The cylinder shape vessel measured over two kilometers long and at least a kilometer in diameter. The mass indicator on the screens was off the scale and to say that it was big would have been the understatement of the century.

Jokinen couldn’t make out any details, but the limited amount he could see caused him to race for the navigation and helm control panel with Kir.

A new heading was input and Kir turned the ship around and fired the FTL motors, putting them on a trajectory for what would have been their second plotted navigation point.

As the ship entered FTL the two men leaned back in their seats and stared at each other without a word, or breath, between the two. Both men not even realizing they were holding their breaths.

“Ok, I am officially freaked out,” exclaimed Jokinen.

“You and me both my friend. I could brain Bugatti for confiscating our stash. The mass of that thing was – well, it was just off the charts!”

“Right, set course for CurtisFalls. I’ll load a message packet and fire it off to Command,” Jokinen stood, his legs still a bit wobbly, and walked to the communication station.

Kir, rubbing the back of his head, had a thought, “Jokinen, I’m laying down a spread of sensor beacons. I want some warning if that thing heads out this way. If we scatter the beacons along this line…,” he drew out a sweeping pattern two hundred AU wide. “We may get lucky.”

Jokinen studied the pattern before responding, “Sounds like it should work but I hope that ship, or whatever it is, stays right where it is. Let’s face it; we have nothing in our arsenal that could go up against it.”

One week seemed like one year for the two senior sergeants as they contemplated life the universe and their next move. There was nothing routine about this current leg of the mission and nether sergeant spoke for some time. Their thoughts wrapped up in the past and present with little consideration of a future.

Whatever that ship was, whoever crewed it, was so foreign to the Human race that neither could contemplate a future. There was no reference point to begin.

CurtisFalls was slowly moving closer to their tiny ship on the plot when the proximity alarm sounded.

“Shit! What the hell is that?” screamed Kir – woken from a light sleep.

“Relax, you’ll pull something you may need later. It’s just the proximity alarm. We’re approaching CurtisFalls. I’ll bring us in on a wide approach. I want to know if any other surprises are there for us.”

“Good thinking, but my concern right now is what our plan is for staying alive.”

Jokinen only glanced up quickly to agree with Kir’s immediate priority. His focus was on the long range sensors. CurtisFalls was a single planetary system that was resplendent with the raw materials used the construction of composite building materials. The planet itself was an unusual rocky core giant, nearly twice the diameter of Jupiter. A heavy gravity planet that was populated by the hardest of miners and explorers, it orbited its sun at one point five AU.

Jokinen asked, “What was the population of Curtis?”

“Just over three thousand miners and scientists at last count.”

“Based on this scan, it’s now zero. I’ve run the scan on two orbits and get the same result each time.”

Kir leaned back in the chair, closed his eyes, and breathed deeply, “This is not starting off to be a good trip. Look if this pattern holds up, we’re going to find the same issue at Aegis Three and Sonora. Why not head to Preston’s Moon right away. We’re running out of time as it is.”

“I like the way you think, mostly because I was having the same thoughts. The travel time to Preston from here is going to be at least a week and a half and that only gives us five days to evaluate the situation – if that.”

“Right then, setting new course for Preston’s Moon and uploading our findings in another message packet.”

Kir launched the message packet as soon as it was ready. The FTL missile fired out of the launch bay using thrusters and once it reached a safe distance from the ship, fired up the main drive motors and entered the void on course to Central Command. The missile would take at least two weeks before it entered the main shipping lanes then have to drop out of FTL to finish its journey on thrusters – adding another week.

Kir looked over at Jokinen, you know it’ll be just over three weeks before it reaches Command and some pin-head decodes it and passes the info to higher. By then…”

“…by then this may all be over and too late for them to react and save our butts,´ Jokinen finished Kir’s sentence.

The first two days were traveled in silence as basic maintenance along with double checking supplies and equipment consumed much of their time. Nether sergeant had much to say outside of polite nods and the odd word or two at the end of a shift cycle.

Something was bothering Kir however, and it was gnawing at him, eating away at that self assured outer shell he liked to project. He hated it when he wasn’t able to be in total control of his thoughts and right now he felt that as each second passed he was being taken over by a very disturbing set of thoughts.

“Jokinen,” called Kir on the intercom. “Jokinen, come up to the bridge,” he called again.

“What is it Kir, I’ve got my hand full right now swapping out the number four scrubber.”

“I’ll come down there then. Wait one.”

A couple of minutes later Kir opened the outer hatch cover on the O2 supply cupboard to find Jokinen ankle deep in lubricating oil, his coveralls filthy and stained.

“What the hell happened here?!” Kir shouted, both shocked and amused at the same time.

