are already too many broken things at Wolf Den Base...
Gooseman roused, sweat-soaked, out of sleep, shook his most
common nightmare about the Wolf Den Riots out of his head, and
got to his feet after a glance at the chrono. Only an hour left
till reveille. He stumbled, sleep-drunk, to his cooking niche and
brewed himself a first coffee. Too many of his days started like
He dropped himself
onto the single chair at his rickety kitchen table and sniffed at
his coffee, then took the first sip. Too many broken things at
Wolf Den Base. Walsh had said that when he assured Goose he
wouldn't be frozen. Too many broken things at Wolf Den Base.
The sentence was important, painfully important, if only he could
looked up when Gooseman entered the room the S5s used as an
office, for research work, and in rare moments for
free time. He knew she noticed his state but refused to say
anything. Nice. That meant he didn't have to lie to her.
Too many of the reasons for his dreams were not to be mentioned.
He pushed his chair closer to the desk and stared, discomfited,
at the heap of reports he should work on. If I wasn't an ST
this job would be a combo of panic and paper... He pulled one
crumpled file closer to read the title. Mostly paper.
"Bah!" He fought not to push it away and opened it
instead. Battle of the Bandits... Orion Arena... He read
the scribbled marginal notes that had come back on the file. Why
the hell do they want the rotten text of that damn song?! He
frowned and tried to remember...
face appeared on the room's central com unit. =Rangers Niko and
Gooseman to my office. Immediately.=
pushed his chair back forcefully and jumped up. Niko, noticing
his usual change of mood when finally something happened,
grinned at him. "Safe for another day,
he smirked, hurrying at her side along the
reports will bury you," she promised.
ST chuckled. "Then it would be pure self-defense to burn
awaited them in his office. The big holo tank next to his desk
already showed a detailed chart of the sector in question. Even
some of the minor planets and asteroids were marked with name,
precision coordinates, number of inhabitants, and some basic
information about geology, climate, and economy. Gooseman noticed
it immediately after they entered the room. Looks like this is
going to be important. Unusually detailed
Walsh stood up
behind his desk. "We received an unspecified emergency call
from an outskirt colony near the Empty Zone. Gooseman, you and
Ranger Niko are going to clear the situation there," he
ordered sharply and handed them a data crystal. "This is a
dossier about Z-980, its inhabitants, and so on, also including
the nearby inhabited worlds. Most of the data are about a week
old. So it's possible that there are broken things. I
expect you to take off in Ranger-1 within the next two
they headed back to their office, Niko said, "Sounds like a
pretty standard job. But what was that with the 'broken things,'
meant for me," he said grimly. "A warning."
"I'm not sure.
I should be, but I'm not." His voice was hoarse and somewhat
hunted again. The easy feeling about the impending mission was
completely gone. Broken things, broken things at Wolf Den
Base... had some of the more dangerous equipment been stolen?
But... Whatever it is, it's STP-related. That means it's going to
thought, demons of his past again. Sometimes the resonance
that still existed between them after the multiple and intense
contacts they'd shared was painful, but often it was also the
only hint she got about what was going on with him. Something
in your youth made a very good liar of you, Shane, she
thought sadly, even to yourself. Two well-trained
telepaths would have erased such a lasting resonance in an
instant, but Shane wasn't one, and if she did it alone, it would
hurt him terribly...
/ Asteroid Z-980 - AGZ (Artificial Gravity Zone)
checked his weapons and ordered ALMA to scan the landing
"You don't like this
job, do you, Shane?" Niko asked from her place next to him
at the airlock.
He looked over
at her with narrowed eyes but didn't say anything.
of the emergencies out here are unspecified," Niko reminded
her partner, "mostly because the people around here don't
know how to classify their problems."
ST snorted slightly. "Yeah. But something about this whole
shit pile doesn't fit. And I can't put my claws on
at the moment you've got fingernails like normal people
"And maybe I'll
need claws instead."
put a consoling hand on his sleeve. "Keep calm. I'm the one
who has to worry about premonitions. You'll see, everything's
going to be okay. We just have to find out what we have to do
here. I guess we should interview the mayor of this stone heap in
addition to our customer."
nodded. "Best we split up. Gives them less time to
=Landing area is
clear, Goose.= ALMA's voice cut in. =No intelligent life forms
within assault radius.=
alert, ALMA. Access to the ship is limited to Niko and me. Visual
recognition, keycode, and DNA reading are
that's max sec!" Niko was astonished. "Don't you think
you're overreacting a bit?"
