"The enemy creates its opponent."
Owen Negata, explaining the basic idea of Bio Defense Carrier STs.
"The price of victory is always another battle. This is only another battle for you to win."
Joseph Walsh, trying to encourage a bewildered 17-year-old ST being confronted with the chaos of a shopping mall at rush hour for the first time in his life.
"I'm supposed to survive on battlefields that you couldn't even imagine... this is just a battlefield that I couldn't imagine before."
Shane Gooseman in reply.
2084-07-29 Across the Border
"Nobody's going to freeze you, Gooseman. I promise." Walsh's words resounded in Shane's mind as he sat in the armored military glider next to his– What is he now, anyway? Commander?– Wolf Den Base is closed. Captain?– the insignia on this jacket are different. And what am I? I have no military rank as far as I know. He looked out the window and saw the rocky island fall back behind him and finally disappear beyond the horizon as the glider flew onward.
Walsh glanced quickly over at the ST next to him in the glider as he remembered the senator's words: "You've got one try – not two. If he learns how to behave out there... we'll see. If not... You know what I'd prefer." I wonder how I should teach 'normal life' to someone who has absolutely no idea what it's like?
The commander – until he says otherwise, that will do it – set down his luggage in the hall of a pale yellow, two-story house and walked up the stairs ahead of Goose. The house stood in the middle of a garden that seemed to get rain regularly, for in spite of the dry heat that lay over the landscape even after nightfall, the plants were green. The area obviously belonged to the military: they had come across some armed guards and had to cross a checkpoint.
"The kitchen and living room are downstairs, the bedrooms and bath are on the first level, my home office is on the second, electronics are in the basement – keep your hands off them, they're different from what you know – and," Walsh opened a door and stepped aside to let Goose in, "this is your room for the time being."
Gooseman entered, dropped his spacesac onto the bed below the window and turned back to Walsh for his orders.
"We'll talk tomorrow, Gooseman. It's late and I'm tired. You get some sleep, too."
The door slid shut.
Again an unfamiliar sound roused him out of sleep. It took him a moment to identify the source: leaves rustling in the wind in the rain-soaked garden. The sound differed strongly from the familiar hiss of sand on walls and on the slight roughness of bulletproofed glass.
Goose lay back again and tried to go back to sleep, but his hearing was fixated on the new and unknown sounds around him, his mind busy identifying their sources: whispering leaves outside; small, harmless animals among them; the cracking of the house itself as its walls gave up the heat of the daylight hours.
It was all strange compared to the sounds the barracks had made: the electronic buzz of the power lines in the walls and the faint beeping of computers that he'd always assumed were controlling the force fields.
He turned over, covering his ears with the sheet as he usually did, but this cloth – it was smooth and cool and felt wonderful on his skin – didn't block sounds like the rough blankets they had handed him every evening.
It's hopeless. He pushed the sheet aside and got to his feet as it whispered to the floor. If I can't sleep... Let's have a look at this new world here!
He was surprised when the door slid open as he came near it. He had been sure it would be locked, as all doors were during sleeping periods. He stepped into the doorway, quickly glanced into the corridor. His eyes adjusted easily to the dim twilight. He held a hand out, waited for the siren. But the silence remained...
I'm not locked up in here. Warily he left the room...
The threads of the carpet in the living room rustled under his bare feet, but that was the only sound he himself made. The room was as strange as the others that he had already examined, filled with more furniture than he could believe was useful. His eyes picked out shelves covered with books, readcubies and a lot of stuff he couldn't identify. Framed photographs hung above a lower board: two middle-aged couples, dressed in elegant formal clothing, waving to an open glider that seemed just to have started at the moment the photo was taken; and portraits, some obviously of a Walsh younger than Goose could remember him, a slender woman at his side. He had never seen her at Wolf Den. In the rest of the pictures the woman was alone: smiling, waving, sometimes making faces, blue-green eyes laughing at the photographer as she threw back her long, pale hair...
Something in the board below the photos caught his attention. I know this! There was something like it in Walsh's office back in– But this one's bigger. He studied the buttons on it. Looks pretty close to the data carriers in cockpits... There's the slit to put the DCs in. He looked around, bent down and searched in the lower shelves. There are DCs! He read through the descriptions on some of the optic data carriers, finally chose one. Yep, thing works the same... Wow! The sound was better than the one he'd heard at Wolf Den, hiding below the commander's window when he was too young to be given personal training on his abilities... He searched for the volume control.
Bat Out Of Hell
The sirens are screaming and the fires are howling
way down in the valley tonight.
There's a man in the shadows with a gun in his eye
and a blade shining oh so bright.
There's evil in the air and there's thunder in the sky
and a killer's on the bloodshot street.
Oh and down in the tunnel where the deadly are rising.
Oh I swear I saw a young boy down in the gutter.
He was starting to foam in the heat...
Walsh jerked awake as the SF-41-A he'd flown to earn his pilot's license thundered over his bed... Moments later he woke up enough to realize it was merely a dream adjustment to the sudden noise. The basses vibrated through his bones, and his mind conjured up the image of dancing books on a shelf. Leana, the only thing we never shared was our taste in music. Why do you have to play your recordings...? Reality caught him again, expelled the wonderful dream of 20 years ago from his mind. He glanced at the chrono on his bedside table: 2:18. Joseph fell back onto his back and buried his head under his pillow. He found the stereo system. Obviously I don't need to worry about his skills in nonmilitary technology! He pressed the corners of his pillow over his ears. How can somebody with enhanced hearing stand that?! He groaned. I never knew I'd kept your old recordings, Leana, just to give a 17-year-old ST the chance to give me a heart attack... He threw his pillow aside, knocked the chrono to the floor and got to his feet.
...and the last thing I see is my heart still beating, still beating,
breaking out of my body and flying away like a bat out of hell,
like a bat out of hell, like a bat out of hell, like a bat out of hell,
like a bat out of hell, like a bat out of hell.
2084-07-30 Normalities and Rules
"Sir. Where's the food handed out?" Goose asked when Walsh came to get him.
Food handed out? Walsh frowned, then understood. "We have breakfast in the kitchen, Gooseman. Wait there for me. Afterwards we'll talk about the rules here."
"Aye, Sir." Two steps more and Goose stopped. "Sir, and the exams beforehand?"
"There won't be any exams. That's over."
The young ST turned back towards him, threw him a disbelieving look. "Really?"
"Once and for all, Gooseman."
A bright smile appeared on the youth's face. I think I'm gonna like this!
Gooseman sat uncomfortably on the other side of the table, his eyes flashing around, scrutinizing the food on the table, the dish in front of him, the cutlery next to it. Finally he even looked under his dish.
Walsh frowned. "What's wrong, Gooseman?"
"Where's the knife, Sir?"
Seems to be pretty confused. "Right before your eyes."
Goose examined the cutlery again and looked up. "Where, Sir?"
Finally, Walsh understood. Not confused, he just doesn't recognize it. "This is a table knife, Gooseman." He held his own up. "Battle knives aren't used at the table here."
"But this spatula doesn't cut."
"Cutting isn't necessary at breakfast. Now take what you like and eat." The commander continued his own breakfast, knowing that the ST observed him carefully, took the same things in the same order that he did: a glass of orange juice, a slice of bread– Heck, he has to learn somehow. That engineered stuff at Wolf Den was absolutely tasteless.– until Walsh used butter.
Gooseman sniffed, tried to analyze the smell of the stuff, then pushed it aside and checked the next pot, cherry jam, which obviously passed the smell test. He covered his slice of bread with it, then examined the honey and poured it over the jam and checked the next jar...
"You don't have to take them all at once." Walsh suppressed a shudder at Goose's 'creation.' "And usually you put butter or cheese on the bread before adding jam or honey."
"This," Walsh shoved it over to him.
A single sniff turned the youth's face almost green. With a nauseated expression he pushed it as far away as he could without dropping it to the floor and snorted as if to get the smell out of his nose. "Sir, that stuff's really bad."
"Nonsense. I'm eating it myself."
"It smells like an overdue version of the white liquid in that bottle, Sir."
"That's milk. Don't–" Walsh stopped. Shit, from a certain point of view he's right. "Gooseman, cheese is milk that's gone through a bacterial process. It's normal food."
"Sir?" The ST looked disconcertedly at the cheese. "Do I have to eat that?"
Walsh sighed. "No. If you don't like it I won't order you to do it. Now eat. You'll get your orders afterwards."
"You aren't allowed to leave the base or to enter secure areas. Civil areas are absolutely forbidden, unless you are accompanied by me or another commanding officer. Do you understand so far?"
"Yes, Sir. Don't move, unless you're with me."
Walsh suppressed a wince. "Correct. Second: Wolf Den and STP still have a security classification of ultraviolet plus. That means it is strictly prohibited to talk about, name or even mention them directly or indirectly. This also includes any hint that might be tracked back to them. All persons and things related to them do not exist. Is that clear?"
"Sir, if all this doesn't exist, then what am I?"
"You are my protege, if anyone should ask you; no more, no less. You are neither an ST nor a member of the military, despite the restrictions the senator put on you."
A flash of fury appeared in the green eyes focused on him, but the youth said nothing.
"I know this must be pretty bewildering for you, but be careful. If you make a single mistake concerning security matters or restricted areas, the senator will freeze you faster than a blaster bolt hits its target."
"Sir, do I have to understand all this?"
"No, Gooseman." Walsh sighed. "But you have to follow it exactly."
"Take your hands off my things!!!" The cleaning lady jumped backwards as he tore his spacesac out of her hands.
"Dios mio!" She crossed herself towards the furious young man with the flashing eyes who hissed at her like an angry panther. "Dios mio," Elena repeated and slowly moved backwards towards the door, forgetting the vacuum cleaner, which clattered to the floor. She repeated the cross sign when the growl intensified.
