Alec slinked from tree to tree, staying in the shadows more as he approached the camp. In the light of the camp, he watched the sentries as they peered out into the gloom of the night. Being in the light and looking out into the dark, their vision would be limited. But for Alec, looking into the light from his position, he could see much more. Soon, he was only a few yards from the tents. To his right was a canosapien sentry, once a Labrador dog, who stood stock still, cradling a large assault rifle in his arms and gazing out into the dark. Alec crouched by the bole of a large tree, and rooted in the dirt for a rock. He found a small pebble, and tossed it at a fuel drum behind the sentry. It pinged off the metal side of the drum, and the sentry’s head snapped round to look. Alec took his opportunity to sprint silently past the sentry and into the camp.
Stopping by the side of a large MEP-9 generator, between it and a personnel
tent, Alec pulled one of his pistols from its holster and listened as best
he could to the goings on inside the tent. He could hear nothing. Alec
crawled to the end of the tent, checked the way was clear, and then dashed
over to another tent. It was quieter here, without the rumbling of the
generator. He could hear voices inside the tent.
“Ok, go and check on the dogs. They’ll be up for shift change here in a few minutes. I’ll go and see if the captain has made any changes to the mission plan.”
Alec listened as the other individual in the tent left, then waited for the owner of the voice to leave. He turned out to be a large, red headed human, in fatigues. He wore a set of 5 stripes on his collar. Probably a non-commissioned officer. The rank insignia weren’t from any military that Alec could recognize. Alec stuck to the shadows, and followed the NCO to neighboring tent, that was guarded by two human guards. The NCO entered, and Alec waited while he spoke to the occupant of the tent. Alec rightly assumed it was the captain he had heard the NCO speak of. Soon the NCO left, and went back to his tent.
Alec looked across the camp, towards the motor pool.
Meanwhile, DJ was under one of the heavy trucks in the motor pool. He
took out his knife and quickly sawed through the fuel line. Diesel began
to pour out of the line, drenching the surrounding grass. DJ crawled out
from under the truck, and jumped up into the cab of the next. He reached
under the dash, searched for the wires that ‘felt’ right, and yanked them
out. He knew, somehow that he has disconnected the ignition to the truck.
A total of six of the vehicles had been disabled. That would be more than
enough to cause a problem for the troops here. Looking out of the side
window of the truck, DJ saw another runner enter the command post. He smirked
and slid out of the cab of the truck. Once back on the ground, he looked
around for the closest sentry. There were two of them nearby. One of the
pair handed a radio to the other then walked off in the direction of the
barrack tents. As the new guard checked his weapon and the radio, DJ scurried
quickly to the shadows at the side of the command post. He crouched between
the canvas of the tent, and a heating unit, and listened intently.
“Major Clay reports that they have taken the two into custody. Apparently the owner of a motel along route 97 tipped him off. There were no serious casualties, but a few of his troops got injured in the fight. He says that he’s going to load them up and transport them to the facility.”
“Good. Get on the horn and call Petrovitch. I’m sure he’ll be relieved that they’ve found his prodigal son.”
‘The two have been taken into custody.’ DJ knew exactly what that meant. He gritted his teeth and watched the runner leave the tent. The runner turned left and walked along the front of the row of trucks. He was a thin, rangy man, mid 30’s, in civilian clothes. DJ Crawled away from his place by the tent, and ran quietly down the row of trucks. He jumped up into the cargo area of one truck, in amongst some backpacks and waited until he heard the footsteps of the runner, then called out:
“Hey man, can you come help me with this real quick?”
The runner stopped. DJ slapped the inside of the canvas over the truck bed.
“In here, come on man, it’ll just take a second.”
DJ moved to the back of the truck and waited.
“Where are you?” Called the runner.
DJ tapped his foot on the floor of the bed. “In here.”
The runner approached the end of the truck. As soon as he saw him, DJ
clamped one hand over the runners mouth, grabbed him by the back of his
shirt, and dragged him into the back of the truck. The runner saw DJ’s
knife flash in the dark, and gasped.
“Make one sound, I dare you.” DJ growled.
DJ pulled a T-shirt from one of the packs in the back of the truck and tore it into strips. He tied the runner’s hands, and gagged him. Then he peeked out of the back of the truck and looked for the sentry. He was standing about 30 yards away. Glancing back into the truck, DJ wondered what to do. The sentry wasn’t about to go anywhere, evidently, and DJ could see no way to cause a distraction. The runner writhed lamely in his bindings for a moment, but was soon laid still after DJ reminded him he was armed. DJ lay on his stomach on the cold metal floor of the truck and watched the sentry. He sighed impatiently and decided that there was nothing to do but wait it out.
Alec crouched in the shadows and listened intently to the goings-on
inside the tent. The captain was on talking on a radio to another party.
“Understood. We’ll be ready to break camp and be mobile by zero-six-hundred tomorrow sir. Congratulations, sir.”
He heard the tread of heavy boots on the floor of the tent, and stiffened as he heard the tent flaps open. From his vantagepoint, he could see the captains shadow on the ground at the entrance to the tent. There was a shrill whistle, and Alec watched as a canomutant soldier approached the tent and saluted.
“Private, I want you to find Sergeant Collins and bring him here. I want to speak to him.”
“Understood, sir.” Grunted the mutant, then stopped and sniffed. Alec gripped his pistol tighter. He felt the fur rise on the back of his neck.
“What is it?” Asked the Captain.
“I don’t know sir.” Grunted the mutant. “I thought I smelled something nearby.”
Alec was already slinking backwards away from the tent.
The mutant rounded the corner of the tent and lowered his head a little.
He sniffed, looked around, sniffed again and began creeping along the trail
Alec had taken. A few yards away, Alec heard the Captain rush back inside
the tent and pick up the radio.
“This is Captain Tehan, I need a strike team to assemble in front of the DCC ASAP. Possible intruder in the camp, I repeat, possible intruder in the camp.”
Alec scurried away to the cover of a large packing crate. Close by, he could hear the hushed whistling of the mutant’s breath. He crawled to the end of the crate and looked around it, searching for a way out of the camp. Already a small squad of men and canomutants was making its way hurriedly towards the DCC tent he had been listening outside. He swore under his breath, and stood up, making ready to shoot his way out. Alec was surprised to find the mutant standing directly in front of him! He raised his arm to level the pistol, but the mutant snatched his arm in a vice-like grip, and twisted the pistol from his hand. Alec winced in pain, and looked up at the ugly, drooling visage of the mutant. The mutant grinned, and before Alec could reach for any of his other weapons, the mutant spun him around and pinned him against the crate by his shoulder. He let out a high pitched whistle and aimed the pistol at Alec’s head. Without waiting, he pulled the trigger.
The trigger slid back with a quiet click, but fired no shot.
The mutant frowned, looked at the pistol, then pulled the trigger again.
“Aww! No bullets!” Chirped Alec. The mutant pulled the trigger a few
more times, then reached for his own weapon. Alec saw his chance. He seized
the barrel of the mutant’s gun, and released a powerful electric charge
through his palm. The electricity coursed up the metal weapon, through
the body of the mutant, and was dispersed through its feet into the ground.
The mutant staggered and flopped as the shock shorted out his nervous system
and singed his fur.
“You see, you have to charge it first, and I’m the only one who can do that.” Said Alec nonchalantly, snatching back his pistol from the mutant and sending another electric charge into the grip of the pistol. He released the barrel of the mutants gun and watched him drop to the ground, twitching, unconscious, but alive.