Why?" he asked over his shoulder while accessing the main
lock in front of her. "Release the seals and extend the
=When will you
hours. After four hours, take off and call for
They walked down the
ramp. Niko looked around. "If they haven't moved everything
since the last official contact, the administration offices
should be over there. I'll see if I can catch the
"And I'll find
the person who placed the call. Somewhere near the
"Meet here in
silent here. Niko went up the stairs carved into the rocks of
the original asteroid and headed for the administration section.
Mining colonies are usually boiling with life till late at
night. But here... She shrugged. According to the dossier
they'd gotten back at BETA, the main export of this colony was no
longer mining minerals but a rare sort of mushrooms that was
grown in the old mineral shafts. Maybe the farmer's mentality
has taken them over, she smiled to herself. Early to bed,
early to rise. She looked around and discovered the sign on
the front of the biggest and oldest building ahead.
Okay, let's wake him and see what the mayor has to tell me.
from some drunks sleeping on the pavement in front of a run down
dive, the narrow, winding streets in the immediate area of the
mines were empty. And silent. And badly illuminated. Only the
yellow blurring from the forcefield dome above cast any light.
Goose, scrutinizing the area with eyes adjusted to the darkness,
headed, involuntarily soundlessly, for the meeting point. He
regretted having suggested that they split up. This job felt a
more and more bad. He suppressed a tense growl. It's around
the next corner.
grabbed his arm, pulled him with a jerk into the gap between two
houses. His knife shot out of the sheath in his sleeve. Grabbing
the blade, he tore it across the attacker's wrist.
a trap, Shane. I failed," a voice hissed.
poured from the foreign hand onto his arm. The grip remained. His
eyes narrowed. "Darks"
other hand pressed over his mouth. His bite was pure
"Ssss. They are
close," the female ST whispered, pulling him deeper into the
absolute darkness behind some broken crates, "awaiting you
behind the next corner."
and a good dozen minor ones." He saw her as a red-framed
figure in the dark leaning against the wall, holding the wrist he
had cut. "I tried to talk him out of it. Without success,"
she explained roughly. "He's mad with hating you."
eyes wandered along the gap, noticed that it led to a path
between the backsides of the houses and the rocks in which the
colony was carved. "Let's have a look at the rats," he
growled faintly and headed towards the small alley.
around the house's back corner, blasters at the ready and
Darkstar at his side, Gooseman immediately noticed the figures
that were hidden on stairs, behind corners and piles of junk,
lurking toward the gaping mouth of the street. A cruel line
appeared around his mouth. "Minors, right. Thought they at
least had the lectures on tactics," he whispered, "since
their powers are no good." He frowned. "I count five.
Where're the others? And where's Stingray?"
idea. He doesn't trust me any more because I spoke out against
stiffened. "Something's wrong." He raised his head,
eyes widened, but not because of the dark. "Niko."
hadn't had a chance. The stunner bolt hit her from behind,
encompassing and paralyzing her body and her mind in the same
moment. She fell, unconscious, into the darkness without seeing
the white-haired man laying down the long-range rifle and
approaching her. He whistled and his mouth grimaced into a cruel
smile. "Well, what do you know? A girl. It's getting better
than I thought. He always makes a fuss about them."
must have made a sound as the sudden emptiness rushed into his
mind. Suddenly they lay under fire.
against him. Gooseman dived forward, rolled over, and fired as
the blaster bolt intended for his head burned across her
shoulder, causing her to stagger. His target fell. Some part of
his mind noticed that even a bit of the wall behind her glowed
red. High energy. That thing would have killed him if it
had hit him in the head.
rushed forward, ducked behind a heap of old mining machinery and
fired again. A body lost balance on the side stairs ahead and
fell down into the street. Second one. "Will you make
it?" he shouted back.
a Supertrooper!" she snapped furiously, and the third man
staggered and fell down, a polished blade sticking out of his
chest. In a smoky, very feminine voice she continued: "Ray's
gifts are somewhat useful."
paid no attention, flicked across the coverage in front of him,
gunned down the remaining two, and ran on without hesitation.
