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Help Wanted!

Help Wanted! was intended published as a paperback publication in the ninetees, I never got that far it is now online as part of a series of various electronic publications released in support of - a charity working to produce cost-free open source software for the disabled.

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The design competition at the end needs to be edited (those who get that far before editing is done migh get a clue from the reference to 3 1/2“ floppy disks)… It is not currently active.

This wiki version is based on a version printed the last time in 1998, some minor spellchecking is being done in connection with it being put onto the wiki, this work is ongoing. This version is a more full version than the previously recovered document I had put online on the wiki. More work will need to be done before it is possible to say that this is the as close to the original “finished work” that one can get so I can change licenses etc. to a more permissible one

Help Wanted!


Einar Petersen © 1996-2015

Duplication on any media or by any means, known as well as unknown is strictly prohibited.

Distribution of this document is also in breach with existing copyright laws.

This document is for evaluation use only.

Violation of any of the stated terms will be prosecuted in a court of the copyright holders choice.

Excerpt from Unfaith/Temptations (C) 1995 Oblivion, courtesy TUTL Records.

A more free license permitting redistribution will be implemented after editing, please respect this and be patient.

Ballerup 20/10 - 2009

For my Mother with love!

I would like to thank all those who have made this book a reality.

Miguel Alcubierre at University of Wales in Cardiff, for through Kurt Madsen, providing me with valuable information on Faster Than Light Traveling.

Faroese Shell and Fjølrit Cultural Foundation for economic backing, not forgetting all the stakeholders.

Karen Hokkanen for volunteering to read and comment the novel as a fellow writer and editor.

The National Faroese Television Corporation, Copenhagen Faroese Radio and Oyggjaskeggi for taking an interest in the original project during production.

Those with a serious interest in Faster Than Light theory who wish to read up on it can read the article on the

Alcubierre drive.

All in all my special thanks to you who believed in the project and offered a helping hand when it was most needed.

Feel free to contact me with intelligent remarks and comments.


The events depicted in the story are pure fiction, some of them might even have happened already, hidden behind the closed doors where you're not allowed to peek in, but to my knowledge they and the persons herein are but a figment of the imagination. No similarity to persons living or dead is intended, nor should be inferred.

Some characters might express certain world views, these are not necessarily representative for the authors world view, they are characters!!!

If there ever was need for a wake up call, the time is now!

Einar Petersen

			All that we see or seem                    
			Is but a dream within a dream.            
            				Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849)

An angel descends from the sky

Back to top

It was around 10 o'clock in the evening when things started to go terribly wrong for the small town Silver Stream, population 14,364.

There was a scent in the air and the two German shepherds became more unsettled by the moment.

“What the hell has gotten into you?”, the old man asked as he stepped out onto the porch.

His gaze swept across the horizon. The dry desert shimmered beautifully in the moonlight and a small dust cloud could be seen in the distance. Nothing unusual about that. No living thing in sight for miles, yet the dogs still stood there, ears erect, staring out into the desert.

Henry Macintosh had lived here his whole life and nothing horrific had ever happened here. At least not as far as he could recollect.

Silver Stream was a quiet village situated in the outback. But now his senses told him that something unusual was lurking out there in the moonlight, and that something was definitely not good.

“You boys be quiet now!”, he said strictly to the dogs who had started growling and showing their teeth in the bleak light.

The dogs obeyed their master for whom they had the greatest respect and gazed alertly around as the old man disappeared into the cabin.

He returned wearing a dark green poncho. In his hands he was carrying an old two barrel shotgun and a box of shells.

“So boys, you ready?”, he said in a low but firm voice.

The dogs waved their tails, and gave a few controlled barks. He opened the gate in the fence surrounding his lot. With steady paces the old man walked into the desert night.


Elsehere in town as Reverend Slater strolled down a dusty road he once again found himself wondering why he had been sent to Silver Stream.

Obviously his peers saw the assignment as some sort of punishment for what he had done, and even though the evidence was too questionable for a full blown trial, the decision to send him here had been final.

Today Slater felt that being here was a blessing rather than a punishment, but he would have to acknowledge that regardless of what he thought about the transfer now, coming to Silver Stream really had been a harsh sentence.

The little girl's lie had completely devastated his life, and he'd taken to the bottle for comfort.

The first years his following had been close to none, but after years of intoxicated Sunday sermons he went astray in the large desert. Strange how one event during one of his infamous drunken trips had changed everything.

He had suddenly felt a presence, and an urge drawing him toward the dunes. Slater never quite knew what had happened on that walk, but had emerged from the desert 3 days later.

His return was not in a body-bag, rather he was found to be in supreme shape, quite a miracle for a man walking into the burning desert with nothing but the clothes on his body and a bottle of scotch in his hand.

After that day Slater had been a different man. He never touched a drop again and preached certain doom for the unfortunate souls who were hanging at McNeely's Inn.

After his incident, several years ago, the large man had finally found comfort in the loneliness of the small desert town. People here were quiet folks. They never got in each others way, but were always ready to help if help was requested, a quality necessary to survive in the harsh environment that surrounded them.

For some reason Slater had felt an urge for taking a walk this evening. The stars were shining brightly as Slater looked up at the sky with a longing gaze.

I wonder what it's like out there, among the stars, he thought as the beauty of the evening sky filled his heart.

The light when it appeared looked nothing brighter than an ordinary evening star, but rapidly grew until Slater no longer was able to distinct anything but the glowing sphere in front of him.

Suddenly it all came back to him…. The Great Assembly. Moments later he was on his way.

Henry had also noticed the “descending star”, and decided to investigate the phenomenon further. His two dogs nervously followed their master with tenacity, ever alert and ready to jump to his aid if necessary.

Slowly the small company circled around the light which had sped off to the outer rim of the desert after its initial descent.

With determined but cautious steps they were closing their distance to the glowing sphere. A couple of hundred meters from it they stopped.

Lights sweept the grounds around the gray bulk which just lay there, waiting in silent expectation of what was to come.

He suddenly heard voices singing in the distance. Hymns in the middle of the desert? Did his ears betray him? He was baffled when all of a sudden the lights fixed on a certain point, and Henry noticed the figure of Reverend Slater on top of a small boulder.

“What the hell…?”, was the only thing Henry managed to say before the fallen star slowly started opening.

Figures with some sort of suits which reminded Henry of biohazard clothes, poured out of the object. As he got a better look at them he decided the clothing more resembled space suits than anything else. Very curious indeed. But what were they doing out here, and what was Slater's part in all this?

The reverend started to speak. “Do not be afraid, they wish us no harm!”

Whatever they wanted, Henry was certain it wasn't good.

“We have been chosen, we are the lucky ones. God in his Glory has appointed us to be the bringers of light to the universe”, Slater said in a joyous voice.

Henry took a deep breath, he couldn't help but notice how radiant the reverend looked, even though everything around Slater was bathed in some of the brightest lights, Henry had ever experienced the reverend seemed to outshine it.

The assembled people seemed very uneasy with the situation and started to murmur. The suited figures encircled the congregation. One of them slowly approached the reverend. He reached his hand toward him, and a flash of light jumped from the small object he had kept hidden in his hand.

The reverend fell lifeless to the ground.

Did they just kill him?, Henry leapt to his feet, and started running toward the thing.

“Bastards!!!”, the yell was terrifying and his shotgun barked into the night. As He got closer a clear shot took one of the blue clad figures out.

Panic spread among the assembled people who started scattering. In turn the blue clad figures started running in an attempt to cut off the congregation with radiant fire leaping from their hands.

Out, Henry slammed the shotgun on his back, and pulled out a Desert Eagle 2010 from it's holster.

The shoots from the gun hammered into another of the blue clad figures who fell lifeless to the ground.

Suddenly the situation turned into a stampede. People ran aimlessly like small herds in different directions, all of them desperately trying to evade the blue clad figures. Henry stopped. There in the middle of the shambles stood three children, two boys and a little girl. He noticed a blue clad figure approached the kids and started running toward them.

The two boys not older than eight and thirteen jumped the figure as he prepared to take the girl out. Oh God don't let this happen, she can't be more than 6 years old, Henry thought bitterly.

The leaping fire was quick to take care of the small figures desperately clinging to the tall uniformed person. They fell lifeless to the ground.

As he reached out for the girl who was paralyzed by the event Henry hit the figure hard in the back. The pistol grip dug deep into his spine and with a groan the blue clad fell to the ground.

Henry quickly grabbed the girl and started running away from the mess. Blue streaks of light passed right by him, and he was suddenly hit by something. A smell of burned meat reached his nostrils but the inertia of his body enabled them to slide over the top of the ridge he had chosen as his escape route.

There he lay, wounded, with a small frightened child in his arms. Someone or something was shooting at his neighbors and acquaintances. Such were the thoughts racing through his mind when a blue clad figure appeared right above them.

Henry was to weak to do anything about it and tried to shield the girl as well as he could using his body as a shield. He looked at the figure which was towering above them.

A gasp of surprise escaped him, the face behind the visor of the helmet….it was human!

As the figure raised his hand to finish him off, two gray shadows came hurdling through the night. A blue light leapt from the object in his hand, but too late, because in that very instant the dogs were all over him. One had already bitten itself thoroughly into the figures throat, and the other was going for his hand. An electrostatic charge hit one of the dogs which fell to the ground with a snarl of pain.

Before Henry was able to figure out what was happening the event was over.

The tall figure fell to the ground with blood squirting out in several directions.

The dog sniffed at the lifeless body which lay there before turning toward Henry.

“Thank you boys….”, Henry said looking at his dogs.

Overcoming the intense pain in his upper body he whispered “Take care of her…..Okay”, he took a deep breath and passed away.

The desert once again became silent as a shining light swept across the starlit sky, leaving the land with nothing but the moon and the sparkling stars in the sky above as sources of light.

A silent figure sat on a ridge, alertly looking over four figures: one the body of his master, his playmate, a bluish suited figure, and finally, a little girl with tears running down her face.

In the distance the roaring sound of helicopters broke the unnatural stillness which had fallen on this fateful evening.

			It is criminal to steal a purse.                               
			It is daring to steal a fortune.                               
			It is a mark of greatness to steal a crown.                
			The blame diminishes as the guilt increases.            
     	                 			Schiller (1759-1805) 

Paradise Lost

Back to top

“Captain Ramirez, General Powell on line one”, the intercom crackled.

Ramirez sighed and pushed a button. The vidphone flickered on and the image of an elderly gentleman appeared on the screen.

“General Powell…. what causes your call?”, Ramirez said somewhat bewildered. The look on the general's face was not a good sign.

“It's happening again, the Capital of the Faroe Islands is basically speaking under siege. We have three Class B ships on approach to Tórshavn City, sixty special troopers under the command of Justin Hawke”.

Ramirez was paralyzed and thoughts raced trough his head. Annika, more attacks, how many wounded or dead?

“Any reports on casualties?”, Ramirez managed to stutter while wiping the perspiration from his forehead.

“Nothing! Complete communication blackout, the last thing we heard was that several submersibles had arrived, and then… nothing!”

A raid from the sea… and there of all places. It was one of a handful of North Atlantic countries without a defensive militia. The horrific scenario was playing over and over in Ramirez's head.

“How long since the raid commenced?”, Ramirez asked almost whispering.

“1.5 hours ago. Hurricane Team has approximately 24 minutes before ETA.”, the general answered.

“Sir permission to leave my post”, Ramirez uttered before thinking for more than a fraction of a second.

“Sorry Ramirez, I can't let your team go in, until after clean-up. I know it's hard, but you can't put personal feelings before your official duties”.

“Anyhow you haven't wrapped up the Silver Stream affair yet”, the elderly man said firmly.

“But Sir…”, Ramirez didn't get any longer before his sentence was cut short by a harsh response.

“No buts, we can't afford loosing you, we have no one to replace you with on short notice”.

“Understood sir… thanks for telling me”, Ramirez said in a low voice.

“Think nothing of it… I knew how you would feel if someone else threw it in your face, afterwards… Listen I really have to hang up now… I'm sorry”.

“I understand sir…and thank you!” Ramirez said swallowing a large lump.

“Think nothing of it, and kid…. Godspeed!”, the general said as the screen blacked out.

Godspeed? Ramirez pushed the intercom, “Rachel… no more calls today”.

“But sir Professor Kristoffson is on line two, he says he has important news!”

“Tell him I'm sorry but I feel sick and I'm going to see the Doctor”, Ramirez answered before hanging up.

Oluf Kristoffson was trembling as he slammed the transceiver button down. It was clear to his companion that the professor was very agitated.

“Damned, what the hell is wrong with him?”, he yelled. “The little bugger asks me to call as soon as I have something, and then he's feeling sick… SICK I tell you, I call him up to explain to him that we're standing on the brink of a new era for mankind, and all I get from his secretary is that he's feeling sick!… I mean what the hell has the world come to?”, his voice thundered.

“I don't know Oluf”, Dr. Yoshi Kanawa answered. “But we still have lots to do, how about getting on with it?” he added mildly.

Kristoffson murmured an age old oath. Then the big Norwegian got up from the chair and started walking toward the corridor.

Kanawa was quick to follow suit, and the two men disappeared silently into the huge maze known as the Granier Institute.


The huge ships swarmed toward Tórshavn City like angry wasps.

In several places thick black smoke was pouring from the ground entrances.

Three of the domes surrounding the harbor area were on fire, which meant severe incendiary devices had been in use.

“This is Colonel Hawke speaking. Carrier 1 set down near dome 3. Alpha Team secures the bay area, Beta Team stay ready to backup if necessary. Carrier 2 proceed to Hoyvík area set down near the liberation statue. Gamma Team clears the residential zones. We will proceed to the medical facilities and secure the area, is that understood?”

“Carrier 1 here, reading you loud and clear… Alpha and Beta Teams ready”, the Microwave Communication Unit announced”.

“Carrier 2 here, commencing final approach, Gamma all ready to go Sir!”

“Good! Report in to Battle Tech with three minute intervals as usual. Over and out”, Justin removed his finger from the transmitter button on the com unit.

“Swing about and commence approach”, Hawke’s voice crackled over the intercom.

The large ships split formation and swung toward their destinations.

Slowly hovering down toward the pier the first of the carriers came under heavy fire. The ship most resembling a huge bumblebee in distress, trembled and wiggled as immense energy pulses blasted against its hull, leaving dark scorch marks all over it. Finally with a hiss and a roar, the large ship set down on the container pier.

“Air Quality OK, no foreign substances detected”, the intercom crackled.

“Alpha Team Go, Disperse in a split V formation Secure Sectors 6 and 7”, the young officer shouted as the heavy metal doors slid aside.

Smoke and an intense wave of heat radiating from the burning buildings met the young grunts as they leapt from the ship.

“All right let's show them what we're made off”. The words came from a cadet in his late twenties. He ran toward the nearest dome. But only a few seconds after finishing the sentence, a volley of shots were fired in his direction.

“Everybody down”, Sergeant Alvarez shouted, throwing himself to the ground.

The words came to late for the young cadet who was pierced by intense energy bolts. His body was torn apart before it finally found rest on the scorched ground.

Damned, Alvarez thought as he saw the young man's life end before his eyes. He got himself into safety behind a container. This is not good!

“It seems like they only got small arms or we would all have been pulverized by now”, he shouted into the communication unit.

The team slowly started to advance again, this time a little more carefully.

Meanwhile the second ship was closing on its objective. The carrier hovered for a while before the thrusters powered down to allow it to glide in for a smooth landing.

The doors opened and the men poured outside into the open landscape.

Everything looks so different, Joensen thought as he leapt onto the ground.

He hadn't seen his home country since the construction of underground residencies and dismantlement of all other buildings, or underground displacement as it was called, became compulsory under the Natural Prevention Act of 2005.

His eyes swept across the grassy plains. Here and there an exit could be seen. They and a few remnants of ancient housings were the only thing breaking the illusion of total desolation. With nature back in almost full force the islands really had become beautiful again.

“Okay Squads One and Two, go for the Northern Entrances, Team Three accompany me to Eastern Entrance.”, Joensen shouted to the waiting men.

They started running since speed was of the essence. If those bastards had entered the residential zones there was no telling what could have happened.

A bullet streaked past Sergeant Joensen's head, and he hurdled his body behind a large boulder. He pulled out a scope and looked in the direction the shot had come from. He looked at the screen and noticed heat from several humans hiding behind a barrier registering on the scope’s screen.

“Damned, stop firing we're humans! ”, he shouted toward the aggressors.

“We want proof, before we let you near”, a powerful voice boomed back.

Joensen once again held up the small device and instantly got a reading on the figures hiding behind the barricade.

“I'm getting up now, I'm leaving my weapons behind and raising my hands OKAY?”, he shouted toward them as he slowly got on his feet.

“Keep me covered”, he whispered to the nearest men.

With steady and slow steps he started moving toward the entrance.

A face peered out from behind the planks in the improvised barricade.

“Close enough”, the young man said as he stepped outside.

He was dressed in the official uniform of The Justice Corps, a corps of officers whose sole purpose was to keep the police in line, an endeavor in which the traditional internal investigation units had utterly failed.

The corpsman slowly walked toward Joensen with an apparatus in his hand. Joensen recognized the device, a DNA scanner, and as the young man closed in on him he got a better look at the gadget.

The unit was a Denary Series 7000, developed purely to provide if not instant acquittal then something very close during crime investigations.

Not bad, Joensen thought as the young man flicked the switch on.

“Gimme your hand”, the officer said harshly.

Joensen obliged and put his hand into the box. No need to mess with this guy. After several of the major DNA information banks had been proven to be run by crooked civil servants, the Justice Corps had been formed. They staged situations for police response to enable the corps to weed out among bad officers as well as key civil servants who could affect the welfare of the general public.

Though the Justice Corps had no jurisdiction in regular civilian matters, they were the law to the police and those employed by the World Union member states.

The risk factor was extreme for far too many people joining police forces were nothing but manipulative trigger-happy cowboys, in addition the bureaucrats were without respect for human beings, their rights or even their lives. Somebody had to take the reins and that's where the corps came in.

One had to envy them their pay. But did the salary equal out any feelings one might have about the risk? And then again how many people could retire at the age of thirty-five? Joensen wasn't quite sure.

Many a bad officer had been decommissioned pending investigation. How great was the hit rate?, Joensen thought for a while before the answer slowly started coming to him. Where had he heard it? Oh, yes, the Dennis Martin Show.

But what was it that they said about the hit rate? Was it 80… No wait more something like 65 % of the cases that ended with the police officers under investigation losing their job, again followed by imprisonment. These guys sure had to do their homework. Nope, definitely no reason to mess with him.

When the machine started to whir, Joensen glanced at the display.

“Now accessing Human Resources Center”, the machine proclaimed after flashing the same information on the screen.

Joensen couldn't help but smile. The computer talkback revolution hadn't quite caught on until he was past his teens. He still had mixed feelings about machines telling him what to do, not to mention how to do it.

But at least the Denary Series didn't go for that crummy fake human feel that Joensen detested. It looked like a machine, it acted like a machine and it sounded like a machine.

The scanner quickly took a sample without pain. No sharp needle pierced into his flesh or scooped off large pieces of him. Today all such testing was done on the molecular scale.

A series of beeps and tweaks from the box told him the analysis was complete.

“He's human all right, no unknown markers”, the young man shouted toward the barricade.

Another uniformed man appeared. The police officer's clothes were shredded and his face was bleeding heavily as he staggered toward them.

“We managed to stop them before they could get too far in. I think they're heading toward the pier again”, he said as he joined them. Joensen was fast to take charge of the situation and started barking out orders.

“Spark, relay that information to Battle Tech. Make damn sure they inform Squads 1 and 2 about the situation. The rest of you secure the residential zone now… what are you waiting for?…. go, go go!”

He gazed for a moment at the young man wearing the Justice Corps uniform. As their eyes met Joensen felt a chill run down his spine. He wondered if the rumors he'd heard about the corps being unbribable were true. Stories in the mess hall said that if a Justice Corps Officer was found to be on the take, he was eliminated, executed by his own. Off course these rumors were vigorously denied by the Corps Officials. But still, what if they were true?


“Alpha team here Alvarez speaking. We've lost McPherson, Hutckins and…”, a big blast cut Alvarez short. The pressure from the explosion threw his body against the dome wall. He fell down hard, and as he came to he found himself lying on the ground.

Disoriented and dizzy he staggered back on his feet and the world whirled around him. The dizziness was causing severe nausea.

“That was close”, said one of the privates who came running to Alvarez's aid.

“They are fighting mighty hard to secure those boats”, Alvarez answered regaining an overview of the situation.

“You've got that right”, the second private answered.

Alvarez took a closer look at the soldier. A woman? His gaze swept across the name tag. Jennifer Parker, Alvarez read with a smile.

“What are you staring at”, she asked accusingly.

“Nothing… Ahem… keep up the pressure, we want those boats secure.”, he answered taking his eyes away from the uniformed woman.

“We've got two of them pinned down over there”, she said, pointing toward dome 6.

Alvarez looked in the given direction and made out two figures through the smoke.

At least three of his men were in position, laying down a suppressing fire keeping them in place.

“Okay private load up the tazer and get moving, a live one will collect quite a bounty”, Alvarez said.

Private Parker opened her backpack and retrieved a shiny object, a brand new Q-47, a device built to give off a perfect amount of power to keep a subject in paralysis while keeping the target free of side effects such as pain.

She flicked the switch, and a high pitched hum indicated the Q-47 was charging. She closed her backpack and flung it back in position. She looked Alvarez straight in the eyes and kept her gaze dead on for a second or two. Then she started running toward dome Six.

“Alvarez calling Battle Tech come in please, Over”

“Battle Tech here, we lost you for a moment, problems?”, the voice crackled back nervously.

Alvarez was about to tell about the blast but decided against it, he did'nt particulary like the idea of doctors probing him unnescecerely.

“Nothing serious, commencing with plan C, securing other pier area, possibility of a live capture, keep chambers ready, Over”, he said to ease the tension.

“Battle tech here, read you OK. Gamma Team has reported no resistance, they're securing residential areas, seems that local police have managed to barricade themselves at the last moment. At least seventeen dead law enforcement officers, three still missing. Civilian counts not yet complete, at least four hundred missing or dead”, there was a slight pause before the voice continiued. This time there was a further streak of seriousness over it.

“We have confirmation of three enemy units heading toward harbor area. Warn remaining Alpha team members. Local police estimate around eigty unfriendlies, repeat eigty unfriendlies. There is a strong possibility for a hostage situation, use extreme caution”, the voice hesitated to let the information seep in before continiuing.

Alvarez was about to request further information when the voice began chanting it's song again.

“Local law enforcement units add that some sort of heavy stun weapon similar to our Electro Rad technology has been used, but they haven't experienced such severity before. Be sure to take every precaution you can. Battle Tech out - End Of Transmission”.

The communications officer looked at his aides. Alvarez hadn't requested any further information so everything so far had to be covered.

“Skinner how is the work proceeding?”, he asked wiping perspiration off his forehead.

“There is still no contact available with any of the other five major cities. Repair teams are working on the optic lines but all other long range communication devices are hampered by too much interference!”


Sergeant Joensen looked at his watch. 19:35. We're making good time, he thought as he wandered down the corridor alertly looking around.

The voice of Peter Schmidt one of his team members tore Sergeant Joensen out of his thoughts.

“Unknown movement, three life forms, Section J, no ID tabs present, distance approximately fifty meters”.

Joensen assessed the situation, “Okay Schmidt take Enemoto, Jensen and Celeste with you and check it out”.

The four soldiers nodded and ran off immediately, moments later they were outside Section J.

Schmidt took charge, “Listen up, we don't know who is in there but you heard BT's warning about a new weapon”

“BT my arse, They've issued warnings on every mission we've been on and it's always been a DOD. I'm going in. Jake cover me.”

Jensen a small but devastatingly strong man tore the door open and hurdled himself inside, he was followed closely by Enemoto.

“Goddamned men….”, Schmidt started. He didn't get any further before a burst of deafening shots blurred the remainder of the sentence.

A scream and the sound of something heavy hitting the metallic walls thundered through the complex.

“You fucking freaks!!!”, Enemoto shouted as he stormed forward and clamped his finger around the trigger. The muzzle spewed a series of deadly darts into the figure right in front of him. Something fell to the ground. Enemoto whirled around to see what was coming up behind him, but before he could react something hit him and he was dead.

At that instant Celeste and Schmidt charged, someone was standing behind the blue clad humanoid intruder who was fumbling with his weapon. The figure was hard to distinguish but it was definitely not human.

The helmet lights swam toward the two waiting figures. Ugly fuckers Celeste thought as her light hit them and in that same instant the intruder's weapon clicked into place.

The blue clad figure laughed, it was not an ordinary laughter. The sound was menacing, filled with hate and pleasure at the same time. His finger jerked the trigger and a beam of deadly light pierced the darkness.

As they threw themselves to the ground, Celeste fired.

A ball of electrostatic charges surrounded the intruders who fell to the ground with panic stricken eyes. Celeste slowly got up and squinted, she tried to blink. Her eyes hurt badly. Definitely some short term damage, she though while picking her safety glasses up from the floor.

“Pete you allright?“, she asked turning her head.

There was no answer and a smell of burned meat and short-circuits filled her nostrils. Nausea almost overwhelmed her, she pulled herself together and started examining the bodies.

A twitch made her look closer, the creature's chest seemed to move up and down in irregular patterns, one of the intruders hadn't died from the charge after all.

It was still alive!

  • *

“No one down here”, Hendricks said as he opened the panel inside the submersible.

The pier had been awfully quiet after the last of the intruders had been eliminated and Hendricks was beginning to get one of those creepy feelings again. This is like Namibia you think you're secure and then…., Hendricks did'nt get any further before Alvarez gave him an order.

“Secure those circuits and get out of there Hendricks”, Alvarez's voice was muffled and distorted when it reached Hendricks's ear and yet the soldier was getting a lot of positive energy from that voice.

“Yes Sir”, Hendricks replied enthusiastically. He flicked out a set of screwdrivers and started unscrewing the panel.

As the golden fireball grew, boiling water sent cascades of steam into the air, and the intense screams from those captured inside the hull found their way to the open hatch.

Then the submersible blew and fragments of the boat spread all across the harbor area.

Once again Alvarez was hit by a blast wave and was thrown to the ground.

This time, however, to his later great luck he didn't get back up.

The pier area was suddenly filled with running figures. Alvarez wasn't able to identify them before they got into one of the unsecured submersibles and then he passed out.

The crippled submersible started its escape run. Small arms fire from the assisting Beta team running toward the craft didn't pierce the armor clad surface of the hull.

A group of medics came running toward Alvarez.

He slowly opened his eyes “What about the others…”, he managed to say through the haze as the medics started working on him.

“Sorry Sir… They're all gone”, the assisting medic answered.

“Dome Six?”, Alvarez whispered already suspecting what had befallen his comrades.

“Totally pulverized, that's where they hit the hardest”, the medic said.

A missile streaked across the waves and plunged beneath the surface, a jet of water spewed straight up and there was a moment of silence, before the harbor filled with dead fish.

The medics were wrapping him in anti shock material.

Alvarez tried to shrug them off, but he was too tired.

“Who were they?”, he asked, summoning the last bits of strength in his body.

“We're not sure! Apparently a large undetected force arrived and started attacking”. The medic wasn't sure how much more information Alvarez could take but then decided that he might as well tell him the truth.

“The carrier had to take off. Only a few in Beta group have managed to stay alive”.

He paused for a moment.

“You know what, you were damn lucky that they took you for dead”, he medic said as they lifted his body onto the stretcher.

A groan of pain escaped Alvarez'es lips.

“Be careful, Damned”, the medic said to his aides as they hurried toward the waiting ship.

A streak of smoke and a loud whine from the turbo jets were the only signs that a Skyranger Craft had left the scene.

Damn lucky, was the last thing going through his mind, before the long silence fell.

  • *

“General Powell on the com”, the young lieutenant said and passed the Satcom unit toward Hawke.

A fatigued face appeared on the image screen in Powell's office.

“You okay?”, Powell asked in a worried tone.

“Yeah, but we lost a lot of good men here and they're getting tougher every time. I have no idea what they want but they must need it pretty badly by the way they're fighting”, Hawke answered.

“Damned, if the WU would sanction the use of larger forces, we wouldn't be in this situation, I'm sorry we can't put in more resources, but we cannot let the cat out of the bag until we know what we're dealing with”, Powell explained.

“I know”, Hawke answered “But you haven't heard the worst yet!”

“I don't like the sound of that”, Powell replied.

“We have around thirty enemy corpses accounted for….they were humanoid”

“Human?”, Powell felt the blood rush from his face as he spoke the word.

“Humanoid Sir, not human! or at least, I don't know if they can be called human. They appear to be human in shape, but I can't really say anything else about them until we get the corpses examined”.

“Off course, Colonel, I'll put Dr. Kristoffson and Kanawa on the case immediately as the corpses arrive.”, the General answered while his thoughts wandered back to Silver Stream.

“Don't do that. Their assistance is needed elsewhere!”, Hawke said worried about the Generals sudden lack of facial expression

“Elsewhere?…”, the General was genuinely puzzled. What the heck did the man mean, he thought.

“We got a package en route, ETA approximately 53 minutes”.

“My God… is it what I think it is?”, the General asked.

“I'm afraid so…. we got one confirmed, situation Red. We need some transport carriers to remove submersible wreckage as well, but I'm not sure how long we can keep a lid on it this time. There have been to many disappearances in a relatively small place. the details are bound to get out”, Hawke answered.

“Release Ezekiel, it's the only solution”, Powell said staring calmly at the vidlink on his desk.

Hawke stood there for a while, numbed by the order he had just received.

No other commander for a WU Special Task force had previously received these instructions, but every commanding officer was trained for it. And now that he got them his entire world seemed to collapse around him.

“But Sir, these are civilians!”, Hawke snapped as he regained vocal control.

“You know what they say, Can't make an omelet without breaking a few eggs”, the General answered distantly “Powell out”, he added reaching for the interrupt button.

The screen on the Satcom blanked, and Hawke summoned his aide. “Gather the men in forty five minutes, let them assemble in one of the work halls in Dome 3 by the harbor, I want to make a statement. Do not allow any radio or other communications until further notice! Is that clear?”.

“Crystal Clear Sir”, the aide answered with a salute.

“Get moving son”, Hawke said returning the gesture, seconds later the aide was on his way.

  • *

“FL-176 This is FL-556, Come in please”.

“FL-176 This is FL-556, Come in please”.

The call was repeated several times before a tired face finally appeared on the Satcom screen.

“FL-176 here, we read you loud and clear! Go ahead please. Over”.

“FL-556 Switching to Mode Orange”, Hawke said and took a deep breathawke H.

“FL-176 Mode Orange, confirm that”, the face on the screen replied.

“FL-556 Mode Orange verified. Switching!”, Hawke said and turned a knob.

Some static appeared on the screen before a new face appeared in the display.

It was a mild face, an elderly man in his mid seventies. His grayish white hair fell long and dignified onto his shoulders.

The background toward which the man was seated was not the dull nameless office now so usual for statesmen.

The view was a splendid panorama, an environment a regular city dweller wouldn´t normally encounter more than once or twice during his entire lifetime.

“So it is you!”, the old man said with warmth in his voice.

“Yes Sir”, Hawke answered looking down.

“What do I owe the Honor?”, the old man asked smiling.

“The Honor is all mine, Sir”, Hawke quickly replied looking up again.

“Come now, we haven't spoken for months. What's with the formality?”, the elderly man asked.

The worried and inquisitive tone in his voice was quite obvious, and painful for Hawke to recognize.

“I've been ordered to release Ezekiel”, Hawke finally said gravely.

“Ezekiel….”, the old man uttered as he sank down into a large chair.

His formerly so mild face had turned into a pale desperate mask.

“Never thought they would be mad enough to try and use it…what is your current position my friend”, he asked.

Hawke's reply seemed void of any emotion “Tórshavn, Capitol of the Republic of the Faroe Islands”. He waited for a moment to let the words sink in properly before he continiued.

“I'm here as the head of a WU Special Task force responding to a confirmed full scale Angel attack.”

The wrinkles round the eyes of old man grew deeper and the movement of his raised eyebrows indicated thorough contemplation. Civilians….

“Full scale you say…, and now they want to cover it up right?”, the old man said with controlled fury in his voice.

“We captured a live one. People have already started talking, I think that's why….”, Hawke said nervously. “I've ordered a meeting with my men in about 30 minutes, I need your advise Sir”, he added pleading for help.

“Sit tight son, let me get back to you in T-15. That ought to give you at least 10 minutes to run on before the meeting”.

“Sir?”, Hawke insisted.

“Yes?”, the old man answered and gestured with his hand.

“I was unable to divert the package….”

The old man disliked to see the shame on Hawke’s face and answered with a firm voice. “That’s okay… we probably have people close by, in any case you have other things to take care of”.

Colonel Hawke straightened his back, “Yes Sir!”, he answered with a salute.

  • *

“Less than one hour ago I was given an order, I was ordered to release a deadly biological scourge over a defenseless civilian population. It is one of those orders for which there are no excuses. Some of you may argue that an order is an order regardless of the implications. However as your commanding officer I have made it my moral obligation not to follow these orders. I know many of you have families and children. The women and children I was ordered to exterminate in cold blood today by our superior officers will not die by my hand or any of yours today. Freelancer forces are on their way this very minute and will take jurisdiction as soon as they arrive.

Those of you who are reluctant to dismiss the orders we have received may turn their weapons over now and consider themselves prisoners”.

There was a stir among the men and Hawke realized this was the critical moment, he quickly glanced around to make sure his personal guard was in place if any hothead suddenly started feeling too trigger happy.

“The transports”, Hawke continiued “Are at your disposal, none will be forced to stay. I have full guarantees from Freelancer Head Quarters that you will receive safe passage to whatever neutral destination you choose”

There was still some unrest among the troops but Hawke sensed the worst was over.

“We are soldiers, not murderers - that I have made clear to Command HQ, it has also been made clear that you had no choice and that the decision was forced upon you”.

The men seemed a little more relaxed but there was still a tension in the air that Hawke didn't like.

“Your families have been secured so that they cannot be used to put pressure on you but I must stress, that those of you who choose to stay most likely will never be allowed to return to your homes except for a court martial. The Swiss Platoon is an exception you have direct orders from the your government to aid in any way possible to ensure the takeover goes smoothly without casualties you may check the orders yourself”. “The Swiss are preparing a formal complaint and demanding an investigation into the matter as are other neutral governments. While no one but the Swiss have threatened to withdraw from all further international cooperation I am informed that they are not the only ones to look gravely upon this matter”.

Hawke looked at his men, they had become very silent as the situation dawned upon them this was an event their great grand children would learn about in school, that is if they managed to stay alive.

“As I said before, take some time to think about it. You may want to stay or you may want to leave… the choice is yours, but at least you have that choice.

  • **

“They did what”, Powell smashed his fist furiously into the mahogany desk.

“The Freelancers have declared the Faroe Islands off limits to WU and all non-aligned countries until further notice”, the young man said wondering if this was payback for that little joke he had pulled in the barracks, or if was due to some other reason that he had earned the job of bringing the news to the General.

“Freelancers…..”, the General didn't finish the sentene he was lost for words. Powell got up, stared aimlessly around the room for a moment unsure of what to do, then he sat down with a grim look on his face.

Everything has become so damn difficult since the Freelancers, he thought. But who was he to go up against an organization that supposedly had lunar bases, and quite possibly one on mars as well. All of them on full alert with the most sophisticated weaponry in existence throughout the entire solar system.

The Freelancers had forced the United States of America onto its knees by instigating Operation Fort Knox, a bold plan that had involved infiltrating the financial sector with the only aim to initiate the dissolving of the UN while encouraging the forming of a new World Union.

A global alliance of nations with equal vetoing powers as the old security council, it was madness.

Who the hell were these people? No one had ever reportedly set their eyes on any of their leaders. How the hell could that be possible?

How can the leaders of an organization whose operations on a world wide scale are equal to that of a Super Power remain anonymous?

Powell just couldn't figure it them out. These were people who by their own strange means had forced the entire planet into new ways. They had eliminated several of the worlds most pressing problems, but not by any means created a perfect global society. The Freelancers were careful people taking a slow approach by only dealing with the most pressing problems one by one. Their powerbase broadened every moment as their influence slowly seeped into the cracks of the system.

Damn them, damn them all to hell!

As suddenly as his mind had slipped Powell snapped out of his thoughts

“And what about the shuttle”, he asked with hateful eyes.

“It arrived at the Granier Institute a few minutes ago, cargo intact”, the young man replied.

“And what about the subject?”, Powell asked with a coarse voice.

“Oh….the subject, well that Jap fellow, what's his name Dr. Kanawa? or something, he was there and supervised the handling himself. He informed us that the subject is in deep stasis at the moment, and that they will start reviving it as soon as Dr. Kristoffson has approved it”, the operative answered glancing nervously at the exit.

“Thank you, that will be all”, Powell said and sighed.

“Yes Sir”, the young man replied with a snappy salute.

The operative clicked his heals together and scuttled out before anything the General decided within the next few moments would affect his future career.

Lunar HQ Dec. 8'th

Back to top

“We have seen increased activities in the northern hemisphere and WU Task forces haven't had much success in preventing it. This leads me to introduce our leader of the Advanced Weapons Research Division Mr. Arnold Tlatoani”

The small Latin American got up from his seat. He wasn't, as you might expect from a man in his position, dressed in a fancy suit, nor a scientist's lab coat. He wore the black uniform which had become synonymous with the Freelancer Organization.

He started to speak, “Our New Wakinyan C-Series has been released for production and is armed with two improved Macer-3 Cannons, 6 Osiris XV rockets with 1 Mirv Antimatter Warhead.”

A murmur went through the assembly. Arnold allowed a few seconds to pass before continuing “The engine is the Poseidon N-4, capable of both atmospheric and vacuum propulsion. Speed tests are well underway but no official clockings have yet been released”.

“But the Osiris rockets, antimatter warheads! what madman has sanctioned putting such devastating weapon power into the hands of the WU”, a stunning looking female operative interrupted.

Arnold turned his head and was about to answer when a voice suddenly filled the briefing room.

“Miss Smith if you must know who, then let me inform you that I was the one that sanctioned the transferal”, the voice from the intercom crackled.

Arnold choked a chuckle since the voice coming through the intercom was that of the supervisor, also known to the new recruits as 'The Almighty'.

“You need not be alarmed”, the voice continued “The Advanced Weapons Research Division is far ahead of you”.

“All our crafts have been retrofitted with shield generators which will disrupt the antimatter containment field of the Osiris rocket long before it comes into range”.

As the supervisors voice dissipated sighs of relief could be heard from the members of the assembly.

“And to ease your concerns about ground installations let me assure you that the Osiris Air to Air Rocket contains only minute quantities of antimatter. In fact the quantities are so small that we consider the Osiris a minor threat to us at the current time. There are several much graver threats from non aligned countries as well as from within certain WU countries which we must take into consideration before worrying about anything else”, the voice calmly declared.

There was a moment of silence allowing the information to sink in. A barely audible tweet in Arnold's ear implant gave him the cue to continue.

“The new shield modulation has allowed us to employ this newest breakthrough in a more peaceful role. Recently less than three weeks ago a young engineer of ours, Mai Li was working on improving our defense capabilities by reinforcing our shield technology by using a QMR generator as a booster for the known Armadi jamming shields”, Arnold said.

