Disclaimers: See Part One
My thanks to those of you who have emailed me about the story so far. Your encouragement has meant a lot, and I hope this part lives up to your expectations.
Emily was up and swinging her legs over the side of the bed before she even realized what had woken her up. Even as she stood and headed towards the chirping sound that had awakened her, she did a quick check with her ship self. Even literally a world away, her tie still held. No one had ever found out how far the tie between Guardian and ship-self would hold, but distance wasn't the problem. The problem was time, the longer away a Guardian was from his or her ship self, the weaker the tie became, and eventually the Guardian began to suffer actual physical pain. Thankfully that took upwards of a week to reach dangerous levels, less of course if the Guardian in question was wounded or weakened somehow. Still, it was comforting to mentally probe the ties which bound her to her ship self, and feel only a bit of unease. It was an automatic action; similar to probing a tooth with your tongue when you suspected it would hurt.
Mostly awake, she managed her way across the small room and activated the communications panel. Yawning, she eyed the person on the screen and scowled at the smirk she saw in return.
"Nicholas. Remind me to thank you for these fabulous quarters you gave me and Julie."
If anything, Nicholas's smile grew larger in answer to that scowl.
"Well, if you had sent warning I could have made certain that our guest quarters weren't all taken. As is, you're lucky you got separate beds, with all the personnel that we've got here this last little while. Or are you just upset with me because you got a room with two beds, instead of one?"
Emily's scowl darkened and she cast a glance over her shoulder towards the other single bed in the room, and the still sleeping figure on it, before growling in answer.
"Nicholas, I love you like a brother, but if you don't tell me why you woke me up, I'm going to have to come up there and snap your neck."
The other Guardian raised his hands and grinned disarmingly.
"You never were at your best just getting up. I just thought that you might want to know; the scout ships are on the way back. They didn't see anything out of the ordinary, but we'll go over their sensor data when they get back here. Your brother sent word that things are going as well as can be expected in Washington, and he thinks that things can be kept under cover. He also said to tell you that your father will be arriving in two days time."
"Fine, we'll meet you at the command deck in half an hour. How long until the scout ships get back?"
"A half hour or so."
Emily nodded and reached for the console under the panel, speaking as she did so.
"Good, be there in half an hour."
She punched the off button before Nicholas could get in any remark about her using the word, we. He could be more than a little abrasive this early in the morning, and Emily didn't feel like strangling him in front of Julie.
Stretching she groaned, and shook her head to try and wake up fully. Her body was still on the time she had kept back at Longbow. It felt like early morning to her, even though it was, she glanced at the muted chronometer set below the communications panel, getting towards early afternoon in Australia.
"Julie, it's time to get up."
She was rewarded with a grumbled answer that sort of sounded like, two more minutes. Her new friend was obviously not the best early riser, and Emily grinned as she ordered the lights on, and headed for the shower. There was a muffled curse behind her, and she chuckled as she closed the door behind her.
A quick shower, and various other morning rituals, she emerged to find Julie groggily sitting on the center of her bed, with two sets of uniforms spread around her. She leveled a dark gaze at Emily.
"You are an evil person, Guardian. Here, Nicholas sent these down."
Emily barely managed to avoid ruffling Julie's hair as she took the uniform from her, she just looked too darn cute with her short red hair all mussed up like that, and still half asleep.
"Shower's all yours if you want it."
Julie yawned and trudged towards the bathroom, while Emily did her best not to grin, and took a look at her uniform. Nicholas had sent her a new Guardian's uniform, and she gladly put the black with silver trim uniform on. His choice of clothes for Julie was interesting to say the least. It wasn't exactly a Guardian Trainee's uniform, but the dark gray top and black pants were close enough.
"Good thing I like you Nicholas, or I'd have to hurt you now."
The shower was, thankfully, nothing alien looking, and she had an easy time sorting out how to adjust the setting for water temperature. I hope they have coffee, or this is going to be a long day, was her only thought as she stepped under the near scalding spray and slowly started to wake up. Shampoo and soap had been laid out on top of a folded towel, and she grinned at Emily's thoughtfulness. Her hair had started to feel sticky, and she luxuriated in taking enough time to slowly wash her it.
She assumed that they were going to meet again with Nicholas and find out what the scouts had found, or not found. I hope they found the missing equipment. The way Emily talks, I'm positive we don't want to meet these Bak'ra any sooner than we have to.
Rinsing herself off, she felt almost human again, and after brushing her hair and teeth, she felt fairly awake also. Putting on the clothes that Nicholas had sent down for her, she emerged to find Emily talking to a flat screen that was set into one of the walls of the quarters they had shared last night. Thank God we had separate beds, I don't know how much sleep I would have gotten if we had been sleeping side by side. The thought had come unbidden, and Julie scowled, forcing it back to where it belonged. The two of them hadn't said anything about the connection she felt between them, and she was almost afraid to ask if Emily felt the same thing. There were times when she caught the Guardian watching her, and she could swear that she felt it, but other times there was nothing. Maybe Nicholas can tell me a little bit about her, he's known her long enough, I wonder why he calls her Emie.
"Weston, you know as well as I do that we simply aren't ready to combat the Bak'ra. The asteroid infrastructure isn't even completed."
The man on the screen looked enough like her, with the same jet-black hair and stubborn jaw, that Julie had no problems guessing that it was Emily's brother. He shook his head and sighed.
"Emie, you know as well as I do that this time we may simply have no choice. Father is going to do what he can, but these Americans are certainly not going to just forget that anything happened. Humanity has evolved since we arrived, maybe we should work with them in the open to prepare?"
Emily's frown was deepening all through her brother's answer and Julie folded her arms across her chest. She had been wondering the same thing herself.
"That's Father's decision, and the Senate, if we still had one."
It seemed to be an old argument, and the brother opened his mouth to make a counter point when he looked towards where Julie was standing. Drats, I was hoping that thing only showed the person they were talking to, but it apparently didn't, and Weston smiled.
"I take it that you are Julie McGrath?"
Emily looked over her shoulder, and offered her a wry smile, standing and motioning her closer.
"Julie, I would like to introduce you to Imperial Prince Weston Windstar the Third. Weston, this is, indeed, Julie McGrath."
Weston seemed to offer her a small bow, and Julie had to grin at the mischievous look in Emily's brother's eyes.
"Emie has told me so very much about you, Ms. McGrath. I am certain that we will have the pleasure of meeting you in person soon."
There was a call from in back of him, and Weston turned slightly to look at something that was out of the field of view of the screen. He nodded and turned back to face them.
"Sorry, Sis, seems that Major Sims and I have an appointment to keep with the Pentagon. Father sends his regards, and wants you to come and have dinner with both of us after you sort out the missing equipment business. Be careful, Emily, I don't like the way this is shaping up."
"Don't worry, Weston, I don't like it either. It smacks of involvement by someone high up. I'll keep you posted on what I find out, and yes, I'd love that, as long as we are finished by the time Father gets here."
Weston grinned at that and winked to Julie.
"Bring your friend along also, I think Father would love to meet her, and be certain you don't kill Nicholas, he is acting on Father's orders. Bye."
The screen went dead before Emily had a chance to respond, and Julie watched with amusement as her friends eyes narrowed.
"You know, you are going to have to tell me why all these people keep calling you Emie."
Emily visibly winced at that and shook her finger at the display panel where her brother had just been.
"They only call me that because they know they can get away with it. Come on, we have to get up to the command deck. The scout ships should be back, and we'll take a look at their sensor data. I wonder what he meant about Nicholas only acting on Father's orders."
Julie nodded, the smile disappearing as she grabbed the pocket book that she had brought with her, and her service revolver, which Emily had returned to her before they had left Longbow. Emily had almost been thinking out loud at the end of her response, and Julie wondered what indeed the other Guardian was up to.
"Did they find anything?"
"No, but we'll go over the data to see if they missed anything. Two gifted people like us, we should be able to spot anything out of the ordinary."
Julie hoped that Emily knew what she was talking about, because she wasn't sure if she could be any help at all for what the Guardian was talking about. Stepping out of the quarters, Julie turned back to ask that very question, when she stepped right into one of the two guards who were stationed outside. Both of them were in what she had come to recognize as full combat gear, unpowered armor, those heavy looking drum magazine assault rifles, helmet, and those odd looking side arms. Emily deftly caught her on the rebound, it had been like stepping into a brick wall.