The whistle the mutant had given had been a signal to the strike team. Already Alec could hear them running. He pulled and charged his second pistol, and charged out from behind the crate, into the tent-city. No sooner had he stepped foot out from behind cover than the team opened fire. Bullets and laser blasts tore through the air like angry bees, and Alec returned fire. He wasn’t sure if he’d hit anyone, he was too busy running. A laser blast grazed his leg, but the searing pain was enough to make him cry out. As he ran through the tent-city, more soldiers were coming out of the tents, some of who were armed. As one of them shouldered his rifle, ready to shoot, Alec leapt into the air and landed kick to the soldier’s chest, sending him sprawling. He skidded around a corner and ran turned to snap off a few shots at his pursuers before finally reaching the perimeter of the camp, and the relative safety of the dark.
DJ and the sentry heard the gunshots at the same time. The sentry immediately
ran to where the action was. For a moment DJ was shocked, then he grabbed
the runner by his shirt, threw him out of the back of the truck, then leapt
out himself, hoisted the runner over his shoulder, and scampered off into
the darkness. The gunfight continued behind him.
“What’s he gotten himself into now?” DJ thought out loud.
DJ dropped the runner in an unceremonious heap at the foot of a large tree. He groaned a little, but DJ didn’t hear. The sounds of gunfire had subsided a little, but still DJ wasn’t taking any chances. He drew his gun, aimed at the ground under the truck, and fired a single shot. The diesel on the ground under the truck ignited, burned for a second, then exploded into a raging inferno as the last of the fuel in the truck’s tanks ignited spectacularly. Nodding in satisfaction, DJ picked up the runner again, and continued into the blackness of the woods.
Alec slapped the wound on his leg, then switched on the cameleoline of his bodysuit. The sensors in the suit read the colors and textures of the surrounding terrain then changed the color of the suit to match. His outline faded into the darkness, and he began to limp and crawl back up the hill to the regrouping area. When he had reached a safe distance, he stopped for a moment to reach into his web gear and take out a can of healing spray. As he sprayed his wound, the pain was instantly numbed. Breathing a sigh of relief, he put on his night-vision goggles and looked back down the hill. The strike team was spread out, searching the woods for him. Some of the canine members of the team were down on all fours, sniffing the ground. Alec knew it was only a matter of time before they picked up his scent and began to track him. He changed course, intending to take a long route back to the regrouping area.
DJ waited impatiently by his truck, hoping that Alec would make it back safely, but at the same time slightly angry that the supposed ‘stealth’ mission had gone awry. The runner lay in the bed of the truck, still tied, but now blindfolded also. DJ had replaced his rough bindings with zip ties upon reaching the regrouping area. He realized that he had been rough with the runner. So rough, in fact, that he now appeared unconscious.
A rustle in the undergrowth caught DJ’s attention and he wheeled round,
pistol at the ready.
“Don’t shoot me!” Hissed Alec, stumbling into view and switching off his camelioline. As his image became clear, DJ noticed he was injured. Without speaking, he helped Alec into the truck and started the engine. As they drove away, Alec began to apply a dressing to the wound on his leg.
“What the hell happened back there?” Asked DJ, obviously irritated.
“I got shot.”
“I can see that!” snapped DJ “That’s not what I’m talking about and you know it! I mean why the gunfight?”
Alec shrugged. “I dunno. Some dumb canomutant smelled me and called in the cavalry.”
DJ snorted; a mix between disgust and irritation.
“Whaddya want?” Alec looked over at him, beginning to get angry himself. “You can’t control every variable, DJ. Sometimes crap happens, you get me?”
DJ sensed the anger in his voice. “Well, we should be able to get some information from that guy.” He jerked a thumb over his shoulder at the runner, still tied up in the bed of the truck.
Alec looked. “Good. Get to a safe distance and stop. I’ll deal with him.”
“One more thing.” This from DJ. “They got Azelin and Alethia.”
“I’m sure of it. Something I overheard back in the camp.”
Alec cursed loudly. He thumped the armrest, then looked back at DJ with a wicked look in his eye. “I know exactly what to do to this guy.”
Cold water splashed the runner’s face and he snapped his head back and
forth, shaking drops onto Alec and DJ. He was blindfolded, so he saw nothing,
and when he tried to move, he discovered he was still bound. Behind his
back he felt the roughness of a tree trunk. He vainly lifted his head,
trying to see under the blindfold that covered his eyes.
“Welcome back online.” Said Alec, his voice cold. DJ went back to the truck, and as Alec spoke, he siphoned diesel from the front gas tank on his truck, into a paper cup.
“So you must be a messenger. An errand boy of some kind, right?” Alec crouched in front of the runner. “You must have all kinds of information.”
“Information we need.” Said DJ, handing the cup of diesel to Alec and crouching next to him.
“You know I can only give you name, rank and service number.” Muttered the runner, still slightly groggy.
“No, I don’t much care about any of that.” Said Alec. “The information we need isn’t about you.”
“What were you doing back there? What’s with the little paramilitary operation?” Asked DJ.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Answered the runner.
“Sure you do.”
“My name is private first class James Cartwright. Five-four-two, Three-seven..”
“No, I didn’t ask you that, I said I wanted to know what you were doing back there, or more specifically, what your friends wanted with the two mutant dogs they captured earlier. Well, I use the word friends very loosely. You see they stopped looking for you pretty quickly. I wouldn’t really call them friends.” Alec interrupted Cartwright, the runner, in mid-sentence.
DJ shook his head. “No, they’re not what I’d call friends. Not really even co-workers, or comrades in arms. Just some bums who ditched you at the drop of a dime.”
“Come on,” Said Alec, you’re not doing yourself, or them any favors by keeping clamped shut. Just tell us what we need to know, and you can go on your merry way.”
“You’re Road Rovers. I know you’re Road Rovers. If you’re supposed to be so damned smart, why don’t you figure it out yourselves?” Cartwright was trying hard to be a tough nut to crack.
“Whoever said we were Road Rovers?” Asked Alec. “There are so many mutant Cano’s these days, we could work for anyone.”
“You’re Road Rovers. I’m not telling you jack squat!” Cartwright grinned. “You may as well let me go, because questioning me won’t get you any further.”
Alec shook his head and took his canteen from his web belt. “If we were Road Rovers, would we do this?” He held the cup of diesel under Cartwright’s nose, and slowly poured water over Cartwright’s head.
Cartwright sniffed, and his nasal passages were stung and burned as
he inhaled the vapors of the diesel. A cold liquid splashed down his face,
and soaked his clothes. All he could smell was the volatile gasses coming
from the diesel. His head swam and he went dizzy. Alec handed the cup to
DJ, who waved it again under Cartwright’s nose. He coughed a little and
his head lolled from side to side.
“Hey, careful with the gas, mate! We don’t want to get too much of it on him!” chided Alec, pouring more water down Cartwright’s face. It isn’t going to take that much to do the job!
Cartwright struggled to think what they could be up to. Were they drenching him with gasoline?
“Man, those vapors are strong.” DJ muttered, waving the cup under Cartwright’s nose once more.
“So, anyway, we’re not Road Rovers. Do you want to tell us what you want with the two Canosapiens you captured? Where are they being held?”
Cartwright struggled against the thin rope securing him to the tree. “Go to hell!” He hissed, throwing himself forwards. “You’ll have to kill me!”
“This guy is being difficult.” Said Alec. “You want to have a cigarette while he thinks about it?” He reached into the pocket of his bodysuit and pulled out a pack of cigarettes.
“Got a light?”
DJ handed Alec an old zippo lighter, then waved the cup under Cartwright’s nose once more. Cartwright caught another whiff of the fumes, then heard Alec flick the lighter open. As soon as he heard the distinctive clunk of the lighter opening, he thought he realized what Alec intended to do. Burn him alive!
