Book: The Begining



The Begining

The Begining

The Navigator – Book I

By Ben Winston

Copyright © 2016 Ben Winston

Published by Blue Space Publications, LLC.


Disclaimer

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review to be printed by a newspaper, magazine, or journal.

All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Dedication

This work is dedicated to all those that serve us in the pseudo-world of ‘black operations’.

Thank you for keeping the faith.





“Holy shit! Bill! Check this out! Some old guy from northern Minnesota just traded in a computer with a perfect score on the Free Cell test!”

Bill looked over at his friend’s console. “Bull shit. There are failure scenarios programmed into it. No one can have a perfect score.”

“This guy does. Apparently, he didn’t have an internet connection on this computer, or we would have been notified sooner. When the tech at Better Buy plugged this in to check it out, the first thing it did was send us the report," Hal said, getting more information from the report.

“It has to be wrong, something must have happened to the testing program,” Bill said.

Bill typed on his keyboard. “Well, real or not, it has to be investigated; we need more Navigators, not less.”

“True,” Bill replied. “Either way, the boys in special services will be taking care of it from here. I just hope, for his sake, that the results are true."

Hal nodded agreement. “Me too, but then again, if he was able to influence the test in some way, that alone would be valuable wouldn't it?”

“I'd think it would be. Did it say how old this guy was?” Bill asked.

Hal scrolled down the report. “Yeah, he's forty-seven.”

Bill shook his head in amazement. “Wow, he really is an odd bird then. Well, he either just hit a galactic home-run, or made the worst mistake of his life. Either way, it's out of our hands now.”

“A perfect score isn't possible is it?” Admiral Hawklings asked. “Even for one of the gifted?”

“No, it is possible, but the odds of it are so small as to be considered a null value,” Senior Navigator Jared Smalls replied. "For example, I only got eighty-two percent of the questions correct.”

“But I thought there were insoluble equations built in to it. How could someone solve an unsolvable?” Hawklings asked. “I don't understand."

“That is the reason for the test, Admiral; because we don't understand. Hyperspace navigation equations have their own reason, their own understanding of the universe. We can only try to grasp those reasons and anticipate the outcomes.” Smalls' eyes began to glaze over again as his mind returned to that area only Navigators know.

Hawklings cleared his throat to bring Jared back. Navigators were an odd bunch, but they got far stranger the more they practiced and spent time in the nav chambers. Jared had spent the last six months at the Navigator's 'Citadel', and was having a hard time readjusting to 'normal' space and time.

“I've issued a retrieve order for this bloke, but there is a problem,” Hawklings said, biting his lower lip.

“Oh?” Jared asked, still dreamy eyed.

“He's the oldest person we've ever found to have the gift. He has a family; a wife and adult children. He's going to be missed.”

Jared's eyes cleared and focused on the Admiral so quickly, it made the hair on the back of his neck stand out. “Age is irrelevant, family is irrelevant. The man must be brought to the Citadel immediately. No other consideration is possible, Admiral.” The young man turned from the older one and headed for the door. “Make it happen.”

The decorated military man stood staring at the door for several minutes. He knew he was just given an order, but the Navigators were supposed to answer to him, not the other way around.

So, why did he feel like he would die if he didn't comply with Jared's directive? Yes, Jared was the senior Navigator and the Navigators held a very influential position in the whole scheme of things, but this?

While he was standing there, the Admiral felt the 'command' changing in his mind. Losing the implied threat, as his own mind made the adjustments to the memory. Instead of a threat, Hawklings now remembered a strongly worded request and he began to relax.

Very slowly, he took his seat. The more he thought about it the less of a threat Jared became. It was almost surreal, how could he have ever thought Jared was a threat, he knew who his bosses were; Jared knew who truly held his leash.

Letting out a breath, he picked up the phone and began issuing orders.

“For every beginning, there must be an end. For with every end, there must also be a beginning.”- Anonymous

In northern Minnesota, at his home in Piney River, Joe had just finished installing the last of his favorite programs on the new computer, when the doorbell rang. He wondered who it could be, since all his friends lived in the trailer park with him, and they all called before coming over.

Glancing out the window, he saw two large men in tailored black suits and mirrored sunglasses. They looked as close to being twin genetic mutants as the government could make them.

Wondering what in the hell two obvious Government agents would want with him, he slowly opened the door with one foot blocking it, so they couldn't force it all the way open. “What can I do for you two gentlemen?”

“Are you Mr. Joseph Anderson?” the big one said.

“You wouldn't be here if you needed me to answer that question. What do you want?” Joe replied.

“You need to come with us, Sir. It's a...”

“…matter of national security. Yeah, I'm familiar with the line. The real question is do I actually have a choice in the matter?”

Joe had a history with the diverse security agencies of the government. He was somewhat of a conspiracy theorist and knew that a visit from men like these was rarely a good thing.

“I'm afraid not, Sir,” the talker replied.

“So, if I slammed the door in your face and tried to make a run for it out the back door?” Joe asked.

“You would be more uncomfortable during our trip. I do not recommend following that course of action, Sir,” the man-mountain replied.

Joe nodded. “Don't worry, you know I can't run, no matter what I wanted. If I agree and promise not to make trouble, can we do without the cuffs?”

The giant nodded. “That is the plan, Sir.”

“Can I leave word for my family? They're going to know something's up; the whole trailer park saw you guys come here,” Joe reasoned.

The second giant removed a notebook from his jacket, which also gave Joe a glimpse of the Steyr M1912 pistol strapped to his ribcage. Whomever these guys worked for, they issued non-standard weaponry.

Opening the notebook, the man read. “At the age of nineteen, you enlisted in the United States Army with a Military Occupational Specialty of thirty-one victor. During Advanced Individual Training, you were recruited by a covert agency that no longer has command integrity.”

'Command Integrity', huh? That must be what they call it when they kill one of their own. Joe's old commanders were retired by people just like these two. Only there were a lot more of them, they wore body armor and they didn't ask for anyone to come with them.

“You received advanced hand to hand combat training with and without weapons, advanced firearms, and improvised weapons training, as well as advanced escape and evasion. In short, no matter how old you are, and regardless of your physical condition, you are to be considered armed and extremely dangerous at all times.”

The first big man had never turned his head to his partner. “In the years since you, uh, returned to civilian life. You managed to stay under the radar far enough for the cleaners to declare you a non-threat. However, in order to cope with the stresses of your former duties, you told your wife who you were and what you really did.

“The manner of your extraction has been carefully planned, Sir. The impression your neighbors are getting is the very one we want them to have. Although, she never truly believed you were telling her the truth, your wife will be left with only one viable conclusion as to your sudden disappearance,” the man finished.

“Guys, you know how this life is. I know you do. We all at least thought about it during our careers. You also know what our word; I mean our real word, means to us. I promised her I wouldn't leave her; ever,” Joe explained. “I won't be any good to you without her with me. By that, I mean my sanity depends on her. If you're not planning on letting me come back, then you might as well shoot me now; because I will take at least one of you with me later.”

“That is an unwarranted complication. Your future duties demand you be single. You will come with us now, or we will kill her and take you later. Those are our orders. I'm sure you know how this works, Sir.”

Joe stood there a moment as if in thought. Yes, he figured that this might be the case. The agency never did like complications.

Finally, he nodded his head. “Yeah, I know how these things work, probably better than you do. I will come with you to keep her safe, but I want something from the agency. They will create a life insurance policy of five million dollars and award it too her when you report my death. Since they want to take my life here, then I want them to make sure she's taken care of and nothing will happen to her. Deal?”

“We're not authorized...” the first man said.

“Bullshit! I know you're live with them right now. Get them to give me an answer and you swear to it on that Spec-Ops knife attached to your belt behind your back. Then I'll believe you. Otherwise, we have a problem,” Joe said. "But you better hurry.”

“Why?”

“The park manager is my best friend. I'm sure he called the locals as soon as you pulled in,” Joe replied smiling.

The second man pulled his knife and handed it to Joe hilt first. “On behalf of the Agency we work for, I am now authorized to accept your deal. The check will be cut tomorrow.”

Joe accepted the knife, and drew a shallow slice across his hand. Then handed it back hilt first. The second giant copied Joe's actions and they shook their bloodied hands.

“Bohica,” Joe said.

“Bohica.” the second man said. He released the handshake and put his knife away.

Joe grabbed his jacket while dropping his cellphone with the recording of the entire conversation on it into his wife's jacket pocket so the men didn't see it. Then locked the door and stepped outside. The two men promptly led him to the waiting black suburban.

As they were about to pull out of the trailer park, Joe noticed the turning signal. “No, turn left. If you go right, you'll run into the police that are in route.”

Without hesitation, the driver pulled left out of the park and quickly accelerated.

“Where are we going, and I'll guide you,” Joe said.

“Our jet is waiting in Bemidji,” the man beside him said.

Joe nodded. “Okay, then turn left again at this first intersection. It's a bit out of the way, but we should be able to slip away easier.”

The man nodded. “Thank you.”

“Appreciated, but not needed. We're on the same team now,” Joe replied. “I just hope they don't want me to do field work again. With my health issues, I'd never survive the jump."

“We honestly don't know, Sir. We're only the retrieval team,” the man in front said. “But I am curious, how did you know about my knife?"

Joe grinned. “You're both former Marines, probably Force Recon, which means you're a clannish bunch. The knife is the only real way of proving your identity. I also know you'll never betray a promise made on it, or by extension, allow anyone else to betray it. Semper Fidelis.”

“HooRah!” Both big men replied. Joe noticed the smaller, driver was just grinning.

“However, our driver isn't a Marine and most likely believes the whole knife thing is a bunch of superstitious garbage. I'm willing to bet he was either a Green Beret, or a Ranger. Because he drives like a wheel man for the mob, I'm willing to bet Army Ranger,” Joe said as he watched the smaller man's smile disappear.

“Lucky guess!” the Ranger said.

“Really?” Joe replied, grinning. “You were either a corporal or new sergeant when you were recruited. Our jar-head friends here were a little different. The one in the front seat was a lance corporal, and the one beside me was a staff-sergeant.”

“Amazing, how could you tell?” the Marine beside him asked.

Joe shrugged. “Actions and personalities. Body language can tell a person a lot. Both you and the lance corporal were recruited from the same unit. He still defers to you subconsciously.

“So, what rank were you?” the driver asked.

Joe looked at the sergeant beside him. “He didn't get to read my file?”

“No Sir. He doesn't even know your name. He didn't need to know.” He looked up at the driver. “He was a rare bird, Corporal; he was an officer that worked for a living. His rank was Major. Control doesn't want any more personal information discussed. So for the time being, we are to refer to each other by our old ranks.”

“That doesn't leave a lot to talk about,” Joe said. “Which is probably the point.” He sighed. “I guess that leaves the weather and sports. So, how was your flight in?”

The rest of the trip was filled with talk about the weather, which quickly turned to sports. When they got to the airport, they drove right out onto the apron and right up into the C-141 sitting there. It wasn't the typical military green, but it did still have an Air Force logo on the side of it.

However, instead of the whole inside of the plane dedicated to cargo, there was really only room for the truck. The four of them got out of the truck, and led Joe through a door into a comfortable looking waiting area. There were stacked bunks set up along one wall, but there were also comfortable captain's chairs set up around an odd-looking table. Recliners and a couch filled out the furnishings. The floor was carpeted and there were books in a small book shelf. A kitchenette and bathroom were divided by the steps leading up to the cockpit.

In the kitchenette, a young woman was busy with something, but smiled at them when they entered. Joe felt his heart thump when he saw her. She was absolutely one of the most beautiful girls he'd ever seen.

She was about five and a half feet tall, thin, but not anorexic. She had reddish blond hair and piercing blue eyes. Not much in the breast department, but so far she looked wonderful. Joe briefly he wondered if she were on the menu. He chuckled at that thought, an hour in the men's company and he had already begun to think like a soldier again.

The Ranger went over to the bar at the kitchenette and asked the girl for something. He returned to the chairs shortly with a six-pack of beer.

Joe and the remaining two took seats in the captain's chairs to wait for take-off. “Wow, this thing's nice! The last time I flew in one of these, the seats were backwards and we got to stare at the cargo for the entire flight for entertainment.”

The Marine sergeant smiled. “Well, we do have a little better entertainment on this one. Do you play poker?”

“Normally, my card playing is limited to the games that come on my computer, but I do know how to play some games. What did you have in mind?”

“Well, we have this fancy table here, how about a few hands of Texas Hold 'em?” the sergeant said. “But if you play, watch out for Becky; she's really good." He nodded to the girl.

Once again Joe turned toward the pretty girl as she came out from behind the bar with a sandwich and a couple of cans of Pepsi. “I'm not that good, these guys just have really bad luck.” She walked up and handed Joe one of the sodas before taking the chair next to him. "What kind of cards do you play on the computer?”

Joe shrugged. “Mostly Free Cell, sometimes Spider solitaire, other times, regular solitaire. I use it to work through writer's block.”

“Does it work?” the girl asked, while she attacked her sandwich.

“Usually, although my friends can't figure out why I play Free Cell so much. I guess they just have no luck at all playing it,” Joe said, wondering why this girl would be interested in his card playing. Maybe she was trying to stick to safe subjects. "What about you? What's your favorite?”

She shrugged. “Don't really play them anymore. Been so busy that I never seem to have the chance.” She swallowed her bite. “So, we playin' or what?"

The table was really fancy. It turned out that it was basically one large computer screen. When you covered your cards to see what you have, you simply touched the corner of one to peek under. Just like real cards. It was a trip.

The rest of the guys complained loudly when Joe and Becky kept winning, Joe more than Becky, and it soon came down to just the two of them playing each other. They were so close in skill that each hand was as exciting for the observers as it was for the players.

However, after a few hands of watching, the others seemed to wander off to read or lie down for a nap. Joe noticed that very shortly, even the lance corporal had nodded off. He noticed that Becky gave him a small smile.

“Now that the boys are asleep, you and I need to have a talk.”

“Did you drug them?” Joe said wondering why three highly trained special ops soldiers would fall asleep in the presence of an unknown 'hostile'.

“Sort of,” she said. “Now, you're a science fiction writer; how much do you know about current space travel technology?"

The question was most definitely strange, but considering the situation, maybe not. “Let's see; I know we've developed a form of anti-gravity with mercury gyroscopes. I had heard the folks over at JPL had figured out how to create a warp bubble, but were having some kind of trouble with it.”

She nodded. “Pretty accurate, but a few chapters behind. Would you believe me if I told you that they'd figured out the problems with the warp field, and greatly improved on the antigrav?”

“Yeah, I'd buy that. Science is always well ahead of what they allow to be released to the public. I wouldn't even be surprised if they hadn't developed replicators and or transporters. Although, the last time I'd read anything about that, they had only managed to move a single photon across the country, even I didn't think that was an accurate test; after all, how do they know it was the same photon? Did they check the serial number?”

“There's a replicator behind the bar, and we're not in a normal C-141 aircraft,” Becky replied.

“Again, I can accept that. Take off wasn't anything like I remember it was, and there's been no turbulence at all. Which leads me to ask exactly where are we going?” Joe asked.

“We are going to dock with an orbiting space station,” Becky said matter-of-factly.

“Huh, I've always dreamt of going into space someday. Never thought I'd make it, though. Can you tell me why, or do I still have to wait for that?” Joe asked.

“They fixed the issues with the warp drive, but when they tested it, they discovered another problem; Hyperspace navigation has very little to do with Real Space navigation. In fact, once they tried to program a computer for the job, it wouldn't work. Even though the programmer herself could do it, she couldn't make the computer do it.

“It was later discovered that she wasn't your normal run-of-the-mill genius computer programmer; she had a special gift. One that only about one half of one percent of the total population has. She had the gift to make sense of all the variables involved in plotting a jump.

“That gift is only detectable in how the human mind handles data. Training since birth was tried with very limited results, so a test was developed to identify those few that had this gift.

“Once located, these individuals are recruited so the human race can reach out to the stars. Which is becoming a more and more important job as time goes by. I'm not sure you're aware of it, but there are too many people on Earth. We need to relieve the burden by moving them to another planet,” she said and paused for a drink.

“Okay, so where do I come in? I'm old, fat, out of shape, and I have some serious, incurable, medical issues. There is no way in hell I can perform my old duties, even though from the sound of it, that's not what I'm here for,” Joe asked. He reached into his pocket for his pills. He needed to take some pain pills because his stomach was really beginning to hurt.

She quietly watched him take the powerful narcotics. When he sat his soda back on the table, she continued. “I'm getting there, don't worry. A scientific research base was established on Beta Centauri IV, using that programmer as the Navigator to get us there. At the same time, several normal civilians were also relocated to establish our first off-world colony.

"The original Navigator was closely examined and tested. Her 'gift' was discovered and the part of her mind that handled the ability was isolated. It was discovered that hyperspace navigation had a rudimentary connection with how the game of Free Cell is processed...”

“Wait,” Joe interrupted her. “You’re saying that Free Cell is a test to see who has this gift you're talking about?”

“Yeah, the game itself is an old one, but if you'll remember it wasn't always included with computer operating systems. Only after the connection was discovered did the game become a requirement for every commercially available operating system.

“It took a few months but they started getting results back from internet connected computers. Within a year, eight people had been isolated as having the gift to navigate hyperspace. They were 'recruited' and taken to BC IV to learn how to do the navigation.

“Once those few people got trained, a rather odd side effect was observed; although the Navigators were not actually on a ship with a functioning hyperdrive, there was a slight warping of space-time around them when they practiced or worked through the equations. It had no effect on the Navigators of course, but the people around them started exhibiting potentially dangerous bursts of emotion.

“Dr. Herve Chaves, who was a very gentle, peaceful man by nature, beat one of his lab assistants into a coma for not putting sugar in his coffee. A couple of other scientists experienced memory loss, and one had an emotional break down because she stepped on a bug outside her lab.

“When these people had left Earth only a year before, they had been among the most mentally stable people on Earth. Now they were all rapidly going insane. Since none of the farmers or other folks were having any problems at all, the problem had to have been related to the Navigators.

“In order to test this theory, a small station was placed in orbit, and the Navigators were moved there. There was an almost overnight cessation of symptoms, which confirmed the source of the problem, however, another issue soon arose.

“The small station for the Navigators wouldn't stay put. The station had been created out of an orbital freight shuttle. It only had engines strong enough to get it to the planet's surface and back while carrying supplies and personnel. It had no hyperdrive to get anywhere else. However, at random times it would be in orbit of the planet, or in orbit of one of the moons, or other planets in the system.

When the Navigators would practice, it would open a small rift in hyperspace. The station would then 'fall' through the rift and appear wherever it felt like. Never in 'open space' though, always in orbit around something.

“Gravity was the answer. So one of the longest serving Navigators, suggested moving the station to the LaGrange point between the two stars of the binary system. They were far enough apart to not fry the station in radiation, yet close enough to hold the station in place no matter how big the rift got.

“That proved to be the answer and the shuttle was altered into a real station. Since then, it's been built up to handle our teaching and training facilities, as well as some housing facilities. There really aren't that many of us yet, but most of us don't stay at the Citadel unless we are prepping for a mission or debriefing from one." She paused to let him catch up.

“Okay, I'm with you so far, and I've even figured out that you think I'm one of these ‘Navigators’. But why was I 'recruited' like that? If they know my background like I know they do, they would have known I'd have jumped at the offer, no matter what was wrong with me,” Joe replied.

Becky nodded regretfully. “Yeah, we know you would have. But, there are other concerns you aren't aware of yet. First, your medical issues will be taken care of. There is a way to treat your condition. In fact, that'll be one of the first things that you'll be going through. However is only the first issue; the treatment is very, very expensive and the powers that be will not pay for it to be done to civilians unless they are part of the specially selected colonists. Your wife would have to go through it before she could survive the trip to BC IV. Once you go through it, you're not allowed to go back to Earth.

“If you had been offered the choice, you would have insisted that she come with you or you wouldn't have come. You will be strongly encouraged to propagate your abilities,” She blushed when she said that last part. “While Laura’s inability to have children would have also been repaired, she is not a Navigator.”

Joe shook his head, not understanding. “That still doesn't make sense to me. Laura is bisexual. I doubt she would have said much about my 'duties' once she understood them. Hell, if all of them look like you, she'd probably have been a willing partner! I know you might not understand exactly what I mean, but I do love that woman more than my own life."

Becky nodded sadly. “Yeah, that's the one thing no one seems to care about in all of this. They also don't want you to be able to be influenced. Having your wife with you would leave you open to outside manipulation.”

“Yeah, you mean they wanted to make sure they were the only ones that could use her as a lever if I didn't play nice. I take it they read the report of my last mission with my previous 'employers'. Anyway, there's nothing that can be done about it. I'm sure she thinks I'm dead by now," Joe replied sadly.

“Honey! I’m home!” Laura said as she walked in the door. She was greeted only by a very sad looking dog.

“Hey Sweety, where's Daddy? Did he go somewhere and not take you with him?” She asked, bending down to scratch behind the small dog's ears.

The dog, Merry, had always been a very happy dog. She loved her owners and was always happy and full of energy when they got home. However, tonight, Merry not only looked sad, but she gently put her head next to Laura's knee as if for comfort.

It made the hair on the back of Laura's neck stand straight out and she got a feeling of dread in her stomach. “JOE!” she yelled. She almost ran to the back of the trailer house when there wasn't an answer.

It didn't take her very long to discover he wasn't there. She opened her purse, took out her cell phone and hit the speed dial for her husband. She immediately heard the ring coming from her jacket. Now she was really worried, because she knew Joe didn't even go to the bathroom without his phone.

Hanging up the phone, she dug Joe's out of her coat pocket and looked at it. She noticed that it had been left on the screen that was used for recording. She'd seen him use this function many times as he would often record ideas for the book he was working on.

Before hitting play, she sat down on the couch. Merry jumped up beside her and immediately snuggled up to her 'mother'.

Laura swallowed the sudden lump in her throat, and pressed the play button.

She was crying by the time the recording ended. She knew that he never would have left with those men if he'd had a choice. She also knew that he would be reported as dead soon; and for all she could do, he really would be dead. Yes, he might be alive, somewhere, but he would never be allowed to come back to her.

She had just finished replaying the message a second time when there was a knock on the door. She didn't want to answer it, but she knew she had too since whomever it was knew she was home. She managed to croak out a 'come in', and Jed, the park manager and one of Joe's best friends walked in.

He saw that she'd been crying and sat beside her, putting his arm around her to offer support and comfort. “There was a black suburban here earlier. I called the local police, but they had no idea what was going on. I saw Joe get in the truck with two men, but they were long gone before the cops could get here. What happened?”

She knew that Jed was one of Joe's best friends and she also knew he confided a lot in him, but she wasn't sure he knew about Joe's past. Hell, she'd never really believed it herself until now.

“Did Joe ever tell you about his past? His time in the military?” she asked.

“Yeah, he told me about a lot of that stuff. Wait, you mean about his being a sniper or some such?” Jed asked. “He mentioned it to me, but I never really believed it, I mean, if he had done all of that, he wouldn't have been allowed to live would he?”

In response, she hit play on the recording one more time. Through her tears, she watched his face as it slowly turned white.

Joe hadn't been lying. In fact, from the sound of it, he had barely touched the surface of that part of his life. Well, Joe had told him the only reason he could say anything at all was because it was so far-fetched that no one would believe it had actually happened.



But now, his friend was gone and wouldn't be coming back. Jed had tears of his own in his eyes for the loss of his friend. “Well, at least we know he's still alive somewhere.”

Laura nodded. “But he might as well be dead. If he tries to come back here, they'll kill him.”

Jed was about to agree with her, but a sudden thought struck him. “No, I don't think so.”

Laura turned to look at him. “How do you figure? They can't allow him to go rogue again.”

“No, if he is so valuable to them that they retrieved him after all this time, even with all his health issues, they won't kill him. However, they can accomplish the same thing by threatening to kill you,” Jed said. “You are their insurance policy on his behavior.”

After she thought about it for a moment, she nodded. “You're right. They got him to agree by threatening me. If anything happens to me, I think they might have a huge problem on their hands. But, what am I going to do without him?”

“Go on living your life. You heard the recording; he went with them so you could go on living. He made them make sure you would be taken care of. Really, if you stop to think about it, the only thing we can do is keep our mouths shut about this and honor his... uh, last wish,” Jed said with a tear falling down his cheek.

“So, what do we tell everyone when they ask about the mysterious black SUV?” Laura asked.

“This is a trailer park out in the country. Like the one man said, they wanted to foster the idea of the ‘men in black’ abducting Joe. Everyone knows how he was with the conspiracy stuff. Just play dumb and let them draw their own conclusions,” Jed replied. “I doubt there is any other way to prove otherwise.”

“Jed, I need him! I don't know what to do without him!” Laura cried. “We've been together almost every single day for the last twenty years!"