"Sorry, I wasn't paying attention."
The Marine, who had turned slightly at the bump from behind, only grinned and then snapped to what looked like attention, gripping the rifle firmly, as he spotted Emily. The other Marine did the same, and Julie was a bit surprised to see that this one was a female.
Emily was still holding onto her shoulder, and Julie took a glance up at her friend's face, not particularly surprised to see what was rapidly becoming a familiar scowl on her face.
"Marine, why are the two of you standing guard at the door to our quarters?"
"Ma'am, Guardian Nicholas requested that we be your Honor Guard, Ma'am."
Emily let out a long suffering sigh at that, and then suddenly seemed to notice she was still holding onto Julie, and quickly released her.
Emily started walking stiffly towards the lifts at the far end of the corridor, and Julie had to struggle to keep up. The two Marines just a step or two behind her. She was beginning to think that Emily hadn't heard her question, but as soon as the lift doors had slid closed and Emily had told the computer to take them to the command deck, she turned towards Julie. Her voice was tinged with a bit of embarrassment as she answered.
"Nicholas is being annoying, that's why I have an Honor Guard, but not for much longer."
Julie just raised an eyebrow at that, and glanced at the two silent mountains of equipment that were standing in front of the lift doors. Her friend hadn't seemed too surprised to see the two of them, and had seemed to expect it that they would follow the two of them into the lift. As the doors of the lift opened, Julie watched as the two Marines stepped out first, and scanned the area with the air of complete professionals before then stepped aside for Emily and Julie to step past them into the command center. The large circular room had dozens of seats along its edge, with people in each of them manning what looked to be communications stations. She gave herself a shake and hurried to catch up with Emily, who was stalking towards the same meeting room they had used last night. Nicholas was already waiting for them inside, grinning.
This is going to be interesting, Julie couldn't help but grin at the obvious look of mischief in the other Guardian's eyes.
"What the hell do you think you're doing assigning me an Honor Guard?"
Emily had used her best threatening tone, but to her alarm, Nicholas grinned.
"You know the rules, Guardians get a personal guard, and so do members of the Imperial family."
Emily was aware of Julie watching with interest, as she began getting herself a plate of food from the small cart of food that Nicholas had ready.
"You know as well as I do, that we don't have the people to spare for guard details!"
Nicholas's smile grew at that and he leaned back in his seat.
"See, that's where you're wrong. True, we didn't have enough people after the evacuation to provide guards for each of the Guardians, along with your brother. We do now though, and orders came through last night that you weren't going to go traipsing into the line of fire without at least a two person Honor Guard. It was signed by the Emperor himself, Lead Guardian."
Emily had been about to demand to know who had sent out those orders, but she snapped her mouth shut at that. If they had come from her brother, she would have had a good chance overriding them. From her father though, she had no choice at all in the matter, so this is what Weston was warning me about. A tad grumpily she sat down across from Nicholas. She always had hated having a group of keepers, as she had called them, go with her everywhere she went off her ship self. She understood the logic of it of course, Guardians were vulnerable if they were out side, kill the Guardian, and the ship self became unusable. Still, she didn't have to like it. She was startled when a plate of food was slid in front of her, and looked up to see Julie grinning down at her.
"Know when to lose gracefully. First Guardian?"
Emily could feel a small grin tugging her lips at the younger woman's words, but she forced a scowl and began to eat. The food was good, Nicholas had become a fan of human cooking it seemed, and the omelet looked very well done.
"I don't have to like it though. First Guardian is just my rank among the Guardians. It doesn't mean that much."
Nicholas laughed at that, and Emily sighed. She knew it was a bad idea to let these two be in the same room with one another. Nicholas, the ever-helpful person that he was, turned to Julie and grinned.
"Our very own Emie here is First Guardian, as well as having been born a Windstar. She tell you about how we were holding our own against the Bak'ra?"
At Julie's nod, he continued, while Emily appeared to be fascinated with the food that she was eating.
"Well, the reason that we were was because Emily forced us to begin working as a unit. Guardians were only used to working alone before that. So, in recognition of her efforts, she was made First Guardian. It did, of course, mean a lot more when there were more than twenty one of us, but it's still not something to sneer at."
Emily finished her toast, and scowled at Nicholas, just as she was about to start in on the omelets.
"I think we have better things to do than to go into all that, don't you?"
Nicholas and Julie shared a grin, and then both of them started in on their own breakfast. They ate quickly, each of them eager to get on with the search.
Thirty minutes later, they each were studying the sensor data from the two scout ships as it scrolled through a screen in front of each of them, set into recessed slots in the tabletop.
Julie was obviously not certain what she was looking at, but both Emily and Nicholas had urged her to take a look along with them. At the very least she would get a crash course in reading sensor data maps.
It took them hours to sort through them all, for the scout ships had done a grid search over most of the interior of Australia. It was a huge area, and there was no way for them to go over each map separately, so they stuck to the ones with any sort of energy or anomaly reading on them.
Five hours after they had started, Nicholas stood, and left to go see about rounding up some food for lunch for them. Julie had given up trying to spot anything an hour earlier, and was now reading bits of the history of the Tiri Empire, pre Evacuation, on her terminal.
Even Emily herself was starting to give up hope. Without any way of narrowing the search more, she didn't dare ask for an active sweep from one of the orbital stations. There was another way to sort through the data, but it was not a very pleasant one.
"Remember when I told you that there were other aspects of your gift that I would teach you how to use?"
That got her friend's attention, and the red head looked up with interest from the screen in front of her, pausing the display of one of the tactics used in the Miners revolt.
Emily got up and pulled her chair over with her to sit next to Julie.
"There is something else we can try. It's not the most pleasant way though, not with sensor data that has been recorded on a sensor system that's not part of your ship self. It's sort of like diving into a jumbled mountain of data, and trying to sort it out into something that your mind can make sense of."
"All right, how do we do it?"
Emily blinked in surprise, she hadn't expected such a quick answer, although, considering what she knew about Julie she should have.
"Well, here, lets call up all the sensor information at the console. Then we can get to work on it."
Julie nodded and removed the gloves that she was still wearing. The lessons that Emily had taught her were going to take her a while to use, and lots of practice before she could stand to touch random objects without being bombarded by images.
"Here, now just relax, and focus on picturing an empty pool of water."
Julie closed her eyes and did as bid, trying her best to picture a calm pool of water, with mountains in the background. Emily could feel her stiffen slightly in surprise as she took her hands, and gently placed them down on the control panel beneath the console. Closing her own eyes, she kept her hands spread over Julie's, their fingers loosely laced together.
"Now, slowly, extend your senses like you do when you try to sense an objects past. Let a stream of information flow down into the pond from the console."
Emily could feel Julie's hands tense as she made the very common error of trying to force it. "Calmly," Emily whispered, her thumb caressing the back of Julie's hand unconsciously. "Relax, don't try to force it. Just leave your mind open, but make sure you don't try to accept all of the information at once. Just a small stream, remember."
Emily let her own body relax, consciously letting go of all the responsibilities and the consequences if the traitor somehow managed to get a strong signal out of the system. After more than a half century of practice, it was easy enough to let the stream of data into her mind.
It was hard to explain to anyone who was not gifted, but data, which she collected through her ship self, was sorted in her own unique thought patterns. Data collected through devices that she was not bound to, was organized in a way foreign to her mind, and appeared to her in an almost chaotic way. She could dimly feel Julie stiffen besides her, and the stream of data that she was dealing with suddenly split. Half of the information flowing to another destination, and she could feel Julie's presence suddenly in the base's computer network. She was learning fast, and the small part of Emily's consciousness not busy with trying to sort the data, was proud of her.
Communication between Guardians was seldom face-to-face. Rather, it was often done through streams of data. Since they had come to Earth, none of them had dared have their ship selves active, and Emily had missed the wordless communications, flow of thoughts, overlaid with emotions and comments. It was, Emily had often thought, as close as a Tiri could get to being telepathic. So it was that she tasted Julie's surprise even as she felt her question.