“Testing on the Mars Range, or I should rather say, above planet tests, showed that the enhanced shields might be able to block harmful radiation as well. The new shield generators were placed aboard a ship in the Werewolf Class. The performance tests turned out well, therefore work on a series of platforms in geostationary orbits has commenced in order to prepare a full fledged planetary shield that might enable us to change the living conditions on the surface of Mars forever”.

A spontaneous applause boomed through the room and interrupted Arnold, who graciously waited for the noise to die out before continuing.

“We can therefore assume that with the maneuverability of our current fleet, we have a sufficiently effective defense toward any rouge force trying to take advantage of the Osiris”.

“We are so sure in fact, that we in order to aid WU in dealing with the intrusion, reasonably safely, can allow the use of this technology for the greater benefit of the human race”, Arnold added cheerfully.

“But Mr. Tlatoani, when will the Wakinyan be released for service with the WU?”, the slender female asked.

Arnold sighed, somewhat annoyed by the untimely interruption, but allowed the female a few moments to fry, before answering.

“I'm really glad you asked about this Deborah. The council has decided that immediately after the final test runs, a squadron of twelve Fighters will be put into service at the WU Headfield Base. This is the only base which at this time is capable of providing the necessary servicing facilities”, Arnold answered with a smile.

He'd never given much for the formal use of surnames when addressing bureaucrats, so using the first name when being addressed by someone as formal as Deborah Smith, it gave him even greater pleasure.

The chairman coughed as Arnold returned to his seat and took charge over the meeting once again.

“As you know the founding principle of our organization has not changed… And this desire to resist all oppression not beneficial to mankind shall always continue to be of prime concern to us”, the chairman waved his hands dramatically to emphasize the importance of his words.

“We must remember that out of anarchy, the so called New World Order, which was based upon major engagements like the Gulf War and the Vietnamese January Revolt, we have brought a new justice to our planet. Not perfect in any way. Do not allow yourselves to be lulled into such beliefs. But we're working on it continuously, and we are a darn lot closer than anyone before us”.

“Thus we must see ourselves as the few among the many, as Joubert so finely said it. All are born to observe order, but few are born to establish it.”

“So in regard to this principle let me inform you that the Faroese situation is under complete control”, the chairman said with a strong voice.

“We currently have over ten thousand extra troopers standby including those on our lunar facilities. A total of 13.300 counting both civilian and military personnel, are already present in the Faroe Islands establishing two underwater, as well as a couple of ground based compounds. Approximately the same number of troops and civilians have been transferred to Greenland and Iceland in order to enforce our decree.”

“But what if someone engages with tactical nukes, our forces won't stand a chance….”, the worried looking official didn't get ant further before Arnold Tlatoani cut him short.

“Listen Maciyek it'll never come to that… remember the last time the French went tactical, a whole lot of good that did them. Nobody will risk such an economic blow again, not unless they're very stupid or very brave”

“Yeah or both…”, Chuck Kittelson a large Canadian added.

The laughter loosened them up a bit, but it didn't take long before the conference got back into a more serious mode again.

To Arnold and the others the meeting was beginning to seem endless but finally as always it came to an end. They all got up, and started leaving.

“Jenkins… please stay where you are”, the voice on the intercom commanded.

A tall slender man stopped and his cubic ears seemed to stiffen while his upper teeth normally visible in a crooked smile disappeared. His forehead wrinkled, moving the sad looking brows

“Yes”, he answered with a hoarse intonation.

“Please sit down”, the voice on the intercom commanded, Jenkins obeyed.

“I'll see you later Deborah”, he said as the doors started closing.

He had placed himself in a chair facing the entrance. The chair hummed and started turning toward the vision screen on the wall where an image appeared.

Deborah?, Jenkins thought as the image imprinted on his retina.

Once again the voice sounded, not through the intercom this time but from somewhere behind him.

“Please don't turn around, stay seated!”, the voice said in a mild manner. There was a pause before the voice continued, this time in a more serious tone.

“We are living in dark times indeed. People you thought you knew turn against you, and those whom you thought to be your counterparts suddenly are your allies. It is all very confusing”.

This is not good. Jenkins knew that all too well.

“The written laws are like spider webs, and will only entangle and hold the poor and weak, while the rich and powerful will easily break through them. This is the balance, or rather unbalance we set out to destroy”, the voice continued.

Jenkins couldn't quite place the phrase that was one of the principles under which he and his crew operated daily.

The tired voice behind him continued “Unfortunately sometimes when removing the web we get caught in it and the master of the web arrives to finish off the prey”.

“Excuse me sir, I don't quite follow”, Jenkins said before the voice managed to continue.

“Luckily for us, we have become good at cutting the strands that hold that web together without getting stuck in the ill dealings and intrigue that entwine us all. But sometimes even the best precautions just aren't good enough”.

The voice had Jenkins full attention now. A brewing sense of unease was creeping up on him. There was something wrong, and terribly so.

“I know this will be hard to believe but someone among us, someone whom you during these last months unfortunately have grown fond of, poses a big problem for us”.

“Deborah?”, Jenkins uttered inquisitively, but in his heart he already knew.

“I curse myself for letting it happen, for being so blind, but our code strictly prohibits us from meddling with other people's affairs unless a greater purpose is served. Alas, it was already to late when we discovered it…..”

“Discovered what?”, Jenkins despite his thorough training interrupted as he got on his feet and turned around.

“She is a spy!”, the old man said right to his face.

The dry answer came as a shock to him and he could feel blood rush from his head. His knees wobbled and he grabbed the seat in order to keep himself upright.

“I don't believe you!”, Jenkins sputtered. He was desperate now, the chance that he was right and they were wrong was close to absolute zero.

“My greatest regret is, that it is I who have to break these news to you, but getting the news from one of our intelligence officers would have seemed rather cold and insensitive. You know we care about our own!”.

“But why was she allowed to participate in the meeting”, Jenkins asked slowly recovering from the first wave of the shock.

“A demonstration of power, the news of our troops present in the Faroe Islands and the sheer number of troops on standby, will deteriorate the planned raid by US troops a raid conjured up to rebuild the image of USA as the world police officer.

The image of the yank cavalry coming to the rescue of a small island state under siege of an evil empire intended on total world domination cannot be allowed in the media.

Put quite simply an act of that magnitude along with a distorted image in the media would upset to many good things that are happening around the globe”. For a moment the old man paused as if to catch his breath, then he continued. “Events like the Iranian-Israeli peace deal would fall to the floor, distorted by corrupt politicians whose interest lies in world disorder rather than a global peace, in which all mankind can live freely with nations side by side regardless of beliefs and tradition. Furthermore the council has decided that she will be an excellent tool for penetrating and placing moles in the Resistance League, who have for too long been a thorn in our eye”, the old man said.

“But why are you telling me all this? Couldn't I be a spy as well?”, Jenkins was fishing desperately for a crack in their reasoning now and knew it.

“You have much to our disliking been under observation as your contract allows when it comes to internal threats and you have been found clean. Otherwise I wouldn't be speaking to you. However, to avoid any more security breaches, we would like you to voluntarily apply for a transfer to our Mars facilities. I'm sure they can use our your skills there”.

Mars, the word rumbled through his mind. The dry desolate plains, life confined in a tin can… a grim prospect. “I understand Sir, but are you absolutely sure about Deborah?”, Jenkins asked grasping for straws, he felt like he was drowning.

“I'm afraid so”, the old man said lowering his gaze.

A feeling of terrible emptiness started growing within him. But it wasn't so much the sadness as something else that terrified him, it was the fire of betrayal slowly eating at his soul. Jenkins closed his eyes, he knew that once he opened them again his world would never be the same.

			Science is the father of knowledge,          
			but opinion breeds ignorance.                     
                                         Hippocrates (B.C. 460-370)

The councillor

For the last weeks, Block C of the Granier Institute had almost been hermetically sealed.

The security was so tight that an unauthorized dog breaking wind half a klick away would have triggered at least three alarms, and probably activated over a hundred thoroughly armed security people. But with the animal rights bill preventing most citizens from keeping animals in urban areas, that scenario fortunately wasn't the case.

A fact like security however couldn't bother the two scientists working in Lab 7 for they had been pushing buttons frantically for some time now. The number of test tubes in the tray on the table was astounding and the subject hadn't moved or uttered a single syllable. It just lay there and breathed with its eyes shut. Their search for a doorway that could open a path leading to intelligent communication or just some sort of reaction seemed futile.

“You look terrible Yoshi”, the Norwegian said with a grin as he sat down and pushed the tray aside.

“Yeah, yeah…said the blind one to the deaf one”, the Japanese answered planting his coffee mug on the table.

The wordplay in Dr. Kanawa's answers never ceased to amuse Kristoffson. He couldn't help wonder how long Kanawa had cultivated that quick backfire response routine.

“Touché…”, was the only thing he could think of to give as an answer.

He was very aware of how badly he looked himself. But hey, they were allowed to. Probably nothing any scientist anywhere in the world was working on at the moment, was as important as the work which was going on in Lab 7.

For the first time in the history of the human race an extraterrestrial life form had been encountered, and they, him and Kanawa, had been chosen to close the communications gap. And what a gap that had turned out to be.

Dr. Yoshi Kanawa started to talk into his Handy Journal, a small device giving doctors instant access to patients records and advice from the Medico Computer and Science Center at Mount Wandjina from any position on the globe.

“Reactions to psychoactive drugs MXT-5 and DSO, so far are close to zero. Their psyche can't be anything like our own, though metabolism and other bodily functions seem very similar”.

“Are you just gonna sit there and work, or are you gonna enjoy the coffee?”, the Norwegian said as he glanced across the room.

He couldn't help but smile because the rest room looked more like a lab than a recreation area. Then again the difference between work and rest seemed quite blurred for the time being.

“Linguistic attempts to reach subject have so far failed”, Kanawa didn't get any further with his statement before another interruption led him to stop.

“Dr. Kanawa, Dr. Kristoffson, please come to holding area 7 immediately. As per your instructions your presence is requested!”, the intercom declared with an emotionless synthesized computer voice.

The two men looked at each other, this could be it.

“Let's go!”, Kristoffson said and poured down the remainder of his coffee in a single draught, it wasn't hot but the black liquid did the trick.

	   It is not the object of war to annihilate those who have   
	   given provocation for it, but to cause them to mend their 
	   ways; not to ruin the innocent and guilty alike, but to       
	   save both.                                                          
                                              Polybius (B.C. 203?-120)

—-Secrecy had been essential, Kanawa had managed to circumvent regulations that normally required them to notify their employers the moment a subject started responding to treatment, but as Kanawa had discovered it was not the treatment that had forced a change in the subjects behavior who could say that they were in breach of protocol and the fact that they by intimate discussions over the last days had learned more about alien races than the G-Men that were bound to come barging in the second they got wind of what was happening would probably make up for any disciplinary problems.

Kristoffson gave the councillor an annoyed look. Over the course of their discussions the debate had seemed to heat up and the change in the subjects attitude was getting very clear now.

“After all the human race is nothing but the highest branch of primates on this world”, the councillor said in his peculiar voice. “Furthermore”, he continued, “Your greatest advances for millions of years were the forming of languages and the discovery of science, but has this brought you any further? In what way have you improved yourself as a species?”

“Destruction, that's what you're good at and that is the reason why we chose you, you're a good source of raw materials”, the councillor said.

“Raw materials!”, Kristoffson was outraged. Had it been a fellow human being who was saying the words he wouldn't have reacted. Never in his entire life had he expected such arrogance from this being, a creature from another star.

“Who the hell has given you the right to pick and choose! This is our planet and our citizens are free individuals whom you cannot abduct at your leisure”, Kristoffson thundered.

“This use of hostility is of no use to anyone”, Dr. Kanawa interrupted “We must proceed with this conversation in a more civilized manner”. He emphasized the last two words looking from Kristoffson to the councillor and back.

“You're quite right, Dr. Kanawa. I admit my words may sound harsh in your ears but I shall open myself to you. In return for this I expect nothing else than to be treated with courtesy, as it is becoming for a host on this planet to treat his guests”, the councillor said, staring at Kanawa with those odd black eyes.

“I think we can agree with that. Right Kristoffson?”, Kanawa asked with a wrinkled brow.

Kristoffson nodded, and Kanawa started to breathe a bit more easily.

Kristoffson was a brilliant scientist but short tempered. His wife had left him early on in his career and that fact hadn't made him an easier person with whom to work.

The councillor started speaking again “A long time ago we discovered that the violent tendencies in our species and others could be manipulated with alterations. Genetic alteration you would call it. Some of us from the leading scientific community were called upon to create a new weapon, only things got out of hand and it resulted in a very violent race which we named Sarlacan”.

“The Sarlacans were something….. well to draw an analogy with your background, one could describe the Sarlacan as a cross breed between a gorilla and a lobster. They're an insectoid race capable of living under almost any conditions. No one really knows how but a large number of them somehow got loose on our home world and destroyed almost 90% of the population before they were contained. As you can understand the Genesis project which created the Sarlacans was shelved and all research evidence was hidden away, never to be used again”. The councillor paused briefly before continuing.

“As one would expect after such an event, violence and war were banished by law. To a certain point we succeeded and our inner search for peace with ourselves led to the elimination of war. With war's disappearance, extreme hunger for power also disappeared. We started spending all our time contemplating the great mysteries of the universe and finding inner peace”.

The black eyes seemed glazed for a moment but unfamiliar with his physiologic responses the two men didn't notice the change in his eyes and the councillor continued.

“Sadly a few years later a young and brilliant scientist N'torr somehow got his hands on the material which lead him to start conducting secret experiments. While we all were working on eliminating violent tendencies amongst our own, something was brewing in the darkness. The young N'torr suddenly disappeared, and a great many minds wondered what had happened to him. The answer came 450 of your Terran years later…”

“450 years!”, Kristoffson uttered in astonishment, interrupting the councillor.

“To you the time may seem long, but for us, however it is but a fraction of a life, a grain of sand in the vast sea of time. In the year of 896 BC according to your current reckoning of time, an outpost of ours, the planet Ibiax was attacked by unknown forces”, the councillor continued. “Our forces managed to hold out for a few days with the help of the local inhabitants, but when evacuation ships arrived everybody had died”, the councillor said with sadness in his voice.

“All of them”, Kanawa asked, sensing images of terror and destruction in his own mind.

The councillor looked up, true interest? He couldn't be sure for humans were capable of such deceit and lies that he didn't dare make a judgment there and then. It would be better to tell the full story and wait for a reaction because he had to get away from here, at any cost.

“Yes the entire population along with our advisors had been wiped out by a colossal force of Sarlacans. By the looks of the destruction there must have been hundreds of thousands in that one raiding party. Trlaeh and Oni were the next star systems to fall but at that point we had involved the Artaxan fleet which was generously supplied by the Emperor Tyhifur of the Artaxan Unity, to meet this terrible foe”.

“During the battle of Oni we discovered that the Sarlacans were fighting for someone they called Turlsten”

“The Sarlacans seemingly furious over the Artaxan involvement engaged in a bitter war which rendered most of the Artaxan empire lifeless and took the glorious Tyhifur away to the next dimension”.

“Today a few planets, under the rule of Tyhifur's son Kishun, have escaped the wrath of the Sarlacans by employing some sort of space field distortion surrounding the Erana System. The field destroys all incoming ships, however, there are certain times when the field is opened wide enough to let messenger drones in and out at pre-defined times and places”.

“Communication has not been easy as a mighty Sarlacan fleet has laid an iron ring around the Erana system, thus making it very difficult for messenger drones to penetrate into or from the few remaining free regions of space.

“What about radio or beam communication?”, Kanawa was curious to hear more about these intrigues between distant stars.

“No the space field distortion cripples all forms of known communications, so the only way is to rely on the messengers to carry important messages to the allies across the wide gulfs of space”, the councillor said.

“Allies?”, Kanawa was becoming very interested now

“Yes as the years went by the Sarlacans expanded their domain, not all star systems were thrilled by the intruders and whole Star Fleets have been Annihilated by the Sarlacans. Federations, Kingdoms Empires, Unions all have been subdued and enslaved by these horrendous conquerors”.

“None but we and a few others have been able to survive, always on the run, until recently. Well not so recently by your standards. Several centuries ago actually we came across the human species. The rate of which your scientific development had progressed was not very impressive, but your breeding rates and your versatility were. However when scientific developments came to the point when radio communications would have given you away, protecting you became a concern for us”.

“Kishun graciously living up to the promise of his father agreed to help us and funded the venture. How I do not know, as the Artaxan economy, if they really had any is in a very bad shape.

“A space cloaking field was constructed and with the help of the Hycce scientists and transportation fleet was sent toward your system, the field was set up and is in operation as we speak.”

“Jesus!… protecting us?”, Kristoffson interrupted “You mean isolating us”.

The councillor felt very annoyed by the interruption but continued.

“Think what you will but it was necessary to block you off, we even had to send in agents to delay space ventures, otherwise you would have brought yourselves straight into the heat of the conflict….”

“You have no right whatsoever to meddle in our affairs….”, the tall man began.

Ast-tei turned toward Kristoffson again, there was something menacing over his act that made every muscle in the Norwegians body tighten like springs.

“Don't you understand? …such ventures would have resulted either in the enslavement or Annihilation of your species”, the councillor said with firm conviction.

Kristoffson was not ready to accept the overseers as a positive influence on mankind “What do you care”, he blurted.

“We care more than you think, we consider every species in this universe precious… not like Turlsten!”

“But Turlsten… you've mentioned that name before, who is it?”, Kanawa inquired.

Ast-tei saddened and looked down for a moment “Turlsten.. a sad case that was”, the councillor mumbled.

“What?”, Kristoffson demanded quite disturbed about what he had just heard.

“Turlsten a sad story, maybe I'll tell you more on another occasion… I grow weary utilizing this form of communication, please excuse me”.

That was all they got that day from the being that would come to change their lives in a way none of them could foresee.

—-“I don't trust him one single bit”, Kristoffson bickered.

“Well neither should I but there is something about him… something I can't explain”. Kanawa fiddled with his pen thumping it against the tabletop.

“I think you've been spending to much time with him Yoshi”.

“Time is but what we make of it”, the Japanese answered cryptically.

Kristoffson nodded, he was to tired to argue. In a way Kanawa was right there was no telling how long they could keep the charade going. Someone was bound to discover the visitor was able to communicate and then what… Debriefing as it so nicely was called in the contract. Debriefing and then the final act of kindness. Ast-tei's existence be pushed into oblivion. Nobody not a single living soul say themselves and a few select others would ever know. Their children or their children's great grand children would never be told.

They would never know that they were not alone in this vast universe… at least not if it was left in the hands of old style politicians.

Kanawa stared at the Norwegian who seemed mesmerized by the tapping of the pen.

“I have it”, Kristoffson suddenly said with a triumphant expression on his face.

“Have what?”, the baffled Japanese asked. “How it is possible to give this old world of ours a wake-up call”, Kristoffson replied.

Kanawa looked at his old study mate and smiled it was going to be a long night.


As the days passed communicating with the councillor became harder every time. The director and his drones as Kristoffson liked to call them were getting a little too interested. Kanawa sighed heavily and couldn't help rubbing his forehead, what could they do?

”…Are you listening?”, Ast-tei asked looking at Kanawa with his black beady eyes.


The councillor still stared at the Japanese with that expression of his “I said are you listening?”

“Why.. yes of course”, Kanawa answered somewhat bewildered by the councillor's persistence.

Ast-tei stared at him for a few seconds before he continiued.

“Perhaps I should rather say N'torr for we have found out that he and Turlsten are one and the same”.

“So N'torr turned against his own people, hell I can't blame him the way you behave”, Kristoffson interrupted.

“They weren't his own people any more”, the councillor shouted “N'torr had merged himself with one of his creations a being unknown to us. He had altered himself and it is that change that makes him our most dangerous adversary ever”, there was terror in the councillor's voice as he spoke.

“So there were others eh?”, the Norwegian slipped in.

Ast-tei was on the brink of exploding, this was very rude behavior even for a human. He meditated for a short while before continuing.

“N'torr had become an untamed beast, his domain engulfing star system after star system. Slowly but surely he was tearing our dream of a peaceful universe to pieces”.

“Why would anyone want to do that to himself?”, the baffled Kanawa asked.

“Nobody knows the exact reasons, but I expect the usual reasons; a lust for power, a craving to dominate. You as a human should be familiar with the reasons for war and destruction”, the councillor answered.

“Here you go again”. Kristoffson was about to loose his temper “You go on and on about the human race, as if it was one individual acting in accordance to the will of one mind. There is something you have gotten very wrong about us…”

“And what might that be”, the councillor interrupted as rudely as he could.

“And what might that be…” Kristoffson felt an urge to strike out at this, this unspeakable hideous blob, a thing that blabbed away as if it knew all human affairs, and was superior to the complex workings of human society.

“Our individuality! Not all humans have an urge to conquer and destroy. Some of us actually work to make things better”. Kristoffson was growing angry now but was still trying very hard to control his temper.

“Make things better you say…Well, well, well and look what that brought you”, the councillor continued seemingly unaware of Kristoffson's rising temper.

“What the hell do you mean by that”, Kristoffson barked furiously.

“The atomic bomb, laser and particle beams, all those weapons of mass destruction with nice names. All developed in the name of mankind, all supposed to make the world a safer place? I think not!”, the councillor said with determination in his voice.

“Now, now… lets all just calm down, this bickering leads nowhere, there are greater issues which have not yet been clarified.”, Kanawa said, as always a catalyst of peace.

“Yes, I'm sorry, what would you like to know?”. The councillor sounded a little curious for he was not very fond of humans but this one stirred something in him, an indescribable feeling of ease and trust as opposed to this Kristoffson, very fierce, such an archetype of the Nordic people. They were indeed fierce warriors when cornered, but not people easily understood or worked with.

“Like why you are here now?”, Kanawa said staring right into the lifeless eyes of the councillor.

“Ah..the inevitable question”, the councillor seemed to hesitate for a moment. His eyelids slid down turning the dark eyes into fine slits through which he peered. He stood for a moment wavering until his eyelids slowly opened again as he started speaking.

“Quite frankly we need your help! The allied systems can't hold out much longer. The constant running, depletes all our resources and the battle for freedom is getting more difficult with every encounter”, he said with big innocent eyes.

“Have you thought about asking”, Kristoffson asked in an insulting tone.

The councillor was getting tired of the Norwegian and answered spitefully, despite all his efforts not to.

“Unfortunately yes, it seems the humans are a hard species with whom to open communication channels”.

The councillors eyes moved first from one then to the other before continiuing.

“Our first how can I put it…. diplomatic mission arrived in the last half of the twentieth century after an agreement with the united Terran governing body, or so we thought”

“We expected our granted safe passage would be honored, but our unprotected ship was shot down by Terran fighters during its descent. The crew was captured and do you know what they told us?”, the councillor asked with a threatening glare in his eyes.

“Their last communications to us were to stay clear of dealing with the governments of your race as their promises were as good as that of an Ispian”. He said this with triumph in his voice. Let that professor fellow chew on that one, the councillor thought quite pleased with the final remark.

“Woah.. hold it there, Ispians…”, Kanawa said, feeling that the discussion was slipping from his grasp.

The councillor realized his slip-up and started explaining.

“The Ispians were the first race we encountered when we found a way to cross interstellar space and they became our working partners as parts of their propulsion techniques were far superior to our own. Later, however it seems that the Ispians sold out to N'torr and joined forces with him and anyone his Sarlacan hordes are rubbing shoulders with”, the councillor answered.

“And the government bit?”, Kanawa asked.

“We had an agreement with the UN Security Council to ensure safe passage, but treacherous as they were they turned on us. We lost two ships, and after that we have conducted our activities in utmost secrecy”, the councillor answered.

“Hmm.. that explains a lot, please go on”, Kanawa said clearly disgusted by this darker side of human affairs.

The councillor continued for he was almost certain now. Perhaps there was hope for escape anyway.

“Lately as the technological development has prepared the human spirit for the possibility for the existence of extra terrestrials we have begun recruiting amongst your own people on an increased scale”

“We need your tactical skills and your indomitable courage”, the councillor said before being interrupted by Kristoffson.

“Fancy words for abducting people”, the Norwegian said with sarcasm in his voice.

“I know your feelings Kristoffson”, the councillor was speaking in an authoritarian voice now. “But as is our custom, we always ask others to join us and nobody is forced into anything. We accept a no thanks!”.

“But what happens when someone refuses?”, Kristoffson asked and smiled, let the bastard wriggle himself out of that one.

“The mind is blanked, and the person is returned as close to the pickup point as possible”.

“I knew it, there is a price to pay. Who the hell are you to steal anybody's memory?”, Kristoffson growled.

The councillor looked at Kristoffson and once again let the eyelids turn his eyes into intimidating slits.

“Not all knowledge is blanked from the individuals mind of course, that would be like murdering the subject. Only enough information is deleted to make sure the person is unaware of our dealings. However as you may be aware there can unfortunately be some side effects since the human mind has a strange but powerful regenerative or subconscious part that constantly processes all data the brain receives or generates”. He looked at Kanawa while he explained himself. Strange how this dark skinned human absorbed his attention.

The councillor shook himself out of the stare and turned his attention toward the Norwegian who had accused him.

“I believe you mostly refer to the effect as the imagination, which manages partly if not completely to fill in the blanks and recreate a simile of the event from fragments”, the councillor said before hesitating for a moment.

Fragments that seem to be left, even if the mind is supposed to be blanked. Kanawa smiled the jigsaw was finally coming together in his head.

“This memory regeneration has produced some horrendous effects in the behavior of certain individuals, but fortunately for us our presence has not yet been depicted as a menace to the public to turn the tide against us”, the councillor said, aware that the Japanese was onto something.

Kanawa stood silent and wondered for a while, “Listen Ast-tei, there are important matters I need to discuss with my learned colleague Dr. Kristoffson and I have but one humble request for you”, he said while rubbing his lightly bearded chin.

“Yes go on please!”, the councillor answered curious about the request.

“As you have done before, I need you to agree to not to communicate with any other humans, and not to move about any more while we are gone. Do you think you can manage that?”, Kanawa asked staring straight at the councillor.

Ast-tei gave what Kanawa interpreted as a little nod.

“I shall respect the silence as requested”, the councillor answered and returned to the almost inert state he'd been in when the transport brought him in.

The two men then left the room and entered the corridor.

The door closed swiftly and silently behind them before letting out the inevitable hiss of a pneumatic application coming to the end of its duty cycle.

“You know we have a problem”, Kristoffson said as he glanced around once more to make sure that the corridor was empty.

“Yes and my imagination has run wild over what will happen to him when they discover we can communicate”, Kanawa answered in a dark husky voice “Got any suggestions?”, he added hopefully.

“Only one, and you know what that will mean!”, Kristoffson's eyes looked gray and gloomy as he finished the sentence.

Kanawa nodded the task wouldn't be easy. They had already discussed the possibility, but he had never truly admitted to himself that it could ever come to pass. He had always been a loyal worker, loyal to the Institute, loyal to his peers, and now…What disgrace! Most probably he would loose contact with his relatives for good, but in perspective to the possible coming events, what was one man's honor compared to that of the world?

		Everything that is possible to be believed   
		is an image of the truth.                                       
                             William Blake (1757-1828) 

Feb. 13'th

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Feb. 13, 2029

Aboard the Sarlacan Seeker everything wasn't as calm as usual during deep space flight. This was due to the fact that the Seeker had entered a system where contact had been broken with two other ships several decades ago, ships that had reported unusual spacual distortions and rapid increase in the technological advances of the intelligent life the lifebringer harbored.

A fact that suggested the inhabitants of the third planet from the sun wanted to be left alone. The object of this mission was to find and interrogate the inhabitants and to find the true reason behind the silence. Theirs was not the first ship to enter the system nor probably the last, for the Sarlacans had paid this particular system several visits many centuries ago.

Planet Earth as the local inhabitants referred to when talking about the lifebringer, was an interesting place. High reproductive rate, extremely agile beings and fierce tendencies that could be harnesses in service for the cause.

“Captain we have an unidentified reading to starboard, 5 Cmecks and closing”, the aid said.

“Any count yet?”, the Sarlacan captain asked whirring his head tentacles.

“Nothing Sir, but they don't look like ships from the Unity”. The young Sarlacan lookout was quite nervous. What if the ships were someone else, someone not yet examined, perhaps something terrible from the unknown depths of space there were many chilling tales of things and horrible machines which could drain the color from the shell of even the most hard-boiled Sarlacan, not that it had ever happened, but still.

Meanwhile the small flotilla of Werewolf ships moved closer.

“This is Wolf One to Unknown Ship, identify yourself please, Over!”, the communication officer said in a tired voice.

“Repeat this is Wolf One to Unknown Ship, identify yourself please, Over!” “Ah…this is futile sir. We've tried more than a dozen times and they don't want to identify themselves”. The communication officer turned to face his Commander.

“Or maybe they can't communicate the way you do Spark! keep hailing them, be creative”, the Commander answered.

Had he known about the orders for strict communication silence aboard the Sarlacan ship during this deep space mission, and the reason for their silence on the radio waves he might have chosen another course of action.

“Wolf leader here calling wolf pack, prepare for haul, we wish to retrieve this ship preferably in one piece. Do not fire unless fired upon, set shields disruption to maximum, I want every circuit that isn't encased fried.. is that clear, Over”.

The next few moments could seal their fate and the Commander was very aware of that but the pressure hadn't even started showing on him.

The ships started reporting in “Wolf 5 here copy that, in one piece”

“Wolf 4 here standing by hauling cable and Mag Attachments up and going”

“This is Wolf 3, shields are up, beam smoking!”

“Wolf 2 here, it looks like I have a fault on the CDC converters, I can't get the shield up, please advise, Over!”

The Commander stroked his beard, “Wolf Leader to Wolf 2, fall back to rear position, Wolf 5 take point, Wolf 3 and 4 create cover for 5, stand by in holding position, we're going in for a flyby”.

The Werewolf Class Cruiser increased its forward velocity and moved with tremendous speed toward the Sarlacan Seeker.

Aboard the Seeker the voice of the Captain boomed over the intercom,

“Prepare for evasive action, on my mark. Hold your fire, repeat hold your fire”, but his orders were futile for as the ships came speeding toward each other the incomprehensible happened.

A shout from a young Sarlacan lookout to the front gunner triggered the attack. Immediately as the first energy bolts were fired the two other gunners had their guns in firing position, and Wolf One became a cloud of glowing particles in the silent blackness.

Moments later the shock wave and debris spreading in a perfect sphere hit the other ships.

“Wolf 3 here, the bastards got Jackson I'm going in Cover me”

“Wolf 3, this is Wolf 5. Stay in formation, proceed as ordered”, the angry voice of Sergeant Jamison barked into the headset.

Once again within the time span of seconds orders were set aside and a powerful neutron stream hit the Sarlacan Seeker, in return the Sarlacan energy bolt cannons focused their mighty power and Wolf 3 was obliterated.

“Wolf 5 here to Wolf 4 and 2, Wolf 3 is down we need to alter strategic positions. Wolf 4 get in above us as close as you possibly can and then concentrate all power to your front shield”.

“Including all weapon power?”, the voice of the pilot was clearly nervous.

“Yes Wolf 4, all power I want those bastards fried. Wolf 2, return to Phoebos base for repairs and alert proper authorities”.

“Wolf 2 here copy that, sorry guys, good luck!”, the pilot said as he swung the craft away from the battle zone.

“Yeah we're gonna need it”, Jamison whispered to himself.

The two remaining ships moved closer, until only a few inches separated them. Any failure to keep formation now and both ships would be lost forever.

“Nav Com interlocked, all weapons armed, ready for hauling sir”, the communication officer announced knowing that attaching the mags on that bugger would be suicide.

“Okay, Spark here we go!”, the sergeant said clenching his fists to the arm rests.

The Poseidon engines roared and the vibrations emanating from the powerful engines could be felt throughout the ships as they started their attack run.

“Ship computers have analyzed the situation our shield strength vs. their bulkhead.

That ship is capable of withstanding 3 or 4 direct hits at the current recharge level, but with the recharge rate we have, it is a question of how long we can avoid their guns if you want to fry their circuits”, the communication officer said with a grave look on his face.

Jamison looked down. The odds were not good, not good at all.

“Thanks Spark”, Jamison said unhappy with the situation. There was no chance in hell they would be able to continue for very long without getting hit. Even with the partial cover the two ships gave each other it was a question of time before they were all finished off. Ah well we all have to go at one time or another Jamison thought and started punching in his orders.

“Wolf 5 this is Artemis, outbound to Jupiter. We heard about your trouble and have altered our course accordingly. Do you need our assistance? Over”, a voice declared tearing all of them out of their gloomy mood.

“Where in heaven's name did you come from?”, Jamison almost yelled into his microphone.

“I'm sorry I can't get into details with you, do you need our assistance? Over!”, the voice explained.

“What kind of firepower do you carry?”, Jamison asked relieved that at least some help had arrived.

“3 Dobrynja Missiles with friend foe distinction capabilities and AI guidance system. 6 Macer-3 Cannons, and 4 Osiris XII rockets as well as an Armadi IV experimental shield. Basically the works”, the voice proudly announced.

“Thank God”, Jamison exclaimed out loudly as he exhaled.

“Would you be ready to lead our attack run? We need to break down their circuits and limit their flight capabilities so that we'll be able to pull them in”, Jamison continued. He rubbed his forehead, a deep space boarding of a hostile vehicle, well there was a first for everything.

“We'll sure give it a try, Artemis out”, the voice said as the sleek ship swung about to provide cover for the smaller fighters.

Aboard the Sarlacan Seeker the mood was grave yet upbeat and even though it was long since the crew had last seen battle Captain Hronnr would rather have avoided the confrontation.

“They have received additional forces Captain”, the lookout said.

“Yes, yes but all this could have been avoided if…”. The Captain didn't get further, for as he whirred his words, the enemy crafts started a fourth attack run.

“Tenacious as Sihatee, I must give them that”. The captain was impressed with the dedication with which these inferior crafts threw themselves into battle.

A screech from the hull suddenly made him realize that it might be that the enemy ships perhaps weren't as inferior as first expected.

“Captain we have a breach in the engine compartment”, the lookout vibrated in terror with his tentacles lashing aimlessly around in panic.

“In the name of Semun, shut it down you fools”, the Captain whirred with a powerful hum.

But it was too late; the engine section ejected itself from the ship and hurdled into the void.

The strange ship now lay like a clay duck, ready to be picked off by the first shooter who happened to stroll by but that was not the way it was going to happen. The Artemis got up alongside the Seeker to inspect the damages, and to see if they would fire.

The hull seemed intact but it was impossible to make any definite assumptions about the alien ship which floated lifeless in the vacuum beside them.

“Artemis here calling Wolf 5, I think she's ready for you now. Pull her in and get going. Sorry we can't be of further assistance”, the captain said as he turned his slender ship away from the defeated Seeker speeding on toward his goal in the Jovian system.

Lunar HQ Feb. 16'th

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Another tedious meeting was in progress and John McKinley was bored out of his skull. He could never stand these formal chit chats. He was a man of action, and the scars on his face quite clearly showed that. McKinley was not cut out for this sedate part of his commission. His job as Chief Security Officer of the organization unfortunately also had its dark sides, like this meeting. Would it never end?

His mind wandered back to the countless engagements he had seen in the duration of his career. Covering the revolt in Vietnam and the Namibian Coup as a “war corespondent” he often had to ask himself if the world had found its way onto the right track, or did this organization merely represent the same sort of people that manned the governments of old Earth.

He wasn't afraid to speak out about his feelings concerning the organization or anything else for that sake, it was bothering that they needed to have him there.

Especially since they had both his written report as well as the complete incident on Vid Record.

“Mr. McKinley, if you please”, the former speaker sat down.

“Uhm..Yes”, McKinley was torn from his thoughts, he looked around at the participants. They looked as tired as he felt, Miss Simmonds gathering information to her already overwhelming logistic files, George Rath liaison to the World Union looking smug as usual and Walter Klussmann tapping his pen nervously. The two Asian gentlemen were harder to place, McKinley didn't know them to well, quantum scientists or something. Why couldn't Sandrino take care of the briefing, to what use was an aide if you couldn't use them to handle a briefing, but McKinley knew all to well why the top brass had requested that he presented the scenario. He coughed lightly to clear his throat before commencing with his briefing.

“Two days ago a patrol unit of Werewolf class ships, came across something unusual near the asteroid belt. This contact, if we can call it that, resulted in a clash between ourselves and an unknown ship”. A slight murmur went through the assembly but McKinley continued with conviction in his voice.

“We lost many good men out there….”, McKinley paused for a moment to let the words sink in, then he took a deep breath before continuing with his account.

“But the ship as you can see was finally brought up and towed to Phoebos Base and then boarded”, McKinley pointed at the Seeker on the vid screen with a red laser dot.

The images changed to the interior of the craft where the design lines curbed and bent in strange ways, without a single regular or straight line to please the Terran eye the craft seemed completely unreal.

As the troops on the screen moved through the ship firing hand weapons, McKinley felt set aside. He had watched the imagery so often that it seemed to be nothing more than a regular Vid Show with hyped special effects.

McKinley shook the feeling and cast a quick glance across the audience. He then turned his attention back to the screen.

The smoke cleared and the extensive damage was revealed, cut wires were hanging from blast holes all over the place, and sparks flew while strange atmospheric readings started appearing on the screen. The destruction was nearly total.

The assembly had grown silent, mesmerized by the pictures.

McKinley's voice cut like a knife through the veil that surrounded them.

“The boarding was more of a problem than first expected. Even with the personal absorption shields all Mars based troops have been issued, we have never met such firepower from hand weapons. The weapons used seem to operate on several levels, since the projectiles were able to penetrate our armor as well as hounding down their targets without remorse or delay”.

The scientists were scribbling down on their pads like mad as they had been doing most of the time.

McKinley shuddered and paused for a moment, it was hard to find the right words but this was not the time for contemplation, he would finish the briefing as quickly as possible.

“As for the opponents I can only add that they were not only tough, but they carried some of the meanest hand weapons I have ever seen in my career and I have seen quite a lot….”.

The crowd was completely in McKinley's capable hands. He felt as if he was molding clay, transforming the spectators into completely new beings who had been at the scene and participated in the events he described.

“More than thirty of our men were killed and fourteen injured. Three of them still barely clinging to their lives”.

McKinley gazed at his pad for a moment, he knew he had their complete attention by now, that much was certain. He had them exactly where he wanted.

“As for the crew of the ship we also managed to take out quite a few, thirteen of these aliens are presumed dead and put on ice”.

The image of a strange creature with tentacles and something very intestine like hanging out from holes in its body appeared on the screen the sight had a strange effect on the viewers, this was almost more than they could take. Warfare was one thing, but this was much bigger… mankind's first rendezvous, a massacre. History repeating itself in endless cycles would it never end?

McKinley felt like he was loosing his audience and cut in “The question of the remaining two aliens has not yet been solved, so far they have been placed under strict guard to prevent them from trying anything”.

Silence prevailed, McKinley's little speech made quite an impression on the assembly, Damn bureaucrats McKinley thought as he prepared himself to carry his briefing a bit further.

“The Phoebos base has been sealed off for quarantine purposes, also we have found it necessary to boost CO2 and Nitrogen levels in the atmosphere as it seems these beings have some sort of process in their bodies that converts CO2 to O2 very much like the photosynthetic process of Terran plant life, perhaps you could explain”, he said hinting at the two men who were still jotting and whispering between themselves.

“Plant life?”, one of the scientists said “We're quantum scientists not biologists”

The answer annoyed McKinley who decided he’d have to press on with the briefing.