“I know, Laura, I know,” Jed said as the woman put her head on his shoulder and cried. “I'm going to miss him too.”

The trip up to the station had been mostly uneventful. Becky filled him in on the project he was now a part of, and Joe asked questions. By the time they reached the station, in orbit over the southern magnetic pole, he was more comfortable with the situation.

Joe winced as his right shoulder popped when he saluted the Admiral waiting for him on the station. “Good afternoon, Sir!”

“At ease and welcome aboard, Major,” the Admiral said returning the salute. He offered Joe his hand. “You know you haven't been officially reactivated yet, so you don't have to salute me.”

“With respect Sir, yes I do,” Joe replied as he shook the man's hand. He looked somewhat young for an Admiral, but then again, in the black services, rank usually came quickly.

The Admiral nodded his understanding and thanks. “I would like to introduce my companion and one of the more important people you'll be working with, Jared Small.” he turned to the thin greasy looking man that had stayed back from the greetings until introduced.

The moment his eyes made contact with Jared's, Joe knew this person was insane. He also knew he would kill him one day. Joe knew he had to play nice since the Admiral was there.

Jared stared hard at Joe as if he were trying to tell him something with his mind. The Senior Navigator said nothing nor even nod when the introduction was given. Joe felt an instant dislike for the man and hoped he wouldn't be spending a lot of time with him.

The men that had formed the extraction team were still asleep on the fake jet, but Becky had followed Joe onto the station. She seemed to be hiding from Jared behind Joe.

The Admiral noticed the reactions of the two new arrivals and smiled inwardly. Perhaps this Major would be the right person for the job he needed done. The young Navigator, Becky looked to already like and trust the new man.

Gritting his teeth and fighting the urge to see if he remembered his hand to hand training, Joe nodded to the smaller man, and looked back to the Admiral before Jared could reply.

“Well! Let's get you checked into the station and down to medical. I'm sure you're tired of being in pain all the time!” The Admiral joked.

“Yes, Sir, that I am, but I took a couple pain killers on the trip up so I'm good for a while if there is something else we need to take care of.” He glanced quickly at Jarad. “What do you need me to do?” Joe said.

Hawklings smiled. He was beginning to like this man. “Follow me, son. We'll get you down to medical and get you started.”

Joe was aware of Becky's reaction to Jared, so he made sure the girl stayed close to him. At this point, he really didn't trust anyone, but he trusted Becky a damn sight more than he did Jared!

“Admiral, I'm sure little sister can find her way back to the Citadel once Mr. Anderson has been settled. I'll head back now and have the training department ready for his arrival,” Jared said and left without waiting for the Admiral to dismiss him. For some reason, that really irritated Joe.

It must have shown because the Admiral just sighed. “Relax Major; he does that intentionally to irritate us. I think he likes to think he's in charge around here most times.”

“I understand, Sir. Still, I would think even a civilian should at least respect your rank. After all, a Flag Rank usually commands respect from everyone,” Joe replied.

“You should see him when we have to be at the Citadel. He walks around like a little dictator or something. Everyone does tend to obey him, but I honestly don't know why,” Becky added.

“Excuse me, Sir, but may I ask a few questions?” Joe asked.

“Fire away, it's too late for you to back out now,” Hawklings said, grinning.

“You said I hadn't been reactivated yet. Will I be?” Joe asked.

The Admiral looked thoughtful for a moment. “To be completely honest with you, Major, I really don't know. I can tell you that your former skills are not the reason you’ve been recruited. You see, this situation is unique in the extreme. You are not only the oldest person ever recruited; you are also the only soldier. The fact that you are a black-ops soldier makes it even more unique and potentially far more dangerous. Let me ask you; do you want to be reactivated?”

“I don't think I can give you an answer to that, Sir. I don't have a grasp on what my duties will entail yet. I can tell you that I would like to sanction Jared. I don't know if you've noticed, but he's completely insane. If he has a position of authority there will be trouble with him.”

“Yeah, we're aware of it, but unfortunately, he's also the strongest Navigator we have. I'm afraid your request to sanction him would be denied,” the Admiral said, sounding regretful. “No matter how much people would tend to agree with you.”

“I understand, Sir. So far, everyone I've met appears to be American. Is this an American only operation, or Multinational?” Joe asked.

Becky giggled. “I'm Canadian.”

Hawklings smiled at the girl. “Yes she is, I myself am Australian; I’ve been here long enough to lose my accent. To answer your question, yes; this is a multinational effort. It has to be; too many countries would go to war over it. I am happy to say that it is truly a multinational effort. We have Chinese as well as North Koreans and all colors of Muslims. We are working together up here. Even on BC IV, there isn't any discrimination or even segregation. I keep thinking at this rate, all of us old soldiers will be out of a job.”

“I'm glad to hear that, but I have to disagree with you, Sir. Once our off-world presence gets large enough to have more than one leader, we're going to have problems that soldiers will have to fix eventually. That's just basic human nature.”

“You're probably correct, Major. I pray you're not, but you probably are,” the Admiral replied.

While they had been talking and walking, they got into an elevator that went down at least three floors. They got out and had walked some more.

“Here we are, Major. Your home for the next week,” Hawklings said as he touched a plate that opened the door.

“Sir, I'll be staying with him if I may. I also have a physical due,” Becky asked.

The Admiral was about to answer her when another man walked up and spoke in heavily accented English.

“Of course you can stay, young lady. It will be good for him to see a familiar face during this ordeal. We can update your medical record during his initial treatment," the new, energetic man replied.

“Major Joseph Anderson, may I introduce Doctor Haviar Ortegon. He will be your chief doctor while you’re here. I'll try to get down here to see you from time to time as well, son. However, I need to get back to my office soon. Once again, welcome to Darkwater Station.”

“Hola mi amigo. As Senior Admiral Hawklings has said, I am Haviar. I have been reading your file. There is much that needs to be fixed in you,” Dr. Ortegon said, nodding.

“Yes there is, Doctor. I'm afraid I'm going to make you earn both of the Peso's they are paying you this time,” Joe said smiling at the man.

Without missing a beat, the man bobbed his head. “Si! I will have to demand a raise for you, no?”

“Perhaps, maybe another full Peso?” Joe asked while Becky chuckled. While he laughed, the doctor was leading them into a private room that was literally packed from wall to wall with equipment. There was a narrow path up to the bed in the center of the room.

“I mean no offense, Doctor, but what exactly are you going to be doing to me?” Joe asked a little nervously and looking at all the equipment.

“Much. There is much to do. You know that the disorder you have is genetic, no?” he asked.

Joe nodded. “Yes, I do.”

“With most recruits, we only need to inject them with nanobots and then guide them in the repair of the body. However, with you, genetics are the root cause of much of the damage done to you.

“With you, we will also be introducing a retrovirus into your system that will correct the defect and end the disorder. The first step in your treatment will be a re-evaluation of all of your body's functions.

“Then we will create a specific retrovirus that will correct the flaws in your DNA. The virus should take about twenty-four hours. Beyond feeling sick to your stomach and flu like symptoms, that should be all the discomfort you should experience. However, we do have ways to help you through those symptoms without interfering with the virus.

“Then, about twelve hours after the virus is injected, we will activate the nanobots and begin work on your body. You will be unconscious for most of that procedure since it is very painful and we really don't want you to move a lot while the bots are working.

“The final stages will be muscle therapy to strengthen and add more muscle mass to your body. Then we release you into physical therapy so you can get used to the changes in your body. Once you've recovered, you will be released from medical,” he finished. "You have questions, no?”

“Thousands, but beyond the fact that you’re going to be rewriting my DNA, the rest of it would probably be more than I could understand. How do you want me to begin?” Joe replied. "Do you know how long this will take?”

Haviar shrugged. “It will take as long as it takes. Most recruits stay with us for a couple of days. With you it will most likely be a week, possibly two; in order to counter the atrophy in your cardiopulmonary system and to repair the damage to the intestinal tract."

“You can begin by taking your clothes off and lying on the bed. A nurse will be in shortly to set your I.V.” Haviar replied and, seeing Joe had no more questions, left the room.

Becky had to back out of the room in order for him to leave. Then she walked back in and closed the door as Joe began removing his clothes.

“Are you sure you want to stay in here for this? I'm not the best to look at nude,” Joe asked.

“I really don't care. Besides, it won't matter after you get out of here,” she replied.

Joe looked at her curiously. “What do you mean?”

She smiled. “Let's just say I'm not as young as you think I am, and leave it at that.”

“So, you're a Navigator as well. I was going to ask you when they recruited you because you don't look a day over seventeen,” Joe replied.

“I'm not a natural Navigator like you are. I'm considered a trained one. You see, when I was fourteen, I grew an inoperable brain tumor that should have killed me before I turned sixteen. I withdrew from everyone. I was dying and I didn't want to see the pity and all that crap on the faces of my friends. So I became a hermit. I sat in my room and played cards on my computer.

"By the time I was seventeen, I began losing the ability to talk, walk, and all the other stuff that goes with the final stages. Through it all, I played Free Cell. I'd gotten good enough at the game that it triggered an alert and a team was dispatched to recruit me.

“Officially, I died that night. My life on Earth ended and the new one up here began.” she shrugged. “I was pretty weak by the time they got me here, but I agreed to treatment and tada! I'm healthy. I went to the Citadel and learned how to navigate hyperspace, but I’m really not very good at it. I don't have a natural feel for the temporals,” she explained.

“So how old are you?” Joe asked.

“Don't you know it's rude to ask a lady her age?” she asked, grinning teasingly.

“Well, you know my age, I thought it only fair that I know yours. After all, I don't want to expose myself to a minor!” he teased back.

Her smile dimmed a little. “I've been a Navigator for almost twenty years.”

Joe snorted. “Bullshit. You're not even twenty years old!”

“I swear to you, I'm only ten years younger than you are,” Becky said. “This treatment you're going to get stops you from aging. In some cases, exposure to warp space will even reverse our aging. For example; 'Little Hitler' is forty-five and has been a Navigator for twelve. He's a natural like you and has a better grasp of hyperspace than any of us. Which technically makes him senior among us.”

Becky looked over his nude body. “All these scars... Did your disorder give you these?”

Joe grinned and ran his hand over his belly. “Not exactly, the doctors that were trying to help me did. There are more inside, where you can't see them. Although, I doubt those can be so easily fixed.”

“No, those scars can't be removed. Those are there to remind us of what we've survived to get to where we are and who we've become.” She seemed sad. “Joe, I think you should know; part of the reason for my check up here is to make me fertile again. If you'll have me, I'll be your first lover.”

“I'd like to get to know you a little better before we start planning the wedding. I got the impression that part of our duty wouldn't be optional?” Joe asked.

“Well, it isn't, really. You'll also have other women that will, uh, breed with you. You know, it really sounds like we're just a bunch of cattle," she replied.

“I hate to say it, Sweetheart, but to the powers that be; that's all we are. We are a rare and valuable resource that needs to be reproduced. Although I don't think I'd care for working with Jared's children,” he replied.

She came very close to him, and put her arms around his neck, then leaned in as if to give him a hug. She whispered, “There are other things you need to know about, very important things that we can't talk about outside of the Citadel. Things that our leaders can never know about us. They'd kill all of us if they knew.”

Joe nuzzled her neck as if kissing her. “Like what? Is this why you’re so afraid of Jared?"

“Yes, we've developed some psychic abilities. Mine is empathy, Jared has the ability to control people to a certain extent. A friend of mine at the Citadel is a precog,” She said. “She knew you were coming. You're going to be the strongest Navigator of all of us. She said you have the ability for unlimited travel. Jared is going to try to kill you so he can take over. She also said there will eventually be a war, and the Navigators will be the issue.”

With that, she pulled away from him and he swung his legs up as if nothing had been said between them. “I think we might have a good start on the relationship, Becky.”

The girl smiled. “I hope so, but you should know that I'm not the only one. I'm pretty sure my friend Alana will want to be with you as well. Then of course, there are all the other woman.”

“Holy Crap! How am I supposed to learn anything if I'm busy getting' busy all the time?” Joe asked grinning.

Becky grinned back, signaling a return to her normal, playful, self. She would have replied, but the nurse arrived just then to set the I.V. Becky left the room so the nurse could do her thing.

Joe hated needles and most especially I.V. needles. “Excuse me, nurse, but do you think we could shave the hair off before we do this? You would not believe how badly it hurts around removal time if we don't.”

“Trust me, Sir. It won't hurt at all this time,” she said as she swung a device up beside the bed. It was obviously a cradle for the left arm with covers over the lower arm as well as the bicep.

“Just set your arm in here, and we'll get started,” the nurse said. “You won't feel a thing, promise. Just lie still until I tell you it's safe to move.”

Joe followed her instructions, and she snapped the covers closed and pressed a couple of buttons on the device. It hummed, and his arm felt a little warm, but not uncomfortably so. There was a little bit of an itch, and the machine stopped humming. The nurse watched a monitor above his head and nodded when the humming stopped.

“There you go. Both the main line as well as the peripheral lines are in. Now tell me, you didn't feel that did you?” She asked.

Joe was amazed. A main line was a major thing to put in. Last time he had one done, it took almost an hour, and the whole area had to be as sterile as they could get it. It had also hurt.

“No, I didn't feel anything like that. After you closed the covers, it felt a little warm, then it itched some, and that was it. Nothing like it was the last time I had a main put in.” Joe replied.

“Don't cha just love advanced technology? I'm told that this little gadget will be submitted to the FDA next year. It sterilizes and seals the area under the covers while also administering a nerve block, then uses its own high resolution MRI to guide the lines. The damn thing never misses a vein either!”

“So, when will you be taking the blood samples?” Joe asked.

She winked at him. “Already did. Once the samples are analyzed, the virus will be administered the same way,” she explained pointing to the cuff. “I'll come in to check on you in a bit.”

She left then and Becky returned. She smiled at him shyly. “Alone at last.”

Joe snorted. “Somehow, I doubt that.”

“Is it an off limits subject for me to ask about your wife?” she asked.

“Not at all, what would you like to know?” Joe replied.

“Well, from listening to you talk about her and with what I read in your file, the two of you are abnormally close. How is it you can accept this? Accept me?” she asked.

Joe looked thoughtful for a moment. “We are very close. The only reason I left her was to ensure she stayed alive. I wasn't given much of a choice in the matter. I will always love her and this is going to be very hard to do because of that. However, Laura likes girls almost as much as I do, so we pretty much had an open marriage even though we never really took other lovers all that often. Usually, with other lovers, it’s about the act of sex, and not the emotion of love.

“When we first met, it was mutual physical attraction that brought us together. However, that quickly became secondary as we realized that we actually loved each other for who we were and not what we looked like. You see how I am now. I wasn't always like this. We have both gotten big as we got older. For her, it was a hard thing and I think a good deal of her depression stems from that. I don't think she could ever understand that I loved her for what was inside, not what she looked like.

“Of course, she also stopped looking for female lovers years ago when she felt she was no longer attractive. She's a beautiful person, and that's what truly matters. Unfortunately, the packaging is what most people look at; she was rejected a few times and it broke her heart. So she gave up. But, like I said, I think she would have liked you. I know I like you and I do want to get to know you better. We'll just have to see if it builds into something more. Besides, you might get to meet her someday; who knows what the future holds?”

“You told the retrieval team that if she couldn't come with you, your sanity would suffer. Is that true?” she asked.

“Honestly, I'm not sure. The break with her is still too recent for me to evaluate how It’s going to affect me later. I know if she had died, or if that team had killed her, then there would have been bodies to be cleaned up, mine included. Will I flip out if she's not part of my life? Once this all sinks in, I might. However, don't be too afraid of that happening. You wouldn't be one of the folks I'd kill," Joe said honestly.

She shivered. “I know what your training was; I know what you did for the Agency. It's hard for me to reconcile that man with you. You're not a killer.”

“Becky, you've only seen my public face. The one I show the world so they believe, like you, I'm not a killer. It helps me to be more effective because I can hide in plain sight easier,” he explained. “I am very much a killer. I've even killed a woman I cared a great deal about.”

“Your last mission?” She asked.

Joe nodded. “Yeah, I didn't know she was going to be there and I'm damn sure she didn't know I was going to be there either. I was ordered to take the shot even though she was blocking my target. They told me she had blown her cover and become a double agent. I knew it was total bullshit, but I also knew I had to kill that bastard.

“From over a mile away, I killed her and the man she had brought there for me to kill. I wasn't given a choice. So when I got back, I killed my mission handler, destroyed the computer center and left,” He said. “I kept my head down and tried to live a normal life. However, the ghosts started getting to me and had finally even started giving me nightmares during the day. I knew I was losing my mind and the woman I'd met and fell in love with knew it too.

“It came to a head one night when I was having a bad nightmare. She didn't know what to do, so she tried to leave our bedroom. In my dream I was fighting for my life and trying to get back to the evac point, when I heard someone creeping up behind me.”

Becky looked pale. “You didn't.”

Joe nodded. “I was out of the bed as fast as I could go, I had her pinned to the wall, with my hand drawn back to end her life before I realized where I was. A moment longer, she would have been dead and I would have followed her a few moments later.

“It scared her so badly, that she told me I had to tell her what was going on or she was going to leave me. I probably should have kept my mouth shut and helped her pack, but I couldn't. We talked for the rest of the night and all the next day. Since that night, she has been my rock, my grounding rod keeper of my sanity. She has never once left my side and believe me, she's had reasons a-plenty."

“She sounds like a really nice woman. I wish I could have met her,” Becky said.

Joe smiled and winked. “Be careful what you wish for, little girl.”

Over the following week and a half, Becky, now nick-named 'Becka', proved her commitment to him over and over. She helped him during the therapy and talked to him while the tiny robots did things to his body that it was never designed to do.

Joe thought she had betrayed her abilities to the medical staff one night when Joe was in a lot of pain and no one but her and the night nurse were there. The nurse was sleeping in a room next to Joe's and Becka woke her up to let her know he was in a lot of pain when he shouldn't have been.

However, the event was overlooked because everyone assumed, correctly, that she was simply becoming hyper-sensitive to his condition. Since she had been scheduled to be one of the ladies he was supposed to get pregnant, no one tried to discourage it.

However, the Admiral did take her aside on the day before he was supposed to be released to remind her that she wouldn't be the only one he had to sleep with. Admiral Hawklings actually liked the woman and didn't want to see her get hurt. She just smiled and kissed his cheek as she would her grandfather and said not to worry about it.

Joe found out later that the lady Navigators preferred natural insemination as opposed to the offered artificial method. She simply told the Admiral that everything had already been worked out, and it would be dealt with once they got to the Citadel.

Departure day arrived far slower than Joe would have liked. Learning to use his new body had been a difficult task. Even though he shocked his therapists with how quickly he got a handle on it. He was practicing his martial arts before they released him, because he still had a lot of work to do to build up stamina. However, when he started sparring with some of the guards and winning, they figured he could handle the rest of his training on his own.

Joe was amazed at what the medics had done. Yes, he was still forty-seven, but now he was in very good shape and probably healthier than most folks half his age. He wasn't overweight anymore, the doctors explained that the nanobots used as much of the material from his fat cells as they could, and the rest they simply removed.

The surgery scars on his stomach were gone, but the nanobots didn't replace his missing belly button. Dr. Ortegon told him that the scar tissue had to be removed since it would interfere with the new muscle tissue, but that the belly button served no purpose, therefore there was no reason to replace it.

Everything that had been wrong with him only two weeks before was now, fixed. He was in perfect health; the doctor gave him a hairy eyeball and explained. “Even though the nanobots stay in your system and keep you healthy. You must eat right and exercise in order for them to perform as designed.”

Joe assured him that he intended to do just that.

Joe had gathered a few things while on Darkwater Station. He needed new clothes and toiletries, and managed to get a framed picture of his wife. He went down to Marine country and got four sets of ACU uniforms with his name and rank insignia on them, and two pairs of boots just in case.

The quartermaster had heard of Joe from the other Marines and actually had most of the stuff ready when Joe walked in to get them. They also gave him a plain black beret instead of the normal cap. When he asked about it, the Master Sergeant explained that the Admiral had ordered the alteration. The crest on it was from his old unit - a dark gray skull wearing a black beret on a green field.

After tucking the beret under one of the carry handles on the bag with his ACU in it, he took the bag off the counter and the Master Sergeant saluted him. Joe came to attention and returned the salute, gave the quartermaster a grinning wink, and left.

He met Becka down in the hanger, where she was talking to a young woman in a green jumpsuit. The woman was slightly taller than Becka and wore her blond hair cut short. She was athletically trim, but not super thin, and was very easy on the eyes. The insignia on her suit showed her to be a captain in the Canadian Air Force. She saluted him when he got close to them.

He returned the salute while Becka grinned. “Captain Darryl, this is Major Anderson. Major, this is our pilot, Captain Shana Darryl.”

“At ease, Captain. I thought you were flying us, Becka?” Joe asked.

“No Sir,” Shana said, answering him. “She'll only tell me where to go; I'll be the one to get us there.”

“We have enough to worry about just doing the navigating. Space is a big place after all,” Becka replied. “Are you ready to roll?"

“I was hoping the Admiral would be here; I wanted to say goodbye and thank him,” Joe said, looking around.

“He wanted to be here, but he got called back down to Earth for a meeting. He said to tell you he wished you the best of luck and that he looks forward to seeing you again,” Shana replied. “If you'd go aboard, sir, we can stow your gear and get going.”

Joe nodded to her and followed her instructions on where to put his gear. He raised an eyebrow when she opened the door to a small stateroom. “We don't have very much for accommodations on these smaller shuttles, Sir, but I hope this'll be comfortable for you two.”

Joe nodded. It was the first he'd heard about sleeping with Becka, but he wasn't going to argue. “This should be fine, Captain. Thank you.”

“I have the other cabin here across the hall and the head is back across from the airlock. The cargo hold door is marked and I would ask you not to go in there. It's packed to the bulkheads and if you open the door, we'll never get it all back in.”

“Will do, it's your ship, Captain, I'm just a passenger. By the way, I'm still actually a civilian. You don't have to salute or any of that, and you can call me Joe.”

“Yes Sir, I know your status. The Admiral was very clear on that. The common area is just here, past our cabins. You'll find the replicator, as well as a full entertainment and communications suite available. Although this will be a relatively short trip, I'm sure you'll appreciate them before we dock at the Citadel.” She was smiling like it was Christmas the whole time, and Joe could clearly see she was aroused through her semi-tight jumpsuit. “That door leads to the navigation chamber and the one beside it leads to the cockpit. She's not much to look at, Sir, but she'll haul ten times her weight in cargo, twenty if she stays in micrograv.”



“Wow, I'm impressed. But tell me, why are there only two staterooms?” Joe asked.

“Well Sir, this is a cargo ship. We normally don't carry passengers at all, just freight. One room's for the pilot, the other is for the navigator when we have one,” Shana finished.

Joe decided she had a slight french accent and probably came from Quebec or one of the other French-speaking provinces. “Merci,” Joe replied. “Thank you for showing me around. Where do you want me for take-off?”

Her smile got wider when he thanked her in French. “Oui Monsieur!” She replied. “You can have a seat here. I can get you a coffee or something if you'd like?"

This whole time, Becka was standing back trying hard not to grin and failing. Joe winked at her.

“Thank you, Shana. I'll get the coffee. Want me to get you and Becka a cup before we lift?” Joe said. He had to brush against Shana to get to the replicator. As he passed her, he could smell her arousal and she had tilted her head up at him as if to receive a kiss.

He bent down and gave her a very light brush across her lips with his. She moaned. When he got to the machine, he turned to a now openly grinning Becka. “Pepsi? Or the Turkish blend?”

“Jolt this time. I'm doing the navigating, remember?” Becka said.

Joe turned back to deeply breathing Shana. “Shana? What would you like... to drink.” He put the slight pause in the question to get her attention. It worked.

“Oh, you are so mean! If you ask for a 'high-energy mocha' it'll give you what I like to drink, thank you,” Shana replied, chuckling.

“Well, at least I got you to stop calling me 'Sir' finally!” Joe said.

“That you did... Sir!” Shana said saucily and exited through the door to her cockpit. She was really cute.

“You know where she's gonna be sleeping don't you?” Becka asked.

“I thought you had something up your sleeve when I walked up. But I thought you wanted our first time together to be just us?” Joe asked.

Becka nodded, smiling at him. “It will be. For the next three nights, you can entertain Shana until she can't walk. I'll be there with you and I plan on getting my share of her too, but you and I won't be together until we get to your quarters at the Citadel. I plan to sleep with you, but not make love until we can do it right.”

“So, why are we sleeping with little Shana then?” Joe asked.

“She's a friend and she's very lonely. She's only slightly bisexual, and I think that's mostly so she can have sex with somebody. All the males she knows are off-limits to her, because of the military. She hardly ever gets a navigator and when she does it's usually a female,” Becka explained.