Seamlessly she directed her, showing her the data that was relevant and that which was not. Between the two of them, they sorted all of the data and reconstructed it into a virtual map of the area, which the scouts had scanned. It was tiring work, and even Emily was feeling the strain by the time they had finished. It was worth it though, and Emily showed Julie the area, which was different than the others. Carefully she showed Julie how to pull back, and released her hold on the console.
As always there was the moment of disorientation, when she found herself back in her own body and no longer inside of something that was virtual. She was unsurprised to find Nicholas waiting for them, and a glass of juice put into her hands. Gratefully she drank, as she waited for the bits of random data to slowly fade from her thoughts.
She looked over towards where Julie was sitting back in her chair; her eyes still clenched shut and a glass of juice clutched in her fingers also. Nicholas was waiting as patiently as he could, and Emily ignored him as she reached over and gently placed a hand on Julie's arm.
"You all right?"
Opening a single green eye, Julie nodded, and closed her eye again, wincing.
Emily squeezed her arm in sympathy.
"Drink the juice, it will help, just give your mind a little bit to sort out where it is."
Julie smiled faintly, but kept her eyes closed as she raised the glass and slowly began sipping juice. Nicholas had reached the end of his patience, and waved a hand.
"Hello? Did you find anything?"
Emily, let go of Julie's arm, and reconsidered the "strangling Nicholas in front of Julie" rule.
"Yes, we did."
Making certain that Julie didn't look like she was going to pass out, she reached over and engaged the holographic display set into the center of the table. Dialing up the area that they had seen, she pointed towards what looked to be a perfectly ordinary stretch of canyons.
"This area is odd. The scout craft's sensors picked up some odd readings around the edge in almost a circle."
"You want to light up a sensor platform? We can do an active scan of that area?"
Emily hesitated at that. It would be simpler, but they had already powered up a sensor platform in the last few days. There was an easier way get a good look at the area.
"No, we may as well do a close look in one of the scout ships. This area is nearly a hundred square kilometers across. Let's narrow it down a bit before we start trying to do orbital scans."
Nicholas didn't look happy at that, but he nodded. A scout ship had four places, two for the pilots, and two for the technicians. He had a good idea who would be riding along in the technician's spots.
"I'll go see about prepping a scout ship for launch. You two might want to eat something before you go out."
Emily gave him nod of thanks, and waited until he had left, before carefully removing the empty glass from Julie's hands and refilling it.
"Here, drink some more. Some food will help."
Julie gave her a shaky smile, as she opened her eyes, wincing a bit at the light.
"Thank you. That was quite a ride."
Emily grinned in answer, and offered her the full glass.
"It's just the start of what you'll be able to do."
Katya relaxed in the lounge chair, her eyes shielded from the sun by a pair of mirror shades. It was just past noon, and she was restless. It had been two weeks since she had done anything other than practice, and keep her skills honed to a razor's edge. It was frankly starting to drive her insane. So it was with a bit of anticipation that she cracked open a brown eye and watched Micha hesitantly head towards her from the solitary farmhouse that the team had taken over three weeks ago. It was located in the middle of nowhere, and she, for one, couldn't wait to get back to civilization. The sooner the better, as far as she was concerned, she would kill for a hot bath.
With a sigh she sat up and stretched her arms, waiting for Micha to avoid looking at her breasts before speaking in Russian. Her voice was clipped with annoyance, and the young man looked more than a tad uneasy when he answered.
"The Major just radioed, he found some things out, rumors of a place where no aborigines now go. He says we go as soon as he gets back with the truck."
Katya sat up at that, and grinned. Finally, they would be moving. Even if it turned out to be nothing, as it had the last three times, they would at least be leaving the small ranch house behind, for a while. That was worth something, and she walked right past Micha, heading for the single story structure. Pausing at the windmill to drink some water, she headed inside. She had things to prepare, and equipment to double check. She finally had a clear mission in front of her again, and she could feel the weeks of inactivity beginning to slide off her shoulders, like the release of a weight.
God was back.
Emily and Julie had been squeezed into the back of the teardrop, with small swept back wings, shape of a scout ship. Nicholas, along with Emily's Honor Guard, had reluctantly seen them off, after Emily had pulled rank about the inclusion of fighters into the scanning mission. Even her pulling rank though, had not kept Nicholas from putting a Marine in the copilot's seat, and his best pilot on the mission.
Just before closing the hatch, Nicholas shook his head, and eyed the other Guardian, uncharacteristically worried.
"You know what your Father and Brother will say when they find out that you have done this."
Emily was equally as grave as she offered him a small shrug.
"The longer we give the traitor, the more time he or she has to prepare. We have to find him Nicholas, and you know this is the quickest way."
For some reason, the look on Nicholas's face didn't fill Julie with enthusiasm. With a nod and a salute, which Emily returned, he stepped aside and swung the door closed. Julie watched as hydraulic locks engaged, sealing them into the craft.
Emily glanced over at her as the ship's pilot began his preflight checklist, then swiveled her chair to face her. Julie braced herself for what was to come. They had been through this twice before now, and Julie hadn't backed down then, she wouldn't back down now.
"You should stay here. You shouldn't come with us, it's going to be·"
Julie simply held up her hands, and glared at the Guardian until she faltered.
"One, I am not under your command, remember? Second, you said you would teach me, and experience is a pretty good way to learn. Third, I'm coming with you; so don't waste our time trying to argue with me. You wont win this one."
Pale blue eyes met green, and narrowed. Both of them stared at the other, in a silent battle of wills.
"Ma'am, we're ready to take off. Are you all set?"
The Pilot leaned back and craned his head around the chair to get a look into the sensor cabin. He didn't want to attract the attention of those two who were staring at each other, but Command had granted them clearance to leave.
Finally Emily looked away, and Julie swiveled her chair to face the bank of scanner panels in front of her. Tightening her harness she couldn't help but grin over her shoulder towards Emily. The Guardian caught her eye, and they shared a brief grin, before Emily went back to making certain she had the sensors set up like she wanted. Julie silently chuckled, and put on her own helmet, adjusting the small microphone at the base of her throat like the pilot had shown her earlier.
Activating it, she narrowed the feed so that she was would only be heard in Emily's helmet. As the craft passed through the force field out into the ocean, she tried to take her mind off the windowless area she was in by talking.
"Your brother is right you know."
Emily finished her adjustments, and looked over towards her with a puzzled expression.
"Weston? What is he right about?"
"Humans. You're doing us a disservice believing that we wouldn't be able to handle the knowledge that the Tiri exist, and that the Bak'ra are coming."
"Julie, I know you are handling this very well, but do you think that everyone would be able to? It wasn't that long ago that Humans first put someone into space, and your scientists are still debating if life exists anywhere else in the galaxy."
Julie forced herself to think about that as objectively as she could, even as the craft's nose tilted upwards and they began their ascent towards the surface.
"I'd like to believe that we would adapt, as we have adapted to every other scientific revolution so far."
Emily's answer was so soft that she had to strain to hear it over the rushing sound of water outside the hull.
"We can't afford to be wrong on this Julie, people still fight and are killed on this planet over religion, and hatred of people because they are different is not that uncommon. We need humanity's help to stop the Bak'ra from destroying this world, and that will not happen if humanity hates or fears us."
They were both silent after that, Julie as she remembered some of the scenes she had seen, not only in third world countries, but in the United States as well. There were people who would hate the Tiri, and fear them, for what they were. She hoped that they would not be in the majority though. Emily shook her head, as if trying to clear her mind of a bad memory and smiled grimly to Julie.
"If you're coming along for the ride, you might as well be useful. I'll give you a crash course on helping me coordinate the sensor sweeps using our gifts."
The scout craft was hugging the ground, at a bare sixty-meters up, as it commenced its scanning run, moving at a leisurely hundred kilometers an hour. Any lower than that, and it would start to leave behind obvious marks of its passage, an antigravity drive could do nasty things to anything it got too close to. A pilot getting just a bit too low as they tried to avoid radar detection had caused more than one case of unexplained cattle mutilations.
