The big Hawaiian shook his big head slowly. “You mean, I have to get back to Alpha, kidnap you, and bring you back here in an Eagle? I’m no pilot, Professor. Why not simply contact Main Mission and ask them directly? If I go back in a space suit… why should they believe me? Have you any idea about all the craziness that has been happening to us over the past few months? They’d just stun me, or worse!”
“Well, two things. We can get you in and out of Alpha from here. We can use another doorway into your… dimension, for want of a better term. We can link our reactor with yours – you will appear in the main reactor room. Unfortunately that’s the only place we can link to. When you get me from Medical, you will have to take me back there. I know that won’t be easy, but that’s all we can do. As far as the lasers go, their lasers won’t work on you. Look,” he said, bending over to take something out of a storage locker. “Here’s your laser. We haven’t altered it in any way. Now, set it on stun, and shoot me!” The old man smiled up into Ka’Ne’s face, as he pressed the weapon into his hand.
The metal felt cold against his skin, but as his fingers went into place in the ergonomic grip, his thumb automatically moved to the trigger. It felt familiar, reassuring, in a strange way. He stood up and backed away from Bergman, the weapon automatically levelled at waist height. “What do you mean? I have no intention of shooting you… even at stun it can…”
“Go ahead!” Bergman grinned. “Go on! Don’t worry!”
Though still very apprehensive, Ka’Ne shrugged and pushed the trigger. With the accustomed electronic fizz, a blue beam of light shot out from the emitter and enveloped the old man… with no effect. Ka’Ne checked the weapon, the battery power, crystal, the setting. It all seemed to be in perfect order.
“You see! I told you. Nothing to worry about! Now, over there on that trolley is your broken helmet, and mine. Turn the weapon up to full power and shoot your helmet.”
Ka’Ne turned, and setting the laser on full power, aimed along his arm, and fired again. Red light blazed across the room as the helmet partially melted and then exploded in a shower of molten metal and plexiglass. As the smoke cleared and his eyes recovered from the dazzle, he could see Bergman practically jumping up and down with excitement. “Again!” he said. “Mine now!”
Ka’Ne shifted his aim and fired. The red laser beam played across the helmet, reflecting some of the light, but with no other effect. He released the trigger, and then fired again. Once more, the laser beam hit the helmet dead centre, but had no effect.
Bergman clapped and smiled, and then went over to retrieve the helmet. “There you are, as I said, no effect. The laser from your reality can’t effect anything from ours. Now if you take that with you, you’ll be able to stun any of your former colleagues should the need arise – they however will have no effect on you. Well, perhaps maybe some effect. You are between realities, and so you might experience some heat for example, if I shot you now. But in one of our suits with the visor down, you will be completely invulnerable!”
Ka’ne put the pistol back on stun before putting it down on the gurney behind him. “OK Professor, when should I go?”
“As soon as you can get suited up. Time is the one thing we have very little of!” Bergman clapped Ka’Ne on the back, before opening a storage locker to get out another spacesuit.
Koenig sat in the subdued light next to the bed of his old friend. The bank of coloured lights and readouts all meant something to Helena and her staff, all he understood was that currently Victor was still alive, but there was no telling how long that would continue. He put his head in his hands. The missing crewman, the missing asteroid – what was he supposed to do. Nothing out here made any sense…
He sat up as there was sudden commotion behind him at the other side of the sickbay. A gurney was being wheeled in, Helena rushing from her office to deal with the casualty. What NOW? he wondered. He sat up to see who it was, but there were too many staff in the way, hooking up the striken crew member to the monitors and equipment. He stood up, and as the doctor stepped to onside to look at a print out, he could see as one of the technicians raised the end of the bed and fitted an O2 mask to the patient. It was Kano. Had something happened in Main Mission?
He stepped away from Victor’s bedside and pulled his comlock off his belt, thumbing the control. Sandra’s face appeared in the tiny TV screen.
“Sandra, I’m in Medical. They just brought Kano in… what happened?
“Sorry Commander. He just collapsed at his station. That’s all we know. Shall I get Paul?”
“No, that’s all right, don’t bother him now. I’ll speak to Hel…Doctor Russell when she’s free. Koenig out.”
He disconnected but kept the comlock in his hand. The timing of Bergman’s collapse was just a coincidence. But this? There had to be a connection. Kano seemed to be stable, the techs had moved away and Helena was calmly and methodically going about her business. With a glance back at Victor, he made for the door. He needed to get to the computer section, to find out what Kano had been doing immediately before he fainted.