"I... I only wanted to clean the r–"
The door behind her slammed open. "What's going on here?!"
Thank goodness! Her employer. "This– this..." She teetered between rage and fear, noticing that the blond man didn't let her out of sight of his icy eyes.
"Gooseman! What's going on here?!"
"This woman tried to steal my things."
"Mrs. Santiago is here to clean up the house, Shane. Not to rob you."
"She took my bag from my bed."
"She's supposed to wash the sheets once a week, boy. It's okay, what she did. Let her do her job." He turned to his cleaning lady. "You can go on, now. It was only a misunderstanding."
"You don't think I'm going to be alone with– with him again, do you?!" Elena snorted and collected her cleaning tools.
"Shane, come with me."
"She has to do her job. Nothing will happen to your things. Go, wait downstairs. Now!"
Walsh watched him leaving the room. "Please forgive him, Elena. This is all totally new to him. Where he had to grow up, privacy was only what you could defend for yourself."
"Where was he raised? In jail?" she snapped.
"Worse, Elena. Much worse. And he has only a few weeks to learn a whole new life."
Elena Santiago noticed the sadness in her employer's voice and calmed down. "How long has he been learning now?"
"Elena won't report it, Shane. But the next time, who knows?" Walsh sighed and took a seat in the easy chair. "Remember: I can give you only this one chance. If you make a mistake – there's no second attempt." He looked earnestly at the young ST, who sat with folded legs on the living room carpet. "The world out there is much stranger than you may think and you are not allowed under any circumstances to use the weapons and defense techniques you know while learning to deal with it. If you harm anything or anyone out there without a direct order from me personally, the senator will freeze you to absolute zero and lock me up till 'eternity' is redefined. Do you understand?"
"You have a lot to learn. And I guess none of us knows what the difficulties for you may be. So if you don't understand something – ask. Never take action before you're–"
"Sir?" The young man in front of him was looking, obviously fascinated by what he saw, at something on the windowsill. "What are these creatures? They're fantastically colored."
Walsh turned, followed his look and sighed again. "Neon fish. It's an aquarium."
"What is it for?"
"People find it comforting to look at them."
This is going to be more difficult than I thought. "Because..."
...he woke up, thinking he'd heard the second reveille. The next one would be followed by the usual electric shock through the bed frame, the punishment for those who didn't get up in time. He grimaced. He never noticed the first reveille, and then he growled at the second before he leaped hastily out of bed at the third. He'd never been someone who got up easily. Now the third reveille thundered through the dormitory.
He scrambled out of bed and suddenly was surrounded by a horde of people, all the way to the horizon, staring at him with featureless faces, repeating: You are not allowed under any circumstances to use your weapons against us... You are not allowed under any circumstances to use your weapons against us... You... They were closing in, coming nearer and nearer. The sentence grew louder with every sliding step of the crowd hemming him in. He covered his ears, closed his eyes. They pressed against him from all sides. He tried to run, but there was no way out. He was imprisoned by the faceless figures who screamed in his ears, gnawing at his face to make him like they were. He turned, pushed them back with all the strength he could find and saw his fingers, transformed against his will into silvery claws, tearing through the bodies around him. Familiar laughter arose behind him. He turned again, saw all the featureless faces melting into one face: Wheiner's. You lost! You lost! You lost!... Closing in on him, the faces became transparent, forming glass walls that trapped him. It grew cold, so cold... He was freezing...
Goose jolted out of sleep, sat straight up in bed, deeply inhaling the still-strange smells of the unlocked room, and took in the dim colors of the furniture in starlight that shone through a window of simple glass. Slowly he calmed down in the whispering silence of leaves, not sand, moved by the wind outside.
"Commander, congratulations on your new assignment. I really believe that BETA has an interesting future ahead. You'll see." Colonel Patricia Enderson, the spokeswoman for Earth Force's general staff, shook his hand as they stood in front of his house. "It's going to be quite a big step for your career." She checked her briefcase as she prepared to leave. "Oh, I'm sorry, Commander. We've got to go back. I forgot the file with the documents you prepared for me."
"Not necessary, Colonel." Walsh turned toward the house and shouted: "Gooseman, please bring us the file that's lying on my desk."
"There's no way he could have heard you."
"He's got pretty good ears, Colonel."
A blond head appeared on the balcony. Goose held up an orange file. "This one?"
"Yes – bring it here, please."
"OH MY GOD!"
"Are you feeling better?" Walsh steadied her.
Col. Enderson put a hand to her forehead. "We've got to call an ambulance."
"Are you feeling that bad, Ma'am?" Goose asked her and handed the file he'd brought to Walsh.
She looked up and turned pale again.
Gooseman looked over at Walsh, who was almost carrying Colonel Enderson. "Does she do that often, Sir?"
"No," Walsh snapped, "but people usually don't jump from second-story balconies right before her eyes."
"Why not? It's the fastest way down."
"They would break their bones, Gooseman." Walsh sighed. "I guess you'd better go indoors before she's fully conscious again."
"And Gooseman – use the stairs!"
2084-08-23 Order and Offer
Walsh, half despairing and half amused, watched the young ST coming towards him. I don't know if it will work to teach him social behavior this way. But it's a damn sight better than a baseball game. The cheering crowds of fans would have been more than he could take. People in the shopping mall were nearly jumping out of Goose's way at the sight of the 17-year-old's expression. His hardened chin, flashing eyes and precisely controlled movements betrayed him as a trained combatant even to an ignorant person. At least he's found a way to keep people at a distance without actually growling at them. Gooseman stopped in front of him.
"Here're the ice cream cones you wanted, Sir." The boy stood almost at attention.
He's as tense as if everyone around here were a possible enemy. "Relax, Goose. This isn't a maneuver."
"I know, Sir. It's more complicated." His eyes continued flashing over the crowd surrounding them. "No recognizable pattern in the moves."
Hell, that's exactly what he was trained for. Walsh sighed. "Choose an ice cream. One's for you."
Gooseman looked suspiciously at the two cones the commander had ordered him to buy.
"Vanilla or chocolate?" Walsh asked.
"What's the difference?"
He knows neither ice cream nor its flavors. How could he? He was given only controlled, engineered food at Wolf Den, that couldn't interfere with his developing DNA. Walsh handed the youth one of the cones. "Try chocolate."
"And Goose... this isn't an order, it's an offer."
A smile flashed over the tense face and was gone almost before Walsh realized it was there. "I know, Sir. But how do I accept an offer if not the way I follow an order?"
How am I supposed to explain that?!
Walsh closed the front door behind him and threw his jacket onto one of the hooks next to the mirror. He was late. It was hard work to restructure a whole bureau – even such an unimportant one as the Bureau of Extraterrestrial Affairs. He found Gooseman sitting at the desk Walsh had put in the room he had given the boy, surrounded by the heap of books he had ordered the ST to read. The young man looked tense and bored and frustrated as usual as he bowed over a book about correct language and social roles. Can't blame him for it. Must be hell for someone like him to stay indoors and learn about things he's never heard of before – and never believed necessary either – all day long. I guess he needs something to do that he already knows how to do... to feel he's succeeding in something.
"Would you like to work on my glider tomorrow?"
"You'll have to come with me to BETA to do it, and you'll have to finish before my shift ends."
"How long is your shift?"
"About six hours."
"I won't need that long."
"You'll still have to stay in the garage till I come back. And you'll have to wear the identifying clothes." Walsh suppressed a grimace at the thought of the grey coverall with the red BETA sign to identify the wearer as a nonhuman, non-Earth Force, possibly dangerous entity. But the ST in front of him only nodded. He doesn't know any better. I will change that as soon as possible! He added another title to his mental list of books for Gooseman to read: the BWL's "Charter of Human Rights".
2085-01-27 [18th Birthday – 18 y.a.d]
"Remember: you're not allowed to leave the garage, Gooseman. The special permission grants you free movement only in here, okay?"
"Do a good job on my glider."
"I will, Sir." Goose was already checking to see what tools were available.
Walsh smiled at his last view from the lift of the young man rummaging in the tool box. This was a good idea. Everyone needs a success sometimes... and Sergeant Maccabee won't put up with any nonsense.
Goose followed the wiring from the control console down to its contacts within the motor block and checked to see what it was connected with. This must reduce the speed! He followed the wires again, examined the linked chip cards as well. Something like an automated cranking limit... can't make sharp turns with this thing built in. Stupid idea. He looked to see if the chip did anything else and found nothing. Good. That's easy to correct...
"He's done a good job so far, Sir." Maccabee reported through the comline up to Walsh's office. "Hasn't caused any trouble. If all of my men worked that efficiently and quickly, we wouldn't have problems with the vehicle park."
"Keep an eye on him anyway, Sergeant. The boy's more than he appears to be."
"Already know that, Sir. Nobody has to wear the visitors' uniform when he's no alien unless he's not what he seems."
"Have you finished the work?" Walsh came back two hours earlier than he had said, accompanied by a slim man in a white coat with strange reading aids on his nose. "This is Dr. QBall."
Goose greeted the man with a slight nod.
"We have to go to the spaceport to pick up some equipment for his laboratory. You'll have to wait here till I'm back."
"Your restrictions don't allow you to leave here, except when we're going home." Walsh started the glider. "BETA doesn't have that many employees so far, so we have to do this ourselves. Don't cause any trouble, Gooseman." Walsh gave him a deep frown. "You know why."
"Yes, Sir. But–" The roar of the engines revving drowned out his voice.
Goose collected the tools and laid them in the correct order back into the boxes. Then he sat down with folded legs on the floor and waited. Maccabee came over to him. "Like to hear some stories from the Colonial Wars, boy?"
"Sergeant. I'm no tinseled officer, boy, and what's your name?"
"Shane Gooseman, Sergeant."