Cartwright struggled and thrashed against the bindings, throwing himself about until the ropes cut into his wrists. He screamed and pleaded with Alec, begging him not to burn him, Alec let him tire himself out while he smoked the cigarette. Every so often, DJ would hold the cup close to his face, to let him smell what he thought was drenching him.
After a few minutes, Alec leaned forwards again.
“Now, you know I mean business. Do you want to talk to me now?
“We’re mercenaries, we were hired to capture a mutant dog for a scientist up north! He hired us as a private army in case we ran into the Road Rovers, or any resistance. They captured the mark with another dog in some motel along route 97! They’re taking them north to the base! That’s all I know I’m just a grunt, a freaking nobody! I was filling in for someone! I’m nobody! That’s all I know!” Cartwright was in tears.
“What scientist?” Asked DJ.
“His name is Petrovitch, I don’t know his first name!”
“Where is his base?”
“I don’t know, somewhere in Colorado!” Cartwright collapsed and sobbed. “Please don’t kill me. I got a family in Florida.”
DJ looked at Alec. Alec took a final drag on his cigarette and stubbed it out. DJ reached behind the tree and cut Cartwright’s bindings.
“You just did them a big favor.” Said Alec. “Now get the hell out of here.”
DJ and Alec stood and started back towards the truck. Behind them, Cartwright
stood and pulled the blindfold from his eyes. He blinked and looked about.
He saw the siphon hose in the gas tank of the truck, the cup in DJ’s hand.
He saw Alec putting away his canteen. He realized he’d been fooled. He
took one angry step towards Alec and DJ. Alec pulled his pistol and fired
a shot behind him, without looking. The laser blast sizzled past Cartwright’s
“Family, in Florida, remember?” Said Alec, without turning around.
Cartwright was already running away.
DJ watched him run off into the forest, then turned back to Alec.
“What do you suppose is going on? A scientist, who wants to capture a certain Canosapien, so he hires some mercs to be his private army, sends them after the canosapien? Who is this certain canosapien? Is it Alethia? Or is it Azelin?”
Alec looked at the ground. “I don’t know. It’s possible, and I’m sure it’s true. I don’t know who this canosapien they’re looking for is, but whoever it is, they have already caught them. We have to track those mercenaries, and find out where they’re being taken. If we can’t take out their convoy and bust out our teammates, we have to get backup and take out the HQ.” He looked up at DJ and DJ saw there was genuine worry in his eyes. “I have to level with you, DJ.” Alec continued. “I don’t like this one bit. This, as they say, is where the plot thickens, and I don’t like how thick this is getting. I hate to say it, but we may be in over our heads.”
DJ studied a map of Colorado, while Alec summoned the Vector.
Shortly it landed in the clearing, and DJ brought his map over as Alec
made some fresh coffee, then stowed his gear in the car’s ridiculously
small cargo space. DJ asked the computer to display a map of the area,
showing where the camp had been. He located the area on his map, and together
they decided on a likely route that the convoy might have taken. After
the raid, it was very likely that the mercenaries would have broken camp
early and left the area.
“Computer, if the mercenaries left the camp area one hour after the fight, and traveled at approximately 55 miles per hour, what radius area could they be in?” Alec asked. The computer superimposed a red circle over the map on the HUD
“Ok, now what is the range of the drone, from this area?” The computer obliged Alec by superimposing a smaller green circle over the red one.
“That’s a lot of land.” Said DJ, studying the area on the map. Maybe have your drone stick to roads that the convoy would be likely to take?
Alec thought for a few minutes, then leaned back, with a thoughtful look on his face.
“How about we do this: We’ll divide the area in half, and have the drone take one half of the circle. It will search the roads on that half, and you and I will take the vector and search the other half of the roads. That way we’re more likely to get the entire area covered.”
DJ looked back at the map and nodded. He stared intently at the image for a few minutes, then stabbed at one half of the circle with his finger.
“We’ll take this half.”
Alec looked at DJ with a puzzled expression, then looked at the image again. “Why that half?”
“I have a feeling they’re in that half.”
Alec’s expression became even more puzzled. “What makes you so sure?” He scrutinized the map image, trying to see what he thought he had missed.
“I’m a dog. I know who has treats in his pockets.” DJ grinned, despite his worry, then stared back at the map.
Alec shook his head. “No, I’m serious. How do you know?”
DJ didn’t look up.
“I can’t tell you all my secrets, mate.” He said in a poor imitation of Alec’s Australian accent.
“Touché” Alec shrugged.
Alethia was just beginning to come round. She opened her eyes groggily and sat up. Her wrists were cuffed behind her, and her ankles were shackled with irons that would allow her only enough movement to walk, could she stand. Her head pounded with the worst headache she had ever known. A side effect of the gas, she guessed. Azelin lay across from her, also bound. She guessed they were in the back of a van, or a similar vehicle. It was dark, save for the single dome light in the roof of the van. It was dark, depressing and cold. The vehicle was in motion. If they had not been in the cold darkness of the van, the hum of the engine and gentle sway would have been relaxing. She shivered a little. For the briefest of moments, she felt some animosity towards Azelin, as though he had gotten her into this situation. The thoughts barely had time to form before she chased them from her mind. Alethia looked back at Azelin, where he lay with his back towards her. She tried to shuffle across the floor of the van, to maybe try and prop his head up somehow. Eventually, she managed to wriggle so that she was sitting near him and she was able, with a little effort, to slide her legs under his head. It wouldn’t be very comfortable if he had been awake, but it was the best she could do, right now.
Physically, Azelin was deeply unconscious. His body lolled and rolled
a little on the hard steel floor of the vehicle they were in. He felt nothing,
not even the warmth of Alethia’s lower legs as she slid them under his
head and neck. Azelin’s mind, however, was another story. From the blackness
of unconsciousness, there grew a dim light. For a moment Azelin could see
it, then it flickered out. Mentally, Azelin gritted his teeth, and raged
against the prison that was binding him. Suddenly there was a flash. Azelin
felt himself raise his hand to shield his eyes. He lowered his hand, amazed
that he was able to do so.
‘Am I awake?’ he thought.
There was a rumble, and another flash, and Azelin looked around. He was back in the Everspace. He started, and spun around. Once again, all around him were gray storm clouds and wisps of mist, monotone and foreboding. The lightning struck nearby, illuminating the clouds with its yellow-green phosphorescence. He nodded grimly to himself and thought.
‘This place again.’
A voice from behind him caused Azelin to jump around in fright. There was no one to be seen. Azelin remembered the previous times he had been in the Everspace. The mysterious stranger that had spoken to him. Azelin remembered his slightly mocking attitude.
“Why do you not show yourself?” Azelin growled.
A thin wisp of mist snaked upwards from far below. It twisted and writhed as it worked its way nearer. Azelin watched it as it grew up in front of him. Growing and shooting up like a vine. It thickened and seemed to grow denser. Azelin took a step back, half in shock, as the wisp spread out and took on a humanoid shape. Soon it was possible to make out arms, legs and even fingers in the shape, though it was still as insubstantial as smoke. Thunder rumbled in the distance. Suddenly, Azelin threw up his arm as there was a flash of light, and the ghostly figure began to glow. He lowered his hand and looked at the figure. It still had the same insubstantial, misty outline, but it glowed with an intense light.
“See me now!” The voice of the Other whistled in Azelin’s ears.
Azelin looked hard at the ghostly apparition before him. When he looked
clearly, he could see the outline of the thing quite clearly. It seemed
to be wearing a robe of some kind, but he could never see a face. The glow
was quite intense in that area.
“What are you?” Asked Azelin. “Are you an angel?”
The Other chuckled quietly to itself. “No, No I am not an angel. I am a guide. I am to show you the secrets of this place.”
“Why?” Azelin felt himself asking. “Why me?”