“But I wanted to talk to you before we make the jump. This being your first trip and you being a natural, you're going to feel it. It might make you nauseous, or euphoric, or just about anything else. I just wanted you to know its normal and not to be alarmed.”

Joe nodded.  “I kinda expected that it would be different. Do we have time for you to show me what you do, before you have to get busy doing it?”

Becka smiled, “Sure, come on.”

Aspen Hills Trailer Park had a campground with a pavilion for use by their guests. Today, the edifice was being used to say goodbye to a friend.

“Jed, I can't stand it. I have to try to find him. I know he did all this to protect me, but I need him. If I knew where he was, and when he'd be coming back, that would be different. But I just can't pretend he's dead,” Laura said, crying.

Hurriedly, Jed led Laura away from the other guests so no one could overhear them. “Laura, you have too! If you start poking around, they might just kill you anyway! I know damn good and well Joe would want me to keep you safe. This is not the way to do it!”

“I know, I know! Damn it! I have to be with him! He's everything to me! If he isn't in my life, I don't have one!” Laura said, crying.

Jed had known that Joe and Laura were far closer than most couples he'd known. He'd never seen two people so in love even after so many years of marriage. He knew it would be hard for her, but he had to find a way to get her to listen to reason.

“Laura, look over there.” he nodded toward the Honor Guard the military had sent for Joe's funeral. He was actually surprised that they'd come to the wake as well. Three men and three women stood off to one side at rigid attention. He'd never heard of them doing this for a normal soldier.

“Do you honestly think those soldiers are regular military? Since when does an Honor Guard attend the wake? Did you notice that none of them are wearing unit patches?” he finished.

“So what?” Laura asked.

“I think they are here as a not so subtle reminder that we need to leave this alone. It's also a sign that we're all being watched on this. Laura, they'll kill you if you try to find him!” Jed said. “These folks scare the crap out of me and they should scare the crap out of you, too!”

Laura just shook her head and started crying harder. Jed took her by the elbow and gently guided her over to a chair near were another woman was also sitting and crying. Jed knew Joe had known a lot of people, but he wondered about this woman. She was crying almost as hard as Laura was. “Laura, do you know who that woman is? The one with the older gentlemen trying to comfort her?"

“Her name is Mary, she and her husband came for the funeral from Montana. She was Joe’s first love,” Laura replied. “I think she still loved him; I know Joe still loved her.”

He sat Laura down near the couple, and the two women immediately began crying on each other’s shoulders.

Jed made sure they had plenty of tissues and the man had a fresh cup of coffee. Jed retreated then, he needed to get his own emotions under control. 'Damn it, Joe! Why did it have to be like this? It would have been better if you hadn't told her what was happening!'

Unknown to either Jed or Laura, there was another woman that had attended the funeral and was now at the wake. She wore the dress uniform of the United States Air Force and the rank insignia of a Major General.

She had been the one to order the guard detail. The military didn't actually send them out anymore due to budget cuts, but this was a special case. This man had been very special indeed.

Many years ago, in a different life, Major General Sharon Hastings had been Lieutenant Colonel Hastings. She had been assigned to a special NSA project that trained very specialized snipers as assassins.

The Agency had used Joe very badly and he walked away from them. Before they could track him down and 'retire' him, the project itself had been 'retired' in a very permanent way. Mostly thanks to Sharon ratting out her superiors.

She’d learned that four of the people Joe had been used against had nothing to do with National Security and she had to stop them. They let her live for her aid in stopping the rogue department. She did her best to hide Joe's location from the cleaners and they left him alone.

Today, he had been buried. Funny, she thought to herself, Joe had always seemed too bull-headed to pass away from a heart attack.

A small flat dish had been set out for donations to the widow. Sharon discretely dropped a small, sealed envelope into the dish. She had been here too long already and it was time for her to leave.

She turned and looked at the grieving woman whom Joe had given his soul. Silently, she wished the woman well and walked back out to her car. She got in and had the driver take her back to her plane.

Just as the car carrying Sharon away pulled out, a large, purple semi-tractor pulled in. Mark Torrence was another of Joe's best friends. On many occasions, Joe had referred to Mark as his brother although they were not related. They had become friends online as Mark also wrote science fiction stories. Over the years, they had met and their friendship had grown. Mark had begun driving an over the road truck when he began having trouble writing.

Laura had called Mark to let him know of Joe's death. Mark had been in Florida at the time. He dropped his trailer and drove cross country trying to make it for the funeral. He missed the funeral, but had made it for the wake. Laura was still very upset, so Jed went out to greet him. The two men had only met a couple of times, but other that their mutual friendship with Joe, they had little in common.

"Glad you could make it, Mark. Laura's pretty tore up," Jed said by way of greeting.

The two men shook hands. "I imagine she is. They were everything to each other."

Jed nodded agreement. "Come on, I'll take you to her."

That night after the guests had left. Jed was going through all the notes of condolence and small donations for Laura. Toward the bottom, he came across one that was very odd. It included a plane ticket and was printed on very expensive stock, but that he didn't notice until later.

Mrs. Anderson,

Your husband was a good man. I knew him very well in the days before. Even in retirement, he was a good man and I can honestly say that the world is a more dark and dangerous place now. In his previous life, he had many people that loved him, even those of us that knew who he really was. Although I am sure I cannot imagine how you must feel now, I can say that I share your loss.

During his life with you, Joe had been afraid of making himself visible to our old agency. I don't know if he knew it, but he, and more importantly to him, you, were safe. As such, he never tried to access anything from his old life. Might I suggest you take a vacation and try to accept his last gift to you.

Once you find it, I will be watching over you, to make sure you remain safe. It's the least I could do for him.

My warmest regards,

Sharon

There were two series of numbers printed below the message and nothing else. Opening the plane ticket, Jed saw that it was for a two-person vacation package to Zurich, Switzerland.

Although Jed had no idea what the message had been about, he did know who it had been from. Which meant that it hadn't been the 'Agency' that took Joe. He quickly refolded the message and put it back in the envelope as the hair on the back of his neck stood up.

His adult daughter, Brianna, who had been helping him and making a list for thank you letters, saw her father suddenly go white.

“Daddy? What's wrong?”

“Nothing, Sweetheart. Just missing Joe. I had no idea he had this many people that cared for him,” Jed replied trying to cover his reaction to the letter.

The young woman nodded. “Yeah, I always thought he was a bit of a flake, but maybe I was wrong and just didn't understand him.”

“I know you never liked him. He had a very eventful life, Sweetheart. He served our country with honor, saw a lot of places, and met a lot of people. He was the kind of man that left a good impression on folks,” Jed replied.

“I would say so; did you know that he was friends with three US senators and at least six other people in high government office? I mean from the looks of this, he should have been living a lot better than he and Laura lived,” Brianna replied.

“Well, I won't argue that he should have had a better life, but then again, look at how many people cared about him? I'd say he had a pretty good life just from that.”

Brianna frowned. “You know what I mean. He was always struggling to pay his bills. Before he started working for you here at the park, how far behind was he? That's what I mean. I can't imagine someone that knows all these important people living like… like trailer park trash."

“That just goes to show you that you can't judge a book by its cover. Did you know he had two college degrees?” Jed said. "He held a security clearance so high he couldn't even admit to having one. I know how you feel about the people that live here, but Joe was a man that deserved everyone's respect."

“No way. That would make even less sense,” the girl replied.

“He got an associate degree in Computer Electronics, back when an AS degree actually meant something, and a master's degree in English. I've never read any of his books, but someone must have liked them, because that's what they lived on when Laura wasn't working,” Jed explained.

Brianna raised an eyebrow. “I knew he was writing, but I didn't think he had anything published. Why were they so short on money all the time?”

“He wasn't published in the traditional sense. All of his work was published on the Internet. Most of it was free, and they lived off of the donations made from his web site.”

“Do you know where? I'd like to check it out,” she asked.

Jed smiled softly at his daughter. “I don't think you'd like anything he wrote. It was mostly science fiction, but it had a lot of graphic sex in it. He told me once that he used a few sex scenes to get the reader hooked on the plot, then slowly phased out the sex.

“I don't mind reading about sex. I'd still like to read some of it.”

“Well, he said there was a lot of incest, underage sex, and polygamous relationships. He said it got pretty graphic, which is why I didn't read any of it.” He opened the major social networking site that everyone was a part of, then clicked onto his friend's page. After a short time looking, he found what he was looking for. He wrote down the URL and handed it to his daughter.

“Thanks, I'll let you know what I find,” she said, stuffing the paper into her jeans pocket.

Jed smiled. “It's getting late, Sweetheart. I appreciate your help with this today, but I think I'll go check on Laura, then go watch TV with your Mom. Besides, won't your boyfriend be home soon?”

“Alex got home a couple of hours ago. He knew I was going to be over here helping you. He's probably sound asleep on the couch by now,” Brianna replied.

Becka explained how she set out the variables and how to work through the equations to plot a hyperspace jump. Joe watched what she did and listened to what she told him. It surprised him that he actually understood what she was telling him.

Instead of the weird warping she'd described to him, he heard - very softly - what sounded like a choir warming up, but the throbbing from the engines was interfering with it. Slowly, as she worked through each equation, the choir seemed to get closer to harmony with the powerful engines in the shuttle. It struck him as odd that she stopped before she had the harmony correct.

He knew that she had done this hundreds of times, so he didn't say anything since he hadn't even been trained yet. She told him to go grab a seat because they were about to jump.

He didn't know what he expected, but when they jumped he felt... almost right. He could feel the warped space around him and it sang to him, but it sounded to him like it was singing slightly out of tune.

When Becka came back out of her little closet, she had a worried look on her face until she saw he was grinning. She came over and sat on his lap. “So, how do you like it?”

“It's fine, but I wanted to ask you; does it sing to you?” Joe asked.

“Does what sing to me?” Becka asked.

“Hyperspace. Can't you hear it?” Joe asked.

Becka listened for a moment, then shook her head. “No, I don't hear anything but the engines and I can barely hear those. What's it sound like?”

Joe nodded. “Yeah, I can hear the engines too, but this is different. It's almost like a whale song, but it's like they are trying to sing in harmony with the engines, but can't quite do it. There's this dissonance... I don't really know how to describe it, it's like listening to angels singing, but they're out of tune with the orchestra." He paused. “It's beautiful, but almost annoying, because of the dissonance.”

She grinned at him. “You're a hard core music buff aren't you?”

“Oh yeah. For me, music is very powerful. I use it when I meditate to help control my mood as well as my sanity. Then later, all I have to do is hear a certain song, or even part of a song, and it'll bring me back to my center. It helps me remember things I don't want to forget," Joe explained.

Instead of asking him what kind of memories, she asked him what kinds of music he liked.

“Just about anything really, except for rap, country, and country rap. To me; that stuff just sounds like a beatnik with a synthesizer that's been smoking crack,” Joe explained.

“Country sounds like that?” Becka asked with a raised eyebrow.

“Well, no, the reason I don't care for country is that most of it's depressing. I mean, do you remember that old joke that goes; what do you get if you play country music backwards?”

“No, I've never heard that one. What do you get?” she asked.

“You get your wife back, your dog comes back to life, the bank returns your pickup truck, your mother gets out of jail, and you get your job back,” Joe explained.

Becka laughed. “Oh come on, it's not that bad!”

Joe chuckled too. “Well, the older stuff is. Some of the newer stuff is up beat enough to listen to, as long as you don't listen to the words too closely. Mostly I like oldies rock with a dash of more modern stuff. I also like instrumental bluegrass and classical, as well as some techno and dance. Techno and dance are great for working out."

About that time the door to the bridge slid open and Shana came out. “Well, we are on course and hauling ass. ETA is forty-six hours, twenty-two minutes to the Centauri system. Then another twenty hours sub-light to the Citadel.”

“That's ship time, right? But relative to the rest of the galaxy?” Joe asked.

Becka frowned. “About a week, give or take. I told you I had trouble with the temporals.”

“Okay, so if Jarad did the navigating, how long would it be relatively?” Joe asked.

“He can get it close to the actual time; like within a couple of hours. He may be completely insane, but he's a really good navigator,” Becka admitted.

Joe dug in his pocket and pulled out a fifty, which he handed to Shana. “I'll bet you that fifty, that you'll be within an hour this time.”

Becka looked at him like he was insane. “Why don't you just give me the money? I've never been that close... ever.”

“Because I honestly think you plotted this very closely,” Joe said, grinning. “Hey, what have you got to lose? You've never been able to get it that close and I have no idea how to plot hyperspace. So this should be a sure bet.”

Becka got up and pulled out the money and handed it to Shana. “You're on!”

Shana just shook her head. “Something tells me you just lost fifty bucks, Becky!”

“You know something I don't, Shana?” the smiling redhead asked.

Shana just shook her head. “Just a gut feeling is all.”

“So, ladies, how about we get something to eat before we relax?” Joe asked.

Becka chuckled. “Yeah, you're gonna need all the protein you can get, Old Man!”

The three friends took breaks for meals, bathroom visits, and the exit from hyperspace. Shana broke the rules and left the cockpit door open for the exit. Becka did as well since she also plotted the real space course to the Citadel.

Joe felt the song close like a mournful requiem and he knew they had slowed to sublight speeds. Shana turned the craft in the general direction they needed to go, while Becka figured out when and exactly where they were.

Shana and Joe were talking about flying in space when they heard Becka swear like a sailor. Shana's console beeped at her, and she started typing commands into her console.

“Becky finished the course. I think she's swearing because she lost the bet. How close do you think she really came?”

“I honestly don't know for certain, since I truly have no idea how I knew she'd be this close. But if had to make another guess, I'd put the time at...” He thought for a moment. "Plus forty-one minutes.”

“Very close, Asshole! How did you know?” Becka asked as she stuck her head out of her door.

“Remember how I described what I was hearing?” Joe said.

“That harmony thing?” Becka asked.

Joe nodded. “That's how I knew. The dissonance wasn't that bad, so I know you couldn't have been that far off. I know I had nothing to base it on but my gut, but that's the way it felt to me.”

“Joe, you're gonna have to be careful at the Citadel. Jarad rules that place like his own castle and he's not going to take too well to there being a new king,” Shana said.

“No shit!” Becka said. “Especially if you can already navigate that well and you haven't even been taught how yet!”

Joe shrugged. “I was meaning to ask you, why didn't we jump closer to the Citadel? Not that I don't enjoy the company...”

“Simple, for the same reason the Citadel doesn't move around anymore; the massive gravity well between the two stars,” Becka said.

“Can I try? I mean can I see if I can get a lock on your computer without actually jumping us?” Joe asked.

“Sure if you want. The ship won't jump unless Shana accepts the plot and tells the ship to jump,” Becka said. Getting out of the way.

Joe slid into the seat in front of the navigation console, and began pulling positional data from the computer like Becka had done. Then he began working the equations just like Becka had done.

Once he got going, he found it was extremely easy for him to work the navigation plot through the computer. When he began working, he started to hear the songs again, and kept working the equations until it was in harmony. The computer ruled the new course 'optimal'.

Becka had been looking over his shoulder and saw how quickly he worked through the plot, and the ruling the computer gave it.

“Holy Shit! How in hell did you get past the gravity equations that fast?” She asked, amazed.

“I didn't. The trick to heavy gravity is in the temporal equation and exit vector. If you calculate the gravity at the specific point and vector of our exit, at the time of our exit, the rest of it just falls into place and there is harmony,” he explained.

“So what's the verdict, Becka? Is it a good nav?” Shana asked.

“The computer says it's perfect,” Becka said. “Calculated flight time is in the nano seconds. Other than the fact that's supposed to be impossible, it should work."

“Wadda ya think? Should we try it?” Shana asked.

Becka bit her lower lip. “No, we shouldn't. If we did, Jarad would know exactly how good Joe is. Also, Jarad was the one that told everyone that direct navs to the Citadel were impossible to calculate because of the gravity calculations.

“You would lose your ticket for jumping a nav from an untrained navigator. Not to mention that, in the case this nav is wrong, which I doubt, we'd end up in one of the stars. Finally, if we jumped right now, we wouldn't get one more day with you!”

“I can definitely agree with that!” Joe said. “Besides, I was just trying out a hunch anyway. I really don't want to see you get in trouble, Shana."

“Nah, I might get a reprimand, but that's about it,” Shana explained. “However, Becka does have a point about Jarad and the others discovering what you just did. I mean, enough eyebrows are going to be raised simply because Becka got the nav under an hour.”

“I don't get that, I mean if she had gotten the nav time plotted for less than travel time, I could see people wondering. But this?” Joe shook his head. “I don't mean to take away from the achievement for you Becka, but this should be the rule, not the exception.”

Becka nodded her understanding. “Well, that's what they're trying to do at the Citadel with all the training we undergo. However, a less-than-travel-time plot is impossible. It would force a paradox event.”

“No, it wouldn't. Time has its own rules. I bet if we input the plot and set the transit time, instead of letting the equations dictate it, we could get a form of resonance harmony,” Joe explained.

“What are you talking about; what's a resonance harmony?” Shana asked.

“Joe's H-Space sensitivity is aural. He believes he can hear how to plot the course,” Becka explained. She looked at Joe. “Am I right?”

“Exactly right. Wow, beautiful and brilliant!” Joe said.

Shana stuck her tongue out at him. “Suck up!”

“Let's wait to test out your theory on one of the practice terminals. If it works, maybe we can get a drone to test it out. If we did it now, Shana'd be more tempted to do it!” Becka said, winking at the pilot.

“That reminds me, I wanted to ask, how can you jump without having a Navigator on board?” Joe asked.

“Simple, I get the plot from the station’s Navigator,” Shana said. “There simply aren't enough of you to spare for supply runs.”

“That just sounds wrong to me, I mean, how can a remote Navigator plot a course they can't feel?”

Becka looked at him funny. “Joe, I don't feel anything different when I plot a course. Just the normal warping of space-time.”

Joe nodded. “But when you start the plot, you have either an upset tummy, or you are really uncomfortable in some way. I saw you when you were plotting this jump remember. As the solution got clearer, you began to feel better. I bet this time, you actually felt really good when you finished, didn't you?”

“Well, yeah, but I was horny as hell, too. As far as my being uncomfortable, I don't like plotting jumps. I know I'm not that good at it, so I'm always afraid I'm gonna mess up. But once I get focused on the equation and not on my insecurities, I suppose I do feel better, for a time,” Becka explained.

Joe grinned. “I'd bet my next paycheck, what you're feeling isn't anxiety; it's hyperspace talking to you.”

Becka shrugged. “What do you say we table this discussion for the Citadel, get something to eat, and get back to our games?”

Shana grinned. “Like you'll get an argument outta me!”

Joe let it drop too, he could see Becka was thinking about what he said and it disturbed her. He decided it might be better to wait until they were either alone, or in a better place to talk.

Shana had gotten everyone out of bed, and back into their clothes with minutes to spare. However, just before they arrived at the Citadel, Joe grabbed his head in pain. “Jesus Christ!”

“What's wrong, Joe?” Becka asked, concerned.

“It feels like someone just drove a spike through my brain! How can you stand this?”

Becka was wondering why Joe's nano's hadn't fixed the problem yet when they felt the ship nudge the airlock. “We're here. We'll get you to the med section right away.”

“I think I know what you were saying about a Navigator feeling hyperspace,” Shana said. “I'm not a Navigator, and I can't wait to get the hell away from this place. What's it sound like?”

Joe swallowed past the bile in his throat. “Hell. It sounds like I would imagine Hell sounds. I hope you don't except your return nav from here?”

Shana shook her head. “No, I get it from the orbital at BC IV. Jarad would never allow such a mundane task be performed here.”

“Good, because there's no way any working plot will be coming out of this place. I don't understand how they can even teach in this environment!” Joe said, blinking his eyes in an attempt to clear the spots.

“Becka, I can't stay here. It's too loud!” he said and squeezed his eyes shut. "Shana get me out of here! Please Hurry!” Joe said and stumbled back into the shuttle. When he reached the companion way, he collapsed.

“Becka! Get back here!” Shana ordered. “Leave the gear in the airlock, we're leaving!” She slammed the airlock closed on the surprised faces of the dock crew, and ran for the bridge.

She jumped into her chair, and flipped all the switches that brought the ship back to life. “Citadel control, this is shuttle four-niner-one-one. Requesting emergency departure clearance!”

“State the nature of your emergency, four-niner-one-one,” a calm voice said from the speakers.

“Medical emergency with a Navigator, caused by proximity to the Citadel. Patient is currently unconscious and was complaining of a severe headache. We need to be gone ASAP.”

“Shuttle four-niner-one-one, open your airlock to allow medical personnel on board. Disposition of patient will be decided then,” Control ordered.

“Bullshit! I'll let your medic on, but we are leaving here right after that; with or without your clearance,” Shana said and thumbed the airlock control. On one of her screens, she saw three medics run aboard.

Shana immediately shut the airlock and sealed it, then lifted away from the landing platform. Turning, she applied full power to the thrusters to put as much distance between her ship and the Citadel as she could.

Toggling through the stored navs, she selected the course for the BC VI orbital and locked it in. She engaged the magnetic shields, got up and left the cockpit to see how Joe was doing.

She didn't have far to go. The medics and Becka had gotten Joe up on the table in the common room. His shirt was missing, and he had several electrodes placed on his chest and head.

“How is he?” Shana asked.

“What the fuck?” one of the medics said. “Lenny, can you check this?”

Becka came over to Shana so talking wouldn't interfere with the medics. “They said the nano's shut him down to prevent a massive stroke. They reported that his inter-cranial blood pressure was almost twice the safe limit.”

“Do they know what the hell caused it?” Shana asked.

Becka snorted. “They have no idea, but it had to be the 'noise' of the Citadel. What I don't get though, is it should have affected him the closer we got to the place, and it didn't seem to.”

“Excuse me, Ladies,” the head medic said. “The nano's report that his blood pressure has returned to normal. I couldn't help but overhear your conversation. You're right on both counts, Navigator. But now the question becomes, what made the situation change so radically, so quickly? As you said, we are still very close to the Citadel, so if that were the cause, then he should still be in danger.”

“I have no idea what it could be. We were putting along just fine, then just before docking, he grabbed his head and swore,” Becka said.

Shana looked at her sharply. “How much before we docked?”

“Just a few moments really,” Becka said. “Do you have an idea?”

“The ship's shields. I turned them off just before docking, and then I turned them on again just before I came back out here,” Shana said.

“What kind of shields?” the medic asked.

“Broad-spectrum, electromagnetic fields. They keep us from getting cooked by all the radiation outside,” Shana explained.

“I'm Doctor Lenard Symms. I've been doing some research into how to protect Navigators as well as others from the effects of hyperspace exposure. We've always been trying different metal alloys. It simply didn't occur to any of us that a normal magnetic shield would work. May I ask what our current course is?”

“BC IV orbital first, then dirt-side. The only reason I was going to the Citadel was to drop off these two. The rest of my cargo is for the planet,” Shana replied.

“I'd like to use your sub-link if I may, Captain. I'd like to see if I can help this man, but I'll need to take him down to my lab.”

“Certainly, Doctor. It's in the cupboard right beside the replicator,” Shana replied, pointing.

After a few minutes on the comm, Dr. Symms had permission to transport Joe down to his lab on the planet. However, Shana still had to stop at BC IV orbital for an inspection and transfer permission.

Since Joe was still unconscious, she had been hoping to be given clearance without stopping, but even the doctor agreed the stop was necessary. Becka, however, was getting frustrated with the seemingly slow progress. Joe was still out, but the doctors assured her he was stable now.

Once she was docked at the station, Shana took her cargo manifest and met the inspectors at the airlock. Right behind them was a messenger with a note for Becka.

To: Rebecca White, Navigator Third Class, Junior Grade.

From: Harold Hargrave, Personnel Director. Navigational Instruction, Citadel.

MSG begins:

By the order of the Prime, you are to report to the Citadel ASAP for additional training. At present, you are listed as AWOL and are currently subject to censure and/or possible downgrade of ranking within our guild. Report immediately, before further action is required.

MSG Ends.

Once Becky read the missive, she started swearing a blue streak and even surprised some of the dock workers with her creative and imaginative use of expletives; all without actually using the word 'fuck'.

Shana, alerted that her friend was very... agitated, approached her to find out what was wrong. Becka simply handed her the message and stood, fighting to get control of her anger.

“I thought the Admiral was in charge? Since when is Jarad's title 'Prime'?” Shana asked.

Becka was still furious, but had it under control for the moment. “He gave himself that title and the Admiral is still in charge; at least he was when we left Earth.”

“So call him. Get the order verified and report Jarad's usurping his authority. At least then the Admiral will know what's going on,” Shana suggested reasonably.