"Okay, Shane. But I must warn you: all the people I know say my stories are damn bloody. So don't accuse me later of giving you nightmares."
"Sergeant, may I ask why you made such a fuss about that fort?"
"A fuss!!!? Boy, we're talking about the destruction of Fort Exeter on Ceres!"
"Pretty incompetent strategy. You'd have needed only half of the troops if–" Faintly Goose heard a tremendous crashing sound. He jumped to his feet in one motion and ran.
"STOP!!" Maccabee shouted. "You aren't allowed to leave."
"The crash! Didn't you hear it?!"
"I heard nothing. Stop immediately, or I'll shoot!"
"Do whatever you have to!" Goose didn't even alter his stride when the first blaster bolt hit the permacrete in front of him. The second shot grazed his shoulder. He ignored it. Before the sergeant could fire again, the ST was out of the gate and increasing his speed on the street. There! He heard a glider bike accelerating behind him. Good. I may need someone with first aid skills. He ducked the next five shots. Idiot. Don't fire on a moving target with an LR in intervals that short. Thing can't recharge that fast! He changed direction when he noticed the serpentine road on the slope below him. A glider lay, its front end crumpled into the rock, some twenty meters below him. Without hesitating he slid down the steep slope.
Goose's first look at the glider's make and insignia confirmed his fears. Hell, I already knew it was Walsh's. From the sound, he could tell that the glider bike was following the street.
Maccabee's glider bike finally raced around the turn – and his mouth dropped open when he saw the young man who'd listened to his old stories tear off the front passenger door of the armored glider without any apparent effort and toss it aside.
Gooseman helped the slim scientist out of the vehicle and settled him on the far side of the street.
Maccabee finally found his voice. "Okay, that's enough. Whatever you are, don't move an inch!"
The youth stopped, didn't turn. "I have to get the commander out."
"The rescue squad will arrive soon. You've got enough trouble for leaving–"
"Shit! It's gonna detonate in a few seconds!"
"Garbage!" Maccabee came closer, held the rifle carefully pointed at Goose's chest.
"I can smell the fuel, hear the buzzing of demantled electronics–"
"I tell the stories on this base! Don't move!" Maccabee never even saw the leap that covered the space between them. Then a blow hit the rifle, ripped it out of his fingers and slammed it to the ground. It shattered on the permacrete.
With a deep, furious growl the boy turned, closed in on the glider, dived inside and lifted the commander out, carrying him like a bundle over his shoulder, and ran as fast as possible from the already smoking glider.
"Gooseman! Let me down!"
"Sir." He dropped Walsh and waited, breathing heavily.
"What are–" Gooseman's body hit his chest, knocked him over and covered him as the glider behind them exploded in a ball of fire and burning plastics.
After a moment the ST got back on his feet and helped the commander up, too. "I'm sorry, Sir. I didn't follow your orders."
Walsh looked at the burning remnants of his glider, at QBall, who gathered himself up with a pale face, and at a despite-it-all furious Sergeant Maccabee, who stalked up to them, the stunner in his bleeding hands pointing straight at Goose.
"Down with it!" Walsh barked.
"Down with the weapon, immediately! That's an order!"
"What happened to your hands?"
"This demon ripped my rifle–"
"Gooseman?" Walsh turned wearily to the young man waiting next to him.
"I heard the crash, Sir. I wanted to help, but the sergeant wouldn't let me go. I thought it was better to disobey than to risk a loss of lives."
Walsh laid a hand on Goose's arm. "You're right." He looked over at the smoking wreck. "It was a good decision." He saw the glow of pride appearing in the green eyes. "Is QBall all right?"
"Aye, Sir. Some scratches, just like you."
Walsh looked down at his arms and noticed the bleeding cuts there for the first time. "Hope the rescue squad arrives soon."
"It will, Sir. The siren's about five miles away, coming closer."
"What happened to your shoulder?" Walsh suddenly noticed the blood that soaked the grey cloth.
"Graze." Gooseman shrugged. "The sergeant is a better marksman than I thought."
"He shot at you?" And is still alive?!
"He was commanded to do so, if I should leave." Goose examined his shoulder. "I left." He took a deep breath. "Sir, may I use my abilities on the wound?"
Walsh looked around, positioned himself between the sergeant and QBall and Gooseman. "Yes, stop the bleeding."
Goose was nearly trembling by the time the wound closed. He noticed Walsh's questioning look. "It's harder without the regular energy donations at the base, Sir."
"Your powers will always stay with you, Shane. They're implanted in your DNA."
"But I'm going to lack the energy to use them, Sir. I only stopped the bleeding, and I'm already exhausted."
"We will find a solution for that, too."
Later, at home:
"Gooseman, what exactly did you do to my glider?" Walsh scratched at the plasters that covered the itching grazes he'd gotten during the crash.
"I took out the thing that limited turns."
"The stabilizer?! You dismantled the stabilizer? It increases driving security by about 46 percent."
"It also slowed your vehicle down, Sir."
"About 5 percent. Only 5 percent, Gooseman!"
"As I said, Sir: it slowed it down."
2085-05-23 A. Kniggendorf: Saguaro
2085-06-20 Increased Pressure
"Our deal was civil rights for him if he manages to live in human society, Senator."
"As far as I can see he's more or less a pet, a very dangerous and illegal pet, in your house, Walsh. No more. You don't expect me to grant civil rights to an object as dependent on another person as is a child, but that isn't actually a child, do you? And I'd hardly say that he has a place in this society. He hasn't even got a job!"
"Senator, do I understand correctly that you'll see our deal as being fulfilled when he gets his own income?"
Wheiner snorted, "Yes, of course. But don't expect me to reduce the restrictions on him before that. He's still not legally a person and he'll never be one! I agreed to grant him freedom of movement, finances and job in return for you keeping your mouth shut. But anything beyond that – forget it!" He disconnected the line.
Goddamn shitty asshole! I'd like to drag your backside through all the shards you left behind at Wolf Den! Walsh spun his chair around and kicked his wastebasket in frustration, slamming it into the holotank. It's too early. He doesn't understand human behavior well enough yet for me to get him a job and leave him alone with it.
They noticed the short glance Gooseman threw at Walsh before answering their question. The leader of the rescue squad at BETA base, Captain Florian McNamara, nodded at Goose's answer, then said: "That's the answer your mentor wants you to give."
His colleague to the right continued. "We need to know what you think about rescuing a do-it-yourself customer who crawled into a downward-sloping oil pipeline that narrowed at the bottom."
"If this idiot is really that stupid, we should leave him stuck there! It'd be a good cleansing for the human gene pool."
The two men made some notes in silence; their female colleague, Lieutenant Ginger Rhettray, hid a smile behind her hand.
Walsh suppressed a groan. That's it for Rescue.
The leading officer made a short gesture. "Wait outside, Gooseman. We'll have to discuss your answer."
"I'm sorry, Commander. But we can't risk putting your protege on duty. Look," McNamara laid his fingertips together. "When we send someone to an accident, say a dropped lift cabin, we usually don't know if the victim is a 40-year-old dock worker who's sufficiently calmed by hearing, 'It'll take 15 minutes to get ya outta there, the ambulance is outside' or a lady of 98 years who's already closer to dying of her panic than of her injuries."
"Though his powers would be a great asset should it come to a real catastrophe. But we can't let him sit around twiddling his thumbs till one happens." McNamara shook his head. "When he pulled off the safe sealing... His strength is remarkable."
His colleague snickered. "He's going to need it. Looks like Ging put him on her wanted list." He nodded towards the empty chair next to him. His chief made a face at the comment.
Walsh started. "You don't mean that she–?"
The man grinned a bit salaciously. "Between us men – she usually gets what she wants."
"Good Lord!" Walsh jumped up. "That'll go wrong for sure."
"Keep calm, she knows what she's doing."
"But he doesn't."
Walsh heard the furious growl of Goose's warning rising above a woman's soft laughter long before he reached the waiting room.
"Bad idea to assault me!" Shane hissed, turned the woman's right wrist and prepared for a palm blow.
"Stop, Gooseman!" Walsh shouted from the door, when he saw the woman's knees buckle from the pain.
"She tried to attack me!"
"Let her go! Immediately! That's an order!"
The ST obeyed and lowered his hands. Before Walsh could react, Ginger Rhettray rushed up and gave Goose two good boxes on his ears. "Bastard son of a bitch!" she spat.
"Off, Gooseman!!!" Walsh intervened immediately. "Don't do anything!" he ordered sharply in his best commando voice.
"She attacked me!"
"We will talk later. Wait in my office!" When the ST didn't move: "Now!!" The door slammed shut behind him. Walsh heard the heavy sound of angry steps running in the corridor outside. "Are you okay, Lieutenant?"
"What do you think?" she snapped, holding her wrist. "That maniac–"
"Please, I have to explain something to you."
"Not now! First I'm getting my arm treated and then I'm registering a complaint at HQ. This berserker can't keep getting away with–"
"Lieutenant, please, let me explain first."
She sighed in annoyance, considering his rank. "Okay, Sir. In one hour. And afterwards I'll do what I want about this!"
He found the door to his office locked. He knocked. "Gooseman, open the door." – No answer. "Open the door immediately!" His voice grew louder.
"Move your gengineered ass over here and open this goddamn door or I'll personally stuff you into the cryocrypt and slam the lid shut!"
The door slid aside. "Sir?" Gooseman trembled with rage.
I wouldn't wonder if his eyes started shooting laser beams like Stingray's in a moment. "We have to talk about it, Gooseman," Walsh said as calmly as he could manage.
"Why? You don't believe me anyway."
"There's a fundamental misunderstanding, Shane."
"She attacked me."
"No, she did not. She–"
"She attempted a strike against the lower chest nerve points. Pretty weak, but a weak enemy is still an enemy!"