Now wearing a silver space suit, his laser and comlock holstered at his side, Ka’Ne followed Bergman through some rocky passageways, through a very familiar-looking airlock and into what looked like an extension of Moonbase. Everything was so familiar but at the same time, not quite. He saw familiar faces, some not so familiar. Some obviously shocked to see him, which was more unsettling until he remembered that their Ka’Ne had died months ago.
After a travel tube ride, they emerged in the reactor section, and Bergman, still as excited as a schoolboy, led him into the middle of the reactor floor. The reactor chamber itself was big as far as open spaces went, easily as big and as high inside as Main Mission, dominated by the huge safety door to the main reactor. Even in the suit, Ka’Ne felt the hairs on his arms stand on end – though he knew that was impossible that was due to the proximity of the reactor core, especially in the spacesuit.
In the middle of the floor a new piece of equipment had been added, looking like it had been built – or more likely thrown together – from scrap metal and old wiring. What looked like a large cuboid metal cage had been assembled on a low platform, and through a nest of wiring was connected to computer monitor stations and wired directly into the main power feed. Bergman placed Ka’ne in the middle of the cage, before fitting another piece of hardware to the pack on the front of his spacesuit.
“Now, here we are. This equipment will…. Well, I won’t go into the technical detail but basically this will transport you to your Alpha, and bring you, and me, back. But you will only be able to return via the same place in your reactor room. When you’re ready, toggle this switch here on the pack and whoosh! You’ll appear here. We’ll have a medical team on standby to look after me. Don’t forget to keep your visor closed – you can’t breathe the air there anymore! Ready?”
Ka’Ne shrugged. “I guess so, Professor,” he said, closing and locking his helmet.
Bergman clapped him on the arm, and retreated off the platform, closing the open side of the cage and moving to one of the computer consoles.
Aside from the hiss of the air pump in his suit, Ka’Ne could only hear muffled calls and commands, and after responding in kind to a thumbs up from Bergman, the cage, equipment, the scientist and his team all disappeared. There was no sound, no sensation, simply they were there
and then they weren’t.
He looked around. There should have been at least one engineer on duty but at the moment, he could see none. He decided to take advantage of this good fortune and just as he was about to use his comlock to open the reactor room door he stopped.
He was a security officer. How would he react if he saw that the comlock of a missing officer was being used in a top security zone?
He needed a new comlock.
He drew his laser, and began to stalk back into the room, following one of the walls. Stealth was probably impossible, but an old soldier follows his instincts. He came to the corner of a computer bank and there was an engineer, identified by the brown sleeve of his uniform, facing away from him, squatting down, taking a reading with a piece of equipment. Ka’Ne thought he recognised the man from his thinning black hair – Stephenson? He levelled the laser but stopped again. The shot would be heard and depending on the current alert level, might even set off the internal security sensors. He deactivated the laser, and slowly bending over, suddenly brought the butt of the hand grip down on the base of the man’s skull. With a soft groan, the technician slumped to the floor. Ka’Ne quickly holstered his weapon and checked, as best he could through thick gloves and tinted helmet, that he hadn’t severely injured the man. Stephenson was out cold, and though a lump was already beginning to form on the back of his head, the skin hadn’t been broken. Ka’ne breathed a sigh of relief, arranging the technician in the recovery position – and not forgetting to steal his comlock. He had no idea how long the man would be unconscious or remain undiscovered. He had to move fast.
Koenig strode into the Computer section. The three technicians on duty all stopped and looked at him, one looking shocked. The supervisor, Amy D’Addario, got up from her console and came over to him. One of the youngest senior technicians on the staff, the tall Californian was a renowned programming prodigy before winning the post to Alpha just weeks before Separation.
“Commander Koenig, we were just about to call you. Has there been any word about David?” Her pale blue eyes were level with Koenig’s and for a second the commander was quite unnerved.
“No…” he replied, “I came to see if you knew anything about what Kano was working on, if that had any…”
“Yes. We’ve been seeing some unusual computer activity which peaked just before and immediately after Kano was taken ill.” She turned and pointed to a graph on video display. “Right here, the processing power of Computer maxed out, to the point it was drawing on other networked systems throughout the station. But here it seems to double.”
“Double?” said Koenig. “That’s not possible.”