The sleek, teardrop shaped craft had been brought with the Tiri in the evacuation. Only a few new ones had been built in the construction bases which the Tiri had up and running. There were simply too many other things to build, fighters, sensor platforms; it took a lot of resources to just maintain the sensor sphere beyond the asteroid belt. The scout ship's skin, much as the skin of the U.S. stealth fighter and bomber, was designed to minimize the ship's sensor profile. The fact that neither the Bak'ra nor the Tiri had used radar as an actual sensor method in well over a millennia, had turned out to be a problem. The scout ship actually presented a larger radar signature than did the transport shuttles that the Tiri had designed while on earth.
It limited the use of the scout ships, since they simply could not be used over most of the Earth's countries without being spotted. The ships had to fly low, to avoid radar detection, following the contour of the land. This drastically reduced the range of the craft's sensors, which were still further hampered by the restriction of only being used on passive mode. That fact was less damaging than it was with nearly any other ship, however, since the scout craft's had been designed to make the most out of the integrated sensor net, which ran throughout the crafts skin. The craft contained no offensive weaponry, other than the pilot and copilot's side arms. Stealth and speed were the ships best defense.
Emily closed her eyes, and joined Julie in sorting out the massive amount of sensor data, which the craft's sensors were accumulating. Julie was learning faster than nearly any other Guardian Trainee that Emily had ever helped train. It usually took years to for a gifted person to learn how to do what Julie was easily picking up. The fact that she had been using her gifts for years as part of Majestic undoubtedly helped her there. Still, she was very gifted, and Emily was quite proud of her new friend. Starting to lie to our self, are we now, her conscience wouldn't let her get away with it that easily. All right, maybe I like her a little bit. That was as far as she was going to go with that, at least until after they had found the Traitor, and she ignored the snort of disbelief that her conscience made at that statement.
They were less than an hour into the scanning, when both Julie and Emily found the edge of the area that had the unusual sensor data. The two of them shared a sense of accomplishment, and continued to sort out the data from the sensors. It didn't take long for Emily to realize what they were seeing. The power spikes from specific points all around the area, could only be from one thing. Opening her eyes she touched her mic, and spoke to the pilots.
"Someone is generating a sensor ghost over this entire area. Get me a com link to Kithkarn. We'll narrow down the area a bit, and then use one of the sensor arrays to scan."
The Marine in the copilot's chair worked on the console in front of him for a few moments, before shaking his head and turning around to look towards the Guardian.
"Ma'am, we're being jammed."
Even as he said it, Julie stiffened and yelled out a warning.
"We're being scanned!"
Emily instantly closed her eyes and sliced her way through the data to see what Julie was seeing. Mentally cursing, she kept her eyes closed and spoke out loud.
"We're being targeted!"
The Pilot was a well trained man, and immediately began jinking the craft, while the Marine gave up trying to punch a com signal through the jamming and began deploying the craft's electronic warfare suites. The pilot brought the craft's engines up from a piddling forty percent, to full power, and the craft leapt upwards as he tried to gain altitude and get out of range of whatever was targeting them.
Emily directed Julie, showing her without words, the base that had just appeared on the sensors ahead of them, and the dots of ground to air weapons emplacements, which were targeting them. The energy signatures that had just popped up ahead of them were eight kilometers ahead of them, and had been hidden inside of a fairly deep canyon from the scout's sensors. Both of them saw the heat bloom of the missiles, which launched at them.
Emily's shout of warning came a split second before the snarling warning klaxons, which came on in the cockpit. Six missiles in total launched from ground to air weapons pits, which were located around the edge of that canyon.
Desperately both Emily and Julie took over the electrical warfare systems and began trying to jam the oncoming missiles. The problem was that the scout ships EW suite was built to defeat weapons, which used homing sensors that the rising missiles had never even heard of. The missiles, which were headed after them, were absolutely stupid by Tiri standards, but their payload was not something that the lightly armored scout craft could just shrug off.
Three of the missiles went straight; their heat-seeking sensors didn't even see the scout ship. The three others were radar guided, and the scout ship presented a large enough cross section for them to lock onto. Emily and Julie managed to jam one of them; simply filling it's targeting area by giving off a lot of radar signals. The pilot was one of Kithkarn's best, and he pushed the scout ship to its limit, redlining its engines and pulling a sideslip maneuver that stressed its small wings past what any sane engineer would have wanted. The second missile missed them by a good six feet, going past where they had been, and having no chance of coming back around to have another pass at them. The third though, it held onto them despite everything that Julie and Emily could toss at them, and every decoy that the Marine deployed. Its proximity fuse detonated it a half foot off of the craft's left wing. The stress blew the wing straight off the craft, and took half of the engine compartment with it.
The pilot did what he could. Shutting down the engines, and engaging the antigravity engines to stop the sharp spin it had dropped into. Without the engines though, the craft was on battery power only. Antigravity engines are power hungry beasts, and they suck up energy without pause. The pilot was faced with an impossible situation. Shut down the antigravity engines until they were just above the ground, and drop into a spin, from which he might not be able to recover before hitting. Or, he could keep the antigravity engines online, and pray that the batteries held out.
He did his best. Dropping the antigravity engines power levels to the bare minimum, and trying to keep the craft from spinning out. With the main engines out, Emily and Julie pulled out of the data stream, which was rapidly shutting down. The craft was starting to shake itself apart, its small right wing causing enough lift to try and spin the scout.
"Julie! Make sure your safety belt is on tight!"
The young American nodded hurriedly and tugged on her belts, tightening it. She gave the Guardian a shaky smile, and gripped the side arms of her chair tightly. Emily, herself, tugged on the straps and made certain she was ready for what was about to come. She spared a thought for the Sergeant Major, and Ile, they had managed to survive their brush with death by using the transport shuttle's escape capsule. Unfortunately, the scout shuttle had no such built in escape capsule.
The landing was hard, and brutal. Emily had a split second view of the outback rushing up to reach them, and the pilot desperately trying to coax more energy into the antigravity engines. The Marine kept on transmitting a distress call all the way down. Then the ground leapt up and met them.
The craft bucked, bouncing three times along the ground, shedding skin and parts behind it, before it struck an outcropping of rock, and shattered into pieces. The front of the craft simply sheering off from the force of the impact. Emily had watched in horror as the entire forward compartment was ripped apart, before a flying piece of debris struck her and the world went black.
Julie must have blacked out when the craft hit, for when she came to, she was lying on her back, staring up at a blue sky above her. Cautiously she moved her legs, slowly working her way up to her neck. Everything seemed to be in one piece, and she was still strapped into the chair. The chair itself though, was no longer attached to the scout ship. The ship, or what was left of it, she saw nearly a hundred feet away, shattered against the side of an outcropping of rocks which had was thrust out of the ground. A trail of debris and burning parts were strewn behind it in a nearly kilometer long trench.
Her thoughts were scattered, and she felt oddly unhinged as she unsteadily unclasped the safety harness, and slowly climbed to her feet. The scene had an almost unearthly feeling to it. It was a beautiful day, mid eighties, and without a cloud in the sky. The scrubland that they had landed in looked nice, and she would have enjoyed taking a walk in it. Carefully she picked her way through the debris, slowly moving towards what was left of the scout craft. The entire left side of the craft was ripped off, and the cockpit had been shattered off of it. Broken and twisted structural members were sticking out at weird angles.
The Marine was the first one she came across. He had been tossed two-dozen yards away from the craft, and the sandy ground was blood soaked around his body. The man's body had been nearly cut in half by a large shard of metal, just above the waist. The pilot she didn't see any sign of, and her search became nearly frantic as she tried to find Emily.
Horrible images of her friend burning alive inside of the craft, or lying off somewhere bleeding to death, flashed in front of her eyes. Desperately she shoved aside broken paneling, and structural members. Her hands were covered with cuts and bruises by the time she managed to clear enough of a space for her to worm her way into the crushed sensor compartment.
Emily was still strapped down into her seat, thank God. Her head was tilted forward, and her helmet had been bashed in on one side. Julie hadn't even realized she had stopped breathing until she felt a faint pulse at the base of Emily's neck and let out a shaky breath. Her hands were trembling as she carefully pulled the helmet off the unconscious Guardian's head.
She nearly shouted for joy when Emily's eyes opened, and the Guardian looked at her with confusion.
Emily's voice was a horse croak, and Julie hushed her, placing a finger against her lips.
"Shh.. It's all right, we crashed. Hold on, I'm going to get you out."