Some fifty meters down the street Darkstar's steps finally closed
in, so he could smell the blood on her shoulder and wrist.
"Where're you going? Landing field's over there."
partner." Gooseman increased his speed. Reaching the main
area, he stopped. "Stairs are too far. I'll take the direct
route." He headed straight for the wall.
threw a glance at the rock and, considering her cut wrist,
decided for the stairs. Being an ST didn't mean being stupid
at least not for her.
immediately saw the specific marks of an energy bolt on the city
hall's white-painted front door. A body had protected some areas
from being yellowed by the blast and was now visible as a bright
white silhouette. He still could smell the ozone. He slammed his
fist in silent frustration against the wall. The pain worked. His
mind focussed on the situation again. He examined the frame more
closely. The clear lacquer over the paint just outside the
silhouette wasn't burned. So it hadn't been a high-energy shot.
And the yellowed area was pretty big. So it hadn't been tightly
focused either. He sighed in relief. That meant that whoever had
shot at her wanted her alive at least for a while. Z-980
wasn't that big. He'd find her soon
arrived, but something else mixed with the sound of her running
steps: spacecraft engines powering up. "NO!!" Gooseman
whirled round, rushed past her, raced down the steep steps
without caring if the female ST followed him or not. As he ran,
he shouted into his wristcom: "ALMA. Precision scan of the
ship that's starting. Track its course. Prepare emergency start.
Now!" He had almost reached the ramp as he spoke; with a
deep breath: "Keycode's shattered souls."
himself through the opening airlock he hurried for the cockpit,
already demanding coordinates and collected data. They appeared
on the main screen. He scanned through the list of rare
elements... his fist crashed on the armrest of the pilot's seat.
"Fuck it! She's on board." He'd feared it.
What about the woman outside?=
looked up, saw on the viewscreen that Darkstar was standing on
the ramp. She warned me. He remembered the HEB
that had barely missed his head. I'd likely be dead without
her. "Get her aboard and take off. Follow the vessel at
hyperspace two minutes ago.=
A star chart
appeared on the screen, overlaid with circles expressing
different possibilities that the vessel was heading for the
enclosed area. At least five life-supporting worlds lay within
the most likely area. "Destination: Central position between
the most likely life supporters, ALMA. Complete sensor block
right from the start."
/ Sector 874-022-106
looked up when Goose entered the rear cabin.
wounds need treatment," he said and, with a glance at her
injured wrist: "I'm sorry for that."
make such a fuss about tiny scratches. I'd expected it," she
stated coldly. "You're an ST, as am I."
no reason to bleed all over the ship." He tossed the
first-aid kit over to her and leaned against the doorframe. "Why
did you warn me?"
gave us a chance. And if Sting can't see that, I can." She
bandaged her wrist before she started with the blaster wound on
her shoulder. "I thought I owed you the same." She
interrupted her efforts, narrowed her eyes, and looked up at him.
"How could you know that something happened to your partner?
You were never psionic."
not, but she is."
Darkstar frowned. "Your colleague is a woman? Shit, that'll
play for his plans." She strapped the bandages tighter
around her shoulder and upper arm.
are his plans, Darkstar?" Goose inquired.
know the details. But you're the target. He always talked about
'shooting the hunter.'"
he's using Niko as a bait." His nails scraped on the
doorframe. "If he touches her"
not interested in normals, Shane. I can assure you of that."
There was a slight bitterness in her voice. After a moment: "If
I help you to free her, will you give us a second
"I can't give
him another chance, Darkstar. I gave him one. He wasted
"You will risk
your ass if you go after him right now without any support or
backup. This time, he's prepared for you."
can't be prepared for me."
voice was calm, almost soft, and held a deadly cold that froze
her. Darkstar saw pale, icy green eyes in an iron face. Sting,
you are in more trouble than you can imagine. She remembered
the last encounter between the two men, and the last scene she
had had about it with Stingray yesterday morning. Her cheek still
hurt. Suddenly, the decision was bewilderingly easy. "Even
so, I'll help you find her. You begged me to take care of him. I
failed." With a furious jerk, she fixed the bandage's
fastener. "I won't fail again."
considered that for a moment. Then: "I've got five likely
destinations. Any idea which it is?"