“Yes gentlemen I know… what we want you to do is examine the ship inch by inch and report what you find. We have projected a path for what we suspect was the powerhouse or engine compartment and are following up on that as we speak! But to get back to the air in the base, it is still tolerable for human beings for short periods, however in we will have to resettle most of the crew planetside for the time being. Technicians are working on a solution that will allow them to operate most of the base via remote control but we are having some difficulty due to extensive damage on the solar absorption panels”.

“Damaged solar arrays why haven't we been informed?”, a colored woman asked suspiciously.

Damn I ain't got time for busybodies now, McKinley thought.

“Yes Miss Simmonds your division should have received notice, let's call it a clerical error but we needed a way to explain why it was important to get so many people off the small moon without raising suspicion.

Anita Simmonds nodded, one cover story could be as good as another but it was still annoying that the Security Chief had skipped procedures on this one.

“So Miss Simmonds, severe damage, inflicted by a powerful explosion that happened during the fighting, we're having grave difficulties keeping the air clear of pollutants et cetera”, if that didn't do it, McKinley wasn't sure what he'd do or say for that sake, the investigation team along with all the added security were bound to raise suspicion among the regular crew, which was why they needed to be moved.

“The official story is that a trespassing WU experimental craft was brought up because they breached our flight zone, but the big question really is, how long are we going to, or how long we can keep up the charade”. “If there are any questions, I would like you to go through the vidtakings of the boarding and the combat photography from the space engagement. Then route your inquiries to the security officer on duty. That will be all!”.

McKinley had finished his briefing. He hurried out before anyone else could come up with questions.

Anita Simmonds got up and looked thoughtfully around the room, a heavy responsibility lay on their shoulders. It was their job to keep a lid on the situation…

Just hope it's not a can of worms when the lid blows, she thought and started packing the paraphernalia into the briefcase before her.

Debriefing chamber 6, Phoebos station Feb. 18'th

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The room was relatively darkly lit except for the area right around the small table placed quite strategically so that the interviewer had plenty of space behind him while the interviewee was crammed in between the wall and the table.

What the officer conducting the interview didn't know was that this suited the Captian well, it sort of reminded him of the safety in the crevices back home. Home…. How he longed for home.

“Answer me damned”, Johnson demanded in a most commanding tone.

“I have told you, I am Captain Hronnr of the Sarlacan Flotilla, service number 7889-ADX. My mission is to initiate contact with the Terran population and find out why the system has cloaked its presence from the rest of the Galaxy”

What the hell is he talking about! The interrogation officer was completely puzzled by what he heard. The absurdity of the situation seemed complete.

Here he was, supposed to debrief a being that seemed to be highly intelligent which blurted out ridicolous statements about distortion fields beyond the outer rim of the planetary system. Jeez what a bunch of crock!

He stared at the strange being in front of him the tentacles never seemed still just weaving back and forth all the time. Cloaking and hiding not likely, but what made the officer even more uncomfortable was the way that the Sarlacan actually spoke to him in his own tongue, that was if you could call that lashing of tentacles back and forth speaking.

“I'm afraid I don't understand”, the officer said raising his shoulders in a gesture of resignation.

“I'm talking about the fact that in 1973 according to your reckoning of time all contact with your System ceased”, the Captain hummed angrily.

“I'm talking about the fact that a Hycce built radio wave cloaking device is keeping your presence hidden from the entire Galactic population!”. Johnson shook his head, this was completely ridicolous “Well then, how come you're here if nobody knows about us, huh?”, he said as a pleased smile crept across his face.

“Because we have been here before!!! Really is there no one capable of intelligent conversation here? I must speak to your leader”.

The Sarlacan was uneasy with the situation but tried to hide his feelings with bravado.

“Listen pal, I'm the best you're gonna get until we receive some straight answers”, Johnson snapped.

The Captain whirred his tentacles for a while before forming a sentence.

“Very well, I apologize for the whole thing! The blame is ours. I resume full responsibility for the events that have brought us into this situation!”

“Now may I speak to your leader”, he whirred.

The door slid open an elderly man stepped in “It's all right Johnson, I'll take it from here”.

The very instant Johnson heard the voice he got up. He normally resented people who interrupted his interrogations, but in this case he could make an exception.

The Almighty was probably the most respected not to mention one of the highest ranking officials in the organization and.

He even looks exactly the same, Johnson couldn't help a creepy feeling of unease sweeping across him, as he saluted the supervisor. The elderly man nodded in return and Johnson left the room.

“Now lets talk”, Ragnar Dalfoss said to the Captain in a demanding tone.

Captain Hronnr chosen for this mission for his incredible perceptiveness and iron will, actually felt nervous in his presence.

This old man appeared harmless but his gestures and the respect with which the other men treated him showed that this man was someone to reckon with, not one to double cross, or pump for information.

“I might as well begin to explain the reason for our unprovoked attack on your ships”, the Captain started uncertainly.

“Yes perhaps you should”, Dalfoss said and smiled sarcastically.

Hronnr who had conducted extensive studies into Terran languages but not body language, didn't notice the sarcastic mime, and started explaining.

“You see our ship, the Seeker has been sent to you on a diplomatic mission”. Hronnr couldn't help thinking how unrealistic this had to sound in the ears of the man across the table. The way the old man narrowed his eyes didn't make the explanation easier for Hronnr.

“I know this is hard to believe in the light of the recent events but please hear me out”, his tentacles whirred frantically as he pleaded for attention raising his tentacles the proper way.

“Many years ago, several millennia actually, we had our first encounters with an alien species. As proper procedure would be, diplomatic channels were opened and communication begun. We soon learned that the ship came from a star not very far from us, and that it had been en route for 27 years. The crew seemed psychologically exhausted after being in space for such a long time span so we brought them into rehabilitation centers and provided for them”

“We learned that they represented a species that disapproved of all violence. They saw it as their call to preach the gospel of non-violence to all races they encountered”, Hronnr made a menacing sound with his tentacles before continuing.

“For decades communication with the councillors home planet intensified, and with the help of the councillors we managed to wipe out many illnesses which had plagued us for thousands of years. But after a few decades time came for the travelers to return to their home world. They courteously, or so we believed, invited seven of us to join them on their voyage home. We were put into some sort of stasis, and for 27,6 years we slept”

“You are saying You were there several thousand years ago”, Dalfoss said skeptically. Hronnr needed a few moments to understand the humans reaction to his story.

“Oh, forgive me…, our race shares memory through blood lines”, Hronnr was quite clearly weighing his words carefully.

“I'm am not quite clear about what you mean”, Ragnar said a little bewildered by the idea taking form in his head.

“I can see the concept might be hard for you to understand. Can you agree with me that all human experience is picked up during a human being's own lifetime?”, Hronnr asked carefully in order not to offend the human.

“I guess to a certain extent”, Dalfoss answered as the idea slowly grew .

“You then agree that your knowledge must be recorded on a media to be preserved, regardless of whether anyone will ever examine and learn from those experiences?”,

Hronnr was getting a kick from the superiority of his species.

“Yes, I think I can agree with that”, Dalfoss replied without hesitation.

“With our species memory and experience are hereditary”, Hronnr whirred his tentacles a little extra toward the end of the sentence.

“Genetically linked you say!”, Dalfoss hadn't heard about theories like this for a long time. The human mind was still a mystery to his own race every bit as much as it had been decades ago. Techniques had long existed to manipulate the mind and were common enough. Making a person act against his or her will, or beliefs, was not difficult, it was expensive! Artificial Intelligence now there was a real challenge the creation of a self conscious system had proved a tougher nut to crack, but rapid progress had been made in that field the last couple of years.

The Sarlacan Captain noticed that Dalfoss wasn't paying full attention and decided to wait until he could be sure that the human was more receptive.

“Yes genetically linked that's a good way to put it”, he whirred proudly.

“Every individual is born fully aware with the ancestral memory intact, and the newborn is ready to take on the battle for life in a young and agile body”. And what a body indeed, Hronnr thought while vibrating his tentacles in a most pleasant way.

“This is incredible”, Dalfoss uttered in astonishment.

The Captain was displeased with the interruptions, but decided that pointing out his displeasure would be of no benefit, so he continued his little speech.

“There is a cost however as reproduction for hereditary purposes only takes place once in a lifetime. After mating the male dies and is consumed by the female. The only trace of his existence lies in the seeds he has planted in the carrier pod. When the birth has taken place, the mother's resources are usually fully depleted and she too dies”.

There was a streak of sadness to his whirring but Dalfoss didn't care to probe deeper at this time.

“However a couple of times during the latter period of their lifetime most females produce a Sarlacan podling, these copies are of different gender depending on the cycle. They are produced with two purposes in life. To ensure that, at least part of, the hereditary knowledge of our people can be carried on, and to develop new blood lines”.

“You are talking as if your race has more than one way of reproduction. Could you explain yourself”, Dalfoss was confused yet wildly interested in hearing more.

“You're right, there are two different ways of reproduction! The hereditary one, which includes both sexes as I have explained, and then the maternal way involving only the female”, the Sarlacan whirred.

Dalfoss was very still intrigued to hear such stories. He caught himself thinking of the science fiction stories he had read during his childhood.

Hronnr once again noticing the humans missing alertness raised his voice slightly by whirring the tentacles with larger and even faster movements than before.

“I myself was originally such a podling”, Hronnr announced proudly “My mind fresh as the morning dew, all prepared to be imprinted by my own experiences, The vessel of a new bloodline!”, as he spoke the Captain stretched his body up into a somewhat straighter posture and let his vibrating thin appendices fall to a gentle rest.

“Fascinating”, Dalfoss interrupted “I can't help but notice you distinguish very clearly between male and female experience. Why?”, he asked curious to hear more.

“Females are not supposed to be explorers since their minds are not capable of taking in much new information. They normally rely solely on their instinctual maternal skills which are necessary so that they can reproduce and care for other individuals”, there was sort of a patronizing sound to the way Hronnr explained this part of the Sarlacan society but it soon passed as he continued.

“However there are certain exceptions from the rule as there always will be. One of these exceptions was female council member Dlis who was with us on our first voyage into the unknown”.

“Dlis and my predecessor Hronnr, Master of Symetak had taken on a liking of each other and had decided that they would not leave each other when Hronnr was chosen for the mission. Arrangements were made for Dlis to be a representative for the females of our species so that she could study the reproductive and maternal habits of the councillors”.

Hronnr paused a while before continiuing with what Dalfoss interprited as a sigh.

“This brings me to the awakening on Amna which was far from pleasant. Three of our shipmates had died from malfunctions in the hibernation equipment, leaving their heritage lost forever. We buried them near the landing site in a place we were allowed to prepare for the occasion”.

The sad tone in the sentences had returned but there was something else as well that Dalfoss had difficulty placing.

“Our stay on Amna was pleasant and we were treated exceptionally well by the councillors. However, I couldn't help but notice a change in the behavior of Council member Dlis and the others. They became increasingly difficult to talk to, and time after time Dlis disappeared, sometimes for hours or days.

“One day she didn't return and the Prime of Xartca explained to us that she had fallen off a cliff and had died instantly from the fall.

There was definitely something more than sadness in the way the Sarlacan whirred, but Dalfoss still had difficulty labeling it.

Hronnr whirred something unintelligible before he continued.

“Had I not known Dlis as well as I did, maybe I'd have believed the story, but I suspected foul play. You see, Dlis and I had not only grown up together, but were also emotionally bound together. All that time she had been afraid of heights, so the fact that she'd 'accidentally' wandered off a cliff edge greatly disturbed me. After this other members of our party began disappearing, and the odd behavior continued. I wondered what was wrong, but saw the situation as some kind of psychological problem since my own mind was producing some pretty strange imagery”.

“I figured the behavior was some kind of delayed xenophobic reaction and that what we were experiencing were the effects of actually being on Amna the Councillor’s home planet; far, far from home”.

Dalfoss stroked his chin, and was about to ask a question when the Sarlacan continued.

“A few evenings later I was proven wrong. A knocking on my door, probably saved my life, for as I went toward the door the back wall of the room was blown away. In that instant my door was kicked in and armed councillor guards poured into the room”.

“There was an exchange of fire as the two sides fought each other. I was pulled out through what was left of the door. After that I can't remember much… that is before I woke up I a primitive cell”.

Once again Dalfoss wished to ask a question, but for the second time in a row the Sarlacan beat him and pressed ahead with telling his story.

“When I got up from the bed, my brain felt like it had taken a pounding from a Doraf. Suddenly I heard something, the most pleasant voice I'd heard since my dear Dlis disappeared.

“Ah I see our esteemed guest has come around”, the Sarlacans voice intoned as if the sound came from another being.

Dalfoss had not more than opened his mouth in surprise before the Sarlacan switched back into his regular whir.

“One of the pale beings which I had noticed during the early period of our stay was standing there”.

“Do not speak friend, I am N'torr, the being said”, the Sarlacan whirred once again emulating a voice very different from his own.

“This was the first meeting between Turlsten and myself”, Hronnr whirred in his own voice.

After a while Dalfoss grew accustomed to the strange way the Sarlacan shifted between telling his story from one vantage point to another.

“Turlsten explained the historic matters for me. Once he had belonged to the councillors. Their civilization had committed several genetic crimes and performed horrific experiments on their own kind to produce an obedient warrior race. The result was great suffering. He told me how all seniors, their word for high ranking officials, undergo genetic alteration to make them oblivious to remorse or any other feelings. Somehow Turlsten had avoided alteration as he rose in rank, and as he realized the implications of the grand plan he decided that the alterations had to be stopped”.

“What plan?”, Dalfoss interrupted with a gasp.

“The councillors wish to alter all species so they can control and benefit from them”, Hronnr whirred.

The implications were terrible, Dalfoss knew the Freelancers would have to prompt an immediate investigation into the matter. WU representatives with access to such a species, if someone got their hands on something like that… the perspectives were diabolic.

Hronnr had definitely hit a nerve. The human seemed eager to act upon the information he had already received but was showing great restraint by staying seated.

“Turlsten showed me evidence that clearly indicated that his fellow councillors had tried to change both me and my shipmates. The hibernation chamber accidents were a convenient way to gain access to our bodily data and buy precious time to prepare their plan. We should have expected deception. How easy it was to lull us into believing in the goodness of the councillors”, Hronnr whirred.

“Surely you wouldn't be around speaking to me if the councillors were all bad”, Dalfoss tried.

“No you're right! Luckily for me their mind manipulation wasn't effective against the Sarlacan mind”, the Captain explained. “I suspect it must be the combined experiences in my long blood line that answers for my survival”.

Hronnr sat for a while thinking about his statement when Dalfoss asked him a question in that very human way giving half the answer.

“And Turlsten I presume”, Dalfoss said closely observing how what they had deducted to be the Sarlacan sound sensing organ seemed to vibrate with his every word.

The Sarlacan twirled his tentacles around in a gesture of acceptance before he started speaking.

“I spent many months with Turlsten while an escape route was prepared. I was the only one to make it to the escape ship. Turlsten gave his life in securing my escape to the ship when the attack came. Not only was I the only one in the complex to escape but with me I had a package, the combined knowledge of the councillor race projected into my brain to help me in the inevitable coming battle”.

Dalfoss was awestruck, he might be sitting across from the most incredible fountain of information ever to have existed. Inventions and techniques humans were only beginning to dream about could be hidden in the brain behind the armor of the Sarlacan.

Hronnr let his tentacles rest for a moment before continuing his tale “When I came home to Symetak I found my home in ruins. The councillors had begun exterminating leading males of our society, rendering bloodline after bloodline extinct”.

“With extreme effort we organized the expulsion of the councillors who had built up quite a power base from which they operated from. They had even started utilizing their ability to imprint inexperienced male vessels turning them against their own blood allies”.

Hronnr looked directly at Dalfoss and clenched his claw like hands. “As we the Sarlacan prepared for defensive war, a ship passing through your sector of space received communication signals. I believe you call them radio and television pictures”. “We decided that the earth by implementing such communication techniques would reveal itself and that you had to be told of the lurking dangers. We mounted a diplomatic mission. It never returned. And that's why were here in search for that ship, since we know for certain they arrived”.

“How can you be sure if you haven't heard from them again?”, Dalfoss asked.

Hronnr looked at him waving his tentacles in a resigned manner before he gave the human an explanation that exploded in his mind like a shell.

“A long distance drone returned with a report that they were about to engage in communication with a united government of the planet”, Hronnr whirred.

And here you are! Dalfoss thought while wondering what other mysteries might lie ahead for mankind to explore.

The men were sitting in a conference room deep under the Martian rock. It was similar to the one where the interrogations had taken place although this one was a tad more comfortable than the first room.

“Think he is telling the truth Eric?”, Jenkins was rubbing his head. He wasn't happy with the situation. The interview had lasted several hours and they had heard so many fantastic stories told with such vigor that they were hard to dismiss. He turned his weary head and looked straight at Carlson, one off the officers present during the initial interrogation.

The officer hesitated before answering “I really couldn't say. He seems to be quite straightforward. But everything about this whole deal becomes fishier by the moment. I mean his willingness to tell us everything we ask really confuses me. In a way he seems so desperate for winning our friendship that we could probably ask him to fall to the floor for us, and he'd do it. Yet on the other hand he seems very suspicious of us….”

“And his temper, quite something eh?”, Jenkins interrupted.

“Yeah that as well”, Carlson mumbled.

“You know, I don't like it one bit. There is something fishy about him, I can smell it…”, Jenkins said in a fatigued voice.

Carlson nodded in agreement “And how about his abilities to speak Terran languages? Doesn't it seem a bit far fetched that they should be able to pick our lingo up so well from some radio and TV signals, they accidentally came across?”.

“Yup… you're right. We need to go over the Vidreports once more”, Jenkins said flicking the switch.

The display unit instantly jumped to the beginning of the file and started playing. The two men once again immersed themselves in the fascinating and bizarre tale.

	Whom men fear they hate, and whom they hate, they wish dead.          
                               Quintus Ennius (B.C. 239?-169?)

Lunar HQ March 19'th

Back to top

For the first time in a decade the entire council of the Freelancers was in emergency session. The members were not there in person because the risks of such a meeting would jeopardize the entire operation, they were however linked together via untraceable Vid links.

“We have a situation on our hands”, Ragnar Dalfoss took to words first.

“As some of you know our sources have revealed that a live specimen was extracted in the Faroese affair shortly before we took temporary control over the area.

“A specimen! What are you referring to?”, Mary Peters exclaimed after the first series of surprised gasps had escaped the delegates.

“An entity not of this world”, Dalfoss replied.

The com system remained quiet and Dalfoss continiued “This specimen has now disappeared together with two leading scientists from the Granier Institute. We have continuously checked with our operatives within intelligence agencies all over the globe but so far all inquiries have come up empty”.

“We fear one of the resistance movements within the World Union, may have abducted the three of them in the hope of causing us damage by denying us access to vital information”, While Dalfoss spoke he stared aimlessly from one delegate to another.

The huge screen was filled with concerned faces. He knew every one of them like his own and even though none of them were there in person, there was growing intensity in the room unlike any feeling Dalfoss had previously experienced as the head of the organization.

He swallowed, his throat was completely dry. These were hard times! Indeed all the omens forebode a dark era, that was plain to see. Governments as well as large corporations were continuously trying to register every little move individuals in their operational theater made. Some for profit, others for power. Each and every law against registration of personal data ever put into effect had been grossly violated, and those bureaucrat bastards smiled with every trespass.

The bitterness on Dalfoss's face was stark, all his adult life he had fought against the ludicrous beliefs which had carried registration to unheard levels and while a few freestates had totally abolished governmental operated databases, others had tightened the grip.

Ironic wasn't it, that they were now utilizing that same information.

Ironic that they, the Freelancers were gathering their intelligence from those same databases they were trying so hard to defeat.

“What measures have been taken to find the missing subjects?”, the question was posed by Hitoshi Saito from the Japanese connection.

Dalfoss shrugged his shoulders and took a deep breath before answering.

“We have plugged into almost every major pay card database, every major tele communication facility on the planet, including deep space arrays. Furthermore our agents in the intelligence bureaus are extra vigilant these days, but so far we have come up empty. On the bright side, if we take the words of Captain Hronnr as fact, that there really is some sort of shield blocking out communication from our solar system, and the fact that we haven't picked up anything unusual these last days, I dare say that we won't have to worry about extra terrestrial involvement”.

“And what if there isn't any bloody shield hiding our radio signals?”, somebody interrupted.

Dalfoss squinted, his eyes tried to focus on the grid that was dividing the screen into separate fields. Finally he noticed the little red marker in the corner. Reginald Kincaid from the Euro division. Jeez five years ago it wouldn't have taken him this long to focus in on a delegate, did he need corrective eye surgery already?

“What if the buggers are out there, just waiting for us?”, Reginald asked skeptically. “Then we could be in a lot of trouble. If we look at the awesome weapon power of the captured ship, the taped interviews with captain Hronnr, and the fact that our latest reports from our investigation into the matter have revealed a surge in the alien ship's power grid, rather than our attempts to bring them up that swung the fight into our favor….. Faced with facts like that, I'd say we could be in for hell of a ride. We can only imagine what a flotilla of such ships could do, and although our tech boys are on it, all we can really do for now, is wait!”. The deep concern engraved in the old man's face was plain to see, but Dalfoss knew better than any, that no matter what he said, the truth would be less damaging than an overly optimistic appraisal of the situation.

And then there is the Smith affair, he thought and closed his eyes.

		There is a point at which even justice does injury.       
                                   Sophocles (B.C. 495-406) 

For weeks now he'd been searching around the scruffy cesspool, usually referred to as Oslo.

Ramirez still hadn't found any trace of them, but he knew he was getting closer. As he strolled down what was left of the pavement he came to think of the once proud Norway. Now there was little left after the country had been hit hard by the drive for alternative energy sources, the wealth based on oil and fishing industries was squandered away and triggered a harsh depression more than a decade ago.

Norway once one of the richest countries in the world, now lay in ruins and feebly attempted what Spain had achieved during the seventies and eighties with tourism. But what good was an official image of joy and nature, when reality was quite another.

Norway had, even on its knees produced some fine people, but due to ridiculous cuts in educational and cultural spending, that had been going on since the mid and late nineties these people had grown fewer and were further between.

It was a country on the brink of total decay, and every day in the larger cities was a constant struggle for survival.

One could say they had brought it onto themselves at least that was what Annika used to say. My dear , dear Annika! With delusions of grandeur Norway had tried to ascertain its position as the leading fishery nation of the world and tried to dictate fishing policy both to the North Atlantic Union and to the European Union. Slowly but surely, their own politicians had strangled their country, isolating themselves from the rest of the world.

Ramirez couldn't help wondering how the three countries in the North Atlantic Union had managed in the nick of time to put their resources together: Iceland with it's immense tectonic energy supply and experimental greenhouse crops, Greenland and the Faroe Islands with their expertise in fishery. Today the alliance stood as a beacon of light to the world, placing them in a unique position, which allowed them to remain without any military forces except those needed to protect territorial waters from unwanted fishing vessels.

He was an angry man. Captain Ramirez, he thought with disgust. Once a proud member of the World Union Task Force searching for extra terrestrial intelligence. “Careful what you wish for”, he muttered to himself.

The dirty trench coat and the muddy boots didn't reveal a lot about him. He faded straight into the melting pot of cultures that now dominated the former Scandinavian countries of Denmark, Sweden and Norway.

The Øresund Bridge and an extensive super railway going all the way from the North Cape to the European Union had not eased the refugee problems that were getting worse daily. It was not as if Ramirez really cared and but in the given situation the conditions were perfect.

Oh how desperately he wished to find him, just to wring his hands around his pale neck. For a moment he wondered if the bastard had any gender at all. And then those scientists - So bloody humane and thoughtful, a bunch of blistering fools. The three of them were in the country; he knew that for sure. The problem was that disappearing was easy here, if one wanted to do so.

The smuggler who had arranged his traveling from the Faroe Islands to the United States, and back across the Atlantic to Norway had promised to meet him in a few hours. They had chosen the dubious inn called Alex's Place, a bar in the seedy harbor area, and Ramirez was on his way there.

He wandered through the dirty streets, and his thoughts returned once more to his wife. He had arrived in the Faroe Islands in the turmoil that followed the invasion force, the subsequent Freelancer takeover had definitely made it harder for him to find out about the exotic specimen that was extracted but as long as any of those things were alive he would hunt down every single one and finish them off - they did not belong on this earth and as long as those things polluted the surface of the planet he would not rest. Hell he wasn't even sure he'd be content then.

Upon arrival he had managed to keep his presence a secret and with the help of a shepherd whom he'd rambled into on his way over the mountains he started searching for his wife.

The shepherd, one of the Islands many anti-militarists found great pleasure in helping him out but had he known about Ramirez's connection to the World Union, he probably would have thought otherwise.

When Ramirez found out that Annika was among the dead, he took an oath.

On her newly dug grave he swore to hunt the alien bastard down and wipe him from existence personally. There had been no doubt in his mind and for the first time in his career he didn't want to find an extraterrestrial intelligence, he wanted to destroy one.

In the weeks after the invasion, the inevitable gossip of the small place led him to find out the whereabouts of the live creature that had been captured.

Strange folks though these Faroe Islanders, they found it easier to believe in trolls and ghosts than aliens and Ramirez couldn't help but wonder why the Faroe Islanders had such an aversion towards technology.

The smuggler had transported him almost to the gate of the Granier Institute and had even taken care to supply him with a set of fake id cards that could get him in and out. The only thing he found was that a Dr. Yoshi Kanawa and Oluf Kristoffson along with faul creature Ast-tei, had disappeared.

How was that possible with a maximum security compound? It was something he had to find out when he had finished with the matter at hand.

He used his connections in the underworld to track them, and at last he found out that they had fled to Norway. He'd followed the trail in hot pursuit but now it seemed the trail had disappeared and the prey was on the loose.

After a tiresome walk Captain Ramirez arrived at Alex's Place where the exterior didn't look promising. He got through the detectors without fuss Ramirez laughed at the old detectors because there was no way that they would be capable of detecting his advanced side arms.

He looked around the room which was filled with smoke. His eyes fell on the jukebox, it was an original Wurlitzer using vinyl. Blues, what else, he thought and headed for the back.

Ramirez wondered how much this bar was a living cliché. Well I suppose that's how they want it, he thought.

He found a table in a dark corner facing the doorway not too far from the emergency exit and sat down. He pushed the buzzer and waited.

Soon after a waitress appeared. She was wearing a tight skirt, a blouse showing far too much cleavage for his taste. The apron and high heeled shoes combined with excessive use of make up gave him a vulgar impression and her hair didn't help much either.

“Can I help you!”, she said in the city jargon while chewing her gum.

“Scotch on the rocks, please!”, Ramirez answered.

She left the table and returned moments after with a drink. The bar was very hot and the jukebox seemed to contain nothing but blues. His gaze wandered across the room. Damn still no sign of him.

Ramirez reached for the untouched drink still in front of him.

He noticed the glass was dirty, as if someone had only rinsed it in cold running water without even giving it a scrub. He put his lips to the glass and sipped.

Course it had to be watered down! Sure weren't the measly ice cubes which could have given the drink its flavor. How he hated these cheap joints.

Just then his gaze caught the doors opening, and the awaited contact stepped in.

For a smuggler he seemed excessively overdressed, however being one of the best in the business he could afford to look as he pleased. He scanned the room and headed toward Ramirez.

“I've found out where they are headed. The transport left less than ten minutes ago”, the smuggler said with a smile.

Ramirez's eyes opened wide, “Where, and why the hell didn't you stop them!”, Ramirez asked in a chilling voice.

“Listen friend, take it easy, you will get them with patience. We can't have you getting killed before we have had that drink I promised you, anyway I don't do people, I only do things”, the smuggler replied unaffected by the rage burning in the other man's heart. He waved his hand and a waitress came over immediately.

“Bring me a bottle of your finest Scotch, and honey, no watered down stuff Okay”. His wry smile jerked the bony features of his face even more and the waitress was off like a rocket shuttle.

A few moments later she returned with a bowl of ice cubes, a bottle of Scotch and a couple of sparkling clean glasses that shimmered in the twilight of the blues joint.

The smuggler cracked the seal, tossed a couple of cubes into both the glasses and poured them half full. He downed his drink in one go.

“Ah, that's the stuff that makes your chest hairy”, he said and followed the words with a rumbling laughter.

Ramirez sipped the drink. The smuggler was right, no watered down stuff in this bottle. It was truly a drink worthy of the gods.

After the initial small talk, the smuggler had become in a good mood offering drinks around the house. Ramirez who didn't like this excessive exposure got the information he'd come for and left the bar with yet another blues tune ringing in his ears.

Once on the outside he hailed one of the few remaining cab's that still serviced the city. He stepped into the back seat that smelled like wet hide, but Ramirez soon overcame the nauseating feeling and told the cabby to take him to Ullmans Supply Store.

The cabby was fortunately not very talkative, and took him to his destination without the usual fuss of initiating and keeping up the usual cabdriver and customer conversation.

The cab stopped, “That'll be sixty Crowns”, he said.

Ramirez placed his card in the slot and paid the requested amount, automatically adding the 10% tip.

Why in the hell the tipping culture had become so natural that no one noticed or cared to notice the inevitable tip he could not understand.

Even more incomprehensible was the fact that the authorities didn't bother to tax the tips. The amounts slipping away from the governments were astronomical.

He didn't even dare to think about the numbers on a world wide scale.

Once inside the shop he immediately asked for Oskar. The young clerk disappeared behind some curtains but returned a few moment's later waving Ramirez to follow him.

The man in the chair seemed very old indeed, and as Ramirez had seated himself in the leathery chair, the young clerk disappeared back into the shop.

“You need something special I gather”, the old man offered as he puffed his pipe.

“Hard pack explosives, wiring, explosive pin detonators, four timer units, a thermal suit, transportation, and survival rations for a week”, Ramirez was quick to answer.

The old man took a good look at him and puffed on.

“You got the cash to cover all that?”, he asked with disbelief in his voice.

Ramirez looked at himself, no wonder the old man was skeptical. Hell he could have fooled himself, he thought. For a moment he wondered about the smell. Something like a wet yak after a long rainy day. And his clothes, they looked they hadn't been washed for months, which actually wasn't too far from the truth.

He flashed his smart card, the old man got up and took it from his hand.

“You know I have to check this!”, the old man said staring at Ramirez.

“Yeah go ahead”, Ramirez answered to tired to argue.

He wasn't quite sure whether or not the card would be accepted, the World Union credit hadn't been canceled yet. But Ramirez couldn't be sure if that was due to a simple clerical mistake, or if someone out there was holding a hand over him.

A while later the old man reappeared from the same door. He let his eyes sweep the room before speaking.

“The card checks out!”, he sais with a broad smile “While I prepare the supplies I suggest you get a bath and catch up on some sleep”. While he spoke the old man thumped his pipe on the edge of the ashtray.

“I haven't got time for sleep”, Ramirez said, angered by the old man's suggestion.

“Listen up, young man. The list of supplies you have asked for might not be extensive, but making the transaction untraceable, that'll take some time. I sincerely suggest you get going and get some sleep, and for Christ's sake wash yourself. You smell like a septic tank. Eigil will show you to your room.”

Septic tank?, he decided that there was no point in arguing. Ramirez knew very well that the old man didn't want to be involved in what he was doings, and that if he wanted his goods he'd have to accept the suggestion.

After showering he felt like a new man and soon after he was lying in the bed fast asleep. The struggle had been difficult but there was no doubt, he would get that scoundrel. As soon as the supplies and the transporter were ready. Ramirez tossed his body from side to side in the bed.

In his dreams he'd already performed the execution a thousand times.

When the young boy came to wake him up it was quite early. The crimson wallpaper reflected the morning light at the bed in a scream.

Eigil shook him a couple of times before he really came around. When he went to sleep the night before he'd felt tired all right, but the scale of his fatigue only now dawned upon him. Had this been a couple of months ago he would have been wide awake instantly as the door opened, ready to defend his life if necessary.

He had a humongous breakfast and ate until his belly ached. A long time had passed since he had anything else than cheap junk food acquired from dubious shops on coincidental street corners, and his response to the delicious meal was quite predictable.

He started to feel better now as his body responded healthily to the treat it had been given, and Ramirez felt extremely enthusiastic about his task.

Not long now! He thought as he left the store, en route to a warehouse situated in the seedy outskirts of the town.

A short while later he arrived at the warehouse Ullman's aid had pointed out.

He paid the cabby, an overly joyous man in his late forties and speculated for a moment if he should forget the tip purposely, but then decided not to do so. There was no need to draw unnecessary attention.

What a crazy world, here I am on the way to exterminate someone every major government denies the existence of, and this cabby tells me about his newborn granddaughter one of life's true miracles. People are definitely loosing their marbles.

Ramirez pulled the door aside and stepped into the warehouse.

He slowly closed the door and looked around. In the middle of the room stood the SnowCat, looking ready to roll.

The Cat was not your conventional vehicle, but one purposely built for the rugged hillsides and mountains of this God forsaken country.

He had never speculated much about transportation earlier, but the question of moving from place to place had suddenly become an important factor in his life. Moments later Ullman arrived and informed him about the functions of the SnowCat.

Ramirez knew his departure was imminent and the old man looked at Ramirez with thoughtful eyes.

“Listen young man, there are a lot of do's and don'ts I could tell you about. But your eagerness to leave doesn't allow me the time to go into detail with any of them”. Ramirez was about to burst. This is to much, he thought and was about to explode, but right then something made him stop. The warmth in the old man's voice had a soothing effect so Ramirez allowed him to continue uninterrupted.

“I have drawn a route that you should take, on this map. If you follow my directions not only will you get to the village to which you are headed. You'll get there ahead of schedule”.

The old man handed the map to the captain. “Thanks”, Ramirez said and folded the map after a short glance. He felt strange; somehow this old man reminded him of his past. Perhaps the vague images of his father were trying to surface. Nevertheless he hadn't time to think about such matters.

The old man took the map back again and unfolded it. He pointed firmly at a spot clearly marked in red, Ramirez followed the move intensely.

“That's the refueling point. You'll also find some provisions and a few things that were easier to get delivered there”, the old man said.

Ramirez looked at the old man suspiciously. “I hope for your sake you're not trying to stiff me, because…”

The old man cut him short, clearly annoyed. “In all my years as a businessman I have never, not once I tell you, cheated my customers. In my line of business that would be very unhealthy, and I have always cherished my life to much to do anything of the sort. No more funny remarks, okay”. The wry smile on his face after he had said this told Ramirez not to push the issue further.

“Okay, the thermo-suit if you please”, Ramirez said, looking inquiringly around the warehouse.

The old man went and picked up a backpack from the floor and threw it to Ramirez. Soon after he was fully geared up for the trip.

He was about to close the cockpit when the old man caught his attention standing there with a shotgun in his hands.

“Here! You are gonna need this one if you have to stop somewhere on the track”, the old man said handing the gun to him.

The weapon felt light in his hands there could be no doubt. This was not a legal weapon for public use. Definitely military issue, Ramirez thought and let his hands explore the weapon. It was made from some kind of plastocheramic material undetectable probably even for the finest detectors.

The surface had a good grip and Ramirez felt genuine admiration for the craftsmanship that had gone into the design.

“Thanks a lot, and for what it's worth sorry about what I said”, Ramirez was ashamed he'd forgotten to ask for a gun. How low could he sink?

“A great man once said, Anyone can become angry - that is easy, but to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way - that is not easy”.

Ramirez looked at the old face and caught a glimpse of a smile across the weather beaten face.

“Aristotle”, the old man added.

“Take care now”, Ramirez said as he closed the door.

“You to my young friend”, the old man said.

But the words were drowned out by the roaring engine.

The black smoke from the exhaust soon paled, and the SnowCat slowly started moving forward. The old man opened the doors wide, and as the SnowCat disappeared from visibility the man left behind wondered about the strange character who had just left.

The odd trio consisting of Dr. Kristoffson, Dr. Kanawa and the Councillor were moving single file through a snowy valley about halfway down the slope.

The idea of hiding out in the mountains of north Norway had belonged to Kristoffson.

The doctors were painfully aware that if they had stayed at the institute, their future would most probably have been bleak. They could not be sure what the bureaucrats could have come up with. Would they have received the same fate as that renowned SDI scientist, who vanished without a trace in the late nineties, after claiming that he had been hired by Naval Intelligence to work on an anti-matter reactor? Kanawa wondered as he pushed forward through the white carpet that was covering everything.

Could the powers behind the scientist's disappearance truly be so afraid that the public might find out that intelligent extraterrestrial beings really did exist out there, that they would kill to keep the secret contained? And had they not themselves insisted on keeping everyone involved incommunicado while working on the project. Just as it had happened to those involved with the Roswell incident back in 1947.

Ever since Air Force personnel claimed that pieces of an object of unknown origin had been located, various government sources had been denying the incident with stories that increasingly pointed toward a cover-up. Some of the stories even involving balloons designed for secret observations of Soviet nuclear explosions parts of them stuck together with adhesive tape from a certain toy manufacturer.

The conflicting stories indicated that the people working for the government at that time been told that the particular project which they were working on was of dire importance to the whole world community, and somehow they'd managed to keep the findings completely out of the public eye leaving nothing but guesswork behind.

Kanawa was becoming more convinced by the moment, that despite the fact that he had given his loyalty oath to the institute as a scientist, his responsibility and loyalty as a human being was to the world of which he was so fond.

He for one wouldn't allow history to repeat itself.

Snow was falling heavily, but the snowshoes kept them ploughing through the rugged landscape.

Ast-Tei had been complaining constantly since they left.

Oluf Kristoffson was annoyed as usual, especially irritated by the Councillor's views on humanity and human behavior. He could not by any means understand how a being able to cross interstellar space could be as arrogant as Ast-Tei, nor could he understand what had driven him to help this being whom he himself at times felt like dissecting.

Kanawa as usual intervened by breaking into the conversation and as always he was trying to smoothen the conflict between Oluf and Ast-Tei.

“Listen you two, there is nothing so disagreeable, that a patient mind cannot find some solace for”, he said with determination.

“Shut up!”, Kristoffson said. He had stopped and was looking at Kanawa.

“He was only trying to…”, was all Ast-tei managed to say before Kristoffson broke him off.

“Do me a favor, shut the hell up now!”, he almost yelled.

They stood there in silence and Kristoffson looked at the other two.

“Wait… can you feel it?”, he asked while looking nervously around.

Both Kanawa and Ast-tei stood puzzled in the silence, then they, too, felt the vibrations.

The avalanche came thundering down the mountain like a rogue shunting engine. Thousands of tons of snow, unstoppable by any means in their possession barraged towards them.

“Run like hell”, Oluf yelped forcefully at his two companions and they did.

The sight amused Ramirez for a short while until he suddenly realized that his prey might slip away from him once again.

The trio reached an edge. The fall itself wasn't staggering high, only 8 meters, but high enough to make them stop.

The councillor was the first who spoke, “I can't do this, my body isn't built for this”, he said with a trembling voice.

Kanawa looked at them and jumped. “Banzai!!!”, was the only thing they heard before the thump. The Japanese came down into the snow and rolled round a couple of times, before he managed to get back onto his feet. “Come on!”, he shouted frantically.

The thundering was getting so loud now that the words almost vanished.

“This is it!”, Kristoffson murmured as he pushed Ast-tei over the edge. They crept together and pressed up against the cliff wall, hoping the snow would pass over them.

The snow rumbled above their heads as wind gusts created by the immense masses seemed to suck the air from the sanctuary they had found. Then in an instant it was over and the three of them began the slow process of climing up the slope which had been created by the rolling powdery masses.

