I walked into sick bay. The Neanderthal was a few meters inside the door, on a bed with a cast on his arm. He was strapped down, sleeping. Deneuve was on one side of the bed, Dr. Clara Hazelton on the other.
“How is he?” I asked.
“We had to sedate him to set his arm,” Dr. Hazelton said. “He’ll be fine, but he’ll sleep for a while.”
“You try any of the dialects?”
“We’ve tried five of the thirty that Nolan sent,” Deneuve said. “He perked up on one, but I don’t think he understood it.”
“I was just telling Deneuve that we should try the Active Learning System. It’ll probably work for him, if we can get him to wear the apparatus.”
“Will that work with non-humans?” I asked.
“Maybe,” Dr. Hazelton said. “Might be worth a try, but I don’t know how the drug will impact him.
Okay, here’s something you need to know about. Active learning is a system developed in 2356. It uses a combination of audio and visual stimuli plus a drug to induce concentration and open the mind to the training. The student wears a head set consisting of earphones, a microphone, and virtual reality goggles. The drug is introduced into the bloodstream via an IV, and the training program is run. This training method works very well for teaching languages in humans. It’s referred to as ALS on Earth. Get it? Good, back to the story.
“What if he can’t take the ALS drug cocktail?” Deneuve asked. “I don’t want him dying because of this.”
“I need to do some research first,” she said. “Don’t worry, if there’s significant risk, I won’t do it.”
I eyed Dr. Hazelton. “I say do the research, then we talk it out.”
“I’ll get on that right away, Captain.” She left the room.
“You’ve gotten pretty attached to this guy already, haven’t you?” I asked.
Deneuve shrugged. “It’s not really that, I just don’t want her accidently killing him. He should be able to trust us.”
“We won’t do anything unless the risk is very low. How was he acting before he was knocked out for the arm re-set?”
“Afraid, but he’s already come to trust me, so he hollered pretty good whenever I left the room. He tried to get up and follow me, too. Even with the broken arm.”
“They get attached fast.”
“Yes, Captain. I’ve been doing some research on them myself.”
“We think the Clan was after them, not us,” I said. “We don’t think they noticed us at all until they got close.”
Deneuve looked at me, shaking his head in agreement. “That’s what my gut told me too, but I don’t have any data to prove it. You guys found something?”
“Yeah, they can hear the implants that the Clan puts in all their people. For some reason it turns on the territorial protection impulse.”
“What, you mean those artificial eyes they use?”
I nodded. “We think so. Has he shown any aggressive tendencies here?”
“No, just fear,” Deneuve said. “I’d probably better get back to work.”
I shook my head no. “When is he waking up?”
“Should be another twenty minutes or so.”
“All right, then take a short break and get back here. I want you to stay with him as much as possible. We need to communicate with him. It’d be nice if we could use the ALS, but if not we’ll have to do it the old-fashioned way.”
“Why is that important?” Deneuve asked. “You think he knows something?”
“Possible. We’re working on a theory, but I’m not ready to talk about it yet. Your job right now is to let him bond with you.”
Deneuve chuckled. “I think that’s already happened. It’s not the part that worries me.”
I eyed him. “Well?”
“I’m getting bonded to him.”
“Don’t worry about that for now,” I said. “I’ve got to go. Talk to you soon.”
I left sick bay, heading back to my stateroom, the sensation of motion making me dizzy for a moment. We’re going to the surface of Cremonia.
As I entered the stateroom, my PA buzzed. Izzy, telling me that we were in the fresh-water lake, and that she had the cameras up and was starting the scanner. I sat in my chair and accessed the holographic communications system, buzzing for Chairman Vermillion.
“Captain Clarke, you’re at your new destination?”
“Yes sir,” I said, watching the near-perfect representation of his face before me. “Nolan has an idea about the Clan. I want to take a break from our mission and pursue it.”
Vermillion smiled. “I knew this was coming. Go ahead.”
I gathered my thoughts for a moment. “Nolan noticed that there’s a natural wormhole within seconds of Valla Cappos.”
“You don’t look surprised, Chairman.”
Vermillion smiled. “If the Clan ship had Samson Drive, we would’ve picked them up in our scans right away.”
“You didn’t bring that up in our last chat.”
“I was in the middle of a nap before you called last time. Was still a little groggy.”