We used some abandoned settlements out here for a while."
She got up and scrutinized her shirt, soaked with drying blood,
before throwing it aside. "May I have a shirt of your
one of mine." He pulled one out of a locker and threw it
over to her. "Niko's a fair bit smaller than you." That
was exactly the truth, but he didn't want to mix the two women in
any way. Something inside him warned that that would be too
dangerous for him.
followed him to the cockpit. "What are your likely places?"
He nodded towards the main screen and the data displayed there.
"Scarred." She pointed at the monitor. "We were
there for about a month before we went to Frontier. Don't know
it look like there?"
farm settlement, but it's abandoned, and most of the houses have
fallen down. A corrugated iron hangar was the only intact
building when we were there." She frowned, then
straightened. "We hid supplies and some tech there before we
speed. New destination: OSO
of Scarred. Sensor block on. ETA?"
in 5 hours 20 minutes, Goose.=
was in the cockpit, though ALMA had complete control during the
flight through hyperspace. Sitting in the pilot's seat, one foot
resting on the front console, the other leg dangling over the
armrest, he took a sip of coffee. The filled mug inside the
cockpit was as forbidden as his posture in the seat. He stared
with narrowed eyes into the grey-and-red chaos of hyperspace and
tried to work on a plan. Waiting had never been his strong point.
But he had to wait now, wait till he got sensor data about the
combat ground, about the exact number of enemies, their
positions, Niko's position... They were awaiting him and they
than a girlfriend to you, isn't she?" Darkstar asked from
He looked grimly
ahead and didn't answer.
female ST laid her hand with the bandaged wrist on his sleeve. "I
have a right to know. I'm risking everything for you."
sighed and hardened his chin. "We both made our decisions
long ago, Darkstar. You made yours and I made mine."
not satisfied with mine. I'd like to change it."
closed his eyes at her words, tried to imagine the world behind
her words. He had chosen life and the diffuse offer of something
more even if he didn't quite know what that meant for him.
Darkstar didn't have a place in there. But someone else did.
Someone fragile. And unbelievably strong at the same time.
Suddenly, he looked straight at her. "But I won't change
A sad smile flashed
over Darkstar's black-and-white patterned face. "I knew
you'd say that, I've seen you fighting before, and now fighting
to free her, I envy you." She raised a single brow. "Though
you're probably gonna die. Ray will take care that you can't use
your badge. He knows you."
jumped up from his sprawling position. "No!!" His fist
slammed against the cockpit wall. "He knew me more than
three years ago! I've chan" He interrupted himself,
continued in a much fainter, somehow thoughtful voice, "changed
since then." His eyes began to glow as he drove his nails
into the back of the pilot's seat. "Differences. New
differences he can't know..."
cautious, Darkstar left the fighting position she'd instinctively
fallen into at his outbreak, but didn't let him out of her
Thoughts chased through
his mind, rushed back in time collecting the events of his life
since Wolf Den, the greatest changes in it, the most impressive
moments, the things that had changed his world... The shock of
awakening in a glass coffin after his mission at Deltoid...
Granna... I'm going to get you out of there, Niko, I promise!
...The emotional chaos of his withdrawal from the
behavior-controlling drugs, the days when he was nearly dying of
panic and fear while his senses betrayed him and he couldn't
control those paralyzing emotions previously suppressed by the
drugs... previously suppressed by the drugs!
turned for her, chose his words carefully. "Darkstar. About
one and a half years after you left Wolf Den, did you go through
frowned at him. "No. Not that I remember. Why"
you have a feeling of uncertainty or anything like that for a
while? Did you feel rattled? Or even frightened?"
snorted. "Don't talk shit, Shane. We are STs! We're above
anything like that."
it!" He turned for the comp. "ALMA, ETA?"
hour 53 minutes, Goose.=
far ahead will the other vessel be when we
scan of the landing area the moment we arrive there, ALMA. How
close do we have to be for you to get reliable data about a
specific person's heart rate?"
prepare for a direct dive on arrival."
are you planning, Shane?"
rescue my partner with her own help."
in front of the main screen again, Goose stared at the first data
displayed there. The hangar Darkstar had mentioned was shown in
false-color pictures. The people inside were visible as blurred
one is your partner?"
there." He pointed at a red spot by one of the pillars that
supported the hangar's roof.