As they reached the top a sore sight met their eyes. Boulders and trees, just about everything on the hill side had been torn away, by one of nature's most brutal spectacles. The naked hillside was the remaining evidence of a giant rampaging for several kilometers only to disappear into thin air after the act.

The tell tale signs of what had happened here would be visible for years to come but this was not what was on the trio's minds as they surveyed the damage. What caught their attention was the ominous silence that followed.

The lack of sound seemed unnaturally long, and the strange electric hum that had begun to fill the air was only broken by the sounds of minor slides, before the surface finally settled.

Yeah that'll top it off, Kristoffson thought as he looked around in an effort to do some observations.

The flickering white crystals falling gently were mixed with a slight drizzle, the situation was grim.

“We got to get moving, we have delayed us long enough as it is”, Oluf said and started walking.

Ast-tei was shaking violently and for the first time he showed a trace of emotion. He was terrified and let himself fall backwards onto the ground.

“I'm done for, I can't go on”, he said lying flat on his back. The powdery snow which was falling was filling his mind with horrible images of that which he had just experienced.

Kristoffson stopped and turned around and for a moment he just stood there. Then he started talking with such conviction in his voice that Kanawa had never heard before.

“Hypocrite get on your feet this instance”, he shouted.

Ast-tei looked at him with those big black eyes. “You heard me”, Kristoffson barked “Its not like I'm gonna leave you here in the snow”.

“But…”, Ast-tei started but Kristoffson cut him short with a barrage that would have shamed even the best drill sergeant around.

“There are no excuses… You get those flabby feet moving or I'll drag you the rest of the way. Even if it breaks every stinking bone in your body, you hear?” ”…if it's the last thing I do”, he added biting his teeth together.

The Councillor slowly got back on his feet. The body wavered slightly as he stood there paralyzed in the snow, what a tragic miscalculation.

Ast-tei had grave problems comprehending what exactly was going on. Emotions had never been one of his strong points but the Norwegians attitude told him all he needed to know.

His mind slowly came to terms with the idea. And the man is out here in this freezing hell with his colleague, trying to save me. No more words were necessary, Ast-tei started walking.

Seen from above the three figures looked like ants climbing an anthill in the falling twilight.

The wind had been growing steadily for the last hours now and its icy beating felt like a thousand needles pricking the faces of the wayfarers.

The avalanche had forced them out on a longer detour, to cross through the pass which lead through to the other side of the mountain was impossible.

There was no point in going north, it would only lead them down the mountain, Kristoffson knew it all to well and southwest, southwest would lead them straight back to the starting point. East around the peak seemed the only choice if they were ever to reach their destination, a haven now guarded by unclimbable rock walls towering before them.

The moon slowly disappeared behind the cloud cover, and as if on command, the wind and snow intensified.

“My feet are numb”, Kanawa complained, his body exhausted from the hardships endured during these last few days.

“Will you shut up”, Kristoffson said angrily. He knew that letting one's guard down to have fatigue take over meant certain death.

“Here, tie this rope around your waists and follow me in a single file”, he shouted through the storm.

Kanawa and Ast-tei followed his orders numbly, and once again the three figures stumbled on. The wind was howling and the dense snow had turned into a regular blizzard.

At the edge of visibility a shadow lurked, keeping its distance. The yellow eyes glowed, but the whole time the shadowy figure patiently kept its distance, never getting close enough to reveal its presence.

A feeling of utter dismay was creeping up on Kristoffson and the Norwegian was very aware of it. They were all on the brink of exhaustion and if they didn't find some shelter very soon they would surely perish.

“Listen up, we need shelter or we die”, he shouted as loud as he could but his words were almost drowned out in the intense howling.

“How, there is nothing we can creep under or hide behind?”, Ast-tei asked in a frightened voice.

“We have to dig a shelter right here, in the snow”, Kristoffson barked.

“I can't, I have no strength left”, Kanawa uttered in a low and battered voice.

“Don't whine, and start digging”, Kristoffson yelled, but when his colleague didn't react he shook him violently. Kanawa's tired eyes stared back at him with a comatose glare.

“Listen Kanawa, I didn't travel across half the globe to die at my own front gate. Either you get going or I'll make you wish you were never born”.

Kristoffsons voice thundering stirred Kanawa, and he started digging frantically.

Ast-tei stood there for a moment admiring the survival instincts of his human travel companions before he, too, started digging.

Half an hour later they were safe in an improvised snow cave. With the wind gone, some feeling actually began to return to their battered limbs.

“Damn those bastards, we could have been there several days ago”, Kristoffson said bitterly.

Ast -tei was quick to respond, “But, there is no reason to feel guilty, there was no way you could know that someone would break into the hut where you kept your Transporter”. The fact that the vehicle had been destroyed looked like random vandalism to Ast-tei, a deed he knew humans excelled in.

Definitely not deliberate sabotage. Several of the other huts had been raided as well. Kristoffson at times seemed like a man on the verge of full scale paranoia with his wide swing of thoughts…. Then again hed could be right.

Kristoffson weighed his words before he started talking again. “Guilty?… get a grip. How about you Kanawa, don't you find it peculiar that the break in seemed so fresh, not to mention our other problems”, he stared oddly at his companions before he continiued.

“I mean everything looked as if the break-in had occurred a few hours before we arrived. The tracks were still visible for quite a distance before the snow started covering them up completely”.

“I must admit that I believe that you are seeing ghosts, where there are none”, Ast-tei interupted in an unconcerned voice.

“And the avalanche, another coincidence, perhaps?”, Kristoffson felt the earlier feelings of rage returning.

“Surely, you know the nature around these parts. Avalanches are not that uncommon…”, Kanawa was getting a little strength back and entered the discussion.

“You are saying that neither one of you heard the thud before the snow came rolling?”, Kristoffson asked with disappointment in his voice.

“I'm sorry”, Kanawa answered innocently.

A short silence followed but Kristoffson broke it. “I for one intend to get some sleep, you two ought to do the same”, he said and completely zipped up the thermal sleeping bag.

“Sure okay”, Kanawa said. Working on the electric heater, he tossed a few handfuls of snow into the tank and added a dash of a powdery substance.

It didn't take the heater long to reached a good temperature and Kanawa took the improvised hot-water bottle and tucked it into his sleeping bag. Shortly after, all three of them were fast asleep.

Hours later Kristoffson woke up and wondered what the time might be. Everything was dark, and the air was extremely humid. Oh my God, Kristoffson thought and rubbed his aching limbs.

His body felt like it had taken a serious pounding. “Yep yep yep..”, he mumbled and tried to get a good look at the luminous wristwatch.

The red letters glowed on the dial. 08:33… time to move on.

He started digging and all of a sudden his hands broke through to the surface. Bright beams of light filled the shelter followed by a gush of cold and fresh air.

Soon more of the frozen ice on the surface had been broken and the upper torso of a man appeared from the hole. The bearded figure crawled out from the shelter, and a reindeer which had been watching the odd rumblings beneath the surface with great interest, swiftly ran away and disappeared into the nearby forest.

He called out and was soon followed by the two other beings, one a dark tanned human, the other something completely different. Repulsive, Ramirez thought and put the binocular down.

The night had been rough but the Snow Cat had made the trip this far rather comfortable and he was in a hell of a lot better shape that the trio beneath. Ramirez knew that he would have to wait for quite some time until they were a lot further away. The engine would give him away instantly if he started it now. He was to close to them and the only reason they hadn't discovered him the previous night was the damn blizzard which had made taking a proper shot at them impossible. If only I had remembered the gun this morning.

Kristoffson took a deep breath “Aah”, he exclaimed and coughed. He cleared his throat “You guys ready?”, he asked.

Kanawa yawned and let out a pleased sound, “Sure”, he answered rubbing his eyes.

Ast-tei looked at the two and couldn't help wondering about the odd morning rituals of the humans. He couldn't understand why anyone would take such a deep breath through the mouth certain to bring up a cough and then that yawning business. Why couldn't they just regulate their breathing properly?

Their breath left vapor tracks in the cold winter air. The small meal consisting of the survival packs still intact after the avalanche along with a hot cup of powder chocolate had provided the strength needed to continue on their trek.

As they started walking their legs ached, however the rest had done wonders and the stiffness after the awkward night in that improvised shelter disappeared after walking for a while.

The last leg of the journey was brisk and the trio managed to maintain quite a pace which led them to the final destination in far less time than Kristoffson had originally estimated.

When Oluf scanned the hillside with the binoculars he almost couldn't believe how close they were. But the evidence was right before them.

“There!”, he shouted and pointed at a formation of shrubs that seemed a little out of place on the lightly snow sprinkled slope.

He handed the binoculars to Kanawa and guided his view.

“I can't see anything”, Kanawa answered trying to find out what had excited Kristoffson so.

“The shrubbery”, Kristoffson exclaimed annoyed about his colleague's forgetfulness.

“Oh yeah”, Kanawa answered and handed the binoculars back. He suddenly remembered the painting that he'd been admiring so many times in Kristoffson's apartment. “Amazing exactly like the painting…”, he said with evident anticipation in his voice.

“Come on”, Kristoffson yelled and started running as fast as he could. The two followed the Norwegian as fast as they could looking quite comical as they staggered toward the goal.

Less tan fifteen minutes had passed before Kristoffson had removed the bushes. With his hands Kristoffson uncovered the frame and soon after a door revealed itself buried beneath the dirt and snow.

Kristoffson pulled the vault like handle and black orifice appeared. Kristoffson turned a flashlight on and entered a dark and dusty hallway which was filled with light cobwebs than seemed to dance around in the winter breeze.

The sound of footsteps and the sweeping dot of light were the only evidence that Kristoffson was moving further and further into the pitch black shaft.

Suddenly the bulbs were switched on and the emergency lighting that flooded the hallway revealed the structures more clearly to the two other who had been waiting, behind.

The hallway was made from solid concrete and looked well preserved. They stepped inside and Kristoffson pulled a lever that closed the door.

Thereafter Kristoffson found the generator room. The generator was diesel driven and empty. Kristoffson, however, simply rolled one of the sealed barrels from the supply room over and placed it in the rack designed for that very purpose.

He connected the tubes, and after swiftly lubricating the engine he pushed the start up button, but nothing happened.

This maneuver repeated itself a couple of times with Kristoffson feeling increasingly frustrated for every failed attempt.

“Damn, I hate this piece of junk”, he shouted and kicked the generator violently.

But to the generator the outburst didn't seem to make a difference, it still didn’t react.

Once more he pushed the button and then finally the engine gave a few coughs and sputtered into action. The humming of the generator was the signal for the complex to light up, and all around the different rooms, light bulbs turned on, and air filters started their tedious work.

“I'm totally whacked”, Kristoffson said as he came back into what resembled a living room.

“Me too”, Kanawa added and slipped into a chair.

Ast-tei had been very quiet since the avalanche not saying more than absolutely necessary, “I was wondering if there might be a place where I could rest for a while”, he said in a fatigued voice.

“Of course, let me show you!”, Kristoffson answered and took the lead. He quickly showed Ast-tei into an adjacent room where the exhausted Councillor found a bunk to lie on.

Kristoffson returned to the living room and found Kanawa dozing in the chair, he decided not to wake him up and hurled a blanket over him. Perhaps a little sleep wasn't out of place after all.

“How about a nice cup of tea and some grub?”, Kristoffson asked with a smile.

Kanawa was all stiff from sleeping in the chair but didn't complain. He was hot and safe, that was enough.

“That would be nice, I think I could eat a horse, you know”, Kanawa answered only to stop. The Japanese looked suspiciously at the Norwegian. The main bulk of their supplies had been lost in the avalanche and Kanawa hadn't noticed Kristoffson carrying anything extra. “What do you suppose we eat”, he asked suspiciously.

Kristoffson burst into laughter, a deep rumbling sound that filled the room. “Come here ye unbeliever”, he said and wriggled his index finger.

Kanawa got up and followed him to a large metal door, Kristoffson pulled a lever and a hiss indicated that the door was now open. A light nudge with the elbow swung the door wide open.

“Ta-da, supplies that'll last us the better part of a month, and as soon as I can get the old scooter in the storage room working, I can drive it to the nearest town and pick up whatever else we need”.

Kristoffson was speaking with triumph in his voice. The Japanese was baffled. How could Kristoffson had known they would need food?.

“I can see it in your face my friend. It is not how? it's why, you silly dope”, Kristoffson answered with a smile.

“Yes that's…. aehm whatever”, Kanawa said. He was lost for words. Had he become that transparent?

Kristoffson enjoyed the moment of triumph but decided it would be unfair to torture Kanawa much longer.

“You see I spend more than two months up here every year to help me focus.

About a month or so before I go up here, I lend a MiniCopter from a friend, load it up and fill the cupboards. I even have some canned stuff that'll last three more years, please help yourself”.

MiniCopter… but why, ah radar, off course!

A few hours later they were dining, Kanawa smelled the steaming hot T-bone steak on his his plate, he sniffed the food for a while. Well done.. just perfect, he thought and pinched a few potatoes from the pot.

“So tell me about the place. How on earth did you come across it?”, Kanawa asked and cut himself another piece of the meat.

“Oh you see… many years ago, I was up here with the Boy Scouts”, Kristoffson began.

“You were a Boy Scout?”, Kanawa chuckled.

“Hey I didn't say I was a nice Boy Scout”, Kristoffson answered with a snigger. “To make a long story short, we had been on an orienteering race but to cut time from the last post to base camp, I decided to take a shortcut. And before I knew it, I was on the hillside right outside, I slipped in the wet grass, and tumbled right into the bushes that cover the entrance. I must have spent hours there investigating the entrance trying to winkle that door open but the lock was corroded and wouldn't budge”.

Kanawa smiled as his friend and colleague opened with stories from the past, a sharing that was rather unusual. Kanawa was not about to interrupt him and leaned back in the chair.

Kristoffson took a deep breath and continued “It was dark when I came back to our base camp. Several of our adult leaders were out looking for me. Not willing to come up with a reasonable explanation for my absence. You can imagine… I got the scolding of a lifetime. The rest of that camping trip was spent peeling potatoes and digging latrines, but with the search called off, I alone was aware of my findings. This was my personal discovery and it would stay my little secret until I figured out excactly what was hiding behind that door”.

Kanawa was listening with his mouth open. He loved a good story and when told by someone like Kristoffson. Kanawa felt like he was back in the home village where his grand father would tell the kids stories from what to the children seemed an almost mythical past when people always drove their own cars and pilots themselves unaided flew airplanes that had no guidance or assisting computers.

“Years later I returned, during my university time and discovered that the place was still untouched. I managed to wrench the door open with the tools I brought and started investigating the hide-out. I suspect that this is one of the secret bases the Germans were accused of building during the Second World War. The purpose is rather unclear though, since the facility has several bedrooms, a small lab, a storage room and off course this living room. But whether it is an abandoned hideout or some sort of secret laboratory built into the rock, I don't know, but I'm pretty certain that besides myself, you and Ast-tei are the only”, Kristoffson hesitated for a moment before he finished the sentence, ”….well, persons that know about it”.

Kanawa sat in awe as he realized the huge step Kristoffson had taken by truly accepting Ast-tei as a fellow being not just a mystery to solve. Exactly when this had happened he did not know, but it was clear to see that Kristoffson's motives were no longer cold and callous. His motives had to be quite different from the ones you would normally excpect Kristoffson to operate from.

After they had finished eating there was nothing much they could do but to wait. The councillor had gone into one of his dead-like trances that his species apparently did after having been in strenuous situations.

Ast-tei had many troubling thoughts during his dead like sleep. Pictures and random events all garbled up whisked around his mind, being marooned on this unfriendly blue planet had strained his psyche tremendously it was a great wonder that he hadn't sunk into one of his comas earlier.

The night sky was covered with clouds disorientating the creeping shadow which determinedly kept pacing forward. Ramirez knew he was very close now, it was as if he was a predator on the prowl. He had caught a scent and was following it relentlessly. Locating the entrance had taken him quite a while but he was right on their tail, like fleas on a dog, the captain thought and lit up in a twisted smile.

Got to give them credit though, those bastards did a good job at concealing the door but it'll take more than a mere door to stop me.

After fumbling with the lock for a couple of minutes he managed to get it loose without making any noticable noise. The door squeaked a bit as he gently opened it and like a cat in the dead of night he slid inside. Ramirez cautiously closed the door while listening intensely for signs of discovery.

His vision enhancer had been broken during a fall earlier so he relied on his own eyes. For a man so heavily trained in the use of cyber aids the situation was not good. He held the weapon ready to fire as he slowly sneaked down the hallway.

He concentrated and thought he heard something. Yes definitely a snore, those bastards are fast asleep, no one in the way. He stopped and peaked over his shoulder. For the devil sends the beast with wrath for he knows time is short… those words again. Ramirez clutched his head, revenge would be his, he wouldn't have to wake up again screaming seeing her face. He would personally kill the scum who had caused the death of his beloved.

He opened another door and as he walked through he tripped over the door moulding, cursed silently and got to his feet again. The emergency lighting on, in this part of the complex painted a ghostly shadow on the walls as he swept inward.

After going through several rooms he came to a door. This is it, he thought as his heart jumped. He slowly put his hand on the handle and opened the door.

There it lay, the thing that was to blame for the death of his wife. A hideous gray mass of fleshy substance, a being taken right out of a horror script.

It was comforting to know that he was the one chosen to kill it. Ramirez poked the councillor's still body, the only life signs visible were a couple of vibrating nostrils and the careful heaving and sinking of the chest.

If only it was awake… If that thing could see me take it's life, Ramirez thought as his fingers slowly squeezed the trigger. Then everything went blank.

Ramirez regained consciousness quite a while later, and for a brief period his eyes had trouble focusing. Finally the two figures in front of him became crystal clear. He wanted to stand up, but found himself unable to move and then he realized that he was tied down, a prisoner! The thought was overwhelming but Ramirez overcame it with the only weapon available, rage.

“You fuckers, get me out of these ropes right now!”, he shouted at the top of his lungs.

“Now, now calm down please, and get your priorities right son. We are the keepers, and you are the prisoner. Therefore we make the demands and ask the questions, not vice versa”. Kristoffson enjoyed this little word duel.

Ramirez was furious. So close and now what? The captain fumed he had grave difficulty understanding how he a trained World Union Specialist had been rendered helpless by two geeks. Scientists for God's sake, Ramirez thought. Wandered right into a trap. How could I have been so careless?

Those damned fools had rigged the whole place with tripwires or something and he Frederico Ramirez had allowed himself to be captured. Once again the captain uttered his guttural detest toward the two men standing by him.

But they did nothing, and for a while that felt like an eternity to him nobody said a word.

Kanawa started the questioning, “Why are you here?”, he asked.

“I am Captain Frederico Ramirez, World Union Special Task Force, Unit Six”, he answered.

Kristoffson looked at the captain with disbelief “Yes, yes, let's skip the formalities, we know that you are not here as a member of the World Union. The Union doesn't operate in single man squads”, Kristoffson continued and was really heating up.

“If you really were on a mission with the union, the place would be swarming with troops now. In the absence of those troops, I think we can rule out that possibility…. Don't you?”, Kristoffson added in the most taunting way he could.

The captain looked at them in a defying manner. They wouldn't get another word.

Ramirez would not cooperate that much became clear after a while of questioning and the two scientists decided to leave the room to discuss the prisoners further fate.

This was the opportunity Ramirez had been waiting for, the moment every trained soldier waited for, a chance to escape.

By wriggling his legs back and forth Ramirez managed to get some freedom of movement and started rocking the chair.

The chair soon peeled over breaking into pieces caused by the fall and the captain got the ropes off and rubbed his wrists.

Oh were they in for a surprise now, Ramirez put his ear to the door and listened, not a sound. He took a chance and opened the door, to his surprise the first thing he saw was his assault shotgun leaning against the wall.

Idiots leaving his weapon here, Ramirez even found the ammunition and put the shells into the chamber, Rock and Roll.

The captain quickly oriented himself since they had left the lights on he could recognize the features off the hallway from the previous night's cloak and dagger games which had ended in failure.

Well this time he would get him! If anyone came in his way, tough!

Nothing on earth could stop him now.

With a firm kick he brought the door to the councillor's room crashing in. He rushed through the splintered door and pointed his gun at the bed.


“Looking for something?”, a voice behind him said nonchalantly.

With a cry of wrath, he turned around and pulled the trigger in the direction of the sound. Kanawa's body was thrown backward as the deadly load of pellets hit him. Kristoffson stood frozen for a split second, as the glimpse of his friend throwing himself in front of him replayed in his mind.

Just as suddenly he snapped back to reality and before Ramirez managed to load the next shell into the chamber, Kristoffson was on top of him.

They tumbled around on the floor like two hungry animals fighting over the only piece of meat in existence that could ensure one's survival.

Kristoffson's mouth foamed, and the saliva threatened to choke the Norwegian as Ramirez tightened the grip around his neck.

With a final throw of strength Kristoffson freed himself from the death grip with a kick to the groin, and with the ferocity of a wounded lion, he once more threw himself at his opponent. His hand gripped Ramirez's chin and the other the back of his head.

A cracking sound escaped, as a powerful twist broke the captains neck like a twig.

Kristoffson had an urge to let his body slide down onto the floor just for a while that was until Kanawa's predicament sprung back into his mind.

He rushed across the room and checked up on his friend. The wound looked serious which left Kristoffson in the grave dilemma of being forced to call for help, whether he wanted to or not.

If he didn't Kanawa would surely die and the death would be on his conscience. The only problem was, who would arrive first.

Kristoffson got back to his feet, Kanawa didn't utter a single syllable but just lay there. His eyes had a glare the Norwegian did not like, time was running out for his colleague.

“I'll go get some bandages. Just press hard like this against the entry wound… you're going to be okay”, Kristoffson said in an attempt to assure Kanawa that the injuries weren't too bad but Kanawa knew better and every thump of his heart brought him one step closer to universal understanding.

Kristoffson raced toward the infirmary and while he pressed on all sorts of scenarios rushed through his mind. If the Norwegian government patrols picked them up, maybe there would be a chance to slip away after ensuring Kanawa's safety. However if World Union or Euro officials put pressure on the Norwegian government, no planes would arrive and Kanawa would be doomed.

Kristoffson stopped abruptly, he had just passed the room in which they had placed Ast-tei's dormant body the evening before, it was the room leading to the infirmary.

Then again if a patrol from the World Union or perhaps the Euro legionnaires picked them up, there would be no saying what could happen, Kristoffson thought while rummaging through the first aid closet.

He found a couple of pressure bandages and a couple of scissors. He grabbed the tape and headed back. He would undoubtedly be put on trial for treason as would Kanawa without the slightest concern for his medical condition.

There was no doubt in his mind that Ast-tei would have an “accident” and then be dissected to determine his internal workings. But only after they had put him through unbearable torture to find out what he knew, and what he was doing on Earth.

Kanawa had closed his eyes when Kristoffson finally entered the room again the Norwegian immediately squatted down next to his colleague.

The Japanese wasn't putting pressure onto the wound any more and Kristoffson feared the worst.

Hmm a fairly strong pulse, maybe the wound looked worse than it actually is, I sure hope so, Kristoffson thought and started treating Kanawa's injuries.

The bandaging took a good while and when he had finished he realized that there was really only one alternative, and that alternative meant a journey into the unknown.

Moments later he had the radio set going and within seconds of that a distress call crackled into existence, the SatLink provided him with a connection to Tórshavn City Harbor Control and he started explaining the situation in a tired voice.

The Freelancer squadron consisting of a medical transporter and three support fighters needed only a few minutes for preparation before they took of from Vagar Spaceport.

The airfield was still the smallest commercial spaceport in the world no doubt about that, a remnant from a time long since passed away.

The Second World War Airport had been built by the British when they occupied the Islands. They had used Vagar for their own confidential military purposes, most of which were still well kept secrets in the British War Ministry. In the years after the war the airport had served the Faroese people. For decades the place had been run as a commercial airport providing the islanders with a vital link to the outside world.

It had remained the world's smallest commercial airport until the field was closed in 2015 by the aviation authorities as unsafe for commercial transport.

Though local gossip stated that the closing was an excuse for building a new airport on the nearby island of Sandoy.

The shutdown didn't last long before Vagar airport was bought by a high tech corporation that reshaped the airfield into a blooming sphere of activity for the soaring days of the reborn Space Age.

Within years the renamed airfield, Vagar Spaceport, provided work for 90% of the people on Vágoy while the rest of the crews consisted of foreign experts and researchers.

Vagar became a bustling center of attention when it was chosen as a launch site for the Nemesis mission that took man to Mars for the first time, a fact that the village gossip could live on for a couple of decades.

Pike pushed the throttle a bit harder, he had graduated less than a month ago. He was 23 years old and out on his first mission as commander. He felt good.

Pike had joined the Freelancers at the age of 17. He had been transferred to the islands shortly after the takeover.

He was happy to know that the peaceful invasion of the Faroe Islands and the two other countries in the alliance, Iceland and Greenland, had prevented conspirators within the World Union follow through with their secret plan.

A diabolic sceme that encompassed the release of a deadly disease, a strain of Ebola virus so virulent it would have killed off the entire population in the islands within three to five days.

“Just imagine Janice they actually intended to kill off everyone living here”, he said and peeked into his rear view monitor.

“What?”, his navigator answered, she had been preoccupied transmitting the latest situation report to the transporter pilots.

“Nothing…”, Pike muttered they couldn't really talk about it, not officially anyway. But it was incredible that power hungry generals and bureaucrats had attempted to cover up the fact that a live alien had been captured here. A first in world history and the fact that it meant the end for this the smallest country in the Nordic Alliance, hadn't meant the slightest to those officials and such would the fate of the islands have been unless Freelancer agents had intervened.

He felt better and better, his dream of becoming a fighter pilot had come true and he was doing something good for the world. He and his navigator Janice Newbourne.

This would be a milk run. He felt confident, and the stick in his hand gave him a Godlike feeling of immortality.

The planes headed north east toward the fix point given to them by flight control, the sky was clear, both radar and microwave scans came up clean. Nobody would try to stop them, nobody could.

He was ripped from his state of self contentedness by his navigator's voice.

“Look down, about three clicks out approx. nine o'clock”.

Edward looked in the given direction to get a fix on what had captured his navigators attention. A flock of trekking birds soared freely between the cloud mountains. Wasn't that a bit unusual this time of the year?

For a brief moment he felt an immense joy from watching the birds but he soon snapped back into his daydream.

In the cockpit of Dragonfly Squad Leader the activity was hectic. During the last minutes before take off he had been inducing the mission objectives using the hyper coder. The orders came directly from General Powell himself and all images, maps and verbal information had been guided directly into his brain by the device.

The whole hypercoder procedure could be done in the blink of an eye eliminating several hours of finalizing and memorizing previously needed for flight preparation.

Two gadgets responsible for such great improvements…The retina coder imprinted images directly into the optic nerves much faster than the staffs of the eye were capable of reacting to change and then the newly developed ear amplifier, AMP for short. It was a tiny device as well not larger than a pinhead, like the artificial ear which had introduced people who had never heard a thing to the mystery of sound.

At least that's what the white coats had told him. Dragonfly squad leader had never cared much about things like that. He followed orders and that was how he liked it.

Whether the device rendered him capable of capturing frequencies on a broader spectrum than the ordinary ear, and pumped it into his brain in larger packages than his ear could, well who cared anyway. As long as he got better at processing the necessary information during the shortest sessions possible they could shove a keyboard up his… well maybe not that.

Dragonfly squad leader glanced around the cockpit. He had a completely uninhibited view of the surroundings, so clear was the view that persons without proper training easily could fall prey to deluding themselves that they were not sitting in a cockpit but in thin air.

He smiled when he recollected the comments his brother had made, hell he had even claimed that he and the rest of the flight jocks weren't human and that far to much attention and money was spent on them. Dragonfly leader was just happy the General had selected him.

He didn't feel like an ordinary man any more, being an enhanced human was quite an experience.

Only a select few knew about the program and his brother off course but he wouldn't tell, his brother knew all too well that those who complained were silenced, in one way or another.

Creative accountants or anyone else in the defense department blowing off steam were bound by their vows of silence and therefore unable to do anything but utter their grief to the spenders or rather those the money had been spent on.

Dragonfly leader kept smiling. The alterations gave him and his crewmembers an extra edge, if you asked him it was money well spent but who gave a rats arse anyway.

He thought for a while longer before he decided to push the com button.

“Listen up, I have received orders. Priority red, switch to input mode Zulu, Whisky Delta, repeat Zulu Whisky Delta”.

The red diode indicators on his dashboard showed all planes ready to receive orders. He pushed the transmit button.

Flight control orders incoming: Priority red

Subject: WU Renegades

Mission Objectives: Seek and destroy

Transmitting necessary orientation material: * * * * *

Message End.

The planes immediately reacted, and descended to the lowest possible altitude, relying entirely on the low flying information relayed from the Flight Control Center.

“Now entering Norwegian airspace”, Newbourne said after checking their position.

“Get a new fix on Kristoffsons and scan for WU activity”, Pike told his navigator.

Janice started pushing buttons and tried several times with no success.

“Listen Edward, I can't reach him. We have to rely on the initial information he gave us and hope for the best. I really don't see any other possibility than to wait until we reach the marker”.

“How about World Union activity?”, Edward asked with a puff.

“As for previous noted activity, nothing seems to have changed. Except the Union council has condemned the invasion. The facts about the Faroese situation are trickling through to the highest level so by tomorrow evening we should see an official withdrawal of the condemnation. The patrol we picked up hasn't deviated from it's original course. I don't think they're taking any interest in our little joy ride”, Janice said with relief in her voice, during her years with the Freelancers she had seen more than her share of combat and Lady Luck was having a hard time keeping up.

Edward had a nasty impulse. He suddenly remembered the rumor which had persistently surfaced during the last couple of days.

It was a rumor that claimed that high ranking officials within the WU had a secret agency committed to infiltrate and sabotage Freelancer activity an agency that allegedly possessed crafts with daylight cloaking capabilities.

The cloaking had something to do with ultra high resolution optic cabling and emission diodes. If there was any truth to the gossip just about anything could happen.

There was still time left before they’d reach their destination and Pike was feeling bored, might as well chat.

“So what do you think of the whole north south situation.

“I dunno, someone had to take charge”, Janice tried. “Can’t be right to destroy mountains of food just to keep prices at a certain level. While millions were starving, money was been redistributed into the pockets of the greedy. I'm not saying food redistribution in any way is a long term solution, if there ever is going to be enough food for everyone, self discipline and harsh measures will have to be introduced, especially in the areas where populations growth has soared uncontrollably”.

“Tougher birth control measures?”, Edward asked.

“I think birth control is a more valuable tool in the stabilization process, but the key elements must be improvements in the health care system. I think that's the only way we can eliminate the need for multiple child births”, Janice said.

“Then we'll have to introduce some even more thorough educational programs than those already in place ”, Edward answered.

“Yup with so many viral and bacterial killers wiped off the surface of the earth, it is imperative to limit family sizes, stretching existing local food supplies further but I think you're right. The education programs currently in progress, mostly consist of teaching people how to become self-sufficient in energy matters, but I think it's equally important to target food production methods and teach people to explore the different economic systems”, Janice had been thinking a long time about the issues at hand.

“You're dead on Janice, being self sufficient in energy matters should pave the way for an independent food supply, this in turn would lead to complete economic independence”, Edward was delighted, they were a perfect match. Too bad she was married.

“Hey did you see the Dennis Martin show last night?”, he asked jovially.

“You mean Twenty years with Dennis”, Janice inquired.

“Yeah, exactly”, he said with enthusiasm in his voice.

“Yes, I did, you liked it?”, she asked with expectation.

“Oh yeah, it was great to see the way he showed how increased understanding and utilization of the ECO system has raised life quality. It's weird to think that the view on utilization has changed so much. I mean utilization is far greater now and yet the hysteria of the nineties and the first years of the 21'st century is not completely gone”, Edward said.

“You're right. It's interesting to look upon animals as a food supply today, not creatures magically uplifted to the higher spheres of being. Can you imagine trying to make a living in the food industry during the ECO hysteria?”, Janice asked with disbelief in her voice.

She couldn't help but think of how lucky they were that almost all the radical ECO preservation groups were gone.

A lot of people had suffered from the scams some of the groups had pulled. Worst off were elderly people, from which fortunes had been extorted in the name of the great cause.

“Imagine if the lid hadn't been blown off the corruption that was festering in the preservation groups of that age. Think of the scandals and the fraudulence that would still be poisoning our lives”, Edward said. It was fabulous how Dennis was able to exposed their lies and thus shut the loudest mouths since those were the ones skimming the profit.

Janice thought about the impact these preservation freaks themselves had brought onto the eco system. It was terrible, incidents where groups had transported dumped waste into city centers or to factory gates had resulted in tragedies surpassing that of Tjernobyl.

It was true in many cases that the ecological balance had been thrown off the scale, but the damage done by the groups themselves in gas guzzling motorboats and helicopters had been their death sentence.

“Anyway I don't blame the anti eco folks, I mean who could believe people wasting resources the way the so called preservation groups did it. You know what they should have done instead of spending all that time in front of cameras shouting about things”, Janice asked and presented the answer herself.

“They ought to have tried to set an example by doing what was right, not just crying shouting and criticizing”.

Edward remembered one of the old timers joking about it in the mess hall, how was it that Steiner fellow had put it, “Get over it man, you're nothing but a huge meat eating rabbit, what the hell do you think those pointy teeth in your mouth are doing there”, well that was Steiner for you. But the road ahead was a long and tough one. If the human race didn't learn from its mistakes, it would surely perish in its own excrements.

“ETA 30 minutes and counting”, Edward said in a strained voice. The tension in the cockpit was building.

“First tour out?”, Janice asked. With her many years of service she had developed an experienced ear. The anxiety in his voice when he spoke was clear.

“Yeah, I guess”, he answered thinking about how other pilots felt on their first real tour of duty.

“You got any kids?”, she asked without expecting a confirmation.

Edward felt a strange but not unpleasant sensation creep into his body.

“No, how about you?”, he answered tossing the question right back.

“We got two. A girl and a boy. We choose to have one of each kind, had to apply for an incubator to avoid work related damages”, she told him.

“An incubator, but that means you didn't carry them yourself! Does that feel right”, Edward asked curious to learn more about this woman.

“I don't know”, Janice hesitated for an instant before she continued, “It's not that I like the incubator system but, I had to consider it thoroughly before I applied. And even then I couldn't be sure to get accepted as a valid applicant”.

Edward's thoughts centered around the incubators, it was only recently they had been widely accepted, but in the early days when they had been introduced, a monstrous demand had arisen. Hordes of people had wanted to be relieved of the burdens of childbirth but the manufacturers had pulled them off the marked almost immediately. They wanted a pause to think things over, when the saw the commotion their machines caused.

After a couple of months it was decided to re-release the incubators under a strict user license. They were only sanctioned to be used by approved hospitals, and only to be used as a relief for natural biological partners. This in turn meant that there had to exist a stable female-male partnership in the first place. Single parents, or would be parents living in homosexual or lesbian relationships were dismissed as valid users.

There had off course been a great uproar over these strict measures, moral and ethics became fashionable discussion topics in an attempt to push legal efforts that would force the manufacturers to a total release of the incubators.

But in the end the needs of the children had been put above the need of the would be parents. It was deemed that it was in the best interest for a child to have two biological parents, a female and a male to which it could bond in the way it naturally would. Not demeaning the capabilities of single parents or any form of relationships but it felt right to consider the rights of the child and not the rights of the wood be parents.

The only leniency the producers would give from their regular terms were that if an accident deprived a child of it's natural mother it could be placed in the incubator for further development if needed.

Then again holding the patent rights, and basically being the only ones with the technological knowledge to uphold their views it wasn’t strange the manufacturesr could pulled it off.

Edward was yanked from his speculation by his navigators voice.

“Bogie 15 clicks out at 1600, simultaneous radar and microwave contact, multiple targets indicated , wait …. I’ve lost them!”, Janice said while frantically worked her equipment, her voice had come like a bolt of lightning from a clear sky, but Edward responded instantaneously.

“Come on, I need a fix on those boogies now”, he shouted almost eating the microphone. Hushed the throttle violently forward and started scanning the horizon. The plane shook slightly as it began to accelerate.

Edward quickly received an answer to his request. A colossal burst in mid air to his right side sent one of the Freelancer craft down in flames.

“Get those jamming shields up”, Janice yelled.

“They’re worth squat in dense atmosphere, they need a near vacuum, to operate properly, there is to much disturbance at this altitude”, Edward shouted as he twisted the stick forward. The craft was forced into a downward pointed barrel roll, he quickly followed the maneuver with a break turn that almost redded them out.

Janice popped in an override code and juiced the shields up.

Edward flicked a row of switches, “Missiles armed, gun loaded and paybacks ready”, the pleasant synthetic female voice of his craft pointed out.

The shaking was immense, as if the plane wanted to tear itself into little pieces, but finally a craft appeared in his sights. The bastard would be in a lot of trouble unless they too had shields that could create enough disturbance to de-stabilize the containment fields. But as long as his Osiris rockets remained within the Faraday Casing Janice and himself would be safe.

“Okay bastard you're mine”, Edward shouted as the missile locked on.

As the pod popped open, their shields automatically switched off. The streak of vapor left by the missile as it speed toward the target had a mesmerizing effect and Edward watched dreamily as the missile plunged into the enemy craft, pulverizing it into microscopic particles.

“Yes!”, Edward felt a surge to his head as he shouted. He had never realized how it would feel to actually kill someone. But this was so unexpected, the sensation of power almost overwhelmed him and yet there was a sad streak to the event which touched something buried deep within him.

“Bogie closing in behind”, Janice stated intensely investigating the flow of data being spewed out on the display before her.

The two jets whirred in the sky like a couple of flies in heat. They hummed wildly around each other, performing a lethally choreographed dance, as they spewed one deadly volley of projectiles after another into the blue skies.

“Missile incoming, countermeasures activated”, Janice shouted.

It suddenly struck Edward how mechanic her voice had become when a sudden blast of air ripped them out of the projected trajectory. The missile passed by before being destroyed by the on board anti-missile system.

That was way too close. He pulled the stick hard once more and the plane climbed madly. Edward snapped for breath, and the on board computer increased the oxygen flow into his mask. The plane looped and came in behind the WU craft.

“You're dead, mother fucker”, he shouted as the second missile locked on.

He gasped in surprise when, the plane in front of him suddenly disappeared.

“My God - he is opto-cloaking, switching to VR - display - tracking”, Janice said. Before she had even finished her sentence the plane had completely disappeared from sight.

Edward pulled down the extra vizier. On the display computer coordinates were running wild with immense static interference. Neither the heat image of the enemy plane nor the microwave wind imagery were anywhere to be seen.

“What the hell is this… I can't see shit”, he said ripping the vizier from his eyes.

In front of him the plane reappeared and he pulled the trigger. The projectiles from his Macer-3 cannons left the enemy craft in pieces.

The odds were nearly unchanged. There were three enemy crafts to go and only two Wakinyans left, this was off course excluding the transporter which so far had avoided trouble.

The next attack was targeted at the transporter and luckily the hyper reflective surface withstood the beam hits repelling them like water on a goose.

All of a sudden the voice of the transporter pilot boomed through on the com channel, “They’ve got a lock, get them off my back now!”.

One of the Wakinyans dove in behind the transporter, and was obliterated by an exploding missile, but the transport was saved.

Edward stared at the wreckage as it plunged downward, and eased the throttle almost to nothing while breaking at the same time. When the craft started complaining, he reversed the thrusters and slammed the throttle back up.

