/gaist/ n – [German]
intellect, spirit, awareness, morale, wit, attitude, outlook
ghost, haunting, apparition, demon, the Evil One
armored military shuttle undocked smoothly from the large Space
Navy vessel and headed back toward the planet's surface,
shimmering blue and green – and at the moment also black
and brown from the Crown Armada's bombardment –
Gooseman's mouth twitched
cynically. Usually, he was the last pilot on Earth who'd be
ordered to transport valuable or breakable goods. But right now,
he was also the only one they trusted to bring a sensitive
freight through the rubble the destruction of the Armada had left
behind in orbit.
were cleaning the main trajectories as frantically as they
cleaned up the destruction on the surface. Unfortunately, they
weren't done with anything yet.
snorted. He hated these boring 'taxi-jobs.' Navigation through
rubble was not much more than a slow 4D puzzle game. And when it
came to him, he could have done it when he was five years
A faint creaking and the
hint of a sizzle were the only warnings he got before the shuttle
with the promising name of 'GRS-42 Possibility' reached the lower
atmosphere and exploded into a ball of purple-streaked fire.
blinked for the first time in an uncounted number of years and
cursed inwardly when he felt the shards and metal fragments of
the shattered hibernation unit penetrating his unprotected skin.
The damned assholes could – at least – have frozen
him with his clothes on! But that was nothing he could change
now. As for his exposed, uncomfortably sprawling
In a smooth, rolling
movement he came to his feet, on a floor that was supposed to be
a ceiling, ignored the cuts it caused in his feet, and sucked in
the air, filled with the smoke curling through the extensively
destroyed facility that had been built to imprison and hibernate
the most dangerous ones. Especially him.
snorted and his lips curled into a cruel smile. Now, obviously
somebody had fucked things up.
scrambled to his feet and cursed at the bleeding cuts sharp-edged
metal left in his skin. A short glance across the wrecked
interior told him that this hadn't been one of his better
landings. "Great," he muttered. Not only did he run the
risk of another ship coming off his paycheck, now he was going to
have – in addition – a pissed QBall at his heels
screaming about the lost freight. Something burned in his
He snorted heavily.
He'd better get out of here quickly.
already shattered lock didn't stand more than two of his furious
kicks, which left bloody prints of a bare right foot on the
metal. Then he was rewarded with fresh, humid air sweeping over
his skin as he jumped down the six meters to the
Thunder rolled in the
distance. Lightning partially erased the darkness, but it wasn't
raining. Yet. The wind was growing colder as it touched the bare
skin of his back when he turned to look up at the torn corpse of
the shuttle, causing a chill along his spine. With a faint curse
at the reason for it, he began searching the area surrounding the
wreck. If any poisonous stuff had been spilled, or traces of what
happened were to be found outside, he'd better find them before
the rain washed everything away.
fist closed around the burned watch as he picked it up out of the
dust, clasped around it, and its ashes raining through spread
fingers back to the ground. "Apparently, somebody here
fire." Goose watched the starstone fragment evaporating in
his palm. He turned at the sound of spaceship engines and
wordlessly watched Ranger-1 coming down next to the crater the
impact of his shuttle had caused.
and the commander's always so happy when I lose my clothes
in front of an audience. Especially when I'm on Terra. "It's
a goddamned waste of uniforms, Gooseman!" Walsh had
barked the last time. "And people become upset when you
show your bare butt to the public! Did you get that by now?"
– "Yes, sir," he'd sighed. "I
At least, part
one. As for part two...
moment he was just too damn happy that he still had a butt
to show to the public to worry about it. Considering his
discovery from a moment ago that hadn't been too likely an
outcome. Not even with his black hole-proved
Zachary, wrapped in
contamination protective gear appeared at the rim of the crater.
"Goose's on his feet," he shouted back towards where
the ship must be. "There's no radiation within viewing
"I could have
told you if you asked!" Gooseman called up at him.
you make it up to here by yourself?" Zach studied the
shuttle's remnants briefly. "This is a job for the wrecking
he ground his teeth.
you all right?" Zach asked at Goose's choked
discharged. Some cuts from after the crash. Nothing important
behind the Captain. Her head bent in psychic concentration.
"You're right, Zachary," she said in a voice softened
from her mental efforts. "No radiative contamination or
other pollution anywhere near." She had her shield collapse.
"But there's a strange signature I can't wholly
It's more... like a memory of something very powerful. And an
entity identical but different than–" she followed the
Captain's line of sight down into the crater just a second before
Goose reached the rim. Her eyes widened.
Shane raised a mocking brow at her burning face as he stalked
past her to Ranger-1. "It's nothing you haven't seen
a moment Goose felt his hair brushing over his back when it flew
in the wind as he climbed up the landing ramp. Inwardly, he
cursed at the reflex that had him feel for the short-cropped
stubbles in his neck – a militarily correct hair style. He
caught his reflection on the polished hull of Ranger-1 and blue
eyes laughed mockingly back at him.
baby::: whispered the... Ghost?! in his mind, causing the
long-flowing-short-cropped strands to stand on end. :::Goosey :
You've got to find out what asshole did that to us:::
what?! he asked growling in his thoughts ignoring for a
moment the impossibility of such a disembodied
:::Blew us up with
– Level Sub-15 – Storage room 156
your sleeping bag, Gooseman?"
need one, Captain." The ST dropped his bundle on the camp
bed and pushed it away into a corner of the storage room. "It's
only a trap in case of trouble."
our Goose." Doc shook his head. He'd connected the CDU with
his toaster and the pretimed coffee machine he'd put up on a
crate next to his camp bed and was now searching along his
high-tech – pardon, the 'Heated Comfort for the Happy
Camper™' – sleeping bag for the serial port to
connect it as well. "He's stored in the best secured
institution on the planet and believes he's gonna get raped while
always when you don't expect it, Doc." Zach stated grimly
and wondered for a brief moment why Niko had just winced for no
apparent reason. Then he returned his attention back to Doc's
complicated preparations for the night. "I expect you're
preparing breakfast for all of us, Doc."
me?!" The hacker stared at him. "But I'm no cook. This
is just my poor attempt to survive this."
snorted. "Be happy that we are allowed to stay at the LSL
because we're supposed to work here tomorrow anyway." Doc
drew a face. "And this way QBall can chase us around right
from the start."
it would have been the great hall at BETA for us, would you have
What have they blown up this time?"
They're adjusting the defense shield tonight. All outer levels
are closed. And that includes the personnel
are your kids staying, Zach?" Niko asked.
their grandparents. Their house wasn't hit."
don't you stay with them?"
sighed. "I didn't get leave from base."
you done with the chatter?" A growling voice asked. "There
are people preferring sleep over small talk here."
had slung the blanket around him, rested his head on the bundle
with the fresh uniform for the morning. Not that he expected to
sleep. Not because of the camp bed, that wasn't the problem. He
could sleep on the bare floor as well – Hell! He'd slept on
frozen rubble fields when necessary – but it was something
different... with her that close, when her scents slowly invaded
the room. His hearing involuntarily began to focus on her
Damnation. He could
never manage to ignore her. And the others...
cluttered tent was dimly lit by a flickering candle that stuck in
the bullet hole in the cranium of a non-human skull. Non-human,
for it was too small and bore curved horns and tusks like no
human being – or any other animal he'd seen yet –
did. Geist sprawled, lying flat on his back, on an obscenely
shattered metal dome above creaked faintly as it cooled down in
the night. The position of the camp was chosen wisely, he
admitted ungrudgingly. The metal and the wiring likely still
being in the structure was a good shield against most kinds of
sensors sweeping the area, still there was a great number of
escape paths if needed.
woman was annoyingly attaching, but she had – at least –
a brain. And the knowledge he needed. The knowledge of the world
as it was now. A world that had garbled up almost everything,
even its name. Jerra! he snorted inwardly, as if Terra
was hard to remember.
distrustful gangmen whispered outside, fairly away from the tent,
but their voices still reached him. Across the distance, through
the cloth of the tent, over the voice of the woman close to his
fighting tex battle armor. Their power suits are the best. The
regular army is all but gone."
have to keep a close eye upon them when he was going to alter the
picture the woman's voice was painting. He'd use his
subconscience during sleep to draw up the plan about this.
She leaned closer. "But another thing, I bet you haven't
made love to a real woman in a long time" Too close. He
narrowed his eyes in her direction to assess her assault
abilities. Nothing relevant, no reason to delay sleep and
planning. Good. "Why are you looking at me like that?"
She dared to touch his chest, to reach for the badge. "Is
that your name on this tag?" She brushed across it, spelling
the name imprinted on it. "G - E - I - S - T. It sounds so
strong." She turned away, cloth rustled, leather hit the
He ignored it. "The
regular army, can you tell me exactly where they are
about a little thing like that." The candle was blown out,
filling the room with darkness and a whiff of smoke. "Geist..."
She turned back to him, wearing but skimpy panties.
her assumptions were to be dealt with first. "You're so
wrong. All I want from you is the information that's in your
head. I can't care less about the rest."
say that to me," she breathed, coming even closer. "You
make me feel so ashamed." Which obviously didn't hinder her,
since her body touched him, her lips closed over his mouth, hands
caressed the hair at his temples...
room had grown quickly silent. They all had a tough day ahead,
despite their different assignments across the labs. Niko looked
over at the motionless figure covered only by a light blanket.
She was freezing just at the sight of it, still she hadn't
expected him to sleep at all. He seemed to prefer strict solitude
to relax. But... he slept. Maybe the crash had exhausted him more
than he had admitted this morning. Maybe he
She reached for
her badge, used a fraction of her implant's charge for her
abilities to increase her eyesight psionically.
he really slept... peacefully? Was that the right word for the
unusually tranquil face? Still, there was movement behind his
closed lids. Was he dreaming? If so, of what? The laws of her
world didn't allow her to fulfill her curiosity's
Niko laid down
herself, snuggled into the warmth of her own sleeping bag, and
reminded her restless mind that recently she was thinking
improperly often about Gooseman. Almost three months had gone by
and she still... three weeks ago she'd wanted to kill O'Mega on–
Stop that, Niko! she snapped annoyed at herself again.
gasped. She kissed him with considerable intensity. Her tongue
forced her way between his lips, touching his teeth, his palate,
getting caught with his own. Her hands burned on his chest. She
flung an arm around his neck, pulled him down to her, while the
other hand fumbled for the fastenings of his trousers. He managed
to slow down his fall, felt her hand on his thigh. He couldn't,
wouldn't fight against her. Following her almost insane passion,
he gave in, burying his face in her chestnut-red
Geist blinked once at
the eerie sensation of... what?!...
wide awake again, he narrowed his eyes to merely slits. Red?! He
freed his arm from Vaiya's weight and drove his hand hard into
her thick, black mane, jerking her off his chest. "Go away.