He grinned, satisfied. "See there? That's the implant she
carries. But she's still unconscious. We've got to
"Why? It'll be
easier if they haven't had time for preparations," the
female ST pointed out.
need her awake for it." The grin was gone and a cruel line
appeared around his mouth. "Stingray may know me."
the line deepened, and a faint growl appeared in his voice
"but he definitely doesn't know her."
need as much backup as you can get."
he asked in surprise.
won't fight against Sting," she answered coldly, "but
I'll help your teammate get out of there alive." She made a
rough calculation."About fifteen miles to walk if we land
out of direct sound range. You still should consider a way to
he growled deeply. "I'm going straight through the
[Planet-#36204, Type: life supporter, Status:
mind crept slowly through the fog of dizziness out of
unconsciousness. After a while she could distinguish the pain in
her back caused by what must have been a stunner bolt, from the
bruises caused by the squared supporting pillar to which she was
strapped. Opening her eyes slightly, Niko noticed nylon straps
around her ankles. The bands around her lower arms must be of the
same material, judging from the way they cut into her skin. Her
upper body was bent forward, which increased the aching in her
arms, but her muscles weren't stiff, so she couldn't have been in
this position for long. Whoever had caught her didn't pay much
attention to physical comfort. At least not to mine.
began slowly to straighten up along the pillar to reduce the pain
in her arms and to get an overview of the situation. A group of
men hurried around near walls that seemed to belong to some kind
of hangar, old, in bad repair. None of them seems to be in
command. She must discover her primary enemy before she could
analyze the situation...
seen the white-haired man with the black sunglasses before. He
was standing to one side and slightly behind her. But where...
No, not personally... Shane's memories! The face was among those
she'd seen when they searched for the stolen Mindnet part. An ST!
She closed her eyes as she understood finally. This isn't
because of me. I'm the bait for Goose! Xanadu's Star, Shane, be
The main hangar
door slammed open. Bright sunlight blinded her, but her
recovering senses recognized him immediately. "Shane, no!"
grabbed Niko's hair and jerked her head back against the pillar.
"The lady cares for the freak, eh? Good to know that."
He sneered at Goose across the short-barreled blaster rifle he
pressed hard to her temple. "Your badge, bounty
With icy calm,
Shane unfixed his badge and threw it halfway toward the other ST.
"Let her go, Stingray. She's worthless to you." Two
heavily muscled men grabbed his upper arms.
imitations, Runt! This time we both play as we are." With a
cruel smile he added: "But first, I teach Runty's girlfriend
some basics." He increased the pull on her hair, forced her
to look at him. "An ST in love. Tsss. You must know that
that doesn't work, baby. Runty has to kill you, you know?"
he asked, grinning, though without letting Goose out of his eyes,
"because lovers are dangerous. They are weaknesses." He
moved the barrel slightly so that she could see the muzzle from
the corner of her eye. "And..."
on, kill her! Do me the favor." Gooseman spat suggestively
into the pause. When Stingray stared at him in surprise, he
continued: "Remember Walsh's lectures: Weaknesses are to
be erased! It's really a nuisance that I'm not allowed to do
it!" Hatred and disgust shone in emerald glowing eyes. "You
forgot again what I am, didn't you, Stingray? You always had such
a bad memory!"
white-haired man let her hair go and turned furiously to Goose.
"This is the last time you get on my nerves, Runt!" He
grabbed for his glasses, took some steps forward. "Who cares
about the girl of a weakling? Let her see how you get roasted"
A red beam burned through the cloth of Goose's uniform. The
sizzle mixed with his deep, furious growl as he tried to leap at
his enemy but was overwhelmed by the strength of the men who held
sensed fingers tugging at her bonds and tried to get a psionic
impression of the person behind her to her own surprise,
without success. A very faint voice whispered: "Ssss. Don't
act. Wait till you can move. He said you'll fight. Then."