Working carefully she undid the Guardian's safety harness, and began trying to ease her out of the space between the chair and the crumpled compartment. Almost immediately Emily yelled in pain, grabbing Julie's arm to stop her from pulling.
"Where does it hurt?"
"My lag, damit!"
Carefully Julie bent over the cursing Guardian and tried to peer under the shattered console in front of her. With a gasp she saw the state of Emily's right leg, and stood as upright as she could in the collapsed compartment, her face going white.
"Your legs shattered, right above the knee, I can see bone."
Emily grimaced; sweat popping out on her face as she gripped the arm rests of the chair, trying not to scream in pain at the compound fracture, as her shock wore away. Grinding her teeth she managed a growled sentence.
"Med kit, under seats."
Careful not to jar her friend's seat, she bent down and pulled out the white case that had been strapped under here seat. There was blood on the floor, and she moved quickly as she opened the case and started sorting through its contents. The bandages were obvious, but she had no clue what the small little odd looking pens did.
Emily didn't give her a chance to ask, with a whimper of pain the taller woman grabbed two of the different colored pens, and jabbed them into her arm. There was a small hiss, and the overwhelming pain in her eyes faded.
"ohhh.. that's good stuff."
Julie bit her lip as she studied her friend, and the chair she was in. The track that would have let her pull the chair back was mangled, and there was no way that she could straighten it. That meant she had to pull her friend out over the arm of the chair, and she was certain that would do more damage to her leg.
The alternative was to leave her in the scout craft, and she could already smell smoke from the rear.
"Emily, I've got to pull you out of there, all right?"
Emily gave her a brilliant drug induced smile and nodded her head like a little child, holding out her arms towards Julie. Bracing herself, Julie grasped her friend around the waist and pulled her upwards in her seat, and then over the arm of the seat, as carefully as she could. She winced as she heard, and then saw the exposed bone on Emily's leg rub together, but whatever drugs Emily was on were good ones, and she didn't seem to feel a thing.
The second she was out from behind it, Julie helped her out of the sensor compartment and laid her down on the ground. She was loosing a lot of blood, although not quite as much as before, and Julie quickly wrapped the injury with bandages, trying to staunch the flow of blood. One of those pens must have had a coagulant in it, she thought as she wrapped another bandage over the first one, which was not quite as rapidly turning red, as it should have.
Studying the rest of the contents of the med kit she found other objects with writing upon them that she hadn't a clue how to read. Replacing them in the metal kit, she knelt down besides Emily, touching her forehead. Emily's eyes were surprisingly clear of pain as she looked up at her and smiled.
Julie blinked in surprise at that, and despite the situation, grinned. So that was how to get a Windstar to talk, drug them. The grin immediately faded as she looked at the wounded leg, and then back to Emily's face.
"Emily, listen to me, we need to get you help. How do you signal for help?"
That at least got the attention of the Guardian, who had been staring at the blue-sky overhead with a drug-hazed amazement. For a moment Julie thought that she was going to say something induced by whatever drugs she had just taken, but the pale blue eyes sharpened suddenly and Emily grabbed her arm with surprising strength.
"Listen to me, Julie. They will be coming. Run, go, and find help. Get a message to Kithkarn, get troops here."
Julie shook her head, grabbing Emily's hand in her own.
"No! I'm not just going to leave you here!"
Emily grimaced in pain, and then opened her eyes again.
"Please. Go. They will be here soon. Go, must know what we found. GO!"
The last was a yell, and Julie stumbled backwards, tears streaking down her face even as she knew that Emily was right. She could hear what sounded like an explosion in the distance, and she hurried over to the dead Marine and pulled his sidearm from his holster. Hers was gone, and she had no desire to go hunting for it now. Of course she hadn't a clue how to use the large side arm that the Marine had worn, but she would figure it out.
One last time she dashed back to where Emily was and placed the med kit next to her, where she could reach it. Tears were making tracks down her dust-covered face, but she refused to give in to the desire to sob.
"I'll be back as soon as I can. I'll get help. I swear."
Emily gripped her hand, and nodded; before her blue eyes glazed over once more from the drugs and she let her head drop back into the dust. Refusing to give into the urge to scream at the sky about the injustice of it, Julie bent down and pressed her lips to Emily's forehead.
Then she was off, running towards the scrub away from the crash site, afraid to look over her shoulder, for fear that she would run back and never leave.
Nicholas sat in his command chair in the heart of Kithkarn base. The Guardian had been waiting impatiently for the scout ship to check in for thirty minutes now, and it was overdue. He hated being blind, and would have given his right arm to be able to still have his ship self powered up and have the sensors at his mental beck and call.
Fidgeting in his seat, he gave it another thirty seconds before summoning his Provost, Fleet Captain, he mentally corrected himself. The well-built female captain had been only a month at her job before the Evacuation, but she had done well since then. Her stable personality, and patient way of doing things, had helped him countless times. Fleet Captain Shara was not a beautiful woman, by any stretch of the imagination, but she was built like a horse, and routinely spared with Marines, and beat them.
Nicholas sighed at that. No matter how hard he tried, she simply refused to call him by his name while they were on duty.
"No sign of the scout ship?"
She didn't have to ask which scout ship, as she shook her head. Her light brown hair, as always, tied up in a very functional bun on top of her head.
Nicholas drummed his fingers against the side of the command chair, and made a decision.
"We'll power up a Sensor Array and take a peak at what's going on. I have a bad feeling about this."
Shara simply bowed her head and returned to her station. The fact that she had not argued about the exposure that he was giving the Empire by doing that, spoke volumes about her own concern.
"Eric, power up.."
He glanced at the display panel on the arm of the chair, and located the nearest Sensor Array that was in orbit.
The young human sensor technician nodded, and sent the warm up signal through the base's land transmitter, located a dozen kilometers away on the coastline of Australia.
"Array will be powered up in three minutes, thirty seconds, sir."
Nicholas absently nodded his understanding, and called up the holographic display located in the center of the command deck. It was empty at the moment, but it would soon show whatever the Sensor Array sent back. He was praying that it would get a reading off the Scout Ship's identity transmitter, and nothing else. If it managed to pick up the Scout Ship, then something was definitely wrong.
Three and a half minutes later, he was pacing.
"Sir, Array is powered up, and beginning scan."
Nicholas stopped his pacing behind his chair, and gripped the back of it, watching the sensor tech as he punched in a series of commands.
"Starting scan of search area· SHIT!"
The holographic tank in the center of the room, which had begun to show the first bits of sensor data that were being scanned, went dark.
"Sir! Someone just blew Sensor Array ten out of the sky!"
Nicholas and Shara reached the sensor tech's display at the same time, and peered over his shoulder. The base's sensors easily picked up the rapidly expanding explosion from where Sensor Array ten had once been. Those same sensors, however, had not detected any one firing on the array. With a frown, Nicholas leaned over and punched in a series of commands into the console, grunting with what popped up on the display.
"The core of the Array overloaded. Look at this power spike, it must have blown itself."
"Sir? Why would it do that? The last maintenance cycle was just two weeks ago, and it passed with flying colors."
Shara and Nicholas shared an uneasy glance, and for once it was the Captain that answered before the Guardian.
"Someone sabotaged it, probably a virus."
The tech looked confused at that, and then his eyes widened slightly. Nicholas nodded.
"Exactly. We don't dare bring up any of the others until we figure out what happened to this one. Shara, send an alert to all the other bases, and lets see about finding out what sort of sabotage took place. Get me all the sensor data that we've ever pulled from Array Ten."
Katya was submerged up to her nose in a fetid pool of water, listening the men who were searching the area. It was pure dumb luck that she wasn't dead right now. They had left the ranch only an hour after the Major had returned. Katya had checked, and then packed, all her equipment into the large metal case that she took everywhere she went. It had taken them four hours of searching to find the canyon that the major, a squat bulldog of a man, had learned about from the aborigines that he spoke to. It was obvious though; once they had reached the canyon that they had found what they were looking for. The large metallic structure rising a hundred foot off the ground, with an odd crystal hanging from the top of it had been a rather large clue, as had been the buildings and activity around the base of it.
Katya had guessed that there were nearly three dozen people down there, from her position lying down at the top of the canyon. She could make out individual faces through her spotting scope, as well as the German made weapons that they all carried, mostly MP5s. Good equipment, and expensive.