“What do you think happened?! This blasted ship is falling apart on us when we need it the most. The hydraulic pump blew and showered the scrubbers with oil. Why in the hell are we even still using hydraulic systems on a space faring vesicle?  Surly we should have progressed past the need for this twentieth century junk!” Jokinen cursed as he resealed the final scrubber and closed the access panel.

“What did you want anyway?”

“I’ve been thinking…”

“You know we’ve talked about that.”

“Look, I’m serious. Something’s been nagging at me since we spotted that ship. It’s the location.”

“What? You mean its orbit about the sun?”

Kir paused, shaking his head, “No, not that. It’s the system we found it in. We came out of FTL at Golla Two, found that ship, then bee-lined it for Curtis Falls. What did we find there?” it was a rhetorical question. “Nothing, everything with DNA gone. That means that thing may not have been responsible for the disappearances. We would have found it creeping around Sonora, the last place of contact.”

“You have been busy; but you’re not the only one who’s been burning the midnight oil. I’ve also tried to come up with an explanation and I think I may have another explanation for their presence in the Golla System. Let’s say that you want to take over planets, and the local inhabitants frown on that type of thing. After all, it’s their home and you’ve just invoked squatters’ rights. You’re the big man in the galaxy, you want space, and these upstarts are keeping you from developing the neighborhood. You have no fear of the law, because you are the law. How would you deal with the squatter’s?”

In this case, just wipe them out I suppose. Leave the buildings and other hard assets and get rig of the rest.”

“Exactly. You know have an empty house; you can bring in the moving van and the rest of your family and Bob’s-your-uncle, instant homestead.”

“You’re implying that thing was the moving truck?”

“I am saying exactly that. Check this out.” They walked over to a computer terminal, Jokinen pulled up a file he was working on. “I’ve pulled data and run sims taking all the information we have. And before you put your hand up, I know that the data’s incomplete. But at this time is all we have.”

Kir watched with interest the simulation play out. Once finished, he took a step back and closed his eyes, rubbing them first, then his temple. “I’m getting a headache with this stuff. It makes sense though. Kill off all life then seed the planet with your own, more friendly DNA plants, food, whatever. But kill them off how? And do what with the bodies?” Kir thought for a second longer before adding, “Holy crap on a cracker, we skipped Sonora. What would we have found there? The death ship itself?!?!”

“My thoughts exactly.”

The proximity alarm sounded, startling both men as they glared up at the speaker grill.

“We must be coming up to Preston,” volunteered Kir.

As they ran toward the lift, Kir asked, “Okay, if you’re right, and I think you are. What the hell do the aliens want with our data base? Why tap into the colony computers after whipping out the colony?”

“That my friend is a good question.”

On the bridge, they both took up positions, Kir on propulsions and Jokinen on sensors and weapons.

“We have life!” exclaimed Jokinen with a large grin.

Kir reached over and reconfigured his terminal for communications; calling up Preston’s Moon colony comm channel. “Preston’s Moon this is military shuttle on emergency channel fore-six-five. Preston’s Moon colony, this is Military Shuttle on emergency…”

“Preston’s Moon colony here. Identify yourself military shuttle.” The response was sharp with a hint of bitterness coming though as if to say, why are you bothering us.

Kir typed in a security override command on the comm terminal and waited for a response.

“Preston’s Moon colony confirms ship identification. State your business military shuttle.”

“Who are these guys?” mumbled Jokinen out of range from the mike. “We’re trying to save their collective ass and they question why we’re here?”

Kir continued seeking while nodding agreement to Jokinen, “Military shuttle, Sergeant Kir here. Patch me through directly to your…”

Jokinen quickly interrupted, cutting off the mike. “Wait… We’re not sure who we can trust, remember? We need to tread lightly here. Just ask for their maintenance tech supervisor. We’ll feign some comm issue, land, and check things out.”

“Good idea. I have my own thoughts along those lines as well.” He keyed the mike, “Sorry, we’re having some computer and communication issues that are getting worse. Put me through to your comm supervisor, we need to land and get this sorted.”

“Maintenance personal has left for the day, but land on pad zero-two and we’ll get you somebody to check out your comm tomorrow morning.”

Kir and Jokinen grinned, “Roger, pad zero-two. Out.”

“So, what’s your idea?”

“Simple, we find out by reviewing the space port landing logs. That data is open for review after all and wouldn’t draw any suspicion. The guilty party or parties will have come from the last distress settlement. Find him or her and we’re one step closer to, hopefully, stop the carnage that seems to be heading our way.”

And what if he, or she, has hidden their tracks?”

“Not likely. This hasn’t been made public to avoid mass panic and I’m betting this traitor has been counting on that little fact. He comes in on a scheduled ship, or lands in his own, and gets his job done. I suspect he books it out as quickly as his job is completed, so as to not get trapped. We’ll need access to the colony ship logs as soon as we land.”