She felt the bonds around her arms loosen. Something sharp
scraped across her boots.
are you?" she whispered, uneasy that she couldn't sense the
I'll hide you, but I won't fight. Hope you're as good as
struggled in the grip of two renegades, they staggered. One of
Stingray's beams crossed the upper arm of the left
"Hey!! Watch out who
you're burnin', asshole!!!"
hand tapped the back of her leg. "He said the general key's
fear. Now!" Niko darted to the side, took cover
behind some metal freight containers. Her eyes flashed around
noticing the other woman right beside her Darkstar. The
female ST pointed at the group of renegade Supertroopers in the
hangar. "I'm jamming them. They can't see us. But stay
close. It's difficult to hide other people." With a quick
glance around, "Take care for Shane."
just nodded, already concentrating on the one who was hurting
Goose. He seemed to be the most dangerous of them at the moment.
General key's fear. He wants me to project fear...
Something in the back of her mind asked how far they could trust
Darkstar. On the other hand, Shane obviously trusted her,
otherwise... "I won't focus on one, so stay within my shield
or I will hit you, too." She made contact with the furious
brain signatures, found the motivational imperatives and the
driving emotional base, shuddered briefly at the disfigurements
in them, then started to send waves of the fear she'd gone
through during the last minutes and the memories of all the times
in her life she'd been frightened out of her mind...
fear reached him, cut into his mind, dragged at his reason, his
consciousness. He used the growing panic to power his abilities,
just as he'd done when he was eleven and Killbane attacked him.
Fear couldn't control him like it controlled the others now,
because he knew it, had gone through the hell of it during the
drug withdrawal after Wolf Den. The X-factor had saved them from
it... He riled the predator within...
the severe burns on his arms and chest, Gooseman threw his full
weight against the already wounded one on the left. His claws
appeared; he tore them across the man's eyes and slammed his feet
into the man's pelvis to push himself away. He felt bones
breaking under his boots. He drove his fangs into the next one's
throat. Blood pulsed across his face and down his throat as his
teeth tore open the carotid. EMs
didn't have enhanced self-healing abilities.
tore himself free of the dying men's grips and leaped for
Stingray, who struggled like the others to escape the unfamiliar
waves of fear eroding his mind. Time seemed to slow. Fangs,
shimmering under the blood, reached towards the enemy's throat...
Just before they could sink through the skin, the back of
Stingray's head exploded in a shower of bone fragments and burned
brain tissue. A second HEB hit his back, burned a fist-sized hole
through his heart, and slammed the corpse to the ground. Goose
stopped his momentum by driving the claws of his left hand into
the ground next to the body and looked up with predatory pale
Darkstar put down
the rifle. "I'm nobody's weakness!" She left Niko's
side, knelt down next to the corpse, wiped some blood off the
skin above the now harmless eyes. "I was begged to take care
of you," she whispered, her opalescent eyes wet. "You
won't feel the freezing."
to her, Gooseman had a rifle at the ready, as Niko had some
meters away. He hissed with bared fangs at the remaining minors:
"Get lost. I'm not interested in you. This time!"
It seemed to take only seconds till the sound of powered-up
spaceship engines filled the hangar.
/ Sector 874-022-106
sat at the table in the main cabin opposite Darkstar, who stared
into her already cold coffee. Niko herself hadn't taken a single
sip from hers. I wasn't trained to kill, Niko. I was trained
to kill efficiently. There's a difference. Today she had seen
behind those bitter words of his. She hadn't been able to imagine
something like that, even knowing his powers, and the last scenes
in the hangar were still painfully prevalent in her mind...
she heard her own voice saying it was over after the roar of the
foreign spacecraft had faded, again saw Darkstar getting up and
leaving the hangar without looking back. She had asked Goose what
was going on with her, and he had said, in a voice stripped of
all feelings, that the man was dead, had lost, didn't matter any
more. Then he had picked up his badge, cured the burns on his
arms and chest, canceled the slight changes he'd used in combat
and stood there, still covered with someone else's blood, his
eyes resting on the torn bodies, before he had left the hangar
with slow, somehow wooden movements, the rifle over his arm. It
had taken her a moment to realize that he wouldn't return to her
was always strange," Darkstar said suddenly into the
silence. "None of us thought he would make it, especially
when Ryker called him the prey, but he has this ability to turn
weaknesses into strengths." She took a sip of her cold
coffee without even noticing it.
Niko asked, trembling slightly at the image the word
The female ST nodded.