“You probably know what I’m about to ask, then.”
Vermillion eyed me, nodding yes. “I’ve got a pretty good idea.”
“Nolan looked for planets above level five that have natural wormholes nearby. There are a lot. We’d like to check some of them. Nolan thinks he can detect Clan ships if we’re close enough.”
“Does your current location fall into that criteria?” Vermillion asked.
“Nope. We picked this one because of it’s proximity to Sheppard One.”
“I see. You’ll need to stand down for now. In fact, I’d like you to come back to Earth.”
“Won’t we get picked up?” I asked.
“They wouldn’t dare,” Vermillion said. “I’ve already filed an injunction with the Central Authority, and Simone’s been put on probation as a result. The Overlords have been forbidden to molest any corporation ships.”
“Wow, that happened quickly. How’s the society taking it?”
“Simone has her followers, but by in large, it’s not big news. I want you at the South Pacific Base, just in case. Understand?”
“How soon do you want us there?” I asked.
“Finish your scanning of Sheppard One, as long as you’re there. When you’re satisfied that they haven’t been compromised, come home. If you see any evidence of a problem, contact me right away.”
“Yes sir,” I said. “Talk to you soon.”
Vermillion’s face disappeared, leaving the holograph frame. I shut down the system and headed back to the bridge.
“Good, you’re back,” Nolan said, turning towards me. “I have a list of the most likely places to investigate.”
“We’ve been forbidden to follow that up, at least for now,” I told him.
Tim chuckled. “I knew it.”
“Why?” Izzy asked.
I shrugged. “He didn’t say.”
“Oh, come now, you know what he’s worried about,” Nolan said.
“And what might that be?” Tim asked.
“The Clan has good profile info about this ship. Surely it’s been passed to any Clan ships that are in our zone. Vermillion doesn’t want us being seen at another of their locations, if they’re really doing what we think they’re doing.”
“It might get them to back off,” Tim said.
I shook my head. “Or it might start a war. We are following those orders. Do you understand, Nolan?”
I looked at Izzy and Tim. “You guys get it?”
“Yes sir,” Tim said.
“Yes, Captain,” Izzy said. “What’s our next course of action?”
“We finish scanning for problems on Sheppard One. After that, we’re to go directly to the South Pacific base.”
“They’re pulling us back to Earth?” Nolan asked. “What about Simone and the Overlords.”
“That problem has been neutralized for now,” I said.
“How?” Nolan asked.
“I don’t have permission to say more.”
Nolan shook his head. “You’re joking.”
“Wish I was. How safe is our location?”
Izzy eyed me for a moment, then spoke. “Nothing big showing up in the scans. We’ve got a periscope up. Glad we’re not on land.”
Nolan chuckled. “This is a watering hole. The dinosaurs aren’t as dense over most of the planet.”
“I understand that, Nolan. Did you see that t-rex running? Scared me to death. I had no idea they were that fast. And all those feathers. Different colors than I’ve seen in pictures.”
“Yeah, deep blues and yellows,” Tim said. “I thought that thing was beautiful. I expected colors that would camouflage a little better.”
“Put the periscope on screen,” I said, sitting in my captain’s chair.
Izzy nodded and talked into her PA for a moment, the screen filling with a view of the lake shore. “No predators there at the moment. Lots of those duck-billed things.”
Nolan rolled his eyes. “Hadrosaurids. Didn’t they teach you this in school?”
Izzy shot him a glance, then looked back at me. “There are some species that might join us in the water, but none of them are aggressive, according to what I’ve read today.”
“Good. We won’t be here too long, in any event. Our priority is scanning for compromise of our allies on Sheppard One. You got that, Nolan?”
“I’m already working it, Captain.”
“Good,” I said. “Anybody hungry? I’m going to get some food. I’ll bring some here.”
“Just ate, Captain,” Izzy said, “but thanks.”
“Same here,” Nolan said, eyes focused on his work station.
Tim stood. “I could eat. Mind if I go with you?”
“No problem. Let’s go.” We left the bridge.
“Okay, go ahead,” I said.
Tim shot me a glance. “So we’re not wanted anymore? How about Nolan? Is he still wanted?”
“I know you can’t tell me much, Captain. It’s okay.”
We nodded to a few of Deacon’s crewmembers as we passed them in the corridor.