The enemy crafts came into view as shots out of a cannon. They wound up straight in front of him, just as he had planned.

With a steady hand and precise movements he targeted a missile and fired, then turned his attention toward the remaining two crafts.

As he concentrated on getting a dual lock the missile hit and the enemy craft was retired. Simultaneously the shock wave formed from the burst caused the craft closest to the explosion to tumble over right into the flight path of the last undamaged World Union craft.

The mid air collision resulted in an explosion that shattered them both, Edward was very pleased with himself.

“My God”, Janice's voice almost cracked over, “We have five more bogies coming in on our six”.

For a brief moment Edward wasn't sure what to think, suddenly a wry smile spread across his face.

“Listen Transport, stay low and stay way down, I'll try to hold them off as long as I can, but the odds don't look”, he said with unnatural calmness in his voice.

“Roger that, good luck guy's”, the transporter pilot replied and dived.

With tremendous speed the transporter speed on toward it's goal.

“Well isn't this what we all wanted as kids, one man against an entire army”, Edward chuckled silently to himself.

Janice was in deep thought, Jack will tell the kids about me and take good care of them. He is a good man. They will know their mother died for a good cause. That would have been the final thing that went through her mind before the battle commenced had a familiar voice not appeared out of the blue.

“Robert Steiner here, we are reading 4 bogies closing in on your tail, hang tough kids this will only take a few…”

The transporter came down with it's engines whining wildly and armed men poured out of it. A medic headed straight for the waiting figure, beside him another lay lifeless in the snow.

“There is another one inside”, one of the men shouted. Kristoffson had dragged the unconscious councillor to the entrance, after wrapping Kanawa into a shock carpet.

The councillor and Kanawa were hurredly brought into the craft and Kristoffson was herded inside as well by the armed guards. The engines started howling and the transporter shook slightly as it started ascending.

Kanawa was placed on an emergency operating table, there was a lot of blood smeared all over his clothes while most of the staff worked frantically to hook him up to saline and glucose solutions, others checked with scanner to assert his blood type. A nurse started removing the bandages. As the last layer was removed blood started gushing from the wound.

“We're loosing him doctor”, the nurse shouted in a frightened voice.

The surgeon started working on the patient “Damned I cant see anything, give me some suction!”, he was frustrated over his inability to stop the bleeding.

Kanawa was in a bad shape, blood kept gushing from the wound in his abdomen.

The patients situation had not been improved by being moved, “Pressure decreasing….We cant hold him, Dr. Creyt”, the assisting nurse yelled.

“Okay, get the arterial insertion unit. Move it!”, the surgeon demanded.

“Unit ready, and loaded”, an assistant said calmly as she arrived at the table with the device.

“Okay Theresa plug him in”.

The surgeon watched as the trained hands of the head nurse placed the apparatus close to the patients neck.

The auto rotating blades cut through the soft skin to reveal the veins and arteries. The computer guided needles found their insertion points and fastened themselves firmly in the blood vessels going into and out of the brain.

The clamps started putting pressure on the vessels to ensure that the tubes were the only access and drain for the blood substitute that the machine started circulating to the oxygen deprived brain.

And imagine doctors had actually managed without this life support unit responsible for keeping the brain alive and well, sometimes even for weeks.

Dr. Gustav Creyt was were pleased by the advances made by medical research these last years, he smiled and felt joyous about the incredible engineering put into the piece of equipment they had just plugged the patient up to. He touched the input pad and adjusted the blood pressure. After checking oxygen as well as nutrient flow to the brain he nodded.

“Okay I think our guy is plugged in properly. Prepare the body for work”, he said while re-checking that the equipment was working as it should.

After the excess blood from the ripped veins had been cleaned away the doctor rubbed his forehead, it was a miracle that the man had made it this far.

The nurse placed cooling bags around the vital organs as Dr. Creyt prepared himself mentally to set forth with his task, this would be a hard one to pull off but the doctor was confident that if anyone could it was him.

The flight seemed to last forever, but before it came to an end Kristoffson was fast asleep, dreaming restlessly about the future in wait for all mankind. “Again!”, Powell shouted in a thundery voice and smashed his glass on the floor. With a bang it shattered into countless pieces and an ominous silence fell over the room as the tiny fragments settled across the floor.

The air marshal swallowed a lump. A crunching sound escaped from the floor when Powell stepped upon the myriad pearl like shards.

“What about the information from Tarvaas, didn't the boys utilize it?”, Powell asked looking like a question mark.

“Aehm… you see sir”. The air marshal was extremely nervous and unclear about what to say.

Not only had they lost some prime air crafts, but their best pilots were gone too. Every one of them had received unsurpassed training, and were equipped with the best crafts known to the World Union, yet that had not prevented the disastrous outcome of their mission.

“I don't know what happened sir, one minute they were there, the next they were gone”, he tried desperately to explain.

“You don't know, ….. well let me tell you what happened you blistering idiot! You were over confident! That's what happened, you seriously expected to cut down a guarded rescue patrol without the slightest difficulty. Even though you know they can smell us coming miles away”, Powell was trampling around the floor in fury.

“If only we could use the Prometheus Crafts, we would…..”, the air marshal began.

“If you ever mention that name again. And I mean ever again! Or if I hear anything funny about you young man. I promise you! You'll not only be out of a job. You'll be found drifting down a river on a cold and rainy morning. Now get the hell out of my office”, Powell shouted, ending the air marshal's audience.

The air marshal closed his eyes for a fraction of a second, clicked his heels together and saluted.

“You're dismissed”, Powell growled.

The air marshal was out of the generals office in an instant.

Powell slowly strolled back to the desk. He sat down heavily in the leather chair, and after a painful moment of silence he took a deep breath.

His hand slowly reached for the vid-phone and with the touch of a finger the apparatus turned on with a hum.

“Connect me to Admiral Cole, and get me a secure line”, he said.

The computer responded to his request with a series of bleeps and a waiting signal.

After a painstaking wait the connection was finally established. A young man in his early thirties appeared on the screen “Admiral Cole speaking, may I help you?”, the man said with a pleasant smile.

The evening was dark, and the fact that there were more than a hundred kilometers to the nearest city, with it's bright lights, made the road seem even gloomier.

Finally the black limousine pulled up at a skiing hut. The house was crudely situated right next to the piste. The powerful pine wood design combined with the scant light emanating from the house, made the structure look like it had been carved in solid rock and placed there by the great architect himself.

The chauffeur’s door opened and a few paces took him to the passenger door.

There was no tweak, no sound whatsoever, except perhaps a barely audible click when the passenger door opened.

A pair of legs wearing very well polished shoes emerged from the dark interior and stepped down on the fine rubble. The crunching sound came with every step the stylish shoes took toward the house and at the rock platform in front of the door. The enormous size of the doorstep seemed menacing to the passenger as he stood there waiting.

The solid door opened slowly. The hinges gave off a creaking sound, and the light from the fireplace momentarily cast a beam of light through the door to reveal that the arriving gentleman had equally expensive taste in trench coats as in shoes.

He stepped in and the door was closed behind him, the people already assembled looked up at the late arrival.

“I am sorry gentlemen, the traffic was terrible”, the man said in a poor English with a thick French accent.

A young man, dressed in a gray Navy military outfit was quick to respond.

“No problem Francois you’re here now, right?. Please take off your coat and join us, we were discussing the future of our little organization”.

“You are too kind Admiral”, the Frenchman answered with a slanted smile.

The assembly in the living room now counted seven individuals. Tim Cole had been head of the World Union Space Agency for eight years now, he was the youngest man ever to have been awarded the rank of admiral. His associate General Powell was present as well. Though not acting as special envoy for neither the White House nor the European Union, both ‘powerbases’ under the direct supervision of the World Union now.

The gentleman who had just arrived was Monsieur Francois Le Croix, manager of the Euro Legion. Also present were his cooperative partners, Boris Novovolynsk and Viktor Stanislav from the New Russian Republic.

Last but not least there was the large Englishman Sir Horace Levellyn sat at the table with his personal nurse Elanor Bigsby.

“What about her? What is she doing here?”, Francois said pointing like an ill mannered brat.

“Elanor is here with me. She has my full confidence and is more than competent in these matters”, Sir Levellyn answered angrily.

“Pardon me, but security is of the utmost importance so I have to….”, Francois was interrupted.

“You will do nothing whatsoever, you impertinent little man”, Sir Levellyn was turning purple.

“Gentlemen, please! We are assembled here with one common purpose. Our goal that we have pursued for so long, finally seems within reach and damned if I am going to let it slip because of old cultural discrepancies”, General Powell's masterful voice that put a damper on the rising argument.

The men fell silent, still annoyed at each other. Before too long however, other more important matters had swallowed their attention.

The discussions went on for a considerable while and several times tempers running hot threatened to end the meeting abruptly but the general somehow managed to keep the two fighting cocks in the pit without letting them harm each other or their fellow conspirators in any permanent way and after lengthy negotiations the meeting was drawing to an end. Just a few final details needed to be discussed.

“What about the troops, how on earth will you conceal almost a thousand men, a wooden horse perhaps?”, Sir Levellyn followed his comment with a bitter laugh.

“I cannot reveal the details of that! But the Great French military traditions will be at your disposal, the Euro Legionnaires Special Corps will be at Lunar HQ at the requested time”, Francois answered in a wounded voice.

Great military traditions indeed! Just like good old WW2. Vietnam and God only knows how many other places, things have gone wrong for the French. Lord have mercy on us all, if Froggy here is going to run the show, Lord Levellyn thought while his smiling assurances of Le Croix's abilities thundered like a dagger into the Frenchman's heart.

“I believe we have heard enough. We shall return and discuss the plan with the governing tribunal. Our final answer will be here by 2300 hours tomorrow”, Boris said and got up from the table.

“You better! Or we will count the NRR out of any further cooperation. You will be on your own again!”, Admiral Cole said firmly.

“My dear Admiral, need I remind you! Without our help the technology used in the Prometheus crafts would not have been placed so easily in your hands. You would still be tumbling around in the dark looking for the antimatter storage device”. The Russian paused briefly before continuing.

“Had it not been for our bad financial standing, we would have carried out this entire operation ourselves. Russia will deliver its pledged on her own terms. You should know by now that pressure does not work on us.

Do not for a moment believe that the American propaganda machine made the Soviet Union tumble, nor the SNG. Each and every time the Russian People were responsible. Don't think you can try the cat and mouse game with me comrade. You'll end up being eaten by the stray wolves that are hiding in the corridors”, Boris answered in the most chilling way possible.

Later that evening two figures were sitting in front of the fireplace. The flames danced in their own secret ways and gave of a tender life-giving warmth while the light played beautifully on the walls.

“Do you think it is right to involve such a large number of people at this stage?”, General Powell was worried. He took a healthy sip, “Seagrams?”, he asked enjoying the wonderful tingling in his mouth.

“Yep”, Cole answered taking a sip himself. He paused briefly, allowing the whiskey to satisfy him, good thing the alcohol industry had stood ground after the lobbyists and ambulance chasers had finished with the tobacco firms.

“But to come back to your concern about the involvement of a multinational force. I'm sorry but I must admit that I think it to be the only hope we have, that is if we want to beat them at their own game”.

Powell stroked his lower lip and nodded slightly there was deep thought behind the words.

“You must realize, we are far to weak on our own.”, Admiral Cole said and looked longingly at the flames.

The subtle changes between light and darkness gave Cole’s face an almost supernatural appearance, the effect gave Powell the chills.

“Then what about the Russians? You think it wise to tease them like that. I mean if you feel that we need all the manpower we can get, then why not keep the relationship on the best terms?”, Powell asked wondering.

“Because the Russians still as they always have, need a good push to get going”, the Admiral answered with a crooked smile.

“How about the Prometheus crafts, can we rely on them to back the mission properly?”, Powell was anxious about the preparations for the coming engagement.

“You really should stop worrying so much”, Cole patted the generals back gently.

“The crafts are ready and fully operational, and as if that wasn't enough we have successfully duplicated the newest development in Freelancer shield technology. So weapon-wise we are capable of giving them a good fight on their own turf.”, Cole answered confidently.

“What about the skirmish over Norway? We lost the main bulk of our cybernetics it takes years….”, Powell was fishing for some sort of reassurances to be convinced, Cole understood and cut his ally short.

“Yes, you lost yours, that is correct! But at the facility we have been working on a similar project, to enable our pilots to endure long range space flights. I dare say with greater success than you”, Cole proudly announced.

“You mean you have been working on enhanced sensory input as well?”, Powell was astonished. Why hadn't he heard anything about it? After all he was a leading figure in the World Union hierarchy. Was it really possible to keep a project like that hidden from the management?

“Off course we had to make the original project seem like a failure. So we made sure that the test subject was terminated in an accident”, Cole said staring into the flames with empty eyes.

“Terminated?”, Powell felt a certain amount of disgust over the manner which the Admiral talked of his project. His pilots had at least all been volunteers, and he had never ever ordered anyone killed to preserve the secret.

“Yes, he had an 'accident' on a routine flight. The wreckage was found and picked up”, Cole chuckled in an inhumane manner, “A torn off arm gave us a positive id on the man. He was completely burned out anyway. A loser if you ask me”, he said and looked straight at Powell.

For a moment neither said a word and the two men just sat there sipping their drinks in silence. Powell cleared his throat.

“What about the shield business, has Tarvaas come through anyway?”, he asked curious about their plant.

“Yes but I have ordered our little girl to keep quiet for some time. I suspect that they might be on to our little game”, Cole answered after taking another sip.

“Why don't you pull her out then?”, Powell asked with concern.

“Because I can't! We need as much information from the Martian Colony Base as we can!”, Cole answered unaffected.

“Mars, you have ordered her to Mars?”, Powell asked with tenacity.

“She is already there, has been there for about a month now. I had to get someone up there, before our little raid commences. After that security will be all over us. We might have grave difficulties in getting anyone through the iron curtain, and who would suspect a nice little lady like her”, Cole answered callously.

Powell was stunned “My God!”, was the only thing he could answer, the coldness of the admiral had him completely overwhelmed, and yet that was their job – human checkers only when the pawns were reduced to single entities at the time the whole affair got to you on a more personal level… Mars indeed.

Mars colony, Freelancer Experimental Testing Facility

His name was Robert Steiner. He wasn't slim but the man in the black flight uniform still looked pretty mean as he was walked toward the connection tubes. The leather gloves were tight and felt as smooth as silk stockings on a woman's thigh.

The helmet dangled nonchalantly in its strap as he stopped by the check-in.

He slid the card through the slot “Please enter your access code”, the synthetic voice demanded.

He tapped the keys and an image appeared on the screen. His long hair wasn't a fashion statement, as it had been around the change of the millennium, but rather a rebellion against the increasing conformity of the human race. Even his comrades in arms, the Freelancers became more and more of a stereotype to him which he didn't like a bit.

Steiner was a loner who had never gotten around to following the normal procedures in society. The closest family he'd ever known were safe back on earth.

However odd his appearance might seem in these health fixated times, when metabolism control was an everyday theme, Steiner had won the utmost respect from his colleagues.

The doors opened with a hiss and revealed another dark clad figure striding toward the exit.

“Hey Steiner, care for a game tonight?”, the pilot asked as they met.

“Sure Angie, say around eight, my quarters?”, Steiner answered.

“Yeah, sounds nice, I'll bring the rest of the gang?”, she asked him with a smile.

“Yeah sure, and hey and bring some of that cherry stuff you've been brewing, it kicks arse”, Steiner said with the hint of a chuckle as he nudged his beard.

“Okay see you”, she managed to say before the doors slid shut.

His reputation was well known among Freelancer pilots and even in the ranks of experienced WU pilots his name had an icy effect. He was definitely not someone to mess with.

His official ratio was way above official mark expected by a Freelancer pilot.

In the world of the push-button assassin, his was an impressive record, even for a joystick junkie like Steiner who was known as the most excessive sim user in the flying corps.

“Hey I gotta keep in shape”, he'd usually respond when the jokes started flying in the personnel bar or on the flight deck. Basically the only places where he hung out if he wasn't in the simulator.

But today he wasn't headed either for the sim, nor the bar, Steiner was on his way to his craft, a specially modified machine which enabled him to interact directly with the ship's computer through his cybernetic implants.

He had named the ship Michelle after a song by a band now forgotten, obscured and pushed into oblivion by the idiotic acts of one of the surviving band members making ridiculous statements about environmental issues concerning the harvesting of the sea by a small nation, without even going there to see if he had his fact's right.

Still idiot's could play songs, even good songs. So Steiner in his own peculiar way paid a tribute, not to the artists, nothing of the sort, no it was a tribute to the work itself.

Seing Michelle so badly shot up gave Steiner a strange feeling in the gut but the technicians had been working on her day and night for some time now, however as he entered the hangar seemed suspiciously quiet and Michelle looked as if she still needed a lot of work before she could fly again.

He remembered with rage the young punk, barely out of the technical academy who had told him to junk her.

Well at least he wouldn't have to see that messed up face anymore. Steiner shook his head, she probably would have been junked if it wasn't for the experimental equipment she carried, and for the respect he had earned while flying her.

Though getting her, or rather the remnants of her pushed in front of the transfer que with the logistics people, that had been a feat indeed.

There had been reprimands, there always were, but they couldn't ground him, not anymore. Steiner had become synonymous with the flying corps and grounding him would be like grounding the entire organization, even more so after the last stunt he had pulled off by saving that promising first timer.

Steiner smiled, no one could touch him even with fire tongs. The technician had been transferred, he still had his beloved machine, and was spending quality time drifting around the Mars Colony Base enjoying a little R&R.

There was an ominous atmosphere in the hangar, Michelle stood there in solitude, when suddenly the hatch popped open and a techie jumped to the ground.

“Hey Steinie”, he shouted and saluted nonchalantly.

“Yo my man, how goes?”, Steiner asked as he approached the ship.

“Well, the stabilizers are in a pretty bad state, and the engine… what can I say, the salt water didn't do it any good, I can tell you that!”, the technician answered.

“I know, but it was the best I could do, dry land was several klicks away”, Steiner said inspecting the outer layer of the battered ship.

“How come the hull hasn't been worked on yet?”, he asked gravely.

“Cutbacks! The North Atlantic Conflict is tying up most of our resources. If it was up to me, I'd screw those islanders, and make sure we could maintain our equipment to keep our back yard secure”, the technician answered sulkily.

“Yes you probably would, but you're not running the show, my good man you're just fixing things when we break them; Right?”, Steiner said patting the technician on the back.

“Yeah right”, the technician answered, brooding over his place in the larger schematics.

Steiner looked at the interior of the craft. Almost all the panels were opened, and he could see straight into the circuitry pits.

The dark spots clearly showing around the components clued Steiner in on the extensive damage she had taken when he had set her down.

Actually she had smashed into the waters of the Norwegian coast at approximately 800 kilometers an hour so setting her down was putting it mildly.

He imagined the scenario if she’d been a standard craft with a window construction. The front window would have been pushed in and the pressure would have left him as shark purée, the mere thought made him shiver.

But Michelle being an experimental craft never had the windows installed, external sensors relayed all the needed information to the pilot.

In return for the unnatural vision the pilot was safe from ground or mobile laser weapons designed to hinder or destroying visual contact. Flying blind was unreassuring to many pilots so most aircraft manufacturers still produced window based machines even novadays.

Well some guys have all the luck, Steiner thought and touched her bulk. With a gentle stroke.

He couldn't help but wonder what had kept him alive, the big pod stood there in the corner. Steiner couldn't help but think about an egg whenever he saw it.

It shielded the passenger from impact using a combination of very special techniques learned from the automobile safety business as well as those learned from recent earthquake research. The EGPD or the egg as it was popularly named should have ejected him from the craft. Now that's technology for you, Steiner thought. Somehow the pod had continued the plunge into the water after the splashdown, and without an eject signal, he'd been presumed dead. This was not the first time a technical glitch like that had happened for Steiner though. The remaining Freelancer craft had left the scene heading for home without any knowledge of him being alive.

He glanced at Michelle again and shook his head, at least I managed to take a good part out of the last two WU Crafts when I rammed them. The pilot remained in deep thought as he inspected the hydraulic tubes on the landing gear.

“Hey Steiner you never told me how you made it from the pod and back”, the technician said trying to loosen a screw.

Steiner was jerked from his trip into the past.

“What?” he said a bit confused.

“I said you never told me how you made it from the pod and back”, the technician repeated stretching his aching back.

“Well I guess it was a little bit of this and a little bit of that”, Steiner answered unwilling to talk about the incident.

“Oh come on…. I won't tell”, the techie said with a teasing smile.

“Well you asked for it, I guess it was my great luck that they hadn't discovered that construction failure, or the pod wouldn't have gone smashing through the belly. And since they hadn't detected any eject signal the bastards who attacked the transport wing didn't consider it an immediate priority to request a search who knows what they’d done if they’d found me”, Steiner laughed to himself, he knew exactly what could happen when the enemy caught up with an adversary.

“Well the pod surfaced after spending quite a while under water. I must have been floating around on the surface for a couple of hours when I was picked up by a fishing vessel. They were heading for shore but had decided to casting the trawl a final time. I guess they got themselves quite a catch!”, Steiner added with a mysterious smile on his lips.

The techie leaned his head to the side “Go on”, he said trying to squeeze further information from the pilot.

“I suppose there were two possibilities. If that first timer made it back in his crippled craft, a search party could be on its way”, Steiner paused briefly before continuing.

“Or on the other hand if I alerted anyone to my position it might bring the others guys back. Since I didn't particularly want to see those creeps again I made a bargain with the captain of the boat, and let me tell you! A more shady character is hard to find. He agreed to drop me of ashore a few miles from the harbor, then he told me to meet him again at a local inn”, Steiner stopped talking for a moment.

“I guess that you have figured that things went smoothly from there. My whereabouts remained secret, and I guess the Captains bank account has grown quite a bitfrom recovering Michelle and the pod”, Steiner was about to go on when the technician interrupted him.

“By the way, sorry to interrupt! But have you ever tested out the Raven VI, we got here? It is so sweet I tell Ya”.

Steiner shook his head “Uh oh!”, he grunted without minding the interruption a bit.

“Well how about a test run now? I fueled her up this morning. I'm running a bit late, and you'd be doing me a huge favor!”, the technician said biting his lip lightly.

“Any specific problems with her?”, Steiner asked looking at the twin engine survey craft.

“Nothing really. The engines were a bit clogged up so I ripped them apart and gave them a complete overhaul”, the techie answered drumming his fingers nervously on the hull.

Steiner squinted slightly and gave the survey craft another glance. “Sure why not, I've got nothing better to do at the moment”, he answered nodding toward Michelle.

“Excellent, I owe you one man!”, the technician answered with another drum on the hull.

“One… I believe you're jesting my good man”, Steiner said with a dramatic gesture and in an awesome British accent.

The technician bowed, “I offer the good sire an apology, and thus extend my hand. One is surely an understatement of appalling proportions”, he answered in an equally hilarious way.

They had a long and hearty laugh before Steiner asked the inevitable question.

“There'll be a poker game at my quarters tonight, like to join us?”, he said biddingly.

“Sounds nice, I'll be done around nine. I could be there say tennish”, the technician replied.

“Yeah cool, whatever… Oh by the way, how about an access card?”, Steiner asked nonchalantly.

“No problem”, the techie answered sending a card flying through the air.

Steiner caught the card and nodded slightly at the technician putting his index finger to the head.

“See you around”, he said and started walking toward the ship.

“Hey Steiner! Mind if I bring anyone?”, the technician said as Steiner was about to flick the card through the slot.

“Any good?”, Steiner asked a bit suspiciously. He hadn't quite recovered from the last blast inflicted by a rogue player.

“The best!”, the technician answered with a sinister look on his face “You're not chickening out are you?”, he added with an accusing gaze.

“Hey me… No way!. Just keep that cash card ready cause I'm feeling lucky today”, Steiner rebuttled.

He slid the card through the slot. There were absolutely no problems getting into the craft, since most of the electronic locking systems had been disabled by the tech guys.

No need to hassle around with codes and crap all the time, far too time consuming was what they’d usually say, Steiner couldn't agree more with that philosophy.

He sat down and the auto adjusting seat whirred for a few seconds while adapting to his body.

He glanced across the instruments, nothing fancy here. The flight controls looked pretty standard to him.

He flicked a few switches, and a slight hum told him that the engines were warming up.

“Okay let's see if this baby can fly”, he whispered before engaging the Com System.

“This is Raven VI to tower, request launch for test flight, over”, he chanted into the microphone.

“Tower control here to Raven VI. You are cleared for takeoff, prepare for launch sequence, initiate in T-4, 3, 2, 1”, the controller chanted back.

Odd no questions about who was piloting the craft. Oh that sly little devil, Steiner thought as the pad slowly started lifting the craft into the airlock.

After a few seconds of decompression the top opened, and the pad was elevated to ground level.

Moments later the engines were in full rotation. And as the plane hovered slowly from the platform, the bleak sunlight shimmered slightly in the red chassis. Without warning the craft accelerated wildly and shot off into the desert like a rocket out off control.

Steiner enjoyed himself immensely, there was no other feeling like this. The wonderful impressions imprinting on his retina as the landscape streaked by was unmatched by anything else Steiner had ever experienced.

The powerful engines made the craft vibrate in a most delightful way.

It filled him with a sense of complete freedom, and as the slender ship speed across the Martian plains his thoughts wandered back to his childhood in the Arctic tundra.

So many similarities – barren desolate, lifeless, peaceful nature yet ready to roar without warning.

He longed for the ice again, for the windmill park, a time where both his parents were alive, fucking banks and fucking EuroWind consortium.

At least all that was over now, no more leach like organizations to bleed the good people dry… no more economic control possible due to the rapid spread of information technology and the free speech it advocated, thank God the politicians had been too slow seeing the impact such a development would have.

“Incoming message from flight control”, the computer announced.

Steiner flicked a switch and letters started dancing across on the HUD.

Accident in Sector T-47: Flight schedule override code 4

Weather Update: Storm Activity Decreasing Winds 112 Degrees, 40 knots, Gusting 97 knots Visibility 800 m: Increasing

Orders: Available crafts proceed directly to designated area and scan for survivors.

1 victim returned via shuttle on auto pilot

Multiple Personnel reported MIA

The screen repeated the same message over and over until Steiner pushed the acknowledge button.

Parents, I wonder if any of them are parents, Steiner pulled the stick hard, and gave the starboard engine an extra 8% boost.

He couldn't help but think of his relatives. For years Steiner had worked hard helping out the old Greenlandic hunter which had so graciously taken him into his house after his parents had died. Although he had learned his survival skills from the old Eskimo, he certainly could have done without the loss of his parents and if there was any chance in hell that anyone was still out there in the Martian desert he'd do whatever was in his power to find them.

He pushed the com button “This is Raven VI, proceeding to designated area”.

“Control here, that's a negative prepare to receive HUD update”, the voice responded.

The HUD once more came alive.

T-47 Accident Update: Code 4: Nullified

Steiner stared at the screen as it fed him more information. No Survivors

Orders: Return to original flight schedule

Control Out.

“This is Raven VI, Accident inquiry: You said, No survivors – Are all bodies recovered? Over”

“Negative on bodies, Raven, Accident took out entire complex, Return to scheduled flight”

“Raven VI here request denied, proceeding to alternate coordinates”

“This is tower delay that… repeat delay change of path”

“Raven Six here say again headset mal.…”, Steiner stopped talking and pulled a cord from behind the communications panel, good thing all the panels were open.

No Survivors, it hit him like the freezing gale of a blizzard, the good years on the inland ice and the trips deep into the land had changed him. The harsh climate and the violent nature had built his character, and when the old hunter died he had left the country in pursuit of new adventures, to hell with their formalities, if they want to complain, let them, as long as no bodies had been recovered there was still a chance, and he for one was not about to abandon hope.

Steiner feed the new coordinates into the ship’s guidance system and prepared for a major detour and as the craft swept across the hillside Steiner was reminded of his own past repetitively. A past buried under thousands of layers in his mind, a past that constantly crept upon him when he least expected or wanted it to.

Mai Li knew the afternoon had begun she had been following and noticing a change in the shadows after the last fall in which her wrist console was smashed.

The built-in GPS was gone as well, so she was walking on instinct alone.

Although she was tired beyond belief her iron will kept her going, and through the haze one of the few things she had noticed were the shadows.

She glanced at her vizier readouts:

Oxygen recycling 3.7%

That meant she had about one hour in which to reach safety. Impossible! She knew she might as well sit down to die, but something inside kept her going.

Her mind was cluttered with images, mostly from her childhood. An image of a green underwood grew stronger until it entirely encompassed her.

The strange being looked at her and reached it's hand out. Mai Li felt drawn at the creature, it resembled no other that she had seen in her life.

She started to walk toward it, and as it took her little hand she felt a strange feeling of safety come over her, it was as if the shooting and the noisy explosions had never existed, there was only the tranquillity of the being.

They walked a short distance until they reached a clearing, and there in front of her was the most luminous object she had ever seen.

It was a disc of some sort, very like the ones she had seen in the comic books, but it was so much more beautiful. The being smiled at her, as if it read her state of mind, and Mai Li suddenly noticed other people, each accompanied by one of the beings. Everybody seemed so happy, content with what they were experiencing, but suddenly everything changed, what had before seemed like such a gentle creature, turned into an evil viscous being.

The feeling of safety turned into hatred, and she felt the strong fingers tighten their grip around her wrist.

“Mother!”, she cried out, trying to rip her arm from that fiendish creature, but nothing helped. Then he arrived! His uniform was black as the night, and the eyes set perfectly like gleaming stars in hispale face. The ice cold face was broken only by a red scar, running from his forehead across the eye and continiuing down the left cheek.

With the roar of a Lion he was upon them, his automatic gun spewed deadly projectiles among the strangers, and one by one they fell before they could even react.

Suddenly the creature lost its grip on her, and she ran toward the newly arrived, she couldn't understand the foreigners language, but instinctively she knew she had to get down on the ground. As soon as she hit the forest floor, a series of projectiles flew over her head. She tried to look behind herself where the projectiles had been targeted, a trembling mass lay on the ground only inches behind her. She got back on her feet, ran toward the stranger.

He scooped her from the ground, and with a blazing gun he started to retreat. Everything after that was a blur, the stranger shouted words that were incomprehensible to her. And the other men they encountered, all moved in the direction from which, they themselves were running.

As suddenly as she had lost herself to that inner gallery of emotions she snapped back.

Once again she glanced across the desolate landscape with hundreds of miles of sand and rock. The storms that had raged for the last couple of days had made communication with the home base nearly impossible, but at the same time had saved her life.

She had been out securing one of the modulator stations when the incident began.

The work seemed so unimportant compared to the tragedy it had brought, what good was testing the electromagnetic shielding for atmospheric reconditioning when everyone had to be killed? She remembered with disgust, the sight that met her when she returned to join her fellow crew members.

Their flesh had been charred black, and over them stood that… that thing which dared to call herself human, she was searching the room. Probably looking for the portable which was used to register their measurements.

“Oh my God”, Mai Li uttered as the smell reached her. The two faced monster looked up from the closet she was searching.

“Ah if it isn't the little scientist returning”, she said as an evil smile passed her lips. Her face looked twisted as she reached for the laser drill on the bed. But Mai Li was faster and blocked her way. For a few moments they rolled around the floor, but a fist firmly planted in Mai Li's face was enough to allow the malefactress to get hold of the drill.

The distance could be set to anything between 0,01 meter to 50 meters, so Mai Li instinctively knew she had to get the hell out of there.

The first burst of energy pouring from the drill was way off target. But fried the communication console that blocked the aim.

Mai Li was out the door before Anna got her aim back. Without a thought she grabbed a helmet and a fresh recycling unit before throwing herself into the airlock. She flung her hand toward the decompression switch and the door started sliding into a secure position. In seconds she had the recycling unit in place. With fear she noticed a black stain suddenly appear on the inside of the dense metal door. In a fraction of a second she had the helmet on, and she hit the open button.

The outer airlock door started to slide aside just as the helmet security clips clicked into place while at that same moment the drill burst through the metal door. A jet of air pushed Mai Li to the floor and threatened to rip the door clean off.

“Hull breach, emergency procedure Alpha One in Progress”, a metallic voice said as foam started pouring from the airlock ceiling and walls.

Mai Li made a cramped leap for safety as the doors started closing again. Seconds later the foam had filled the airlock sealing the breach.

Mai Li started running, first aimlessly until she realized that the only way out was to get to the shuttle. She circled around the compound at a distance of 50 meters. Striding her way through the storm, falling over rocks and other debris in her way took her over 40 minutes.

At the time she couldn't make a visual but the NavConsole on her wrist told her the exact position within a meter.

The roar from the shuttle engine couldn't be heard through the helmet but the vibrations from the engines could clearly be felt through the suit.

Suddenly she realized the terrible truth.

She was alone, marooned in a hostile desert. If she knew that beast of a woman correctly there wouldn't be a single transmitter around in working order.

Mai Li snapped back, oddly aware of how her mind wanted to present the events from a spectators position while she was out of touch with everyone. The tiny transmitter in her helmet was for internal communication only with a range of a few kilometers. She was puzzled, for because of persons like Anna Mitchell she had joined the organization. Anna had seemed so enthusiastic, so friendly all set for making the world a better place.

Being rescued as a child by a Freelancer Soldier in the Vietnamese Revolt certainly had an influence on her choice of career, how can anyone that nice be so evil?

January, the though passed through her leaving a strange undefinable sadness. It was the month she had lost her parents. She was only 7 at the time and unable to understand that they had been killed by government troops during a minor insurrection in the northern part of the country.

The soldiers who had come to her village were looking for suspected saboteurs.

Mai Li remembered them as youngsters were barely out of their teens wearing government uniforms. The soldiers had convicted both of her parents with the vigor of youth and the wrath bestowed upon these local traitors was swift and brutal.

She still had problems understanding why her parents had been targeted. Her mother had been a teacher in the village as long as she could remember while her father had been a carpenter.

Oh how easy it had been for them to accuse mother of trying to subvert the children's minds and father…. killed just in case.

The deed complete and done with the soldiers had turned their attention to her and as they prepared for the kill the rebels started bombarding the village. To her it had seemed as if the skies exploded with justice from above.

She ran away and didn't stop running until she was deep inside the forest.

There she had met something. Beings, she couldn't imagine why they had tried to take her, but in the last possible moment she had been pulled away from them by a Freelancer soldier. Counting this latest incident, fate had called for her death three times. Mai Li shivered in her suit.

At least half an hour had passed since she last checked the oxygen readings. Her brain felt like clogged up and had come to a standstill and her body was completely exhausted. Her legs suddenly gave in and she fell to the ground.

An alarm switched on giving off sound spikes being hammered into her skull. For a moment she closed her eyes to soothe her weary head, but the voice kept pushing for attention.

“Temperature critical - pressure decreasing, please check line feed”

Mai Li looked down. The calm emotionless computer voice had unveiled the culprit. A tube had been perforated and fluid was rapidly leaking from a hole. This is bad, Mai Li thought as she ripped the repair kit from a pocket. With trembling hands she found the tube and lubricated it with a glistening mass. The black tar like jelly immediately hardened after the initial smear.

She got back on her feet again and wavered momentarily she shook her head in an attempt to focus. The stress of the situation had drained her almost completely but she had to summon all the strength she could, have to go on. She found her balance and with heavy steps started walking again. She didn't get very far before she found herself dropping to the ground and, as she fell her eyes caught a glimpse of something in the horizon, a ship?

She activated the emergency signal and with a final act of will got a flare going. Red smoke started pouring from the tube as her weary arm fell to the ground.

The craft flew over her and she started to slide into unconsciousness, My God they haven't noticed me, was the last thing racing through her clogged mind before she passed out.

He had noticed the moving figure a good while before the emergency unit began broadcasting. The fragile signal could never have even reached the nearest base. The bleeps were faint and blurry, and getting a decent fix proved difficult.

Steiner's hands danced across the instrument panel. That suited fellow was one lucky mother. Base Control could stuff it, he had that feeling again and not a thousand court-martials could stop him when he developed one of his hunches.

Steiner glanced across the rocky area. Damn it's too rugged, he thought there's nowhere to land properly. At that moment his gaze fell upon a small sandy plain which was smoothly elevated above the rest of the landscape.

He maneuvered the plane toward the elevation and prepared for a gentle landing.

The landing gear hydraulics system hissed while cushioning pressure exerted by the landing craft, and as the gear touched the ground the plane came to a standstill.

He swung the seat around and quickly slid into one of the survey suits which automatically adjusted to his size. He checked to secure the helmet and activated the depressiorization cycle. The pumps adjust to the outside pressure, and the hatch popped open. Steiner was quick to get outside, disorientated for a moment but then spotting the figure on the ground.

He hadn't noticed a single movement since the flare was set off. Hope I'm not too late, he thought as he hurried toward the figure.

Finally he was at her side. “Alive”, Steiner uttered aloud in astonishment as a hand tried to move. He checked the gauges on her suit and saw they were deep in the red zone. This was one tough chick, that much was sure and beautifull as well.

He grabbed her and with a swift throw flung the slender body across his shoulder and started back toward the craft as quickly as his burden allowed him.

At the ship, he put the woman gently on the ground and fumbled with the control mechanism on the hatch. The seconds before it opened seemed like an eternity but the hatch had sprung open almost instantly.

He picked her up again, this time carrying her in his arms. As soon as they were inside he hit the pressurization button. The computer announced that the pressure was normal moments later and the air breathable.

He placed the woman in the navigator’s chair and noticed her life signs were faint. There was no time to waste.

With a snap Steiner got her helmet loose and lifted it off gently. He reached for the oxygen mask in the Med kit.

As Mai Li started coughing, he pressed the mask firmly over her mouth and nose. She took a gasping breath of air as if she was choking but slowly got her normal breathing back.

Her eyelids went from being half open to fairly normal and her gaze swam for a few seconds before meeting Steiner's.

“Welcome back, kid”, he said as a crooked smile spread across his face.

She smiled back, Steiner checked her with the medical probe and read the numbers on the display “Blood pressure, blood gasses and temperature, everything looks swell”, he said in a warm and reassuring tone.

“You seem to be in a good shape, but just in case here is something to make you relax”, he added and pulled out a sleep inducer.

“No wait!”, Mai Li yelled and grabbed his arm with incredible strength.

“Hey relax, I'm not going to hurt you”, Steiner said trying to reassure her.

“She killed them…she killed them all”, Mai Li said bursting into tears.

Steiner was confused “You are OK, kid…. I'm taking us home!”.

“You don't understand! She will kill me”, Mai Li cried.

“No.. nobody will kill you, there was an accident, everything is fine now”, Steiner answered once more attempting to reassure her.

“No!”, Mai Li screamed and attempted to break away.

He grabbed her by the shoulders “Listen up! We are more than a thousand miles from home, there is nowhere you can go”.

“But… she killed everyone”, Mai Li sobbed again.

“I'm going to give you something to relax on. I'll keep you safe, I promise!”.

The sincerity behind the words was unlike anything she had heard from a man before, except perhaps in the voice of her father.

She was just about to speak when Steiner flicked the switch. The inducer was quick to work, and Mai Li fell into a deep sleep.

“Well, guess it's back to base then”, Steiner murmured to himself as he got into the pilot’s chair. With a few taps on the dashboard he got the engine roaring, the craft lifted off. He was heading for home.

Putting the cord back into the breadboard and adding a few flicks Steiner opened a secure channel “Director this is Jumbo, I need a shark free reception in t-2 do you copy?”