I'm done with you now." She hit the ground with a hard
jerked out of sleep, gasping. Pain rushed through his eyes,
falsely adapted to pitch-black darkness, as he searched the room,
dimly lit because LongShot being a high security area demanded
that, for her shattered body.
you hurt?" he asked, rather choked.
Niko huddling in the warmth of her thickly padded sleeping bag
whispered sleepily before she even opened her eyes. "What's
conversation wait until daylight hours?" Zach raised his
head and threw them a dark look. "We've only got three hours
of sleep left and I for one would love to get them."
sorry," Goose squeezed through clenched teeth. "It
won't happen again." He laid down again, turned his back
towards the others in the far too brightly lit room.
Hearing the Ghost
saying his own thoughts at the very same moment chilled him to
particles. Each between a hundred and a thousand Angstrom in
diameter. Each containing carbon and aromatic compounds,
partially toxic. Each more or less of the same origin were sucked
in the rhythm of his breathing into his nostrils, onto the mucous
membrane there that was the first filter between his body system
and the outer world. Also the first sensor.
nose crinkled at the amount of them. He sneezed.
was burning. Nearby. He was in a tent on a flammable
The next moment he was on
his feet, weapon drawn, knife at hand. Eyes shielded against
smoke and adapted to darkness to see...
tent was untouched, even a little chilly.
: Goosey : Goose-a-Lilo::: The Ghost shouted in his mind. :::Get
your petty arse out of bed : We're getting toasted:::
up, he groaned. Let me sleep. Then his sleepy mind
noticed the distinctive smell as well. Carbonics. Soot... Smoke!
Goose's bark raised them all in it's sheer volume. His blanket
was still fluttering to the floor when he hit the light switch
next to the door and reached for the manual sprinkler system
trigger behind a glass plate next to it.
The Captain had come to his feet in a more fortunate position
than the ST to make out the source of the smoke: Doc's toaster.
"The sprinkler's not necessary." Somewhere in the back
of his mind, Zachary noticed that the ST seemed to draw his
weapons at any threat first and then considered whether or not
they were the appropriate response. The rest of his mind noticed
with relief that it wasn't actually open fire, but overdone toast
that had black smoke wavering through the room.
seemed to notice, too, for he secured his blasters and stuffed
them back into his weapon belt. "Doc–"
bytes!" The hacker shot up from his camp bed. "The STT
failed–" Doc waved frantically to clear the black
smoke billowing above his toaster away before the sprinkler
system activated. "And of all mornings..."
Goose growled. Obviously the adrenaline set free by this kind of
wake-up call hadn't worn off yet. "Is that supposed to be a
not, my Goose man," Doc replied hastily. "It's just an
abbreviation for the 'stop-toasting-trigger' in my breakfast
that cue his toaster's personality chip came to life, introducing
itself in a cheerful voice, totally ignoring the smoke still
curling up from its slits. =Howdy doodly do! How's it going? I'm
Talkie – Talkie Toaster, your chirpy breakfast companion.
Talkie's the name, toasting's the game. Anyone like any
Doc, ninety-nine percent
of his mental capabilities busy with ignoring the three
death-dark looks penetrating his sternum at that, replied: "Not
=Hey, I'm a
toaster, you bought me, you connected me, so you want toast!
Would you like it fresh and crispy, medium, or just like the last
dish: well done?=
Doc's sigh was
almost loud enough to hide Gooseman's growl. Almost.
"Look, I don't want any toast, and he," he actually
dared to indicate Shane at that moment, "doesn't want any
toast. In fact, no one here wants any toast. Not now, not ever.
'bout a muffin?=
muffins! We don't like muffins around here! We want no
muffins, no toast, no teacakes, no buns, baguettes or bagels, no
croissants, no crumpets, no pancakes, no potato cakes and no
hot-cross buns and definitely no flapjacks!"
so you're a waffle man!=
would have to shout at the top of his lungs to drown out Shane's
growl now. Instead, he ignored Goose and the toaster, and
studied the two coal leaves he'd rescued from said toaster
instead. "Anyone want some toast? It's a little
Doc..." Niko said in a low voice, "maybe you should
rethink that offer a little–"
I ask just one question?= The toaster bleeped in
Doc answered before realizing who asked.
in the background groaned.
anyone like any toast?=
you hear what I just said?!"
but I thought you might have changed your mind in the
Zachary, at the sight
of Goose already checking his blasters again, asked threateningly
calm. "Doc, you are to work with Bubblehead today, aren't
QBall wants me to find out how the memory birds' input / output
mean, how it doesn't work," Niko corrected
"In that case, Doc.
You might want to check whether or not your toaster is a first
cousin to that bird!"
anyone want any–?=
Zachary whirled round. "Gooseman, you do not fire a
blaster in here!"
scowled with obvious distaste at the tray he'd just
Now, Doc couldn't
blame him for it. LongShot's cafeteria ranked within the top ten
of the planet's toxic waste disposals. The bacon and the eggs
were green, the salad wasn't, and the tomatoes were close to
writing their Bill of Rights. Still–
he and Niko started when the tray clattered onto the table,
splattering its contents across the table top, other dishes, the
bench, and part of the floor. Heavens, the ST had dropped it from
shoulder height and–
you can't–" Niko stopped.
Icy blue-grey eyes burned into her face.
she stopped. Blue?! But he'd already stalked out, followed by the
increasingly joyous applause of the remaining cafeteria
"I've never seen
Goose that angry," Doc whispered after the door had closed
"We better call
LongShot and he's not officially on duty yet. Where do you think
where he is?" Niko sighed.
nodded. "In the cryocrypt with his wife. That should be
sniffed thoughtfully after the filth lay behind him, admitting
for a moment that these increased senses were of some good. There
was just the touch of a smell... :::Nutrient::: Some doors on. To
Gooseman, what on Earth–?" The skinny scientist in the
high-tech lab looked up, astonished. "May I help you
need." :::I found it already::: Gooseman pulled a chair over
and dropped himself without preamble opposite QBall. The
scientist gaped when the ST snatched the dish away from him,
unanimously beginning to eat. :::Yea, that's food:::
That's mine! Gooseman, you can't–"
fangs that dug with obvious enthusiasm into the breakfast bacon
shut him up. This addition of eyeteeth was really useful. He
watched, uncaring, as QBall used his comm to call for the
captain. :::As if the man's able to make me spit it out again:::
The sizzling bacon almost dissolved on his tongue. For a brief
moment he enjoyed not only the taste but also the sensation of
fresh, well-prepared meat. It had been eons since he
Rubbish. I had a
steak yesterday. Goose frowned confused as he dug his fangs
again into the bacon before he continued with the scrambled eggs.
He knew he had a steak yesterday. A well done, finely
scented steak. And he also knew that the last time he had
good flesh between his teeth had been before the hibernation...
Wait a moment, what hibernation?!
What on Earth do you think you're doing here?!" Zachary's
angry voice came from the door.
can't just go in and plunder QBall's breakfast table."
did::: "It was the only edible stuff I could smell in here,
sir." He pushed one of the plates over. "Did you want
some, too?" :::You're wasting food : Goosey::: the Ghost
scolded. Goose ignored him.
I have to look after my cholesterol level," Zach said dryly.
Fox, you can't let Ranger Gooseman eat my breakfast!"
a reply Goose swallowed the last piece of bacon and eggs, then
blinked sheepishly at the empty food plate in front of him and at
the lab he was in. Noticed his none-too-pleased Captain and a
definitely pissed chief-scientist whose breakfast was now on its
way to Shane's belly. Complicated.
wins... He finished his breakfast with demonstratively
gulping down QBall's glass of orange juice. "Excellent
meal," he stated with a toothsome smile at the scientist.
"And well-served in addition. Marvelous!"
yes, thank you," QBall stuttered astonished.
thank you." Gooseman was gone before the sentence was
hurrying to catch up with the ST in the corridor, shook his head.
From what he knew about the issue now, Gooseman practically took
the dish from QBall – and the bite out of the scientist's
mouth – sat down in front of him, and devoured the
Okay, QBall wasn't
directly responsible for the garbage sold in the cafeteria, but
on the other hand, he was also the most likely individual within
LongShot to actually change it. If he took action, that
Judging by the faint
rumbling his sound enhancers had registered in his teammates'
bellies when they'd called him about Goose, he had a pretty clear
idea of how much attention the chief scientist had paid the food
Plus, if he
thought of the past day, the ugly crash, and that they had headed
to LongShot directly from the crash site, he had to consider that
the ST was possibly in a condition in which he couldn't skip
another meal. There were things the implant's charge couldn't
handle. That much he knew from experience, as he knew that
enhanced senses weren't always favorable. His sound enhancers had
taught him that. And he could switch them off if suitable or
necessary. The ST had five senses of that style. And no "I
need a break from it"-button available.
all that... the exit the Goose had made was somewhat brilliant.
Heavens, he wished he'd had such audacity when he was lieutenant.
It would have made things easier. At least, it made serious
scolding pretty difficult. He smiled in dark humor.
do you know about starstones?" The ST asked casually when he
reached him. Fox threw a brief glance at the younger man, who
walked relaxed beside him, just as if he had accompanied him
right from QBall's lab. Goose didn't look in his
he shrugged, accepting the other one's refusal to deal with the
previous issue. "They're about as hard as glass. Their color
range from bright pink to light purple, depending on the amount
of energy they absorb. They dissolve by radiation when exposed to
sunlight or an atmosphere containing oxygen. The Queen needs them
for her starships, and they are supposed to have or strengthen
psionic powers. Though I'm sure Niko could tell you more about
that. Why do you ask?"
saw an edge of the ST's mouth twitching cynically. "Mogul's
castle. The darn things exploded. I wonder if they can be
triggered more precisely to do that."
idea. But check it at the LDL. LongShot's data library is the
biggest on the planet. If the answer isn't in there, we just
don't have it."
first time since this talk began, the ST looked at him. And he
appeared rather unhappy. "The LDL isn't easy to
currently working there. Go over and ask him. I'm sure he'll help
you to formulate a working database request."
made a face. "I wouldn't be so sure about that. He's not too
happy about me at the moment."
raised an eyebrow. "What did you do to deserve
"I shut up his
"What likely earns you eternal gratitude of all sensible
people. Why do you think Doc isn't one of them?"
didn't destroy the toaster, I frightened it."
frightened a toaster?"
told him I'd want some toaster."
meant some toast."
meant some toaster, Zach. Some fresh, hot, crispy,
crunchy, crackly metal toaster with just enough wiring and an
obstinate personality chip for spice. Since then, it doesn't say
a word and bakes only iced waffles."