“Look, I didn’t want to engage Nolan in there, but I can say a little more if you keep it to yourself.”
“Okay,” Tim said as we rounded a corner.
“The Corporation filed an injunction against Simone and the Overlords for their attempt to capture us as we were leaving Earth. Simon’s on probation, and the Overlords have been ordered to leave all corporation ships alone.”
“You didn’t want Nolan to know he isn’t wanted on Earth now.”
“Not yet, anyway,” I said. “It’s not that I don’t trust him, really. I want his focus to be on my orders. Having him a little worried helps with that.”
“In other words, we’re under pressure to get back to Earth as soon as possible,” Tim said. We walked into the kitchen.
“Yep, that’s about the size of it. Vermillion already figured out that we might have a problem with the original wormholes. I believe our mission after the Earth visit will be to investigate, but we aren’t ready yet. I suspect they’ll retrofit this ship with that cloaking device that’s being tested on the Tristar right now.”
Tim smiled. “So we’ll be invisible when we come out of jumps?”
“You got it, but don’t mention it to Izzy or Nolan. That’s an order.”
“Hey, how’s the slop?” Deacon asked, walking into the kitchen.
“Don’t know yet,” I said, turning to him. “What are you up to?”
“Nothing much to do at the moment, so I thought I’d engage in my favorite pass time.”
“What’s that?” Tim asked.
Deacon chuckled. “Gorging myself, of course. We’ve got cheesecakes. Had one last night. That cook is getting better.”
“How much guidance have you been giving him?” I asked. “Man doesn’t live by cheesecake alone, you know.”
“Blasphemy,” Deacon said, going straight to the glass case, shelves covered with cheesecakes and other deserts. “Join me?”
“I’ll eat with you, but I’m not eating cheesecake for lunch,” I said, heading for the deli section. I requested a sub sandwich with my PA and waited. Tim ordered a soft drink and a couple cookies.
“You already ate too, didn’t you?” I asked.
Tim shrugged. “You found me out.”
We took our food to a round table, Deacon joining us after a few minutes, half a cheesecake on his plate.
“Maybe you should take off a few pounds,” Tim quipped. “That’s not gonna help.”
“I’m taking a scrubber. The bad stuff will be out of my system about ten minutes after I eat this. Feels like cheating.”
Tim rolled his eyes. “Scrubbers. They haven’t outlawed those yet? They’re no better than binging and purging.”
“Sure they are,” Deacon said, his mouth half-full. He finished chewing and swallowed, patting his massive chest. “Those pills rearrange the food molecules to neutralize the sugar and fat, and turn it into protein.”
“Hasn’t your doctor warned you about doing that long-term?” I asked.
“Yeah, but there aren’t studies showing it’s a huge problem. I think it’s a great concept. Tastes like cheesecake going in, but you’re really eating lean meat and broccoli.”
I shook my head. “Oh please. I see it’s not affecting your girth much.”
“Now be nice,” Deacon said, already more than halfway through his treat. “What’s going on with the Neanderthal? I got new orders for Deneuve. He’s one of my best, you know. Wet-nursing this beast isn’t a good use of his time.”
“The Clan was hunting the Neanderthals when they stumbled upon us,” I said. “The Neanderthals were expecting them, and drew first blood. We want to communicate with our friend and find out why.”
“Oh,” Deacon said. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I was getting to it. Make sure Deneuve has whatever he needs, okay?”
“Will do, Cappy. How long are we here?”
“Only until we determine if our allies on Sheppard One are compromised or not.”
“Where to after that?”
“Earth? I thought we were wanted.”
“Not anymore. We’re going to the South Pacific base.”
Deacon smiled. “We’re getting some new technology. That’s the only reason to send us there.”
“That’s possible, but there are other reasons. It’s secluded, in case somebody in the Overlords decides to ignore the Central Authority ruling.”
“Hopefully they sat on Simone,” Deacon said. He took his last bite of cheesecake.
“She’s on probation. I’m not believing that they have her under control, though.”
My PA buzzed. I stuck my arm out and read it.
“Nolan?” Tim asked.
“No evidence of problems. We’re gonna get out of here sooner than I thought. Let’s get back to the bridge.”
Tim nodded as I wolfed down the rest of my sandwich.
“See you two later,” Deacon said, getting up to waddle back to engineering.