The Major had taken one look through her scope, and shimmied his way backwards away from the edge, before standing up.
"That's it. Let's get back and radio in what we found."
He had been halfway to the truck when he said that, and they had been his last words. Katya, had half turned to look at the Major, when the sun suddenly was blocked out. She distinctly remembered turning back, and staring at the large black delta winged ship that had silently risen up in front of her. It was impossible. Nothing should be hovering like that so silently, but it was. The second after that thought had crossed her mind, the cannon mounted on the belly of the craft had fired.
Turning the truck into a fireball, killing Micha instantly, since he had been in the drivers seat. The Major had been beheaded, a piece of flying shrapnel simply decapitating him where he stood. Katya herself had been lucky, she had been lying on her stomach, and had avoided the blast. She prided herself on knowing when to run and when to fight, so when the silent hovering ship had turned away, she had gotten up, taken her case, and ran like hell.
The half hour since then had been spent trying to avoid the men who were obviously searching for her. The fun just had not stopped, and now she found herself hiding in the worst looking water she had ever seen outside of a sewer system. God was not a happy camper. A few minutes later, when the search party moved on, she just could not bring herself to wait and make certain they were gone. Instead she hauled herself out of the water and promptly threw up on the edge of the bank.
Grimly she wiped her mouth, picked up her case, and plodded back the way she had come, opposite the way the searches were headed.
Julie had done her best, getting a few hundred feet down a dirt road near the crash site, before she had to hide behind some thorny bushes. A pair of trucks, crammed with men carrying guns, had passed her, headed towards the crashed scout craft, and she could only pray that they would help Emily. Part of her was crumbling at the very thought of the wounded Guardian that she had left behind, and she forced herself not to think about what might happen to Emily.
She was going to wait for the trucks to come back, and then head out away from where they were going, but instead of that the men had begun searching the area. No one ever said the enemy had to be stupid, she thought bitterly. Getting up she had worked her way down the dirt track, staying only a few minutes ahead of the men, who had obviously picked up her track.
She hadn't realized that she was heading directly towards the base, until she had almost fallen into the canyon. Her eyes widening with terror she had backed away from the deadly familiar sight of the camp, and the communications array, and tried to run away, anywhere. Her trackers had her pinned now, though. Between the canyon and themselves, so she had headed northwards, parallel to the canyon side.
Julie was running blind by now, just trying to stay in as much cover as she could, while avoiding the men whom she could occasionally hear behind her. Her thoughts kept returning to Emily, and she felt a piece of her soul grow cold at the thought of her friend being allowed to bleed to death, while the armed men watched. If there was a God, they would help her.
Half stumbling through another open area, she had skidded to a stop. In front of her was the still burning remains of what had once been a small truck. The explosion she had heard earlier, she assumed. Her eyes constantly scanning the sky for the silent death, she moved closer and swallowed as she spotted the decapitated man lying in the dust. She was about to simply avoid the entire area, and keep moving, when her eyes fell on the small walkie-talkie stuck in the man's belt.
With a sliver of hope she snatched it up, cast a glance over her shoulder, and kept moving. To stay in one place out in the open was to be caught. To be caught was to fail Emily, and she would not do that. She would die before she did that.
A few hundred feet later she found a hiding place. Julie had been searching along the lip of the canyon, trying to see if there was someway to hide from the people searching for her, and had tried to stay to the rock lip of the canyon, to avoid leaving tracks in the dust for the men to follow. She had leaned over just far enough, at just the right moment to spot the small hollow, hidden behind a boulder, just a dozen feet down the side of the canyon wall. Scrambling down the rock face, and bruising her side, she had thrown herself into the hollow, and held her breath.
An eternity later, the men had passed above her, shouting orders back and forth as they ran. What little she caught made her grimace a smile, they thought she had continued onwards, along the canyon rim. She could only hope that they would continue to think that.
She was lay there, cut, bruised, bleeding, and clutching herself in a fetal position, for she knew not how long. When she finally got herself under control again, she slowly began to take stock of her position. She had to get a message to Kithkarn, but she had no way to do so. She had a weapon that she didn't know how to use, and a walkie talkie that she had no clue if it worked or not. It would be a few hours before nightfall, and she knew what her chances were if she tried to run in the daylight with those search parties out there. Even in the darkness, she was doubtful, if they had one of those silent shuttles. Death would come from above, and she would never see it coming.
To keep her mind off Emily, she forced her shaking hands to pick up the odd shaped pistol. It was fairly easy to figure out, the trigger was in the right place, and she was fairly certain that the bulky block under the barrel was magazine. There was a switch near the back, which was probably the safety, although she couldn't understand the writing imprinted next to it. Julie couldn't risk testing it, but she was fairly sure she could use it, if she had to.
Next was the walkie-talkie. It looked to be in one piece, and when she turned on the switch, the indicator light glowed red. So far, so good. She had, of course, no way to tell who, if anyone, would be listening, but she could try. Holding it up to her mouth, she spoke.
"Hello? Is anyone out there? This is Lieutenant Julie McGrath, United States Army, can anyone here me?"
Letting up the transmit button, she waited, and hoped.
She nearly dropped the blasted thing when a voice, lightly accented, answered.
"Yas? Who is this?"
Katya was holed up inbetween several boulders, near the edge of the canyon. She had seen the flying delta thing silently move across where her team had died, and begin what looked an awful lot like a search pattern to her. She was not going to go running around while trying to keep track of an aircraft that could hover without making any sound, and had a cannon on its belly. That was a very good way to get ones self killed.
She had honestly forgotten that she still had her walkie-talkie strapped to her belt, when the thing started speaking to her. Katya was never accused of being a jumpy person, not in her line of work, but she had been startled when someone started speaking English out of it. Could it be a trick? A way to trace her down, and find out where she was hiding? All of her training was screaming at her to shatter the thing into a thousand pieces and forget it.
Forever after, she could never say what made her answer the voice in the walkie-talkie. It was, perhaps, because whoever it was sounded so tired, and so very lonely. Whatever it was, she answered cautiously.
"Ya, who is this?"
The voice paused, as if she had not actually thought that someone would answer her, and then returned.
"This is Lieutenant Julie McGrath, United States Army. Who is this?"
Katya nearly laughed out loud at that. US Army? Out here, now? Somewhere there was a God laughing at this entire situation, she just knew it.
"This is God."
She gave her call sign, fully expecting that those in the building were probably monitoring the channel, even though each walkie-talkie had a scrambler unit on it.
"God huh? I could really use some help from you then, I guess."
Katya grinned at the humor that this American was showing, and her opinion of her went up a bit. Taking out her scope once more, she zoomed in on a truck that had pulled in down at the camp. Watching as she spoke, she absently focused in on the proceedings.
"What troubles you my child?"
"Oh, you know, the usual. People trying to catch me and kill me."
"We have that in common at least. Some of those people are unloading someone down by their temple right now. Not one of mine though, maybe one of yours?"
There was silence for a long moment, and Katya could imagine the woman on the other end trying to get a view from wherever she was hidden at the goings on down at the base of the canyon.
"Yes, one of mine. I have to go save her."
That took Katya by surprise and she blinked at the walkie-talkie in disbelief. Unless this woman had a lot of people with her, which she doubted, she was talking about walking into a camp with dozens of armed guards everywhere. Not to mention the silent flying death thing.
"My child, I think that is unwise."
"God, I don't care. That person is my friend, and if I can't get her message out, the least I can do is free her."
The anger in the woman's voice caused Katya to frown slightly. She knew that anger, it was the anger of not being able to do something. It was something she was intimately familiar with. Ah well, what the hell, she didn't want to live forever anyway, and these people owed her for her team. She had even liked the Major, who had been pretty cute for an asshole.
"God will protect you my child."
Julie didn't know who would call herself God, but at the moment she didn't care if the woman called herself the devil, as long as she was going to help. She had promised Emily that she would get word to Kithkarn, but she hadn't a clue how she was going to do that without being spotted and killed. It was bad enough that there were teams of men searching for her, and probably God as well, but the shuttle, that was real bad news. Once night fell, she wouldn't even be able to spot it before it blew her into very small parts. So, there was only one thing to do. Get into that base, and contact Kithkarn from there, somehow. Then, if she were still alive, she would find Emily and get her out of there.