Zach had to suppress a snicker. "I'll come with you. We'd
better sort that out before Doc's tolerance of waffles has worn
service men in the typical pale-blue clothes of civilian
personnel pushed a flat service floater out of the LDL. The front
swivel arm of the float controller almost hit Zachary's belly.
"Watch it." None of the service men reacted to
"Everybody's in a
you::: the Ghost reappeared, grumbling, in the back of Shane's
mind, as they passed the door to the hall with the storage banks
and the request terminals. :::This shit better get us somewhere,
The sudden silence
in his mind, vibrating with barely sheathed expectation, called
Goose's attention briskly away from his interior to the
surrounding. "Zach!" Grabbing his captain's arm, he
pointed at the slumped figure lying over one of the master
:::Safe::: the Ghost
confirmed the safety of the immediate surrounding. :::Failed
"Doc, are you
pain-distorted face, the hacker stretched slowly back into an
upright position, rubbing the back of his head. "Yea, I
think so. Somebody zapped me."
stuff, Mecha-boy::: the Ghost snorted.
memory bird. It's gone!" Hartford hastily checked the
terminal. "A file has been accessed."
18 active. Content?::: "Doc." He pointed at the
highlighted access field on the floor-to-ceiling data wall.
"What's in file 18?"
SuperTrooper Juice formula."
stated, grimly, the obvious: "The formula has been loaded
into the bird."
He can't memorize two plus two."
can't take any chances." Goose's face had closed by now,
keeping his thoughts well by themselves.
:::Let's go::: the
Ghost snapped. :::They've got to be still inside this facility:::
big, Geist. You're good luck," the woman, Vaiya, lowered the
binoculars and turned for him. "Really lucky. But you'll get
nowhere helping that pathetic regular army."
that he cared about that. The fight wasn't a matter 'to get
anywhere' as she put it, it was a matter of cause and duty. And
of an order to be fulfilled. But if she needed a reason to do
what was necessary... He shrugged inwardly.
Negusrom army wouldn't be chasing the tank unless it's
significantly undermanned. So their crew is desperate and scared.
They'll pay more for the right help."
you forgot one thing: what if they don't happen to have any money
at all? The Negusrom army is too strong. We can't possibly beat
He cut her
nonsensical gibberish by driving his heavy trike over the edge to
chase the tank down in the broad valley which tried to out-speed
the pack of Negusrom soldiers in power suits at its tail. Not
that it had any chance to achieve that. It lay under heavy fire
His mouth became a grim
line in anticipation of the fight to come. It was going to be
glider raced out of LongShot's main gate. Goose's narrowed eyes
searched the road ahead, the dust whirled up by the other vehicle
was already settling down again. "They've got a five-minute
jump on us."
catch them," Zach replied grimly, gaining speed
:::Doubt that, if these
pathetic guards are any measurement of the local
The villain's van
appeared in front of them, though the road necessarily following
the wound canyon walls brought the van once and again out of
view. They were catching up, but slowly. The enemies' vehicle
disappeared in the first pass tunnel. :::Mistake!::: "Head
them off at the pass." It was more an order than a
At least the captain
didn't take offense. He left the road and bypassed the wide-swung
curve the tunnel made inside the mountain in straight flight
along the canyon. Unfortunately, his overall speed wasn't fast
enough. They reached the road just after the crooks had
:::Air support::: the
Ghost barked in Goose's mind. :::At this snail speed you'll never
get 'em anytime soon::: "Ranger Gooseman to LongShot wing
command. Hit them where it hurts. Do you copy?"
Ranger. We're going in.=
the cafeteria maybe::: Shut up, that needs more bravery than
you possessed this morning! Goose mentally retorted, for
once earning something like an amused grin from the Ghost.
:::Bravo, Goosey. You're almost growing into a duckling
The laserfire rained down
on the fleeing glider in front of them. No hits.
before the second tunnel a ground-to-air missile hit the first
:::Looks like we're going
to have some fun:::
devilish smile stole upon Geist's face. Things were getting
better and better. He aimed at the weak spot of the connective
link between right arm and the corpse of the power suit and
separated it with three rapid shots. The airstream and a
well-timed swivel of the cannon tower did the rest: the power
suit lost its grip and fell over board to be smashed by the heavy
Geist thrust the trike
forward alongside the armored vehicle to come within eyesight of
the cannoneer. Well, now, what do you know? An old friend...
sort of. The smile on his face became more satisfied. Things
were just getting better...
overtook the next power suit, then tore round to use the
additional relative speed against the remaining aggressor. The
combatant he'd just passed ignored him after a brief moment of
irritation and sped after the tank. Stupid. Geist fired to regain
its attention and pulled free the lance he'd lashed to the
chassis this morning.
were a rather old-fashioned kind of weapon.
against manned power suits were somewhat... useful.
pilot rotated again to face the shooter. He drove straight up
against it, had the trike shattering against the armor of the
fighter, knowing, the heavy motorbike wouldn't have enough impact
for the power suit to sway. As for the lance...
brought it to the point. Exactly. The non-energetic
weapon, unhindered by the protective force fields and driven by
the enhanced muscles of an M.D.S., shattered the clearsteel
windscreen of the power suit and pinned the pilot's skull to the
back wall of his cockpit. Effortlessly.
swift leap catapulted Geist off the doomed machine....
retracted the windscreen and fired. Multiple blasterbolts hit the
rear end of the van, failing to cause serious damage. He cursed
under his breath.
:::Closer : A
few more meters and then ram the lance up their
Lance? What lance?!
He leaned forward, felt the tension needed for a leap building up
in his body, his eyes fixed on the enemy van. Wolf Den's trained
creature tugged harder than usual on its leash. If– :::Now
: Before they can take countermeas–:::
to hit their stabilizers." The captain's sharp voice pulled
him out of the half-trance. Already firing, he ground his teeth,
the stabilizers were shielded by the chassis. He'd never been so
close to slipping into full battle mode involuntarily. But there
was this urge to slam his steel claws into their control center
and strangle them with the torn out circuitry, before cramming
the damned bird down their throats.
more meters, and I'll pay them a visit." Green eyes
glittering blue kept fixed on the van.
you crazy?" the captain shouted across the airstream's roar.
"We're at 150 mph!"
in the least." Steel claws had dug into the windshield
framing. Another meter and–
missile, fired at bumper height from the van's rear end, hit them
head-on. Despite stabilizers, repulsor fields, and emergency
accus the glider overturned and plowed its right side through the
hard desert soil before it came to rest in the roadside
Goose, in the passenger
seat, came to his feet. "You alright?"
Zach's gaze followed the van of their fugitives disappearing in
the distance. "They're heading for Phoenix
channels: van last seen on Highway 6, headed for Phoenix
Spaceport." He jumped off the grounded vessel after he'd
placed the message, prowling the place like a caged panther,
unable to keep still with the amount of adrenaline in his veins,
and the unaccountable taste of iridium steel on his tongue.
Behind him, he heard Zach calling for a chopper to collect them,
and almost hoped that none was available. Though he feared that
even a march back through the desert wouldn't be enough to ease
his body from the trembling tension of a battle not fought and
the icy frustration that came with it.
grenade took care of the next power suit's windscreen. Hanging
down from the top bow, Geist thrust his battle knife through the
nasal cavity of the pilot while the man was still blinded from
the fragments that hit his face. Scrambling over the back of the
machine, Geist left before the automated self destruction cycle
registered the death of its pilot and triggered itself.
on foot, Geist noticed the remaining power suits attempting to
come through the heavy bridge armor of the vessel ahead. He
snorted. Humans! They should have disembarked the
remaining fighttex forces the moment they lost speed.
single armed fighttex officer blasted the one closest to the
bridge to the ground, then attacked the second on the foreship
under heavy enemy fire.
whizzed over Geist's face. That style he knew all too
Also the stupidity to
align a fight in a way that the defender shielded the enemy from
the tank, while running up to destroy the control segment and the
cockpit to kill the pilot.
waited till the soldier in heavy fighttex armor took to the
ground, At the sight of his approach, the other one unlatched his
vizor. But he'd recognized him already before. Wordlessly taking
aim, Geist shot the remaining Negusrom behind him to
Well aware that Kurz had
every reason to believe he'd take a very different aim.
been ordered to the security staff's office for a briefing,"
Zach said grimly after a glance at his wrist comm when they left
the chopper that had flown them back.
be expected." The ST ground his teeth. There was quite a bit
more to be expected, but Zachary wasn't to know about that. So
the slight vibration of his wrist comm didn't come unexpected.
The message was short: =EXPERIMENTAL ROOM 29. NOW.=
be there in five minutes, Captain."
calls." He snorted inwardly. Nature wasn't exactly what
commander won't want to wait for you in this
he also wants me to be house-trained." Goose managed to keep
his expression blank. That briefing wouldn't start without the
pleasure is mine." Kurz still had a firm handshake, destined
to evoke trust into the man's strength. Geist knew he could snap
it without much more than a flexing of his muscles, could even
have done it before the man in front of him had grown old. "I
have to thank you, Mr. Geist. You helped the Noagarudos out of a
originally served in the regular army. It's an honor to be
fighting for a cause again." The best lie was the truth.
What had the
long-deceased training officer told him once? "You're an
M.D.S, Geist. Once your abilities are awakened, they will keep
you from aging. You will measure your age with your old-growing
enemies." And a still beardless youth, who had had no
respect for their decision to at least allow him to grow into an
adult first, had replied: "None of my enemies will grow
old, sir." Except one. And that had been forced...
don't have to tell you what the theft of the STJ formula means
for you and your modus operandi, do I?" Walsh said without
preamble after the unsuspicious door in the depths of LongShot
had closed behind Goose.
sir." He avoided the commander's face, felt the usual thrill
of obedience mixed with disgust about it. Only this time the
obedience was stronger and filtered with a cold anticipation he
did not want to possess.
whatever you have to to keep the formula from being used. That
includes unequivocally the possibilities under the secrecy ban on
After a moment: "What about witnesses?"
The formula must not be traded or used under any circumstances.
You of all people know best what that would mean."
did. In more than one way.
I make myself clear?"
move, stood as if carved out of the metal of the ship, ignoring
her tug at his arm completely. It was time to inform the
opponent. In a low, unadmitting voice he began to list the
members of his last mission's unit: "Kurz, Orwell, Vogeleyn,
All dead except
the first. And himself.
what the security cameras got." Walsh called the recordings
onto the screen embedded in the console behind him and displayed
the results of the recognition process for the rangers gathered
in front of him. "Miller and Moxie. Our latest information
has them working for Jackie Subtract's mob."
frowned slightly. "Is Subtract's headquarters still located
in New Pigalle on Mars?"