“Because you have been chosen to control it. Your mind is powerful. You have good intentions.”
Azelin had experienced the supernatural before. It could be said that he experienced the supernatural himself, every time he used his gifts. He had traveled beyond death. Yet this felt different. It felt as though the Everspace were part of him. He thought back on his previous encounters with the Other. The voice had been the same, but the voice had been in his mind. Now it was separate, and had a form. He remembered what had been said, the last time he had been here.
“I remember you saying that this place was some kind of viewing area, that I could see things using it?” Azelin had a plan.
“That it is.” The Other said, nodding its head. “Think of it as a kind of astral projection. Though your body may be earthbound, your mind is free to travel, using this place.”
“So I can use the Everspace to go where? Anywhere?”
Azelin tried to wrap his mind around the idea, as the Other continued to speak.
“Think of a place, a location. Anywhere you desire to see. You can go there and observe the goings on. But you may only observe. You can never interact with those places. You may speak to those in the places you see, but only if their minds are open.”
“Open?” Azelin frowned a little.
“If they are sensitive to the thoughts of others.”
Azelin straightened up, and set a resolve in his mind. “I want to see Alethia.” He said, sternly.
“Then see her.”
Clearing his mind, Azelin concentrated on Alethia. He pictured her face in his mind. The way she talked, the way she looked, the way she smelled. He looked up and took a breath. Lightning struck nearby, filling his vision with greenish light. As Azelin watched, the light took on a dirty yellow hue, and narrowed to a circle. A dim circle of dirty yellow light surrounded by dark metal. Azelin realized it was a dome light, in the roof a vehicle.
He looked down from the dome light and peered around him. He gave a
start, when, looking down at his feet, he saw himself. Bound hand and foot,
laid with his head resting on Alethia’s legs. She was looking down at his
body forlornly. He wanted to reach out and touch her, tell her he was ok.
He reached out his hand to touch her hair. His hand looked perfectly solid.
As he reached out, she gave a start, and looked up, straight into his eyes.
She stared hard at him for a moment, then looked down at Azelin’s body.
Azelin remembered what the other had said about people who were ‘sensitive
to the thoughts of others’. He concentrated on her, and spoke.
In an instant Azelin felt himself pulled out of the back of the van. It happened so quickly that it made his ‘body’ tingle. He shook his head and looked around himself again. He was standing in the middle of a road, a simple two-lane highway. There were trees on either side of the road, as though the road was winding through a forest. In front of him, the van was driving away. He took a step, to run after it, but knew he could not catch up. Upset, and feeling a little hopeless, he was about to will himself back to the Everspace, when he saw a sign in the trees to his right. It read ‘East hawthorn: 2mi’ Azelin grinned, and changed his plan.
According to the Other, he did not physically go to the places he visited
via the Everspace. Still, he could hear the wind in the trees, and he could
feel the cold. He reached out and tried to touch the trunk of a nearby
tree. His fingers passed into the tree trunk as if it was not there at
all. It was evidently impossible for him to interact with an Everspace
environment. He looked back at the road sign, and narrowed his eyes.
‘Ok DJ, where are you?’ He thought.
The darkness of the roadside suddenly became an all-consuming blackness. There was a strange feeling of emptiness that lasted for a split second. As though he suddenly were nowhere. There was silence, and then he could feel the wind again. Azelin looked around and found he was standing in a clearing. To his right was a sleek black sports car, gull-wing doors open. An eerie light came from inside the car. As Azelin came closer, he could see Alec and DJ sitting inside it, staring at a map that was projected in red and green on the inside of the vehicles windshield. Their conversation was in low, hushed tones. Azelin neared the car and listened to what was being said. Alec was leaning back in his seat, speaking.
“How about we do this: We’ll divide the area in half, and have the drone take one half of the circle. It will search the roads on that half, and you and I will take the vector and search the other half of the roads. That way we’re more likely to get the entire area covered.”
DJ looked at the map and nodded. Azelin looked at the map, too. He searched
for the name he had seen on the road sign. Near the edge of the red circle
on the map, he saw the name:
“That’s it DJ, East hawthorn. That’s where they are right now!” Azelin whispered. He felt the tension inside him rising.
DJ reached out and pointed to the map, mere inches away from the name of the town.
“We’ll take this half.” He said.
Azelin stood up, nodding slowly. It had worked. He could expect a rescue any time now. He’d wake up soon. Now that they knew the area in which to look, it was only a matter of time. Without warning, a feeling of nausea overcame Azelin. He staggered a little, blinked his eyes, and found himself back in the Everspace.
“What happened?” He asked of no one in particular.
“I don’t know.” It was the voice of the Other. “You are new to this. Don’t expect to be able to sustain a projection for a long time.”
Azelin clutched his head. He knew he was going to have the queen mother of all headaches when he woke up.
“I tried to talk to Alethia.” He said. “It didn’t work.”
Azelin sensed the nod of the Other. “I know. Perhaps her mind wasn’t open.”
Azelin sighed but was soon comforted by the Other.
“Don’t worry about it. There’s still time. Your brain has to get used to using the Everspace.”
Azelin was puzzled for a moment. “You mean my mind has to get used to it?”
Again, the nod of the Other.
“Yes, your mind.”
Azelin was about to continue the conversation, when his head began to
spin. He squeezed his eyes closed and clutched his head in his hands. When
he opened his eyes, Alethia was looking down at him in concern.
“Azelin!” She sounded relieved.
“Al.” Azelin whispered. “How long was I out?”
I’m not sure. At least a couple hours since I’ve been awake. I can’t tell really.
Azelin struggled to sit up. His head was pounding. “Do you know where they’re taking us?”
Alethia shook her head. Azelin was afraid to shake his.
Al, I need to ask you something. You are mildly telepathic, aren’t you?
Alethia looked confused, then she nodded.
“I need you to do something for me. I need you to keep your mind open from now on. I need to be able to try and communicate with you, in case something happens.
Alethia looked shocked. Under her white fur, Azelin was sure she was ashen.
“That was you back there, wasn’t it. The voice I heard.”
Azelin nodded painfully. “Yes.”
Alethia smiled a little. “I knew it was you.”
“I can’t explain what happened, Alethia.” Azelin said, his voice strangely deep and mysterious. “I’m not even sure of it myself yet. Once I know, however, I will show you. I don’t know where we’re going, and I don’t know what these people want with us, but I have a feeling it has something to do with the old Perris park. I will need to be able to talk to you if something happens and we get separated. That is why I am asking you to leave your mind open to me.”
Alethia nodded in agreement. “Ok. I’ll do it.”
She heard Azelin sigh, and looked over at him.
“For what it’s worth, I’m sorry.” He whispered.
“Sorry for what?”
“For getting you into this mess. I had no idea that, when I was called here to help you that we’d end up in a situation like this. If I could see the future, I wouldn’t have come.” He hung his head and sighed deeply.
“Hey.” Azelin felt Alethia nudge against him. He looked over at her and she continued. “We’re trying to help you now, remember? We’ll get out of this, and we’ll finish what we set out to do. I promise you.”
Azelin smiled then his smile turned to a look of worry as the van began to slow down. Alethia looked at him, similarly worried. The van stopped and the rear doors opened. Two soldiers stood there, with weapons pointed at them, as two more reached into the back of the van and pulled them out, and to their feet. Azelin blinked in the sudden brightness. They were in a large garage or hangar, steel beams supported the walls and roof, and the floor was concrete. At the end of the hangar, about 20 yards away, was a wall, it had several sets of double doors in it, and high above the doors, near the ceiling, were a set of dark windows. Azelin felt his eyes drawn to the windows, as though someone was watching him through them.
To his right, The soldiers were leading Alethia towards a set of double
doors. He felt a push behind him, and started to stumble in the same direction.