Her course decided upon, she settled back into the small hollow, and watched the activity below her. She hadn't talked to God in a few minutes, which was probably all for the better, since they probably could locate the walkie-talkies, if not listen in on what they were saying. She would wait until just before dark, when she could still spot the silent shuttle, and yet, hopefully, be able to blend in somewhat with the lengthening shadows. At least, that was the plan.
Cautiously she inched forwards, and peered down at what was happening around the communications array. Armed people were still coming and going, and Julie took a bit of comfort in the fact that none of them appeared to have been armed with Tiri weapons. Hopefully that meant Emily had been correct in her guess that whoever it was hadn't been able to divert many weapons to this little project. Which meant she might just live long enough to get that message out, as long as she could avoid that shuttle that was.
Timing, she decided, would be critical, and she settled in to watch the movements below her, and keep an eye out for the shuttle. If there were a pattern, she would find it.
Imperial Prince Weston Windstar the Third, Heir to the Imperial throne, prince of Igelsland, was in a piss poor mood as he stepped out of the shuttle into hanger number two, at Kithkarn. First he had been called to Washington to do what he could to assure the Americans that they weren't about to be invaded. Thankfully, Major Sims had done a lot to help him there, and he had hopes that they might even manage to pull it off. If they did, it would make what they had managed at Roswell look like a parlor trick in comparison.
The Emperor was even going to get to meet with the American President for the first time since the Tiri had arrived on Earth, and a meeting had been set up to take place in two days time.
I should have known things weren't going to be that easy, he thought irritated as he waited for his Marine guards to descend into the hanger deck ahead of him. Just when things had settled down a bit in Washington, he had gotten the urgent report from Nicholas regarding his sister, and the destruction of one of the orbital sensor platforms. That was going to be hard enough to explain, by itself. It had blown up nearly directly over the Chinese, and Nicholas was going insane trying to keep them from learning what really had happened. The Russians, for once, had been ominously quiet, and Weston hoped that Darrien, the Guardian in charge of northern Asia and eastern Europe, was on the ball up there.
Nicholas met him at the base of the shuttle's access stairs, and did away with the usual ceremonial greetings.
"We have a problem."
Weston battled the urge to sigh in despair at that. The only time he had ever heard of Nicholas saying that there was an actual problem, had been when the Plague had been discovered back on Tiri Prime.
"What sort of problem?"
Nicholas was already leading them across the large hanger, towards a guarded access hatch. The added security was quite obvious, and Weston nodded in silent approval. They didn't know who the traitor, or traitors, were. All of the Tiri bases had been put on high security alert for the duration of the crisis. Nicholas didn't answer his question until they were inside of a nearby meeting room, and the Marines were stationed outside to keep people out.
"The Virus, its not just in the Orbital Sensor Arrays. We've found traces of it in all of the Sensor Platforms that make up the Sensor Sphere."
Weston felt his gut clench at that. If someone had managed to get a computer virus into the operating systems of those unmanned platforms, they could take over the entire sensor sphere. They would be able to shut it down, and allow earth based radio signals to escape, or, even worse, make the sphere start transmitting. It would light up the entire solar system, like hanging a big neon sign with the words "here we are" over the sun. The Bak'ra wouldn't have any trouble spotting them on long-range sensors, and all it took was one scout ship to find them, and it was over.
"Can we purge the systems?"
"We're looking at it now, but it's an incredibly adaptive virus. Our best guess is that if we try to do a scan of the area where Emie went down, it will cause the sensor array to overload its core. It might be programmed to do the same thing with the Sensor Sphere stations."
Weston's mouth tightened at that. They couldn't afford either of those scenarios.
"How long until you know?"
"We've got tech crews scrambling from Mars and Luna base at the moment, but it's going to be a few hours before we know anything."
The heir to the throne sat back in his chair, and scrubbed at his face with the heels of his hands.
"All right, what about Emie? Any sign of her yet?"
"None. We sent up a second scout ship, but it got shot down by what sounded to be one of our shuttles retro fitted with a plasma cannon."
Weston's eyes narrowed at that little bit of knowledge. So, now they were certain, it had to be someone high up in the Tiri command structure to be able to steal a shuttle.
"I'm guessing that's what they used to hijack the intrasystem transport. Fine, get me a ready response team. We'll do a ground search if we have to, but we will find whatever it is that this traitor is doing. I still can't figure out why he is using a communications array on earth though. Surely it would be easier for him to build it in space?"
Nicholas had no answer to that question, and he simply bowed, before leaving to put the ready response team on five minute alert. Leaving the Heir alone with his thoughts.
Emily slipped in and out of consciousness after Julie left. The auto injectors from the med kit had done their job, and she could only feel a dull ache in her shattered leg. The bleeding had almost stopped as well, as the coagulants got to work. At least, she hoped the bleeding had almost stopped; she was in no shape to try and put another bandage on the wound.
She knew that the ones who had shot them down would not be long in coming, and she was not disappointed. Time was skewed, but it seemed that between one burst of consciousness and the next, the crash site was swarming with armed men. They had yelled questions to her, in first some Baltic language, and then a heavily accented English. Even if she had understood them, she wouldn't have said a thing.
The next thing she knew, she had been loaded, not too gently, on a stretcher and place in one of the trucks. The majority of the men stayed to search the area, and Emily spared a prayer to the Maker for her friend. Then they were moving, the old army truck bouncing over the rutted dirt track, and she had to grit her teeth to avoid screaming in pain at every bone jarring bump that they went over. The painkillers were still working, but she doubted anything would have stopped the pain that the infinite ride back to their base caused.
She must have blacked out again, because when she came to, she had been moved inside one of the crude prefabricated buildings set up around the communications array, and someone was looking at her leg. Whoever it was didn't have the skill that the Maker had given a warthog, and he forced her bone back into place with audible grinding and with no injections to make the muscles relax. She grit her teeth, the muscles in her neck bulging, until she felt one of her molars crack. Darkness soon followed.
This time, when she woke up, the pain felt a bit better, not gone, by any stretch of the imagination, but a bit lessened. The first thing she did, now that she could think beyond the blinding white pain, was mentally reaching for her link with her ship self. If she could focus enough, she could transmit a message about what had happened. All that Emily was able to do, though, was touch on a swirling mass of confusion, where her link should have been. Frowning, she opened her eyes, and discovered that she was not alone in the dirty little hut that they had brought her to.
A man, wearing Imperial unpowered armor, stood nearby, watching her with a smirk.
"So you're a mighty Guardian. Don't look too tough to me."
He paused to hack up a wad of mucus and spit on the floor, before halfheartedly wiping his mouth.
"Boss said he wanted ta see ya. So I gonna bring ya ta see him. No funny business, got me? Or I just gonna give ya another one a these."
He held up a small vial in one hand, and Emily managed to focus enough to barely read the label. Cynaomarist, a drug that had been stumbled upon by Tiri scientists two centuries earlier, which had the effect of blocking a Guardian's link to her ship self. It was only used in the very rare case that a Guardian was considered to be a threat to herself and others. That explains why I can't use my link, she thought, as her strength left her, and her head fell back against the top of the stretcher. With the amount of drugs still in her system, it had been a miracle she could still focus. She had noticed the tray of medical equipment nearby though.
"Ya be good now."
The man smelled as bad as he looked, which was quite a statement. She couldn't place the heavy accent, but considering her mental state at the moment, that was not surprising. The second he turned around to set aside the vial, she reached out and, with the last of her strength, palmed a blood-covered scalpel from the nearby tray. When he turned around, she had only just managed to hide it in the sleeve of her uniform.
She had been transferred to a stretcher with wheels, and the man began pushing her towards a corridor that linked this prefab structure with the others.
"Boss really wanna meet you."
Julie waited until the shadows were as long as they were going to get, and the sun was just barely above the horizon, before moving. She had timed it as best as she could, and she half scrambled, half slid down the steep canyon wall when there was a lull in the activity below her. She could only pray that no one spotted her, and that God was out there, watching over her as she had promised.