You and Goose will begin a stakeout."
it." The ST's face revealed nothing.
you and Niko try to isolate the data. See exactly what they
Both rangers answered.
right, let's move. I don't want that Supertrooper juice changing
After he'd watched
them go, the commander wasn't sure if he heard right that Goose
opened the briefing as bluntly as Geist remembered him always to
be. "This mission is top secret. I won't repeat it, so
listen closely." He displayed on the screen high above their
heads the position and surroundings of a fortress built deep into
the rocks of a mountain. "This is our strategic
headquarters. Brain Palace. As the war turned against us we
prepared a final program. Our mission is to invade the Brain
Palace and deactivate this program. Its name: The Death Force."
The screen changed from showing surveillance data to displaying
plans and data sheets of the battle droids the Brain Palace would
create in case the program was executed.
Force was to be our final retaliation. A doomsday device. It
reacts to all lifeforms, attacking indiscriminately. At
activation, millions of robotic soldiers will cover Jerra."
Immediately afterwards, the recording from a scene of crime
appeared on the screen. "Ten days ago, president Ryan was
assassinated in Sandoria Garden. At that point, Brain Palace
entered the final phase." His stern glance swept across the
few remaining personnel gathered in the briefing room before he
returned his attention back to the screen now showing a plan of
the fortress itself. " We have 11 hours and 45 minutes
before the program is enacted."
red light appeared among the green lines of the plan, indicating
their planned way of advance into the building and down it's main
shaft. "The Noagarudos will attack head-on. We have Fighttex
for Hans, Raster, Jack, Sakamoto, Mr. Geist and me. The six of us
will head for the control room."
bright yellow crossed circle symbol began to flash. "Our
final target is here!"
Without taking his gaze from Kurz, Geist narrowed his eyes in a
thrill of anticipation and...
shadow of Mars
5 hours later
you'd better look the other way now." The ST's voice was
going to use some gadgets on Subtract's comm which exist only
because the theft of the STJ formula has altered the rules. But I
doubt they'll stay altered when this shit's done."
frowned briefly and turned ostentatiously away from him to stare
out of the cockpit. After a moment the faint sizzle of an
intercepted comm line appeared and cleared quickly into the
harmonic humming of a properly descrambled line.
leaned back in his seat, watched for a moment the dancing LED
bars. The quantum descrambler was nowhere near its limits.
Cynically, he noted that Subtract had no idea against whom he was
what. Mostly what.
his fingers, made a fist, stretched them again, and watched the
sinews flex beneath his skin.
Force protected its toys. Nobody was allowed to play with their
toys. Certainly not with the toys they wanted
thought about the weapon he was made to be, watched his hand
repeating the movement, knowing that he was allowed to live in
spite of what he could do – no, had done – because he
wasn't exactly what they had wanted to create. How ironic. The
ultimate weapon was still alive because it refused to be
...so that he had
control. He ground his teeth. But if he ever lost it...
shiver crept down his spine. QBall's breakfast. This morning. It
hadn't been his decision. It had...
thoughts shrank away from it. He forced himself to face it. He
had been out of control. If he thought clearly, he couldn't be
sure about having control since the crash. He didn't have a grip
on whatever it was that was happening with him. And the effect
was rapidly increasing whenever he tried to find out what the
heck had happened to him in the crash. Yet, if he didn't... He
nearly shook his head. He couldn't go on like this.
who could he ask for help without risking to be turned into a
glacier on the spot?
a bone-deep chill he rejected the possibility immediately,
remembering the violent dream last night. No. If the dream was
part of the alteration, it was too likely that... the Ghost would
Doc? This wasn't a comp
problem. Besides that, the hacker was best at driving him up the
wall. And with thinned controls the mere attempt might have Doc
ending up below the deck plates. No, better not.
How were the possibilities of the bionics to be assessed in
comparison with the bio defenses? Would the Captain have a chance
He stared down
at his hand, at strong tendons, moving clawed fingers to form a
fist and relax from it. Again and again. Could this fist rip
through bionics? A silent cold crept over his skin like a
premonitory sensation of the hibernation in his near future.
These tendons needed adjustments...
cockpit lights were dimmed, both to save energy and to reduce the
chance of discovery. They were lurking up here in Mars' shadow
The cockpit screen
pointed away from Mars. The position relative to the planet was
purely coincidental, they'd tapped into Subtract's communication
channels anyway. Zach had preferred not to ask what routine
Gooseman had applied, unasked, that overran a quantum scrambling
within the snap of two fingers, he'd feared the answer would be
again 'I can tell you but then I have to shoot you' and had kept
Zach looked at the slow,
silent dance of the stars and – in an odd moment –
wondered, what the ST would see in them. Colored lights? Star
catalogue numbers and classification codes? Possible
After a short
glance over he wasn't sure the other one saw them at all. The ST
looked down at his lower right arm, studying, almost transfixed,
the movement of tendons in his hand as he formed a fist, relaxed
it, formed it again. Then brushed with his left hand over the
back of his right as if checking the tendons'
"Goose? Is something wrong?"
secret of Fighttex gear was precision. Five percent in the
battle, ninety-five percent in adjusting it. It had been years
ago that he'd worn the gear, longer since he'd adjusted one to
his body. He forgot nothing.
M.D.S learned how to fit FT gear onto his body. And how to
construct an improved version of it out of the standard
components by being even more precise.
tightened the muscles in his biceps, pulled the arm close, and
simulated a straight blow with the fist. Satisfied, he felt the
strength increased by the servos, and watched the small cogwheel
below the crook of his arm rotating rapidly. Good. It would be
the main synapsis of his right arm with the FT armor.
woman, Vaiya, entered the room in the depths of the regular
army's tank, coming towards him, babbling about completed work,
money, and shared future. Unimportant.
shadow of a smile appeared on his face as he thought of the
treasure he'd found in the weapons depot: an energy control
By now it was plugged
into an ad hoc-charger connected with the main engine of the
tank. It would be fully charged when they reached the Brain
Palace - doubling if not tripling his possibilities...
You could stand to listen a little, dammit!"
of an answer the ST mimicked using imaginary tongs at the back of
his hand as if to tighten the tendons. Again the
The man seemed mentally very far away from the small Explorer
they were in. Though that wasn't necessary a breach of duty. The
subconscious features Goose showed sometimes were... somewhere
between astonishing and frightening. To put it mildly. Asleep. In
trance... Knocked down. The man next to him still registered
changes in his surroundings faster than any sensor system. But
this concentration on one hand was somewhat disconcerting.
"Gooseman! Listen to me, will you?!"
winced at the barking, blinked twice, and looked, seemingly
confused for a brief moment, at his captain. "Yes,
wrong with your hand?"
hand?" Gooseman threw him a curious look as if the ST
believed him odd. "Nothing."
my hand. Everything with me. Shane ground his teeth.
Damnation, it had caught him again. And the captain was already
suspicious. There was no real chance to keep that away from Zach,
they were too close in the cockpit. And...
was no way around it. He needed help. At least to find out what
caused this shit. If he knew what happened he might be able to
wriggle out of it again. But like this... No, he couldn't go on
like this. And if he lost control... then Zach would at least
have gotten the warning he deserved.
muttered through clenched teeth as he checked the comm-console
quickly. "All outgoing channels closed, no cockpit
refused to look at his direct superior officer. Instead, looked
straight ahead through the main screen. "I doubt that the
crash was an accident. What blew it up was a load of starstones."
Zachary stiffened in his seat. Starstones were rare. And
unpredictable. "Are you sure?"
felt their energy signature penetrating into my transformation
cocoon." The ST's tone left no doubt about that. "And I
found a fragment outside the wreck. But it dissolved before you
lucky." Zach noticed the other one wincing briefly at that,
but dismissed the thought as he dealt on with the puzzle. "Maybe
they were part of the freight."
doubt that. It must have been a very powerful one or a whole
bunch of them. I have a pretty good idea how much energy is
necessary to overcome the protective energy shell during a
transformation, Zach. That was no small load. And I ran
scientific samples and badges for LongShot, according to the
freight papers. That would cover only a single stone."
even that. Starstones are on the list of hazardous materials.
They have to be listed in whatever quantity they're
stinks." Zach looked over at his lieutenant. "Do you
know who placed that order? Was it Walsh?"
The order came to BETA from the LSL. They demanded a skilled
pilot to bring a sensitive freight from a Space Navy vessel
safely down through the orbital rubble. It was pure chance that I
got the job."
don't like the picture that calls up."
don't like it much, either. But–" :::If that scum has
always this kind of timing it's a miracle that we're still
bothered with their existence::: "Stop! The comm.
contact you from Entropy's Edge.=
ST next to him triggered the engines and accelerated without
preamble. "System's on. Let's get them."
We'll trail them."
sleek explorer disappeared into hyperspace.
materialized around the ship as it warped back into Einsteinian
space. Goose looked briefly at Zach. "Entropy's Edge always
should : You two have quite of a history::: As if he needed a
reminder of that.
take a look around." Zach cut into the uneasiness the
Ghost's voice caused him. An edge of Goose's mouth twitched as he
meticulously rechecked the engines, making sure the Explorer kept
its position against the steady gravity pull, before he
concentrated upon the sensory systems.
the mealstream of the Galaxy Core's singularity threatened as a
bluish-white accretion disk, a miniature spiral galaxy of its
own, expanded by the doomed matter the beast at its center was
constantly swallowing. The light here belonged mostly to the high
energy end of the spectrum, was composed of blue, violet, and
beyond, though the Explorer's strong radiation filters erased the
trans-visual components to protect both their eyes and their DNA.
Goose knew from experience that the radiation around here reached
deeply into the Gamma rays, far beyond even his expanded visual
spectrum with a blinding intensity that – when unfiltered –
exceeded even his options. One of the few memories left from the
entropy slide he unwillingly performed not too long ago.
had been lucky. It hadn't been an entropy dive – as some
over-enthusiastic crony of BETA's had put it once, but... For a
moment, he ground his teeth, looking at the old antagonist,
swirling majestically in front of him.
had survived this enemy's attack with the most reckless maneuver
he'd ever performed: when it had become clear that he wouldn't
escape the gravity, he'd slammed the fighter into the highest
gear, put all energy left in his systems into engines and
inertial compensators, hit his badge and did what came closest to
praying for an ST: swore that Hell would freeze over before this
was his end.
Now, the devil's
ass was still warm – and he was still here. With some
memories he wished to trade for the impossible opportunity of
getting dead drunk once in his life and a grim determination
never to risk that again; a flyby maneuver around a singularity
whose event horizon he'd avoided by slipping into hyperspace,
proving two things: a) that it was possible to enter hyperspace
near extreme gravity sources and b) that it was a really bad idea
to do so.