Alethia tripped and fell to her knees. Immediately a soldier grabbed her
hair and yanked her painfully to her feet. Azelin saw this and gave a yell.
“Hey! Don’t you touch her!”
Azelin felt a blow to the back of his head. He stumbled a little and turned around.
“You keep your mouth shut!” Shouted the soldier, raising the butt of his rifle for another strike. Azelin snarled viciously and the soldier hit his muzzle with the rifle. Azelin fell to his knees.
“Azelin!” Alethia gasped, taking a step towards him. Her captor grabbed her shirt and yanked her back.
Looking over at her, and tasting the copper tang of blood in his mouth, Azelin nodded.
“Remember what I said!” he shouted. As soon as he spoke, the soldier hit him again. Azelin collapsed to his side and looked towards the doors as the dragged Alethia through them. As they left, a man in a white lab coat ran in. He stopped next to Azelin. There was a sharp pain in his neck, and Azelin passed out.
DJ tapped his fingers on the dashboard of the vector and looked down at the ground far below him. Alec was flying a search pattern over the area DJ had suggested. It was night, and there was little to be seen. The occasional vehicle far below them on the roads, a few clouds and some very distant stars. DJ was used to flying, but he was nervous in the vector. He had a natural distrust of overly complicated electronic devices, and the vector was full of them. Yes, it was a car, and DJ wasn’t afraid of cars, but the vector contained, to his knowledge, nothing that DJ was familiar with, apart from a pair of military turbine engines. It was unnerving to be surrounded by a machine that spent most of its time under the control of a computer. He wondered if the electrical system had ever failed in it. At a height like this, that would prove to be fatal, to say the least. DJ closed his eyes and tried not to think about it. He had seen some of Alec’s creations fail spectacularly. DJ groaned and wished, not for the first time, that he were behind the wheel of the Diesel Rover.
Alec looked over at DJ.
“Claustrophobic?” He asked, casually.
DJ kept his eyes closed but shook his head.
Alec reached around behind DJ’s seat and took out some cans of soda. He handed one to DJ, and then opened one himself. DJ opened his and drank deeply. He tried to lighten the mood by asking a simple question.
“Why did you become a Road Rover?”
Alec didn’t look, but switched on the autopilot and reclined his seat. DJ watched him intently.
“Because I’m lucky.” Alec said, simply. DJ thought he as avoiding the question, and was about to change the subject when Alec continued. “The bloke who held the contract to create RRMC and the original vehicles was my person. Jason Felix. I guess he was an old government pal of Shepherds. He did a lot of classified construction for the US military. He built some of the secret bases and so forth.”
“Secret bases?” Asked DJ “You mean like area 51 and so forth?”
Alec looked at DJ with an amused expression. “I said ‘secret bases’. Groom Lake is hardly secret. That place is as well known as Disneyland!”
DJ could see his logic. Alec continued. “Well, he had connections at Lockheed, McDonnell-Douglas, and a few other places. He helped get the first vehicles built. Plus his company built RRMC.”
“I’d always wondered where it came from.” Said DJ.
“Well, Shepherd could hardly build it himself!” Alec snorted. “So, like I said. Jayce was in charge of all that stuff. After it was all done, and the original team was formed, he used to take me there when he visited Shepherd. I used to love sniffing around there, running through the empty halls, snooping around the hangars and so forth. It was great back in those days. There were just the original five Rovers. The place was deserted! These days you can’t turn around in one place without bumping into some spod you’ve never met before.” Alec took a drink, then continued. “After Jayce died, he left me to Shepherd in his will. Shepherd became my person, and I went to live there. I guess after a while Shep just got tired of me running around and getting underfoot. He put me through the transdogmafier and I guess I was less of a handful. I took to hanging around Exile when he was working on the vehicles. I don’t know why, but I just understood them. I knew what made them tick. So I started working with him, fixing them and so forth. Then Tanith showed up. He crashed his ship in a desert in Mexico. As soon as the Rovers took him back to RRMC, I knew there was something different about him. I knew that he was a…” Alec’s voice tailed off.
“A cyborg?” asked DJ.
“Yeah. He’s quite amazing. A metal endoskeleton, controlled by an organic brain, and covered by living tissue. He’s alive, but he’s over eighty percent artificial. It’s the most incredible thing you’ve ever seen. Whatever reality he came from must have some awesome stuff! Anyway, I took to hanging around with him. I helped him fix his ship, learned some of the technology he brought with him. That’s when I approached Shepherd with the idea of starting a research and development department. I convinced him that we should be making our own weapons and equipment. He took to the idea and it became my baby. I learned everything I could about everything I could learn about. Tanith taught me a bunch of stuff, Exile did, and I read. I guess I must have a talent for it. Everyone seems to think I’m a miracle worker now.”
“Well, you did build this car with your bare hands.” DJ complimented. “What about your power? Your electro-thingy you do?”
Alec finished his drink, belched and tossed the can behind DJ’s seat. “Electrokinesis. I have no idea. I just found out I could do it one day. It saves me a lot of batteries.” He grinned. “And it’s good for a lighter. Speaking of which..” He reached into his coat pocket, took out a cigarette and put it in his mouth. He held up his hand, formed a high-energy spark between his finger and thumb, lit the cigarette and blew a smoke ring.
DJ shook his head. “There is one other thing I’ve been meaning to ask you.”
“What’s that?” Alec asked, cocking an ‘eyebrow’.
“Why do you have an Australian accent if you’re an American dog?”
“We lived in Australia, Jayce and me. He was loaded, and when you’re loaded, you can live anywhere you want. The guy owned two private jets, DJ. He never had to worry about customs, or anything. You’d think Jayce sweated money. Anyway, he bought me as a pet for his son.”
“The one who died?” DJ was quiet.
Alec nodded and took a deep drag on his cigarette. “Yeah. The one who died. I guess after the original Alec died, he kept me around. Almost like he thought his son was living on through me.” He sighed and tapped the ash from the cigarette into the ashtray between the seats. “So, I found myself heading up the R&D department, building a lot of home projects, and generally being bored. I did some training and ran a few missions so eventually Shepherd decided I should be on a team. Can’t say I’m complaining.”
“Do you and Cobber ever hang out?”
“Cobb? He’s a great guy!” Alec laughed. “He always speaks his mind, and he’s almost always right. He’s a riot!”
DJ shared the laugh with him, and smiled. “You’re a good guy, Alec. I’m glad to have you as a friend.”
Alec looked amused. “Come on mate, I’m getting misty now!” He wiped an imaginary tear from his eye and laughed. His laugh was soon interrupted, by a beeping from the dashboard.
“What’s that?” DJ sounded very worried.
“Scanners picked up a possible military vehicle below us. Hold on, I’ll take her in for a closer look.” Alec gripped the butt of the cigarette between his teeth and switched off the autopilot. He brought the car to a lower altitude, above and to the rear of the target vehicle. DJ looked out of his window and frowned.
“I’m not sure if it’s a military truck or not. I can’t see properly.”
Alec brought the car lower still, and moved off to the side of the truck. DJ looked again.
“Yeah, looks like a military truck. Better get higher up.”
“No worries, mate!” Grinned Alec. “They can’t see us. I’ve got the cloak on.”
The car suddenly rocked violently and DJ hit his head on the window.
“They’re shooting at us!”
The canvas on the back of the truck was thrown back and three canomutant soldiers all armed with heavy laser rifles began to fire volleys at the vector. Alec yanked back on the column and the vector went into a steep climb. Ruby-red beams of light zipped past the car and DJ threw himself back into his seat.
“You were saying?”
Suddenly there was a thump, and the feeling of acceleration dwindled to nothing. A dozen red lights flashed into life on the dashboard. Alec invented two new curse words.
