Read The Lost Patrol Online

Authors: Vaughn Heppner

Tags: #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Science Fiction, #Adventure, #Alien Invasion, #Colonization, #Exploration, #Galactic Empire, #Genetic Engineering, #Military, #Space Fleet, #Space Marine, #Space Opera, #Space Exploration

The Lost Patrol (7 page)

BOOK: The Lost Patrol
6.82Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

-10-

 

Maddox felt a heady sense of anticipation as the shuttle neared the
Marius III
. The gigantic hauler had been in deep space. What had happened out there to cause everyone to seem to want to capture or eliminate him? He suspected the New Men, possibly Strand or maybe even another Builder.

Maddox eyed the hauler’s lettering. He’d been in Patrol training for too long. It was good to be in the field again doing Intelligence work.

The truth was that Patrol duty had begun to sound tedious to him. According to his instructors, crews spent endless weeks traveling from one star system to another, recording stellar data for Star Watch. The ads and brochures encouraging young men and women to join the Patrol made it sound much different. Maybe a part of Maddox had begun to believe the exciting propaganda. Patrol school had cured him of that, causing him to wonder if he’d made a mistake.

“Are you sure you want to board the hauler?” Meta asked.

Maddox blinked himself out of his reverie. “Yes,” he said. “Board it.” He could see the open hangar bay from here.

Shu cleared her throat.

Maddox swiveled around to face her.

The small Spacer shook her head. “Boarding the hauler is unwise.”

Maddox was curious. “Do you have a premonition regarding the ship?”

The small woman shifted uncomfortably before saying, “The Cestus Company is tainted by evil.”

“Evil? That’s a strong term.”

“An accurate term,” Shu said. “But to answer your question, yes, I have a premonition. Androids have traveled in the hauler.”

“How do you know?” Maddox said.

“I know because the ship is tainted.”

“I’m curious regarding the process that lets you know these things. I’d like to acquire the ability.”

“You mock me,” Shu said.

“On the contrary,” Maddox said. “I’m jealous of your gift.”

Meta scowled at her controls.

Shu became thoughtful. “Yes, it is a gift. Some possess it and others do not. I’m surprised that a
di-far
doesn’t inherently feel the taint.”

“Can you describe the sensation?” Maddox asked.

“Oh, yes,” Shu said. “My stomach tightens and there is pain behind my eyes. The evil lurking on the ship causes the sensation. I also know that the evil is directed at you, Captain.”

“You can’t know that,” Meta said scornfully. “You’re just nervous. Being nervous doesn’t give you heightened awareness.”

Shu fixed her goggled gaze upon the Rouen Colony woman. “I’m sorry you feel that way.”

“You’re faking all this to try to impress the captain,” Meta said.

“No,” Shu said. “There is a real taint to the hauler, and it is causing me grief. You should not set foot on the ship, Captain.”

Meta couldn’t let it go. “I never knew that Spacers were superstitious.”

“We’re not,” Shu said. “We are the most rational race in Human Space, practical in the extreme. If we have developed certain of our senses that the rest of humanity has continued to let atrophy—”

“Can you be more specific regarding the danger?” Maddox asked, hoping to nip the verbal fight in the bud.

“You don’t really believe her, do you?” Meta said.

“It’s not a matter of belief,” Maddox said, “but of testing a theory. Let us see what she predicts and compare it to what happens.”

Meta glanced from Shu to Maddox before concentrating on her controls once more, bringing the shuttle closer to the hangar bay.

“Why won’t you believe me?” Shu asked the captain.

“Who says I don’t?”

“You’re boarding the hauler,” the Spacer said. “I have warned you not to board it.”

“Precisely,” Maddox said. “If this tainted evil exists, I want to find and interrogate it.”

“That is rash,” Shu whispered.

Maddox made a bland gesture. “I am
di-far
. Could you expect any less from me?”

Shu’s brow wrinkled. “I had not thought of it that way.”

Meta rolled her eyes, tapping the controls harder than seemed necessary. The shuttle also seemed to head down faster toward the hangar bay than seemed prudent.

Maddox buckled in. Riker said the hauler was secure. Galyan hadn’t found any hidden agents, and the AI had used the hauler’s own security systems to run the checks. Yet, Kane had once come to Earth on a Cestus hauler. The trick would be tracking down the hidden controller in its own lair, always a dangerous prospect.