He pulled his gaze off
the black hole and focused onto the asteroid just far enough away
from the singularity not to be visibly moving towards it. He knew
that was an illusion. That it would change within years, when the
gravity accelerated the jagged rock more and more towards its
annihilation. And the asteroid definitely wouldn't be capable of
a maneuver such as his. He snorted. Here, he wasn't the only one
in the universe living on borrowed time. He noticed a
couple of vessels in the strapped landing booths drilled into the
scratched surface between the few clear steel openings emanating
yellow light too weak to compete with the blue-white of their
A ship with
the reddish purple energy signature of an engine of mainly
Tortunian origin crossed before the bluish spiral of the
accretion disk. He snorted as he mentally snapped back at
attention. "What is this, a convention? That's Kidd's
the Ghost's comment, Goose nudged the ship into movement, heading
toward the ragged stone body in front of them in a wide curve,
using the mass of Entropy's Edge itself as a shield to maintain
an acceptable amount of maneuverability without risking another
BH-tour. A precaution that proved useful soon, when the group of
strategically placed battle satellites came within sensor
"Toll booths up
ahead," Zach commented dryly as they begun battering their
hull with laser bolts.
practice::: "Targets locked," he pulled the Explorer
into a double loop. The first sat exploded before the turn was
finished, the second followed only a breath later.
Explorer swept in a low vector by the asteroid post that spat out
a hodgepodge of spaceships as Goose laid a double line of laser
fire across the surface. Collateral damage mattered as much as
witnesses when it came to STJ. Better the crooks down there
learned that quickly. As for Zach...
better take care of his own business::: Shane ground his teeth,
sweeping the Explorer into a wide swing towards the shadow of the
asteroid. Zach, he corrected briskly, had better. For
his own sake. In his wake, one of the fuel depots sheltered
in the depths of a ragged crater ceased to exist in a plume of
fire. :::We're getting live prey : You–:::
ST's eyes zeroed in on the two approaching blips on the tactics
sounds reverberating through the tank had changed, telling Geist
that they were reaching the mountainous area their aim lay in.
The heavy plates forming the outmost armor layer of the enhanced
fighttex gear clicked piece for piece into place. No swift moves
any longer. Not yet. Now the energy loaded into crystal,
batteries, and servos must be conserved.
knew Kurz would strike. He was expecting it. After, or maybe
during the operation. Not even the ghost of a cynical smile
whizzed over his mouth when he decided it would be a 'during' –
as it had been uncounted years before.
body gear was adjusted. Geist's long-trained, deft fingers
flanged spiked joint-and-groove coverings on the few remaining
spots to protect before he began attaching the vizor and face
shield onto the helmet. Slow movements. At this stage more
natural to him than breathing. His mind already set on the battle
to come, on the layout of the battle field ahead. The flat,
leveled entrance zone...
lines of laser fire burned over a torn surface above his
Geist blinked. The heavy
vibrations from the tracks rumbling over uneven rocky ground
shook his bones. What the–?
plume of fire expanding into space behind them filled him with
grim satisfaction. His sleek ship accelerated while taking the
first real pursuers under fire. Adrenalin chased through his
system. A four-dimensional pattern of moves and strikes in
a queerly distorted cube appeared in his mind, making him dizzy
at the very idea of it. He shook his head so that the skull
straps, already closed and tightened, hummed against the metal of
the neck harness, somehow succeeding in drumming the
hallucination out of his head.
on our tail, Goose."
for long." Battle reflexes had kicked in at the sight of
real opponents, adjusted the onboard cannons with uncanny
precision. Single shots cleared the Explorer of the two closest
antagonists within firing range. The four dimensional pattern of
a space fight formed in his mind as vectors and targets in a cube
deformed by the gravitational pull of the most dangerous enemy
near by: the singularity.
else is new?" He couldn't care less at the moment, forcing
the ship into a narrow side-to-side swing and returning fire. The
stressed material of the ship creaked all about them.
we should revise our plan?"
The pattern was perfect. To break out of it would be plain
stupid. And... A thought sneaked past the battle reflexes'
protection: If I allow that, you'll be shot and what they'll
do to me is a question better left unanswered. He had no
doubts, Earth didn't want to face its own weapons on the
battlefield. And it would do whatever was possible to prevent
that. He didn't matter. He never did. And in this case Zach would
matter even less. The battle reflexes squelched the
Aligning. Aiming. Fire.
Two more enemy drones exploded behind them.
Rangers yo, baby!= To Zach's obvious relief, Doc's
enthusiastic voice crackled out of the receiver.
in time, Doc."
he didn't want to have her out here in this mess! She deserved so
much better th– :::Align your privates at getting going,
Goosey::: The Ghost suddenly barked at him. :::Prey's dodging:::
Shane startled back to attention. "Zach. Someone's making an
The bright flickering circle of a hyperspace transition
illuminated the cockpit.
gone::: The Ghost commented unasked.
this is Macross. We don't want any more trouble.=
want that memory bird, Macross." :::And your ass as a
greeting card, MacRose::: The Ghost was back at his best.
With an inward groan Goose accepted that fact. Not that it
changed much at the moment.
too late. Kidd has taken it and he's headed for
Zach's never going to hear the end of this if we can't catch the
old rooster before touch down. And if he calls off the hunt...
The ST ground his teeth. Battle reflexes or not, he didn't want
to finish that line of thought, let alone execute it. Yet, he
feared he would if–
Rangers, let's move out."
reality was replaced by the red-streaked chaos of hyperspace.
signals traveled without loss during warp, because they needn't
cross reality planes. But even if the signal had been noised
beyond recognition, these news of Doc would have been music to
Goose's ears. =What Moxie and Miller got was one of the early
experimental formulas.= The ST stiffened his spine not to slump
over the controls in relief, allowing the rest of the talk to
sweep past him.
these early formulas were potent."
ordered to keep the STJ formula from being used at all costs. Its
predecessors aren't necessarily covered by that.
won't be able to handle it. Half his circuitry was filled with
bosses might see that differently... But the uncertainty is
enough to refuse killing my captain.
has been a breach in security nevertheless."
Goosey : The dot of our prey disappeared from the screen::: That
caught his attention. "Cut the chatter," he snapped.
took shape around them. After the blinding shock wave of
reentering Einsteinian space had faded, Goose narrowed his eyes
at the readings. "Kidd's changing course."
Zach sounded less than happy with the developments. The numerous
shapes on the display were unmistakable.
transports." The Goose named them with obvious
speakers of the Noagarudos announced the second combat phase,
with the Brain Palace being less than five minutes away. With a
determined snap, Geist fixed the last clamp of his gear and went
to see what leftovers of the regular forces were available under
More than he
expected, less than he wanted. Not that it mattered. At the end
of the battle the counts would be different anyway.
go." He closed the vizor grille. There was no need for more
talking to dead people.
settled back in his seat after it became clear that no Crown
fighters were trailing them. "You think the Queen will
reward Kidd for bringing her bird home, Goose?"
don't know about a reward, but I'm sure he'll get what he
The ST clenched
his teeth, the ringing of severe ground-to-ground fire
reverberated in his ears. And that damned well doesn't make
any sense in the cockpit of an Explorer in the middle of nowhere!
Admit it, Goose. You're in till the hairline this time.
"Vectors to BETA set. Autopilot activated." He hid the
tremor in his hands by applying more pressure than needed to the
controls. If only he wouldn't have this dangerous urge to push
open the lock. "Let's go."
fire battered the Noagarudos as it forced its way through the
narrow cleft that had once hold the feeder road to the mountain
fortress. A heavy impact shook the battered vessel as it crashed
head-first through the outer walls and came to a screeching halt
in the flat, metal- and permacrete sealed entrance area, already
swarmed by flying combat drones, 'flies'.
to move out. Geist's armored fist fell onto the lock release
without waiting for Kurz' command. He hit the ground already
running, well before the following arrowhead of the remaining FT
fighters. The flies were a minor problem, their armor not
designed to withstood the heavy assault laser he used with
the central tower!" Kurz barked behind him. Geist snorted
inwardly at the order to do the obvious, taking another row of
droids out of the game. When a quarter of the involved soldiers
survived that order, it would be a violation of chance. Even the
assault flies took a damned high toll among them.
narrowed his eyes behind his vizor. A couple of them had to reach
the tower with him. He wanted at least one besides Kurz alive. In
case the control room held some protection devices the colonel
hadn't mentioned, an additional soldier present would reduce
Kurz' options to direct them at him. Behind them, the bridge of
the Noagarudos was torn open as ground bots swarmed the doomed
tank. No more backup from their batteries from now
One of the ground bots
reached the soldiers. Unswayed by their fire, it methodically
maimed the lower body of the first fighttex officer with one of
its three feet, then shot at the others. Kurz dragged a wounded
one along with him. Geist turned and returned fire...
rushed into Goose's veins as he stepped down onto the hangar
ground. He felt the tremors of heavy explosions running through
his legs, though the team seemed not to be affected yet. None of
the laser batteries were active. Yet. No flies approached. Yet.
Ground bots... :::Watch out!:::
Gooseman, sir. Do you mind–?= Buzzwang approached them
eagerly waving something like a questionnaire clip board just as
they were leaving the hangar. =Ranger Goo–
Goose's leap was
too quick for the normal eye to follow, tearing an already
transformed iridium steel hand through the bot's face, while the
other one sliced through the main chassis, groping for the
computer core of the now screaming bot.
- HELP - HELP - Malfunction of visual compon–=
disassembled the deadly killer droid precisely, step by step,
laid open the wiring that went from the sensory systems in the
droid's head piece to the memory and computer core in it's body's
=HELP - BLEEEP –
blow catapulted the disheveled, stunned bot into the coffee
automat. Stripped head first.
You can't– Ouch!" Doc screamed as Zach caught his arm
and jerked him back around the corner before throwing another
look at Shane, glad to find the ST still concentrated solely on
disassembling Buzzwang. A black camera eye bounced across the
floor, collided with the side panel and came to rest mere inches
from the tips of Zach's boots, revealing the twisted stubs of
wiring where it had been torn from its socket.
call Walsh," he ordered her over his shoulder. "Tell
him what's wrong here, and none of you approaches Goose,
The Captain shook his head with emphasis. "When we were
above Mars he said starstones were involved in the crash he had
the day before the formula was stolen. I thought he'd been lucky,
but now I'm not so sure." Niko's widened eyes told him that
she understood the implications when she reached for her
Goose over there," Doc protested. "Ripping Buzz to
better the bot than you."