“We’re losing altitude!” He yelled, wrenching the column about, trying to level the car. DJ saw the ground loom up, menacingly. He wished, again, that he were in the Diesel Rover.
Alec strained, pulling back on the column and gritting his teeth. There was another thump, and the car’s attitude changed again. Alec gritted his teeth, but succeeded only in biting his cigarette in half. The lit end dropped into his lap, and he cursed again. DJ watched in a mixture of horror, surprise and amusement as Alec tried to pull back on the column with one hand, while trying to flick the lit cigarette off his seat with the other. The ground loomed again, and DJ gritted his teeth.
“It’s a good thing I’m not a smoker.” He thought.
A thin wisp of smoke curled up from Alec’s crotch.
The pandemonium in the car reached a fever point as Alec hooked his foot around the column, and scrabbled behind his seat. He found his thermos, sat back down, uncapped the flask, and poured the contents of the thermos into his lap. A brief hiss signaled the end of the cigarette.
Then Alec smelled coffee. Piping hot coffee. Piping hot coffee that covered his loins.
From next to him, Alec could hear the occasional low groans of DJ as he recited prayers from several major religions. Grimacing against the pain, Alec finally wrestled the vector under control, then reached back behind the seat and found a can of soda. He popped it open with one hand and poured the contents of the can over his coffee-scalded thighs.
The vector landed with a loud thump. After the cab had depressurized,
Alec climbed painfully from the car, followed by DJ, who had only just
opened his eyes. Together they assessed the damage. According to the computer,
they had taken a hit to the main anti-gravity drive unit. The backup had
been sufficient to land the car, but the flight system was completely shot
to hell. From where they stood, the car appeared undamaged. It was still
driveable, but if it would ever fly again was questionable.
“Is there any damage to the turbine drive system, steering or brakes?” Alec asked out loud, limping back to the driver’s side door and leaning in.
“No, we’re still driveable.” Said the computer in a surprisingly monotone voice. DJ looked at Alec.
“Is there something wrong with the AI?”
“No, It’s just depressed.” Alec replied, dabbing his thighs with an old rag. DJ noticed the large wet patch from the coffee and soda.
“Got a little scary, didn’t it.” He said, raising an eyebrow. Alec pretended not to hear.
DJ changed the subject. This was the time to be serious, he decided. “How are we gonna catch them?”
“We’ll just drive. We’re still a dozen times faster than they are. They shouldn’t be too hard to find.” Alec picked the sodden remains of his cigarette from the driver’s seat and draped the towel over the coffee and soda soaked upholstery.
“Computer, can you get the drone to tail that truck?” Asked DJ, feeling a little silly for talking to a computer.
“Excuse me, Alec, but who the hell is this?” The computer chirped up.
“You know bloody well who it is!” Snapped Alec. “Now do it!”
The computer grumbled for a moment then obliged DJ. By the time they climbed into the car and set off, they saw a blur overhead as the drone sped past them on its way.
“Don’t you think it would be a good idea to hang back a little this
time?” DJ said. “I mean, they think they took us out. Let’s just let the
drone follow them, we’ll stay back a ways. When they get where they’re
going, we’ll call for the cavalry.”
“I was going to suggest that.”
A few minutes went by in silence. Then DJ piped up.
“Who do you think they are?”
“The people who hired these mercs?” Alec looked over at DJ.
“Dogstar. Either that or some bastard child of Dogstar.” Alec raised his lip in anger. “Bad news bears, no matter how you look at it.”
DJ clenched his fist. “It can’t be Dogstar. They’re all either dead or in prison. It can’t be.”
Inside, he knew it was a possibility. He just didn’t want to admit to himself that it was possible that Alethia was in the hands of anyone who had anything to do with Dogstar. She’d suffered too much at the hands of her Dogstar captors, many years ago. It was bad enough that in her desire to help Azelin, she’d gotten caught. If Dogstar had caught her again, DJ didn’t want to think about it.
“You know Shepherd is going to be plenty upset about this.” Alec was saying. DJ just nodded.
“I don’t know how we’re going to explain this to him, or Hunter.”
The miles passed quickly. DJ kept his eye on the heads-up display on the windshield of the vector, watching the position of the drone. Alec had sent it ahead, to find the mercenary truck. Once they had located it, they would accelerate to tail the truck, following it to its final destination. DJ could feel the tension in the air. They both were tired, on edge, worried and angry. A time or two DJ considered asking Alec for one of his cigarettes. Alec almost chain-smoked the entire time of the pursuit. DJ supposed it was his way of dealing with the stress.
After almost an hour, DJ was extremely worried. “Shouldn’t the drone
have caught them by now?” He asked. Alec didn’t reply.
Alec flicked the butt of his cigarette out of the window and sighed. “Yes.”
DJ chewed the inside of his mouth, and Alec continued. “At their speed, we should have caught up to them about thirty minutes ago. I don’t know what’s wrong. The drone hasn’t found anyone on the road ahead, and there have been no turnoffs. I just don’t get it.”
“Stop the car.” DJ said, quietly. Alec looked questioningly at him for a moment, then pulled the vector off to the side of the road.
“We’ve failed.” DJ sighed. “We’ve lost them.”
Despite his own emotions, Alec nodded in agreement. “Plan B?”
DJ shook his head. “That truck was our only means of tracking them. We’ve lost the truck, we’ve lost them.”
Alec opened the driver’s door of the vector and got out. He arched his back, popping it, then leaned into the interior of the car.
“Computer, bring the drone back.”
DJ opened his door and got out, also. He stared down the tarmac in front of him and cursed under his breath. For several long minutes he stared at the road, as if the road itself would tell him where to go. He’d seen literally hundreds of thousands of miles of road in his life and they had all, for the most part been friendly and inviting. This road was different. It was keeping a secret from him, but he knew that somehow, the lonely, gray thing was trying to tell him something. In a daze, he knelt down and placed the palm of his hand on the surface of the road. Alec looked on, puzzled. After a minute or two, DJ stood up. Inside him, he felt a peace, a knowledge that the answer would come. The cold, black and gray road could tell him nothing by touch, but some kind of strange omnipotence was at work inside his mind, and he felt assured that his friends would find a way to get a message to him somehow.
“It’s ok” He mumbled, turning to Alec. “Let’s go back to RRMC. They’ll
let us know where they are.”
Alec opened one eye wide in incredulity. “You’re giving up?”
DJ shook his head. “No, we’re just going home. Our buddies are fine for now, and they’ll let us know where they are. Trust me.” He brushed the palm of his hand off on his jeans and got back into the vector. Alec looked on in confusion. His thoughts were disturbed by the quiet hum of the drone as it flew in. A small hatch opened in the trunk of the vector and the drone docked. As the hatch buzzed closed, Alec heard DJ from inside the cockpit of the vector.
“Come on dude, let’s go. We’ll be back.”
Azelin opened his eyes and looked about him, groggily. The world was blurry, white and disorientating. After his vision cleared a little, he examined the place he was in. It was a small room, maybe twenty by thirty feet. The floor, walls and ceiling were white. White tiles on the floor, white paint on the walls, and white tiles on the ceiling. There was a counter against the wall to his right, with several items of laboratory equipment on it. A man in a lab coat was working at the counter, and an armed mercenary soldier stood to his left, presumably as security. There was a doorway in the wall in front of him, with a white door. The lights in the room seemed to be turned up so bright that they hurt his eyes. Everything was white, glowing. Azelin blinked a few times and shook his head. His temples pounded with incredible pain. When Azelin tried to move, he found he was restrained to a chair by metal cuffs around his ankles, a belt around his waist and, curiously, metal sleeves that tightly covered his hands and forearms, making movement of his hands impossible. Upon examining the sleeves, Azelin noted that they were separate from the chair itself, and the sleeves themselves were strapped to the arms of the chair. He tested the strength of the bindings. They were tight as a vice. Annoyed, Azelin blinked his eyes against the light, and shook his head weakly. His mouth tasted highly toxic, and Azelin was thirstier than he had ever been in his life. He felt despair. There was a sound and he looked up to see the door open, and a man walk in. He looked to be in his early fifties, about six feet tall. He wore black slacks and a white shirt with a badge or pass pinned to it. He had a thin face with a slightly hooked nose, piercing eyes, and black hair. Azelin stared into his eyes, sizing him up as he strode in. There was something odd about him. Something disconnected, far-off.