Walsh sighed. This is gonna be damn difficult. "Her intention was not to attack you, Gooseman." At least not an attack of the kind he knows. Hell, how am I supposed to explain behavior based on emotions he doesn't know?
"You mean as part of their reproduction cycle? That's crazy. She doesn't know if I'm compatible or not."
"These desires and feelings aren't logical, Gooseman."
"You've got to wait, Shane. These are things that just can't be explained at the moment."
"What am I supposed to do when it comes to these things?"
Enjoy it! Hell, the senator would freeze me if I told him that! "You are not supposed to do anything in that direction, Gooseman." An ugly little voice in his head called him coward. "But you must learn to recognize the behavior and to discourage the women without hurting them."
"If they ask directly, say you are not interested."
"Lieutenant Rhettray didn't ask, Sir."
"Stay cold and reject their approach but do not harm them physically. None of them has the power to overwhelm you. I guess you already noticed that."
"You don't need any strength for an attack against nerve points, Sir."
Walsh sighed. "Gooseman, most of the people in this world don't even know that nerve points exist, let alone how to use them in combat." He had a look at his chrono. "We'll finish this discussion later. I have to have another talk now." With the second victim.
"Lieutenant Rhettray. First, I'd like to say that I'm sorry for the incident–"
"Stop it, Commander. You're not the maniac who attacked me. You can excuse him as often as you like, but I will pin his ass to the wall for this!" She held out her bandaged wrist.
"Lieutenant, there's a fundamental misunderstanding on his side, and I should have noticed the possibility for such a misunderstanding before it actually happened. He's been trained almost all his life for combat under harsh and unknown conditions. You must see, from his point of view you behaved like an enemy and he reacted against a clear threat. I was one of his trainers, so I should have known."
"An enemy?!! I smiled at him and ran my fingers over his chest. Dammit to hell, I tried to seduce him! Life-threatening, really," she snapped, "if he's allergic to lip gloss!"
"He's totally unaware of what you intended to do."
"You don't expect me to believe that, do you? A man of his appearance – innocent?!"
"Lieutenant, he's not just innocent, he lacks the whole emotional base for the behavior you expected from him. He's been given sexual inhibitors since before he was ten, the dose was increased to the max when he was eleven, and the drug is still present in his system."
"You mean he really believed I was attacking him?"
"I'm afraid so, Lieutenant. For him the whole thing was a serious combat situation. He's incapable of seeing it any differently."
"What kind of devils did that to a man like him?!"
I was one of them. "Are you going to report him?"
She thought about it. "No, Sir. But if I were you I would make sure that he learns as fast as possible. He's damned attractive, in case you hadn't noticed."
2085-11-15 Biological Hazards
I should have known it! Damnation, why did they have to give him of all people a test scenario that fits into the patterns for biological weapons use? He put down his glass and leaned back in his chair, reflecting on the test...
..."Okay, this is a test to show us if you can apply your knowledge about biological and chemical hazards in real life, Gooseman. You get the following information: In some relatively heavily populated suburbs of San Francisco, former USA, 34 cases altogether of botulism are reported. The local health center cannot find any links between the victims. What do you have to do?"
"First, plot on a map the area where each of the victims was found, surround those spots with circles indicating the victims' likely movements over the last 12 hours, and enclose all the small circles with a big one to allow an additional 10-kilometer security radius. Second, get data from the weather institute about wind and humidity for the last 12 hours in the area and expand the marked area in the direction of the main winds."
From across the table, George Michaels, the investigator for hazardous materials, frowned. "What is that all for?"
"To find the required size and the optimal drop point for the plasma bomb."
"A plasma bomb?!!" The investigator nearly jumped out of his seat.
"Of course, Sir. It leaves no radioactive fallout behind and safely destroys the viruses, like Ebola, Lassa, Marburg, tularemia, and so on, that are intended to spread next."
"In god's name, what are you talking about?!"
At that point Walsh had interrupted the test, knowing it was already over. "He's talking about biological weapons usage. If you were struck with weapons like those, destroying the affected area is the only way to save the rest of the country." With a sad sigh: "It's a classic scenario, George."
"I gave him a scenario about rotten meat in a public cantina at a playing field or something like that and he's suggesting wiping out San Francisco, Joseph!"
"Most of the biological warheads start by spreading botulinus toxin to cause an outbreak of botulism and prevent any serious attempts at containment before their freight of other diseases has spread."...
...Walsh took up his glass again and looked through the balcony door up at the clear night sky. I thought his problems were about all the things in human behavior he doesn't know well enough – but it seems they're also based on what he knows far too well.
2085-12-29 Ma'am Prime Senator
Walsh opened the pale blue envelope that had come in the daily mail and glanced over the gold-edged card inside it. "For God's sake! What have I done that they're doing this to me?!" The rest of the mail fell to his desk, and he hurried down the stairs, shouting, "Gooseman! Get your jacket, we've got to go immediately!" And on the way I'll have to make sure that he knows not to knock out the tailor for what will surely seem to him like a strangulation attempt!
Walsh checked collar, buttons, and cuffs on his dress uniform jacket, then went downstairs and did the same with Shane's. He scrutinized the ST, who, more or less patiently, endured the procedure in silence. "Okay, that will do it." He picked up the keycard for his glider and marched out the door. "And remember: Do not speak to any of the senators without being spoken to first, don't use slang or abbreviations – that means watch your language, clear? And for heaven's sake, don't growl at anyone, and use the correct address forms. I guess you know why we got this damn invitation!"
"Senator Wheiner wants to test me. He wants me in the cryocrypt, and he's starting to get impatient because I've refused to bring myself in so far."
Walsh looked at him in surprise. He understands more of this game than I believed. He sighed. "Right, and we can't risk giving him any ammunition."
"That's never wise when dealing with an enemy, Sir."
So, that's Joseph's protege. Looks like he feels pretty uncomfortable here. She observed his build and movements as he retreated a little more into the background near the wide windows. That suit must have been made by Joseph's tailor. Joe's never cared for fashion trends, always was dressed in something that matched himself, just like this boy is now. She allowed herself an amused smile. I bet the guards don't want to deal with him at all. She walked over to him. "You don't look like you're having any fun this evening, young man. What's your name?"
Goose started and looked at the old woman who had approached him from the side, trying to identify her status from the sash she wore. "Shane Gooseman, Ma'am–" He interrupted himself, startled, and corrected: "Please forgive me, Lady Prime Senator."
Madeleine Hays laughed. "No, I won't." She saw the green eyes jump up to her face again. "Since I don't believe an apology is necessary, I haven't heard one." She patted his forearm with her fan. "I enjoyed being called Ma'am again. So much time has passed since someone addressed me that informally. Keep on doing it. – But you look like you feel totally out of place here."
Maddie noticed the suppressed sigh. "This is all very strange to me, Ma'am." A short smile flashed over the tense face. "Whenever something makes sense to me, I've obviously misunderstood it."
She laughed. "Oh my, how much time did your mentor give you to learn the colors and emblems, and the behavior expected towards their wearers, that you need for a ball like this? A week?"
"One and a half days, Ma'am."
"You're joking. Joseph wouldn't do that to anyone. I remember him when he was here for the first time, I think it was for my daughter's debut, and he looked as though he felt as much out of place as you do now." The two were a perfect couple. She smiled sadly at the memory. "It was about twenty-five years ago, and they invited him because he was a highly decorated hero from the Colonial Wars – the Siege of Mars, if I recall it correctly. He stood there in his dress uniform, with all the decorations he'd gotten for his courage on his chest, and around him all these smart-alecky senator types, who'd never even seen a warplane, let alone a space battlefield, were telling him how the battle he won should have been done." Maddie giggled. "Sonny, I thought he'd jump through the next window to escape them."
Goose glanced over at Walsh, who was occupied with two elder generals, and tried to imagine him as a bewildered youth like himself in midst of this turmoil. "It's hard to believe that, Ma'am."
"It's harder to believe that Joseph did the same thing they did to him to anyone else," Mrs. Hays said calmly.
"He didn't have a choice. The invitation arrived only two days ago."
Lady Prime Senator Madeleine Hays looked warily at him. "Wait for me, Sonny. I've got something to check, and then we'll continue our conversation."
"I won't leave, Ma'am." A short half-smile appeared on his face. "I promised my mentor that I wouldn't break any windows."
"Poor boy." She laughed slightly. "All escape routes are blocked."
"Joseph, is it true that you got the invitation for you and your protege only two days ago?"
"Yes, Lady Prime Senator. On December 29, to be exact."
"Forget this LPS-nonsense, Joseph. We've known each other far too long for it. What I want to know is, who sent it? The invitations were done in early October, and you weren't on the list since I know how you hate this kind of event."
"The envelope was marked with the official BWL stamp, that's all. It was a formal invitation."
"One of the sort that means: 'Show up or your career is over'?"
Walsh grinned slightly. "Yes, of course. What other kind would someone send me?"
"You were never at a loss for an official reason to make it impossible for you to come."
"Yes, I could have avoided it without any problems. But the invitation insisted on his," he nodded towards Gooseman, "appearance, too. And I couldn't throw him into the shark pool alone, could I?"
Maddie followed his look back to Goose. "He looks like he sees everyone in here as an enemy."
You're damn right, Maddie.
"This is not the kind of party he usually goes to, is it?"
"He's never been to any kind of party before, Maddie. And the one who forced him to be here knew that very well."
"As a wild guess: Eric?"
"That matches his saying: Never miss an opportunity to torture someone. I've hated him from the very beginning, and I still wonder how he can convince his voters every five-year period. Sometimes I think he's programmed his vote into their genes!"
"Don't joke about that, Maddie. It's too dangerous."