Maddox glanced at Shu. Could she truly sense things? Was she like the Visionary? Shu had claimed a different bloodline. Did that make any difference? What could a Visionary really
see
anyway?

 

-11-

 

Maddox spoke with Riker on the
Marius III’s
bridge. The captain had seven Marines and Meta in combat armor, along with Shu, Riker and himself in vacc suits.

“Galyan hasn’t spotted anything unusual since the robot suddenly activated,” Riker reported.

“What about the radiation leakage earlier?” Maddox asked.

“Vanished,” Riker said.

“The signature was meant to lure you here,” Shu said.

They spoke with their visors shut, even though regular air cycled through the chamber. It might have been a needless precaution, but the captain had insisted.

Maddox eyed the suited Shu, the open hatch and the corridor beyond. “Galyan, are you monitoring the situation?”

“I am,” the AI said.

“Do you sense any movement within the
Marius III
?”

“Negative.”

“You know,” Meta said. “I rode with Kane in a hauler like this. We stayed in a hidden chamber and slipped out unnoticed in a shuttle. That was near the Xerxes System. Maybe there’s another chamber like that in the
Marius
.”

“I would have discovered such a chamber,” Galyan said, “as I have full access to the hauler’s security cameras and to the
Marius’s
specs. There is no such hidden location in this hauler.”

“What if the builders kept a hidden spot like that secret from the hauler’s computer?” Meta asked.

“I can begin a full scan of the ship to double check,” Galyan said.

“Yes,” Maddox said. “Do it.”

“Scanning…” Galyan said, “Scanning…”

Shu jerked around.

Maddox noticed. So did Meta.

“Captain!” the small Spacer said. “There is grave danger here.” She ran and then dove in front of Maddox.

From the outside corridor, a blot of energy appeared. It sped at the captain. Shu 15 intercepted the shot with her body. The blot of force sizzled through her vacc suit, blowing a hole in it and knocking the small Spacer backward so she rolled across the deck.

Sergeant Hank Towns reacted, opening up with his suit’s autocannon. A second later, the other Marines did likewise. Some of the shells shredded portions of corridor. A few slammed against something invisible out there.

“What the hell?” Riker said.

“Cease fire,” Maddox ordered.

Hank repeated the command, shouting at his Marines.

Maddox had already drawn his long-barreled gun. Riker had brought it over from
Victory
. He charged through the hatch in time to see a ghostly humanoid-shape shimmer into existence on the deck. Next, sparks played along the ghostly suit. Then, an explosion caused the air to sizzle. A tall man in a suit appeared as he lay on the deck. He held a weird-looking carbine and his helmet visor had a crack running down the middle.

The autocannon shells had damaged the suit, but none of them had breached its integrity.

“Armored stealth suit,” Maddox whispered.

The person in the suit twitched, twitched again and began to sit up. Whoever it was must have seen Maddox. He raised the weird carbine.

Maddox fired rapidly, knocking the weapon away so it clattered onto the deck.

“Should I kill him?” Hank asked, aiming his autocannon at the intruder.

Maddox glanced back. The Marine sergeant stood to his left. “No,” he said. “Physically subdue him.”

“Come on, boys!” Hank shouted. “Don’t let the bastard move.”

The Marines piled onto the enemy. Some grabbed legs, others arms. They hoisted the person airborne, making sure feet and hands couldn’t move. The person tried to twist free, but the marines’ powered-armor servos made that impossible.

“Bring him onto the bridge,” Maddox said.

The Marines did so.

Maddox noticed Meta working on the small Spacer. “How is she?” Maddox asked.

Meta looked up. “She’s hurt, but it appears she wore some kind of energy dampening cloth. Did she know the hidden intruder would fire an energy weapon? Is that why she did what she did.”

Maddox stepped near Shu, kneeling by her. The small Spacer was unconscious.

“You said you met her before, right?” Meta asked.

“In the Lin Ru Hotel,” he said.

“It must have been some night,” Meta said bitterly.

Maddox looked up. “Shu tried to kill me in the Lin Ru.”

“That doesn’t make sense,” Meta said. “Why did she just leap in front of the shot then? We all saw it. She deliberately did it.”