"Favorite target, because he was believed to be the
commander's pet." She snorted. "But as far as I could
see he wasn't. He had to fight his battles alone like we did
otherwise Killbane would have been in for trying to rape
rape him. Was before Shane developed his powers." She
shrugged. "But he won the fight. None of us really knew how
he did it, but he gave Killbane no chance, just like today with
the rear cargo bay Goose stored the bodies, wrapped in sealed
foil sacs, and tightly strapped down the atrocious freight for
their flight back to BETA. With his enhanced senses, it was
impossible not overhear the words spoken in the main cabin. He
drove his nails into his palms as the memories of that day
appeared again in his mind and were interpreted by the changed
possibilities of the person he now was. He hadn't understood back
we left Wolf Den"
Den was the base of the Supertrooper Project, right?"
sensed pain in the woman in front of her, but the feeling was
distorted, didn't really break through, as if Darkstar only knew
that she should be sad now. She wondered whom Darkstar had tried
to protect with her shot: Stingray against Goose or the
cryocrypt, or Goose against being the cold killer they'd tried to
make of him? Considering the disfigured emotions she felt inside
the young woman in front of her, Niko wasn't sure if Darkstar
herself knew the answer...
sometimes I think I never really left that rotten place!"
Darkstar nodded at Niko's question. "But I often thought
that Shane's maybe the only one of us who fits in here."
today, he returned to that hell, for me... The thought was
incredibly painful. Broken things... The strange phrase
the commander had used in their briefing appeared in her mind.
She remembered Shane's discomfort about it, his uneasiness that
he couldn't fully understand it. Oh, Shane, it's so horribly
easy. The broken things are the STs themselves... Wolf Den's
shattered souls... When the second phrase that he'd used as a
keycode for Ranger-1 crossed her mind, Niko got up, left Darkstar
staring silently into her mug, and headed for the rear cargo
didn't turn toward her when she entered the room, continued with
his work, tightening the straps with short, angry movements. When
he finally spoke his voice was hoarse and difficult to
understand. "It wasn't the fighting, Niko. We were made for
it. I fought before to stay valid, to be left alone, to
make them believe I was what they wanted..."
why you've turned into such a good liar, she thought sadly.
You saved the unwanted part of yourself from being
jerk at the safety straps. "I never wanted to be like that
over to him, touched his back, ran her hands over his shoulders
and upper arms and felt her own shivering in comparison to his
sudden rigidity as she embraced him. He seemed to be frozen
except for his heartbeats... It seemed an eternity until his
hands slipped around her, embraced her, more and more forcefully,
almost painfully at the end. She leaned against him, feeling
secure in his strength, his presence...
she noticed that he wasn't holding her but himself to
Board will buy the report, Gooseman." Walsh threw the black
file onto his desk and turned toward Goose after the door had
slid shut behind Niko. "But I won't." Leaning against
the front of his desk, the commander studied him. "What
really happened out there?"
had help, sir."
second nonbroken thing from Wolf Den."
a deep sigh: "Where is she now?"
don't know, sir." He met Walsh's demanding look with clear,
dark-green eyes that showed nothing...
tired woman reined in the rented horse and waited when she saw
the other woman trotting a grey mare along the fence towards the
high gate with the sign "O's Ark." She saw the
brown-haired woman stopping her horse and, despite the readied
rifle across the other one's knees, she decided against reaching
for her own.
This is my land. Are you looking for someone?" the other
woman asked her.
I need a job and a place to stay for a while. A friend of mine
said I might find them here."
After a moment she added, "I know him from
suspiciously at her. "You are like him, aren't
Her mouth twitched
but she answered anyway. "My powers are different." She
lowered her head and decided to risk it. "They are looking
what you did?"
of what I am."
woman seemed to make a decision. "Are you afraid of
of people I can't understand."
it's good that this is going to be a horse ranch," Annie
said with a wry smile and pushed open the gate. "But I warn
you: it's hard work and I can't pay much." When the other
woman had crossed through the gate, Annie asked softly. "And
who are you really?"
entered the cryocrypt slowly, almost fearfully. They had insisted
that even the corpse had to be frozen here, despite his
guaranteed death. He went over to the new glass coffin, looked
down at the man frozen there. He knew the other man couldn't hear
him but that didn't matter. "Weaknesses are to be erased.
Right. But what you didn't understand, Stingray, was that she was
never my weakness she's my strength. And strength is to
thanks to Elizabeth 'fatima' Bales for her help with English.