"Not for me, Joey. Not for me." She noticed his short twitch at the old nickname she had used twenty-five years ago when he courted her daughter. Somehow she'd stopped using it after the two were married.
"But I'm not a Lord Prime Senator, Maddie. I'm only commander of BETA. And he," again he looked over to Goose, "has no protective rank at all."
"I've always believed the youngest people in a circle should add their ideas to a discussion." Eric Wheiner's voice rose above the noise at the table. "I think Mr. Gooseman should say what he knows about the revolutionary new idea of genetic warfare and the advantages it still offers mankind despite that nasty incident with the military's project on super troopers."
Careful, Shane! He's trying to trap you! Walsh groaned inwardly, unable to warn the young man sitting halfway down the table from Walsh's own place next to the Lady Prime Senator at the table's head.
"Now, what do you say, Mr. Gooseman? You have an opinion on the topic, don't you?"
"Mr. Senator." Goose's voice was emotionless and cold. The commander saw the same intensity of concentration he had often seen on the ST's face when Shane formulated an answer back in Wolf Den's classroom. "I can't share your opinion that genetic warfare is a new advantage for mankind."
"You mean to say that genetically optimized soldiers are a bad idea?" Wheiner asked across the silent table.
Shut up, Shane! Don't mention Wolf Den. That's still a beyond-top-secret topic!
"No, Senator. But genetic warfare isn't a very new idea. It was already being practiced at the end of the twentieth century to create virus and bacteria strains optimized for use as biological weapons, like the hemorrhagic fevers that spread like a flu through the air instead of needing physical contact."
"That's in no way related to genetic warfare, Mr. Gooseman. That's only well-targeted biological warfare," Wheiner snapped, and took another bite from his filet. "We're discussing genetic warfare, and I want to hear your opinion on that!"
"Sir, the human genome was decoded by an international project in the early 21st century, and by about five years later your well-targeted biological weapons were able to distinguish between target and nontarget groups."
Wheiner snorted. "That's absolute nonsense."
"Do you believe the extinction of the !Kung bushmen in the Namib desert within a two-month period in 2026 was an evolutionary accident, Senator?"
Forks around him clattered onto plates as a shocked silence fell at the table. Walsh felt his fingernails digging into his palms. Shit, that's it. He's buried himself. The !Kung die-out is the most hated topic among the BWL's members.
A single pair of hands applauded, and Madeleine Hays smiled warmly as she spoke: "I admire your courage, Mr. Gooseman. And being the oldest person at the table, I guess I'm the only one who can really remember the messages circulating back then. At the beginning there was a lot of contradictory news about what happened in Namibia. Some rumors about an illegal test of a genetically optimized and targeted virus weapon even appeared. And then, suddenly, there was a big news campaign talking about a very infectious strand of flu hitting this isolated human population extremely hard. They had no immune factors against it, so most of them died. About twenty years later, when the Board of World Leaders took the business of leading this planet out of the hands of the nonunified nations, a number of documents were discovered that confirmed Mr. Gooseman's statement." She took a deep breath and cut off a red-headed senator's attempt to speak up. "But I won't deny that most of us back then, who were children or relatives of, married to, or even military members ourselves, didn't want to accept what had been done. So most of us stayed with the comfortable lie, though the truth was told and written for everybody to see." She smiled warmly at Gooseman again. "It took nearly sixty years for someone here in the Hall of Earth to find the courage to name it for what it was: the use of a genetically optimized weapon for eugenic purposes. I think we should think about how we behaved toward the lies back then and not about the one who spoke the truth today." She continued her meal, clearly indicating that she considered the topic closed.
Once the normal chatter around the table had begun again, Walsh said in a very low voice, "Thank you, Maddie. The moment the boy spoke, I thought I'd lost."
"No thanks are necessary, Joseph," she whispered back. "I always enjoy crossing Eric's plans. And by the way: Your protege is a remarkable young man. There aren't many young people whose eyes are open to the ugly side of our world."
He only knows the ugly side, Maddie. He's still learning to deal with the less rotten version of it.
"I think I want to hear more from him. Maybe I'll squeeze some information out of him during the New Year's dance."
"For heaven's sake, Maddie. Don't try it. He can't dance, and he isn't fully aware of his physical strength, either."
"Fine! That makes it more interesting. And as for the dance – well, I've still got three hours to correct that." She grinned as broadly as a nearly 75-year-old Lady Prime Senator could allow herself. "You ought to be glad for it, Joey. As long as I'm occupying him nobody else will dare to risk approaching him, since I'm known to be a very nasty customer when I'm disturbed at something. That means no chances for him to make new mistakes."
"Eric will hate you for this, Maddie."
"I hope so. He made a disaster out of my daughter's debut." She hid her grin behind her fan. "And I hope, too, that one of the surveillance cameras was focused on his face when I confirmed your protege's statement."
"Can I have a copy, Maddie?"
She laughed out loud. "Your behavior is much less correct than you make the whole world believe it is, Joey!"
You have absolutely no idea how incorrectly I can behave if I have to, Maddie!
She winked at him with laughing eyes. "And sure – you'll get a good one."
"For someone who only had three hours to learn, he dances very well, Joe." Maddie sounded satisfied with herself.
"What did you say to him to get him to agree to do it?"
"The same thing I told Leana twenty-five years ago."
Walsh raised his brows questioningly.
"That Eric Wheiner would be furious enough to bite his own ass at the sight of him dancing and having fun!"
For the first time that evening, Walsh laughed. "That must be the only reason Gooseman was able to accept, Maddie."
"Never underestimate my empathy for strange young people, Joey. It's always very useful." She smiled. "But I think you should get him out of here now. This is clearly beyond his skills, Joseph."
"I know. And I owe you, Maddie."
"You owe me nothing, except to keep an eye on him. He could become a very charming man if he loses this tenseness."
"I'm old, Joseph, older than your mother would be today, but I'm neither blind nor dead," she laughed, and headed for a group of arguing senators.
"Can we leave now?"
Walsh scrutinized him, noticed the tight muscles beneath the clothes, the suppressed trembling in jaw and fingertips. Looks like this is really getting on his nerves.
"Sir," Gooseman's voice was even more tense as he repeated his question. "Please, can we leave now?" His eyes flashed continuously over the chaotic crowd of people in the hall. "I'm sick of this madhouse."
Correction: this is going to exceed his self-control. "Of course, we can go immediately. New Year's Eve is over, so it's no longer impolite to leave."
Outside Gooseman leaned briefly against the glider, deeply inhaling the clear night air. "Sir, I hope I never have to stand something like that again."
Walsh grinned cynically and unlocked the vehicle. And that from someone destined for interstellar battlefields! He noticed that Gooseman pressed his palms against his eyes after he got into the seat. "Are you okay?"
The ST threw him a wary look. "Yes, of course, Sir." His whole body tightened again. "I'm just trying to understand how weird people are."
If he wasn't an ST, I'd believe he had a headache. Walsh shook his head and powered the glider on. Forget it, Joseph. That's impossible.
He bent again over the book, trying to concentrate on the lines, but they began to dance before his eyes, just as they'd done yesterday when he had begged for another day to learn the stuff. He shook his head as the dizziness crept up on him. He got up, opened the window over his bed, returned to the desk and started reading again from the beginning: "...our belief that the basic rights of man..." It was hopeless. The sentence turned to chaos as he read it. A bird's song roared in his ears – he started, turned, searched for the danger. Nothing. Somehow the book had slipped from his fingers, fallen shut. Which page...? He propped his arms on the desk, closed his eyes... Nine. It was nine. It's almost midday. Walsh's gonna test me when he comes home this evening... I'm far too slow. He inhaled deeply, opened his eyes – and glowing colors burned in his mind, flooded his head with pain...
He managed to fight back the headache, struggled to ignore the bewildering sensations that lurked at the borders of his perception. Page nine. Once again... The book resisted being held, escaped his hands, burned in foreign colors, laughing at him. The world turned towards him, showed its fangs, licked its chops, awaited its prey with a familiar smile, and extended its claws...
Five hours later, when he returned from duty, Walsh found Goose curled up in a trembling heap, hiding eyes and ears in his arms.
...a shadow approached him, lowered down on him. A shout blinded his eyes from the back. He tried to escape, and blue and white choked him while a smell resonated through his ears...
"Goose, what's happened?!" The commander kneeled down next to the shaking figure. "Gooseman?"
The young man started, tried to escape without getting up, pressed himself to the wall, eyes wide open, obviously not recognizing Walsh.
The hands covered the eyes, as if to save them from the sound of Walsh's voice. The head turned to the side, body cringed down, hiding behind pulled-up legs. The shaking increased.
My God! What's going on here? He looked up and noticed some books scattered from the desk where Goose must have collapsed. "Shane?!"
The boy didn't respond. Walsh ignored the common sense that told him this would earn him some broken bones, grabbed the ST's shoulder, shook him gently.
...something touched him... A hand... A person... Someone he knew... A point of reference in the middle of the hurricane of sensations around him...
With a choked sound the youth curled up around Walsh's hand, clung to him, trembling, shaking.
"Shane..." Walsh said, shocked at the reaction.
The ST winced in panic, whimpered faintly and increased his grip to an almost painful level.
Every sound is hitting him like a blaster bolt. No – not only sounds, sights also. Seems likely that all sensations– No, not all sensations. He recognized me when... Touch is okay. Touch... what's so special about that? Walsh frowned, looked down on the shivering body. Touch was never affected by the behavior-controlling drugs... It hit him like a missile striking. Withdrawal symptoms! For God's sake – he's had those drugs for his whole life, and they were never intended to be skipped.
Walsh picked the youth up, stumbled under the heavy weight and put him to bed, all without getting his hand loose. He almost had to tear his hand out of Goose's arms. The weeping when he broke contact cut at his soul. I have to get help. We can't get through this alone, boy.