Maddox had witnessed the action. Why would the Spacer do such a thing? “She believes I’m
di-far,
” he said.

“How did she know the intruder had or was in the process of firing a shot?” Meta asked. “The man wore a stealth suit—if it’s a man. He was invisible to the rest of us.”

That was a good question.

“She couldn’t just have a
feeling
about it, could she?” Meta asked. “That’s impossible, right?”

Maddox spun around, examining the person in the stealth suit. He stepped near and unsnapped the helmet seals. The person struggled to no avail. With a sharp tug, Maddox pulled off the helmet to reveal a golden-skinned New Man staring at him.

“We should have figured,” Riker muttered.

Maddox grabbed the New Man’s jaw in a vacc-suited grip. “Who are you?”

The New Man’s stare hardened. He practically vibrated with hatred.

That puzzled Maddox. He’d never felt this from a New Man before. As far as he knew, he’d never seen the man before, either.

On inspiration, Maddox ran his gloved fingers across the man’s short pelt of hair. As the Marines held the New Man down on the floor, the captain knelt, examining the scalp. Yes. He saw hairline scars on the skull.

“What are we going to do with him, sir?” Hank asked.

Maddox straightened, glancing at Shu. She’d warned him about the danger of coming on the hauler and had taken the shot meant to kill him. She’d also worn some kind of dampener cloth. That seemed like another piece of Builder technology. The
Marius III
had truly turned out to be tainted. Shu had warned them. She had felt something here. Could it be that at the last moment she had
sensed
the New Man aiming at him. Did the feeling come from a supernatural source or did it come from something else?

“Take the prisoner to your shuttle,” Maddox told Hank. “Then, take him to
Victory
.”

Riker cleared his throat. “We’ll have to tell Star Watch about the New Man, sir.”

Maddox nodded absently. “I want Shu in your shuttle as well,” he told Hank. “Take her and the New Man to Galyan’s special sickbay.”

Maddox stepped away as the Marines obeyed his orders. He understood what the hairline scars indicated. Some time ago, he’d studied Admiral Fletcher’s reports about the New Man Pa Kur. Strand had operated on the New Man, leaving such scars.

How had Shu known what she did? What did the Spacers truly believe about him? He was supposed to be
di-far
. He hadn’t asked to be that.

“Sir,” Riker said, “the brigadier is calling. She’s demanding that you come down to Geneva right away.”

“We’ll be there soon enough,” Maddox said.

“Shouldn’t you tell the brigadier that, sir?” Riker asked.

“No. There’s something I have to do first.”

“What’s that?” Meta asked.

“You can join me,” Maddox said. “I’m sure you’ll find this interesting.”

 

-12-

 

Having shed the vacc suit in the shuttle, Maddox stood in a special sickbay on
Victory
, one controlled by Galyan through his robots.

Shu 15 presently lay in a clear tube. She might have regained consciousness by now, but at Maddox’s orders, Meta had given her an injection to keep her unconscious.

A holoimage of the Adok Galyan appeared as a small humanoid with ropy arms and deep-set eyes. He had fine lines crisscrossing his face.

Whatever you’re doing,” Meta said, “doesn’t seem right. You should ask Shu before engaging in any medical procedures upon her person.”

“I have a theory,” Maddox said. “If I’m right, we can begin to understand the Spacers better.

“I take it you’re talking about Shu’s intuition.”

“I do not accept the kind of intuition she’s suggested.”

“I didn’t either at first,” Meta said. “But after seeing what she did on the hauler…”

“You’re thinking emotionally. Galyan, I want you to scan her for unusual substances.”

“Scanning…” Galyan said.

A white light in a tight circular band moved across the clear tube. It stopped a moment midway up Shu’s torso. Then, it resumed, slowing again by her skull.

“I have completed the scan,” Galyan said. “The body contains two small devices, one in the lower abdominal region and another in the forward skull. It appears both run off the body’s electrical discharges.”

“What are the devices?” Maddox asked.

“Unknown,” Galyan said.

“It appears Shu
didn’t
know those things through intuition,” Meta said in a bewildered tone. “I don’t understand. How did you know?”