There was a painstaking moment of uncertainty, before the set got crackling.

“Jumbo…. where the hell have you been! I've go people with probes up my arse looking for you pal”, the voice crackled back.

“Sorry…. but I couldn't help but think Orbina while I was buzzing! You still got the recordings?, cause I'd like to hear them when I come home”.

“Orbina??….. ah sure thing Jumbo, see Ya Soon! Director out”, the voice left Steiner with nothing but the static cracking of his radio set.

The red landscape passed by with incredible speed and Steiner was swallowed in the beauty of the rock and sand formations beneath him.

Suddenly an alarm shrieked and pulled Steiner back. Damn I must have dozed off or something, he thought as the craft approached the main colony.

He cleared his throat “This is Raven VI, returning from test flight, requesting landing clearance immediately I'm running pretty low on juice, Over!”. Steiner didn't have to wait long for a reply.

“Tower here to Raven VI, proceed to landing pad 1-4 and set her down. Await flight debriefing at the security officer's chambers in 0100 hr's”.

An hour later Steiner found himself sitting in an uncomfortable chair in the security services office. The chair was probably meant to be uncomfortable in order to provide the interrogating officer with a psychological advantage, but had little effect on the large man as he sat there with that devil-may-care look on his face.

“So you say that you did not participate in the search”, the young security officer asked with a suspicious glance in his eyes.

“No not at all, you're welcome to go over the scanner recordings if you wish”, Steiner replied with an equally annoying smile on his face.

The officer cleared his throat before his little embarrassed charade continued.

“We will do that, but in the meantime if you come up with anything that you feel we ought to know, you can pass it on to the officer on duty, is that understood?”. He emphasized the last phrase to regain a bit of his previous haughty attitude which he seemed to think was appropriate.

“Of course, but you won't find anything…. sir”, Steiner ended the sentence emphasizing on the sir, while trying hard not to call him what he really thought him to be namely, a genuine schmuck.

“If you have nothing further to add, we can consider this debriefing over”, the officer said getting up from his chair while extending his hand.

“Well I guess we can!”, Steiner answered as he got up from his seat, making damn sure not to return the officers gesture.

He walked swiftly toward the doors which automatically slid aside and was out of the office before the officer could react to his little insult.

	   There is many a boy here today who looks on war as all            
	   glory, but boys, it is all hell.                           
                                     William T. Sherman (1820-1891)

Lunar HQ 300 clicks and closing.

The five ships moved through the vacuum with the elegance and grace of a flock of trekking swans. They were still a few miles from their destination Lunar HQ, Heart of the Freelancer organization.

Inside the ships young men were sitting in rows. Their faces were pale and though most of them were in their mid twenties but their battle weary faces adding at least 15 years to their appearance.

The interior was dirty and greasy in contrast tothe exterior of the ships. Only a few lights were on, but the men were still checking their weapons while glancing nervously around. A small group of them were sitting indifferently at the side talking to each other.

”….And then he said No! That's not my pet, it's my wife!”. The men burst into a raunchy laughter which was abruptly broken as Maurice Christian appeared from one of the airlocks.

His gaze swept across the room. Flthy scum he thought while his heart filled up with disgust over the lack of discipline within the group.

“What's so funny”, he asked in his odd high pitched voice of his.

“Nothing sir”, a pathetic looking first timer answered innocently.

“Well then get back to work”, Maurice barked, he hated the fact that an entire squad of newbies had been pushed upon him, but what the hell could always use them as cannonfodder.

A tear rolled down Jacobson's cheek as he fought off an urge to laugh. How anyone like Colonel Christian ever remained in command after an affair like the Chilean one was beyond him. Someone in very high places had to be pulling strings.

Most of the legionaires knew each other from previous engagements for their very survival depended upon them knowing how the man next to them would react under fire. They were the crack troops of the European Union, a team known as The Euro Legionaries – a product of the once proud French Foreign Legion.

All of them were equipped with body shields, developed from technology stolen from the Freelancer Organization. Each held the newly implemented armor piercing assault rifle the AP-2122 in a caressing grip.

The rifle would pierce any known body armor, it was the newest masterpiece from Lombardo & Pine Ltd.

The weapon combined Electro Magnetic Projectile Propulsion, or EMPP as the propulsion method was called, with a heavy duty Cutter beam, both miniaturized to fit into a single rifle unit. The cutter, a very powerful tool would cut several inch thick metallic alloys of any kind as if they were butter, but only at short distances.

The men clinched to their weapons hard as their superior officers inspected them. The odor was one of fear and anticipation, and the irregular vibrations onboard the ship had kept everyone wide awake. There was nothing to do but wait.

The convoy of troop transporters en route, was identical to the one which had left the Faroe Islands in the North Atlantic Union only a few hours ago.

The five ships supposed to bring troops back home from the territories under protective occupation, had been shot down by a squadron of the new Prometheus crafts and replaced with other ships before anyone had a chance to react.

The ships currently approaching were identical in every aspect to those shot down, except for their cargo with it’s deadly intent.

The flight had seemed endless even though taking little more time than a LA-Sidney trip, but finally, to the pilots great relief a voice boomed through on the com-link.

“This is Lunar Control, calling convoy on approach identify yourselves, Over.”

“Convoy leader here, this is convoy XB-38 in transit to Lunar HQ, Clearance code, Hotel Alpha 4 - 5, Over”.

“Lunar Control here, you are ahead of schedule, clarify please, Over”

“We got lucky I guess, the goods supposed to be brought onboard in Uupernaviik, weren't ready so we gained some time – u know men first materials later, Over”.

“I see, proceed to landing area 6, let the Flight Computer take you down, welcome home boys”.

“Roger that, XB-38 here proceeding to Landing Zone 6, InFlight systems ready, take control at any time you like, over”.

“Control here we read you loud and clear, landing procedure will commence in t-10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, Control established, sit back and enjoy yourselves. Control Over and Out”

The ships came to a slow halt and proceeded toward the landing area one by one.

As they all were down safely the docking tubes slowly crawled out, and within minutes the connections were attatched to the large bulky ships now safely in dock.

The legionnaires were ready. As the doors slid open, astonished technicians accidentally in the way or service personnel working in the forward landing area were killed instantly as the legionnaires began pouring into the complex.

Everything was ablaze, bullets and beams lit up the hangar while suprised security guards tried their best to stop the coming hordes.

One of the guards managed to jump to safety behind the closing airlock doors leading to the next module.

“We got a security breach, Troops have entered base, Hangar 6 is sealed o…”.

He never got any further before he was permanently silenced.

“This is base Commander Jackson, attention all personnel we are under attack. Evacuate all non combat personnel, repeat evacuate all non combat personnel. Condition Red, Point of entry LZ-6 possibly already in FS1. Detach FS1 and R1 immediately”. He paused for a moment while he tried to get the security cameras to work.

“Damn they're jamming, these guy's are definitely Special Governmental troops of some kind”, Jackson said while on his second attempt to get the cameras working.

“Commander Jackson here, go to secure Battle COM repeat go to Battle COM, do you read me? Over”.

Almost immediatly the Battle COM came into action “This is Sergeant McKenzie, we're locked into a heavy firefight in sector L2, FS 1 was detached so enemy troops are forced to proceed through L1 to L3,

I strongly suggest that they're cut off in H1, repeat H1. We can't last much longer so you'll have to hurry, My reports about their numbers are inconclusive, but if we take into account that there were 5 transports I suspect that there may be several platoons involved with each ship’s raiding party. Currently unit 78 is under attack in FS1”.

A large explosion cut off the sergeant, and the abrupt silence that followed the explosion was succeeded by anguished screams and gunfire.

“Oh my God we're finished”, Jackson whispered as he pulled his service pistol from it's holster. Before anyone could stop him the muzzle had delivered it's lethal cargo and Base Commander Jackson Wells fell gently from his chair like the coward he had turned into ever since he was assigned to his new job at Lunar HQ.

“Come on, Jensen, let's go”, Tarquin shouted as she drew her bloody knife from the unsuspecting Legionnaire who had been careless enough to let them get in behind him.

Tarquin had noticed that the Legionnaire had a displacement shield with a fluctuation problem. Knowing that the fluctuating shield more easily would enable her to draw his blood she had sneaked upon him. The shields were designed to diffuse the bearer’s silhouette in relation to the surroundings. But to get to the control mechanism the Legionnaire had been forced to open his plastinum armor, something he shouldn't have attempted.

The fact that his armor was designed to block fast moving bullets and other objects hadn't done him any good. This little soldier boy wouldn't be a problem any more. She was determined to get out of this attack alive and that Legionnaire had been nothing but an obstacle in the hallway of escape. While scouting around for a way out for herself and her comrade she had been forced to kill the Legionnaire, not that it was a loss.

Just a fraction of a second before a small arms grenade with her name on it went off, she pulled Jensen aside and threw herself to the ground behind a supply crate. The thick smoke from the explosion was filling the corridor as automated fire fighting equipment went into action doing its best to extinguish the fires now blazing all over the complex.

“Listen Jensen I said move, so get tha fuck up and move!”, Tarquin was angry. It was bad enough that almost their entire company had gone in the big blast, but now Jensen played a fool too. Why the hell did he not get up and follow her?

She raced a bit forward, looked around and then ran back to Jensen.

He was sitting upright now holding on to his leg. A dark fluid spreading across his trousers revealed the reason for Jensens reluctance to move.

A fragment from the explosion had penetrated into his thigh and was preventing him from moving about.

“Go on, Tarquin, get your silly little butt out of here”, Jensen said looking at her with his pale face.

“And have you haunting me for the rest of my life, drop dead jerk!”, she answered and pulled his hands away from the wound. She looked in awe at the size of it.

After a second of contemplation, she ripped a sleeve from his shirt aided by a swift blade. She tied the improvised bandage tightly around his leg his face tightened in a grimace but no sound escaped his lips.

She got Jensen on his feet and they started limping away.

“Halt, don't move… drop your weapons”, a voice shouted.

A Legionnaire stood about fifteen meters away straight in front of them.

As suddenly as the Legionnaire had appeared from the smoke a voice whispered from an air duct above.

“On the count of three you guy's drop to the floor…. signal with your left index finger if you copy”.

Tarquin bent her finger backward almost imperceptible to anyone but the observer in the duct.

She threw down her rifle in a deliberately slow manner “One”, they hear the whispering voice say.

“Kick your weapon over here, move it”, the Legionnaire barked.

“Two”, the voice continiued.

Tarquin kicked her weapon toward the Legionnaire. She didn’t like this a bit, Jensen had closed his eyes and was waiting.

“Move forward…. real slow, hands behind your head”, the Legionnaire shouted to them.

“Three”, as the words were uttered they fell flat on their stomachs.

A split second later the air duct was kicked open, and a dark figure dressed in freelancer fatigues fell from it with a blazing weapon.

The ammunition used was anything but standard and even though the armor should have protected the Legionnaire from direct penetration he was pierced and flung backward. The impact broke his back and left him lying on the floor eyes opened wide with astonishment.

They got up quickly for they knew the corridor would be swarming with troops in seconds. If they wanted to get out with their lives intact it was time to move out.

As the newly formed trio got to the airlock separating the living zones L2 from L3, all hell broke loose. The small band had been using service ducts to progress unseen, but in order to move from one unit to another, using the airlocks became necessary.

Suddenly a volley of bullets prevented them from reaching the expected haven of safety.

“Damn they’ve got us pinned down. There is no way in hell we're going to get out of here”,. Tarquin said followed by a bitter oath.

“Relax, I've got this baby”, the trooper said reaching behind his back.

He pulled out a gun unlike any Jensen or Tarquin had seen in their lives.

The ammunition looked like small rockets, but was in a belt like that of a regular machine gun, The gun looked something like a cross between a state of the art crossbow and fashionable sub machine gun.

“Seeker ammunition”, the trooper explained, “It will target whatever I choose. Let's say I want' body heat, and voila”, he said and pointed the gun at Tarquin.

The gun bleeped as he pushed a button, and Tarquin shuddered as she jolted backwards.

“But why so crude, a little push here, and tada, a keyboard”, his fingers twisted and bent as they danced across the small buttons, “Okay, I think that should be it. When I say go, you go!”.

“Who the hell do you think you are? They got us pinned down, we can't get away”, Tarquin shouted while fighting an urge to rip this man apart.

“Aah, the unbelievers of this world, the rockets will seek out anyone wearing diffusion shields. This ammo here”, the trooper loaded the weapon with a new type of cartridge, “Will explode on impact, but rather than providing the magnificent blast that you saw a moment ago these babies will disperse immense electro magnetic radiation within a limited area… hopefully overloading their EMPP rifles. I imagine the result will be a small scale chain reaction that will be far from pleasant for those involved”, the trooper smiled like a child with a new toy.

“And for that other question”, the dark tanned man proposed ,”Arnold is the name and blasting is the game!”.

Arnold Tlatoani jumped to his feet, and his weapon started spewing the deadly darts toward the lurking legionnaires “You see that bright flash? Now might be a good time to leave you morons”, he shouted.

The two freelancers got up “You're coming with us”, Jensen said and held on to Arnold's uniform as they started moving toward the airlock.

Although widespread panic seemed likely to break out at any moment the Freelancer guards acted uncanningly cool as the three of them came limping through the airlock.

“You're just in time, sir. We're about to seal access to H1 completely. Proceed to LZ3 for the last EVAC Vehicle. We're going to nuke those bastards”.

Although Tarquin had to halfway carry Jensen, they got to the ship.

Suddenly Tlatoani stopped “I have to get my work”, he wailed and turned around.

Tarquins hand gripped his neck firmly and the other followed swiftly with a blow to the scientists head, after that everything turned into a white blur for Tlatoani.

	Wars, like thunder-storms, are often necessary to purify
	the stagnant atmosphere.  War is not a demon, without     
	remorse or reward.  It restores the brotherhood in letters  
	of fire...It is the hurricane that brings the elemental         
	equilibrium, the concord of Power and Wisdom.              
	Albert Pike (1809-1891) 

Earth – GNS Studios

The newscaster sat in his comfortable studio chair reciting loosely from the cue viewer.

“These past days the world has been in turmoil. All over the globe Freelancer forces are clashing with National militia which are attempting to take control over old held territories, reestablishing as they say it - law and order”

In the studio the crew was working frantically to establish a SatLink with one of their reporters in the field.

“Okay our producer has informed me that were ready to go to a live report from Copenhagen”, the presenter said.

The reporter touched his earphone as he paused then nodded slightly.

“This is Global Newscast Services, bringing you a special update on the current situation in Copenhagen”.

The image switched from the studio to an anonymous street in the Danish capital.

“In Denmark hundreds of thousands civilians have been roaming the streets demanding all connections to the EU cut. Riot police and the military have been unsuccessful in removing the demonstrators from the street. Para military groups supported by troops loyal to the King are standing firm with the demonstrators. The King who narrowly escaped a bomb alledgedly by Euro pro government agents has released a statement.

“In his statement which is a direct appeal to the fighting forces, he urges all combatants to avoid firing on civilians at all cost! His broadcast was made from an unknown location and has yet to be authenticated by officials of the royal court”.

“The demonstrating citizens say they are concerned about the new Surveillance Directive that allows Europolice to install wiretapping equipment on their own recognizance without first getting a court order thus weakening the already faltering public rights amendments. Another issue fueling the riot is the ever increasing user payment for medical services in this one of the “richer” parts of the union”.

“A recent discovery proved rises in user payment has been used to covertly allocate funds for the poorer countries within the European Union, several of which in the last years have increased their military and police spending with a factor of 4”.

“This is, says a spokesman for the rioters, is totally unacceptable and will not be tolerated any longer”

An explosion in the vicinity shuddered the camera “Woah did you see that…”, a bystander shouted to the reporters pointing toward the source of the blast.

The reporter jumped at the cue, there was nothing like reporting in front of a wall of flames licking everything and everyone it came into contact with.

“Of even greater concern, says another of the demonstrators, is the new death criteria which allows doctors without consultation with the family, to turn off life support systems of patients who are estimated to have no hope of recovery”.

“This is a drastic move away from the brain death criteria which has so far ensured the patient was dead before organ transfer could be initiated. The new legislation allows the growing demand for quality organs to be met without all the legal ritual that has so far has been preventing doctors from openly practicing euthanasia for the purpose of removing patient organs”.

“Earlier today unnamed sources in the European Counsel are reported to have said that, the second division of the Euro Legionaries will be sent in, that is if the Danish government isn't capable of fighting down this uprising. The sources have grave concerns about the fact that the uprising is so chaotic and speculate that it will be hard to contain the situation. They fear that others might be inspired by these so called civil rights campaigners and that the rioting might spread to the rest of the European Union”.

“And that was Jill Turner, reporting live from Copenhagen”, the anchorman cut in as the image faded.

“In other news today, a British farmer says he has discovered a cure for B….”, the screen immediately turned black after Dalfoss pushed the button.

The gathering sat silently for a moment to fully grasp the report they had just seen.

“As you can see the situation is pretty bad at the moment. Our Lunar HQ was attacked, and we had to eradicate the place to keep our latest weapons from falling into the wrong hands. Although some of us wanted to hang around that place a little longer than healthy… how is the head Arnold”, Dalfoss said looking at the Latin American scientist with a smile.

“Good thank you”, Arnold answered a bit embarrassed.

A subdued laughter spread among the people in the assembly but stopped instantly as Dalfoss started speaking.

“I'm glad that you're still with us”, Dalfoss said nodding his head.

Then he continiued “We have pledged to supply weapons to the rebel forces that oppose the bureaucratic oppressors for as long as we can maintain it, but we do not have the ability to intervene with manpower with our Lunar HQ blown apart. However as the Special Branch of the Euro Legionaries has been obliterated together with our Lunar HQ, and the Danish King’s request for a downscaling of the violence the threat of the EU parliament sending in the Legionaries is not as serious as it sounds”, there was a whisk of relief in the room and Dalfoss masterly allowed the directors a moment of silence to soothe their disgruntlement.

“Not many of our ships managed to return to secure locations on Mars due to a new type of ship that the rogue forces within the WU apparently have been developing in secret bases back on Earth. We do not know much about these ships other than the data collected in the Lunar Engagement. We lost about ten Werewolf class ships while the WU lost seventeen of their fighters…..”.

“Hell that isn't so bad. They lost didn't they?”, a rather voluptuous woman interrupted.

Dalfoss sighed loosing material wasn’t too bad – what hit his heart the hardest was the lack of compassion for the lives lost, he felt like pointing it out but decided against doing so, no need creating animosities not now… there would be enough of that later after the big revelation.

“I believe their lack of experience with the crafts gave us the edge since their technological achievements are increasingly very close to our own. One could say to much like our own”.

There was a slight murmur in the assembly as Dalfoss had spoke the words but the council members were quick to silence again when he continued.

“It will take the European Union quite a while before they can establish a new equally able branch of the Euro Legionaries, and I can promise you that we're doing all in our power to find out who was responsible for sending them in, and you can be sure that we will be delaying any re-establishment of the special branch”.

Heads nodded in satisfaction while anticipating what he would say next.

“We are currently evacuating civilians from our strongholds back on Earth, no other troops have yet moved in on the territories that we are currently holding. But I can tell you there are a lot of forces eager as hell to give us a bloody nose both political and militarily speaking.

A staggering 65% of the workers in our civilian net have decided to remain in their homelands, even if we withdraw our military forces. So we have decided to arm every household and give them a rash course in weapon use and guerrilla warfare. This will enable them to defend themselves, if any militia moves in. But that is about all we can do”, Dalfoss glanced around nervously, the disappointment on their faces was plain to see. The organization had never faced such hard odds since he became director, he was very careful to weigh his words, for the hardest part was yet to come.

Dalfoss took a deep breath and pressed on “Those in our under-water bases round the Faroe Islands who decide to stay on Earth will face tremendous hardship! They will have to stay out of sight due to the danger of retribution. This means there will be little, if any contact to land based settlements nor our other bases. The majority living in the underwater settlements still haven't decided whether to stay or join us here on Mars for the last leg on our Interstellar Travel Program”.

“The Interstellar Travel Program, we haven't been notified of any such program!”, Hitoshi Saito said in an agitated voice.

Dalfoss looked around the room. Here they were, in the flesh for the first time all twelve council members and only he knew about the Interstel Project.

If there ever was a hard one to get out of this was the one. How in the hell could he explain the ‘astronomical’ funds and scientists that had been diverted into the projec.

Outsiders to the organization had been working side by side with internal scientific personnel in this venture. Dalfoss decided to tell them about project Epona and he took another deep breath before he started.

“In the mid 1990'ies a young scholar at the University of Wales in Cardiff envisioned a way of FTL traveling using a principle popularly known as a Warp drive technology.

I can assure you this is not TV science fiction – but real technology soundly founded in present day physics. Unfortunately we haven't been able to master the technology fully yet, but based on Miguel Alcubierre's work we have been able to launch three unmanned drone ships. Only one of them has returned. A new ship of ours the Artemis II has been fitted with Warp equipment and is expected to set forth on our first manned Interstellar flight.

“A monkey named Clinton will be the first living being from Earth to break free of the light speed limitations set by the laws of relativity”.

“I beg that you understand that even though the financial losses from this project have been rather large, the benefits of controlling such technology is beyond measure”

“Those of you interested may request the project layout files from me after this meeting”, Dalfoss waited for a while he looked at those in the room. Their faces appeared to be carved in stone. So far so good Dalfoss thought contemplating how to bring the briefing to an end. “The returning drone has provided us with vital material to work with, and the scientific data gathered from the mission, will prove to be invaluable in our further attempts to conquer the distances between the Stars”.

There was no doubt about it. Not only had the room grown very quiet while Dalfoss spoke, but they were all sitting in awe as if seeing an ancient tomb of a mythological King, uncovered for the first time after several millennia in perfect isolation.

“You know from earlier briefings that we have some visitors, claiming to be here on an exploratory basis in a diplomatic effort. One has claimed to be recruiting people to fight the other part. Both claim the other party is trying to oppress them, even performing genocide, wiping entire planet populations out of existence, we are very unsure about what to do”.

The shock was so great that none of the council members dared to speak so Dalfoss continued unhindered.

“The capture of an alien ship has given us good insight in ship design when dealing with living organisms, and the main bulk of our technical staff is working full time to build the first ship in the Star Crusader Class also known as the APMC”.

“The what?”, Frederick von Lissburgh burst out in outrage, one thing was research but this name proposed megalomania, as if the problems back on earth weren’t big enough.

“The APMC, All Purpose Military Cruiser, will when completed be an off world ‘warship’ which we will use in the search for those species of which we have learned”, Dalfoss sensed a growing feeling of unease in the room.

“My dear colleagues please settle down, I can understand your concern about allocating funds and resources to such a project. But there are more important issues we all have to think about”, Dalfoss suppressed a smile that one went straight in.

“Firstly these two species of which we have learned, are a potential threat to humanity, and this remains a fact as long as their exact location and number remains unknown. Secondly, due to this lack of information we have no way to start planning a possible defense against, or the cooperation between our species and theirs. Whatever we find, we will share with the population of Earth. Our task will be hard as highly likely that people will need a lot of convincing to take the matter seriously but it is our duty to keep humanity informed, and do what we can to ensure our species survival”.

The men in the room had grown silent again and Dalfoss noticed how an uneasy almness had returned.

He decided to get on with the rest of the briefing, they could ask questions later!

“Energy wise we have installed a new and improved Fusion Reactor FR2 based on the technological achievements originating from the ITER IV project.

The main difference is that our reactor is roughly 3 times the size of ITER IV.

Currently it is providing the colony with approximately 4 times the total power consumption of Las Vegas when the power consumption was at it's peak back in 2003”

A gasp of surprise erupted in the room, yes the operation needed a lot of power to run but 4 times. The figure was of gargantuan proportions.

“Another Fusion Reactor FR3, is being set up as we speak, with the sole purpose to provide power for a planetary shield that will enable us to proceed with a total transformation of the planet, providing it with a biosphere similar to Earth's”.

Inside Dalfoss smiled. Terraforming a small piece of land under a dome was one thing, but an entire planet, it was a childhood dream come true.

The satellites were also going to be retrofitted with defensive capabilities that could provide the planet with a much needed protection zone.

They would be up there, on guard all 24,3738 hours of the Martian day. Protecting the colony, the entire planet in fact, against antimatter or nuclear attacks from space, it was a beautiful thought.

“As for the unrest in Denmark we expect it to continue with the British following suit. Recent reports indicate that an extreme wing of the separatist Scots will declare an independent Scotland within few days. But since this wing is not leading a fight against bureaucratic injustice and inflexibility but grasping at power I recommend that we do not support this fraction”.

Dalfoss sighed uttering the last sentence, then sat down heavily in his chair.

As chairman of the council Dalfoss had been waiting patiently. The discussions had raged back and forth. For the last couple of hours Dalfoss had remained silent except when sharing a few well thought words, but the meeting seemed far from reaching any conclusions.

He had always seen himself as the director of the organization in its daily affairs, nothing more. The drastic changes in operational circumstances had forced this assembly. He wasn't happy about them all being here together. The gathering made the organisation so vulnerable, he enjoyed operating from within a system where he could change the players as things went along to achieve maximum results.

A head on confrontation was what the organization had always feared. Are we strong enough? Only time would tell. The talks were running in circles, a good time for a recess, he got up from his seat.

“Listen, the talks have gone on for quite a while now and many points of views have been put forward. I suggest we take a two hour recess before we continue!”.

The assembly agreed and most got to their weary feet mumbling intensely on the way out.

The bar was crowded and the air humid, but people kept pouring in all the same. Where did they all come from, so many people, more nationalities than Steiner bothered to count. He glanced around the place once more and caught the waitress’s attention.

“Can I help you, sir”, the tired waitress said as she came up to his table.

“Yes…. give me a Black Russian and a big mug of Gorlac”, Steiner replied giving the waitress a wink. She left to fetch his order with a smile on her lips, she loved most of the regulars and that Steiner, he was certainly one she liked.

It took her a while to get back with the drink and the ale and as usual Steiner passed the time by playing with the peanuts in the complimentary jar, flipping them one by one into his mouth.

Steiner looked up to see a sneppy dressed man stride through the crowd towards him before sitting himself down at Steiner’s table.

“So where is she?”, the new arrival asked curiously.

At that moment the waitress returned “Can I get anything for you, sir”, she asked smiling while placing Steiner’s drink and the mug of Porter in front of him.

She could barely take her eyes off the darkly tanned gentleman who sat across the table. The two looked intensely at each other, it was as if the table was becoming dangerously charged with electric particles when Steiner interrupted the little session.

“Look Jo Ann, he'll have a mug of this black elixir and a San Francisco. If I am not mistaken?”, Steiner said with a smile. He was clearly interrupting the waitress’s attempt at flirting with Takahashi whom she apparently had a big crush on.

“Sounds nice…”, Steven Takahashi answered gently. Jo Ann lit up in a smile brighter than a nova, “Okay”, she answered and left them.

The technician was not more than twenty six, but probably one of the best in the entire freelancer organization. His friends had nicknamed him Hashi, while often forgetting the ‘i’ ending, annoying security officers with oversized ears who might catch part of their conversations.

Takahashi cast a sweeping gaze and spoke “As I said where is she?”, he asked patiently.

“I got her stashed at my place, she is playing with my terminal to see if she can recognize a face from the personnel files”, Steiner said while his eyes uneasily glanced around looking for possible eavesdroppers.

“Personnel files what for?”, Takahashi asked somewhat puzzled.

“Incoming”, Steiner nodded barely noticeably toward the waitress.

He let his body sink back onto the chair and grabbed his mug. He took a deliberate big sip and let the fluid flow down his throat.

The waitress was quickly but carefully placing the ordered beverages on the table in front of Takahashi.

“Pure heaven”, Steiner said with a long sigh. Slowly he placed the mug on the table and closed his eyes as if to carry the moment into infinity.

“Thanks Ann”, Takahashi said with a big smile, Jo Ann smiled back warmly before she left.

“Well, well if it isn't Mr. Cool loosing himself, eh!”, Steiner said bantingly.

“Huh, what”, Takahashi said taking his eyes off the waitress.

“Yeah thought so”, Steiner added.

Takahashi was confused, but gathered that Steiner had probably given a remark about his affection for the girl. Damn she is gorgeous.

“You were saying?”, the techie asked sipping his drink. The sugar ring around the top of the glass seemed extra sweet this evening.

“I said, I have her stashed in my quarters leafing through the personnel files. You know, she returned from TS-47”.

“From TS-47?”, Takahashi asked with surprise in his voice.

Steiner nodded heavily and stroked his beard lightly, damn habit.

“But base bulletins talked about an accident of some sort”, Takahashi added.

“I know… but according to her it was no accident. The rest of the crew were murdered. She says it's a pure coincidence that she survived”, Steiner said nervously glancing around again. There were two tables between them and the nearest couple, and given the minimal chance of the room being bugged Steiner relaxed but not until he had performed another quick check. Better safe than sorry, Takahashi remained silent.

“Hey, Hashi, take a big gulp of that ale, it'll bring the hair back on that bald chest of yours”, Steiner said attempting to wake him from the trance like speculative state the technician had regressed into.

Takahashi in turn responded by taking the large mug into his hand swallowing nearly half of its contents before putting the mug back on the table.

This was not the Hashi Steiner knew. Something was definitely gnawing at him, that much was sure.

“Sabotage?”, Takahashi inquired with a suspicious glance.

“Well it could easily be! You nev…”, Steiner’s wrist communicator bleeped suddenly.

He flicked the screen shielding up which at the same time turned the micro camera into position.

There was no live image on the screen as the case usually would be when communicating over a handheld vidcom console. The only thing coming through on the screen was his own personal emblem, a posturing hawk on a blue background.

“Go ahead!”, Steiner said waiting anxiously for what ever would come.

A distorted voice came out of the mini loudspeaker on the communication unit embedded in his ear.

“I've found her”, the voice said sounding a little frightened. There was a moment of hesitation before it continiued, “She is in the archive you told me to go through”.

Damn I knew it, Steiner thought wrinkling his brow while biting his lower lip gently, another damn habit.

“Okay stay put, I'll be there in a little while… Steiner out!”.

The cover plate was flicked back into it's protective position and Steiner let his left hand slide through the newly trimmed beard in a pulling fashion.

“Listen Takahashi secrecy is vitally important now”. He looked around briefly to determine if there was anyone who had come into hearing distance.

“To insure Mai Li's security, I will take up contact with John McKinley. He arrived here this morning to oversee some project or something, all very hush, hush”.

Steiner continued “I can tell you this much. Central Computer has identified the alleged saboteur based on a comparison between a ghost image compilation and the employee records of the organization”.

Takahashi was listening intensely “How?”, he asked in an innocent manner.

“A little trick I pulled of with the help of a un suspecting security officer who suddenly was called away from the terminal as she was about to enter her password”, Steiner answered with a smile.

“Yeah Yeah, you know what I mean… How did you do it?”, Takahashi was most interested, since very few people had the skill to enter a secure system. Hacking into the security system without long term access to the control terminals either took a miracle or pure genius.

“That's my little secret my friend”, Steiner said with a wink almost enjoying seeing the disappointment in Takahashi's face.

They sat for a moment in silent contemplation before Steiner once again broke the bar’s background noise.

“Thanks for me by helping me out… I had a gut feeling something was wrong after the order to patrol the accident area was revoked”.

“Think nothing of it. By the way what the heck was wrong with your face on that vid-mail you sent me? I never got around to sending you a reply”, Takahashi said recalling the twisted features of Steiner's face in the message.

“Ah, just a minor partial facial paralysis, doctor, was gone in three weeks or so…. apparently I was exposed to a draft or something”, Steiner said emptying his mug.

“Well, that'll teach you fly-boys to keep the windows shut while you're airborne”, Takahashi said with a grin.

“Ha, ha, very funny, get back to work you lazy worm. Your lunch break or whatever you call it is over, and my baby isn't ready yet. If the shit hits the fan I want her fully operational is that, clear techie”, Steiner emphasized the words as if to clarify the seriousness of the matter.

“Spoilsport!”, Takahashi replied.

“Yeah I know the feeling, now finish your drinking and tiptoe back to work…eh!”, Steiner said cheerfully.

“Sure thing, and thanks for the drink”, Takahashi answered and downed his beer in a single gulp.

“No, problem I put them on your tab”, Steiner replied swiftly.

“Animal”, Takahashi said with mild annoyance in his voice.

“Yeah, don't I know it”, Steiner answered flipping a peanut at Takahashi.

“Graumph!”, Takahashi caught the peanut between his teeth.

Steiner nodded and started slowly walking toward the exit taking a final look around the place.

The crowd had thinned out a bit while they had been talking, but most of the regulars were still at their usual tables.

The younger pilots sat whispering among themselves. They had placed themselves as close as possible to the door in readiness for a possible alert.

When Steiner passed their table he noticed a drop in conversation. He couldn't catch much of what they were saying, but there was a clear sign of respect in their eyes, and gestures.

He walked out with measured pace, and as the door slid shut behind him, he heard the pilots’ conversation begin again.

Steiner was a living legend and he knew it only too well. It took him less than fifteen minutes to get back to his apartment that was conveniently located close to the hangar area, but still within reasonable distance from the bar. No need to remove oneself to far from the conveniences.

Steiner placed his hand on the black door plate as common a sight as the old key lock systems dominant only a couple of decades before.

“Hand print identification in progress, please wait”, a metallic voice said.

Steiner patiently kept his hand on the plate while the computer matched the features of his hand to those stored in the internal security data base.

“Match found, Robert Steiner, access approved”, the voice declared as the door slid aside. As soon as the door had closed behind him a woman came out from the shadows.

“Are you okay?”, he asked noticing the fatigue in her pretty face.

“I'm fine thanks”, Mai Li answered in a tired voice.

“Listen, I am going to try to get hold of one of my old friends in the security force.

He owes me one… with a little luck we'll get hold of the one who is responsible for the death of your friends and colleagues”.

Steiner was a bit worried since there had been nothing in the base news about the incident. Somehow Mai Li's story was too fantastic to be a concoction of a deranged psychopath. There was something compelling about her whole appearance something that convinced him she was telling the truth, it was one of those gut feelings he had developed a knack for over the years, he had been able to read people in the most uncanny way almost instantly when he saw them the first time. Something his grandmother had been well known for.

“I'll just take a hard copy of these files and see if I can get things moving, Okay?”, Steiner said looking closely at her.

She seemed so frail but there was a glimpse of determination in her face, a look Steiner hadn't seen in anyone for a long time now.

He walked over to the terminal and pushed a few buttons on the keyboard.

The computer whirred on as he wrote a couple of lines on the screen after an audible hum a slot produced a storage card. The main bulk of the card was merely wrapping, the information itself was stored in a pinhead sized device deeply embedded in the polymer. Steiner took the card and put it in his sleeve pocket.

“You hungry?”, he asked. She nodded and Steiner walked over to the food dispenser.

“Want anything particular?”.

“No”, she answered absently. It looked to Steiner like the shock of the whole situation was finally begin to catch up with her, it should, after all it had been several days now.

There was an uneasy moment of silence before Steiner started speaking.

“Why don't you go freshen up a bit, you look like you need a quiet moment”, Steiner was determined to do whatever he could to ease the shock effect when it came in full strength.

“Okay”, she answered and left the room without further fuss. Steiner ordered a splendid meal, and while the kitchen helper conjured up the feast, he set the table. Luckily the automated caretaker system had kept the table cloth, plates and cutlery in an acceptable state, so he was able to create an eased atmos within a few minutes.

Steiner opened a locker, he looked at the row of bottles and choose a bottle of red wine. Beaujolais 2024, a perfect partner for the veal.

He carefully opened the bottle to breathe before serving. He placed it on the table and went over to another closet, poked about for a moment and withdrew some napkins and a couple of real candles.

Setting the table had been swift and easy. The appliances would take care of the rest so Steiner sat down in his large living room chair to wait. The bio-chair quickly adjusted to his favorite position.

“Whisky please”, he ordered. As he spoke the words, a globe looking antique standing next to the chair opened. He reached for the bottle and quickly unscrewed the cork and filled his glass up one third. The half empty flask went back into its original position. He pushed a discrete button inside the globe which then shut itself with a slight screeching sound.

He took a measured sip from the glass and let the liquid circulate slightly in his mouth before swallowing. The spirit gave him a warm soothing sensation as the liquid ran down his esophagus as he liked to call his gullet.

“Cohen, Tower of Song”, he said and instantly a soft tune floating from the hidden speakers filled the room.

Steiner flipped the lid of his wrist communicator “John McKinley A-66 on main”.

He took a deep breath, the speaker bleeped a couple of times while he waited for the communicator to make a connection through the main sound system.

John McKinley was at his desk while music filled the room. One moment the tune ran in a silent soft trail, then changed again and a couple of distorted guitars and a coarse voice blared through the room.

McKinley was singing along “I see you now and you see me then…”, simply wonderful he thought and closed his eyes.

The ringing almost threw him off his chair “Hello…”, he sputtered clearly annoyed to be disturbed on his personal channel. Only a handful of people were supposed to know he was here, and they had been issued the official number, which currently listed him as unavailable.

“Steiner!”, he said with an astonished look on his face when he recognized the caller.

“The one and only”, Steiner replied with a grin.

“I should have known it was you, old bandit. How the hell are you”, McKinley laughed.

“I'm fine thanks, and you?”, for once Steiner's interest was true this wasn’t a preconditioned courtesy call, he was making. Steiner wasn't a man who had made many friends, nor did he wish to do so. But he had experienced quite a few adventures with McKinley since joining up with the Freelancers.

“Excellent… oh wait a minute. Check this out!”, McKinley flicked a switch on the remote and transmitted the compilation he had been enjoying to Steiners communicator.

“What is it?”, Steiner asked curious about the transfer indicated on the display.

“It's a compilation of the early works of two of what I find to be the greatest heavy metal bands of the early 20'th century, the Faroese band Oblivion, and the Danish band Mother of Mary. The recording has been sent out as a contribution to aid medical research. If you like it and want to keep it longer than the trial period you transfer a few creds to the address noted in the infofile”, McKinley smiled like a sun.

“Steiner I can't believe it's you!”, his voice was warm and trusting. To him Steiner was more than a friend and McKinley would give his life for the large man if necessary.

“Well, guess your belief system is in for a breakdown then”, Steiner grinned.

“Guess it is”, McKinley laughed back.

They had known each other for ages, yet Steiner wasn't quite sure how to put it to him he’d always had difficulty communicating official matters to people he considered friends or family.

“I've run into some problems”, Steiner said. He looked up, was that the shower faucet being turned off?.

“What kind of problems?”, McKinley asked worried about what might bother his old comrade.

“I don't want to discuss it over vid, do you have anyone there you can trust with your very life with?”

The Security Chief looked at the camera and sighed, “Well You…. but I guess that's not what you meant huh.. good buddy!”

“No, you're absolutely right”, Steiner replied. At least the chief hadn't lost his sense of humor.

“Okay if that's the case I've got a Z-99 experimental unit with me as sort of an advisor”, McKinley said.

Steiner was puzzled “A Z-99?”, he asked staring oddly into the wrist communicator camera.

“Oh I'm sorry”, McKinley said a bit amused, “Z-99 is an android!”

“An android?”, Steiner said gawping.

“Yeah, I've been complaining so much to management about the unreliability of humans to act as couriers, and about the uncertainty involved when receiving oral commands that they apparently decided to try and do something about the problem”, the Chief laughed.

“I received the unit less than two weeks ago and already the android has played a crucial role in saving my life”, he added.