"Doctor Miyar, please do not ask any questions about the reasons for this call."
"Commander?" The chief physician's voice sounded rather bewildered. "Why not?"
"Military secrets." Goddamn ultraviolet-plus security classification!
The comment from the other end of the line was not at all polite.
"It's a case of drug withdrawal, severe drug withdrawal. What do I have to do to get him through it?"
"Bring him here so we can do our job!"
"That's out of the question." Rotten security regulations!!!
"What kind of drugs has he had, and over how much time?"
"Mainly behavior controllers, for about nineteen years."
"Nineteen years?!!" If the physician hadn't been using a speaker phone, Walsh thought the receiver would have dropped from his hand. "You've got a using veteran there?"
"No, Doctor. He's nineteen."
There was a moment of total silence on the other end of the line, then Miyar bellowed: "Stop the withdrawal immediately. He won't survive the symptoms. Give him his usual dose and decrease the regular doses slowly till he's off the hook in say... about five years." The physician took a deep breath. "And kick the ass who did this off-planet without a ship or a spacesuit!"
I was afraid of this. "The drugs he had aren't available any longer."
"Describe how they worked. We'll have to find something similar."
"Impossible. I assure you that similar drugs don't exist. I need to know what to do so he makes it anyway."
"Keep him as comfortable and calm as possible, give him plenty of liquids, avoid anything that could put further strain on his body systems, don't leave him alone, and... pray."
Walsh made a second call and was granted emergency leave.
...he screamed in pain and terror as he was pushed back into the whirl of chaos. Feelings assembled around him, nameless emotions surrounded him, accompanied by images out of his past... Killbane and hatred, rage, sometimes fear... Max, a smile first, then his disappearance, loneliness... Wheiner, contempt, betrayal, a different kind of hatred... new relations appeared, feelings without names laughed at him, sneered at him, cheated him, teased him... showed memories in false colors, twisted and changed...
Walsh sat on the chair he'd pulled up next to the bed and watched the cringing body that tossed and turned restlessly, often nearly curled into a ball under the thin sheet that was already soaked with sweat. The choked whimpering shocked him. What has he done that justifies this? What have we done? We played god for his kind.
Again the ST threw himself around, lost in a world only he saw, nearly got up, trembling, eyes wide open in the dimmed light.
Walsh caught Goose in his arms before he could topple over, steadied him, held him, felt him twitching even through his continuous shivering. Tears soaked his shirt when the youth clung despairingly to him, feeling with the only still-reliable sense that there was something, someone outside the chaos.
Joseph didn't know how long he had sat there before the sobbing stopped and the shivering calmed, but bright sunlight was creeping through the curtains by the time regular breaths touching his chest through the wet shirt finally told him Shane was asleep...
My officially nonexistent son grabbed my arm when I tried to put him to bed after he cried a whole night through. Walsh managed to keep the cynical humor caused by his exhaustion out of his voice. "I had a rough squash match, Doctor."
The physician raised his brows in disbelief. "Usually people don't wait three days before they get treatment for a broken ulna, Commander."
Couldn't find a baby sitter with UVP clearance. "Back then, it didn't feel that bad."
The physician snorted. "Space marines mentality or military secrets again?" He adjusted the medical laser to weld the bone fragments together.
"I don't know what you are talking about, Doctor Miyar."
"Of course not." The laser lit up, and a bright red beam wandered over Walsh's skin, crossing some of the deep scratches in it. "And you cut your arm shaving this morning, right?"
"Breakfast. My bread knife isn't the newest."
"Your life is far too dangerous for a man of your age, Commander."
You have absolutely no idea how dangerous it is!
Hell, that head nurse is a real dragon!
Walsh threw his key card on the table next to the door and walked straight upstairs to look in on the boy. Goose still slept calmly.
That woman would have locked me up if she'd gotten the chance. The doctor's advice had been to stay a night in MedoStat as a preventive measure in case the neglected bone was infected. But he'd already taken a risk in leaving Shane for two hours. He had only gone because the pain in his arm had reached a level he could no longer ignore.
Walsh went down to the kitchen and brewed himself a strong coffee before he took his seat again.
It isn't over.
The sound of the door sliding open roused Walsh out of sleep. He sat up, half-noticed the pain in his back caused by the long watch on the uncomfortable chair, and grimaced. He saw Shane standing in the door, touching it and the doorframe before he made an insecure step into the corridor, fingertips gliding over the wall, eyes looking warily around.
The young ST started at the sound, turned, after a moment his eyes focused on him. "Sir?"
"Are you okay?"
Shane's glance wandered around, but his fingertips still touched the wall, keeping input from the sense he trusted most at the moment. In a trembling voice: "What happened?"
"The sustained release of the drugs you were given at Wolf Den ran out."
"Somehow everything looks strange at the moment... I... I don't know if I can finish the work I started yesterday."
He doesn't remember anything. Walsh sighed. Maybe that's better for him. "That was more than a week ago, Shane. You were very ill." He noticed the youth's slight trembling. "And it isn't fully over. You're still feeling the aftereffects. Don't risk a relapse; give yourself the time to recover."
An electronic beep indicated the arrival of a person with clearance to enter the house. Shane turned hastily in its direction and nearly lost his balance. Walsh caught his arm and steadied him before he could fall.
The ST stiffened, eyes fixed on the commander's face. "You held me."
It was the seventh morning after he'd regained control over his betraying senses. His grasp was still less trustworthy than it should have been; small, smooth objects still tended to slip out of his fingers. He'd tried to keep to himself, but that wasn't really possible. Here there were no others who distracted the commander's attention from him. Again, Gooseman dug his nails into his palms, used the additional pain to steady his hands, and took the bundle of just-delivered clean clothes from the table in the hall. He knew the A could appear any day. It's better to know than to fear! He tore open the paper, checked the shirts. Nothing. He leaned against the wall. Alive for another day.
He went upstairs again, back to his room with all those boring books. I wonder why he's granting me so much time. Usually the A for 'abandoned' is declared within hours of the inability to fight. It's been a week now since I woke up, and he said I was ill for more than a week before that. That means at least fourteen days! And he must know my condition, since he was there... But why did he actually do that?
He dropped himself onto the bed in his room and pulled the curtains shut behind his back. Sunlight still blinded him. And the headaches it caused were horrible. He heard steps on the corridor and started before he realized that it must be Mrs. Santiago on her cleaning tour. She couldn't give out A's. He groaned. My weakened nerves really get on my nerves!
Fifteen minutes later, after the throbbing in his head had decreased, he got to his feet again and began his martial arts training in the dimmed room. Whatever might happen tomorrow, I don't want to get caught in this condition! Never!!
2086-03-14 Working Brain Cells
"You weren't there, Owen." Walsh took another sip out of his brandy glass and managed to keep the slight shudder at seeing his old friend reduced to a disembodied brain out of his voice. "The withdrawal was hell. Sometimes I was sure he wouldn't make it."
=Despite his lack of energy, the boy's still a BDC. They're the toughest of the STs.=
"I know, but he shouldn't–" Joseph interrupted himself. "Nobody should suffer like that."
=You were always so worried about Gooseman. And now you're risking your career to house-train him. Someday I'll really have to find out why you're doing all this, Joseph.=
"Do you think the escapees had to go through the same thing?"
=Unlikely. I have had time to check up on the stuff they were exposed to while the physician smoothed out the last problems with this thing. This X-Factor, when it didn't just destroy them, increased not only their genetically implanted powers but also their energy-collecting ability to the max. Their body systems have most likely adjusted to the decreasing amount of drugs available. And otherwise? What else is going on? Since these Kiwis – I still picture flightless birds from New Zealand when I say it – and Andorians have contacted Earth, your bureau must be boiling!=
"Yes, there's more work than I can do if I had double the time I've got to do it." Walsh put the empty glass back on the table. "And on top of it all I've got a special senator breathing down my neck who's threatening the cryocrypt if I can't find a job in the military for my protege."
=Don't remind me of him, Joseph. I have my own problems with this citizen of Earth. Which professions have you tried so far?=
"Mechanics, Rescue Squad, Biohazard Department, Fire Squad..." He leaned back. "I'm slowly running out of ideas, Owen."
=Have you thought about the new space-ranger project the BWL plans to initiate to fulfill the League's membership requirements?=
"The rangers will spend most of their time in space. Do you believe the BWL will accept that?" Walsh snorted.
=Possibly, since the purpose of the new unit would be closer to the original purpose of the Super Troopers than any other unit. I think you should give him a try. Train him on laws, regulations, morals, and so on, and then let's see if he passes the theoretical test.=
Walsh shrugged. "Theory would be the hurdle for him. Though I've already given him most of the data he'll need." He smirked. "The practical... It's more likely that he'd be a problem for the testers than that the test would be a problem for him!"
=You'll need to prepare him for the operation, Joseph. If he makes it, he'll get this experimental implant they're planning on using.=
"Do you think it will work on his abilities?"
=His powers worked when his body was regularly flooded with energy back at Wolf Den. If we build his implant mainly as an energy donator, it is fairly likely that it will not only work for him but also allow him to use his bio defenses at full capacity again.=
"He is where?!!!" Walsh nearly jumped over his desk.
"The Pilots' bar, Sir." The ordnance lieutenant looked rather uncomfortable suddenly. "Sergeant Kruger thought it would be a good idea to celebrate the end of the cadet squad's training before the group is divided into passing and failing groups. He ordered Gooseman to accompany them since he's also going to take the tests."
"For God's sake." Kruger's one of Wheiner's men. "How long has it been?" If he loses control...
"About three hours, Sir."
He rushed into the dimly lit room. The cadets, as usual for this traditional event, were more or less passed out drunk. He looked for Gooseman and found him standing next to a table full of empty glasses with an unconscious Sergeant Kruger more or less sitting on one of the chairs. At least he's still on his feet. "Gooseman!"