“Hey there chief.” He said as he walked in. He sounded cocky and overconfident. “You are one tricky SOB to keep up with, you know that?” He leaned down and examined Azelins face, as if looking at a long-lost relative. “I finally get to see you. I’m thrilled.”
“It’ll pass.” Azelin mumbled. He looked at the badge the man was wearing as he leaned down. It had his picture on it, a black magnetic stripe, and his name: Petrovitch, Mark J.
“I’ve been trying to find you for years, do you know that?” Petrovitch was saying. Azelin stared at him hard, trying to contain his anger. “But somehow, you’ve always gotten away. It took a lot of effort to set up this meeting. I suppose we’re lucky to have the information we have about you.” Petrovitch shrugged. “Oh well, you’re here now, that’s all that matters. I’ll let bygones be bygones. So what if you got away before? You’re here now.”
“I wasn’t aware anyone was trying to capture me before. If you couldn’t catch me when I didn’t even know I was being chased, that doesn’t say much for your hired help.” Azelin sneered. A look of anger flashed across Petrovitch’s face.
“Like it matters. You’re going to help me now that you’re here.”
Azelin was almost amused. “Oh? I am, am I? What makes you think that?”
Petrovitch grinned maliciously. “You don’t have a choice.” He turned
and walked towards the door. As he opened the door, he turned to the soldier.
“Take him to a cell when Jones is done.” He stepped out of the door, then turned back a second time.
“Don’t let him touch you.”
The doctor (Azelin assumed he was Jones) approached him and stuck a needle into Azelin’s neck. He didn’t struggle. When the needle was finally withdrawn, Azelin tried to look at Jones. He caught his eye for a moment then Jones quickly looked away. He looked haggard, browbeaten and tired. He had the look of a man who didn’t want to be there. Azelin nodded and allowed him to continue with his work. He took Azelin’s blood pressure, temperature, tested his reactions, general physical health tests. All the while he avoided eye contact and didn’t speak. When the tests were done, The soldier unfastened Azelin’s restraints (except the sleeves, which were left on) and led him out of the room at gunpoint.
They walked for what seemed like hours, along hallways and down stairwells, down and down until they reached a place that appeared to be carved from the living rock of the ground itself. It was a long passageway, with doors on either side of it. Large steel doors with only a small sliding hatch in the center. At the end of the passageway was a room with chairs and a television, possibly a makeshift guardroom. From inside the guardroom came a second soldier, who opened one of the steel doors and pushed Azelin inside. Once inside, he was told to put his arms through the sliding hatch. He did so, and the sleeves were removed from his hands.
As the hatch slid closed and was locked, Azelin looked around his cell. It was small, maybe eight by ten feet, hewn from the rock. There was a metal frame bolted to the wall on one side, with a dirty mattress on it. On a paper plate on the bed was a very frugal mean, consisting of bread, some kind of white meat, and half an apple. A metal antiquated toilet stood in one corner of the room, alongside a metal washbasin. There was a single light bulb in the ceiling that gave the cell some dirty yellow light. The cell smelled damp and musty.
‘Nice’ Azelin thought. ‘Very homely.’
Azelin flexed his cramped fingers, then lay down on the bed and slept. Although his body may have been trapped within the cell, Azelin knew that the walls of the cell could not trap his mind.
It took Azelin a while to get to sleep. When he finally did drop off, he found himself immediately in the Everspace. Inwardly he smiled. He looked around at the swirling clouds and wisps of mist. Then he felt something. A strange, creeping feeling, something that felt similar to claustrophobia. He felt cramped, constricted. Azelin wheeled around and looked all about. The strange, glowing figure of the guide was nowhere to be seen. Suddenly, Azelin felt angry, almost malicious. He scowled and looked about him again, suspiciously. There was nothing to be seen save for the strange, metaphysical dreamscape of the Everspace. Shaking his head and thinking something about paranoia, Azelin concentrated on the hallway outside of the cell, willing himself to be there. Azelin closed and opened his eyes, expecting to see the stone walls of the hallway. Instead there was only rolling, lightning-lit clouds. He closed his eyes again and forced the memory of the hallway into focus. Every detail of the cold, rough-hewn stone passage was crystal clear in his mind’s eye. The cold, sweating walls of living rock, the crudely hung light fixtures, the metal doors that led into the cells. It was all there, in perfect clarity. But still there was the feeling of entrapment, of claustrophobia. Azelin opened his eyes again, but somehow, like a person trying a key in a lock, he knew the door would not open. He was right. He was still surrounded by the Everspace. Inside him, there was a strange sensation, almost a squirming, deep in his mind. Azelin strained against it and steeled his will. He tried to exit the Everspace again, out into the hallway, but again he was flung back into the Everspace as he opened his eyes.
Azelin awoke with a start, looking around him, he found that he was still in the cell. He sat upright and squinted in the dimness of the cell. Anger flared inside him and he leapt to his feet, stepped to the door and pounded on it in frustration. The door clanged and shook, but did not budge.
“That won’t help, pal.”
Azelin froze and listened. He had heard a voice, old and raspy, quiet and strange. It seemed to come from the walls of the cell.
“Who’s there?” Azelin whispered, suspiciously.
There was an answering chuckle that devolved into a hacking cough. “I don’t think that’s important right now.” The voice hushed.
Azelin rolled his eyes a little. He was getting tired of hearing that.
“Are you real, or am I imagining things?” Azelin asked, more of himself than anyone.
Again came the chuckling laugh. “Oh, I’m real enough, pal.”
“Where are you?”
“Don’t you know? Think about it.” The voice replied, followed by a scratching sound coming from the far wall of the cell. Azelin crouched next to the wall and listened.
“You’re in the next cell?” Azelin asked.
“You always were the smarter one.” The cryptic reply was followed by more hacking laughter.
“Do I know you?” Azelin whispered, sitting down near the wall. There was a silence lasting a few minutes, then the voice came back.
“Not exactly, pal. We’ve met, but I doubt you’d remember me. Shame.”
“Why are we here? What do they want from me?”
“They don’t want anything FROM you, it’s more that they want YOU. Ok, maybe they do want something FROM you, in a weird kind of way.” The voice grew quiet and serious as it spoke.
“What do you mean? Why do they want me?” Azelin leaned closer to the wet, nitre-streaked wall.
“Oh, you’ll find out in time, pal. Until then, I’d just go along with them. I know you, and I know you’ll find a way when the time is right. You just gotta outsmart them when..”
The low, raspy voice was cut off in mid sentence by the squeal of metal on metal, followed by a scuffling noise, some muffled shouts, and a noise that sounded like something being dragged across the floor of the neighboring cell. Azelin heard the clang of a door closing out in the hall, and then silence. He listened intently for a few minutes, then spoke up.
“Hello? Are you still there?”
There was no reply.