“I didn’t,” Maddox said. “I merely wondered about the various possibilities, wishing to test each in turn. Galyan, how difficult would it be to extract the devices?”

“Not difficult at all,” Galyan said.

“I mean with a minimum of cutting,” the captain said.

“My analyzer suggests you really mean without any cutting at all.”

“Would that be possible?” Maddox asked.

“Negative.”

“Can you fully analyze the devices without extracting them?”

“Not with one hundred percent efficiency,” Galyan said.

Maddox crossed his arms, frowning down at Shu. “You will analyze the devices to the best of your ability without extracting them. If you believe Shu is a danger to us while awake, you will keep her sedated until I return.”

“I understand.”

“Excellent,” Maddox said. “I believe it is time to examine the New Man. After we’re finished with him, you can complete your examination of Shu.”

“Captain,” Galyan said. “I have received a message from the brigadier. She told me to tell you that she expects you in the Lord High Admiral’s office in twenty minutes.”

“Hmmm…” Maddox said. “Tell her you are still hunting for me.”

“She knows I am in direct contact with you and has demanded for several minutes now for me to put you through.”

“No,” Maddox said. “First, we shall examine the New Man.”

***

The golden-skinned New Man was unconscious in an upright tube similar to Shu’s. Metal straps held him in place, while restraints kept his head upright. The New Man had steely muscles and a black pelt for hair. He was several centimeters taller than the captain and seemed to be twenty years older at least.

“Shall I scan him?” Galyan asked.

Maddox nodded. He was alone with the AI. Meta had remained in the other chamber with Shu.

The band of light began at the New Man’s feet and slowly worked upward until it passed his scalp.

“I noticed the light never slowed this time,” Maddox said.

“There is only one anomaly in the New Man,” Galyan said. “A fine mesh lies over his cortex. Several fibers reach deeper into his brain mass. Just like the equipment in the female, it is powered by bodily electrical impulses.”

“Do you have any idea what the mesh does?”

“My analyzer gives it a ninety-seven percent probability of being a control unit.”

“Is it similar to what Admiral Fletcher’s doctors found in Pa Kur?”

“It is almost identical with a three percent difference.”

“What would you attribute the difference to?”

“An older variant,” Galyan answered.

“This one is older?”

“Correct.”

“I suspect the Methuselah Man Strand inserted the mesh.”

“I agree,” Galyan said.

“Therefore, Strand ordered the New Man to kill me.”

“That is logical.”

Maddox tapped his chin. “When you say all three devices are powered by bodily electrical impulses, do you mean to say that all three are alike in design?”

“Yes.”

Maddox blinked several times. “Would you say each is Builder tech?”

“I give that an eighty-four percent probability.”

Once more, Maddox tapped his chin as he stared at the unconscious New Man. “Could you extract the mesh without killing the subject?”

“Unknown.”

“I want you to try.”

“What if I fail?” Galyan asked.

“Then we will be poorer in knowledge,” Maddox said. “You will begin the attempt once I leave
Victory
. Until you are finished with the surgery, you will accept no calls from anyone. Once you possess the mesh, you will secure it in a hidden place on the ship. Under no circumstances will you tell anyone where it is hidden, except for me.”

“Yes, Captain.”

“Do not give up the New Man, either.”

“Yes, Captain.”

“Once I leave
Victory
, instruct Riker that he is to return to the
Marius III
and find the hidden chamber. Have him take Meta with him. You will assist them in the search as best you can.”

“Yes, Captain.”

“Any questions?” Maddox asked.

“No, sir.”

Maddox smiled coldly. “Then, I shall be on my way. I don’t want to keep the brigadier waiting.”

Galyan blinked furiously.

“That’s a joke,” Maddox explained.

“I see. Yes. I understand. Thank you, Captain.”

“Certainly,” Maddox said, as he strode to the hatch.

 

BOOK: The Lost Patrol
6.82Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Dirty Desire by M. Dauphin
El pozo de la muerte by Lincoln Child Douglas Preston
Beautiful Girls by Gary S. Griffin
Dracul's Revenge 01: Dracul's Blood by Carol Lynne, T. A. Chase
SurrendersMischief by Alvania Scarborough
Losing Control by Jen Frederick
Stroke of Luck by Stilletto, Trixie
Black by T.l Smith