So Becka took her friend's advice and called the Admiral. She had to tell his aide that it was about Joe, but she did finally get through to him.

“What's going on with the Major, Rebecca?” Hawklings asked when he got on the line.

“The medics said the nanos shut him down to avoid a major stroke. Anyway, Dr. Symms was waiting at the Citadel for a ride back to the planet. When Joe collapsed, he and his team attended him. Long story short, they're taking him back to Dr. Symms’ lab on planet to try and help him," Becka explained.

“Damn! I hope he pulls through this,” the Admiral said. “I thought the nanos where supposed to prevent things like this?"

Dr. Symms was sitting in one of the chairs and couldn't help but listen to the conversation. He thought to step in, to help the pretty young woman.

“Admiral, this is Dr. Symms. My apologies for butting in, but I couldn't help but overhear. You are correct in that the nanos are supposed to defend against situations such as this. However, as we all know, Navigators are neurologically different than normals are.

“Major Anderson was subjected to trauma due to severe hyperspace distortion caused by unshielded proximity to the Citadel. I have already gotten clearance to take him down to my lab. I think I might be able to help him and, by extension, all Navigators.”

“I see, please do you best, Doctor. I have a feeling we're going to need that man very soon,” the Admiral replied.

“Sir, there is more to my report,” Becka added. “I've just received a message from the Citadel. I'll read it to you.” She put action to her words and read the command from the 'Prime'. When she finished, she added. “Sir, I would like to accompany Major Anderson to the planet. If Dr. Symms is going to be able to test his theory, then he'll need a Navigator to generate distortion.”

“Becky, you don't need to explain to me. I know damn good and well how you feel about him. Continue to the planet as you planned. I'll handle Jarad. But I want you both to understand something; this is classified, so I'll deny it if you say anything. Jarad's megalomania is starting to spin out of control. If Joe is as strong as all the tests indicates, we're going to need him to replace Jarad very soon.”

“I understand, Admiral. If I may, I think we really need to hurry,” Dr. Symms said. “I was going to send you a classified report on this, but it seems time may be short. I can confirm that Jarad is insane. Not only that, but he's up to something; something big. I tried to poke around as much as I dared while I was there, but he kept us on a very short leash. I do know that he's waiting for me to finish my research. Apparently, having a method of shielding Navigators is of the utmost importance to him.”

“Fuck.” The Admiral was quiet for a moment. “Rebecca, once your paramour regains function, please inform him that he's been reactivated. Tell him his first mission will be arriving along with a 'birthday present' via armed courier as fast as I can get it there after he wakes up.”

“I will, Sir,” Becka replied.

“Thank you, both. Please keep me informed of what's going on out there. I'll inform my aide that you have a comm priority, so you can reach me,” the Admiral said. “Be careful; all of you.”

Before either one of them could say anything, the connection was closed. Becka and the scientist both turned to see if anyone else had overheard them. Shana was busy with the inspectors, and the Doctor's aides had stepped out to stretch their legs.

“Miss Rebecca, just who exactly is Major Anderson?” Symms asked.

“He's a lot of people, Doc. A husband, father, a kind friend, and a good man. But he's also one more thing very few others are,” Becka replied.

“And what's that?”

“A very, very, dangerous man.”

“Meddle not in the affairs of Dragons, for you are crunchy, and taste good with ketchup.”

“My Lord Prime, Rebecca has not obeyed your command to return here to the Citadel. However, we have ascertained that the new Navigator collapsed upon arrival here and was immediately taken to the planet.

“Your spy there reports that Symms has had an idea about the shielding and will be testing it out on the new Navigator. Rebecca was seen at the lab with Symms, she would sit and do equations while the doctor took readings. He is using her as a gauge of a Navigator's abilities,” Hargrave reported.

“What's Anderson's condition?” Jarad asked.

“He is still unconscious, My Lord. Symms seems to be at a loss as to why, but the only one that is overly concerned is Rebecca.”

“Is Anderson ever left alone? Perhaps at night?” Jarad asked.

“I don't know, My Lord. Do you have orders for the team on planet?”

Jarad tapped his chin with one slender finger while he thought. Anderson had been completely unaffected by Jarad's probe when they first met. Which meant that Jarad would not be able to control him.

Having read the man's file, Jarad knew how dangerous the old soldier had been. That was long ago and Anderson has become soft. He's lost his killer’s instincts and forgotten his training. That old fool of an Admiral gave that broken, old man far too much respect.

Soft or not, the initial test results from Anderson indicated that had almost unlimited potential. That alone made Anderson a threat. There was a reliable, time honored way to deal with threats.

“Yes, I have orders. They are to arrange and accident for this new ‘Navigator’. He is a threat to what we are doing here and I want that threat removed. If little sister gets in the way, have them try to recover her; it's about time we took care of her and her friend’s budding little rebellion,” Jarad said, smiling evilly.

New Hedron was the capitol city of Beta Centauri IV. Which, considering it was also the only city, made sense. There were smaller villages and farming communities spread out over the continent, but New Hedron was the only major population center on the planet. As such, most of the research facilities were also located here.

When it was being built, most of the laboratories were built together, in a ‘research park’ that had it’s own small landing field. Since that time, some of the labs had been relocated closer to what they were doing research on, but some of them had stayed put, and even expanded some. The Hyperspace Research lab was one that had stayed, but expanded into multiple departments.

Doctor Lenard Symms was the head of Navigator Health and Safety. It was his responsibility to continue to try to improve the working conditions for Navigators and the effect Hyperspace had on them and the surrounding areas.

“Dr. Symms, shouldn't he be awake by now?” Becka asked with concern.

“I don't know for certain what, or how much, damage was done to him Rebecka. The nano's are reporting that he's doing fine, but they are keeping him in a coma until they can finish repairs to the blood vessels in his head,” Symms replied. "They do tell us that they are almost finished, so I should imagine that they'll let him awaken sometime after that.”

“I guess I don't understand why they need to fix things in there. I mean how much damage did he take? Is it going to affect his navigation ability?” Becka asked.

“I don't believe so, Becka. The only thing I'm worried about is his vision; they did report damage to his visual cortex,” Symms replied.

“If he's blind, then he won't be able to navigate! He has to see the terminal to perform the equations!” Becka said.

“Relax Becka; we have made sure he will have the ability to see, it just won’t be the way he’s used to," Symms replied.

“Huh? What does that mean?” Becka asked.

Symms frowned. “One of the things the nano's were originally designed to overcome was the loss of one of the senses. Even if the eyes themselves are severely damaged, they can still build a form of prosthetic. I'm told it isn't exactly like normal vision, but in a lot of ways it is somewhat superior,” Symms explained.

She put her hands on her hips. “You people aren't doing this to him on purpose are you?” The thought made her angry.

“No! That would be very unethical and criminal to boot. No one is going to use anyone as a guinea pig while under my care!” Symms replied somewhat frostily.

Becka was a little surprised at the amount of revulsion the doctor felt. She knew he was telling the absolute truth.

“I'm sorry, Doc. It's just that, the last time Joe put himself at the mercy of black-ops doctors, they messed with him a lot,” Becka said, apologizing. “In fact, I'm really surprised he actually agreed to undergo the nanite treatment to begin with. You do know they had to mess with his genetics too don't you?”

“Yes, I got his medical brief from Dr. Ortegon at Darkwater when we brought him in,” Symms paused, “I think I should amend my earlier statement about guinea pigs; I intend to install a magnetic shield device in him, to keep this from happening again, but I won't do it without his full knowledge and consent.”

“What will that do to his own bio-magnetics?” Becka asked.

“If the device is installed correctly, it will be using the naturally produced field to generate the shield. I'm actually pretty confident he'll have full control of the field, so he can attenuate it to perform his duties, then ramp it back up so he can shut out the noise of others.” He looked around conspiratorially before taking her arm and stepping away from Joe's bed.

“This is just between you and me, Okay?” He asked in a subdued voice.

Becka simply nodded, but looked a little worried.

“No, it's not bad. In fact, it's probably very good if my theory proves true. You see, I think your beloved over there is probably the strongest Navigator we've ever seen. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me in the least if he goes farther than just navigating," Symms said quietly.

“What do you mean? What's your theory?” Becka asked.

“I caution you, it is just a theory and it sounds crazy as hell. However, when you told me how Joe described feeling hyperspace, I got to thinking about the nature of Navigators. You see, I was on the team that did the original Navigator research.

“Cassandra told us that she could 'feel' hyperspace and that was how she always knew where she was and were she was going. Now, given the power of the human mind, it stands to reason to believe that very powerful Navigators, like Cassie and like Joe, wouldn't need a hyperdrive unit to make a jump!” Symms explained. “I believe that’s what really happened to Cassie when the US tried to grab her. Of course, I would never have reported such to the administration; they would have ordered her dissected immediately in order to make more of her. Which leads me to the second part of my theory,” He paused to take a breath and organize his thoughts. “Before I continue, do you follow me so far?”

“I think so. You believe that the most powerful Navigators will develop the ability to travel hyperspace on their own, right?” Becka asked.

“Yes, because they have something all the rest of the Navigators don't have,” Symms said.

Becka cocked an eyebrow. “What?”

“An innate ability to sense the universe around them and manipulate it.” Symms said. “And I'd bet my pension that Joe is already aware of this. Did you see his religious preferences?"

“Yeah, but what does being a Pagan have to do with navigating?” Becka asked, sounding slightly confused.

“Nothing directly. However, what if Joe believes that the energy fields around all of us are the power of God, or even God itself?”

“Are you talking about magic or something?” Becka asked with a raised eyebrow.

Symms frowned. “Well, in a way I guess I am. We just never had the scientific ability to measure it before.”

“Okay, once he wakes up, I'll try to get him talking about his beliefs. Now, what did you mean about 'going farther'?” Becka asked.

“ESP, mental abilities, talents, readers; many names have been given to it over the years.  The most famous name was the reason several people got killed in Salem, Mass. a couple hundred years ago. Of course, now-a-days, the term 'Witch' is no longer one to be feared," Symms explained.

A soft 'beep' was heard and the Doctor walked back to one of the machines. Quickly typing in a query, he read the answer on the screen.

“Doc, I gotta run to the head; can I get you a coffee or anything?” Becka asked.

“No, thanks, but you might want to hurry. The nano's have returned to maintenance mode and are currently working on the little bit of atrophy in his muscles,” Symms replied.

“Should I stay? How long until he wakes up?” Becka asked getting excited.

“Oh not for a few minutes yet, I'm sure you have time,” he said and made a waving motion at her to go ahead.

After Becka left, Symms entered information into the computer; he paused and looked at his watch. He softly swore and left the treatment room.

Jed escorted Laura to Rothschild & Co. bank in Zurich, Switzerland. The trip itself hadn't been that hard to arrange, Laura simply bought tickets for Jed, Brianna, and Jed's wife, Jill. Mark had gone back to work, but would return to see her as soon as he could arrange it. The hardest part of making the arrangements for Jed's family was arranging for Jill to get the time off from work. Brianna's boyfriend, Alex couldn’t get the time off and had to stay home. A fact that Laura’s son, Darryl was very happy about.

Jed and Laura had to do a little research in order to find which bank the mysterious numbers were from, but once they did, they called the bank to inquire as to what the numbers were actually for.

They were told that, as per the request of the customer, information on this account could only be divulged in person. Laura thanked the man for his assistance and asked if she would need an appointment to meet and discuss the account. The man said it wasn't necessary, but it was appreciated, so she made the appointment for the day after they'd land.

So, while Jill and Brianna were out shopping, with Laura's son Darryl as guide and pack-mule, Jed and Laura kept their appointment. After introductions were made and both Jed and Laura had been served refreshments, an older gentleman in an expensive suit came in to talk with them.

“Good Morning, Frau Anderson, I am Hans Totenkopf. I am the foreign accounts manager here. As I understand it, you have some questions about an account?”

Laura smiled and shook the man's hand. “Good morning, this is my friend, Jed Freeland, who was good enough to accompany me today.” The man turned and offered his hand to Jed as Laura continued. “Yes, I do have a couple of questions regarding an account opened I believe by my late husband.”

“I would be happy to assist you. May I have the account numbers?” Hans asked politely.

Laura complied by sliding a piece of paper across the table to him. He smiled at her and quickly typed them into his tablet.

“Yes, I have that account right here, what would you like to know?”

“Well, first of all, I should probably know what the balance is,” Laura said.

“In U.S. Dollars?” Hans asked.

“Yes please, my conversion skills are not what they used to be.”

“Thirty-two million, seven hundred ninety-seven thousand, four hundred and forty dollars and fifty-two cents. In addition, there is a safe deposit unit included with this account,” Hans replied without even blinking.

The amount took both Laura as well as Jed completely by surprise. Once they found out the numbers were to a bank, they knew there was probably a lot of money involved, but they never dreamed it was this much.

“Whoa,” Laura said. "If there's that much money in there, I wonder what's in the box?” she said the last looking at Jed.

“Herr Totenkopf, we didn't find a key for a deposit box,” Jed said.

“Do you have a copy of Mr. Anderson's death certificate?” Hans asked and Laura handed it over.

“I will need to make a copy of this, but you will not need a key. The bank key opens the door to remove the box, but each box has a thumb print scanner built into it. However, since Mr. Anderson is no longer with us, I can have the locking mechanism cleared and reset so you can seal it with your thumbprint,” Hans said. “Would you like us to bring the box in here?”

“Yes please,” Laura said.

“Please excuse me while I handle the paperwork, will you be making a withdrawal today?” Hans asked.

“I hadn't planned on it, besides, I can just transfer it if I need it, right?” Laura asked.

“That is correct, however, if you decide to transfer a large amount, you may wish to speak with an American financial adviser and perhaps an attorney before you do. The United States has very specific laws regarding the import of large sums,” Hans offered. "I'll return in a few moments.”

When the door closed, Laura fell back into the chair. “If he had all this money all along, why have we been struggling just to get by?”

“I'm sure there were some very good reasons, Laura. I know for a fact that not having money to pay all the bills really bothered him. On the other hand, even if he only transferred a hundred thousand every year, you two would have had more than enough to live on,” Jed said.

“None of this seems like the man I knew. Yeah, he told me about his past, but all of this is just way too 'James Bond' for me, you know?” Laura said.

“So, that would make you 'Moneypenny'?” Jed asked, trying to get her to smile.

“Well, if everything he told me was the absolute truth, then that role would have been filled by the woman, Sharon, that left that note,” Laura replied. “Honestly, I think I'd like to meet her someday.”

“Well, if she's looking over you like she said she was, then you might get your wish. If I may ask, why would you want to meet her anyway? I got the impression from Joe that he wasn't too fond of his superiors back then.”

“Oh, he wasn't. But I got the impression, from listening to him talk about her, I think he was in love with her. I mean, he hated her for what she had to do, but loved her because of what they'd become to each other,” Laura said.

Jed cocked his head at her. “I'm afraid I don't follow you. All he told me was that she was his controller when he was on missions.”

“She was much more than that. One of the ways they taught their people how to deal with pain was to train their minds using sex. He explained it to me that, during sex there are these chemicals that get released into your body. Chemicals that help the body overcome fatigue and not feel pain as much,” Laura explained.

Jed nodded. “Endorphins. But they are a response, not something you can train to happen when you wanted it to.”

“Apparently they did. Do you remember that scar on Joe's forehead?” When Jed nodded, she continued. “Well, that happened about a month after we got together. He hadn't really told me about any of this yet, but he got that scar in an accident that could have killed or blinded him.

“He was burning papers and old magazines in someone's old fire-pit. He'd gone through all the stuff we were getting rid of, so he knew there wasn't anything explosive in there. Now, you'd think that, if there had ever been anything explosive in there from before, it would have already exploded. Well, that wasn't the case.

“I was doing dishes, and I could see him right out of the window over the sink. He was about seventy-five yards from the house, anyway, I heard this big explosion, and the windows in the house shook. When I looked out the window, I saw that Joe's head was surrounded by a huge fire-ball.

“I dropped what I was doing and ran out to see if he was alright. He wasn't; part of the metal from the can that exploded had sliced open his forehead, and blood was shooting out of an open vein. He was dazed but was still on his feet. I helped him get back to the house.

“I got a rag and managed to slow down the bleeding, but it was clear he needed to get to the hospital or he was going to bleed out. The explosion had also burned one of his ears, shattered his front teeth, and cut one of his hands. The hand was bleeding pretty good, too, but nothing like his head was,” Laura said.

“Head wounds are a bitch; you don't know how much damage has been done, and they bleed profusely, so it always looks worse than it usually is,” Jed replied.

“This was as bad as it looked. I had to write a rubber check for gas, but I managed to get him as far as his parent's house. From there, his father took us over to the Emergency room. All in all, it took almost an hour and a half to get him to the hospital, and he was starting to slowly go into shock.

“However, he knew he was going into shock and helped fend it off. They wouldn't let me go back in the room with him, but his dad told me later that even when they stitched it up, Joe never once complained about pain. Through all of that, he also never said how badly it hurt,” she finished.

“I'm sure a lot of that was endorphins, but a lot of it could have simply been because of the amount of damage. Something like that would tend to numb the area, helping the injured man to get assistance,” Jed said, trying to find another explanation. "Endorphins alone wouldn't have kept him from feeling the pain for that long.”

“No, they wouldn't have, unless he had been controlling them. Hell, even the nurses I overheard talking about him commented on how strange it was. But that wasn't the only time I saw him do it, but it was the most dramatic.”

“I find it really hard to believe, much less understand how a resistance to pain can be 'trained' into someone. It actually sounds like something from one of the story's Joe wrote,” Jed said.

“Well, it did work. I saw him do it a few times. However, I think the Crones Disease finally broke that conditioning. The last few years he was in almost constant pain. Honestly, I don't understand why they took him. What value would he have to them now?” Laura asked.

“Who knows? But remember, we really shouldn't talk about that while we're away from home. We have no idea who's listening,” Jed replied just before the door opened, admitting Hans and another man that was carrying the box.

It was bigger than Laura thought it would be, and she once again wondered what could be in it.

“My apologies for taking so long Frau Anderson. I had to return to my office to get this.” He help up a small device that looked like an SD card for a computer.

The man set the box on the table and Hans thanked him. The man bobbed his head at Hans, smiled and bowed his head to Laura and Jed, then left.

Hans then carefully slid the small device into a small receptacle on the front of the box, which then beeped. “Now, if you would press your thumb to this pad,” he indicated a small scanner pad. “It will realign the lock to your thumb print and then you can open the box.”

Laura did as she was instructed, and it beeped twice.

“There, now simply press your thumb to it again and it will open for you. I'll leave you so you may explore the contents in privacy,” Hans said, bowed and headed for the door. “Please, take all the time you need.”

Once the door closed, Laura stood and pressed her thumb to the plate and the lid popped open. She lifted the lid all the way open, looked surprised, and then confused. Seeing the look on her face, Jed stood too so he could see into it.

The first thing that caught his eye was the gun. It looked like a customized, silenced FN Five SeveN. When Jed picked it up, he was surprised to discover that it was not made of metal. “Well, this certainly isn't something you can buy at the local gun store.”

“What do you mean?” Laura asked taking more of an interest in the weapon.

“This is basically a standard FN Five-SeveN, but I can honestly tell you that they never made any weapons like this for sale,” Jed explained. “Other than the bullets, I don't think this one has any metal in it at all.”

“Well, it looks brand new. But the question is, what are we going to do with it? We can't take it back with us,” Laura said.

“Take the bullets out, box it up, and ship it home.”

“I didn't think you could send stuff like that?” Laura asked.

“Don't tell them. We can buy an ornate box or something to put it in, and no one will be the wiser,” Jed said shrugging.

Laura looked back in the box and saw a couple felt bags. “These can't be what I think they are!” She lifted one of the bags out of the box, and pulled it open. Inside all she saw was sparkling diamonds. “Where did he get all of this stuff? From the way he described his missions, he was never really out very long. When did he have the time to buy all of this?”

“You don't honestly think he bought all of this do you?” Jed asked.

“No, I suppose not,” she said as she took a stack of Euro's out, and a few passports in a bundle held by a rubber band. Finally, she took out the folders, handed a couple to Jed, while she looked at the rest.

“Holy shit,” Jed said softly. “He's got at least another couple million in bearer bonds here. What's in yours?”

“I think it’s a stock portfolio; I don't know; I've never actually seen one before. I always thought stock portfolios weren't actually physical things,” Laura said, handing the folders over.

“Normally, they’re not.” He said looking at the first folder. “Okay, this is a brokerage listing of his account, and history of trades.” He looked in the other folders. “These are basically the same thing, only broken down by each investment. I haven't been keeping track of the market, but I bet his little start up here is worth some money by now. So how do you want to handle all this?”

“Uh, how about we leave the passports and the diamonds in here for now. We take the rest back to the hotel and figure out how to get this stuff sent home,” Laura said.

“You should take the diamonds then too. If you tried to take those on the plane with you, I'm certain they would nail you for smuggling,” Jed countered. “You put the gun, diamonds and cash in your purse, and I'll ask if there is a folio we can use for the files. If not, I'll just hand carry them, very tightly mind you, back to the hotel, and we can put them in your luggage.”

Laura nodded agreement, and started loading her purse while Jed stepped outside to find Hans. They very quickly got everything loaded up, got all the information they'd need from Hans, and headed back to the hotel.

When they arrived, Jed walked Laura to her room.

“Jed, I think I'm gonna go take a shower and maybe rest a little. I think I would definitely like to join Jill, Brianna, and Darryl in the whole power shopping thing,” Laura said as she unlocked her door.

Jed handed her the nice leather Folio the bank had given them for the files. “Be sure to put all this stuff in the room's safe,” Jed said smiling. “Well, that should be easy enough, you've got a couple hundred thousand Euro's to shop with!”

“Thank you so much for helping me with all of this, Jed. This would have been impossible on my own.”

“Laura, it's hard to lose someone you love; especially with how close the two of you were. He was my friend too; so don't think anything of this. Now, go rest. This has been a busy, albeit short, day.”

“Well, why don't you take your wonderful family out to dinner tonight? Just you guys. I'll find something for Darryl to do, so he doesn't follow Brianna to your family dinner,” Laura said chuckling.

“You know, I don't know for certain who's following who there. I'm pretty sure if Bree wasn't getting married soon, we would have only needed three rooms!” Jed said waving as he walked down the hall to the suite he shared with Jill.

“Do we really have to kill this guy?” Hal said, as he and his friend made their way to the Hyperspace Lab complex.

His partner Thom, nodded. “Yeah, we do. I'm starting to think Jared might have finally gone around the bend.”

Hal softly swatted him on the elbow. “Don't say that shit aloud! He'll hear us!”

“He's on the Citadel, Hal, he ain't here. How is he supposed to hear us?”

Hal looked a little sullen. “I don't know, but that man has a very uncanny ability to find out exactly what has been said about him.”

“That's true, which is the only reason this guy has got to go.”

“Yeah, but this is a fuck of a lot worse than eavesdropping, or stealing a file for him. Which is what we agreed to. I'm not a murderer!” Hal said getting more upset with each step.

Thom stopped and looked at his friend. “Look, why don't you go back to work and I'll finish this. You know we have to do this, or he'll kill Carne and Jess.” He paused and put his hand on his friend's shoulder. “I didn't know this would get to you so badly. Go back; you can help cover my absence while I'm gone, okay?”

Hal nodded. “Just... be careful, Thom. I know he's supposed to be unconscious, but I heard he was some kind of black-ops super-soldier back on Earth. Those folks are a whole new level of scary.”

“Like you said, he's unconscious, how's he supposed to stop me?” Thom explained. “Go on, I'll do this, and be back before you know it."

:NanoSySquery?> Potential threat approaching; Request threat analysis.

:MedComSySreply/> Unauthorized person approaching patient. Unauthorized person is armed. Recommend defensive protocol Alpha06.

:NanoSySComCon/> Command Systems are online. Activating DefPro A06... DefPro A06 now active. Req MedComSyS Security Alert.

:MedComSySreply/> Silent Security Alert initiated... SecComSyS reply; ETA 06 minutes.

:NanoSysComCon/> Data accepted. DefPro A06 draining patient energy. Terminal event in 04 minutes. Request Auxiliary External Power Source be supplied.

:MedComSySreply/> Activating external Defib. Power Setting?

:NanoSySComConreply/> 150mA – continuous for duration of emergency.

:MedComSyS/> equipment not designed for continuous use. MedComServSys request for maintenance sent.

Thom pulled the doors to the medical suite open and saw his target lying on the bed in the center of the room. Stepping inside, he pulled the doors closed and quietly chambered a round on the silenced pistol he'd been given.

He walked closer to the sleeping man on the table, once he got about five feet away, he raised the pistol, and aimed at the man's head.