"Sir?" The ST turned round, awaiting him.
Clear eyes, not drunk at all. "Did you drink some of this stuff?" He gestured towards the heap of glasses on the table.
"About half of it, Sir."
Walsh looked at the table; at least thirty whiskey glasses, likely even more, stood on it. All were empty. He looked back at Goose, searched for the signs of drunkenness and found none.
When he noticed Walsh's scrutiny, Shane continued. "I don't understand why the Sarge insisted on drinking this liquor with me, Sir."
"Goose?" Walsh looked warily at him.
"These drinks are based on ethanol. I tried to explain when I smelled it that they have no effect on me, but he still insisted on drinking till one of us lost consciousness. That doesn't make any sense to me."
Boy, it means our enemy made a mistake, nothing else! The relief nearly knocked Walsh off his feet. Hell! Even I forgot about the immunizations he had.
"This stuff doesn't taste all that good. If this is for some social purpose," he nodded towards the unconscious sergeant, "I'd prefer to use good coffee next time."
"Hey, Commander. I thought I'd have to send the bill to BETA, but since you're already here..." The bartender came out from behind the bar, waving a long piece of printed transparency. "This year the cadets' baptism was pretty expensive."
"Mike, BETA won't pay for any of this." Walsh's motion encompassed the whole room. He took the bill and made a short note at the end of it before he handed it back. "Send it to the BWL, to the attention of Senator Wheiner. He'll pay!"
"Commander, you don't really expect me to do that, do you?! Your cadets drank it all!" he insisted, trying to force Walsh to take the bill back.
Walsh raised his hands, palms out. "Send it, Mike. You'll get your money."
"But–" He tried to stuff the bill in Walsh's chest pocket, but a warning growl made him jump backwards.
"No way, Mike." Walsh grinned wolfishly and turned to his protege. "Calm down, Gooseman. Let's go."
Mike looked down at his bill after Walsh and the big, frightening cadet had left. Below the line with its total amount of 2,311 credits was scrawled: "The price of defeat, Eric!"
2086-04-30 Abandoned and Accepted
He passed the prac-test without any problems. Walsh read through the report on the initial results of the squad of cadets to which he had assigned Gooseman for the tests. I only wonder how he managed to do the military race in a time ten percent beyond the cybersteed's limit. He opened a comlink to the training area. "Captain, this is Commander Walsh. I need a logfile copy from the military race of Cadet Gooseman's cybersteed."
..."Okay, you heap of secondhand spare parts, I'd have been on my way faster without you. So if you don't want me to find out the difference between your personality chip and a potato chip, you'd better be faster on the rest of the course!"...
Walsh sighed. AI psychology, Wolf Den style. At least it worked. I'd better make sure that he gets a really fast horse if he passes theory, too... otherwise his consumption of cybersteeds would exceed all acceptable limits.
"Commander." Sheela's voice sounded urgent. "The Phoenix crew has contacted us. They're coming in in a foreign vessel with one crew member missing and one severely injured. They're asking for you. ETA in 15 minutes, Hangar 1."
"Shit! – Sheela, when Gooseman comes back from the test center, tell him he passed theory." Walsh threw a file with the official academy emblem on it over to her and was already on his way.
"I will, Sir." Sheela couldn't stop herself from taking a quick glance at the test results. Wow! The commander must be very proud of his protege.
"Lieutenant McIntyre. Is he there?" He nodded towards the closed inner door.
"No, Gooseman. I'm sorry. Commander Walsh was needed at the hangars. The first Ranger vessel is coming back in minutes."
"Can I wait here? I want to know my results."
"No problem." Sheela smiled broadly. "You got an A!"
The young man in front of her froze in the middle of a movement. "That can't be true..."
"Oh yes it is, Gooseman." She held out the file. "Commander Walsh gave it to me since he had to leave." She tapped the cover encouragingly. "You must be very glad that this is finally over."
"No," he said coldly, turning on his heels. "Not at all."
"Where's Gooseman, Sheela? He should be already here!"
"He was here, Sir. But he didn't seem to be happy about his test results at all."
"He said, 'No, not at all' and left. Nothing more."
Walsh frowned. "What did you say to him about his results, Sheela?"
"I told him his final result and that he must be very glad of it."
"Exactly, Sheela. Repeat your sentence exactly." God, I hope I'm wrong...
"I told him that he got an A, Sir."
Walsh cursed. I've got to find him fast. "Do you know where he went?"
"No, Sir. He said nothing. Why? What's wrong? You ordered me to give him his results."
"I ordered you to tell him he passed, not to name the grade."
"But I thought he should know that he got the best result in his course."
"Sheela, for him an A is absolutely not positive at all! Get me SecStaff. I want the surveillance recordings checked. But tell them they shouldn't approach him. I just want to be informed where he is." When she didn't jump instantly: "Now!"
Goose stood at the upper promenade, looking down at the lake and the great civil spaceport of Phoenix in the distance. His hands were cramped around the railing.
"Sorry I failed." The voice was cold, emotionless, controlled. Before Walsh could correct the misunderstanding, Gooseman continued: "I always believed I'd at least understand what I did wrong when I lost, but I have absolutely no idea."
"You haven't lost, Goose. This isn't Wolf Den, it's BETA. Here an A means you passed brilliantly."
"Don't tell me lies, I was in the game too long not to know that an A means 'abandon.'"
The commander grabbed his arm and forced Gooseman to face him. "Shut up and listen! This A means you got the best damn result in the whole group. You passed, Shane. You passed well enough that we have a totally free choice about which unit you'll belong to! And I promised you wouldn't get frozen. Did you forget that?!"
"Sir, an A doesn't exactly mean the cryocrypt. I know who got A's during my lifetime in Wolf Den, and since Wheiner forced me to visit that damn hall of coffins last month I know exactly who's in there now and who's not!" Fury flashed up in his eyes, expelling the cold, before it was replaced by something else: cautious confidence as the meaning of Walsh's other words slowly reached him. He turned again towards the horizon. "Then this A really says I'll be able to go out there?"
Walsh sighed and laid his hand on the ST's shoulder. "Yes, boy. Damn right. You're free." As long as I find a unit with a commanding officer who's able to get along with you. "But be careful. The senator isn't a man who gives up easily. He won't stop trying to get you where he wants you to be."
With a cynical half grin Goose specified: "In very personal quarters: two and a half meters long, a meter wide, half a meter high, made of glass, and badly heated. – He should have known better, Sir. I'm a BDC. I can be whatever I have to, to make it. Even tame!"
Walsh snorted and headed for the door. "I can't waste my time with philosophy, Gooseman!" At the door the commander turned once again back towards the youth. "And the next time you call me a liar, I'll kick your ass from here to Pluto Base and back!"
In his office again, Joseph leaned back in his chair and allowed an old memory to float in his mind: laughing, blue-green eyes in a beloved face long gone. He sighed. I did my best for him, Leana. Now we can only hope that's enough...
[interrogation room flashback in TVE - "Galaxy Stranger" transcript]
Unknown: "He's too dangerous to be a Galaxy Ranger!"
Walsh: "I personally will take full responsiblity."
Unknown: "On one condition. As part of his Galaxy Ranger duties, Shane Gooseman is to search out the escaped Supertroopers. He will track them down and bring them back to Earth... dead or alive."
Goose: "I am no bounty-hunter!"
Unknown: "Gooseman, you know them all. You will bring them in!"
[Interrogation room flashback in TVE - "Galaxy Stranger" End]
[Note that Unknown can be but mustn't be Wheiner.]
Behind the blindingly lighted window Wheiner turned to Walsh. "And since I want to be absolutely sure, there's still a last test for him to pass once he's got this implant."
Goose narrowed his eyes; they had almost arrived at their goal, and the light that shone through the glass doors of the Experimental Medical Facility at LongShot Laboratories was blinding, brilliant white. He hesitated. "I don't like this, Sir."
"The implant is a special feature of the Ranger series you are assigned to, Gooseman." Walsh, a step ahead of him, turned around and pounded his walking stick on the floor. "It's necessary."
"I don't like the idea of technical controls inside my brain." The door behind Walsh opened. QBall came out, apparently looking to see what was holding up his patient, and heard the last sentence. "Or that of people cutting into my head."
"Don't worry," the slim scientist said comfortingly, "you won't feel a thing. You'll be given a general anaesthet–"
The ST snorted loudly and glared at the man. "You believe that?"
Walsh sighed. "You'll need his conscious agreement to everything you do, QBall. Otherwise his body will take action against the implantation."
The scientist looked amazed. "Still, the local anaesthetic will protect you from the pain," he assured Goose hastily.
"I can't be anaesthetized, QBall," the ST snarled. "It doesn't work. And I don't care about pain, but I do care about idiots fiddling around with my brain, planting controls that do who the hell knows what!"
So that's what's gnawing at him. "Gooseman." Walsh called him to order before his temper could boil over. "The experimental implant will allow you to use your powers at full capacity again. It has been adapted to your specific features." Joseph saw immediately that the last sentence had been a mistake as the distrust in the ST's face intensified.
QBall seemed to notice, too. "Gooseman, in your case it's not much more than an energy donator. When activated, it'll supply your body with the energy you need to use your powers."
"I had external energy doses before and no implant was needed for it, so why now?"
Good question, Walsh sighed inwardly. In the time since Wolf Den he'd learned that it wasn't easy to dealing with the boy. The same intelligence that made it possible to teach Goose how to live in human society had all too often outmaneuvered the commander when questions had arisen. But we've got a real problem here, Walsh thought. "The implant and the badge you'll be wearing are an integral system, Gooseman. Both components are useless without the other," Walsh said, and hoped he'd gotten the explanation Negata had given him some days ago correct.