“Saving your life how?”, Steiner had a hard time coming to terms with it. McKinley trusting his life to an artificial? The world was definitely changing.

“Well it's a long story. Why don't you come over for a drink?”, McKinley offered.

“Sorry, I already got one”, Steiner said taking a sip from his glass “Besides I've got company”, he continued.

“Company at this hour, may I inquire whom?”, McKinley asked rather curiously.

“Send that thing of yours over, I've got a message card you might find interesting”, Steiner said taking another sip “Contains everything you want to know”.

“Well if I didn't know you so well, I would say you wanted me to actually work for a living. Can't this wait?”, McKinley said disappointed that the drink had been refused.

“Not really, I've coded it in RSA 128 bit structure. You already have the appropriate public key for decryption. I would appreciate if you would inform me as soon as you have something”, Steiner answered.

“Well if it is that important to you. I guess I could check it out, the Z-99 will be there in fifteen minutes give or take a few”, McKinley said nodding his head slightly from side to side.

“Sounds okay, and about that drink, I might just take you up on it one of these days”, Steiner answered with a smile. His friend nodded with a satisfied expression on his face and hung up.

Steiner flicked the communicator screen back into normal mode and leaned back and another tune came floating from the speakers.

At that instant Mai Li came out the bathroom door. She looked stunning in a magnificent red dress that hung loosely on her slender body.

A vague touch of lipstick in a nuance going from red to purple covered her lips, and in conjunction with a slight whiff of red on her cheek the make up gave her face the most beautiful finish. Her smile as she noticed the settings on the table elevated the look to unsurpassed heights.

Steiner got up from his chair, “You look fantastic!”. A silent curse filled him, how could he have blurted out like that,- so commonly, so cliché of him.

“Thank you”, Mai Li wondering about the depth that this seemingly superficial man suddenly seemed posses.

“Please take a seat”, Steiner gallantly pulled a chair back from the table.

Mai Li sat down, Steiner helped her by giving the chair a slight push in the right direction.

“I hope veal is okay?”, Steiner said as he carried the steaming roast to the table.

She nodded and followed the gesture with a “Yes, thank you very much”, that sounded like an angel singing

He handed the dish with the roast toward her. “Thank you”, she said taking a piece of meat off the plate. Next came a bowl of potatoes followed by a dish of vegetables, and a couple of spoonfuls of thick brown sauce.

“Wine?”, Steiner asked holding the bottle up toward her.

“Why not… after all I think I deserve it”, Mai Li said with a self confident smile on her face.

What a killer, Steiner poured a minute amount into his own glass first ensuring that possible remnants of the cork would not end up in the guest's glass. After the little ritual he poured some of the red liquid into her glass.

She lifted the glass from the table and took a slight whiff. The gentle smell felt divinely intoxicating as she put the glass to her lips. The wine seemed smooth caressing her mouth with silky like gentleness. She let the wine flow slowly from the glass into her mouth. She let the dark red liquid pass over her taste buds a few times then she swallowed.

“It's fine”, she said with a nod putting her glass back on the table.

Steiner poured some more wine into her glass before filling his own. Shit he had poured without thinking about the cork!

He sat down and was just about to speak when all of a sudden there was a knock on the door.

Who could that b… ahh the Z-99. “Excuse me”, he said and gazed deeply at her eyes. She was still terribly frightened and trembled slightly. Steiner put his hand on hers and gave it a little squeeze.

“Don't worry I'm expecting a messenger…. I'll be right back, okay?”. He waited for a moment until she had eased off a bit. Then he got up from the table and walked over to his desk console.

Steiner took a peek at the screen, the image showed the rather featureless face of an android.

“Yes!”, Steiner said as he held down the com button.

“I'm here on behalf of McKinley, I am informed you have a package for him”, the android answered in a humanoid voice.

“Sure just a minute”, Steiner tapped a few keys to initiate the unlock sequence. With a slight hum the door opened and the android entered.

Steiner met the artificial before he could get into sight of the table “Here take this cartridge and deliver it to Mr. McKinley personally”, he said handing the card to the android.

The android took the message card “Thank you sir”, the messenger replied and turned toward the door.

“Guard it with your…”, there was a slight moment of silence before Steiner continiued “Very existence”.

“I understand, sir”, the android answered and waited for Steiner to open the door. As soon as Steiner let the artificial servant out he returned to the table.

“Now where were we”, he said seating himself with a smile.

It was around 10 in the morning when the communicator blared, Steiner halfway fell out of the bed and ended up on the floor in nothing but his boxers, Mai Li turned over while mumbling something in her sleep.

Steiner's brain suddenly cleared, and all his bravado or rather pathetic display of bravado the previous evening became painstakingly clear to him. He tossed his head, still there at least he'd done something right.

He rubbed his face with his palms and got to his feet.

His head ached and thumped like a jackhammer. He flicked the lid of his wrist communicator, which lay open on the bedroom table open.

“Yes”, the hoarseness of his voice startled him. He tried desperately to look awake, who the hell was that?

“Good morning”, McKinley said with a twisted smile understandably realizing Steiner's condition.

“Morning”, Steiner answered while adjusting the sound level on the communicator to an absolute minimum.

“I can see you've had a rough night”, McKinley said with a jolting chest trying desperately to keep his lips sealed tightly.

“Yeah, well… I probably did”, Steiner answered in an attempt to pull himself together.

“You know, that cartridge you sent me is quite a hot potato”, McKinley's voice had become dead serious.

Steiner had an eerie feeling, one of those instances where you feel as if all the events in the whole wide world become clear in a single moment of time. Not a very unfamiliar feeling during a hefty hangover that much he knew. Yet by seeing the expression on McKinley’s face he knew that the gut feeling he had felt probably wasn't too far off track.

“I ran a further check on that girl of yours that you had on the cartridge, and guess what the base came up with during my security risk check?”

McKinley had put up a very inquisitive look on his face.

“I dunno”, Steiner said waiting for the coin to drop.

“Well that nice facade is hiding a lot more than just a scientist gone berserk”, McKinley paused to allow Steiner a brief comment.

“Damned I knew it!”, Steiner was getting agitated.

“The woman’s real name isn't Anna Mitchell as the personnel files you had tapped indicated…. her real name, well how shall I put it, at least her other alias is that of Deborah Smith. I found another personnel file, a perfect match, but that file is marked off limits, but you know I have my ways”, McKinley said with a grave voice.

“What the hell is this?”, Steiner was angry. Something was terribly wrong. What they were dealing with wasn't just an alleged informant that the organization had decided to keep in service for some reason. This was someone involved in dire acts of both sabotage and murder. Steiner got up and headed for the kitchen.

“I have tried to find an answer, but further information on her file requires Priority clearance Omega, which can only issued by leading council members on a strict need to know basis”. McKinley despite his emotionless face, was annoyed that he as Chief of Security had run into a wall.

“So have you taken any precautions?”, Steiner inquired, knowing full well that the fate of Mai Li and possibly the whole organization was in the hands of his old friend.

“I have a team sweeping the grounds for her as well as an auto-search via the communication terminals. I doubt that she will be stupid enough to use them. I suspect someone is holding a hand over her for she seems to have been swallowed up or something”, McKinley said.

“You mean there is nothing yet then?”, Steiner asked with disappointment in his voice. “Nothing, I'm really sorry”, McKinley answered.

“Yeah, me to”, Steiner replied lifting a cup from the table.

“Mai Li, you are alive!”, McKinley sat there for a moment completely stunned.

“You're safe… I thought I had lost you!”, McKinley uttered trying to wipe a couple of tears from his cheek.

Steiner turned his head to see what was going on, “You're supposed to keep out of sight”, he said in an agitated voice.

“I heard who you were talking to, it's okay”, Mai Li answered.

If Steiner had been confused before, it was even worse now. He wasn't sure what to say but stared into the communication screen.

“Listen I'll keep you posted, meanwhile keep an eye on that jewel behind you… she means the world to me!”, McKinley said with a smile, hinting to the female who had just walked into the picture. Steiner turned his head and noticed the happy look on Mai Li's face. His gaze wandered across her, she was clothed in a light blue silky kimono that emphasized he good bodily proportions.

“I promise”, he answered in an affirming tone, looking back at the communicator screen.

“All my best to the both of you, McKinley out”, the McKinley said and disconnected.

“How does coffee sound”, Steiner asked while rubbing the left side of his beard.

“Sounds like an excellent idea, sit down and relax… I’ll fix you right up”, Mai Li answered greeting him with smile warm enough to melt the polar caps.

“You have some explaining to do”, Steiner said pulling out a couple of mugs before sitting down.

“I know”, she answered with that mysterious smile on her face.

Several hours later the wall communicator bleeped for attention and Steiner opened a channel.

“Steiner here, may I help you”, the abruptness in his voice did not affect the caller.

“We've been trying to get through to you on your personal communicator for twenty minutes now. McKinley was beginning to think that you might be in trouble, but I assured him that I was keeping an eye on all accessibly ways to enter your living quarters”, the android stated flatly.

“You were right, everything is fine here. Have you got anything for us”, Steine r asked with a smile.

“Yes the suspect has been spotted in construction area six. We're presently keeping her under close surveillance. However both your presence and that of Mai Li's is requested by the highest authority. You have been ordered to attend a briefing at 1400 hours”.

Steiner looked at his wrist noticing he had forgotten the wrist communication unit and timepiece in the shower.

“I'm sorry I must have mislaid the communicator somewhere, what time is it now?”, Steiner asked.

“You have got less than twenty minutes before the meeting begins”, the android answered.

“Damn, where?”, Steiner asked slightly irritated, twenty minutes was not long if the meeting was at the other end of the complex or even worse in the next section.

“The council assembly room in exactly 17.3 minutes”, the android answered.

Steiner disconnected, he got up from the chair and walked over to the bathroom, he knocked on the door.

“Yes, what is it?”, Mai Li answered loudly after a second knocking.

“Listen we're kind of in a hurry. You friend has been spotted and we're requested to attend a meeting in about fifteen minutes”. “Fifteen….”, there was a pause before she continiued, “Okay I'll be there right away”.

It was 1403 when they arrived at the assembly room door. Steiner opened by pushing the panel on the imitated ebony door. John McKinley sat puffing on a big cigar while enjoying himself immensely. The room was empty so his android helper was probably dealing with some other business.

“Hello Li… Robert”, McKinley nodded with a friendly gesture “Please sit down”, he added pointing to the chairs opposite him.

“Anything to drink?”, he asked with the courtesy of a host.

“No thanks”, Mai Li answered with a blush.

“I'll have a cup of coffee, please”, Steiner said and offered the clean cup standing in front of him to McKinley.

McKinley took the coffee pot poured the black liquid into Steiner's cup and pushed it back toward Steiner who took the cup for an immediate sip.

“Damn good coffee, your own brew?”, he said with a smile. He knew quite well that whatever he was drinking wasn't for delicate palates.

McKinley nodded. The coffee was hot and strong, definitely not de-caf. Oh how Steiner hated the health drive apostles always nagging about this and that. He had been drinking coffee since he was thirteen and it hadn't hurt him a bit.

“I expect the almighty to arrive within a few minutes”, McKinley said between puffs.

“Dalfoss, why the hell would he involve himself with a simple security matter? ”, Steiner asked amazedly.

Realizing the error of his ways Steiner turned toward Mai Li continuing in a very different tone “I don't mean it was trivial to you, I know this has all been very hard on you, it's just… I mean this cloak and dagger stuff just isn't Dalfoss”.

Mai Li nodded in silence because she knew the big man hadn't meant to hurt her. Mai Li felt her mind wandered for a while until her thoughts fell upon the subject of males. It was truly wondrous how strange men were. Sometimes she felt as if women would never learn to understand them fully and despite of their strange attitudes in their own crude way they were so inspiring, so easy to love.

Just as McKinley was about to give an explanation, the door opened and Ragnar Dalfoss stepped in. He was followed closely by a narrow faced man with cubic ears.

Steiner didn't recognize the stranger. He noticed how his upper teeth seemed frozen in one of those constantly but crooked smiles. The thin lines on his wrinkled forehead told the story of either a very bothered man or that of a man aging before his time. However no gray streaks in his light brown hair could give him a reliable message. There was one thing that Steiner immediately felt and that was that the man seemed to carry an extreme pain deeply within him.

The door opened and a distinguished gentleman stepped in “I am very sorry to have kept you waiting”, Dalfoss said joining the others.

“That's quite allright”, Mai Li was quick to offer. Both McKinley and Steiner turned their head toward this otherwise quiet woman.

Well, well if the bird hasn't started singing McKinley thought as the meeting started.

“I suppose you won't mind it if we go straight to the point, I'm hard pressed for time at the moment”, Dalfoss took a quick glance at the assembly, they all nodded and Dalfoss continiued.

“The mole… We thought we were rid of her when she disappeared not long before the attack which led to the destruction of our Lunar Headquarters”

“I regret to have been informed that she has reappeared here on Mars, a fact that does not forebode any good. John here tells me that she has been working right under our noses here on Mars colony. You say she has been reeking havoc among the Shield development team, even killed off a few of them. Are you clear on how grave these accusations are”, Dalfoss said and looked at Mai Li.

Mai Li looked straight into his eyes. How cold they seemed, yet a streak of emotion showed through.

“I have no proof of this but if you check my records, I have been employed by the organization my entire adult life. Why in heavens name would I betray an organization, or the people I have been spending most of my childhood with?”, Mai Li looked at McKinley with pleading eyes.

“She is correct”, McKinley said, “After I was initially told that the test team was missing and that there was only one survivor, I started my own investigation into the matter. Since routine analysis didn't show anything I went forward and authorized a full analysis of the recording equipment onboard the transport shuttle. The analysis is time consuming and will not be done until some time later today but I am certain that some proof of communication between the implicated people will be revealed by black box analysis of the returning craft and the one in Mai Li's suit”.

McKinley paused before he continued. “The fact that Mai Li is here and alive proves that something in the explanation of Mrs. Mitchell's or whatever the hell her name is, is wrong. And I have a strong suspicion that the evidence from the analysis will prove beyond all doubt that this…. Jane Henderson a.k.a. Deborah Smith a.k.a. whoever she is for the time being is responsible for a whole lot more than leaking trivial information to the WU, or other concerned parties”. He eyed the old man with suspicious eyes before continuing.

“I wouldn’t be surprised to find that she somehow accessed the flight plans which allowed a secret wing in the WU to intercept and destroy five of our troop carriers, exchanging them with their own and in turn enabling them to launch their attack on our Lunar facility”.

Dalfoss sighed not sure what to think, had it been such a mistake to try to control an agent. Where had he gone wrong, these last years the size of the organization had grown until it was too late to stop. The machinery of the Freelancers was almost as rigid and clogged up as that of the WU.

He found himself wishing for the old days, the ease with which they had pulled off operation Fort Knox. He remembered with delight how they had gained economic control from within over the largest and most powerful companies in the world.

Oh what poetic justice watching the United States of America, Russia, China, England and France fighting a helpless battle, like an infants unable to stop a brilliant plan been set into motion. The affair had resulted in the corrupt UN being dissolved while a new world union had been set up. The World Union had become a truly powerful tool which they in the beginning had used, to solve so many of old Earth's problems.

Look at us now hiding like rabbits in a hole, while the wolves lurk about in our own backyard, Dalfoss felt devastated by the unfortunate scenario which had been building the last years. Old guard politicians and military personnel had infested the World Union, which was slowly turning into a dangerous opponent. There didn't even seem to be anything they could do about the matter.

With a sigh he tore himself from these destructive thoughts.

“Would you please describe the incident at TS-47”, Dalfoss said pulling his thoughts together.

Mai Li started describing the events that had taken place at Test Site 47.

“As you know we had flown out to do some testing that would reveal how well the planetary shield would be able protect ground based life from the indigenous hazards of a planet without a proper magnetic shielding”.

“Radiation levels within the test site had been found to be acceptable and after a couple of days, ecological tests were underway. It was proven that plant life and insects could survive within the shields protection, if provided with a proper atmosphere”.

“Static disturbance from storms in the vicinity of the test area prevented us from contacting the main colony with our results, and it was decided to delay our return until the storm had passed. The stormy conditions turned out to be a perfect opportunity to test the shields power transmitters capability to withstand brute natural forces in order to get some proper field readings”, Mai Li paused for a moment.

“Around 2200, most of the crew was resting when a modulator gave off an alarm, indicating that the device was becoming unstable. As the senior member of the crew on active duty, I of course took it upon myself to check the modulator. Miss Mitchell wasn't around but I didn't care cause I figured I could handle the problem on my own. I went straight over and got my environmental suit on and then proceeded to the shield modulator”.

“The fault was not serious, a soldering on one of the wires in the control device had gotten a bit loose I fixed it and went back in”.

Mai Li hesitated, and attempted to gather all her available resources and she used a tremendous amount of willpower in order to continue.

“She….she killed them all…I don't know…”, she started trembling.

Steiner put his hand on her shoulder, “It's okay”, he said.

“I… I think she was looking for something, I guess she wanted the portable with all the measurements which we had collected during the tests….charred bodies..”.

The shaking felt like an earthquake to her, his hand felt like a steady rock in the storm. Mai Li got a grip on herself and continued.

“She would have killed me to, but I managed to escape”, Mai Li's gaze swept across the room. The men were listening with concentration, very interested to hear her tale.

“I would have died unless Robert had found me”, she said and turned her gaze upon him.

Steiner felt a bit uneasy about the compliment but didn't get a chance to say anything before Dalfoss started talking.

“You mean, you found her and didn't report it in? My papers don't mention anything……”, Dalfoss was angrily flipping from page to page looking first at hi paper then at Steiner.

“Well sir…I”, Steiner began to answer when McKinley broke into the conversation.

“It was on my authority he didn't report in”, for a moment McKinley felt lousy about lying to his superior but his friendship with Steiner was more valuable than the truth so the feeling soon dissipated.

Besides, McKinley knew that the organization couldn't afford loosing a pilot of Steiner’s abilities, or at least that was what he told himself.

“I see”, Dalfoss said, not quite sure whether he should believe what he was hearing or not. He decided to trust his Security Chief in this matter and sat up a bit straighter.

McKinley took the lead now, a fact which annoyed Dalfoss but he decided to wait and see.

“This is the woman of which we are speaking”, McKinley said and pushed a couple of buttons neatly embedded in the conference table.

An image of a handsome woman near a service hatch leading to the recycling department of the colony appeared on the view screen.

There was a brief moment of silence. All those present had differing thoughts and feelings about the woman. Except off course the android that just slipped in through the door, it merely observed and collected data.

Mai Li hated what she had been forced to go because of the woman who looked so innocent as she appeared up there on the screen. Steiner was disgusted by the pathetic existence of such persons, spineless cowards who didn't have the guts to meet their enemy head on. McKinley although annoyed with her, had a weird feeling of respect for her and wondered how she had slipped through security.

Dalfoss was angry that their plan to feed information of their own choice to the WU and other institutions had failed. He loathed the woman, but couldn't help loathing himself as well.

One of them however hurt more than he loathed his name was Paul Jenkins. He felt as if a steamroller had just driven over his heart. The moisture appearing in his tear canals was only kept down by a tremendous act of will, the nagging feeling in his throat was terrible but he fought it off- “It is Deborah, there is no doubt”, he whispered.

“Listen, since she was ID'ed from the data in the central archives, Colony Security has been hot on her tails. Every move she makes is reported in and every person she contacts is being put under surveillance. There is someone here who is assisting her and we want to know who”. McKinley's voice sounded serious authoritarian.

Dalfoss knew that he would have to spill the beans. There was nothing he could do to prevent letting the people in on one of his gravest mistakes, he had been tiptoeing around the subject so long now that he felt like he was the one guilty of treason toward the organization.

“You know that around the turn century the organization began growing drastically. The sudden growth was so unexpected that most of the measures to control the situation were improvised on the spot. Not until 2025, we managed to squeeze the organization into the form which we all know today. Before that time security at best was adequate. Not that nobody tried to enforce it properly, but the way everything was operated, there was no way of keeping a proper eye on the doings of every chapter of the organization. Hell that would have been impossible! Up until recent times everybody operated in small independent cells, to prevent the whole thing from breaking up in the event of the capture of a leading member, or a whole chapter for that matter”.

“To prevent spies that were trying to infiltrate the organization from inflicting too much damage we started to….well sort of control them”, Dalfoss was cut short by McKinley.

“Carry out control with spies, were you absolutely out of your minds”, there was no doubt McKinley was furious.

“I know the idea sounds crazy, but unfortunately we thought that we were capable of keeping a leash on them…. if we found out who they were feeding them just enough information to keep their employers happy while still maintaining an edge technologically and logistically speaking… seems we couldn't”, Dalfoss confessed.

“Unfortunately, damn you”, McKinley shouted with hatred in his voice

“You have been stringing us all along. You knew all the time, Ragnar…. I am speechless, how could you?…. how could you do such a stupid thing?”.

There was no answer, Dalfoss looked down shameful of his and his colleagues work. They had been fighting the bureaucrats along with the cloak and dagger folks of the world for so long now that in the process they themselves had turned into their counterparts.

“I'm gonna take her in”, McKinley announced.

“You will not, none of you will, that is a direct order”, Dalfoss sputtered.

“We aren't even certain of who her contacts are, so before we have that fact down, carved in solid rock nobody moves a finger! Is that clear?”.

There was a lot of anger in the air but the assembled people controlled their emotions and Dalfoss continiued.

“However, we will need to reel her in at an appropriate time, we need to come up with something that will make the fish bite”, he said.

“A bait so good that she'll be hooked beyond escape….”, McKinley was not convinced.

“I know how”, Jenkins said in a resolute manner. His mind which had been clogged up ever since he had been informed was focused now. He knew exactly what to say to the others, he had found a way to get even. There was no other choice, he would have to handle the matter himself.

This was personal!

If anyone had casually glanced at her, they might not have noticed that the female walking down the construction tunnel was completely out of place. However the tunnel was empty without a single soul in sight.

The dirt on the wall and the muddy water slowly oozing down the unfinished tunnel, stood in grave contrast to the nice clothes the woman was wearing; except that her pants were torn to shreds, the shirt was wrinkled with greasy spots all over and her shoes were waterlogged.

Deborah however didn't seem to take much notice off her odd appearance and strode on unaffected. She wondered how she had gotten away so easily. She couldn't help feeling a little suspicious about her escape.

The security crackdown had been very sudden, she'd been talking to her contact in the back room of a small coffee shop. Then the air suddenly came alive with shouts then bullets started flying. The deadly projectiles nearly tore poor McCullen in half before he even realized what was afoot.

In a strange suffocated voice he had ordered her to run, and that's what she had done with plans in one hand while pushing debris aside with the other.

She panicked, running wildly toward a service tunnel and frantically pulled aside a metal grating covering a hatch. She had flung the grating to the floor, that much she remembered and she had been quick to open the hatch and get into the hole.

With her left foot she had managed to close the hatch partly before starting her journey to the unknown. On all four she had crawled into the darkness.

As she advanced into the tunnel the shouting slowly disappeared and after stumbling around in the blackness for more than twenty minutes she knew she was lost. She knew the small service tunnel system ran for kilometers a complex maze of different tunnels, designed for garbage transport and other needs.

She had crawled around blindly until by accident she found herself by an exit, she felt nauseated by the strong odor in the duct, but had managed to trick the locking system into believing something had to pass through. As the door opened and the smell that hit her nostrils was excruciatingly sickening and her stomach turned and somersaulted all at once.

With nothing but her bare hands to soften the impact, she plunged into the darkness and hit something soft and moist. With the hot and humid odor in the air instantly she knew where. She had dumped into one of the garbage collection rooms.

Now the most important thing to do was get out before another recycling cycle commenced

Her hands saw her way to a hatch which she opened and went through.

The tube took her to the Bio rinse center, a large complex consisting of a a Chemical Rinsing station, which took care of weeding out hazardous chemical compounds. The biologic filter system took care of filtering polluted water and preparing the fluid for a final rinse cycle, another tour through the solar rinsing system exposed the remnant water for ultra bright sun light, and then put it through a series of centrifugations.

Adjacent to the rinsing station there was a botanical garden which consisted of several biospheres, each with a unique climate and fauna, and there she found some rest and peace to contemplate her next move.

She had decided to go on as planned, hoping the others would have done what was expected of them. As Deborah walked down the large tunnel leading to the Fusion Reactor Area she reached a conclusion. Somehow security had gotten on to her, maybe it was a mistake wiping out the personnel at the test site, but several of the most prominent shield technicians had been permanently removed from the team, could they have found that Vietnamese scientist?

No way… Mai Li had probably been forced into the deep desert wandering blindly in the storm, nobody could have survived for that long, anyway the body would be buried in the sand. There hadn't been any report of survivors and she was listed as MIA. The storm had taken her, Deborah smiled with the thought of a body lying in a torn environmental suit somewhere in the endless Martian deserts.

She giggled, silently, her thoughts whisked first in one direction then another.

Every step took her closer toward the huge impenetrable doors through which equipment for the Fusion Reactors was moved.

Deborah experienced an exhilarating feeling of contentment tingling in her body. The time had finally come. The base would be blown to smithereens in one big blaze of glory. The vivid memory of her brother dying in her arms after being stabbed by a Freelancer agent at the World Union Antarctica Research Center was imprinted in her mind.

The motive for the killing had been suppressed for quite a while, but a group of creative news people present on the spot had come up with the name of the agent and proved his ties with those damn Freelancers.

The act had been strongly condemned by the Freelancer Council and any connection to this former employee had been furiously denied.

The mere thought of an agent involved in such malice was pushed aside. The Freelancers worked for the benefit of all mankind, and did not resort to senseless violent acts.

Deborah never again trusted people with good intentions her philosophy from that moment on was sooner or later they'll all screw you so why not beat them to it?

Just today she had received news that indicated the energy supply centers under construction had already been completed, it had come as a shock to her.

The Freelancers did not usually overestimate construction time, especially on big issues like energy supply. Apparently they had finished the project 6 months ahead of schedule.

Admiral Cole had been furious because his plan depended upon unhampered access to the colony. A magnetic barrier might neutralize or trigger the weapons before they reached target. He had urged Deborah to neutralize the Main Fusion Reactors.

“Let me know when your task is complete! Your sacrifice will never be forgotten”.

The words kept spinning through her mind.

Cole would be pleased and for a moment she wished that she could be with him just once more. Never had she met such a compelling personality, he was the one and true leader. If anyone could save the world from the Freelancer stranglehold Tim Cole was the one.

Finally she reached the massive doors separating the colony from the power plant. She glanced around for a moment. Ah there it is! The promised backpack was in place her cell brethren had done well. With resolute steps she walked over to the wall where the pack leaned and opened it. Oh good. On top lay a light environmental suit with safety boots. She was quick to undress and as she stood there in her panties she suddenly got a feeling that she was being watched. She grabbed the gun and turned. Nothing? An eerie sensation filled her mind, she because she was sure she had heard something.

As she peered into the darkness all she could see was the seemingly endless tunnel. She shook the feeling and put on the suit if she was lucky the small transporter was still where she had hidden it, the trip to the International Mars Base would only last a few hours and she had a good cover story that no one would suspect.

She wiped her feet and strapped the boots on. After that she started going through the rest of the gear in the backpack.

There were four thermal charges, large enough to do extensive damage if placed correctly. She wasn't sure if she'd need the tool kit, but the key card and the gun were essential. For a moment she fiddled with the gun a lightweight version of the Hawk EMP-7788.

The weapon felt good in her hands and a sense of ease and safety came over her. She strapped on the belt and with a resolute pull the gun was charged. She holstered the weapon she was almost ready now, everything was in her hands.

The Freelancers would pay dearly for their mistakes!

She removed the keycard from her pocket and slid it into the slot she waited for a brief moment while the computer analyzed the card.

“Please place your hand on the identity pad in front of you”, the computer responded.

The computer read her palm print and a whole row of doors unlocked. Looks as if he has done his job all right. Oh they were so easy those nerdish programmer types. She was in!

She walked and walked and finally she was through the last door, then she stopped and pulled her weapon.

Her gaze swept across the room and she lowered the gun. Her mind somersaulted. It was all wrong, this was definitely not the finished operating theater which she had been told about.

For a moment the confusion was total. The Reactors had been on line, the shield had been up. She had seen vid clips with her own eyes.

Deborah was on the edge of utter madness. Oh my good it's a trap!

What was she supposed to do now? Had someone betrayed them? And the charges…

Her mind was cluttered with questions. She turned toward the door through which she had entered and saw the status display on the door gloved in a deep red. It's locked!

Deborah started trembling as panic slowly crept upon her. She pulled the diagrams from the backpack and studied them closely. She walked toward a door on her left and pushed the opening mechanism. Nothing happened!

“Please enter your identity card”, the computer said tunelessly.

She fished the card back out from her pocket and inserted it. The computers voice followed a loud hum, “Card not accepted, please remain where you are until security arrives”.

For the second time that day Deborah fled in wild panic.

She ran into the great hall. The complex was a structure of immense size, and Deborah knew that here she would have to meet her fate.

She was trapped like a fly in a spiders web and there was only one thing to do, put up as brave a fight for life as possible before the inevitable. For a brief moment she shuddered before Deborah managed to calm herself. Although the mental strain was slowly but surely overpowering her, she placed the charges in the strategic positions that would cause the most damage in less than fifteen minutes.

She had the detonator in her hand when she heard a familiar voice.

“Well, well, well, if it isn't papa's little sugar bunny. You'll never know how pleased I am to see you again”

She froze, that voice. The time it took her to turn around, seemed like an eternity.

There she stood in all her splendor in front of the man she had for so long pretended to care about.

Deborah was of two minds, should she give up her endeavor and yield to the mercy of the men who had brought her so much sorrow. She was about to sink into submission when she saw the gun in his hand.

“Paul, you wouldn't use that would you?”, she said trying to sugar him up.

“I'm sorry Deb”, he said and raised the gun. With terror she realized what was happening.

Before she managed to pull her weapon, a strange sensation started to spread from her abdomen. All the movements around her suddenly seemed to be in slow motion, and as the floor which had already taken the gun came toward her, she gripped the detonator tighter in order to keep it safe.

Then in a flash her senses were back to normal. The thud from her body when it hit the floor echoed through the large room.

She pushed the detonator. Nothing happened. She tried again. Still the explosions failed to shatter everything.

She saw Paul draw something from his pocket. The sound of the metallic detonator beads when they hit the floor in front of her face sounded like little bells and she started to loose her sight.

“I'm scared”, she whispered.

“Me too”, Jenkins answered taking her hand slowly realizing what he had bestowed upon them.

“I am sorry that I didn't stop Mr. Jenkins from killing the female. She might have held some valuable information”, the android said in an apologizing manner.

“Hey it's okay, that could happen to anyone”, McKinley answered somewhat amused over the simulated emotions displayed by the android.

“What will happen to Jenkins now that Deborah is dead”, Mai Li asked looking at Dalfoss with sadness in her eyes. A life lost - no matter how twisted, was a life impossible to change.

Dalfoss contemplated for a few seconds before answering.

“He will be entered into protected therapy. After all he did have a passionate affair with her while on Luna. The only reason he was transferred here was to prevent them from accidentally bumping into each other. After she was found here, I thought there were even better reasons for keeping him onboard”, for a moment he tried to figure out how much he needed to tell the woman across the table.

“Luckily her attempt on your life was thwarted. For the attempt on all our lives, I can't say anything except that it was stopped by the wrong man”.

“But you can't lay to much on his shoulders, his acts were understandable for a man under severe strain seen from a psychological point of view… trauma and all”, McKinley interrupted.

Dalfoss let his gaze sweep across the room then nodded obscurely before continuing.

“I acknowledge it was a mistake on my behalf not to transfer him to a different location as soon as we got her presence confirmed”, Dalfoss sighed.

He was tired, not just physically but his mind was growing weary as well, he wanted so badly to leave everything behind. How easy it would be if the slate could be wiped clean, just once again.

The room was silent except for the occasional deep breath of the individuals sitting around the table. Dalfoss sat for a moment gathering strength.

“Are you able to resume work?”, he asked Mai Li in a concerned voice.

“I think so, sir, I would like to put this as far behind me as possible. I think work would help”, Mai Li answered revealing the finest facial lines growing from a smile.

“And you, do you have any objections about our engineer here resuming work”, Dalfoss asked in a more casual manner while scowling at the doctor who had briefed him on Mai Li's mental condition.

“I would prefer she got some R&R. If there is no other available option I suppose the best medicine would be getting into the daily routine, physically she is fit as a fiddle”, the doctor answered somewhat annoyed that his earlier suggestion to give Mai Li some time off hadn't been followed.

“Well I guess that's it then”, McKinley said looking at Dalfoss gauging him.

“If no one has anything to add”, Dalfoss said looking around.

Nobody said anything and Dalfoss got up from his seat.

“Then I bid you all farewell”, he said with a quick nod and left the room.

“Well good day to you all”, the doctor said. He got up from his chair and started walking away, then stopped and came back.

“The papers… silly me.. ha, ha”, he laughed oafishly as he collected his documents. “Well…. then good-bye”, he said leaving in a hurry.

McKinley smiled, the good doctor could need some R&R himself. He turned back toward Mai Li.

“I really need to talk to Robert! Is it okay that we speak later?”, Mai Li asked with begging eyes.

“Off course”, McKinley answered with a smile.

“Thanks dad!”, Mai Li said and kissed him lightly on his rugged cheek then she too left the room.

Dad, now that was something he hadn't heard for years, McKinley fished a metallic holster from his pocket and opened it.

The Havana slid from the holster with ease. McKinley brought it close to his nostrils and inhaled. The smell was so unlike other cigars, Cohiba, so sweet and delightful, nothing like the cost. He took the cutter from his chest pocket and cut a V shaped hole in the end of the cigar, too bad he had lost that delightful piercer, noting like a nice round hole.

From his other pocket he drew a box of matches. The sulfurous smell from the match soon dissipated, and McKinley was soon puffing on the cigar.

“It's a pity you can't enjoy them as I do”, he said looking at the android.

“Well as I see it it's just a question of time before that will be possible”, the android answered unaffected.

And for the first time in months John McKinley had a really good laugh.

Holding area Mars Colony

The flat view screen in the conference room, normally in service as a telelink for remote participants, also allowed the people behind the view screen to observe and record everything that went on in the room, including that which would have escaped the regular conference camera.

The living quarters were adjacent to the conference room, while a small garden for recreational purposes had been placed opposite the living space.

And this was where their keepers had failed, without surveillance devices prying into their lives Kristoffson had quite early noticed a bundle of optical fibers on the bottom of the brook that ran through the garden. A hyperactive population of Gold Fish had rummaged around in the pebbles uncovering the seedy secret.

Kristoffson slipped into the brook since the succession of the plan depended upon Kanawas acting performance.

He pulled the bundle going into the conference room loose hurriedly placed the device, the interruption was temporary and the guards took it as another minor problem, like the steady stream of error messages that kept popping up on their monitors this day .

The waters became murky with filth that had accumulated in the 'riverbed'. It was only an hour since the final note had arrived but Kanawa and him had agreed that they had to take the chance. They weren't getting any further with these people anyway.

At first he had found the notes a bit odd, but when the first blackout occurred at the exact time the note mentioned, he became curious. Finding out that the note came from an old colleague, a Finnish freedom fighter cleared all doubt from his mind and he had studied the maps and route they needed to follow in order to reach the SS. Scarab which would take them back to Earth today they would make a break for it.

The room was painted in a pleasant green, supposedly the color would tribute to the calmness of those present, however Ast-tei felt utterly annoyed by the color since it reminded him of a prison cell on Caib. He never wanted to go back to that hell hole.

“Could we dim the lights”, the councillor asked.

“Sure”, Dr. Yoshi Kanawa answered with his new synthetic voice.

Ast-tei couldn't help but think that Kanawa's loss of voice was partly his fault and a growing feeling of guilt crept upon him. Having to deal with conscionable problems was not something the councillors were used to and as Ast-tei thought to himself, certainly not something to strive for.

Kristoffson came back to the main living area. The councillor notices how his clothes had a wet look over them but the smart material in them had ensured that the fabric didn't get soaked.

Kristoffson was very annoyed, not over the colors on the wall, nor about Ast-tei's person as before but because he felt like a fly in a bottle, as if everything he did or said was being scrutinized under a quantum microscope and that was not a pleasant feeling.

Who the hell were they anyway to keep them under so strict surveillance? Had they not been cooperative? Had he not delivered the most important scientific package of this century? And what had he received for his efforts?

Restrictions, new rules! Do not talk to anyone! Stay within the designated areas! Well I've had it, he thought. Screw them, and screw the whole stinking universe as well, nobody keeps Kristoffson like a Zoo animal, nobody!

“Listen up”, Kristoffson exclaimed, “I'm fed up by being kept here like some sort of prisoner, I demand to speak with someone in charge”, he said as he turned toward the view screen.

On the other side of the wall the officer on watch was reading an old magazine. He got that pressing feeling in his groin, tossed the magazine in front of him and left his post to take care of his nature call.

“Damn you creeps, I know you can hear me. Stop sending those petty officer types down here any more or I'll personally flog the next fool who comes down here to ask trivial questions about my childhood, my life as an adult or about my bloody political convictions”. Kristoffson gave the view screen a good punch. Of course nothing happened to the screen as it was built to withstand forces high on the Richter scale, as were the other rooms and even the furniture in them.

Kristoffson had to bite hard as he felt the pain come upon him. If only I had a gun or some other weapon, oh well can’t get everything you wish for I guess.

The Councillor was as antagonized as Kristoffson, but as usual for the Councillors, he was unable to do anything physical about his tremendous outrage, unless in a state close to panic.

“Sit down, please”, he offered.

Kristoffson walked sulkily to a chair and sat down.

“While we wait, I might as well finish what I started to explain about the Sarlacan war, I haven't been quite truthful you know. The Sarlacans aren't the unstoppable Juggernauts I have tried to lead you to believe”.

“The Sarlacans are very strong although not very bright and most of their technology has derived from black market dealers, such as the Ispians who have found it profitable to supply governments of lesser developed species with the technology for conquest, a very appealing thought to most warmongering species.

And let me assure you I'm not just talking about regular assault weapons, what I am talking about is troops, not regular volunteers, but to use a phrase of yours ‘genetically engineered’ combatants which have been very hard to stop”.

“I must admit that we ourselves have tried genetic manipulation in order to withstand this foe, however we have done so without positive results. Following this failure we started to recruit humans, and although you disapprove of our methods the human recruits have helped us turning the tide. Our spy net informed us that you had begun laser light communication experiments and since the Hycce distortion field only screens out anomalous radio waves you have been detected by others. Our real job here was to ‘abduct’ a broad spectrum of your population and inform them of the truth.

However I can see that you are very divided as a species, racially and otherwise, I need all the help I can get, to inform your species of the eminent danger – You have to prepare for a Sarlacan onslaught.

Kristoffson looked at Ast-Tei “We have a huge problem Pal, we're not getting anybody's attention, those people we've been talking to are at the bottom of this organization, I cannot understand why we haven't talked to anyone ranking above colonel because if we truly want to get anywhere we need to get their attention, Big Time!”, Kristoffson said.

On the other side of the wall the guard returned to his post, “Oh, man not again”. He pushed on the communicator button “This is Thompson, we need a repair team it seems there is a problem with the opti-links again”

It didn't take long before the repair team arrived. The door opened and a guard entered the conference room, gazed around and nodded.

He was followed by a couple of men in maintenance suits who headed directly for the garden resort.

Two more guards entered and positioned themselves at the resort entrance.