“Dude, I am really sorry I have to do this to you, but it's either you or my sister and Jess.  That insane fuck will kill them if I don't kill you,” he said softly. Tears were running down his face, and he argued internally about killing the man.

:NanoSySComConalert/> Patient awake. Spacial anomaly detected. Stand by to release DefPro A06. Req. ETA for Security Personnel.

:MedComSyS/> Security ETA now 04 minutes.


“Son, it sounds like you have a real problem. However, if you lower your weapon, maybe I can help you with it,” Joe replied without opening his eyes.

Thom was startled and almost fired the gun. “I'm imagining this. You're unconscious; the nanos are keeping you under until you heal. There is no way in hell you can be talking to me.”

“If I sit up, will that prove it to you?” Joe asked.

“You're going to fucking kill me aren't you? I know you're some kind of super soldier!”

“No, I give you my word, I will not harm you. Honestly, I'm still far too weak to even beat off! Sitting up is going to be a chore.”

“Uh, oh.. okay. Just go slowly, please,” Thom said.

“Can't do it any other way, Son,” Joe said as he started to sit up, very slowly, he swung his legs off the side and used the leverage provided to help him get upright. By the time he was upright, he was almost sweating. Very slowly, he began opening his eyes.

“Okay, so you're awake. That doesn't change the fact that I have to kill you. I don't have a choice,” Thom said.

The room seemed a little bright, but not overly so. However, he was seeing a lot of extra... stuff. Almost like his eyes wouldn't focus, except that he could see everything very clearly. Weird, and something to ponder later; when there wasn't a nervous young man pointing a gun at my head.

“Yeah, so you said. Would you tell me the whole story? Maybe I can find a way out for you that doesn't involve murder and will be safe for your sisters,” Joe offered. “By the way, what's your name?”

“Thom and I really doubt it. But you asked, so here you go. My best friend's name is Hal. We moved here together from Earth a few years ago and have been friends ever since. We both have younger sisters that are also best friends.

“Shortly after Hal and I got jobs here in the lab complex. There was an accident in midtown. A defective plasma conduit blew out, and at first we thought our sisters had been right in front of it. In fact, that's the official story.

“What really happened was that during the confusion of the emergency, our sisters got grabbed and taken to the Citadel. That psycho bastard Jared had them kidnapped. He contacted Hal and me a day later and told us that we were going to do a few things for him, or we would never see our sisters alive again. He proved what he was saying by putting them on the vid so we could see them.

“Since then, we've been his spies here in the labs. We haven't told anyone like he said and so far we've done everything he's told us to do. Neither of us is a killer, Sir. He's just not giving us any choice though,” Thom finished sadly. He still had the gun pointed at Joe, but no longer at his head.

“Hmm, you know, I think I might know a way out of this for you. But, you'll have to give me the gun before the security guys arrive, or they'll probably shoot you before anyone can stop them,” Joe said, holding out his hand.

“You won't kill me?”

Joe shook his head. “I gave you my word. Hand it over and let’s figure out how to save your sisters.”

Thom tentatively lowered the gun, then slowly pointed it at the floor and handed it to Joe.

Joe looked at the weapon. It was a newer model Glock with a silencer. He dropped the mag, and worked the slide to remove the chambered round. Surprising him he saw lines of text scroll up in front of his eyes, as if seeing the world through a computer monitor:

:NanoSySComCon/> Emergency Alert is now concluded. Deactivating DefPro A06. Returning DefSys to stand-by mode. Req. discon. of ext. pwr. Returning to normal OpMode. Event Logged.

Now that was just plain weird. He would have some serious questions for his Doctor after this situation was dealt with.

Joe looked at the door and saw a man in a white lab coat restraining Becka from entering the room. He waved them in.

“Relax, Thom, this is my friend Becka, and I assume my Doctor,” Joe said.

Thom nodded to them. “Hello Doctor Symms.”

“What's going on here Thom?” Symms asked.

The young man just looked at the floor.

“Jared sent Thom to kill me in my sleep. He's holding Thom's sister hostage against Thom's obedience,” Joe explained. “This isn't Thom's fault, and I don't think he should be held responsible for it.”

:NanoSys/> Security ETA now 01 minute.

“Uh, Doc, what's with the computer terminal in my head?” Joe asked.

“It's a long story and I'll fill you in on everything as soon as we get this handled.” Symms replied. “But for now, I'd like you to think 'nanosys request communication with Admiral Hawkling' please.”

As the words were said, Joe thought them, and like an overlay before his eyes, he saw:

:Com/> Req. comm. with Hawklings, Admiral, Darkwater station.

:NanoSyS/> Local Comm unit available, initiating comm. Req Display option: Audio only, Video only, Internal only, External?

Getting the hang of it, Joe thought 'nanosys comm display option video only, external.'

:NanoSySquery?> Set Display Option as default?

'nanosys set current display option as default.' Joe thought and saw :Com/> Set current display as default.

:NanoSyS/> Comm Default Set.

“Well, that was different,” Joe said aloud.

“What was different, Major?” the Admiral said as a hologram of him sitting in a chair took form next to the head of Joe's bed.

When Joe tried to stand, Symms and Becka rushed to him. “Stand down, Major! You're still on medical, so forget protocol for now.”

Joe settled back on his bed. “Thank you, Sir.” he sighed. “I asked to speak to you because something's come up, and we have a problem."

“Go ahead, Son,” the Admiral said.

Joe told him of the events of the morning, and saw the Admiral getting madder by the minute. When he finished, the Admiral sat in thought for a few moments, then turned to Thom.

“Son, if the Major says you're not in trouble, you're not. But, unfortunately, we are going to need you and Hal to keep working for Jared for the time being. Can you do that?”

“Will it mean rescuing our sisters, Sir?” Thom asked.

The Admiral nodded. “It'll mean far more than that, but yes, getting your sisters home to you is included in that.”

Thom smiled. “Absolutely, Sir. What do you need?”

“Well, for now, we need to make sure that Jared believes the Major is deceased. Then I'll need you to resume feeding Jared the information he asks for. Just the same as before, be sure to do everything just as you have before and don't get caught. The fewer people that know of this the better."

:NanoSyS/> Security has arrived.

“NanoSyS says security's here,” Joe said.

The Admiral looked at him funny, but didn't ask. “Doc, please go meet them. Ask the team to stay put, tell them it’s because of some top secret shit you're working on. Have the Security Chief follow you back so he can ‘look over the crime scene' until you can secure all the secret stuff.

“We'll brief him, then move the Major to another room. Once there, we'll stage the crime scene, and do something with the security footage. Do we have a cadaver available?”

Symms shrugged. “I'll find out, we do keep a few from Earth for experimentation. I'll see if I can find one roughly Joe's size,” he said as he left the room.

The Admiral turned to Becka. “Sweetheart, would you please get Thom something to drink and maybe a chair? I think he's had enough of an emotional rollercoaster to need a rest by now.”

“Certainly Admiral, Thom, what would you like to drink?” Becka asked.

“Uh, cold water I guess. I never could develop a taste for coffee,” Thom said. When Becka left he said, “Sir, can I tell Hal? All of this has really been bothering him."

Hawklings was very tempted to say yes, and was about to when Joe interrupted. “Thom, that might not be such a good idea. I mean, I know it's really getting to him, but what if someone overhears you? That crazy bastard will kill your sisters before you finish telling Hal. You can't tell anyone. The risk is far too great. Okay?”

Thom thought about it for a minute before he nodded. “Yeah, you're right. I hate to see him like this, but it'll be better when I can tell him his sister's safe.”

“You'll be one of the first to know,” Joe said.

“Major,” Hawkling said to get his attention. “By order of the Terran Council, you are hereby recalled to active duty effective immediately. After considering your unique set of skills, they have tasked you with removing Jared Small as the leader of the Citadel, and correcting the potential insurrection brewing there.

“An open Sanction has been authorized at your discretion. The Council further requests that you preserve viable reproduction material from those you sanction, however, because it is still unknown if the propensity for mental aberration or defect is genetic in nature, this is not a mission objective,” The Admiral said, finishing the order.

“I will be dispatching a package for you, addressed to Becka, care of Doctor Symms. In it, you will find a hard copy of your orders, the findings and reasons for the discretionary sanction order signed by all the Council Members.

“You will also find your usual toys, with a few modern upgrades added in. I would suggest that, before you use them, find a way over to the far side of the planet and acquaint yourself with them.”

“Yes, Sir. I'll get on that as soon as they arrive. In the meantime, I'm going to do a little poking around to see if I can find anything else Jared might have his claws into,” Joe replied.

“No, in the meantime, you're going to finish getting healed up. You scared the hell outta me. One thing you need to know, Major. You are not expendable. The Council was scared as hell that they had given you permission to go on a killing spree, but I managed to convince them you wouldn't.

“I had to call in a lot of favors, and do a few questionable information requests, but I managed to get the real records of your previous disagreement with The Agency. After reviewing it, they all agreed to sign the order to make sure you knew that no one was using you,” Hawklings said.

“I really appreciate that, Sir. It does make my job a lot easier,” Joe replied. “After this mission is over, could you let me know what the protocols are for making requests to the Council for consideration?”

The Admiral grinned. “Yeah, just remind me later. You really want to get Laura up here don't you?”

Joe nodded. “I don't see a reason against it, Sir. I really do need her.” He gestured to Thom. “This situation is a perfect example. She is my grounding rod. She keeps me sane enough to be able to recognize things like the fact that Thom would never have pulled that trigger.”

“Without her, I'll begin to slip. If this would have happened in a couple of months, there is a good chance Thom would be dead, we wouldn't know Jared is taking hostages, and I would eventually need to be sanctioned myself. Seriously Sir, if you want to keep me sane and useful, I'm going to need Laura here with me," Joe explained. “I do not want to become a bigger problem to you than Jared is.”

“You're really not just blowing smoke are you? You really mean it.” Hawklings said.

“I swear to you, Sir. I really need my wife with me.”

Hawklings said. “How does Becka feel about this? Would Laura become a problem with the more, uh, intimate aspects of your duties?”

“Sir, Laura is bisexual. She likes women a bit more than she likes men. If she's healthy, and in shape so she feels good about herself, about the only thing that'll bother her is if I don't let her play too,” Joe replied.

“I agree, Admiral,” Becka said from the door. “Even if Laura objects to me, Joe needs her like he needs air. Although I do hope she'll accept me into their relationship, if she doesn't, I'll step aside for her without complaint.” She brought Thom the chair and his water.

About that time, Doctor Symms returned with another man in a khaki uniform. The man looked around questioningly as he followed the Doctor. “Forgive me, Doctor. But where is the body?” the man said in an Indian accent.

“That would be me, Constable,” Joe said and held out his hand. “Major Joseph Anderson.”

“I must say, Major, you look quite spry for a dead man.”

“Admiral Hawklings, I believe you know Constable Singh?” Symms said making introductions. Singh bowed to the Admiral. “It is good to see you again, Admiral."

Symms turned to Becka. “This is Navigator Becka of the Citadel.”

Again, Singh bowed. “It is an Honor, Navigator.”

“The young man here is Thom Garreth, one of my lab assistants.”

“It is a pleasure, Mr. Garreth,” Singh said.

“Constable, just as a point of clarification, Major Anderson is a Senior Navigator that has yet to officially join the Guild,” Symms explained.

Hawklings took over and explained the situation to the Constable, who listened intently. When Hawklings finished, Singh slowly nodded his head as he processed the information.

“A messy business this is. However, Senior Navigator Small is in need of retirement. I will assist where I may. Doctor, please make your inquiry for two bodies. One for Major Anderson, and one for Mr. Garreth. If I can report him as deceased, it will neatly close this case, so none of my people are searching for him,” Singh said.

“Wait!” Thom asked. “If I'm dead, where am I supposed to go?”

“Your profile says you want to become a medical doctor, is that still your dream, Son?” Hawklings asked.

“Yeah, but I don't have enough work credits yet for the learning center,” Thom said.

“Really?” Hawklings said. “Are you certain?”

Thom was about to open his mouth, when Joe cut him off. “He can't stay here, Admiral. Can he start there on Darkwater with Dr. Ortegon?”

“I don't see why not. We just need to get him here,” Hawklings said.

“Sir, is Shana Darryl still in port here?” Becka asked.

Hawklings looked down and typed on a keyboard no one could see. “Uh, yes she is, but she's due to leave in about an hour. Why?”

“She's a friend, and very trust worthy. If we tell her you need to get a stowaway back to Blackwater without anyone knowing about it, she'll get him back to you safely,” Becka said.

Hawklings nodded. “Okay, call your friend, Becka. Try not to tell her everything, though.”

Becka grinned. “No problem, Sir!” She bolted out the door before anyone could say anything else.

“Shana is a very nice young woman. Really lonely though, I'm sure she'll welcome the company for the trip back,” Joe replied.

Symms also headed for the door, but at a slower pace. “I'll go arrange for the bodies for the Constable.”

“Thank you, Doctor. Now, we are going to need a believable motive for the murder,” Singh replied.

“He's a little young, but we could always say he recognized me from my former life, and sought revenge. The Admiral could then classify the whole thing, so no one can see it. That way, when Jared has his flunkies get to it, he'll discover his ruse is still in place,” Joe suggested.

“What would you have done in your past life that would make a man want to kill you?” Singh asked.

“Sorry, Constable, I can't tell you any of that,” Joe said.

“Constable, the Major is a former black ops soldier. He cannot disclose the nature or goals of any of his duties,” Hawklings explained.

“Ah, in that case, I agree, that would be a very good motive.” Singh bowed once again to Joe. “Thank you, Major, for your service to our homeworld." Turning back to the Admiral, he continued. “Is he still then, a black ops soldier?”

“Not officially, Constable,” Hawklings said, putting an emphasis on the second word and raising an eyebrow.

Singh nodded. “I understand. I will take steps to be prepared. I wish you good hunting, and clear weather, Major.”

Becka returned to the room. “Thom, come with me. We have to get you set up to sneak on board Shana's ship.”

Thom got up and took three steps toward the door when he turned around. “Thank you for this chance, Admiral. Thanks for not killing me, Major. I'll look forward to hearing from you.” Before either man could say anything, the excited young man left.

“I will remain, to 'guard the scene' until we are ready for the forensics team to come in. May I have the murder weapon, Major?” Singh asked.

Joe handed the weapon to him, not mentioning the weapon was unloaded. Singh took the weapon, backed away a couple of steps aimed and fired the weapon at Joe's head.

              Click.

Joe got off the Bed and took the gun away from Singh. “There are three things you fucked up on, Singh; first, you didn't check to see if the gun was loaded. Second, a special ops soldier will never hand a loaded weapon to someone he doesn't know intimately.”

Singh was reaching for his stun baton when Joe struck him in the windpipe crushing his larynx. “Third, never try to kill someone like me. You don't stand a chance,”

Joe watched until the light left the man's eyes, then dropped him to the floor. “This is a problem.”

The Admiral had watched the whole thing, he hadn't actually seen the strike that had killed the Constable, but that could have been the electronics he was watching through. “Not really, get Becka back in here before she and Thom head for the landing field. We'll need Symms too.”

When Laura got into her suite she found a handsome redhead sitting in her lounging area, with an iced tea. She was about to step back out into the hallway, when the woman spoke.

“Please Laura, come in and talk with me? My name's Sharon. I'm the woman that sent you the note that led you here.”

Laura entered the room cautiously. “Uh, Hi! Thank you for the note. I'm sorry, it's just that you've taken me by surprise.”

The woman stood and turned around. She gave Laura a slight smile. “I imagine I did, and I'm sorry for that. But, you said something at the bank that I had to ask you about.”

Laura cringed. “You had it bugged?”

“Yeah sorry; I did say I would start watching over you when you got here,” Sharon replied, nodding.

Laura nodded. “You want to know what I meant when Jed and I were talking about Joe.”

Sharon nodded. “Is he alive?”

Laura sat her belongings on one of the chairs. “I'm not sure really, but I think so.” She pointed at the tea. “Mind if I order one of those?"

“I ordered a pitcher. It's in the fridge,” Sharon said nodding toward the mini-bar. “I was tempted to order long-island iced tea, but I need to have a clear head for a little while at least.”

Laura poured herself a glass of tea then sat on the couch with her visitor. “Joe told me about you. Thank you for coming to his funeral.” She took a drink and swallowed, hard. “We thought you took him. When I got your note, we really started wondering. Since you're here and you're asking me that, you obviously didn't take him, so you don't know either?”

Sharon shook her head as she stared into her tea. “No, since I heard you say that, I've done some discrete checking. Nothing so far. Do you mind telling me what you know?”

“It's not much really. Joe had his cellphone record the conversation when they came to get him and he managed to leave it behind without them seeing it,” Laura said and pulled her purse over to herself.

“That was sloppy. They should have at least stuck around to make sure he didn't get some kind of message to you. I don't mean to scare you, but if it had been one of the combat agencies, they would have simply staged an accident that killed you and your son and leave a body that would have been identified as him,” Sharon said.

“They did threaten to kill me, but; well listen to this,” Laura said and played the message for her. She'd been afraid to leave the cellphone anywhere in case it disappeared like Joe had.

As Sharon listened she seemed to get more confused. When the message ended, she looked thoughtful. “Did you get the money?”

Laura nodded. “It came to my account as a wire transfer from an insurance company. That's how I could bring Jed and his family with us.”

“Joe's still alive then,” Sharon said, relieved. “However, I wouldn't bet against you not seeing him again. Look, I'm not supposed to even know this, but there's been something very big buried deep in the black bag for years now. It isn't a combat operation though, because no one has seen it.

“Even in the condition he was in, Joe's still dangerous, but he simply wouldn't be worth reactivating for his previous skill set. There's just too much wrong with him for field work and trainers aren't acquired like that. It had to be for some other reason!” Sharon said, frustrated.

“Forgive me for asking this, but why do you even care? He left your world twenty years ago and never looked back,” Laura said.

Sharon still wouldn't look Laura in the eye. “I love him. I always have.”

Laura thought she saw a tear falling down one delicate cheek, but that would certainly be at odds with the cold, heartless bitch Joe had told her about.

“He told me that you never showed anyone weakness. Even through the sex and all the training, you never let any of them see how you really felt. He hated you for awhile, especially when the others started dying and you still didn't show the least bit of emotion. But he told me, just before he left, he thought that he'd begun to understand you.

“He knew that once he ran, that you'd have to order the team out that would kill him. He also knew that you had been the one that had ordered the others destroyed when they started going insane. He told me that the one thing that had saved your ass from him, was you were not the one that sent him on the last mission," she finished.

Sharon shook her head. “I'd been called back that night. They didn't want me around when the cleaners went through. Joe got there before the cleaners did. Although what he did to the command section did raise some questions, they had me come in to track down any loose ends. I made sure Joe wasn't one of them.

“I was reassigned to another project, then I just stayed away. I knew they were watching me because I'd been the one to report my former employers and they wanted to make sure I hadn't had another agenda. I did, but they either never figured out what was or if they did, it was deemed a non-threat and ignored. I'm thinking the latter.

“Now this. For all intents and purposes, he's fallen off the planet. I would bet my pension that he fell right into that big black project, too,” Sharon said. “It's really the only one I can't get any information on.”

“Could it have been another government?” Laura asked.

Sharon shook her head. “No, if it had been, we'd have already started finding the bodies. He never would have gone peacefully if they had been foreign or even against the nation. No, he actually helped us a little; he identified the two men as being former special-ops soldiers, specifically Marine Force Recon. That's not much help mind you, but it's a place to start. I don't suppose you got a license plate on the truck did you?”

“Yeah, but it was the standard black SUV everyone sees on TV; generic as you can get,” Laura said.

“Not really. The fact that they used that particular vehicle tells me that they were playing to an audience. Everything you've told me backs up that theory. But the question then becomes why? Why did they want everyone in your trailer park to think the MIB took him?” Sharon asked, rhetorically.

“Joe was a vocal conspiracy buff. So, the MIB was a believable cover. However, it did make people wonder which conspiracy he was right about,” Laura said.

“That's easy, he was right about most of them. Nothing ever gets done about it because the conspiracy folks actually help make the whole thing sound absurd, which keeps the conspiracy a secret. It would make sense for Joe to do that; if they did find him, they would see he was actively working to keep their secrets and they would leave you alone," Sharon said.

“So how do we find out who took him and if he's still alive?” Laura asked.

“You don't. They'll kill you if you try. I have access to most of those sort of resources and even I'd be risking my life trying to find out. However, I'd stand a better chance than you would; killing a General is a political quagmire most agencies avoid. Laura, I'm serious here, I've worked for the intelligence services all of my professional life; they would kill you and not even think twice about it. You would not believe how easy it is to stage a believable accident that would keep Joe from retaliating.

“As for him still being alive, you can bet he is. After all, why go through all of that just to kill the person that was taken? No, there are far easier, and cheaper, ways to pull that off,” she fell silent a moment, as if in thought. "I've been offered a new job. I was going to refuse it since my area of expertise is for ground operations, but it might get me an inroad on this. The draw back to it will be that I can't contact you after I take the job. I'd be going in alone, so I don't know who I could trust to contact you with any information.”

“The PTB's know all about your sexual preferences, right?” Laura asked.

Sharon looked at her, confused. “PTB's?”

“The 'Powers That Be'; you don't actually work for the Air Force. That's the name that Joe put on his bosses at the agency," Laura explained.

Sharon snorted and nodded. “Very apt. Yes, they know. I suspect they knew about my connection to Joe as well, but since I never pursued it, they never said anything.”

Laura took her hand. "How many red flags would it raise if I was your 'girlfriend'? We met at the wake and became friends, we can progress that relationship into something they might accept."

Sharon smiled sadly at the woman. "Laura, that sort of thing can't be 'staged'. I mean, we could certainly go through all the motions, but if they even had a hint it was fake, we'd both be retired."

Laura nodded her understanding. "I know I'm not very attractive anymore, but I think I really would like to get to know you better; you were an important part of Joe's past. Yes, this would be to find him, but if you'd have me, I'd like to try."

“This isn't going to work,” Thom said as he looked at himself in the mirror. “I don't even have the same skin tone or hair color as Singh.”

“That's because you're not finished yet. Jump up here on the table, Thom,” Symms said.

“What are you going to do to me?”

“Change your hair and skin color to match those of Constable Singh. Once we're done with you, only his wife would know you aren't him!” Symms said as he began typing on the keyboard.

Becka knocked on the door. “Doctor, this message just arrived for the 'Constable'.”

She was grinning, so Symms knew who it was from. “Well, don't give it to me!”

She handed the missive to Thom, who opened it. “I am to report to Admiral Hawklings at the earliest possible time. There's a travel voucher in here as well.”

“Really?” Becka asked trying not to giggle.

“Becka? How close are you to getting that voice modulator finished?” Symms asked.

“Almost finished, Doc. Who's going to be using it?” she asked.

“Your paramour, my dear. So as soon as you get done, he needs to make the call to the Constable's Office. So, hustle it up!” Symms said, throwing a mock kick at her butt, and missing by a mile.

Fifteen minutes later, Thom, escorted by Doctor Symms, since Becka had to be sedated over Joe's 'death', arrived at the landing field and boarded Shana's shuttle. Shana made a show of welcoming the man aboard. She winked at the doctor and closed the hatch.

“What news from the planet?” Jared asked as he pushed away one of the badly beaten girls.

“Would you like me to summon your medic, My Lord Prime?” Hargrave asked, looking at the two girls.

“Did I ask you to summon my medic?”

“Uh, no My Lord. You asked about the planet. Anderson was killed, but not before he killed his attacker. The Connies believe it was a revenge thing, so they're not looking into it very hard,” Hargrave explained.

“How did they get that? Did our guy actually know Anderson?” Jared asked.

“I do not know My Lord, but Constable Singh was almost immediately called to Darkwater after the murder. Before he left, he called back to his investigators and told them not to investigate, but to list the death as a revenge killing,” Hargrave took a deep breath. "It sounded hokey to me, so I got them to open the classified file. It seems that in his former life, Anderson killed someone that was very close to Garreth. Singh won't be able to report in until he gets back.

“They also discovered that Anderson is actually a highly skilled assassin that was used to eliminate National Security threats before he retired. We are very lucky he is dead; I have little doubt that he was sent here to kill you,” Hargrave finished.

“How certain are we that he's dead?” Jared asked, seemingly unconcerned.

“Completely, My Lord. It was visually confirmed by the Coroner, as well as by two of our people. The little bitch is crying like someone ripped out her heart and Symms has received an official reprimand because of the poor security in the lab.

“We got a copy of Anderson's potential scores from Symm's office too. If those scores are to be believed, he had almost twice the power of even you, My Lord.”

Jared looked at Hargrave like he was thinking about killing him. Although, Jared would never kill the man; well, not yet anyway. It was Hargrave that built the network of spies and criminals that have come in so handy at Darkwater and on the planet.