“Sounds simple enough, I just hope we can get this solved soon. I need a good stiff drink. One thing we should do is send another sit-report to base. If the commandant has been able to get some transport, we’ll need them here for an evac. We’re running out of time however; I’ll send off a flash message.”

Preston’s Moon was remarkable for just one thing, a rich deposit of iridium, one of the rearest minerals found in the human settled world’s. The Colony was set up by the Preston Sac Corporation just to mine, process and ship the element. The moon itself, while pleasant enough for humans, was no vacation spot. It orbited a large gas giant which in turn orbited a pale yellow sun nearing the end of its rein as a primary star. The amount of heat radiation coming from the start was about half of what Sol produced for Earth. It was the tectonic action of the moons core due to the gravitational pull of the gas giant that kept it at a livable temperature.

The population of three hundred and eighty miners, administrators, technicians and researchers along with the families of colony staff posed a problem nether seargent felt they had sufficient resources for.

Jokinen watched the exterior monitors carefully as they approached the landing vector. There wasn’t much in the way of green and what there is was scattered in and amounst the living quarters.

The colony was set up like a small town of the old Mid Western United States on earth, with the main administrative structure at the centre while maintenance and housing radiated outwards in a spoke like pattern. None of the buildings exceeded two stories and all were the standard drab gray-white colour. There wasn’t anything remarkable about the colony.

Jokinen could make out the landing port, factory building and affiliated out-buildings all along the edge of the of the main housing section. Inside of the larger structure sat dozens of single and dual family housing domes, each one situated along a system of paved road and walkways that lead toward the centre of town.

“I’ve identified the main administrative complex and data centre,” Jokinen called back to Kir.

“We’re running out of time. We need to land now.”

Jokinen looked over his right shoulder, “No need to get your knickers all twisted my friend. We’ll make it.” He wasn’t nearly as sure about that statement as the words implied.

Blinding white landing lights lit up the belly of the shuttle and pointed down towards the pad. Landing struts extended from the main lifting body of the shuttle as the main engines rotated in preparation for landing. Landing pad zero-two lit up with two rings of concentric white lights encircling the outer section of the pad and a series of red directional lights marking the orientation of the shuttle on the pad began to flash.

“As soon as we’re on the ground, log into the space port landing logs. I’ll access the colony logs and launch the tracking program. If anyone tries to shut things down or lock off access we’ll know.”

Kir nodded and began to type in his command access code, giving him access to the landing logs.

Jokinen hadn’t lost his piloting skills as the shuttle skids touched the landing pad with just a slight kiss. He shut down the main engines, and locked off the flight controls.

“Military shuttle, this is Colony Space Port Administrator Walsh. I have been informed of your emergency and welcome you to Preston’s Moon Mining Colony. We don’t get many unscheduled ship visits and you are only the second military shuttle we have welcomed.”

“Second military shuttle?” Kir stared at Jokinen and shrugged his shoulders. “What other military shuttle are they talking about?”

Jokinen’s eyes widened and he too shrugged his shoulders, “I have no clue. The Commandant said nothing about a previous mil-shuttle being sent out; could they have meant since the establishment of the colony?”

As if on queue, the radio cracked to life again, “I guess its been very busy in the military these days… its only been two weeks since your comrades visited us from Sonora. I would like to invite you and your crew to a meal with my staff. Its not much but we have a chief that can do wonders with colony rations.”

“Ah…” Jokinen thought quickly, “Thank you for the invitation, we would love to join you but we have to try and sort out these comm and computer issues we’re having. Let us power down, lock off the affected systems and we could meet you afterward? Oh, they’re only two of us on the ship.”

Kir grinned, “Good thinking. Hey, I found something in the landing port logs that refer to that other mil-shuttle. It does say their departure point was Sonora but they did not list their final destination. How the hell could they have come from Sonora two weeks ago when we lost all contact two months ago?”

“They couldn’t have. I just pulled up a listing of all military outposts, ships and exercises and it confirms what you and I both already know. There have been no exercises, no outposts past our own little base and no ships that were ever listed as being in this sector.” Jokinen mulled over other possibilities quickly. “Pull up the visual logs for the port.”

“Good thinking. Looks like you’re learning from your betters.” Kir grinned at his friend.

“You’re older…. Not better you bum.”

“Got it.” After a pause, Kir transferred the image to the main viewer.  “You’re not going to like this.”

The image flashed on the larger main screen and both sergeants watched in confused horror.

“Is that what I think it is?”

“It looks like a miniature version of the moving van we just left behind at Golla Two. Its about the same size as this shuttle but…. How in the hell can these idiots confuse this for a human ship never mind a military shuttle?”

“Lets find out. Transfer the image to a tablet and bring it with you. We’re going to have a bite to eat with our colony friends.”