We can't. None of us can. He's an ST in full battle mode. None of
us has a chance against him at the moment."
commander is on the way," Niko confirmed a moment later,
slightly pale. She threw a brief glance around the corner and
shuddered at the tableau that expanded in front of her: Buzz
stuck head-first in the hangar area's main coffee automat. Aside
from a protesting twitch of his left foot and some sizzling along
the wiring that tangled out of his neck and back where the best
available alloys were ripped apart like tin foil he didn't
show any more signs of function.
this black oily stuff leaking all over Buzzwang?" she asked
with a slight shudder. "Motor oil?"
coffee melange." Zach, stepping beside her, drew a face.
"Precooked and thickened coffee. When a paper mug is
prepared, the stuff is thinned with boiling water."
she shuddered. "Am I seeing right? Are Buzz's alloys
crinkling beneath it?"
Zach said dryly, without taking his eyes from Goose.
may never have another automat coffee."
I wonder how Goose stands that with his daily coffee
Niko shrugged. "He's not having automat coffee."
Where does he get it from?"
sneaks it out of Walsh's office."
can't believe our commander drinks the same stuff as
It's his coffee but Goose brews it." She spread her hands.
"Any questions?" A loud sputtering made her twitch,
peeking around him and the corner again: "The commander
better hurry. At this rate, Buzz won't occupy him for long."
At attention!" To the remaining S5's surprise Gooseman
reacted unhesitatingly to the commander's barked order. "Explain
assault stopped, sir."
threw a look at the fully destroyed Buzzwang lying in a pool of
glide oil, servo fluids, and coffee melange – the last was
the worst – and agreed wordlessly. A questionnaire
clipboard lay not too far away under a potted palm. Guess
that's 'the assault', Walsh noticed grimly. At least Gooseman
still responded to command voice, so he wasn't fully off the
hook, still... If I don't realign him fast, there won't be any
chance to keep him out of the cryocrypt. Shit! First, get him out
of the public...
To lab hall A. Moderate speed. Now."
Walsh ordered without leaving the ST out of his eyes. "I
trust you to clean up this mess. Call QBall to set the separation
forcefields in lab A to their max. I expect Niko there once the
fields are strengthened."
of the soldiers had made it inside into the lift chute. One of
them seriously injured. The other one was Kurz. Again. Geist
watched, unmoved, how Kurz touched the young soldier's shoulder
you'll make it. It doesn't look that bad."
you... and Mr. Geist... have to get to.... the control room....
quickly." The soldier's voice died together with him,
fulfilling what Geist had known since he'd seen the younger one's
face after Kurz had pulled off the helmet.
furious stare slid off Geist's conscience like rain ran off a
window pane. The man had never been good at 'live death', he
preferred 'killing in absence'. "They're all dead again.
Because of you!"
corrective answer was calm. "No. You killed them." With
your betrayal back then.
Kurz had been the second in command, after Orwell, and before
Stein and Geist himself in the mission considered the most
important to drive the Negusrom off the main world. Important
enough to align an M.D.S with the normal kind of special forces:
The task in itself
was quite simple: take the bridgehead the invading Negusrom
forces had built in the vast steppes of Mongolia, eliminate their
local command, and release an assortment of virus programs into
their computer network as preparation for the final strike to end
the Negusrom's presence on Terra.
they had learned the hard way that the Negusrom had gained
partial control of the battle satellite belt that was meant to
protect the near space trajectories, and had repositioned it to
give orbital cover to their ground base and its main vectors.
Stein was killed on the first strike. Elinda Vogeleyn, his direct
partner in combat though he'd requested to be spared being
burdened with a normal female, wounded. She went on to gain his
respect with her neglect of pain. Commander Orwell had ordered
their separation so their group gave no single target. Each of
them had been sworn in to fulfill their order: eliminate the
Negusrom invasion force. They'd vanished like ghosts in the dark,
searching their target, waiting for a moment to strike, watching
their comrades die when discovered.
made a mistake. Vogeleyn had been unlucky, some sniffer bots
caught the scent of her spilled blood and tracked it down.
Geist had the chance to
strike within the power plant of the base, blowing eighty percent
of it to pieces in the final blast. And then the signal for
return to base had rung through the comm implanted next to his
left ear. Being a soldier all his life he had
...only to learn that
Kurz had filed a report talking of unnecessary man slaughter and
unspeakable war crimes, and putting the blame for it solely at
Geist's feet, including the reassurance that he, Geist, had
singlehandedly slain the remaining Negusrom troops, feeding off
their corpses. And that – just was not true.
was elevated to Colonel, Geist was elevated to orbit – in
form of an oversized icecube in a high-security hibernation
prison. And the remaining unattended Negusrom troops had
regrouped and led a strike against the important deposits of fuel
and raw materials in the Siberian industrial belt, gaining all
the supplies they needed for their later success...
face still showed nothing as this elevator reached the ground
level with the control center. He knew Kurz expected him to take
revenge on him. But he was an M.D.S. First, he had to fulfill his
order, then he was free to take care of Kurz. Or maybe – a
disconcerting smile played around his lips, well hidden inside
his Fighttex helmet – maybe while he fulfilled his
order. While was just within the parameters.
Security Forcefield Lab A
again, Gooseman. Why did you disassemble the droid commonly known
as Buzzwang?" Walsh sighed inwardly, cursing at the fact
that the ST had shunned Niko completely, demanding she leave
despite Walsh ordering differently. In the end Walsh had given
in, because he – as well as Niko herself – had feared
they would drive him too far out of control. For some strange
reason, the boy had seemed relieved after the heavy doors had
closed behind her. Interrogating Shane was never easy. Now, being
limited to direct orders made it even worse, but the Supertrooper
didn't respond to anything else. "Answer!"
droid assaulted. It had to be stopped."
With a questionnaire? Walsh refused to shake his head in
despair not to break out of the interrogation routine. Sure,
the boy ate the form of the last questionnaire about officers'
private lives to the horror of the cadet who ran it, but this...
"Why did the droid assault, Gooseman?"
He stinks of it::: The soft voice whispering in the back of
Geist's mind chilled him more than the prospect of depending on
Kurz' deactivation of the control room's protections now that
only the two of them were left. :::He will strike::: Geist didn't
know where the ghostly voice came from, but he took the Ghost's
information without resistance. As will I.
door was held by a huge guard bot in front of which Kurz turned.
"Farewell, Mr. Geist. Or should I say M.D.S.? You're a
bloody war machine. This place will be a fitting tomb for
Geist retorted almost
soft. "You said that when you left me on the satellite,
coincidence that you appeared on the Noagarudos." The power
cables connecting the guard bot with the base system fell off.
"It's the will of God that evil should be
fanatics are so much fun, aren't they?::: The Ghost voice
commented cynically. The command center door closed behind the
colonel before the guard bot armed with the traditional axe left
its stance, approaching Geist.
Geist instinctively positioned the laser. The impact of the first
bolt shot at closest range and directed at the front armor threw
the bot back against the door it guarded. The next shots rained
off its front plates without much effect. Damn. It adjusts.
:::Wouldn't you?::: the Ghost sounded really surprised. Geist
frowned at the foreign image of an unarmed, naked body morphing
into an iridium steel frame capable of tearing such a defender
bot to pieces.
He threw himself back at the yell in his mind, avoided the first
strike of the droid's axe, but he took too long to react to the
backstroke. The axe's pike pierced him mid-body. The Ghost gagged
at the sensation of it cutting through his stomach, of his blood
streaming onto the polished black floor, of...
he couldn't waste his time dealing with a Ghost's feelings now.
He drove his fingers through the hole the axe had torn in his
armor and squeezed the wound close. The body system would take
care of the rest. The FT servos whirred to provide the strength
he ordered as he caught the next strike head-on, snapping the
handle. He launched the separated axe head at the bot, and
missed. :::Precision, dude::: Don't get on my nerves! he
snapped mentally, flicking strike blades in front of his fists
out of his lower arms gear, already running up the
needs direct connection with the control core. Best target:::
Geist reacted to the order without even thinking. Damnation. That
Ghost knew what it was talking about! :::Finish him off::: No
need to tell me! His reinforced blows rained down on the bot
who failed to gain his feet again. The electric sparkle in the
visual system began to dim. Geist narrowed his eyes. :::Done
in::: The Ghost confirmed unasked. The shattered white armor of
the destroyed bot melted, flowed down the wrecked
Geist cursed and narrowed his eyes as dark red hardened armor
appeared beneath the squishy white mess. He shifted his weight to
a better stance. I should have known the HQ wasn't kept by a
The red bot
reacted faster than the previous shell. Lights glowed up between
its skull segments that began to move like bellows under hissing
sounds of compressed air. Pointed fingertips struck, nearly
shattering Geist's body armor, then gripped his throat before he
A sickening crack
rang in his ears, something in his jaw had given way. He smelled
blood. And got again a weird impression of his body morphing into
a form able to withstand the attacking droid effortlessly. As if
that were possible. Damn. The whole idea made him
strength with a gas compression system::: The Ghost barked in his
mind. :::Block the pump mechanism:::
else?! Geist reached one of the battle knifes, drove it in the
pulsing vertical slit in the center of the bot's head segment.
Moving almost without his intention his armored leg crashed
against the bot's main bulk, tearing him free. Leaping, he slung
his legs around the sparkling head segment and drove the battle
knife back into the gap his – their?! he was no longer sure
– first strike had torn.
bot stumbled and tore Geist off its back by his leg armor. A part
of his chest armor clattered to the ground as he tumbled: the
protective casket of the energy crystal. Damned. Smoke
billowed up from the bot. He watched it, prepared for the next
strike. :::Off::: The Ghost bellowed in his head. :::Thing's
Geist growled as lightning from the bot's explosion battered
against his armor. He felt the sickening impact of the light
being absorbed unfiltered by the crystal. Blinding yellow smoke
encompassed him and he only barely escaped dark grey steel hands
rushing past him on both sides. A third hand coming from behind
knocked him over, a fourth hit his back and slammed him into the
floor. :::It grows unimaginative::: the Ghost commented dryly as
the compound bot assembled itself behind Geist, waiting only for
the leg that currently pressed Geist to the ground. :::Do you
want to keep it? Give it back:::
his joints to their limits, Geist clamped his fingers around the
metallic wrist at his neck and dove for cover as the bot shot its
limbs again against at him. :::Disrupt their attack scheme. Hug
the ceiling instead of the floor:::
turned over, the servos whined as he leaped at the next
deep-flying strike of the robot limbs and shot the catch chain
into the ceiling. It wouldn't carry his weight long. The claws
wouldn't find enough hold in the solid steel. But the idea was
worth a try.