“I want those scores lowered to be less than mine before we file the official report. I don't need anyone getting the idea that someone was ever stronger than I. Get someone to get these out of here.” he gestured to the two nude young women. "Then, bring me Carne and Jessica. This ought to be very entertaining. Oh, and Hargrave?”

“Yes, My Lord?”

“Send someone to retrieve our little sister. I think it's time she learned exactly who she serves,” Jared said with an evil glint in his eye. "With Anderson's death she should be in the perfect frame of mind for me to crush her will."

It took Joe a couple of days to finish recovering and to learn to use his new eyes and the shield. Basically, he had a thought-controlled computer inside his skull that gave him a few more skills.

Becka 'borrowed' a hydrogen powered craft that seemed to have its history in the days of light aircraft. (Which were still going on, on Earth.) The main difference with this one was that it was capable of hypersonic flight.

Beta Centauri IV had a lot in common with Earth. Resting almost in the center of the 'Goldie Locks Zone' of the large star, the planet was almost twice the size of Earth, had a slightly higher gravity, and a thicker atmospheric layer.

The 'dart' as she called it was used for long trips on the planet. It had room for up to thirty people, depending on the cargo being hauled. In this case, it was camping equipment, and the box of gifts from the Admiral. Becka took them to the Hysophan Desert, which was far away from any other settlements or prospecting areas of the planet.

Joe had even managed to convince the Admiral to include a couple special items for Becka, so it promised to be an educational trip.

They found an ideal spot that reminded Joe of the Arizona or New Mexico desert, only it had more trees.

They parked the dart and spread a chameleon tarp over the small craft. Then they set up their sleeping pavilion and the rest of the necessities they would need for the week. Joe left the weapons box in the dart, but opened it and selected a few things, before he resealed the box and returned to where Becka was preparing dinner.

“Whatcha got there?” Becka asked, cheerfully.

“Well, now that I'm officially back on duty, I have my protector...” he held up an old Desert Eagle .50cal handgun in its holster. “...and a couple of other toys for both of us to play with tomorrow.” He held up one of three silenced Glock SoG90 9mm with an extended clip in another holster.

“Ooo! That one looks small enough for me to play with!” Becka said playfully.

Joe smiled at her. “That's why I had Hawklings pack an extra one for you.”

She handed him a plate with a nice juicy looking steak on it, and a side of pork and beans from a can. “Sorry about the beans, but I didn't think I had time to bake a couple of spuds before we got ravenous.” She walked to the dart, and retrieved a small cooler. Bringing it out by the campfire, she opened it, and handed him a brown bottle with a ceramic cap. It looked just like the beer in Germany did.

“Local brew. Personally I think they got the Brewmeister straight from Bavaria!” Becka said.

Joe looked at the bottle and read 'Centauri Dark Ale'. Under that was a phrase in German that he read as 'New planet; Old recipe.' He took an experimental sip.

“Okay, it looks like I have a new favorite beer. This tastes almost as good as the old Classic Dark used too. Damn I was pissed when they quit making that stuff. The stuff they replaced it with tastes like they ran it through the Clydesdales first!” Joe said.

Becka nodded. “I thought you'd like that stuff. Be careful though, they don't have the same regulations here that they had in the United States. Can I ask you a question about the guns?”

“Sure,” Joe said between bites.

“Why did you stick with slug throwers? Why not a laser or a MAG?” Becka asked. (MAG stood for Magnetic Accelerator Gun. Same principle as a rail gun, but without the rail.)

Joe swallowed a bite of steak and chased it with a drink of ale. “The Desert Eagle, I keep for sentimental reasons. But those three Glocks are mostly undetectable by weapon scanners, dead easy to use, accurate, and very quiet, not to mention reliable as hell.” He took another drink.

“With a laser you have to hold the target and you would have to hit a major organ to get a clean kill. Not to mention the fact that it could potentially penetrate a hull. The MAG would not only penetrate a hull, but everyone in the system would hear it fire. It's also fuckin' heavy. A MAG actually weighs more than my Barret!”

“I was going to ask about that. Why do you even have that monster? I really doubt you'll need it to kill Jared,” Becka said.

“Probably not. But when I left the Agency, I destroyed my old weapon, so they sent me a new one. While we're out here, I need to get used to it, learn to feel it and get comfortable with it. I may not need it for this first mission, but I may need it for another mission later on.

“It's the same reason all the other weapons that are in there as well. I need to use them, to get familiar with them again, in case I need them,” Joe explained.

“What else is in there? All I saw were the pistols and the Barret,” Becka said.

“Under the top layer of foam, there is what will soon be a standard issue military weapon. The M91 assault weapon fires standard NATO 7.62 mm rounds. The military almost punted the program except for the fact that this weapon can quickly be re-chambered for 5.56 mm which is what the existing M16 and most of its variants fire,” Joe explained, but saw that Becka wasn't all that interested in learning about the individual weapons. “Anyway, there is also one of your lasers and a small version of a MAG that's actually still experimental.”

Joe picked up their plates and empty bottles. He put the bottles back in the cooler for recycling, and the dirty plates into the garbage. Although it was still early for them, the day here was over.

The planet had two moons and this time of the year it was also getting some light from Centauri B, so it hadn't gotten pitch black. In fact, it was still pretty bright, once your eyes adjusted. The desert landscape at night was as eerie as it was beautiful.

The light coming from the companion star was almost bluish, while the light reflected off the first moon was reddish because of the amount of iron in the moon's crust. Later, when the second moon rose, it promised to get even brighter yet as that moon had an atmosphere, and would most likely reflect white light from Centauri A.

The light, like that reflected off the moon of Earth, bleached all the color out of the world around the couple. That eeriness coupled with the complete lack of sound from insects and other creatures that hunt at night, made both of them a little jumpy.

“Joe?”

“Yes Becka?”

“Out here isn't your quarters aboard the Citadel, but I think this will do quite well as a substitute,” Becka said. “Would you like to join me in our tent?”

Joe was up well before Becka, so he made some coffee and scouted the area. From the top of a nearby hill, he looked down on the camp, to check the camouflage they'd put up. It looked fine.

Sitting on a rock, he tried to relax his mind and emotions as he'd been taught so many years ago. He'd managed to quiet his mind a couple of times since awakening from the treatment at Darkwater.

Once again this morning, out here in the quiet wilderness of an alien planet, he again found his center. He would need to work on adjusting to the new way his eyes worked and to being able to 'speak' to the computer that controlled the nanobots in his system.

Sighing, he opened his eyes and looked down at the campsite. However, he wasn't actually looking at the site, he was using the optical interface to learn more about his 'new' eyes.

As per Dr. Symms instructions, he wanted to zoom in and his eyes did exactly that. He thought to return to normal vision and they did. However the telescopic view had been incredible. Then he tried something the doctor hadn't actually told him about. He wanted to see heat signatures.

His vision shifted slightly, and he could see Becka sitting up in the bed through the canvas of the tent. However, she was only a red silhouette overlying a small piece of the camo-screen they'd put up. He thought to remove actual view and use infrared only. He vision shifted to what he wanted.

When he got his vison back to normal, he 'asked' for an overlay for computer targeting. He blinked, and got a compass reading on the top of his sight picture, and an adjustable rangefinder that seemed to follow whatever his eyes focused on, as well as windage readings out to the point of focus. There was also an icon that looked like it was a 'connect' button.

He stood to begin the trek back to camp. He and Becka had a lot to go over before they began shooting and getting used to their weapons. He dismissed the 'HUD' (Heads-Up Display) setting and felt that pseudonym would be used for that setting from now on.

As he walked he began wondering about what he'd learned about how to navigate so far, and how he seemed to be able to' hear' hyperspace. Briefly, he wondered if he'd ever be able to actually see what he felt.

He had to stop as his eyes began to cycle through various settings and frequencies until it found a setting that Joe honestly thought might be exactly what he'd just wondered about.

Since he could still see where he was going, just not in the same way as 'normal' mode he took a step to keep going and found himself just outside the hidden shelter, looking at a very surprised Becka.

“What the hell?” Becka asked as Joe switched back to normal vision mode.

Joe was just as surprised as she was. “I have no idea! I was playing with the settings for my eyes and wondered if I could see hyperspace, since I could feel it when you were navigating. My eyes started changing like crazy and finally settled on something that... I don't know, it sure felt like I was looking at hyperspace. While I was wondering about that, I took a step to finish walking down here and bam! I’m standing here!”

“You mean you made a hyperjump without a ship?” Becka asked, stunned.

“Honestly, I have no idea what just happened,” Joe replied, confused.

“Well, if what it looks like happened actually happened, then the entire game's changed,” Becka said thoughtfully. She was obviously shaken and she remembered what Dr. Symms had talked to her about.

Joe let out a breath and forced himself to calm down. “Well, I don't know if I would like to try it anymore today.”

“Did it tire you? Are you feeling light headed? Do you have a headache?” Becka said, firing questions at him.

He picked her up and kissed her just to shut her up.

When he sat her back on her feet he broke the kiss and looked into her eyes. “I'm fine. Let's do what we came out here to do and deal with the new stuff later, under better circumstances, okay?”

She was breathing hard, but nodded. The thin shirt she was wearing did little to cover the results of the kiss, but she stepped back, took a deep breath and got herself under control.

They spent an hour or so setting up various targets at odd angles, and distances. When they returned to camp, Becka thought they would get their weapons and start firing. She was wrong.

He began by talking to her about breathing and calming the mind. She was tempted to crack a joke about all the Zen stuff, but she sensed he was dead serious, so she listened intently.

“You will actually have an advantage over most folks if you have to shoot someone.” Joe explained. “However, that advantage will also make it almost impossible for you to pull the trigger.”

“What do you mean?” She asked.

“You're an Empath. A disciple of the power of the Heart. It is in your nature to protect and nurture life, not take it.” Joe explained. “You have the ability to connect to the life force of the animal you're going to shoot. You will be able to feel it and that will keep you from pulling the trigger.”

“If you're so certain it will keep me from killing anyone, why are you teaching me to shoot in the first place?” Becka asked, getting a little annoyed with him.

“I'm teaching you to shoot so you can protect yourself and others. I'm trying to mentally prepare you for what's going to happen if you are ever put in that situation. I want you to expect it, to know it will happen, so you can be prepared and act accordingly when it does."

“So, Master Yoda, how am I supposed to react to it?” She asked sarcastically. There was enough Irish in her to resent the way he was treating her.

“I want you to remember that there is a reason that you have your weapon pointed at someone's head. That if you don't pull the trigger, you, or someone else, will be killed. No matter what you feel from the person you are about to kill, you still have to kill them to save others,” Joe said, controlling his own anger.

“I know what Jarad is, Joe. I know he has to die,” Becka said, defiantly.

“I'm not talking about Jarad, Becka. I'm talking about killing me.”

“Intelligence and Wisdom travel different roads to the same destination, but rarely ever meet.”

“I've made some inquiries on your behalf, Major,” Hawklings said by way of greeting.

“Oh? Into what?” Joe asked.

“Getting Laura up here. There's a problem.”

“I appreciate it, Admiral, I really do. What's the problem?” Joe asked.

Hawklings sighed. “She never accepted your 'death'. We weren't very worried about it, because she had no way of getting any information. That's changed. She's teamed up with your old controller.”

Joe instantly knew who he was talking about. “Sharon? She's still alive?”

“Yeah, she wasn't eliminated because she was the one that blew the whistle on your former employers. She was exempted from the purge. Apparently, she came to your funeral and left Laura a note about your Swiss accounts.

“While over there, Sharon contacted Laura directly, Laura must have convinced Sharon that you are still alive, because now, Sharon is making inquiries about you. We would have already taken care of this, except that she's a General now, and killing her would be politically messy. Both Laura and Sharon have clearances, but this entire project is on a need to know basis and neither of them need to know. We need to stop them, but we can't use our usual methods,” Hawklings finished.

“I could do it. But it would mean breaking our agreement, by contacting them,” Joe said.

“That's what the Council is currently considering letting you do. What would you say to them?”

“I'd tell them that, yes, I'm still alive, but I can't tell them where I am or why. I can tell them that I appealed to the authority to let me try to stop them before they both ended up dead. Yes, it would confirm that I'm still alive, but I don't think it would violate our security,” Joe replied.

“Uh, doesn't it bother you that they seem to be getting closer? I mean, this looks like Laura's pretty much abandoned you,” Hawklings said.

“Not at all, Admiral. Although at the time, I was pretty sure she had no idea what love was; I think Sharon did actually love me. It would explain why she didn't help the cleaners track me down. Laura loves me too, that I have no doubts about at all. I did tell Laura about Sharon, and how I felt about her. I have no doubt in my mind at all that Sharon will ever hurt her. If they get together, then I'll be happy they both found a way to deal with my… absence. The one thing that is troubling is that Sharon does have the resources to track me down. But she may not know that it will get them both killed."

Hawklings nodded. “That makes sense now that you explained it. But, that doesn't answer my question.”

Joe shrugged. “I'll talk to them. Sharon, at least, will help with Laura. Once I tell them that I'm okay, I think they'll stop trying to dig.”

Hawklings looked confused. “If they love you, how would that stop them? It seems to me that by confirming what they believe is true, it'll only make them try harder.”

“Remember, I'll tell them that I pleaded with you for their lives. I know Sharon will take that to heart. Laura may want to keep going, but Sharon'll stop her if for no other reason than to protect her,” Joe explained.

“I still don't understand the relationship dynamics, here. Laura has found someone else, how do you believe she is still yours?” Hawklings asked.

“That might be hard to understand. I believe that Sharon and Laura simply consider that we have a group relationship, but I just happen to be absent,” Joe explained. Becka looked a little uncomfortable, but she stayed quiet.

“I see, I guess an old sailor like me would have a hard time with that. All of my relationships usually began and ended in the same weekend. I'll speak to the Council for you and see what we can come up with. Do you still want Laura up here with you?”

“I don't know, Admiral. I'll have to think about it. I'll probably have a better idea once I've spoken to them,” Joe said. “When I made that request of you, I had no idea we'd be importing a harem.”

Hawklings nodded. “You pretty much already have one, if Becka hasn't told you that already. We really do need you to try to pass on your abilities.”

“I understand, Admiral. You want me to make love to dozens of beautiful women; oh, the trials I must endure for my people!” Joe said playfully. “Don't worry, Admiral. I'll most definitely be doing my part.”

Hawklings chuckled. “You know, the first dozen times I had to stress that order, I felt like a pimp, because, in case you haven't noticed, the ability mostly manifests in women. Surprisingly, they didn't seem all that upset about it.”

Becka finally entered the conversation. “That's because they hadn't met Jared yet, Admiral. Once they got out to the Citadel and found out about him, they got pissed.”

“Yeah, I suppose that would tend to put a damper on any enthusiasm. Unfortunately, he seems to be the most viable breeder,” Hawklings replied, thoughtfully.

“What? You mean, you didn't know?” Becka asked, clearly surprised. "I guess, that would actually make sense."

“Know about what, my dear?” Hawklings asked.

“Admiral, Jared is practicing his own form of eugenics. I don't think he's actually done anything that could be considered criminal, but he certainly has disregarded any ethical considerations. The good doctor up there is one of his drones. Jared ordered that his was to be the most viable, and therefore the preferred sperm to be used for artificial insemination. The women aren't given a choice,” Becka finished.

Hawklings looked pissed. “Major, do you have a time table for your operation?”

“Soon, Admiral. Very soon,” Joe replied.

“Can you do it today?” Hawklings asked.

“No, but perhaps by the end of the week,” Joe said. “I'll need to make some arrangements once we get back to town.”

Hawklings nodded, but it was clear he was pissed. “Let me know if you need anything and I'll make sure it happens. That fucker has been wasting far too much air.”

“I'll need a maintenance flight or something to get out to the Citadel. They've already tried to call Becka back a couple of times, so we could always use that. Let's schedule it for say... mid-week,” Joe said getting his mind into operational mode.

Hawklings made a note. “You'll have it, along with the credentials you'll need to get through security. Symms tells me that you should be able to interface directly with the computer systems once you're there. But, just in case, the maintenance pass will have override authority on it. You will, after all, be replacing your target as the leader of the Citadel."

“One thing at a time, Admiral,” Joe said. “Let's cure the cancer first.”

“Look again, ass-wipe! I was told she left the city in a dart. You are the person that handles their use, so don't even try to tell me you have no idea where she went!” the woman said, snarling at the dispatcher.

“You can bitch all you want, lady. It won't change the data in the computer. No one fitting this Rebecca person's description has taken out a dart. Neither has anyone claiming the guild, or Dr. Symms office as their origin. The only darts out are the ones for the Mining and Cartography Guilds!” the young man said in frustration.

“So where are those? You do have locators in them don't you?” the woman snarled.

“Of course we do, everyone knows that,” he replied.

“So... Are you fucking retarded? Give me a list!” She demanded.

The young dispatcher chuckled and hit the print button. When the ninth page started to print, the woman screamed obscenities and stormed out of the building.

Smiling, he picked up the documents. “What a cunt!” he said softly, as he dropped all ten copies of the single page into the recycler.

After the call from the Admiral, Joe and Becka returned to getting familiar with their weapons. Becka was a quick learner, and became proficient with the small weapon she'd gotten very quickly.

The first time Joe fired the Barret, Becka almost shit herself. However, she did her job. “Up three, right two.”

As Joe made the adjustments to the weapon, she took the time to look it over better. The long weapon, without all the scopes and electronics attached to it, looked innocuous. Yes, it was big, but it still looked just like a standard rifle, but damn was it loud!

“Set,” Joe said and returned to sighting down the barrel.

“Ready,” she replied.

BOOM! Pause BOOM! Pause BOOM!

She jumped again each time he fired. Looking through the spotter scope, she was a little surprised by what she saw. “Linear grouping.”

“Yeah, I knew I fucked that up, sorry,” Joe replied.

“Something bothering you?” Becka asked, although she already knew there was.

Joe moved back from the gun. “Yeah, I was waiting to talk to you about it until I could get a better handle on it.”

She handed him a bottle of water, and opened one for herself. “Are you there yet?”

He shrugged. “I don't think I'm ever going to get there this time,” he replied taking a long drink of the water.

“I didn't know Jared was doing that to the women,” Joe said. “How long's it been going on?”

She shrugged. “A couple of years. Probably longer, and we just didn't catch on to it. I was one of the first that refused impregnation because of it. Life's been a little rough since then.”

“Why do I get the feeling that conditions at the Citadel are much worse then you've told me?” Joe asked.

“Most of it's just rumors. Besides, everyone is afraid of Jared, and no one knows who's one of his and who's not. We can talk about some things without getting in trouble, but I have a feeling there have been some pretty evil things happening out there. When Thom told us about his sister, I wanted to say something then, but... I don't know, I think Jared might have had me conditioned as well," Becka replied. “Although, I don't know how because I avoided that prick as much as possible.”

“Come on, let’s clean up and head back to camp. The day's mostly over anyway. We can finish this back there,” Joe said.

They cleaned up the firing point and packed all of it back to the camp. Once there, Joe put the trash and the spent shells away while Becka got cleaned up. It was Joe's turn to cook that night, so by the time she got back out to the fire, he'd just gotten the steaks on.

“So, do you have any ideas on how to handle Laura and Sharon?” she asked.

“Well, yes and no. It's more like a half formed plan than anything. I would still like Laura out here with us, but I'm not sure I really want Sharon as a lover; too much has happened between us. That being said, she would make an excellent administrator for the Citadel.”

“Uh, you are going to be the Citadel's Administrator once we kill Jared... Aren't you?” she asked.

“Well, I've been thinking about that. I don't think someone like us should be in charge out there. The potential for another situation like Jared happening is too great. We need someone that has no Navigational abilities at all running the show. Someone with strong administrative abilities in oddly functioning agencies. Sharon would be perfect for that," he explained.

“But, how would you handle the relationship thing with her? You know that she loves you; do you think she could return to the way things were when you were in the Agency together?”

“I don't know. Remember, I haven't actually seen her for the better part of twenty years. I'm more worried about what Laura is going to do than Sharon anyway. She doesn't like letting go of people she's let into her life.”

Becka grinned. “Why would she have to? If Laura lives out on the Citadel with us, why can't she and Sharon still remain lovers? That part of the relationship doesn't have to include you. Think about it, you'll be screwing all these other women, why can't she have some on the side as well?”

“You're right of course, but how are we going to convince the Council to bring them both up here? I'm sure they don't fully trust me yet, and I can't really blame them for that.” Joe finished.

Becka took her plate from Joe. “Call the Admiral. Talk to him about this just like you talked to me. Explain it to him. If you can get him to understand what you’re saying, he can then take it to the Council for them to consider. You are, after all, honestly only looking out for their best interests as well as your own.”

“True, I suppose. I did say I would call him when I had a better idea of how to handle this.” While he ate, he had his internal computer system make the connection with the Admiral and project him sitting with them by the fire.

“Damn,” he said looking around. “I almost wish I really could be there with you. This looks beautiful, and those steaks look even better!"

“Well, now you know where to go for your next leave, Admiral!” Becka said. “It is beautiful out here. It gets a little warm during the day though, and I miss the sounds of the bugs.”

The Admiral grinned. “At first, the biologists thought that there weren't any bugs out there. But, that's not the case. They are just much quieter, and the noises they do make are not in the normal range of human hearing. At least, there's no fucking mosquitoes!” Hawklings explained. "Now, I'm sure you didn't call me to talk about the ecology of the planet, Major. What can I do for you?”

“Actually sir, you asked me to call you back when I had a plan for dealing with the Sharon and Laura issue. I think I have one, but I don't know if the Council will like it. Before I explain it, I want you to know that I honestly am thinking of the greater good with this.”

“Okay, now you have me worried!” He said grinning. “Tell me all of it, so I can follow your reasoning, that way, I'll be able to pitch it to the Council."

“Well, first thing; I don't think a Navigator should be in overall command of the Citadel. The potential for another Jared happening, even if the person is aware of it, is just too great. The person has to be loyal to the ideals we are trying to accomplish out here and not just one group,” Joe explained.

“True enough, but having a Navigator in charge gives the other Navigators something to connect with. Do you really think that having a normal human in charge of them won't foster resentment?” Hawklings asked.

“To begin with it might. But there is one major thing we Navigators are going to need, whether we want it or not; we are going to need to be reminded that we are part of the human race, that we are no different or better than anyone else. We need the constant reminder that we are there trying to further the goals of our race, not just the Navigators. Having a normal in command out there will keep our eye on the ball and not let us focus on creating delusions of godhood.”

Hawklings looked at him sharply. “Do you think that will happen? I mean is it a possibility? Do you think you could end up going down that road?”

Joe shrugged. “We do have special abilities other humans don't have, Admiral. No, I certainly wouldn't go that way intentionally, but what's to keep it from happening by accident? Hell, the very eugenics program you are fostering out there almost reinforces it. Jared happened because he believes that he became better than the rest of the human race. We are going to need an anchor to make sure the rest of us don't slip down that road ourselves.”

“But we are talking about one individual that developed a limited mind control ability aren't we?” Hawklings asked.

“Yes, we are. But are we certain that someone else won't develop extra abilities? Admiral, you, yourself told me that the human mind is only now evolving the ability to navigate hyperspace. Why would it have to stop there? Where is it written that that's the only thing it's capable of evolving into? Sir, with respect, there is no way in hell this is either controllable or containable, but we can plan for it and try to develop the best way to handle it when it does happen, if it hasn't happened already,” Joe finished.

Hawklings remained looking thoughtful while he considered Joe's words. “Major, I trust you and Becka. Until now, I trusted the rest of the Navigators as far as a passing acquaintance will allow. However, this will completely destroy the trust that the Council has for them. So, I need you and Becka back here by Thursday evening for the Friday council session. I'll want you to talk to them and convince them; like you just convinced me, that this is not something we need to fear, but rather prepare for.”

“Uh, sir, I have business I need to take care of on the Citadel...” Joe began, but Hawklings waved him off.

“Major, no one ever thought this far ahead, or been in the position you now find yourself in. I dare say that this information is far more important than the little dictator in the grand scheme of things. If you can take care of him before you need to meet the transport, then do so, but if you can't, he can wait. This is now your first priority; Jared can wait a couple of days. Gather what information you can, any facts that you might be able to dig up to support your thoughts, and be ready for Friday.”

Joe stood and saluted. “Yes sir. Is there someone that can step in and take over the Citadel if Jared suddenly dies?”

“I doubt Jared's second is much better than he is, if Jared picked him. We had planned on you taking over after Jared, which, you might have to do, at least for the short term. I'm sure Becka knows people there that can run the place in your absence. After all, there are not any ships getting ready to depart, and none are due back for at least another month," Hawklings explained. “You should be back to the Citadel by Monday.”