Kir transferred the image and a copy of the landing log for the ship to a free tablet and put it in his right pant cargo pocket. “Ready? Then let’s get going.”

The main hatch cycled open and the two men entered the access tunnel on the landing pad. As they came close to the hatch at the end of the ramp, it cycled open and they were greeted by a woman wearing  standard colony coveralls with red trim on the upper right sleeve denoting  colony administration.

“good morning gentlemen, my name is Port Administrator Walsh, Mary. Welcome again to Preston’s Moon.”

Jokinen was first to speak, “Thank you for your assistance Administrator…”

“Mary, please. I don’t stand of formalities hear,” she smiled and extended her right hand in greeting.

“Sorry, Mary. My colleague and I appreciate any assistance your tech crews can provide in getting our ship’s communication working again. I am Sergeant Murdock Jokinen and this is Sergeant Draylan Kir.”

Mary shook their hands in turn and directed them to follow her.

“Ah, before we go, I wonder if you can help us out. I didn’t know there was another military shuttle out this far in the rim. Do you remember the commander’s name or the type of shuttle they were…”

Interrupting again, Mary said, “The shuttle commander was Captain Red and his second in command was Captain Black. They were perfect gentlemen, even through they could not stay very long.”

“What did their shuttle look like?” Kir wanted to see if she thought the strange alien ship looked human.

“What? It looked like your shuttle Sergeant; a standard military shuttle.” They stopped walking and she turned to face Kir and Jokinen. “What’s this about Sergeant?”

“Mary, we need to meet with the head of your colony administration right away. It’s a matter of some urgency and…” He was interpreted. Mary seemed to have a habit of doing that and it was getting annoying.

“I’m sorry, but the Head Administrator is off planet right now. But you must know that.”

Jokinen cur in, “Why would be know that Mary?”

“Why? Because Doctor Meredith left with the other shuttle two weeks ago for your meeting?!” She seemed confused and alarmed at the same time.

Now it was Kir’s turn to sound confused, “Meeting? The military has no planned meetings with any colony personal in this sector planned. As a matter of fact, we’ve just come from the only military base in this whole sector… And I can assure you that we are the FIRST military ship to venture out this way.”

Mary took a step back and bounced into the bulkhead, a puzzled, queer kind of look crossing her face at the realization something was terribly wrong dawned on her.

“Mary,” began Jokinen in a softer tone, “Colony Directorate has asked the military to look into why colony after colony has gone dark. It began with Golla Two five months ago, then Curtis Falls four months ago, Aegis Three, and then Sonora lost contact two months ago. So you see, no human shuttle could have come from Sonora two weeks ago.”

He let that sink in. Mary was in shock and seemed unsure of what was going on. She looked to her left, then over at the far wall. Her mouth moved, as if to say something but no words came out.

Kir and Jokinen both took and arm and helped her to the waiting area, helping her into a seat.

“I saw the shuttle. I spoke with the two captains, and so did everyone else. We all did. How can you stand there now and say that it did not happen when…”

Kir pulled out the tablet, “Mary, you said that the shuttle on the landing pad was the same type of military shuttle we just landed in. Have you every seen a military shuttle before?”

She shook her head no.

Kir turned the screen to Mary, “This is the image from the security camera taken at the time you said a military shuttle, like ours, landed. Does this look anything like our shuttle?” The question came out harsh, far harsher than he wanted it to.

Mary looked at the image, stunned in silence. She shook her head and placed it between her legs, holding it with both hands.

“No No No No! I saw the same shuttle you two came in on and it was not that….that thing. What the hell is going on here? And where is Doctor Meredith? Who… what did he leave with?”

“That’s what we want to know too, because Preston’s Moon is next in line and we think that it, what ever it is, has already begun. Can you call an emergency meeting of the colony leaders, community managers and supervisors? Get them over here right away. We have something else to show them and we need to do it fast.”

It did not take long for Mary to contact all the leaders of Preston’s Moon. The meeting room was small, but accommodated everyone, some standing other seated around the table. Everyone was watching the large screen at the far end of the wall opposite the door.

“You have everything we know to this point, except this.” Kir activated the holo projector and the image of the ‘moving van’ came up on the screen.

There was an audible and collective gasp as the size, scope and implication of what they all saw on the screen sank in.

“What the fuck is that thing?!” someone yelled from the group; and it was not the only expletive spoken. Everyone began to speak and shout all at once as the first vestiges’ of panic began to take hold.

Jokinen had to yell louder to get the group to settle down; his voice carried the command presence honed over years of leadership as a sergeant. He began to feel that old sensation come back and it felt good to have a real mission. It’s been too long he thought.

“That’s ENOUGH! We can NOT all speak at the same time, and panicking is not going to help this colony survive. Sergeant Kir and myself have been sent to recon the situation, report back to Central Command and provide as much assistance we can to aid in the evacuation of any colony in danger. “ The room quieted down and people began to settle.