"So the badge can't be used by another person to control my bio defenses. It's a protection against misuse," the ST concluded.
"Correct, boy. Now get this over with!"
"I'll be using a probe to place the components and connect them, Gooseman," QBall explained as he tightened the straps that immobilized his patient's body in the upright position surgeons preferred for brain operations.
The ST sneezed as he caught a whiff of disinfectant and said in a tight voice, "Just finish. I want to get outta here!"
The scientist continued, unimpressed by his growl. "So there won't be any scar to give away the implant's existence."
"There wouldn't be any scar even if you used a chain saw for your damn butchery." The tension began to gnaw at Goose's nerves. The impulse to tear off the straps grew stronger and stronger. He ground his teeth, knowing that the commander was observing the procedure from one of the tall, lighted windows above. Stay controlled, he ordered himself. Stay controlled. "It would help if you tell me what exactly you're going to do in my brain," Goose said.
"Nothing." The skinny scientist, already standing behind him, adjusted the probe for the initial penetration. "Since you can control the energy and your abilities by yourself, we don't have to establish direct neural contacts in your case." He marked the penetration point at the upper neck, just below the hairline. "I'm starting. Don't talk from now on until I say so."
Gooseman felt the prick as the probe went through his skin and drove his claws into the armrests, trying to ignore the increasing pain as the probe was pushed forward, deeper into his flesh, wandering upwards. He forced his body to ignore the warning impulses trying to activate his bio defenses.
"I'm placing the components on your skull bones. Because of your unique abilities, we decided to use the minimum possible number of parts and to connect them in a flexible way, in case you have to transform your skull bones sometime, too."
Goose had the irritating feeling of something scraping across his cranium. His trained defenses cried out at the intrusion, and he had to struggle to control them. Pain gave fuel for any kind of defenses, pain, and the fear he would not admit to feeling. The left armrest cracked under his grip. His claws scraped across the metal strut inside of it.
QBall ignored the plastic raining to the floor from the shattered arm of the operation chair. Walsh and the mysterious brain unit Professor Negata had told him that he'd have to be fast in this operation. He hadn't thought about how it would be to operate on someone who was totally awake during the procedure, feeling the pain. He hadn't imagined that he'd have to talk to his patient while he worked, either. "The components are placed. I'm starting to connect them." He swayed and wished the implants were not so classified that he had to work without an assistant who could have swept the drops of sweat off his forehead. "It won't take much longer, now."
Idiot! It'll still take a week or more for my system to accept its permanent presence. He felt the sharp edges of the broken plastic cut into his left hand and ignored the pain, repeated again and again: It is okay. It is supposed to be there. It is a part of me. It is ok– The repetition grew faster and faster, more and more violent. The straps around his upper arms creaked. The probe slipped out of his body. Something cool sprayed on the itching needle hole.
Behind him, QBall straightened. "It's done. I'll loosen the straps–"
Gooseman was out of the chair and on his feet long before the scientist had even touched the bands. He reeled slightly as another impulse of his bio defenses demanded to push the foreign material out of his system, and stabilized himself on the instruments table next to the OR chair with the still-bloody probe on it.
"Easy, Gooseman, easy," QBall told him quickly. "Even though you can't see the implant, it's still a major operation. You'll need some time to adapt to it."
The edge of the ST's mouth twitched. "Believe me, adaptations are my specialty." The stench of his blood on the probe burned in his nose, combined with the disinfectant, the spray bandage on his neck. And the sweat of the man who'd placed the implant inside him, telling him of anxiety, stress, and... doubts. I have to get outta here. He turned for the door.
Behind him, QBall called: "Wait. You can't leave now. It's too early to–"
He was out the door long before the skinny scientist had finished his sentence. He stopped short as his eyes made out the all-too-familiar form of the container standing right outside the OR: a cryocrypt hibernation unit.
"You weren't supposed to see that," the scientist said behind him. "It was only a precaution, since none of us could tell for sure how your system would react..." His voice died slowly as he noticed the icy look centered on his face. With relief he saw Walsh appearing around the corner behind the ST, almost running. An odd part of QBall's mind noticed that the commander didn't seem to need his walking stick when it became urgent to be fast.
"I bet," the ST snapped.
"Gooseman," Walsh reminded him. "It wasn't needed."
"I know, Sir," he said coldly and turned toward the commander, ignoring the scientist behind him completely. "And I know also why it was there." He took a deep breath and wished the smells of medical facilities weren't so close to those of death. "Sir." Gooseman walked past Walsh, heading down the corridor.
I have to get out of here. Out of here. Out of here! He fell automatically into a run, increased his speed with each step, ignored the throbbing pain in his head, where his body was beginning to integrate the implant into his system on his command. He didn't even hear the commander's shout ordering him to stop. Out of here!
He was too fast for the guards he passed to react. The hall he entered was cooler and smelled of ocean: saltwater, seaweed, dead fish, living – Dolphins.
He stopped, leaned his forehead against the cool glass of the huge tank, easing his headache. He knew he had disobeyed, was aware he was somewhere he wasn't supposed to be. He remembered the scents of ocean from Wolf Den. The smells conjured up images of his first personal training sessions, and he ground his teeth at the memories of pain stims, flamethrowers, and the saltwater tank in which he'd nearly drowned. But then he had managed to adapt and had gotten his first impressions of the world underwater. The different speed, dynamics, sounds... he liked it, liked the coolness, the soft sounds, the illusion of peace...
Something bumped against the glass from the inside. He looked up, found himself eye to eye with one of the dolphins. The mammal bumped again against the glass. Slowly he reached out, laid his hand on the glass opposite the creature's nose. The dolphin turned over and, with a strong sweep of its tail fin, reached the water's surface. It chittered loudly at him and splashed.
Shane wiped the drops off his cheek and a smile flashed across his face. "Not much space in there, is there?"
The creature blinked and repeated its chittering. After a moment it repeated it again, the sounds growing urgent.
"I'm sorry, I don't understand you," he told the dolphin.
Behind Goose the double doors swung open and guards hurried into the hall, blasters at the ready, accompanied by a strange scientist. "There he is! Don't let him scare the dolphins. They're just beginning to be responsive."
Gooseman began to turn around slowly. "I don't want to make trouble, Sirs–"
"But... we... under... stand... you..." a technically structured voice said.
The dolphin in the basin behind him had pressed its head against an apparatus that was attached to a crane arm just above the water's surface. The angry scientist stopped in his tracks. "They've never spoken to us," he whispered, and waved the guards to stop, too.
"You... do.. not... belong... here... just... as... we... do... not..."
The ST shook his head and regretted it instantaneously as the throbbing in his head increased. "Guess that's right," he sighed and pressed his hand against his aching temple. "I feel like a lab animal at the moment."
"But... you... are... one... of... them..."
"They would say differently."
"And... what... do... you... say...."
"That doesn't matter."
"It... matters... to... you..."
"And doesn't change anything."
The dolphin splashed. "It... says... who... you... are... Who... are... you..."
"I'm Goose. And all that I am is me."
The foreign scientist shoved himself past Gooseman, stared at the dolphin. "Blue Fin, why did you never speak to me?"
The dolphin kept silent.
"Blue Fin, please..."
"Gooseman." Walsh had arrived and waved the guards out of his way. "You–"
"What have you done that it talks to you?!" the scientist asked Goose, interrupting the commander.
The ST frowned. "Nothing. But..." He turned toward the basin again. "Who are you?" he asked the dolphin.
Shane looked at the scientist standing next to him. "You never spoke to her," he told him.
"Gooseman. At attention!" The commander ordered sharply and noticed, satisfied, that the ST in front of him obeyed immediately. "You have to return. Now. QBall has to do the final check-up."
"Sir." The ST turned for the door, then hesitated, looked back at the dolphin. "Bye, Winter."
"Bye... Goose... Come... back..."
"I will if I'm allowed to," he said over his shoulder, already following Walsh. The dolphin splashed just as the door closed behind him.
"Never do that again!" Walsh snapped as they walked back to the EMF. "That's exactly what the senator needs to put you in that CHU, Gooseman."
"I know, Sir."
"What did you do to the dolphin?"
"The project has been running for more than a year without success. So what did you say that it responded?"
"Nothing, Sir. It talked to me first."
"Any problems with the integration of the implant during your escapade?" Walsh asked, grumbling.
"No, Sir." The ST fell silent; after a moment he asked cautiously, "May I go back to the dolphins sometime?"
"Maybe. Once we have communication with them working, the animals are destined to work as submarine explorers. It's likely that your unit will work with them." And I guess that Dr. Costen will erode my nerves with his demands to have you back in there doing the job QBall gave him. The commander straightened his back. The boy was still on thin ice when he dealt with humans. It would always be risky for him, but it seemed he was going to grow into this business...
A: at Wolf Den the object-ID number of the STs was written on the left chest of the overalls they were handed every morning. Below this seven-digit number was a letter: a green V for viable or a red A for abandoned. Those who got an A disappeared within a few days after they lost their V. (see: "A Simple Letter")
BDC: Bio Defense Carrier – an ST with powers like Gooseman or Killbane.
Ceres: largest body in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.
CHU: Cryocrypt Hibernation Unit
EMF: Experimental Medical Facility
ETA: Estimated Time of Arrival
Lady Prime Senator: formal address for the highest chairwoman of the BWL. The highest chairwoman is mainly a representative post without real political power but despite her politically less powerful duties, which imply leading BWL sessions and being patroness of most of the BWLs reception, balls, and other events, she is the main symbol of morality and dignity within government. (Like the Bundespresident in Germany.)
Leana: the name is Northeastern European in origin, and it is pronounced with an harsh ae sound as in bear.
UVP: Ultraviolet plus: security classification "beyond top secret." Even the knowledge that it exists is classified as top secret.