“Sir, is Shana on her way back?” Becka asked.

“Actually, she should have just landed at the spaceport. If I can ask, why do you keep asking for her?” Hawklings asked.

Becka grinned without humor. “I trust Shana, Sir. Most of the shuttle drivers you have on this run are a bit flaky at the best of times. Shana is still stable. We can also trust her to do exactly what we need her to do when she needs to do it.”

“Major?” Hawklings asked, looking at Joe. “How do you feel about her?”

“She's a very sweet girl, slowly being driven insane by the isolation and loneliness of her job. Yes, I trust her. She did, after all, have the presence of mind to react quickly and correctly when I collapsed at the Citadel,” Joe explained.

Hawklings nodded. “For the time being, I'll make sure she's at your disposal for transportation. We do have a new type of multi-purpose transport being built. It's much larger, and will have a crew of four. We are planning on replacing the small single person shuttles for the run between systems. Once we get those operational, the single person ship will be used for ground to orbit, or ship to ground transportation and resupply.”

Joe chuckled. “We're gonna need more people, Admiral. Now, I don't mean to cut this short, since I actually enjoy talking to you, but if you need things done, I best be doing them. We'll give you a call back as soon as we're en-route to Blackwater.”

Hawklings nodded. “You're going to the Citadel first?”

“Yeah, could you arrange for Dr. Symms to take a maintenance crew to the station to begin installation of his new shielding? Shana can take us, and the good Doctor can continue his work after we leave,” Joe suggested.

Hawklings nodded. “It'll be set-up before you arrive at the spaceport. I'll make sure Dr. Symms has your credentials. God speed and good hunting, Major.”

“Thank you, Sir. We should see you in a couple of days,” Joe replied as the hologram winked out.

Joe and Becka hurriedly began breaking camp before the last rays of the setting primary made it darker. As they worked, Becka remembered the conversation she'd had with Dr. Symms about Joe's beliefs.

“Joe, I'm kinda curious about something, but I'm a little hesitant to ask about it.”

“Ask anyway, Beautiful. If it's something I can't answer, I won't. If it's something I don't feel comfortable talking about, well, I can say that too.”

“Well, it's about religion. I was just wondering what your beliefs are. 'Pagan' covers a wide variety of beliefs,” she said.

“Yeah, it does. It's also the only name we have that covers what I believe in. You should hear some of the Christians freak out when I answer this question for them. It's really amazing how intolerant people can be,” Joe replied.

Becka nodded. “That's the truth. My parents tried to pound religion down my throat when I was growing up, but the more they tried, the less interested I became in it. I came to see it as nothing more than a control placed on the population by the church. A pretty effective one too."

“Unfortunately, I tend to agree with you on the control thing. Some pretty horrible things have been done in the name of 'God'. No, I believe that each person, as an individual, should try to find their own path.

“The first thing most Christians ask me is if I believe in God. I can honestly tell them yes I do, but not in the same way they do. That's when the trouble starts. You see, most everyone sees 'God' as a person, usually a man dressed in robes with a beard. I don't.

“I perceive 'God' all around us, all the time. It's part of us, as well as part of the world around us. When I can calm my mind I can feel it. It’s powerful and frightening, gentle and caring, all at the same time. It's really hard to explain, I guess," Joe said, shrugging.

“I think I follow you so far. You feel that god isn't a being, but rather the culmination of the life force of the universe, right?”

Joe nodded. “Very close. I do see it that way, yes, but I do feel it's a living entity. I honestly don't know if it has its own agenda; if it does, I sure haven't seen evidence I could understand.” He chuckled. "I guess I've watched Star Wars too many times, but in reality, that just feels closer to the truth for me."

Becka looked thoughtful. “Do you think it could actually be Hyperspace you feel?”

“Not as the being, no, but I do think I can hear, or feel, Hyperspace through this awareness. Kinda like it gives me a different point of view that the rest of you don't have.”

“The doctor thinks you might be psychic. When he hears what you just told the Admiral, it's going to confirm it for him. That could put us in a lot of danger,” Becka said.

Joe frowned. “I don't think so. That's what the meeting with the council will be for. We're not going to be able to keep our abilities to ourselves forever; one of us will slip-up sooner or later. Besides, I honestly think that there are far more of us than have been located so far.”

While they'd been talking, they got all their gear back into the dart and got ready to leave. Becka took the pilot's seat and Joe sat next to her.

As she started up the engine, she asked. “So the plan is to get the Council prepared for the 'discovery' of our abilities? What else?”

“For now, that's it. I'm still playing this by ear. I do believe getting someone like Sharon up here to run the Citadel is the right thing to do. Especially if Dr. Symms can get the shielding installed. I would also like to see the Citadel relocated to a habitable moon or planet.”

“What's wrong with the station?” Becka asked.

“Nothing, but wouldn't you feel better if you had a planet to call home instead of a station floating between two stars? Besides, as the human race grows and expands, we'll need the room to expand, too,” Joe explained.

Becka grinned. “So you do have plans beyond getting rid of Jared and getting the Council ready for psi abilities in humans!”

They had only been flying for about a half hour when the comm system chirped at them. Becka tapped the control screen to look at the messages. “There is a message from a couple of days ago. Todd, the guy that dispatches these darts, sent a message telling me that there was a woman claiming to be from the Navigator's Guild trying to locate me. He said she came into his office and demanded the transponder code for my dart. He said she was a real bitch, so he put her off but he says that there might be a welcoming party when I land.”

“Jared is looking for you. I would bet he has special plans for you, too.” Joe replied.

She paled a little bit. “That's not something I would like to think about. I really don't want to know what that twisted fuck wants to do with me. Besides, I know most of the people on the station that are against him. If he gets me, he could get them.”

“So, we will have to make sure he doesn't get you. Hopefully, this is only a retrieval order and not a terminate one. Don't sweat it, Becka. They think I'm dead, so they won't be prepared for it. Let me call the Admiral to let him know we're on our way and see what he can do about it. Otherwise, I'll deal with it … quietly.”

“He may want you to do that anyway. I get the feeling he's getting tired of all this bullshit,” Becka asked.

Joe chuckled. “I'm sure he is. Hell, I just got here and I'm already sick of it!” He paused and turned in his seat. “We're on the move, Admiral."

“I see that. What's your ETA?” Hawklings said.

“About five and a half hours, Sir. Even at these speeds it's still going to take some time, we were pretty far out,” Becka replied.

“That should put you there in the middle of the night cycle. I've already gotten your paperwork set up with Symms and told the young Captain Shana that she and her ship have been reassigned. Symms said to let you know he should have everything else ready to go by noon tomorrow,” Hawklings explained.

Joe nodded. “One thing; Becka received a message from the young man that dispatches these darts. A very rude woman with two thugs in tow came into his office and demanded to know which dart and where Becka had flown to. He said she claimed to be from the Guild. It sounds like Jared is searching for her.”

Hawklings looked thoughtful. “Which means they'll be watching for her arrival. We don't have the time or the facilities to question prisoners, and your existence needs to remain a secret, Major. So, even if she is a Navigator, you're going to have to deal with her and anyone with her that can identify you.”

"With everything going on at the Citadel, I think I might need a little help I can trust. Admiral, do you think you could get me those two ex-Marines that picked me up?" Joe asked.

"Sure I can, but why do you need them?" Hawklings asked.

"From what Becka has been telling me, there are two separate factions on the Citadel. Those that are loyal to us and the mission we were recruited for and the other is composed of Jared and his minions.

"Before I take out Jared, we're going to have to make sure he doesn't have anyone in position to cause trouble or something else drastic. I'll have Smith and Jones help me round up the minions in the most important areas before I hit Jared. It's the only way to insure the safety of the loyal people. After that, I would like them to handle station security while I get busy with my real mission there; being a Navigator," Joe explained.

"Are two going to be enough?" Hawklings asked. "I can get you a few more if you think you'll need them."

Joe was thoughtful for a moment. "I just don't know, Admiral. I'm usually a solo act. It's going to be difficult enough having two with me and I know I can trust them to do what I tell them. There is a strong possibility that Jared will have sanctioned many more. I can't see how he could get away with everything he's been getting away with, if he was acting on his own."

Hawklings nodded. "I see you're point. Those two are actually already over there and preparing for an exploration mission. I'll get two others sent out to replace them and have them reassigned to you."

Joe nodded. "Okay, I'll call ahead and work out the details with Shana and Doctor Symms. That way she can be ready to lift once we get there. With any luck, we'll be able to simply land next to the shuttle, get aboard and leave before Jared even knows what's going on."

Hawklings nodded solemnly. "Do what you need to do, Major. I'll see you when you get here. Good hunting Major."

"Thank you Sir, with any luck, this'll be over quickly," Joe said grinning.

"Survey zero-one-one-niner, you are cleared for landing on pad Gamma nineteen-west," the tower controller at New Hedron Starport said over the speakers in the cabin.

"Roger Control, Gamma-one-niner-west. ETA is five minutes. Thanks for the quick landing," Becka replied.

"It's the middle of the fuckin' night, there's no one to wait for! Welcome back," Control replied.

Joe checked his Glock and chambered a round. He'd attached the silencer a bit earlier.

Becka landed the agile little craft next to the larger shuttle. Through the windows, Joe could see Shana standing beside her ship next to the open airlock. A rather large man was standing next to her and she was not smiling.

"Joe..." Becka began.

"Yeah, I see it. Just follow my lead. If someone asks you who I am, tell them I'm an assistant Dr. Symms sent out with you to test his shielding," Joe replied. "If we play this right, maybe we can break this little trap and get some information at the same time."

Becka nodded. "Okay, I trust you."

"Just be ready to get out of the way. I'll go first with the toy box. You hang back and do pilot things," Joe said winking at her.

Her worried expression softened a little and she almost smiled at him.

Joe opened the cargo doors as soon as Becka powered down the drive. He could be clearly seen un-strapping the big case holding his weapons. Becka was busying herself in the cockpit with pilot duties.

Joe lifted the case up on its casters and pulled the heavy case out of the dart and headed for the shuttle. Shana looked at him strangely for a moment, but a minuscule shake of Joe's head stopped her from asking a question.

"Good Morning, Captain. Is Dr. Symms onboard yet?" Joe asked in a friendly tone of voice.

"No, I haven't seen him yet, sorry." Shana replied.

Joe winked at her, and spoke in French. "You don't know me, just act like I'm an anonymous tech assistant. Just play along for now, I'll explain later. If they ask, tell them I'm from Quebec, too."

"Oui Messuier," Shana replied in the same language.

"That's kinda rude, I don't speak French," the brute beside her said.

"He asked if he could store his equipment and said he was from Quebec as well," Shana replied to him.

"Sorry, I didn't mean to be rude, could you give me a hand with this? It's kinda heavy and if I don't get it stowed before the doctor gets here, he'll get really mad at me," Joe asked with a French accent.

The man motioned his head toward the airlock. "Go on, there's someone in there to help you."

"Thanks," Joe said in a less than friendly voice the big man ignored. He almost made it to the door when another huge man came out and picked up the case.

"Careful! there's a lot of expensive and delicate equipment in there!" Joe said in mock fear for the imaginary equipment.

"Chill out tech-head. I won't bust any of yer test tubes," the man said. "Come on."

Joe followed the big man into the empty cargo hold for the shuttle. Joe made sure the door closed behind them as the big man sat the case down. He stood and started to turn. "Do you ha... Gahh!"

Joe struck quickly, hitting him in the throat so he couldn't call for help, then proceeded to knock the big gorilla unconscious. He pulled the heavy man over to one of the walls where he secured him with several cargo straps.

Opening his weapons case, Joe took out a roll of military duct tape, and covered the man's mouth. Thus secured, Joe quickly moved back to the door and cracked it open. He was just in time to hear the other man talking to Becka.

"There you are you stupid bitch! You know you should have just came in when the Prime ordered it. He wants to see you in his office; now," the big man said.

"I've been busy doing what we're supposed to be doing, or has he forgotten that?" Becka said insolently.

"I'll let you tell him that. Get aboard," the man ordered. "You, pilot, get ready to lift."

"What about Dr. Symms?" Shana asked. "He's the reason I'm going to the Citadel in the first place."

"Fuck 'em!" the brute said, "He ain't here and we're ready to go. He can find another ride. Move."

Doing as she was told, Shanna followed Becka into the ship, while the big man followed and closed the airlock.

Once everyone was passed the door, Joe heard a woman's voice in the main cabin. "You are a hard little bitch to find, now maybe the Prime will get off my ass about finding you. He has a few questions for you. Pilot! Get your skinny ass up there and take us to the Citadel. Ayers, go see what's keeping Hewes and that tech."

"What do you want to do with the tech? You know he's gonna bitch when he finds out Symms ain't here," the man said.

"Tell him to go file a complaint with the Citadel. This is official business," the woman replied.

Joe saw the big man start to turn, so he moved back and pulled out the Glock. The door opened and the man saw Joe standing there with the gun pointed at his head, and a finger to his mouth indicating silence.

Joe motioned the big man over beside his friend, where he too was quickly secured.

"You're that fucker the Prime was afraid of aren't ya?" the man called Ayers asked.

Joe smiled at him evilly and covered his mouth with the tape.

Joe didn't say anything to him. Instead, he turned around, fastened the tie-downs for his case to the floor, and walked over to the door. Looking back, he could see the other man had regained consciousness. They were both watching him in amusement. Joe grinned at them and left the hold.

"Why hasn't that stupid bitch taken off yet?" the woman asked.

"She isn't a stupid bitch, her name is Shana and she's my friend," Becka replied. "You know she might be having trouble getting clearance on this short notice."

The woman snorted. "My, haven't you gotten brave. That won't last long." The woman's sneer deepened.  "I'm certain the Prime has something special planned for you. By the time he gets done with you, you'll be begging to tell him who all the troublemakers are at the Citadel."

"You know I don't think you have a clue as to what's really going on here," Becka looking up said as Joe stepped up behind the woman.

"Who the fuck are you?" the woman said, turning to see what Becka was looking at.

"Major Joseph Anderson, United Terrain Marines. Who are you?" Joe asked seriously.

"You're the Anomaly!" The woman said and started reaching under her jacket.

Joe had the Glock pointed at her head so quickly she hadn't even seen him move. "That's rather rude," he said. "I introduced myself, you call me names and reach for a weapon. That's just not nice."

She slowly pulled her hand back away from her jacket. "Okay, so now what?" the woman asked.

"First, you're going to answer my questions. Depending on how you answer will determine how you are going to make this flight... or if you finish it," Joe said, reaching into her jacket and removing her weapon.

"Like I'm going to tell you anything! I'm not that stupid! There is nothing you could do to me that would even compare to what The Prime will do to me," she replied.

"You're not very bright are you?" Joe asked. "I really don’t think you have to worry about seeing your beloved 'prime' again; at least, not in this life." Joe said. "I want you to think about something."

"What?" the woman asked, hatefully.

"You're afraid of Jared, right?" Joe asked.

"Who isn't?" she said.

"Me," Joe replied. "Now, consider this; you're afraid of Jarad, but Jared is afraid of me." Joe smiled without any warmth. "Who do you honestly think you should be afraid of right now?"

"Jared isn't afraid of you," the woman replied without hesitation. "You are a nuisance and a threat to his control of the Citadel, but he's not afraid of you."

Joe turned to Becka. "Do you recognize her?"

"I've seen her of course, but I don't know her at all. I think her name is Connie, or Corinne or something," Becka replied.

"Well, Connie or something, you and your two friends are going to be joining us for the time being. It's entirely up to you if you will be actually staying with us or not. Have a seat, this won't take long," Joe replied and motioned her to a chair at the table with his weapon. He moved over and gently knocked on the bridge door.

When Shana opened the door, she smiled at him. "I knew you were up to something. So, where are we really going?"

Joe winked at her. "The Citadel, but we can't leave yet. There are a couple of things I need to take care of first. Dr. Symms and his team will also be joining us. Can you hang out here for a few?"

Shana nodded. "Sure, but what are you going to do with our passengers?"

"Try to get some information out of them, but mostly I'm just gonna make sure their comfortably contained in the hold. We'll take them to Darkwater when we're finished." Joe said.

"Okay, I did file the flight plan as instructed, but I left the departure time as 'indeterminate'. We can get away with that when we do research runs," Shana explained. "Oh! Before I forget, a runner from the operations office brought this by for you." She handed Joe a small plastic card case. He opened it, and saw several different identification cards. One of them listed him as a representative of the Council and gave him Council authority.

Joe nodded thanks to her and turned back to the now sitting woman.

"I am a Navigator. You can't do anything to me without council approval," she said confidently.

"Do you honestly think I would be doing any of this if they hadn't already approved it?" Joe asked reasonably. He got a very sharp looking knife from the replicator and took the woman back to the cargo hold. As he passed her, he asked Becka to stay in the cabin for a moment.

She looked troubled, but nodded her agreement.

When he got into the cargo compartment, he tied the woman's arms to the roof with her feet spread widely apart. She kept looking over at the now whimpering man tied up on the floor of the hold. When he was certain she was secure, he did the same thing to the two men. When he was finished, he took out the knife and cut all their clothes off.

When he was finished he stood back and made a show of looking the woman over.

"I suppose you're going to rape me now? Go ahead, it won't make me tell you anything, asshole!" she spat at him.

"I have no interest in that, I was just wondering how someone like you could think she was all that and a bag of chips. Honestly, I don't see Jarad's attraction… But then again, maybe he likes boys after all," Joe said, commenting on her lack of breasts and very boyish figure. He smiled at her. "Enjoy your stay."

"Wait, what are you going to do with us?" she asked.

Joe looked back at her with complete unconcern. "Nothing, where you're going, I don't need to do anything to you."

"Where is that?" the woman asked.

Joe just smiled and left the hold, got Becka, and left the shuttle.

"Joe, what… uh, where are we going?" Beckka asked.

He smiled at her. "The real question you wanted to ask is what I did to that woman, right?"

"Well, yeah, but I'm not sure I really want to know," Becka replied.

"All I did was tie her up in a provocative way and strip her clothes off. I want her to imagine all sorts of horrible and nasty things while we're gone," Joe explained. "I didn't actually do anything to her except put her in a position to use her imagination."

"What about the other two?" Becka asked.

"Pretty much the same thing, but I tied them all up so they could all see each other clearly. When I left, one of them was already getting aroused," Joe said. "Considering their mentality and mindset, that should help convince the woman to talk."

"Jarad will know something’s happened when those people don't report in," Becka replied.

"I know; that's where we're going. Those three are going to check out a dart to go looking for you, flight control can log the flight as departing. That should cover us for a couple of days," Joe explained. "I usually work solo and a handler would take care of all of this, but I don't have a handler this time, so I have to do all the leg work myself."

"Ahh," she grinned. "Yet another reason to get Sharon up here?"

"Well, she would have been a good choice to run interference for me, but I doubt there will be as much need once we get this current situation taken care of," Joe replied.

"I'm pretty sure Todd at dispatch will do what we ask, but Flight Operations are a pretty strict group. They like everything by the book and filed out in triplicate," Becka explained.

"Considering that the lives of people are in their hands, I can't really blame them for that attitude. Don't worry, they'll do what we need."

"Are we certain Jarad doesn't have a spy in there?" Becka asked.

Joe grinned. "If he did, they would have known exactly where we went to and wouldn't have had to even visit dispatch."

"This whole thing is just confusing to me. How do we know who we can trust? He had the constable in his pocket; the head of the local police! I have to wonder who else he has control of," Becka said. "I would think we can't trust anyone anymore."

"I don't think it's all that bad. Besides, he doesn't need to control everyone, just a few key people. The Constable was an important one; he could access just about everything here Jarad would need. The rest of them are probably like Thom; forced into actions they don't want to do by Jarad and his minions. It'll all get sorted out very soon."

The dispatch office and flight operations were both at the small spaceport, so the couple didn't really have far to go. Todd, the young man that handled the dispatch of the planetary craft was more than willing to falsify the records of a dispatch, but he had a problem.

"Look, I'd love to do this for you Becky, but Flight Ops keeps me on a short leash. They audit my records every week and since the dart wouldn't actually be leaving, they'd find the discrepancy pretty quickly."

"Todd, I know you don't know me from Adam, but if you can do this for us, I'll make sure Flight Operations is taken care of. You won't get into trouble," Joe replied.

"Sir, I don't meant to argue with you, and I'm sure you think you can cover me on this, but those folks are real hard asses when it comes to regulations," Todd replied.

Joe took out his Council credentials and showed it to the man in a way that Becka couldn't see it. "Trust me Son, I'm pretty sure I can do it."

Todd's eyes got huge when he saw what the ID was for. "Is that real? I've never seen one before! Uh, I'll do what you need; how long do you need the dart to be gone?"

"Indeterminate, but no later than Sunday night, let's say a twenty-three hundred return. One of us will let you know when to check it back in, would that be okay?" Joe asked. "By the way," he cleared his throat and put a pair of dark sunglasses on. "You never saw this; I was never here."

Todd chuckled and nodded his understanding. "You know, my folks have always wanted to take a weekend and just go exploring. I could always just let them take the dart out, that way even a visual check would be real," Todd suggested. "Would that help?"

"That would be great, Todd. I hope they enjoy the trip," Joe replied, smiling and taking the sunglasses off.

When they left Todd's office, Becka cornered Joe. "Okay, what was that ID you showed Todd?"

Joe gave her a half grin and handed it to her. When she read it, she stopped. "Joe, do you understand what this is? It means you out rank the colony-fucking-governor!"

"No, it doesn't," Joe replied reasonably. "It only means that I have Council authority if I need it to do the job I've been asked to do, that's all. It's also a secret so just pretend you never saw it, okay?"

Becka handed it back to him. "At least now I know how you’re going to get Flight Operations to agree to this."

They did too, once Joe showed his credentials to the Chief, who had to be called in because of the late hour; it was done and Todd was well and truly covered.

Joe and Becka returned to the shuttle to wait for the rest of the people they would need.

When Joe and Becka got back to the shuttle, they found Shana talking to two men in the common area on the small ship. The two men stood and came to attention when Joe walked in.

"Relax guys, we're not actually in the military here. Shana, are we ready to roll?" Joe asked.

"Doctor Symms asked if we could move over to his lab so we can load his equipment," the blond replied smiling.

"That's fine with me, but can you wait until I talk to him first? I still need to take care of a couple of things before we get moving," Joe replied. "Not a problem Sir. Just let me know when to go and I'll get us moved."

Joe nodded his head. "Since he's still up, I'll give him a call. I'm gonna need some sleep pretty soon myself." He sighed and turned to the two men. "But, before that happens, let me fill you two in on what's going on," he said the last to the two men.

"You guys mind if I get something to eat? I missed breakfast and only got some stale pretzels for lunch," Joe asked.

"Not at all, Sir," the former Lance Corporal, whose name was Gary, replied.

When Joe returned to his seat with a plate of Chicken Alfredo and garlic bread, the other former Marine, Luke, shook his head. "Fuck, now I'm hungry again. That smells great Sir."

Joe grinned at them. "Tastes even better. Now, about the mission. Did the Admiral give you any toys before you got sent down to the ship?" Joe asked.

Luke nodded. "Yes Sir, we both got one of every weapon we've been qualified on, along with a standard kit of uniforms and the like."

Joe nodded as he chewed and swallowed his current bite. "This is going to be a 'wet' mission. Our objective is to kill Senior Navigator Jarad Smalls. I'll actually do the dirty work, but I asked for the two of you to help me with his 'minions'. Ideally, Jarad will be the only one to die, but I have no way of determining what might happen, if he has any guards, or what the afore mentioned 'minions' will do to stop me, either before or after he's dead. Keep in mind, there are 'friendlies' on station as well. Becka will get in touch with them and let them know what's going on.

"Now for the really scary part. We know that at least Jarad Smalls has an active mental ability other than that of Navigator. There may be others, but we have no idea what they are or how strong they might be," Joe said, but Gary stopped him.

"Excuse me Sir, but did you say mental ability? Like ESP or something?"

Joe nodded. "Exactly like ESP or something. So here's the drill; I'll only give you orders with hand signals. The rest of the time, I want both of you to sing the Marine Corp anthem in your minds over and over. If you have to shoot, shoot to wound. Kill only if absolutely necessary. Understood?"

"Does it have to be the Marine Corps anthem Sir? I really hate that song," Gary replied.

Joe grinned. "I do too, but that's why I picked it. It'll force you to concentrate on it. It'll keep your mind occupied and hopefully drown out anything else that might sneak in there."

They both nodded thoughtfully. "That actually does make sense," Luke replied.

"Okay, now we'll be going in disguised as part of an upgrade team led by Doctor Symms. Once we get his gear aboard, his real team will get to work since they really do have a job to do. The four of us will slip away at that time. Jarad has ordered his minions to bring Becka back to the Citadel, so if they see her, there could be an issue. Luke, you'll go with her and prevent that from happening."