Someone asked a question, “What can we do? How much time do we have?” We have over three hundred miners, researchers, technicians and their families on this rock. How do we get everyone off?”

Kir spoke now, “All very good questions. To answer the first, we can get people off planet by implementing the evacuation protocol. You have our shuttle, and from the information we’ve been given by your space port administrator, you also have three ore processing ships in orbit along with two fast currier shuttles. Between the shuttle, the two ore ships and one of the fast shuttle, we’ll have enough space for everyone. But you must begin the evacuation now.”

A young man spoke up, “I’ll begin sending the evacuation recall notice. It’ll take time though. At least seventy five to ninety minors are at their shifts now. It’ll take about two hours to get them recalled and to the ships from the depth they are at.”

“Good, some of you can help him get the message out. Take nothing but immediate provisions and clothing; take nothing else. We will not have the space to start packing carry-on luggage.” Said Jokinen.

Kir quickly followed up, “Your next question was how long we have? Well sir, that is a very good question that we just don’t have the answers to. On our way here we bypassed Sonora and from the known timeline, we realized the ‘death ship’ may have been there. We just don’t know how long they stay, how long the process is, and when they will be heading this way.

The plan to evacuate Preston’s Moon continued for another four hours before breaking up and everyone went about the massive task of evacuating over three hundred people in a hurry. Everyone had a job to do, from getting the populace to the space port, to evaluating the miners underground.

Jokinen stood by the front landing strut of their shuttle. The sun was waning in the sky and a few clouds drifted by, being pushed by the unseen hand of a mild breeze high in the stratosphere. The clouds were lit from the bottom as the sun continued sinking in the horizon.

“You look like someone is about to pee in your drink my old friend.” Kir came up from behind, two cups of coffee in hand.

Taking one of the steaming cups, Jokinen answered, “You and I are both smart enough to know that nothing in life is that simple. At least if someone pissed in my drink I’d be able to confront the bugger. This… this is different. We still have no clue who may be helping the aliens and why; nor doe we have any clue of a timeline. We could get caught with our pants down any second now. We just don’t know when that ‘death ship’ will arrive.”

“I hear you my friend but what’s our option. The two ore ships can’t be remotely landed till tomorrow morning at the earliest. They still have to uncouple the storage pods from the ship and then remote it to the landing field. Loading the people won’t take too long but the ships are not exactly fast movers. Even without the pods they have very slow acceleration with the ion drives they use. Steady yes, but very slow to build up any speed.”

“I know, but what has me flummoxed is this matter of why Mary thought she was meeting two captains from a military shuttle that looked remarkable like ours. If it wasn’t for the fact that you can’t fool the recording devices, we would have no record of any ship. What was it? Mind probe, mass hypnosis, hologram? Whatever it was would have had to work on both the ship and the – people, she and everyone saw.”

Kir pulled a tablet from his jacket pocket and handed it to Jokinen. “This may explain some of it. I looked up the colony staff records for everyone. I wondered why they, whoever they are, would take the head of colony. Turns out that only two people have the access codes to the computer and comm system. The very codes that can be used to remote access the entire database.”

Jokinen did not sound surprised, “This does add one more piece of the puzzle and I’m beginning to see a whole picture forming. Stop me if this makes no sense. Take what we theorized on our way here about the ‘moving van’ and what the aliens want. It would make sense, for any invading species, to do a recon and scout out the planet, its defenses, resources, everything. This ship on the launch pad camera is that scout ship and through some from of mind control or manipulation, find out who has access to the codes.”

Kir chimed in, “They kidnap him, or her, and bring in the death ship, wipeout all life and using the codes acquired from the first victim gain access to all the colony database.”

“Yes, but why would they need the database anyway? They have the planet.”

“Maybe that’s the prelim scouting. The database has all the information on the resources, nature of the planet, the next planet in line and…. Shit!”

“What? Oh crap on a cracker! I just got it. Our planet is next in line! If they’ve already gained access then they may be headed….”

“If they got access they’re already on their way. We have to get their fast. A message packet will never reach in time.”

Kir thought quickly, looking around for inspiration he noticed the two fast courier ships on the next launch pad. “I can take one of the fast courier ships. If I leave now, I can get to into comm range in three days. A message packet would only arrive four days and they’d have to decode it.”

The sense of urgency just retched up ten-fold in the minds of both sergeants. Jokinen could not fault the logic in Kir, knowing that Kir was a skilled pilot and fully checked out on the fast courier ships.

“I hate the two of us separating like this Kir. I have a bad feeling.” Jokinen knew that one of them had to stay behind to oversee the evacuation. They were responsible, they were in charge and only they could be on scene to make the attempt.