Clinging to one of
the safety handles meant to secure maintenance troops, Geist
pressed himself against metal. Blood trickled from his chin up
beneath his vizor as the attack limbs whizzed past beneath him,
missing him only barely. The vibration in his chest increased as
the servos demanded more energy from the crystal. Geist ground
his teeth beneath his helmet's vizor. He had to be careful. These
defense droids were constructed by the same people who brought
the Fighttex gear on his body to precision, and they were
preprogrammed to react to enforced battle armor.
he wondered if that annoying, disembodied voice was part of a
defense system he had no knowledge of. Dammit. He had no doubt
Kurz had adapted the programming to the current state of enhanced
energy control crystals when activating them. But the voice was a
different matter. He saw no way how Kurz could have caused that.
Narrowing his eyes to mere slits, he watched the compound bots
recombining. If any more energy blasts hit the crystal directly
he'd be blown up by his own gear.
unflying bulk is the center of their attack scheme::: The
control unit. Main target. :::Exactly::: He ground his teeth,
felt his fingers slipping on the hook. The main power supply was
directly beneath him. If–
shattering the floor seal with his reinforced back armor as he
fell, rolled over, and leaped, tearing one of the cables off its
shielding, at the bulk, ramming the cable against it's armor.
Blue high energy sparkles flashed all around over walls, floor,
and ceiling, sizzled all around Geist and over the no longer
shielded crystal even as the bot burst into flames.
violet flash ran over the blood-colored crystal as it soaked in
the deadly amount of energy. Geist felt the stabilizing wiring
melt under the storm of energy and–
Security Forcefield Lab A
you are aware that Buzzwang ran a simple questionnaire regarding
the living conditions within the mountain, aren't you?"
fulfill their assault parameters, sir. Was I to risk becoming
invalid before the battle, then?" the ST asked
doesn't break out of his hallucination. Walsh sighed in
despair again. What shall I do, dammit? I'm no shrink. "A
clipboard is hardly a dangerous weapon, Gooseman."
droid forces are well versatile in camouflage, sir. It was my
intention to protect my unit and minimize collateral damage. Was
He got me. If I disagree I render him uncaring regarding
civilians and his teammates, else I confirm his paranoia. How on
Earth–? he studied the ST standing at attention behind
the reinforced forcefield and a laser grille, both working at
energy levels suitable to desintegrate matter on large scales.
Shane yelled, grabbing his head. In front of Walsh's horrified
eyes, he collapsed into a shivering heap, muscles seizing as if
suffering from severe electric shocks, screaming...
could be a trick, Walsh thought, torn between cautious
hesitation and the desperate urge to help his son. He knew Goose
too well capable of performing such a stunt to break free from a
forcefield detention, still...
faint whimpering, muffled by tears, decided it. Walsh's hand fell
onto the emergency shut down of the forcefields...
He snapped at attention at the barked, obedience demanding order.
"Your day has finally come! For years now, we received deep
space signals of alien foes, trying to contact, to enslave us.
Six months ago, two of them appeared in one of their vessels
giving us the first impression of their technological
possibilities. They asked, under the banner of diplomacy, for our
help, but – without a doubt – meant us to be the
cannon fodder in their unholy interstellar wars." General
Class made a pause for dramatic effects.
course, the Board of World Leaders rejected it. But now it seems
our foes have teamed up with a group of rebellious deep space
colony planets which call themselves the Negusrom under the
condition of being freed from Terra's justice first. Now a fleet
of alien ships manned with colonists out to conquer Terra is
approaching Solar System." Another dramatic pause.
are Terra's first and best line of defense against them. Martial
law is declared. Your orders are issued. Before you are shipped
off to your battle grounds, Dr. Breston will give you the latest
information we have about our alien foes." He pressed a
button on his remote and the huge information screen floating
over the parade ground lit up, then he stepped back and the
brown-haired scientist took his place.
are specimen of our main enemy species. As you can see by the
tooth structures and the intestinal system, only the large one is
a predator. This species calls itself Andorians. The small
creature with the pointy ears, fur, and flat teeth is clearly a
herbivore. They call themselves Kiwis–"
sneering snicker ran through the lines of soldiers aligned
precisely on the ground below him. "My favorite fruits!"
a malicious voice called from the back. Breston ignored
"The autopsy revealed
that the four stomachs have roughly the function of a cow's,
though the cud chewing is done with a meal ring in the first
stomach and not with the mouth as Terran ruminants do. A system
that involves sharp bone structures embedded in the wall of an
acid-holding intestine. So the best target aside brain and heart
is likely this area." He displayed an picture of the
creature before it was cut open and indicated the corresponding
zone with his laser pointer.
analysis also revealed that the two species didn't originate on
the same planet. Their possible adaption ability to Terran
conditions might vary. In addition, the taller creature carried a
couple of high tech gadgets and had a set of fangs hidden inside
its jaw. It seems distress and imprisonment trigger a hormonal
feedback that extends them, revealing the true nature of the
beast. You'll find hypno-schooling recordings about technology,
anatomy and language of both species in the packs with your
fighting gear. You are expected to take the hypno-courses during
your transport. Remember: you will fight against the Negusrom,
but these are the true foes, gather whatever information about
them is available to you."
stepped next to him. "SOLDIERS!" he barked. "MOVE!"...
forcing their way past lashes pressed tight shut, streaked the
ashen face, wetting the commander's hand. Joseph was at a loss
what to do next. The convulsive tremors had stopped the moment
his hands had touched the boy's face, but Goose was still
shivering and he didn't respond otherwise. Damnation. He'd never
seen him like this. Not even after PTS.
don't wanna– he shuddered inwardly in the combat
=Disable your enemy!= The
general's voice boomed out of the hidden speakers.
the gifts I've given you!= Breston's voice added no less
Killbane approached again,
slammed his fist against Goose's breastbone. "Green-eyed
bastard," he sneered. Suddenly, there wasn't any air left to
breathe. "Your petting friend's no longer the boss, you
know?" Goose wanted to gasp, but his chest didn't obey. The
circle of Ryker's minions assembled around them began to blur in
his vision. Black-and-green sparkles began to dance in his
vision. He saw Killbane launching himself against his fallen
body. The impact of the tall trooper's frame would crush
An enemy deserves
no mercy: Mercy is an illusion.
hand jerked up, fingertips pointed to a narrow line. He felt skin
tearing, flesh giving way, bones breaking beneath the impact of
his nails reinforced with the momentum of the leaping enemy
himself. Sharp bones cut into his hand as he used the enemy's
momentum to heave the weight from him and twist to his feet. He
didn't care. Soft, sucking tissue enveloped his hand. Lung
flesh. He pressed on, clawed around the pulsing thing in the
middle of the dying trooper, tore it out in a gush of blood,
noticing with amusement that a heart indeed didn't stop beating
the moment it was torn from its host...
crushed it deliberately, causing another rain of blood to
splatter across the dead trooper and the bystanders while his icy
gaze wandered their lines.
you made quite a show...." Stingray babbled, uneasy about
the outcome of this fight. "You were never the bloody sort
before, R– errr... Goose–" he stumbled backward
as cold blue eyes fixated on his throat.
enemy deserves no mercy. Mercy is an illusion.
you call me a goose?" The question was frighteningly
calm as he dropped the smushed piece of flesh to the ground,
stepping deliberately onto it.
staggering step backward. "What shall we call you then?"
a female he didn't care to gratify with a look asked.
me Geist," he snapped, his icy eyes still fixed at Stingray.
"Consider yourself haunted for the rest of your brief
seemed to take an eternity before Shane moved on his own impulse,
hiding his face in the commander's uniformed chest, giving Joseph
the distinct feeling the boy didn't realize what he was doing
while snuggling deeper into his arms, seeking comfort like a
Walsh was bitterly
aware that he'd likely be injured the moment Shane grew aware of
it. He shifted the weight and reached for his com.
was five years old, had been raised out of his sleeping cubicle
well before dawn, and stood freezing though refusing to shiver in
the cold night's air on the parade ground listening to a strange
officer's speech: "Troopers! I'm General Class, your
superior commander. Your former commanding officer has been
transferred. I'm going to run this project myself now." He
made a gesture and a bulky, brown-bearded man in a lab coat came
forward to stand next to him. "And this is Doctor Breston.
Your further physical welfare from now on will depend solely on
his skills and your performance." He drew a deep breath and
bellowed: "I'm going to drive this project into a
pressed his face closer against the slightly rough uniform cloth,
wrapped up in the sensation of the heartbeat beneath it and a
scent he failed to recognize through his sobbing in the slightly
hesitating embrace of someone trying to comfort him while he
cried helplessly about the child he hadn't been allowed to be,
about billions of deaths in a war he'd been meant to fight, about
the weapon he had almost become.
didn't want to think, to recognize, only to feel protected this
once in his life while a – the!? – world slowly
regained focus around him. He was so very tired...
concentrated on the disturbed mind whispering beneath her
fingertips lying on Shane's tear-streaked cheek, more than
thankful that the commander had refused to comment on her
ferocious blush when she'd broke into the room and came to a
staggering halt at seeing her superior on the floor holding Goose
in his arms.
She had to be
careful with this. She and Gooseman had kind of a past and there
was the resonance left behind by it that now allowed her entry
but also granted involuntary access to things she instinctively
knew he didn't want to share. "There's a full set of
additional memories..." Sweat tickled on her forehead at the
effort to brush only over the surfaces instead of reaching deeper
inside. "It's strange. I can't really read the second set as
if..." she made a helpless gesture and swallowed dryly. "As
if it's encoded with a different key than the regular one."
She knelt down next to Goose and looked at the commander. "I
have no access, but Shane doubtlessly has. The two sets are
linked by... by something like a spider web of thoughts, and he's
suffering from it."
that be the reason for his hallucinations?"
think so. He likely responded to the second memory set instead of
his own then." Niko hesitated. "Or maybe to a
combination of both. The thought threads run in both directions.
No idea how he got the second set or how that's possible at all.
I've never seen something like that before." She made a
helpless gesture, her worried look rested on Goose's face. "The
second set seems to have been cut some minutes ago,
"That was the
initial seizure, I think."
nodded. "We have to make sure he continues with his own
instead of the foreign one." She sighed. "For once,
forget about security. Get him to talk. We have to find out
what's going on in him."
Awkwardly, Walsh brushed humid strands of pale hair off the ST's
face. "What's wrong with you, eh? Talk to me."
began when you were transferred..." It was the voice of a
frightened little boy that answered. "Class put Breston in
Negata's place and..." the sobbing choked.
nonsense," Walsh mouthed. "I was never transferred, and
Negata wasn't replaced."
those are true memories for him, sir," she said softly. "As
real as his own. The way the information is linked in his mind is
unmistakably memorious. He can't distinguish between the sets
right now." She looked down at her knees, frowned, before
she faced the commander straight. "Sir, was there ever a
time when it was possible, that you could be
but I wasn't in the end." He didn't mention that he'd moved
Heaven and Hell to prevent his transfer away from the boy back
then. He shook his head. "And how on Earth can he know about
Breston?! The felon was jailed when it was discovered, that he
experimented with an orphan, Thommy Krauser, using samples of
Negata's work. Shane never met him."
sad eyes rested on Goose's tear-streaked cheek. "I think the
second set are memories of a reality in which your transfer took
place," she said slowly. "And Breston's crimes weren't
doesn't make any sense."
frowned. "Maybe it does... Zachary mentioned that Goose told
him, starstones were involved in the crash he had recently.