Luke nodded and smiled at Becka.

"Gary, you and I will make our way to Jarad's office and take care of business. Once that's done, we'll round up Jarad's minions and get them ready to be taken back to Darkwater for trial. We do know that the facility Medical Officer, as well as Jarad's second, are under his control. Anyone else is a coin toss. Now, we know of at least two hostages Jarad has been holding. We're not sure where he's been holding them, but we will need to find them and anyone else he might have been holding. That's the general plan, any questions?"

"Yes Sir, can we get a layout of the facility?" Gary asked.

Becka handed them both smart sheets with maps and data files for known accomplices of Jarad's.

"This is a space facility gentlemen, so for this mission, you'll want silenced Glocks with ceramic rounds. A punctured bulkhead would totally ruin my day. No one will be going down to the planet after we make this assault. Jarad does still have agents on the planet. We'll be collecting them as we discover them. Please study the sheets and be ready to party," Joe said and took another bite of his dinner.

Luke got a plate of garlic bread and two sodas before sitting back down to study the smart sheet. Gary nodded his thanks, grabbed one of the sodas and got back to studying. Joe moved over to the comm terminal.

A smiling Doctor Symms' image appeared on the wall display. "G'morning everyone. How are you Major?"

"Alive and well thanks to you, Doctor," Joe replied, smiling.

Symms nodded in return but lost some of his smile. "I assume it's time to go to the Citadel?"

Joe nodded. "Yeah, I'd like to end that nightmare as quickly as possible so we can get back to business. I know it's the middle of the night, but how soon can you get your team together?"

"Well, I've had them set up and ready to go for a few days. I told them the delay was because I was waiting for final test results. I do that so much, no one even batted an eye over it," Symms explained. "I can have them ready in about two hours."

"Are they aware that we will be joining you?" Joe asked.

"Not you specifically, no. I told them that there would be a tech or two from the design team coming from Darkwater to assist us. They know we are getting helpers, but not a set number nor do they know who," Symms replied.

"That's perfect, Doctor, thank you," Joe replied. "Please get them ready; I'll have Shana move over to your lab so we can load your equipment and meet your people."

Symms nodded. "I'll call them in." He looked thoughtful for a moment. "Major, I specifically handpicked every member so I know and trust each one of them. I did have a few I wasn't absolutely sure about, and I will be leaving them behind under the excuse of the extra help from Darkwater. I have not alluded to there being anymore to this than upgrading the shielding, so none of them have a clue anything else will be going on. But I would ask that you consider briefing them during the flight, so we can stay out of your way when the time comes."

Joe nodded. "I will consider it, Doctor. I do appreciate all you have done to assist us in this mission. Thank you."

Symms shook his head. "Major, I'm just glad you came along when you did. I doubt we could get rid of the crazy bastard any other way."

"Excuse me, Major," Gary said interrupting the conversation. "Doctor, may I ask how many of your team are medically trained?"

"Doctor, this is Lieutenant Finn. He's working for me," Joe explained.

Symms dipped his head in greeting. "Pleased to meet you Lieutenant. Yes, there will be two medical doctors; counting myself, and three medically trained nurse practitioners. May I ask way?"

Gary nodded. "We know that the current medical officer on the Citadel is working for our target and cannot be trusted. We may have need of medical assistance we can trust."

Joe nodded agreement. "Good idea, Gary." He looked at Symms again. "Think you can sneak a couple of emergency kits in with the other equipment?"

Symms nodded. "Not a problem. I'll handle that right now, then call in the team. Is there anything else I can help with, Major?"

"Not that I can think of. We're on approach to the complex now, so we should be seeing you shortly. Thanks again for your help, Doctor," Joe replied.

Symms smiled. "My duty to serve, my pleasure to help a friend. See you soon." He closed the connection.

Shana headed for the cockpit to get the ship moving while he spoke. The two men nodded their agreement and took seats with Becka and Joe.

"Sir, when did I become a Lieutenant?" Gary asked.

"Well, I sort of forgot to tell you two when I came to see you in medical. I had the Admiral promote both of you. You're probably going to need the extra rank at some point, so I just asked him to handle it now," Joe explained shrugging.

"We're both officers?" Luke asked. "What are we going to be doing that will need a higher rank?"

"Citadel Security. I would like the two of you to eventually take charge of that area. That way, there are two men I can trust close by if I need to call on you, and it gives you a cushy job off-planet," Joe explained. "That was my thinking on it anyway. I owe both of you for when you came to get me. You could have been real dicks about it, but you trusted me and treated me like a fellow soldier. I really appreciated that."

"Sir, this is one hell of a thank you!" Luke replied, smiling.

"That's right, neither of you have been to the Citadel before!" Becka said. "Guys, when we get there, you will get an immediate headache. If it wouldn't dull your reactions I would suggest that Doctor Symms give you an analgesic for it."

All three men looked at the woman in confusion. So she explained. "Joe, you remember the reaction you had when we went to the Citadel before. With normal humans, it manifests as a mild to moderate headache initially." She looked at the two Marines. "When Navigators practice, it creates a lot of 'noise' in hyperspace. Continual exposure would eventually drive you insane, but we shouldn't be there that long. Still, you will feel it; everyone does. That's actually what Doctor Symms will be trying to resolve with the shielding he's installing. I just thought you would like to know before we got there."

Joe nodded. "I'll have Symms give you something that won't dope you up. Good catch, Becka."

"This party just keeps getting better and better," Gary commented dryly.

Joe nodded. "Just be glad we're not facing a bunch of extremists with assault rifles and a nuclear weapon."

"Amen to that!" Luke replied. "That's no fun at all."

Shana received clearance to land outside Dr. Symms labs and everything went off like clockwork. Joe, Luke and Gary pitched in and helped get the equipment loaded just as if they were exactly what they appeared to be; techs from Darkwater station. After they took off for the forty-five minute flight, the group settled down as well as they could in the common area of the ship. Before they had landed, Joe had asked Becka to use her ability to monitor the team coming aboard when he told them of the mission. If any of them were working for Jarad, the news would make them have a very different reaction than it would the others.

Joe asked Symms about something for Luke and Gary to help with the headache they would get but would not dull their senses or reactions. Grinning, he reached into his pocket and drew out a small bottle of acetaminophen and tossed it to Luke, who was closer.

Joe nodded and looked at the group. "Can I have everyone's attention for a moment?"

When everyone had stopped talking and looked at him he continued. "I apologize for our earlier deception, but I'm not who Dr. Symms introduced me as. My name is Major Joseph Anderson. Myself and my two companions work for Admiral Hawklings and the Council. We are with you today as a means of sneaking into the Citadel in order to remove Jarad Smalls from power there." He paused, and put a worried look on his face. "We will be armed, and there is a strong possibility that we will need to use our weapons. All of that should take place far away from you folks, but I would still like to ask each of you to wear a ballistic vest under your coveralls. Once we arrive at the Citadel, we will help you get your gear off-loaded and even appear to begin helping you. So please don't say anything when we slip away."

"Is that why you didn't bring Sara and the others Doctor?" one of the techs asked. Luke and Gary went to the replicator and began making the vests for the technicians, then handing them out.

Symms shook his head. "I trust all of you. This is a very important mission for the Council as I'm sure all of you can attest to. Guys, the Major and his men are professionals. Before they joined us, all three of them were highly trained special operations soldiers. Rest assured, they know what they are doing and will work to ensure we are kept safely away from what they have to do."

"In other words, they're assassins, right?" someone said, neutrally.

"No, I'm the assassin, my men were Marines," Joe said. "I'll be doing what needs to be done. They will be trying to keep everyone else safe while I'm doing it."

"Jarad is insane and is trying to set himself up as a dictator. He has to be stopped, but I'm not sure I feel comfortable being party to murder, Doctor. We took an oath to save lives, not help someone else take them," the other medical doctor said.

"Doctor," Joe began. "You are not party to this action. I would be doing it whether you are here or not. However, we know the medical officer on the Citadel is under Jarad's control and can't be trusted to treat any wounded. We honestly need you with us to help save the lives of anyone that might get caught in the crossfire. Ideally, you won't have anything to do but work on the shielding with Doctor Symms and you won't know anything else even happened."

"There is a rumor that Jarad is psychic and can see events before they happen. How certain are you that he doesn't already know you’re coming?" someone else asked fearfully.

"Jarad is not clairvoyant. He gets his knowledge the same way others do; with spies. Most of whom do not work for him willingly, but are rather coerced or controlled into doing his bidding. This is another reason we are doing this. Ladies and gentlemen, Jarad Smalls is a person that cannot be brought to trial for his crimes because he has the ability to control the jurors. He is abusing his powers and authority, he has kidnapped free citizens and has used them as hostages, he has committed murder, as well as ordered others to commit murder and so many other crimes it would be redundant to repeat them all.

"I'm not a mindless killer. I do not enjoy doing this. However, I also understand that in certain circumstances this is the only way justice can be served, or failing that, lives can be saved. I agree, everyone deserves their day in court. If this person were anyone other than who he is, I'd be the first person to make sure he got it. That is simply not an option under these circumstances," Joe finished.

"If Jarad can control people, what's to keep him from controlling you or your men?" the doctor asked.

"I'm told he can't control me because I'm stronger than he is." Joe shrugged. "I have no idea what that has to do with it, but I do know he already tried once and failed. As for my men, we simply don't know. It doesn't seem to work on everyone. I plan to make certain he doesn't get the chance to try."

"You'll just kill him without saying a word?" someone else asked. "That's pretty cold."

"Talking to him would serve no purpose. No matter how you go about it, killing someone is always cold," Joe said. "We'll do everything we can to keep you safe. But if Doctor Symms tells you to report to the shuttle for a design meeting, immediately stop what you’re doing and go. That'll be the signal that things have gone to hell and we want you to get to safety. Does everyone understand?"

"Everyone, I would like to support what the Major has told you. Jarad has tried to control me on several occasions. It has failed every time and I possess no abilities at all. Chances are, he has tried the same with any of you that have met him," Symms said. "If you trust me, I ask that all of you trust the Major in this. He really does know what he's doing here."

Joe looked at Becka who smiled and shook her head. Everyone had passed. Joe let out a mental sigh of relief. It had been bad enough telling these folks about Jarad's ability to control others, but most folks would figure that out for themselves anyway. He just hoped it wouldn't make everyone afraid of all Navigators.

Using the intercom, Shana announced their pending arrival at the Citadel. Joe closed his eyes and raised the personal shields that Doctor Symms had given him. He looked at the small group. "Thank you for helping us."

"Good luck Major," one of the techs said, and the rest of the group nodded agreement, even the other doctor.

Shortly after arriving at the Citadel, the team was unloading the equipment they brought along and setting it off to one side in the bay. Doctor Symms stood by and had certain boxes placed in other positions based on how they would need access to them. The door into the Citadel proper opened, two men entered and walked up to Doctor Symms.

"Doctor, the Prime would like to see you in his office."

Symms ignored the man and continued to direct his team. Finally he turned to the man. "It can wait a few minutes, this is important."

"I'm afraid we must insist, Doctor. The Prime wants to see you. Now," the other man said stressing 'now'.

Symms motioned with his hand and got Joe's attention. When he walked up, Symms said. "Take two people and go check the power unit. If we have to modify it, it's really gonna throw us off."

"Certainly Doctor," Joe replied, but glanced at the two men. "Is everything alright Sir?"

Symms nodded nonchalantly. "Yeah, Senior Navigator Smalls is just throwing his weight around again, he's demanding to see me right away."

"That'll really mess up our schedule. Would you like me to come along to explain about the power unit? I can send Wills and Bennet to look over the system?" Joe suggested. "Maybe we can ease his mind and be able to keep our schedule. This headache is really bed, I know it has to be affecting the others." Joe was using the headache issue as an explanation to why they wanted to hurry.

"That's a good idea, Andre. I'm sure Navigator Smalls will appreciate it as well," Symms replied.

"As you wish, Doctor. I'll go get the others moving and grab my data sheet. It'll only take a moment," Joe replied.

"Just hurry up, The Prime is not known for his patience," the first man said.

"It'll only take a moment, who's 'the prime?" Joe asked as he stepped away.

Symms turned to the men. "He's a power systems engineer sent here from Darkwater station to assist us in getting the new shielding installed. He's one of the men that designed the last power upgrade you got."

"You know The Prime does not like bringing outsiders here Doctor. He is not going to be happy about this," one of the men said.

"He'd be even less happy if we overloaded the power unit. This was the only way to do this, so deal with it," Symms said getting annoyed.

Symms continued to direct the operations while Joe gave his order to his men and Becka. Very shortly, Joe trotted back to the waiting men carrying a small case of the type used for data sheets. "All set up, Doctor. They'll head over as soon as the rest of the gear is unloaded."

Symms nodded. "Perfect, with any luck, we'll be back before they return with the good news."

Joe nodded agreement, "That would be ideal, yes."

"Whatever, let's go," the man said and took a step toward the door.

Symms sighed. "Doctor Harolds? Can you take over here? Navigator Smalls wants to see me."

Doctor Harolds looked upset with the request, but nodded agreement. Then Symms turned to the two belligerent men, "Well?"

Ironically enough, Jarad's office was actually in the hold of the original cargo shuttle the Citadel was built around. There was an extra hatch built into the side of the old shuttle that Joe knew led to Jarad's private quarters. As they approached the hatch, Joe opened the case he was carrying and began sorting through the pile of data sheets it contained.

"I asked for Symms, who's the other person?" Jarad's voice sounded when the guard pressed the entry request.

"A tech sent here from Darkwater to help with the upgrades, Prime. He tagged along to explain what he'll be doing to the power systems," the man explained diffidently.

What that told Joe was that Jarad had a camera in the corridor and was watching the hallway. Joe had expected that, after all Jarad was paranoid.

"Has his identity been verified?" Jarad asked.

"Not completely, Prime. Only that there was someone sent from the station for this project that matches his and the other men's descriptions. There was a shift change before our person there could finish the verifications," the man explained.

"We don't have time for this crap! Navigator Smalls, you wanted to see me, let's get on with it! You know how this environment affects us. Every moment you delay with this paranoid crap is one moment closer to my people making a mistake that could hurt someone. Let's get on with it, or let me get back to work!" Symms demanded.

"Very well, Doctor," Jarad replied. It was clear he was pissed and barely controlling his anger. "Get in here and bring your Darkwater flunky with you!"

The door slid open and one of the men led the way through the hatch. Doctor Symms followed him and Joe moved to follow Symms. As he crossed the threshold he purposely tripped and dumped the folder of smart sheets all over the floor.

"Idiot!" the Guard behind him said. "Pick that up and get fucking moving!"

Doctor Symms also turned when Joe fell and bent down to help him gather up the scattered plastic sheets.

"What the hell is going on out there?" Jarad yelled.

"The idiot from Darkwater tripped over the door and dropped his files. We'll be with you shortly, Prime," the first Guard said and turned back into the short corridor to assist getting the sheets picked up.

When the man bent down, Joe was ready. He pulled out the pistol hidden in his coveralls and shot Jarad in the forehead, killing him instantly. In a fluid motion, he turned and brought the butt of the pistol down on the back of the neck of the guard behind him, knocking him out. But when he completed a full turn, he found himself looking down the barrel of gun in the first guard's hand.

"You're a fucking idiot, Anderson. The Prime recognized you when you got off the shuttle, you failed," the man said sneering.

"I think you should look behind you, Your 'Prime' has an extra hole in his head," Joe replied.

The man chuckled. "You see, that was where you fucked up. You just killed a double. A replicated body that looked like him. He's safely escaping on a shuttle as we speak. What the!" He quickly dropped the aim on his gun down to where Symms had been sitting on the floor, Joe jumped the doctor and disarmed them who fell to the floor like a rag doll.

Joe checked on Symms to see him putting the cover back on a syringe before putting it in his pocket. "A paralytic agent. It won't harm him, but he won't be moving around very much."

Joe moved back over to the man. "Dumb fuck, you should have just pulled the damn trigger!"

"It doesn't matter, we're all gonna be dead in a few minutes anyway," the man replied weakly and tried to laugh.

"Oh fuck! Symms! Get back to the shuttle as fast as you can and get as many people as you can on it," Joe said. "Tell Shana to launch as soon as she's full regardless if I'm back by then or not."

"But what…" Symms began, but Joe interrupted him.

"Now Doctor! We don't have time! Move! This place is going to self-destruct!" Joe all but yelled as he moved to Jarad's desk and pushed the clone out of the chair.

He quickly took out his Council Authority card and slid it into the slot. He was immediately granted access to the computer system. The first think he did was open the intercom to the whole station. "Attention all Citadel Navigators, this is Major Joseph Anderson of the Terran Defense Force. Jarad Smalls has fled the station but set it to self-destruct. By the authority of the Council, I am ordering all personnel to abandon the station immediately! This is not a drill. Get to the nearest escape pod as quickly as you can. I repeat abandon this station immediately!"

Shutting down the intercom, he tried to access the power systems of the station. When he got to the power systems, he found them to operating normally with no self-destruct activated. So if the power core was stable, then how was Jarad planning on destroying the station?

Joe stepped around the desk back to the paralyzed man on the floor.

"Hey, dickweed! How was your insane boss planning in destroying us? Or was he so fucked in the head he couldn't figure out how to blow the reactor?" Joe asked.

The man was in a euphoric, almost dreamy state. "We're going home. We're returning to that in which we came. Only the brightest burn the longest."

What the fuck did that mean?

Joe went back to the terminal in Jarad's desk and opened a comm to the shuttle. "Shana can I talk to Dr. Symms?"

"Sure, what's taking you so long?" She asked but Symms came on the line before he could answer her.

"What do you need Major?" Symms replied.

"Doctor, Jarad did not set a self-destruct, but he did do something before he ran. All I could get out of that guard was 'We're going home. We're returning to that in which we came. Only the brightest burn the longest.' I have no clue what that could mean, do you have any ideas?" Joe asked.

"It could mean just about anything depending on what the person that said it believes. Some believe we came from the stars themselves, others would see Earth as our home. Really it's far too ambiguous to guess," Symms replied, but he was clearly thinking as hard and fast as he could.

"Who the fuck cares! Just get back here!" Becka yelled from behind Symms.

"She's right Major, the Citadel is empty, get out of there and let whatever happens happen," Symms said. "Shana's sensors say that everyone is evacuated."

"Okay, I'll head back, but if it goes to hell you make that girl launch, do you understand, Doctor?" Joe replied.

"Yeah, I do. Good Luck Major," Symms said and cut the comm.

Joe grabbed his ID out of the terminal slot and ran for the door.

"You can't figure it out, can you?" Jarad's voice said over the comm system. "I guess I am smarter than you are. All that vaunted power and not a lick of intelligence."

"I know what I need to know. You're insane and I'll eventually kill you, nothing else really matters," Joe replied, but kept moving.

"You're not going to make it you know. The landing bay is too far away for the time you have left," Jarad replied giggling.

Joe came to a stop at a remote terminal and slid his ID into the slot. He used his nanobot control system to interface directly with the computer.

:PriCom/> Admin Override: Disable all access for Smalls, Jarad. Effective immediately.

:CtdlCom/> Override accepted. Smalls, Jarad - command access suspended.

:PriCom/> Admin Override: Terminate all existing command functions issued by Smalls, Jarad in the last thirty days.

:CtdlCom/> Override accepted. Command Functions terminated. Error- Hyperspace event command unable to terminate - event in progress.

"What's this? You're cyberkinetic? Interesting. I'll have to look into that. Too bad you won't be here to see my final ascension to power," Jarad gloated. "That was a smart move, locking me out of the computer, but I'll get back in once we get to where were going. There is nothing you can do to stop what's about to happen. I'm going to win no matter what you try to do. You have failed."

:PriCom/> Admin Override: Emergency Launch of shuttle docked at bay two-bravo. Execute immediate.

:CtdlCom/> Override Accepted. Emergency Launch protocols accessed. Launch in progress. Delay Hyperspace event until cleared? Y/N.

:PriCom/> Y ; Status emergency escape pods from Citadel.

:CtdlCom/> All launched pods are clear of Citadel event. On course for Centauri Station; E.T.A. three hours, twenty-one minutes. Life support function nominal.

:PriCom/> Status; remaining pods.

:CtdlCom/> Two pods remain. Status: ready - standby.

:PriCom/> Admin Override; Delay hyperspace event until Citadel evacuation complete.

:CtdlCom/> Unable to comply. Hyperspace event in progress. Extended delay will cause jump instability.

:PriCom/> Admin Override: Display current jump plot.

The computer displayed the plot graphic on the small screen. It showed the Citadel jumping from its current location and landing…

…in Tokyo, Japan on Earth. Joe didn't know what would happen to the surrounding area, but it sure as hell couldn't be good.

:PriCom/> Admin Override: Current plot is illegal. Destination contains significant mass. Jump calculation is flawed.

:CtdlCom/> Unable to comply. Event in progress. Recalculate plot. One minute thirteen seconds to event execution.

Joe knew that wasn't enough time to recalculate the nav. It took at least ten minutes just to set up the entry point. But he didn't need to reprogram the entire nav, just the destination. He had the computer display the nav plot and he lowered his personal shield so he could hear what needed to be changed.

The first thing he did was delete the destination information. The nav sounded like a cacophony of noise and he briefly wondered how Jarad had ever managed to get the computer to accept this insane plot. By deleting the destination, the loudest part of the offensive noise stopped, so he saved it. At least that would save Japan. Since the computer accepted the change, he took off running for the remaining escape pods.

"What are you trying to do Anderson?" Jarad asked. "There is no way you can get clear of it now. It's too late!" Jarad said and laughed.

"I actually didn't have to do anything, Jarad. You see, I know you're still here, on the Citadel. So I thought I'd just let you go ahead and make the jump," Joe replied as he jumped down into the pod.

He quickly accessed the pod's terminal.

:PriCom/> Admin Override: Emergency launch all remaining life pods.

:CtdlCom/> Override accepted. Launching.

"You see, Jarad, all I did was delete the destination from your plot. I don't know how you got the computer to accept it, but it accepted not having a destination even easier. Enjoy your trip, asshole," Joe said as the pod shot out of the Citadel and into space.

"What? No! You couldn't!" Jarad screamed.

Behind Joe, the Citadel jumped. The pod had not made it far enough away from the mass of the station, so was pulled back into the event horizon and disappeared into hyperspace.


About the Author

Ben Winston (1965 - ?) was born in Iowa and grew up in Minnesota on the family dairy farm. Upon reaching adulthood, he joined the United States Army as a communications technician. Before getting out of the military, he decided to go to school for computer electronics.



Shortly after getting out of the military, and after getting a new job with an over-seas company, he was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease. A month after beginning the new job, he was laid off due to budget over-runs on the project he was hired for. Upon returning to the United States, he had difficulty maintaining employment because of the chronic illness.



He began writing as a form of stress release, from being home bound and not being able to work, and found he liked writing erotica. Ben wrote a trilogy called the Talosian Chronicles (Currently in rewrite to remove the graphic sex and finalized his vision of the story). The first book, Star Dancer, won awards and was nominated for many others by the online communities where it was posted.



Ben Winston returned to school for literature, after completion, he began writing professionally. Being an avid fan of science fiction he focused on this genre. He was, and still is, influenced and inspired by Gene Roddenberry, Anne McCaffery, David Weber, Isaac Asimov, and Ray Bradbury. Some of his favorite movies and TV shows are; Battlestar Galactica (both versions), Andromeda, Star Trek, Firefly, Star Wars, and many of the B-rated movies that were actually box-office bombs.


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Ben Winston

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Books Published by Blue Space Publications, LLC.

by Ben Winston

Pollux Paradox

Tides of Mars

Tides of Mars (Omnibus)

Ascension – Book I

Conflict – Book II

Talosian Chronicles

Olympus – Book I

Star Dancer – Book II

Talosian Alliance – Book III

Neptune’s Massif – Book IV

*Raptor Squadron – Book V (First Half of 2016)

Novellas

Abraxis Complex

Origin of Prometheus – Book I

Sword of Damocles – Book II

Abraxis Code – Book III

Forging Aegis – Book IV

Book of the Guardian

Home – Part One

Pest Control – Part Two

The Last Mission – Part Three

Resolution – Part Four

Bedouin’s Travels

Twilight Earth – Book I

A Long, Dark Night – Book II

Terra Dawning – Book III

New Day – Book IV

Series

Temple of S.A.R.A.H.

Prototype – Episode I

Subroutines – Episode II

Base Functions – Episode III

Hard Wired – Episode IV

Debug Mode – Episode V

Beta Test – Episode VI

by Michael McClain

Chronicles of Atlantis Series

Chronicles of Atlantis (Omnibus)

Atlantis Rising – Book I

Euthara – Book II


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