“You always have a bad feeling. Look, it’ll be fine. Get the people off as quickly as possible and get back to safe space. I’ll get the word to Commandant Bugatti. The force can intercept the bad guys and by the time you arrive, I’ll have things ready for you and I to fly off to some safe part of the galaxy on a beach world filled with women and booze.” Kir grinned from ear to ear.

“You shit; I don’t believe that anymore than you do. Just be safe… okay.”

“You too my friend.”

Kir ran to the first fast courier and keyed in the override to open the hatch. He reached up quickly and began the automated pre-launch sequence and check out. He turned to see Jokinen make his own mad dash for the administration building. Stopping just at the door, he looked over to Kir and waved. Kir waved back but then gave a thumbs up and another toothy smile. It wasn’t real but he knew his friend’s smile was a facade also.

Life in the galaxy just became a dangerous shell game and as in most shell games, the odds are stacked against the player. Kir was fully aware that they may never see each other again. It was hours away from the expected loss of communication with command if these aliens stuck to their previous timetable.

The computer signaled to Kir that pre-launch sequence was completed. The ship had already been fueled and that saved time. Precious time that Kir once thought to be infinite was not ticking down to the end of everything he knew and cared about.

He reached up to the hatch and pulled down the mounting ladder. Climbing up, he reached over and pulled himself to the pilot chair, closing and sealing the hatch at the same time. Self diagnostic data scrolled across the secondary screen while Kir programmed the nav-computer on the main screen in front of his controls. An audible beep sounded to indicate the main engine pressures’ were now optimal and the ship was ready for launch.

“Preston’s Moon, this is fast courier two-four-niner ready for launch. All systems show green.”

“Shuttle two-four-niner, launch when ready. Good luck Sergeant Kir.”

Good luck to all of us, he thought then activated the launch drive.

Forty seconds later he was in space as the ship nosed its way over to the correct navigation plane for his trek home and with luck a very large drink. Kir smiled at the inner thought as he gave the command for the ship to transit to hyper. For the next four days he would be in the safest place in the universe as nothing could touch or interact with a ship in the void between space and time.

Time to sleep; for now anyway. Time for the meds to kick in and take his mind away for the next few hours.

As the fast courier ship came up to the designated breaking time three days after launch, Kir cinched up his restraint straps. Inertial compensators would keep him from splitting against the forward bulkhead but Kir also was very paranoid about automatic systems, preferring instead to be on manual as often as possible.

The ship entered normal space and continued to decelerate. Kir had programmed the communication system to contact Commandant Bugatti as soon as they exited from hyper.

Kir frowned when he received no reply right away. Even with the time delay, the FTL comm system on the courier ship should have gotten through to Bugatti.

Finally, “Courier ship two-four-niner you’re calling on an emergency comm channel for Commandant Bugatti. State the nature of your emergency and why you need to speak with the Commandant?”

Kir felt a chill come over him. Why not just patch me in to Bugatti he though. They know what my mission is and how important it is for the the human race to survive.

Kir got back on the comm, this time insisting to speak with Bugatti.

“Courier ship two-four-niner, you know that Commandant Bugatti has already for Preston’s Moon in the shuttle you sent for him. What the hell are you playing at Kir?”

Kir throttled back the ship and sat in silence, letter the tiny ship drift in space on a ballistic trajectory. He knew what had happened. That Bugatti and everyone else had been tricked to believing what never was. That Bugatti was most likely dead by now; that that the codes for much of the planetary defense were lost.

He also knew that his friend would have been out of time if they hadn’t gotten off that rock and that even if they did, it was headed here, to this planet and a population that was now on borrowed time. So little time to ponder time and the futility of measuring it. Kir realized at that moment that time really didn’t matter. Life would continue in some form even after time ran out. What was sad for him was that he wouldn’t be around to see time unfold. He realized that four hundred years of peace had, in the end doomed the human race. Humanity could never stand up to this threat unless it had the time to prepare and they were out of time.

Kir pointed the nose of the ship toward the main sequence star.

Time…. Time to live, time to die. Time to dream. Time to sleep.

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I have a memory of a time past;
where child like innocence is heard as laughter in the breeze.
A time where children play in open air fields of green;
and sky’s are dotted with wispy clouds that spark young imaginations.
I have this memory – of time past.
 

First things first – this essay is NOT about self help, or fast food. It’s also not about generation w, x, y and z, or about a generation gap.

It’s about impatience, it’s about rushing through life as fast as we can and it’s about trying to understand why we live our lives while traveling faster than the speed of light. Think of this essay more as reflection and not so much as a rebuke to our daily routine. After all, who am I to pass judgment on something I ‘m equally guilty of?

It seems that as a species humans have an ingrain genetic tendency to rush through life in what can only be called a futile attempt at squeezing out twenty five hours in a twenty four hour day.  We have become a collective generation of impulsive, hurried individuals, wanting life in five minutes or less – hence, the fast food generation.