“I wish he’d take better care of himself,” I muttered.
“He’s not going to keel over. We can prevent that.”
“I know, Tim, but each time they re-plumb, you lose a little bit. You become more vulnerable. Better not to rely on that. Eating healthy is a better idea.”
We were back on the bridge in less than five minutes.
“Got a course set?” I asked as I took the captain’s seat.
“Sending it to Izzy right now,” Nolan said.
“You don’t want to hand-punch it in?” Izzy asked. “We’re still on a restricted planet.”
“I finished my analysis of the PA system and developed a wipe program. It’s running now to get back to a clean baseline, and it’ll kick in every fifteen minutes after that.”
“Is it gonna slow our systems down?” I asked.
“No, it’s compact. Runs in the background.”
“It’ll be finished before we get to Earth, right?” I asked.
“It’ll finish while we’re in the wormhole,” Nolan said.
“Ready, Captain?” Izzy asked.
We felt the ship rising out of the water, then shooting upward, our stomachs dropping. Then came the semi-blackout, and we were gone.
“Smooth jump,” I said as my head cleared.
“I’m learning more about this ship,” Izzy said. “Think we’ll be on her for long?”
“Unknown. We’ll probably find out when we’re at the base.”
Nolan looked over at me. “Am I still wanted?”
“No.” I waited for the next question. All I got was a nod and a smirk. We settled in for the trip, which only took three hours. Most of my time was spent researching Simone. Her organization should have found out about the Clan’s incursion into the Central Authority Zone. That was the main function of the Overlords, or at least it was supposed to be. Records about her that should be open to my level of clearance were locked. Strange.
“We’ll be out of the jump in less than five minutes, Captain,” Izzy said. “You want me coming in with maximum stealth?”
“Doesn’t matter,” I said.
“Okay, I’ll use the standard maneuvers and protocol, then.”
We felt the rush of static electricity as the wormhole collapsed, depositing us into Earth’s orbit. After a moment, we descended, the heat shield deployed, and our angle of attack fine-tuned. There was momentary turbulence, and then we were flying straight and smooth, approaching the rolling waves of the South Pacific, halfway between Jarvis Island and Bora Bora. We settled onto the ocean and sank slowly into the deep, our underwater propulsion system kicking in.
“I’m anxious to see this base,” Nolan said. “Heard about it, but never had the pleasure.”
I nodded, watching the video display. The entrance to the base was a massive doorway etched into an underwater mountain. It slid open as we approached, water flowing in, pressure normalizing. Izzy moved us inside flawlessly and we set down in the middle, dwarfed by the size of the lock.
“The outer door is closing,” Izzy said. “Water is being pumped out.”
“This is so cool,” Tim said, watching the water recede rapidly on the video display. When the bay was dry, the inner door opened, light from the massive hangar area lighting the whole lock. The floor jerked into motion, a massive conveyor moving the ship inside the base, stopping when we were placed into a spot several times too large for our ship, the inner door sliding closed. Izzy shut down our systems as crews in the hangar rushed over to plug in umbilical cables.
“Here we are,” I said. “Keep the sensors running on each and every hatch. Nobody gets on or off this ship without a record. Got that?”
“Yes sir,” Izzy said. She gave orders through her PA as Nolan stood. “Am I allowed to explore?”
“Not yet,” I said. “I’ve got to meet with the base commander. He’ll have control over access to the base.”
“Hey, is that the Chairman?” Tim asked, pointing to a man walking towards the Zephyrus, leading a sizeable group of corporate officials.
“Yep,” I said. “I’ve got to go meet him. Keep an eye on things, and remember what I said about the hatches, okay?” I left the bridge.
To be continued…
Bug Out! Texas Book 1 is now just 99 cents in the Kindle Store! Free in Kindle Unlimited! This is the story of Texas Patriots and their struggle against enemies, foreign and domestic, during the Bug Out! War. Chock full of action, adventure, suspense, and romance. Pick up your copy of Bug Out! Texas Book 1 today!
The first of my full length novels has been published in the Amazon Kindle store, available now. For those of you have have been readying the Bugout! series, the story involves George and Malcolm, and is set about seven years earlier. This book R rated, instead of the PG-13 of the Bugout! Series, so be warned. Here’s the link to “Never A Loose End”
Copyright Robert Boren 2018