“No. It isn’t,” she replied, flatly. “It must have been drawing on an external system, or another system was using it.”
“An alien?” Koenig felt a chill go down his back even as he said it.
“Well, that’s just it,” Amy said, taking a print-out from her desk and showing it to Koenig, though she must have known it was meaningless to him. “If it was an alien computer… I programmed it.”
“What?” he said, looking at the others to confirm what he just heard.
Virinder Singh, his turban the same light brown as his uniform sleeve, nodded. “Every programmer has a certain… fist, Commander. Like handwriting, or like the brushstrokes of an artist. For example, you could probably tell who amongst your colleagues was the pilot of a particular plane just by the way they were flying. It’s the same with computer programming. We isolated parts of the code from the other, the ‘alien’ network, and it is unmistakably Amy’s work.”
“Could they have copied it from our Computer?” Koenig said, turning back to Amy.
“This code, Commander, though it looks like I wrote it, it is completely new to me. It’s original,” she said, expressionless.
“Is it still in contact with Computer?” he said, reaching for his comlock.
“No, at least if it is, it’s no longer detectable. It seems to have used our processing power, made systematic attempts to search our database, but it didn’t find what it was looking for.”
“Did you manage to get any idea of…”
“Yes,” she interrupted. “Most of the queries were centred on Professor Bergman’s computer access.”
Koenig’s arms dropped to his sides. Was there a link after all? Had Victor and Kano both been the victims of an alien attack?
Ka’Ne exited the reactor room and, checking the corridor, went vis the shortest route to the nearest travel tube. This was risky – if the tube stopped on the way to the central area to pick up more passengers, and when he got there, the corridors would be more heavily populated. There was car already there, and so he stepped right in, selected the detonation and almost sat down just from habit. The linear motor kicked in and the car accelerated away. It would take no more than a couple of minutes. He drew his laser. There would be no point in trying to explain or argue. If he was discovered, he would have to shoot his way out.
Koenig, now accompanied by two security officers, came back into the medical bay. Helena was still tending to the unconscious Kano, who had been changed into the regulation pale blue pyjamas.
“John?” she said, looking puzzled and slightly annoyed at the intrusion, “what is going on?”
“Helena, Alpha may be under attack. I believe what happened to Victor and Kano is linked, somehow. Has there been any change?”
“Well, no change in Victor. Kano – looks like he just fainted, but his body seems to have all the symptoms of extreme exhaustion, so we’re hydrating and sedating him. But he should be fine by tomorrow.”
Koenig nodded, his eyes widening slightly. “Can you wake him?”
“John, did you hear what I just said? We’ve sedated him. He’ll be out for twelve hours at least. And I wouldn’t wake him even if I could.”
“Damn. If we could only find out what happened!”
“John,” said Helena, her tone and expression switching from annoyance to concern. “What is going on? What do you think they were attacked? Victor’s condition was unfortunately inevitable and there was no sign of any attack or weapon fire.”
“Look, Helena,” Koenig replied, “I’m going back to Main Mission. One of these guards will be stationed outside, the other inside, until further notice. And no-one but patients or medical personnel is to come through that door. Is that clear?”
“Yes, John, but…”
Koenig turned, opened the door and left, the security guard taking his station to one side of the door.
Helena went back to her office and sitting down, activated her screen.
“Paul?” she said quietly, not wanting the guard or other staff to hear.
“Dr Russell?” Paul’s serious moustache came onto the screen. “Is there a problem?”
“No…” she said, turning down the speaker volume. “Is Alan back yet?”
Paul looked away for a few seconds and then came back. “They’re on their way back, about 30 minutes out…” he replied, furrowing his brow.
“Paul… are we… are we under attack?” she whispered, getting closer to the screen.
Paul shook his head. “No, we have an alert status as we have a man missing on the surface but that’s standard procedure. All other systems nominal. Why?”
“Look Paul, I know this is awkward, but I’m worried about John. Can you… just keep an eye on him? It might just be stress and worry about Victor, but… he’s put a couple of guards in here…”
Paul’s look immediately went from puzzled concern to annoyance. “Without consulting me? But I’m head of station security. I should have been informed.”
Helen inwardly cursed Paul’s British insistence on protocol – and if Alan had been there, he would have been able to handle her request without any fuss.
“That’s as maybe but could you just do as I ask?” she said, softly.