Can you remember a time when life was lived at a slower pace, before fast food and hurrying to get here or there? Before the catch phrase Thirty minutes or free?

We’re in a rush to find the time to accomplish more in each minute of every day and I’m not sure we’re getting there, where ever there is, any faster.

Let’s start our search in attempting to understand this necessity for speed by beginning where most of us begin, the morning routine.

The sun is beginning to crest the horizon of apartment buildings in the East as the dawn of a new day begins and Monday morning has arrived in all its glory. You’ve already hit the snooze button a half dozen times trying to eke out more of that precious morning sleep as you tentatively open one sleep encrusted eye and peek at the time on the clock radio, “Shit!”

You dash out of bed and since you showered last night, no need to worry about it now, a quick spray of the deodorant will do. You tear into the bathroom and run your head under the tap at the same time you brush your teeth in four nippy strokes. Time to hurry through breakfast, sometimes skipping that most important meal of the day. When we do eat it’s pre-made, pre-fabricated and pre-cooked, with the slogan ‘eat on the run‘ printed on the box you just removed from the freezer. Then you run off to work because you wouldn’t want to miss the bus to attend that meeting, appointment, or some other first light crises at the office like changing your voice mail to say that you’re in, but too busy to take that call.

If that scenario isn’t bad enough, I’ve seen co-workers run at break neck speed to – not catch an elevator, but to push the button to call for the lift. The wind created as one colleague dashed past almost knocked my touque off.

I asked myself at the time, "When did pushing the elevator button become an Olympic sport?"

By the time I walked up and stood beside her, she was frantically pressing the call button. I turned, smiled, and quietly wondered if pushing the button repeatedly really makes the elevator come faster? Of course I already know the answer, but still I stand in amazement at the site playing out in front of me.

Inside the office, the next deadline looms as I quickly scan my PDA, others checking their paper calendars seeking the same enlightenment to what’s ahead. A crystal ball of sorts on how we can speed up the day, allowing us to return home to – wait for it – quickly get supper ready for the kids and our partners. We seem to all want to rush through the week, as if it wasn’t fast enough.

When the work week is over, it’s time to relax and take life easy. But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves because we still have to clean the house. You didn’t think the toilets were going to sparkle on their own, did you? And let’s not forget the laundry.

OK, it’s Saturday morning, there’s still time to salvage a beautiful weekend if you rush the cleaning. So much for relaxing.

At least the kids can relax a bit from their busy life at school. They’re on the computer chatting with the cousin in Edmonton. HRU? IC. LOL SUP? GR8. OIC. PLZ G/F, LOL.

Did you get any of that?  It’s at the point where even our kids’ daily speech and text is in short hand. A new lexicon for speeding up their pace of life. Speed after all, is vital to this new form of communication. Even our children are not immune. By the way, if you want to know what the kids’ were saying, its – How are you? I see. (laugh out loud). So, what’s up? Great! Oh, I see. Please girlfriend! (laugh out loud).

We start our lives in a rush from the second we’re born. Let’s face it, what new mother about to give birth hasn’t shouted, "Get this kid out of meeeee! Now!!"

Maybe that’s when this goal for a hurried life really begins, at birth. It’s akin to the chicken and the egg really; which came first? Was it the adult mother or the infant child at the moment of taking that first breath of air that begins the race?

Talk about being in a rush. Mind you, who can blame that mother for wanting to be in a rush to give birth. Trying to push something the size of a bowling ball through a vagina is enough to make the most stoic of us want to do it in a hurry. Dragging out child birth just isn’t an option.

The act of giving birth by the way is really the first time we see the beginning of the parent child conflict. A parent wanting to hurry along their child who does not want rush, but takes his or her own sweet time moving through the birth canal. You’ll see similar scenarios playing itself out many more times while the child is living at home. This is of course the only time our children will take their time. But I digress…

As I was saying, from birth children are born with the gene to be in a rush. As babies they want their food right away, whether it’s breast milk or strained prunes. When it’s feeding time, they let you know with a set of lungs that break the decibel level of a sonic boom. If they want their diapers changed right away, the signal for this is very similar to the immediate need for food.

As our children grow, the need for speed also grows exponentially. Except of course in their teen years when you’re trying to wake them for school or some other event you’re late for. This is part of the parent child conflict which I will not dwell on – that’s a topic best left for another short essay. I know, I strayed off the point again, sorry.

Let’s just say that our children learn from us, the parental units, the need for instant gratification.