Starstone effects are unpredictable. It is possible, that Shane's
access to memories of an alternate reality is the result of his
exposition to their powers."
shrugged. "I know it sounds ridiculous, but..."
involuntarily tightened the embrace as his thoughts returned to
the other end of the topic. "Unthinkable what could have
happened had someone as unscrupulous as Breston gained control
over the STP."
think he knows..." Niko said faintly with a nod at Goose's
shivering frame in the commander's arms. "And he knows it
too well." Her hands clasped in her lap. "You did the
right thing with holding him. You are the main difference between
the sets. Keep contact. Force him to acknowledge that this can't
be the world he remembers." She touched Shane's cheek again.
"He probably won't even remember these things when it's
over. At least I hope so." There was a lasting moment of
awkward silence. "It's working, sir. He's
leave." The commander said in a rough voice. "Spare him
the knowledge that you've seen him like this."
can't leave him alone till he's really through with this, sir,"
I was present often enough when he was hurt that one more time
shouldn't matter much. You go, get the rest of your unit and
QBall, and find out how the hell charged starstones got onto that
shuttle." She threw him a disconcerted look close to
disobedience, before she saluted briskly and closed the door
on, boy." Walsh, growing more and more aware of the aching
throbs in his once wounded knee as well as the awkwardness of the
situation as a whole, nudged the ST cautiously. "I'm too old
to sit on the floor and you're better off in a chair,
It took a long time
till the young trooper finally dragged himself up and dropped
with slow, clumsy movements into a contour chair, burying his
face in his arms lying crossed on the table.
The commander inquired with hesitation as he took the chair
opposite the unmoving Supertrooper. "Goose?" A tremor
ran through the boy at the soubriquet. "Shane? Are
The boy looked
up and this one time Joseph didn't face the ST but... He
swallowed at the sight of this totally unguarded, unprotected
eyes, speaking only of confusion... and fear. All of a sudden,
Shane's hand flitted forward, his fingertips touching the back of
Walsh's hand, and twitched back again. Green eyes widened,
showing relief that would have been funny in any situation but
He always touches when
he's disoriented... or distressed. The thought whizzed
through the commander's mind, searched for an obvious connection
Joseph knew was there, but failed to register. I
tell the exact moment, the boy's defenses kicked in again,
replacing confusion with a startled wariness that grew quickly
into carefully hidden distrust born from years of abuse. "Sir."
The single syllable erected the familiar wall between them.
Joseph sighed inwardly. At least Gooseman was back to his normal
ship did Goose pick up the freight on, Captain?"
checked the papers. "EFSN Lakota, according to his
dock now." Like them, Doc was all business. Their way of
dealing with the uneasiness the events had left behind. It was
disconcerting to be reminded like that what their youngest
teammate was capable of if unleashed. "I'll check for any
additional data of the freight Goose had to
you have a detailed list of what was on board Ranger Gooseman's
shuttle that day?"
course, it's in the comps, but–"
it." Doc made a theatrical movement towards the
holo-display. "Et voila." He presented the freight list
including thumbnails and brief descriptions of the items
scrolling through in slow, continuous
heavy armor of unknown origin, two Xeryon–"
Niko's head jerked up. "Can I have the full-size holos from
Sure." He loaded the thumbnails. "All yours,
rotation please." Niko watched intently. "Stop.."
Her face had gone ghostly pale as she stared wordlessly at the
statue of light rotating slowly above the table, at the black,
dark-grey armor, framed with gold, at the deep red,
blood-colored, rectangular crystal in the center of the chest
plate. "It's this one, isn't it?" she asked
QBall fussed with his reading aids. "We found it
a completely charged starstone!" she interrupted QBall
in a harsh voice.
Starstones don't get that dark and they are
be carved to all forms, QBall," she snapped. "And they
can get that dark! Under the right conditions that balance their
energy fluctuations. Let me guess: it's connected with some inner
wiring or so in the armor, right?" she pointed vaguely at
the displayed crystal. "That thing is big and charged enough
to blast BetaMountain straight through the planet and into orbit
via China!" She dropped back onto her seat. "Lord knows
how Shane's bio defenses channeled that amount of energy."
in the doorway, Gooseman swallowed dryly, clenching his fist just
short of drawing blood from his palms. He definitely had an idea
least, we now know it wasn't an assassination attempt," Zach
concluded with a sigh.
it makes me wonder about our science department. I mean,"
Doc tossed QBall one of his apologetic smiles, "no offense,
Q. But if I get our mystic colleague right, you almost finished
the Queen's business accidentally, didn't you?"
wait a moment, Ranger Hartford!" QBall protested. "You
can't put it that way. We–"
raised his hand to end the quarrel. "Now hold on,
accusations won't get us anywhere."
the silence that followed after his calm reprimand, all of them
heard the faint hiss of the door closing. But only Niko caught a
glimpse of Goose merging back into the darkness of the corridor
outside. "Excuse me, Zach." She pushed her chair back.
voice made him stop. Hurried steps closed in from behind. He
frowned at her approach, felt forced to say something about it,
to stop her being so easy, so close around him. An hour
ago, that would have gotten her killed. He suppressed the shiver
that caused as he turned to face her intently. "Niko, at the
crash site... you did know that something wasn't quite right when
you scanned there psionically, didn't you?"
nod wasn't much more than a twitch of her chin as she came to a
halt in front of him. "But then I was distracted by
fluttered. Goose ignored it. This was too important now. He
gripped her shoulders, practically forced her to look at him. "If
something like that..." – damn. If only he had a name
for it! – "ever happens again. Or you just think it
might happen. I want you to give me a wide berth, a really
wide berth. Do you read me? Stay as far away from me as you
because you were taught to kill doesn't mean that you–"
He shook his
head, rather violent. "Niko, I wasn't trained to kill, I was
trained to kill efficiently. There's a difference."
He ground his teeth. "Promise me that you'll do
he barked it, harsher than he'd intended.
nodded, hesitantly, her wide eyes locked in his. And he just
hoped she saw what he felt now, because he didn't have the
faintest idea how to tell her so she understood. He watched her
lower lip beginning to tremble, saw these impossible eyes growing
wet with tears. It took him a moment before he understood her
choked, "You're hurting me."
hands dropped away from her, he retreated, swallowed the 'That's
why,' that hovered on his tongue. "I'm sorry. I– I–"
he blinked dully and forced the words through his lips. "I
he almost jumped at the words popping up in his mind. But it
wasn't the Ghost, it was... the knowledge he'd left behind. I
am you. The you after your mental pet wolf gave up protecting
your petty ass at Wolf Den!
he froze, physically and mentally. No. I. Did. Not.
Here. The There is
the memory of cruel laughter and... nothing. The Ghost was gone,
leaving him to deal alone with the mess he caused. "I
wasn't," he whispered, expecting the cruel laughter to start
all over again, but it remained silent. "I wasn't," he
repeated with more strength than before in his voice.
know," Niko said softly, startling him with her seemingly
perception of his inner fight. "We all have days in which we
like that, girl. Never like that. Pray to whoever listens that
you never have to spend days in the company of the weapon you
could have become... Her hand lay on his sleeve. He took
tremendous effort not to twitch away from under it.
I," she said with a faint smile and a whiff of the scent
that was only hers. Sometimes he clearly hated the amount of
information his enhanced senses provided him with. There was an
apologetic note in it. "Do you recall the day when I really
told the commander where he could file that
he frowned. "I considered you fairly polite."
shrugged dismissively. "Remember that I don't have your...
raised a wheat blond brow. "I think with 'up your arm' it's
more a matter of anatomy."
she warned him.
he answered in his thoughts. This me. Not that me. He
groaned at that. "I need a break. This is all too damned
complicated for the likes of me."
some coffee with me in the cafeteria?" she asked and added
with a teasing smile: "As long as you are not
blinked. "No coffee?"
being possessed. Coffee is fine."
Kniggendorf: Possessor – The Adoption
year 21781 Andorian calendar [about 1500 Earth calendar],
diplomat-philosopher Wonko Al-c-now of Andor wrote:
universes [...] the theory that every decision, willingly or
unwillingly made, causes two universes. One in which the answer
is yes, and one in which it is no. Each non-yes/no question can
be divided into an assembly of yes/no-questions, causing even
more universes. The poetry guild formed the name 'parallel
universe' for the phenomenon, unfortunately camouflaging the
truth: Each universe is but a possibility from the next.
nearly 600 years his theories were considered ridiculous...
earlier and 42 possibility planes away from the two Galaxy
Rangers having a coffee in BETA's cafeteria...
spent no attention to his inner chill, it wasn't important,
though the fact that the detonating energy control crystal had
failed to disintegrate his chest together with half of the
mountain was somewhat interesting. He'd think about it later. As
well as about the ghost-voice that hadn't spoken again after the
blast. But first, the mission was to be completed.
gloved fingers flew over the keyboard, correcting settings,
entering code, undoing the deactivation work admittedly properly
done by Kurz before Geist had rid himself and the sad remains of
Terra of that very personal foe. It was just that he, Geist,
needed the program active to fulfill the order given an unknown
number of years ago.
Negusrom invaders were to leave Terra.
Ironically in exactly the
way Kurz had frozen him for.
wasn't going to risk further complications with that, though it
bothered him briefly that he would never learn why Kurz had done
what he did. The man had never been overly
footfalls closed in. The woman called out to him, stating the
obvious. Geist snorted inwardly. So much for avoiding further
complications. He ignored her, concentrated on entering the final
The countdown on
the main screen reactivated, counting back from 10.
Geist, what're you doing?"
ignored her, watching calmly how the countdown
"Geist, what do
you think you're doing? The damn battle is over." She tugged
at his arm.
=Program D now
active. Code 303 begin Death Force.=
her shirt, he pulled her close, eyeing her coldly. It didn't
matter what she knew or not, but for once he was content on
correcting her assumptions.
game's not over yet. It's just beginning."
entities consider it kind of an irony, that on this possibility
plane Wonko was the victim of a skateboard accident with seven
and died 42 days before his eighteenth birthday without regaining
entities prefer to stay anonymous.
Thanks to S. 'Trivia' Blank for editing this.