“I’m sure there’s nothing to worry about, Doctor. I’ll let you know if I have anything to report. Main Mission out.”
Helena put her head in her hands. Had she done the right thing – or potentially made the situation much worse?
The travel tube hissed to a halt, the door sliding open. Ka’Ne peered found the corner – thankfully there was no-one in the transit lobby. He stepped out, and checked his bearings. Medical was on this level, about 150 metres away. With no time to waste, he set off, moving from cover to cover, from the comm unit pillars to the corners of the corridors. He thought the old gods must be smiling on him until he saw Andersson standing outside the main door to Medical. The security man was standing at parade rest, his hands clasped behind his back. He looked too fresh. He couldn’t have been there long. Ka’Ne stepped back behind the corner. It was twenty yards to where the tall Norwegian was standing, and there was no way of sneaking up. He could risk a stun shot, or…
He turned the corner and walked slowly toward medical, occasionally pretending to raise his visor. Andersson didn’t see him at first, he was almost halfway down the corridor before the man reacted. He stepped forward, his hand moving to the laser at his hip, and then stopped. Ka’Ne waved and shouted – which was severely muffled by the helmet.
“Andersson! It’s me! I’m back – but I need help!”
Andersson ran the fifteen yards to close the gap, reaching for the helmet.
“Ka’Ne! You’re alive! Is it stuck? What’s with the old fashioned suit? Here, I’ll get it!” He also was shouting – which Ka’Ne hadn’t properly anticipated. Andersson reached for the clasp – Ka’Ne smiled at him through the visor, and Andersson replied with his wide, square-jawed grin, as the Hawaiian drove his fist into his solar plexus. Andersson’s eyes bulged comically as all the air was driven out of his lungs, and as he staggered and fell to his knees, Ka’Ne punched him in the base of the skull. Andersson collapsed onto his side, still gasping for breath, looking up at him, shocked. Ka’Ne shook his head, and stepped back. “Sorry old friend,” he said, as he shot him with the laser. Andersson’s back arched with the stunning pain, and then relaxed as he passed out. Even through the helmet, the buzz of the laser had sounded incredibly loud. He looked around, and still seeing no-one else, looked for a side room or a closet where he could hide his crewmate.
Inside the medical bay, Rogers, the other security officer, was sitting on a chair, reading a magazine and drinking a coffee one of the technicians had brought him. He thought he’d read every magazine on the base, but this one was ‘new’. He didn’t really care what it was about, but it told of fashions he would never wear, films he would never see, and music he would never hear. The affairs of celebrities and royalty, all of whom may have perished in the environmental disasters of Separation Day. The door at his side hissed open and momentarily forgetting why he was there in the first place, he looked up casually to see who it was. Someone in a spacesuit, with the visor down. Odd, he thought. Then one of the female technicians screamed, and he noticed the drawn laser.
Everything seemed to shift into slow motion. He stood, dropping the coffee and the magazine as he reached for his own weapon. The magazine tumbled through the air, the pages flapping like some strange bird. The steaming coffee spilled from the spinning mug, the steaming brown liquid turning into myriad glistening droplets as it fell to the floor. The suited shape turned slightly and fired from the hip, the blue light beam hitting Rogers in the chest before enveloping him in its glow. He groaned, his muscles spasming and locking, as he crumpled, unconscious before he hit the ground.
The helmeted figure turned again. Doctor Mathias was reaching for the alert panel on the comm station pillar, near the middle of the room. The laser buzzed again and he was hit in the back, sending him sprawling onto the floor. One of the techs dived under a bed, the one who had screamed stood in the middle of the room, transfixed, both hands on her head, eyes wide, preparing for another scream. Ka’Ne shot her in the abdomen. Her eyes rolled back into her head and she slumped to the ground, knocking a steel instrument tray over which crashed to the ground.
In her office, Helena has jumped immediately to her feet but stood now, seemingly unable to move as the laser flashed and buzzed. She reached for the comms button on her desk…
“Stop!” said a muffled voice. The assailant had already moved to her doorway, the medical bay door sliding closed.
“I don’t want to shoot you, Doctor, I need your help.”
“What… what do you want me to do?” she said, still unable too see through the tinted visor.
“It’s me, Ka’Ne,” he said. “I don’t have time to explain. I need you to help me with Professor Bergman.”
“W-what?” she said, visibly shocked. “What do you want?”
“I need you to help me take him to the reactor section.”