Fast cars, fast women and fast food, it’s all the same. Even music is getting faster. If you’re over forty, you can remember the vinyl record playing hits from the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, or Led Zeppelin. The average song time for most musical groups ran four to six minutes. Today the average running time for a compact disk or MP3 song with words you can’t understand because they sing too fast is two and a half to three and a half minutes. It’s just not the same thing. Record companies want to sell more songs to make more money and radio stations want to play more songs; also to make more money. The only way to do that is to shorten the songs; but that leaves the artist with less time to convey any message he or she may have in the lyrics. So the only way to remedy that is to speed up the tempo of the songs. Sometimes I get nostalgic for the slow pace of the past when I could really enjoy the music, and of course understand what the lyrics said.

Music videos have changed as well. I remember watching the pop music groups in the late 70’s and early 80’s when music videos were in its infancy and I’d sit back in the recliner and gaze at images as they flowed across the floor console television. In a thirty minute time slot I’d see maybe ten groups and the visual rendition of their hit songs. Now, my children are bombarded with as many as fifteen or twenty videos from hit songs in the same period of time. What gives?

Mind you, the amount of violence you see in some of today’s music video is blasted by them on the screen so quickly the kids don’t get a chance to see what just happened. Sometimes quickness could be a good thing.

Life is full of short cuts and quickies today. Which brings me to – well, you know. You knew that we had to brooch the subject sooner of later, didn’t you? Sex! There, I said it, and now all of you puritan individuals or young children may as well skip down several paragraphs that you may find offensive. After all, you’re already saying to yourself, ‘Is this guy going to get to the end and some point anytime soon? I have things to do!”

OK, it’s just us and the naughty bits for the next few paragraphs. I’ll try to keep it short – no pun intended. Sex, the act of and subject of, is a two headed issue. Again, no pun intended. In one hand we have the male member (I swear I’m not trying to be funny) of society and on the other we have females.

Both male and females have very different views on how they see their role on this particular subject and each one has a valid observation. In this case however, we’ll look at only the issue of speed, tempo, velocity or momentum. There are far too many other issues between the sexes to review at this time and since we’re only looking at the pace of life we now lead, most of those topics really don’t fit (but it would make for another great short story).

I visited an adult ‘superstore’ not that long ago and to my amazement were hundreds of sex aids and toys of all varieties for both men and women. When you read the labels of these, toys, you see one main theme (it’s not what you think you dirty old man), its how to give yourself or your partner pleasure in the shortest amount of time possible.

When did the act of sex become so rushed? I’m in my forties and only just beginning to see the pleasure of taking things slow and the manufactures and purveyors of these ‘toys’ are trying to sell me ‘fast food’. Nothing is safe from the need for instant fulfillment anymore. Never mind the stereotype joke about the man finishing his bit while his partner is still waiting for it to begin.

Nothing is safe anymore; even death has become ‘fast food’. I recently read an article about a drive through funeral parlor. How do you speed up burying someone? I can see it now – you die in your sleep at a ripe old age and around the city is your family’s choice of drive through burial stores. They rap you up in plastic and shove you into a giant paper sack and bring you up to the take out window.

“Will there be flowers with that?” The smartly dressed clerk at the window asks. Your relatives respond with, “No thanks, but do you give air miles?”

Each car in the funeral procession will speed through the viewing area where you’re propped up against the glass like yesterdays donuts on display. The fastest funeral on record – sounds silly doesn’t it. But we’re almost at that stage in our need for more speed. Once you begin to have drive through funeral parlors, who’s to say what comes next? Drive through circumcisions?  Ouch!

You’ll notice that I’ve left out fast food, other than to use it as a metaphor, and I did that on purpose because whether it’s drive up or take away, or boil in the bag, drop in the oven or nuked in the microwave, food is too easy to pick on. I think that we’ve all seen this area of our lives get faster since the 1950’s when the first TV diners were introduced. Manufactures are selling the latest conveniences in food preparation to anyone that has a kitchen at an alarming rate. Turn on a television on the weekends or late night and watch a one hour commercial on how to cook a pot roast in ten minutes. Or how to juice twenty applies, oranges, mangoes and old shoes in less than a minute. It’s no longer farmer’s selling us our food, its corporations. They don’t grow food anymore, they manufacture it. And along with food, these same companies also manufacture televisions, stoves, cars and some even drill for oil. I’m having some difficulty in seeing the connection between food and oil, but we do have eatable oil products, maybe that’s it? We also have refrigerators with built in televisions and internet connections and I’m still trying to make that connection as well.

Our need to rush thought life is, in my humble opinion, getting out of hand. We’ve forgotten how to relax and enjoy life for what it is, a wonder of taste, sight, sound and imagination. We’re more stressed, get sick more often and sleep less. Daily routines have become chores and excitement is no longer savored it’s do it fast and get onto the next event. I think that we’re missing the boat on life when we forget to take out time. When we rush from one task to the next we don’t see the life we’ve missed around us and that is unfortunate, because we really can’t appreciate what life is when we don’t take our time. Pity really…