And at that instance Kanawa fell to his knees as if struck by the sudden pain of a cardiac arrest completely baffling the guards. As if on cue the lights went out!

“Lets go”, Kristoffson suddenly shouted.

The guards were completely taken, one was alreaedy headed toward Kanawa and before any one of them managed to react, Kristoffson had ripped the stun gun from one of the guards and had started firing rapidly using the red laser dot to illuminate his targets who fell like flies.

“Well are you just going to stand there, or are you coming with me? They won't do anything but stun us, they have a thing about killing”, Kristoffson said and looked at the other two.

For a moment they stared at each other, then armed themselves with the weapons from the stunned guards as the lights came back on-line.

Several guards were chasing them carrying stun guns. Ast-tei had thrown away the gun which he had picked up due to the personal pledge of peace with these small but hardy bipeds. His promise was not to harm anyone. For the principle of things he had taken the Annerenah oath and the idea that a Councillor would break this oath was unthinkable.

“This way!”, Kristoffson shouted, looking back.

Ast-tei was moving as fast as his legs would carry him in his frog like motion and each feathering step took him one step closer to the final confrontation.

He was followed by Kanawa. A blue bolt of energy crashed into the wall right behind Kanawa.

“They're gaining on us”, Kanawa shouted in his metallic voice.

The heavy breathing of the Councillor sounded terrible, almost asthmatic, as Kanawa trampled by.

“Go, go, go”, Kristoffson shouted as Kanawa passed him The Japanese was in great pain from the operation wounds that had barely healed. Just then one of the pursuers turned the corner. Kristoffson aimed and the guard flung himself towards the floor but in vain, Kristoffson's years of hunting experience placed the security guard flat on the floor.

Kristoffson squeezed off another round of bolts toward the corner, then turned and ran.

Captain Hronnr was concerned, why would these beings who attacked him and his crew now suddenly allow him to speak to the entire population of their world. Could it be that they were trustable? Hronnr was having trouble making up his mind about the humans. If their pledge to help him was truthful they would probably never become a concern to the Sarlacan, after all the engagement had been a mistake.

If they however turned out as despicable the Councillors they would feel the wrath of the Sarlacan and their world would burn, at least if he had a say in the matter.

The four guards escorting Hronnr were not concerned with security and walked with their guns lowered although regulations required them to keep weapons aimed at a prisoner under transport at all times.

Many curious eyes followed them as they walked down the corridor toward the main conference area for it was from here he would broadcast to the heads of the entire organization the Sarlacan plead for help.

“Okay I think we can get through here”, Kristoffson said and pulled a hatch open.

Kanawa followed Ast-tei down into the darkness beneath the open hatch while Kristoffson led they way, he was the one who had memorized the map, a fact that made him the naturally elected spear head of the escape.

Ast-tei's breathing had gotten heavier with more wheezing, Kanawa worried about the fact as he noticed how the Councillor was becoming slower with every step.

“Oluf, we have to rest”, Kanawa shouted to the Norwegian who was running about 20 meters ahead of them.

Kristoffson stopped and turned around, he wasn't sure how safe a place the service tunnels would be “Won't bet long before we reach the Scarab, keep going!”, Kristoffson shouted and started running.

Ast-tei and Dr. Kanawa complied.

Captain Hronnr was starting to feel ecstatic because he knew that for every step he took through this foul smelling atmosphere, victory came a bit closer.

The entourage turned around a corner, “How far?”, Hronnr demanded.

“Bout 5 minutes”, one of the guard answered annoyed with the prisoners impatience.

In the conference room things were chaotic with wires dangling from the ceiling.

People were moving hastily about between the service panels tossed around on the floor. High energy feeds had been left uncovered as the technicians had been forced to pull everything apart due to mysterious fault in the opti-links occurring across the entire complex.

Dalfoss wandered around the wire mess carefully avoiding stepping in the more dangerous places.

“Are you sure you will be done in time for the tele conference?”, Dalfoss asked anxiously as he faced what had to be the chief technician. He had informed no one about his rounds so the chief was not aware that his work was being scrutinized by the highest authority, so his answer came as promptly and naturally as it would have come, if the question had been put forward by any other crewmember.

“Yeah, no worries mate, the crew should be done in about 10 minutes”.

Dalfoss wiped some perspiration off his wrinkled forehead, he wasn't sure whom to believe, the Sarlacan Captain Hronnr or the oddball Councillor Ast-tei.

Both of them told similar stories however, the Councillors had been captured red handed trying to abduct masses of human beings, both in the Faroe Islands and in the Silver Creek incident. The odds spoke for believing the Sarlacan.

Dalfoss curled his tongue as he tried to pronounce the strange name to himself the right way.

“Huh”, a distracted technician said.

“Nothing, sorry to bother you, carry on”, Dalfoss answered.

As the hatch popped open the last sight anyone expected to see were a couple of flabby feet attached to long stalky legs followed by a bulky body trying to squeeze through the opening.

“Hurry up, they're right behind us”, Kristoffson yelled.

“I can't I'm stuck”, the helpless voice of Ast-tei said.

“Damn, move over Kanawa”, Kristoffson said followed by an oath.

He thrust his legs down on the councillors shoulders and gave it all he could. Like a cork from a Champagne bottle, the chubby councillor flew onto the walkway. He was followed shortly by the two humans accompanying him.

Kristoffson slammed the hatch shut.

Just then Captain Hronnr and his entourage trounded the corner and sirens started wailing in the hallway outside conference area.

There was a roar and before anyone was able to react, Hronnr had flung the four guards accompanying him aside, rendering two of them unconscious and the two other badly bruised.

He was leaping toward the company of three, Kanawa and Kristoffson fired almost simultaneously but the energy bolts missed the outraged Sarlacan by a few inches. Within a split second Hronnr had his Claws in Ast-tei.

The councillor screamed in pain and a blue flash engulfed the two of them. As suddenly as he had grabbed Ast-tei he released his grip on him spinning around he clawed the guard, who had fired his stunner.

Kristoffson and Kanawa previously frozen in terror reacted with split second prescision.

“You motherfucking abomination”, Kristoffson yelled and sent a series of energy bolts plunging toward the Sarlacan and another series of energy charges from Kanawa sent the Sarlacan to the floor.

Time stood still, but all of a sudden Kristoffson felt a stinging pain, when he registered that the Sarlacan had gotten up again with tremendous speed. The Norwegian looked helplessly as his arm landed in front of the terrified councillor.

As swift as lightning the councillor woke from his trance, “Letusa Sarlacan Ttole!!!” he cried with wrath in his voice, and crashed into the Sarlacan.

His fingers pierced the Sarlacan's right eye and the Sarlacan in turn groaned in pain and flung the councillor into the oak door to the conference room which shuddered by the impact.

Ast-tei lost his wind and he lost valuable seconds while he tried to regain his breath.

“Somebody, get security”, Kanawa yelled to a startled couple who had just rounded the corner. He quickly knelt down next to Kristoffson who was barely hanging on to consciousness and ripped the sleeve from his cotton shirt.

Hronnr came toward Ast-tei at full speed but a fraction of a second before the Sarlacan hit Ast-tei the councillor moved, leaving the oak door to greet the Sarlacan Captain.

The wood creaked and tweaked as Hronnr bashed right through it with a terrible noise.

For a second the councillor stopped, he turned toward Kanawa with a sad look on his face. He then followed Hronnr through the opening.

Screams filled the conference room, then a mighty lightning flash exploded and all the lights blacked out.

Moments later emergency lights flickered on and in the red hue Kanawa finished the field bandage on Kristoffson, “Stay put, I'll be right back”.

“Ain't much else I can do”, Kristoffson said with a twisted smile.

Seconds later Kanawa was on his way through the murky darkness, as he reached the door he took extra care to ensure he was unnoticed.

In a cat like manner the Japanese eased his way through the broken door and a gruesome sight met his eyes. Beside a charred body sat the councillor, his stillness giving Kanawa a nagging feeling that something was wrong.

Kanawa knelt down beside Ast-tei.

He spoke to Kanawa, very silently but in a dignified manner.

“So much knowledge - yet so much pain, and soon nothing but emptiness, I wish you to honor a request!”, he looked at the Japanese with pleading eyes.

Kanawa nodded in silence. The councillor gave off a sound like laughter, then continiued in a hissing voice, “I shall embark on the ultimate journey”.

He paused for a moment before he continiued, “I wish my remains jettisoned in space toward the nearest star… ancient custom, purification of the self..”.

Kanawa once again nodded, “I promise”, he added looking at Ast-tei with a lump in his throat.

“Tell… I was glad to acquaintance myself with Oluf, and happy for what he tried, yes?”, Ast-tei said in clearly strained voice.

He was getting very heavy in Kanawa's arms now, and his skin had begun to pale, the gray tones of his flesh slowly turning ash white.

“I will”, Kanawa said, as a single tear streamed down his cheek.

Ast-tei took a final breath and exhaled heavily.

It had been 6 week's now since the last contact and Boris Novovolynsk and his associate Viktor Stanislav were driving a 1999 Model Range Rover toward the mountain observatory, the delay was getting even worse as fog had begun engulfing the mountains.

That darn obnoxious customs officer had insisted on checking their diplomatic passes, an incident that could so easily have turned into something more, before it was interrupted by a higher ranking official, guess we got lucky there, Boris thought.

“So do you think there is any chance of reasoning with him?”, Viktor asked.

“I really don't know, the admiral has gone over the edge earlier”, Boris answered somewhat absent minded, he was going through the plan over and over again unsure about how much he could tell Viktor.

They had been associates for quite some time and Boris considered Viktor a close friend but the more Viktor knew the greater would the danger be and you don’t place your friends in the line of fire even if the mission from Kremlin is clear.

“Stop Cole at any cost!”, the words rumbled in Boris head.

“You know…”, an explosion cut Boris short and the car started shaking violently.

Finally the busted tire sent the car crashing sideways into the mountain wall, Viktor who wasn't wearing a seatbelt slammed his head into the dashboard and slid lifeless into the seat. Cheepo fucking rentals, no airbag system.

Boris fought like a madman to keep the car under control, one second it was in the soft dirt, the next back on the road, wobbling from lane to lane until it suddenly flipped over sideways and came to a sliding halt.

“Viktor are you okay”, Boris asked looking at his lifeless friend.

There was no answer and Boris carefully unbuckled his belt. He took great care not to land on top of Viktor. With a couple of well measured kicks he got the windshield loose, it fell to the road and shattered into the expected tiny bits all bound together by a nearly invisible safety film. Boris carefully pulled the lifeless Viktor from the car wreckage and got as far as to the roadside when he heard voices. Had there been a car following them?

“Told you it would work, those rentals never put anything in the tires to prevent punctures, the insurance will pay if anything goes wrong”.

The laughter that followed seemed out of place, and died as the two figures came closer to the car.

Ambush! Boris slid away without further delay. Viktor started moaning, “Not now you silly bastard!”, Boris whispered from behind the rock.

“Hey, this one is still alive”, a skinny and pale faced man said.

“Do him”, the colored one who had just arrived barked the order out like he was asking his associate to swat a fly.

The two younger men who had been laughing on their way toward the car started feeling a bit uneasy, one thing was putting spikes on the road, but killing someone face to face, that was something else.

“If you jerks can't do it I will”, he continiued, and walked up to Viktor.

“Hey Randy, the other one isn't here”, the pale face said as he inspected the car.

“Find him damned”, the colored man ordered.

One of them started walking toward the rocks where Boris lay. Boris hurriedly placed his hand under the jacked and pulled out a pistol then quickly placed a silencer on the weapon and waited.

Pale face was almost over by the rock when he stopped, Boris had almost stopped breathing. Around them it seemed the fog was dissipating, suddenly there was a sound running feet followed by a salvo of shots.

Pale face immediately turned around with his gun held ready for what might happen.

Randy who was kneeling by Viktor shouted into the night.

“Tom what the hell is going on!”

“Nothing, I think I just wasted a deer”, his associate yelled back.

Pale Face dropped his guard with a smirky grin, something he should not have done. With the agility of a Siberian Tiger hunting for prey Boris came up behind him. His life ended a fraction of a second later, the loud crack from his neck as it broke seemed strangely distorted.

Randy was getting nervous, if the other one was hurt they should have found him by now!

“You hear me, I'll pop your friend if you don't show your face”, he shouted nervously.

Boris took the knife from Pale Face's belt and started circling towards Viktor.

“Hey Jake, you found anything”, the colored man demanded loudly.

There was no answer, Pale Face was dead.

“You've got 30 seconds and I'll pop your mate here”, Randy shouted getting very worried.

“Really”, Boris said as he came up behind him.

Randy twirled around only to meet two precision shots, one to his heart and another to his head, his body fell lifeless onto the dusty dirt now glazed with dew.

“Die!”, a voice behind Boris cried. Instinctively Boris threw himself forward, dived into a twisted somersault. In an instant Boris was on his feet and stared straight into a pair of green eyes he aimed his gun. The weapon clicked!

Both of them stood silently until a tick in Tom Erskins eye betrayed him, his finger squeezed the trigger but before he could finish the deed, a shot echoed through the hills.

Tom Erskins was only conscious long enough to register something was very wrong, then he fell crashing to the ground.

Boris looked down, Viktor smiled before he died.

“Admiral Cole, you're telling us that Boris Novovolynsk and Viktor Stanislav are dead?”, Sir Levellyn asked in a disturbed voice.

“Yes Horace, you don't mind me calling you Horace, do you?”, Cole answered in the most chilling way gazing straight at Englishman’s eyes.

Sir Levellyn shuddered, and gazed upon the other accomplishes. General Powell also seemed somewhat uneasy. Even Pierre Dubois, Francois Le Croix’s replacement as manager of the Euro Legion seemed on edge.

There were only four of them left now, discounting his personal nurse who had been hospitalized after a severe accident. Sir Levellyn sensed betrayal in the room.

“The failure to take the Freelancer Lunar HQ was unforgivable and has been severely dealt with”, Cole said nodding toward Dubois.

“I can only apologize for my predecessors incompetence, I will try to do my best to mend his mistakes. But I gather the Admiral has a plan that will eliminate our problem permanently?”, Dubois said giving the admiral a good stare.

“Please sit down Gentlemen and let us assert the current situation!”, the admiral offered smugly.

As the meeting went on, the air in the panorama lounge of the observatory became thick with smoke. They had been at it for a couple of hours when Cole got up from his chair.

“As of now I can reveal that an operative of ours most probably has been able to destroy or disable the main Fusion Reactor at the Martian Freelancer Colony. All heads of the organization are present on location and this gentlemen has opened up a window of opportunity that is being utilized as we speak”, Cole took a deep breath through his nose.

Dubois smiled, for he knew excactly what the admiral had in mind, he had given him the idea himself.

“Utilized?”, Powell asked puzzled, why hadn’t Tim taken his opinion into consideration, am I out of the loop?

The admiral looked at Powel with a very pleased look on his face.

“My dear friends, I have ordered a launch from Orbitter Six. The launch will consist of 6 birds, graciously supplied by Monsieur Dubois. Each is equipped with four Mirv Antimatter Warheads and according to plan they'll reach Mars Colony that due to acute power failure is unable to use laser defenses against our missiles. Thus we shall eliminate the Freelancer pestilence from the solar system permanently”.

“You are out of your mind, the orbiters were a deterrent only they were never intended as anything but a last resort”, Powell said wildly.

“Relax”, Cole said in a very nonchalant way, “There is nothing you can do the launch code and coordinates have already been fed into the system, the dice are rolling”.

Suddenly the door slammed open and Boris came crashing in.

“Everyone hands behind your heads!”, he yelled wildly pointing an assault rifle at the four men. His gaze kept sweeping from one to another.

The men quickly did as ordered with the exception of Cole.

“I've been listening outside that door long enough to know that you have set some sort of crazy plan in motion, I want you to abort it right now!”, Boris said looking at the admiral.

Cole didn't answer, and the silence made the hostages very uneasy.

Boris's voice broke the silence, “How about the rest of you. Hasn't this gone on long enough? The Freelancers gave us the World Union and what did we do, turned it right back into the UN with all it's flaws and faults. We were given a way forward, isn't it about time we acknowledge that the old ways aren't always the right ones?”. The men still didn’t say a word.

“Your ideas and lust for power will get us all killed, just look at Denmark! Totally out of control peoples committees governing cities for chrissake and the national military joining ranks”.

“It is over can't you see that? What about Britain or the rest of Europe for that sake? You can be very certain that the example that the Danes are setting will be followed and where will that put us?”.

Cole slowly raised his hands and looked at his watch and smiled, his face looked evil with its wry smile. Then he started laughing, not just an ordinary laugh but a deep rumbling demonic laugh.

“Boris, Boris it is too late old softie, I never thought the Russian bear would give in so easily”, the admiral taunted.

Boris stared coldly at the admiral “Who says the Russian bear has given in, maybe you have just woken it from it's slumber. We are not your or anybody else’s lackeys!”.

Cole looked at Boris with sad eyes, his hand reaching towards a bulge underneath his jacket..

“Don't do it”, Boris yelled and raised his weapon in an agitated manner.

Cole didn't react, his hand continued until it was completely hidden under the jacket. The hand moved toward the small bulge and was withdrawn swiftly.

Boris fired. Multiple shoots hit Cole who fell towards the floor with an astonished look on his face. As he hit the wooden surface a pack of cigarettes fell from his hand.

A dense powder smell filled the room and gave a burning sensation in the nostrils, the surrounding scenery seemed oddly mesmerizing and would normally have filled the observatory guests with awe if they had glimpsed the beauty of it in the dwindling twilight now however the structures outside seemed dark and threatening.

Orbitter Six, ETA 82 hr's 55 min.

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As the hatches slid shut onboard the Orbitter weapons platform the silvery streak from the nuclear engines had already vanished and the bright engine flares had turned into small twinkling stars moving away with incredible speed across the pitch black sky.

The missiles were carrying enough firepower to devastate something the size of a continent, and that was more or less the intent of the flight.

Boris sat down at the command central, special forces had arrived upon his call for backup within hours. He flicked a few switches aided by a female technician also part of the backup team.

“This should do it!”, the technician stated and checked the display to confirm the array was positioned correctly.

“Thank you Irena”, Boris said and nodded. The female blushed, she was used to the term Major Borodin. Was he hitting on her?

Boris cleared his throat “Mars Colony HQ do you read us, this is an emergency broadcast from the Mt. Christophe Observatory”, he pushed the repeat button a couple of times then he got up.

“Nothing to do but wait… coffee anyone?”, he gestured while pouring himself a cup.

“Sure, why not!”, Major Borodin answered. After all it was going to be a long night!

Mt. Christophe Observatory, ETA 82 hr's 54 min.

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“Mars Colony HQ do you read us, this is an emergency broadcast from the Mt. Christophe Observatory”. The automated reply that the transmission was being received was immediatly being broadcast, “Come In Mt. Christophe, we read you loud and clear what is the situation”, the operator looked at the transmission flickering in.

“Mt. Christophe here”, he paused slightly, “Currently six VX-87 missiles are en route toward Mars Colony, Launch Time 0405 GMT from Orbitter Six. There are 6 birds, all carrying Mirv Antimatter Warheads. We could not abort the launch, we are going to transmit all possible data on the missiles… stand by to receive technical update. We hope you can intervene, let us know if you believe we can do anything, Godspeed, Mt. Christophe, out”.

The officer on duty had been staring at the sandy plains as the message began filtering through, he sighed at the final crackle of the com signal as silence ensued.

So Vera had been right when she begged him not to go to Mars because something terrible might happen. Would he ever learn to listen? Not much he could do now anyway.

He flicked open a small lid covering a red button and pressed hard down on the switch. It felt odd doing it for real.

Immediately red indicator lights started flashing, they were followed by an automated voice booming all over the base.

“Emergency, all personnel stand by! Report to your assigned stations immediately, this is not a test, repeat this is not a test!”

The Communications Officer flicked another switch and opened a secure comlink.

An elderly man came onto the vid link, “Yes?”

The communications officer glanced at the display while checking up on the text accompanying the voice message they had just received.

“Sir, I believe we have a serious problem!”

Mars Colony ETA 1 hr 47 min.

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“So you're saying is that you are unsure that the shields will provide adequate protection”, Dalfoss asked looking directly at Mai Li's image on the screen.

“No, that is not what I said, I said that I will need to drain most of the energy supply to boost shield efficiency, I believe we should be able to boost the jamming shields enough that we could break the containment and cause the missiles to explode before they reach target altitude. If it was one missile then I would even go as far as to guarantee that we were safe, but six of them almost simultaneously… I’m just saying there is a possibility that it won’t work”.

“All the simulated tests have been successful it before…..”, the image on the view screen flickered somewhat before it stabilized.

Dalfoss sat for a moment in deep contemplation three shuttles ordinarily used for cargo hauling had been modified to take out more than 6.000 people before impact. They had been parked in orbit opposite to the impact zone thus providing them with the best possible protection. If the colony didn't make it, the pilots would try to rendezvous with a secret station in the Jovian belt. In that event probably none of the people aboard the shuttles would ever again be able to return to Earth. Dalfoss shuddered, how would they sustain themselves. The facility in the belt was only capable of sustaining a few hundred if the increased production.

Dalfoss considered himself lucky that he did not have to be involved in the decision process. He had never cared much for the life and death games that seemed to envelop his persona at all times.

Steiner looked at his wrist console, he had tuned it in to receive the countdown, he was headed for the Open Sky Bar, on his way he passed a group of young people seemingly civilians who had been invited to start a new life on Mars Colony, poor saps! They were drunk silly, heck no one could blame them, why not go out wasted if there was nothing else to do?

Steiner envied them for their lack of responsibility. Been delivering equipment payloads to those satellite platforms for sixt… How long had he been flying the mini shuttle?

Steiner had completely lost track of time, which was why he had tuned into the countdown. There was something finite about it… something that helped him calm down.

To his right a door was open and as Steiner passed it he heard people praying.

He rounded the corner and headed straight in the direction of the entrance. At the very instance he reached the archway the door opened and two medical orderlies escorting a young woman came through. She seemed calm enough but as the were a couple of steps past Steiner she suddenly started screaming.

There was a brief struggle as she tried to break loose from the orderlies. One of the orderly's finally managed to free a hand and pressed a sleep inducer against her temple, the device had an immediate effect and the agitated woman calmed down and started sobbing. The entorage got on the way and trampled round the corner. Steiner sighed heavily and entered the bar.

Inside the bar everything seemed natural after the incident. The young woman was probably in the best hands as she could be and the jukebox kept the tunes rolling.

Steiner walked toward the far end of the bar. McKinley and Takahashi were talking casually as he stepped up to the table.

McKinley had a wooden box in front of him “Robert, please sit down”, he offered.

“Thanks”, Steiner said and got himself a seat.

“Drinks are on the house, Self service”, the waitress said as she joined them.

Steiner looked up, “Thanks, can I offer you anything!”

She smiled, “Just a plain glass of OJ”, she said and took Takahashi’s hand.

“What about you guy's”, he asked and looked at McKinley and Takahashi.

“I'd like a good glass of brandy”, McKinley said.

Takahashi sat wondering for a moment. “A Kai for me please!”

“Kai…two parts Vodka, 4 - 6 parts of rhubarb wine, right?”, Steiner suggested.

“Exactly”, Takahashi laughed. They'd had quite a few of those drinks back on Earth the first time he'd met Steiner.

“Oh Robert could you bring back a box of ordinary matches, I'm out”, McKinley asked with a pleading smile.

“Sure, no problem”, Steiner replied, and headed off toward the counter.

The jukebox started playing a Mike Oldfield tune, the softness of the tune cuddled the audience in a tantalizing manner and for a while the room was in a dreamlike state where nor time or space mattered – only being was of importance.

A few moments later Steiner came back to the table hands fully laden.

“A glass of Cognac for Monsieur, plain OJ for the Lady, and Kai Deluxe for the two gentlemen on the right”, Steiner said in a French accent.

“Aah, and not to forget, the matches”, he added in a hilarious British accent as he tossed the box to McKinley.

“Thank you very much and may I offer you a cigar….anyone?”, McKinley bade and opened the box.

A strong smell escaped the box in the most pleasant manner. Smells like cinnamon… or is it a blend between cinnamon and vanilla? Takahashi couldn’t quite decide..

“You bet”, Steiner said and took a cigar from the box, he immediately withdrew his hand and waved the cigar under his nose taking a deep breath.

“Thank you”, Takahashi said and reached for one as well.

“Madame”, McKinley offered while gesturing to Jo Ann.

“I think I'll pass”, she answered a bit embarrassed, she had never been much for smoking but in the line of job that she had chosen the subject was hard to avoid.

The cigars were cut and lit and as they sat there puffing what had to be unmatchable cigars McKinley was stirring the caramel brown fluid by a careful rotation of his hand. After a while the liquid reached a perfect temperature and he raised his glass.

“Well then, Jo Ann, gentlemen; Salute”, McKinley said and nodded.

“Cheers”, a chorus of voices answered.

If she had gotten little sleep before then these last three days had been even worse. Mai Li was both edgy and nervous.

She was glancing at the display of her hand terminal in an attempt to monitor the shield modulation.

The missiles were getting very close now and the trajectory was intensely monitored by the crew who were remote controlling the Phoebos Deep Space Radar Array.

ETA 27 min. and counting, Mai Li felt the sting of cold sweat break out all over her body.

ETA 27 min. and counting.

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“Mam, Gentlemen if you will have me excused”, Steiner gestured and got on his feet.

“Off course”, McKinley replied. He knew exactly where Steiner was headed. A few months back he would probably have gone there himself… but things were different now.

“No worries mate”, Steiner said and padded Takahashi on his back.

“I'll be seeing you in a few, when this is all over”, Steiner said before he turned around and left.

As he walked down the corridors he passed silent people there was a heavy atmosphere over the complex. Everything had fallen still, even the hum from the air conditioners that normally could be heard when passing the grates had died away.

He reached the Engineering Department and was stopped by a massive security force.

“Halt… this is a restricted area”, a guard began.

“I have clearance”, Steiner answered in a determined voice and flicked an ID – card out of his pocket.

The security guard inspected the pass suspiciously then nodded to the others who stepped aside.

“Just doing my job, sir”, the guard said and gave Steiner a snappy salute.

“I know… keep up the good work”, Steiner said returning the salute he was glad to know someone was looking out for his beloved. There had been several attempts on the power grid these last few days, thankfully thwarted by an efficient security clampdown orchestrated by McKinley.

McKinley now there’s a man you can trust… Steiners train of though was derailed the instance his gaze caught Mai Li as she disappeared behind what looked like a huge pile of computer terminals.

Steiner quickly walked toward the pile several people in white lab coats were buzzing about like bees in a hive and their conversation sounded like a hundreds crickets singing simultaneously. The sound level suddenly dropped as the lights in the room started dimming and within seconds the conversation stopped altogether

Besides the frenzied clicking an occasional cough or a deep sigh Steiner were the only sounds Steiner registered.

He came up behind Mai Li who was deeply burrowed in numbers flicking by on her screen. He gently put a hand on her shoulder and Mai Li turned her “Thanks”, she said with a tender smile.

“My pleasure”, he answered and gave her one of his rare smiles. How she adored those lips.

“How long”, Steiner asked curiously. He could have checked his wrist console but he’d rather hear Mai Li’s voice.

Mai Li looked at her terminal “The missiles should reach the saturated area in less than 5 minutes”, she answered while staring intensely at the numbers on display.

There was nothing to do but wait now, wait and hope they would be able to affect the faraday casing and bring the missiles to detonation while they were still at a safe distance. A voice broke the silence “”Phoebos Array detecting 6 birds condition red! Entiring saturated zone in T-10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 – We have impact“.

Mai Li shuddered slightly as the first missile came into range of the shield, she looked at the screen a last time and closed her eyes.

There was a huge discharge of energy as the first missile illuminited the sky.

“Yes”, a white clad youngster said and clenched his fist like a soccer player scoring an important goal.

Mai Li opened her eyes again and looked at the display “Phoebos array confirms, contact with the first bird is gone. Second impact in 35 seconds”.

Steiner felt as if he was standing on the brink of hell with an army of angels by his side as the missiles one by one entered the enhanced magnetic disruption field Mai Li and her colleagues had created.

After an agonizing wait Mai Li could finally breathe easily. She examined the data again before she with pride in her voice started talking over the base intercom.

“All missiles have been destroyed, there is no noticeable fallout to report – We are in the clear!“

There was an outburst of relief and all over the base people started cheering. The waiting was over. Once again the Freelancers survived against incredible odds and once again their future lay wide open.

	 Scrutinize the mystery underlying all things.                       
	 Seek in higher dimensions of understanding a meaning behind   
	 all our sufferings.                                            

	 Unmask what appears to be the caprice of human destiny -          
	 How we long to become that which we hardly believe we are!     
                                 Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan (born 1916) 

May 14'th Mars Council Meeting 1447 hr's.

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“The WU has with a massive vote toward acknowledging the Independence Act, allow the first Terran council to be recognized as the body that will lead international cooperation from now on, the Martian FreeState has however not been officially recognized, but that would probably be to large a step for them to take with public opinion so divided”.

“It has been decided to build a station orbiting earth, replacing the outdated Freedom station, we have offered our assistance and our offer has been accepted on the background of our recent quantum leaps in Space Structure Design”

“Even though we have come this far, there are many issues to be settled before we can expect recognition as an independent planet. Our offer of sanctuary to all who are persecuted by Terran governments has probably been a thorn in the eye of many back on the homeworld. As a result we've had grave difficulty accessing Earth, but our Deep Sea Bases have provided us with what we needed so far, and with a little luck the station should be in orbit around earth within 1 1/2 year”.

“And the second point on the agenda the APMC”

“Our first APMC, All Purpose Military Cruiser is scheduled to be finished about mid 2031”

“What about weapon specifications, how is the work proceeding”.

“Mr. Tlatoani, if you please”, the chairman said, the Latin American got on his feet.

August 14'th one year later

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The large ship that could carry over 5500 inhabitants was like a small island in space onboard there was everything civilization needed to survive.

The final preparations for the big test were in progress now. Steiner was amazed about the diligence on display. Technicians crossed his and Mai Li’s paths as they strolled through the biosphere areas. The eco systems had been operational for two months now and conditions seemed optimal. Mai Li had been inspecting the adjoining laboratories but that was not what impressed Steiner the most.

His complete fascination was caught by the educational facilities, to imagine they had crammed the entire produced works and feats of the human race into the CUBE crystal storage placed neatly in a work pad which lay nonchalantly tossed on a desk in the auditorium.

The entire knowledge of mankind in the palm of your hand… Now that’s information at your fingertips.

Mai Li took Steiner’s hand as he dreamily let his gaze sweep across the viewscreen that was showing the exterior of the ship was.

The hulk was covered in some sort of polymer alloy that was capable of withstanding high radiation doses as well as repelling or dispersing other energy charges and then there were the antennas sticking out all over the ship making it so similar to a giant porcupine that the ship builders had decided to name the craft The Porcupine.

A good while later Mai Li and Steiner were sitting in Takahashis quarters.

“I see you are wearing rings” Takahashi said with a smile fondling his own bare finger “She finally got you, huh!”, he added giving Steiner an elbow.

“Got me, well you could put it that way. But I still think I was the one who picked her, in the first place anyway”, Steiner said and blinked toward her.

They laughed and talked, Steiner couldn’t remember such a good time in company with his friend for a very long time.

“So Mr. Chief Engineer aboard the Porcupine. Have the engines been thoroughly tested then”, Steiner asked.

Takahashi blew on the golden insignia and polished it with his sleeve “Well, only during basic flight mode. The only craft with FTL drives have been our drones”.

“Is that including Clinton’s flight?”, Steiner asked somewhat amused. Once again an ape got the honor of representing the human species under the most dangerous circumstances. Not that humans were too far removed from that developmental plateau.

“Yup, who is fine by the way! Not showing any signs of side effects”, Takahashi said with a big smile.

“That Clinton is a sturdy fellow. Won’t let anyone or anything dethrone him. He sure is the King of FTL Traveling. Must be enjoying his piloting career tremendously”, Mai Li stated.

“Definitely”, Takahashi replied still smiling “Oh by the way… I wish you could see the pictures… damn shame I haven’t got any hardcopies”, he added sliding an envolope to Steiner.

Steiner winked at the technician, the room probably wasn’t bugged but one never knew. Walls sometimes did have ears.

“Why haven’t they released them yet?”, Mai Li inquired.

Takahashi pondered for a while before answering “Dunno really but I expect they will be as we leave. I suspect that the management wants to avoid to much public fuss. You know about the technology and all that before we get everything thoroughly tested”.

“Understandably”, Mei Li said and nodded. Steiner was about to disagree but Mai Li beat him. “Honey I know you hate the cloak and dagger tactics. We do need complete transparency… on all levels, but it is not a perfect world. Not yet at least!”.

Steiner nodded “But we are getting closer though aren’t we?”, he asked.

“Thankfully we are”, Takahashi agreed.

Mai Li simply nodded in silent agreement how she wished Steiner would be allowed to see that perfect world he yearned for. She hated seing him torn between his ideals and duty. There was no kinder soul than her wonderful, wonderful Steiner.

So trusting and simple. No malice whatsoever, just a strong sense of justice. The flying corpse could ask for nothing better.

“Do you have any idea how the whole FTL thing works?”, Mai Li asked curiously.

“Huh…”, Takahashi had allowed himself to be engulfed in the idea of transparency.

“FTL… how does it work you dope”, Steiner queried with the most comical expression on his face.

“Aah… well it's a bit complex“, Takahashi said wondering about how he could best explain the concept properly.

“Try to imagine that time is like a rubber sheet, on or perhaps in the sheet we place the spaceship, okay?”

“First we create a distortion of space-time which produces an expansion behind the ship, that means we stretch the sheet, as we do so we also create an opposite contraction ahead of the ship. Thus we are pulled in our chosen direction by space time itself”, Takahashi said triumphantly allowing his gaze to sweep from Mai Li to Steiner before the grand finale.

“And the best part is that while you as an observer would register the ship as exceeding the speed of light I as a traveler would never have to do that! Thus I do not violence the theory of relativity ”.

Mai Li and Steiner were mesmerized by the Chief Engineers speech and were listening intensely as Takahashi unveiled the wonders of FTL traveling.

Takahashi went on explaining even more about the principles of the craft all while his listeners were drawn in to the complex webs weaved of time and space.

“So what you're saying is that the ship has these powerful emitters that produce a field that actually distorts time itself”, Steiner said with disbelief in his voice.

“Yes isn't it beautiful, it's so….so simple. I wish I was the one who figured it out”, Takahashi said dreamily.

Takahashi looked intensely at his guests “In all the history of man there are very few who will be remembered. But let me tell you one thing. The name Alcubierre will be forever connected to FTL Technology as Albert Einstein's name is to relativity”.

“Well if the craft can bring me back and forth, without to much fuss, I don't really care how the whole thing works”, Steiner laughed.

“Come one, its fascinating”, Mai Li intervened “Just think that until late in the twentieth century, only dreamers dared challenge the speed limit of light and now less than half a century later we will travel to the Stars”, she stared the poster on Takahashi’s wall with dreaming eyes. The poster was depicting a comet boasting a bright tail crossing the inner rim of the solar system.

They talked for what seemed like hours when suddenly a voice broke in over the intercom.

“All visitors please head for the nearest exit. The ship is to be cleared of unassigned personnel at 2200 hours“.

Steiner looked at his wrist “Nearly 21:30, looks like the visit is over huh!”

“Does…”, Takahashi answered saddened by the inevitable farewell.

They left Takahashis quarters and headed for a lift that would bring them down to the disembarkment zone.

On their way they passed technicians and relatives all wearing tense faces some were even in tears but finally the corridors came to an end and the company had arrived at the lift.

“So big guy you're staying here huh?”, Takahashi said.

“Yeah, I wouldn't paddle around in a barge like this one”, Steiner answered. Mai Li's elbow wasn't hard but firm.

Steiner spread his arms and steered towards the Chief Engineer.

“Must you?”, Takahashi asked with a twitch in his face.

“There is no escape”, Steiner answered and gave Takahashi a tremendous hug and a good padding on the back.

“Wish I was coming with you though!”, Steiner said and let go.

“I wouldn't have you here you fag. Besides they need the best instructors back here in case we stumble across anything. And you got responsibilities now!”, Takahashi replied looking at Mai Li.

The two men both laughed as Mai Li let her gaze sweep down. She put a hand on her stomach it felt wonderfully hot and vibrant.

Steiner pressed the lift button and put his arm around Mai Li's shoulder “We really have to leave now, I don't want to miss the countdown”, he said.

“I know”, Takahashi answered heavily.

Mai Li paused “Give my regards to Jo Ann will you?“, she dried a tear that trailed its way down her cheek.

“I will”, Takahashi answered and gave her a hug.

The lift doors opened. Mai Li and Steiner reluctantly entered.

Takahashi blocked the door sensor “Well good-bye then”, he said and took a long last look at his two friends.

“See ya”, Steiner said with a wink and pressed the lift button.

“Don't worry I'll be back…”, Takahashi said as the doors slid shut. The lift hissed and headed toward the exit.


The small shuttle craft touched down near the Phoebos Array. McKinley was waiting for them at the airlock as Steiner and Mai Li entered the complex.

“She sure is a fine ship huh?”, he said and greeted Mai Li with a hug.

“Yup”, Steiner said and nodded in complete agreement.

“How are you?”, McKinley asked noticing how Mai Li seemed to be radiating, my god she was beautifull.

“Fine dad and you look terriffic, what have you been up to”, Mai Li enquired.

McKinley smiled “I’ve been taking some pills the last couple of months… I tell you, these pills. Ha… you’ll probably never have to take them. They’ll probably splice the formula right into your food.

“Come on pa… you know how I feel about manufactured food”, Mai Li argued.

McKinley knew only too well, bringing an ecologically aware child to the civilized world of additives had been hell. But he had to admire Mai Li for her convictions. Her ideals were probably what the human race needed to pursue in order to secure a habitual world for coming generations… McKinley chuckled; he was and would probably always be an additives guy. He needed that long life food too much.

McKinley did about and proceeded into the observation lounge and noticed that there were surprisingly few people there Apparently most had decided to look at the launch on Vid, rather than experiencing it first hand. Some people, McKinley though and placed himself strategically close to the observation window.

“Maybe I should have agreed to go with them as Chief of security”, McKinley said with envy as he scrutinized every detail of the large ship in orbit.

“Don't worry Pa, there'll be another ship”, Mai Li said giving him a hug and a light kiss on his cheek.

The engines of the Porcupine started glowing slightly and the windows automatically dimmed caused by the safety filters.

The ship looked majestic and not a single word was uttered in the Observation Lounge as the red dials on the wall crept closer to zero.

Steiner placed himself behind Mai Li and McKinley.

“It's a beautiful sight huh!”, Steiner said and put his arms around Mai Li. He leaned forward and held her tight.

“It sure is”, she answered and took a deep breath. “Oh I think it kicked”, Mai Li uttered. McKinley turned his head “Kicked?”, he asked in a surprised manner.

“Uhu.. kicked”, Mai Li said with a smile “Look”, she added and hinted toward the ship.

McKinley had a hard time breaking free from his mesmerized gaze but managed to do so as the implications raced through his mind, he was going to be a grandfather.

At that very instant the Porcupine started moving, first slowly almost unmentionably, but finally the craft broke orbit and headed toward infinity.


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Competition for my readers......

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help_wanted_the_story.txt · Last modified: 2015/11/19 11:25 by einarpetersen