She reached the bottom of the canyon, and threw herself into the dry riverbed that meandered through it. No shouts, no shots, or sirens, followed, and she let herself take a trembling breath to try and calm herself. A group of ten men had just came back in from searching, and another group of ten had left at the same time to take up the search. No others should be coming back for a while now, and she only had to worry about the guards. While she had been waiting for dusk, Julie had tried her very best to time the routes that each of the pairs of guards took. As long as they stuck to it, she would have a one minute window in five minutes, in which she would have to sprint from where she was to the seldom used prefab structure ahead of her. It was the building through which she had seen the least movement, and she could only hope that the small shack like building was empty.
She timed it exactly, five minutes to the second, and she was up and sprinting across the dusty ground, avoiding the occasional small bush, in her hundred foot dash across open ground to the prefabricated shack, which was connected to the others by what looked to be a system of corridors.
Julie would have made it, if it hadn't been for the soldier watching from the second floor window of the largest prefab building. She hadn't seem him when she had been watching the guards, but he had absolutely no problem spotting her, and he smiled as he raised the sniper rifle to his shoulder and took aim. It was a nearly point blank shot for the decent quality sniper rifle that he had, and he took his time waiting for her to get halfway to her destination, sighting in on her chest. Too hard to hit her in the head when she was running, but a chest shot would do just as well. The Russian made Dragunov sniper rifle was over forty years old, but it was still accurate enough for what he wanted.
Placing the crosshairs on her chest, he put his finger into the trigger guard, and grinned. The Boss was going to give him a bonus for this one, he was positive. His finger tightened on the trigger.
Julie was halfway from the safety of the dry riverbed to the dubious safety of the building ahead of her, when the air was split with a dull "Crack".
She didn't stop, even though her instinct was to toss herself to the ground, but crossed to the small shack as quickly as she could, and hurled herself through the door. Landing in a very undignified sprawl on the floor of the storage shed, that was full of miscellaneous equipment, left over from the building of the communications array. Quickly she barred the door, locking it from the inside with the deadbolt that was part of the doorframe. Only then did she pick up her walkie-talkie.
"This is God, all is well, American?"
"I think so. What happened?"
"I was watching out for you."
Julie could hear what sounded like yelling outside, and that was shortly afterwards followed by four rapid "Cracks" in a row, the yelling disappeared.
From the spot she had selected near the entry to the canyon, Katya smiled humorlessly. She had tracked the young American all the way down, and had seen the movement in one of the two-story buildings windows. She saw it, because that is where she would have been if she had been a sniper on duty. The scope she had was an order of magnitude better than the one that the sniper with the Dragunov had, and she had been able to see his finger begin to tense on the trigger, just before her own rifle barked, and his head exploded. That was followed by the expected stream of idiots who were stepping outside with guns drawn to see what was happening, and who was shooting. She let four step outside, before putting a bullet through each of their chests. The armor piercing rounds that she used cut right through the light Kevlar vests that most of them were wearing. No more were stupid enough to step outside, and she imagined that they were yelling for that silent flying ship to come back and blow her away. Which was why she was up and moving to her second spot a second after her fifth shot had been fired. She was one of the best Russian Army snipers in the world, and she had been very well trained.
Back in the storage hut, Julie pulled her side arm and carefully made her way through the piled equipment, towards the corridor entrance. If she lived through this, she would thank whoever God was, but for now she was just very thankful that God was diverting attention from her.
Clicking off what, she hoped, was the safety; Julie held the side arm as she had been taught to do with her pistol. Two handed, and held low while she worked her way over to the open corridor. There were more shots outside, coming from a different direction, and she hoped that God would be able to fend for herself for a while. She had to find a way to transmit a message to Kithkarn, which was going to be a bit difficult, as she had no clue how to even use their communications equipment. All she could hope was that she would be able to use her Gift to send the message.
The corridor, as it could be charitably called, was actually two walls of stacked cinder blocks, with a roof over it, leading from one building to another. For a moment, Julie couldn't even imagine why someone would go to all the trouble of building such a thing, until she realized it would shield movement between buildings from observation. She needed an active computer to link with.
Letting out a breath, Julie tightened her grip and began edging down the corridor. Her palms were sweating, and her breath seemed to sound as if it were echoing down the endless gray corridor. What little light there was, came from bare light bulbs strung along the roof. It was definitely not high technology, at least not the buildings. Ahead of her was a T in the corridor, and she very slowly edged her way along the rough unfinished wall. Taking a peek around the corner, she quickly took a look at what was both ways. To her right, the corridor continued on towards a bend in the corridor. To her left was a non-descript doorway, into one of the prefab structures, she hadn't a clue which one, and they all looked the same. Two more distant "Cracks" were heard, but this time Julie heard return fire.
She didn't have much to lose, so she ducked around the corner, and headed for the doorway. Just as she was reaching out with her left hand to push the door, it opened from inside. A man, carrying what looked to be a semiautomatic shotgun, stood in the doorway. The two of them stared at each other in surprise; both of them were momentarily stunned. Julie could see the surprise in the young man's eyes, even as he started to bring up his shotgun. She was so close that she could see her reflection in the pair of glasses that he wore, as she brought up her own weapon, pointed it at his chest, and pulled the trigger.
The Tiri-built Mark III dart pistol had been the standard side arm for Imperial forces for more than a century. It was a simple concept, one that humans were already starting to attempt to use in the form of rail guns. The gun had a very powerful capacitor, which powered a series of hundreds of electro magnets in the short barrel of the pistol. The small ceramic darts which the gun fired, were accelerated out of the gun to near sonic speeds. The Mark V rifle was basically a powered up version of the pistol, with two drum magazines, one for explosive-tipped, and the other for armor-piercing darts, along with being able to accelerate the darts to supersonic speeds as they left the muzzle.
Julie's side arm, although she didn't know it at the time, was loaded with explosive-tipped darts. The dart exited the muzzle of the gun at just under the speed of sound, and slammed into the chest of the man standing less than two feet in front of the muzzle. The tip of the dart was filled with a small amount of explosive, which was activated as it left the side arm. The result of which was that the man's chest exploded outward, flinging him backwards into the room behind him, and covering Julie in blood.
She stood there, shocked. Even in Ecuador, where they had walked into a small war zone, she had never killed someone that close up before. She had seen her own reflection in the man's glasses. Julie stood there for she didn't know how long, until the sound of more rifle fire outside, drew her attention to the room where the body was now laying.
It seemed to be a small control room, with a bank of computers along one wall, and a bank of flickering florescent lights hanging from the ceiling. Trying to ignore the smell of blood, and the twitching foot, which she had to lift out of the way to close the door, Julie did her best to lock the door behind her. Unclipping the walkie-talkie from her belt, she talked as she moved over to the computer banks, and started to tug off her gloves.
"God, are you there?"
It took a long few moments for the God to respond, and she sounded winded when she did.
"This is God."
"Are you alright?"
"Just great. Are you good?"
"I'm about to start. Can you hold out for a while longer?"
At her fifth spot, Katya, winced and pressed on the wound along her side where a lucky shot had hit her. She was down to one clip, and had only a dozen rounds left. Glancing down to the Canyon below her, she saw four more soldiers trying to get to one of the trucks and leave. The shuttle had already done one pass, and Katya had only been a few seconds out of her last shooting spot, when the silently hovering delta winged craft had risen above the horizon and turned the boulders where she had been hiding, to rubble.
"I am good. You do what you have to yes? God will be waiting."
There was another burst of rifle fire, and Julie set aside the walkie-talkie, tossing aside her gloves. Time was running out. Doing her best to clear her mind, she laid her hands on the console in front of her.
It was difficult, without Emily to show her what to do, and she kept trying to force her mind. After a minute achieving nothing but a headache, she took a deep breath and did her best to relax, like Emily had said. It was hard, with the adrenaline coursing through her system, but she managed it.
Ever so carefully Julie closed her eyes, and began sorting out the information flowing through the console before her. Much of it she didn't understand, and there seemed to be a lot of information being transmitted through satellites for some reason. Sending her consciousness deeper into the computer network, she searched for what she needed, a way to contact Kithkarn. It seemed as if it took forever, but in reality, it probably only took a few seconds for her to find the computer access to the communications array. There were some sort of safe guards set up all around it, but she ducked through those easily. Once inside, she set herself to work.
To be continued...
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