Azelin hung his head in misery and frustration. He thought about what the stranger had said. It had sounded like he knew Azelin from somewhere. And what had he meant about them not exactly wanting something from him, but wanting him? Azelin tried to wrap his mind around the riddle, but to no avail. His head pounded from stress. Allowing himself a small drink of water from the styrene cup that had accompanied the ‘meal’ left in his cell, Azelin massaged his temples and cracked his neck. He looked back at the bed, which looked strangely inviting. Sleep seemed a good idea, even if it was unlikely that he could really sleep here in this place, not now with all the stresses in his mind. He crawled to the bed and flopped onto it. He felt inexplicably exhausted.
Alethia sat on her bed and worried. Since their arrival, and their separation, she had worried about Azelin almost constantly. The way he was beaten when they took her away did not exactly fill her with confidence about the state of his well being. When they had dragged her away, she had been taken to this cell and told nothing. The cell was quite large, about fifteen feet square, with a tile floor, painted concrete walls and ceiling, an attached bathroom, a bed, desk and chair. She had been fed twice, and had been allowed to walk a section of the outside hallway for exercise (under close guard, of course). Her captors had not said a word to her. There seemed to be no way to get any answers from any of them.
Swinging her legs down from the bed and standing up, Alethia reached for the bottle of water that had accompanied her last meal. The water tasted good, and in the back of her mind, Alethia marveled at how well she was being treated, for a captive. It was a welcome break from the shoving and puling that the mercenaries did. She knew, in her heart, that Azelin was faring far worse than she was. She began to worry about him again. She pictured in her mind Azelin in a cold, dark cell, feeling miserable and lost. Of course, she had no way to know how accurate her imaginings were.
There was a brisk knock at the door and it opened. A man entered, smiling
in an almost apologetic way. He was about six feet tall, wearing a formal,
but functional suit with a badge pinned to it. He looked at her and smiled
“Hello there. We don’t know each other but I’m here to explain what’s happening.” The man extended a hand in greeting. Alethia just stared at it.
“My name is Mark Petrovitch, I’m the director at this facility.” He withdrew his hand, knowing Alethia wouldn’t take it. “I’m sorry you got involved in all this, and I’m truly sorry about the way you were treated by the military portion of this organization. It’s unfortunate that you had to get caught up in this whole mess.”
Alethia looked intently at him and spoke up. “Well, if you’re that sorry, why don’t you let us go?”
Petrovitch’s smile sagged a little. “Well, let me say that this mess isn’t anything to do with you. We know you’re a Road Rover, and we’ll be contacting your organization shortly to arrange your release. It isn’t you we are interested in, after all. It’s your friend, I think he calls himself Azelin these days.”
“What about him?” Alethia was cold.
“Well, I’m sure you know that he’s the result of an experiment. He went AWOL on us a number of years ago and we’ve been trying to arrange his return. He’s..” Petrovitch’s voice tailed off a little. “He’s dangerous.”
“Yes, he ran away from us and joined some kind of anti-government organization. He killed some people, and we’re worried it might happen again. We’ve just been trying to get him back so that we can help him to adjust, you know?”
Alethia stood her ground. “He’s not dangerous. I know him a whole hell of a lot better than you do, and I can tell you that he’s not dangerous at all. He’s just confused about his past.”
“I suppose he told you the whole story about the Truth, didn’t he? About how he helped all these people find peace through this thing he calls the Truth?”
Alethia found herself nodding.
“Well, he didn’t really help anyone. He just thinks he did. In fact, he’s just been living on the streets and in the wilderness. He’s quite insane, unfortunately.”
Alethia shook her head. “You’re full of it. I don’t know what your game is, but you’re not going to get away with it. Azelin does help people, I know people he’s helped. He has a gift you can’t even begin to imagine. Our friends are going to be here soon, and when they do, you’ll have a lot to answer for.” She let the threat hang in the air.
Petrovitch sighed quietly. “Very well. If you wont listen to the facts, you can at least tell us what you know about him. Has he told you where he’s been, what he’s done in the last say, six months?”
“If you know him so well, why don’t you know those answers yourself?” Alethia asked.
“Well” Began Petrovitch “We lost track of him a few months ago and we’re just curious to see what’s happened to him. We took a chance on staking out the old facility that we found him at. It has something to do with his past, you see? We were hoping to catch him there and take him in. It just so happened that you were with him when we brought him in. The soldiers thought it best to bring you along, just in case you could help us.” He paused a moment. “But I sense you’re not going to be very helpful, are you?
Alethia looked hard at Petrovitch. In the back of her mind, something tingled. She sensed that something was very wrong with Petrovitch. She couldn’t tell exactly what it was. It was like looking at an apple that had a worm in it. Even though she couldn’t see the worm, she knew it was there, destroying the inside of the fruit. She finished the water, and turned away.
“I think you should leave.” She said, quietly.
After Petrovitch had left, and she had heard the door shut behind him,
Alethia curled up on the bed and cried. There was an evil at work in this
place, certainly. It was more apparent to her now, after meeting with Petrovitch
and hearing his lies. She feared for her safely, and she feared even more
for Azelin’s. The place pulsed with a strange dark energy that she’d never
felt before. Everything felt on edge, as though it was waiting for something,
and if it didn’t get that something, it would snap. Deep in her mind, she
felt the hum of the place, the strange background throb that filled every
moment with foreboding and gloom. Then she remembered what Azelin had said
to her about keeping her mind open. She sat upright on the bed, crossed
her legs and meditated, calming herself and opening her mind. She empowered
her telepathy and at the same time steeled herself against the evil that
seemed so prevalent in this place. For a long time she sat like this, awaiting
a message from another mind.
“Not only did you leave without permission, but you put the life of another team member in jeopardy!” Hunter was saying. DJ and Alec stood at attention and looked straight ahead. Hunter continued. “You have damaged a Rover vehicle, and lost another vehicle! Yes, I know you think that sports car is yours, Alec, but it was paid for with UN funds, and that makes it the property of RRMC. You can’t account for the whereabouts of the Buick that they borrowed, either. Also, you got into a firefight with an organization we know nothing about. I know Azelin, and I know he’s a good guy, but your actions in this matter were completely irresponsible!”
Shepherd looked at the two Canosapiens before him. Alec and DJ were
both good troops, in good standing with the organization. It was a shame
that they needed to be dressed down in this manner. Hunter shook his head
and turned to face him.
“I don’t know Master, what do you think?”
Shepherd dug his hands in his pockets and sighed. “Hunter is right. You should have gotten approval before making up your own mission and risking our assets in it. Now we have to repair one very high tech vehicle, locate or replace another, find out about the organization you got into a firefight with and most importantly we have to find out what happened to Alethia. If you’re right and this new faction isn’t interested in her, then that is good, but we still need to secure her release. Your behavior just isn’t acceptable. I’m sorry, but we’re going to have to take some disciplinary actions against you. Normally I would suggest you start by making repairs to the vector, but I know you would both enjoy that too much. I want you both to go back to your quarters and report back here in one hour.” He paused for effect. “In full dress uniform. Dismissed.”
Hunter and Shepherd turned and left the debriefing room, and DJ and
Alec turned to face each other. Neither of them said ‘this is your fault,
you know?’ although they both wanted to.
“Full dress uniform? Is he serious?” Asked Alec.
“I don’t know, why don’t you go and ask him?” Replied DJ, mockingly.
Alec sighed and shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know if I can still fit into my blues.”
“I don’t even know where mine are!” DJ looked worried. “I have a horrible feeling that I tore them up for shop rags!”
They left and headed back to their rooms in order to change. As he walked,
DJ became aware of a headache setting in. He dismissed it as nothing and
in an hour, he stood with Alec again in the debriefing room. Alec stood
at attention as Hunter inspected his uniform.
“When was the last time you ironed these blues, Rover?”
“Sir, Rover requests permission to speak.” Alec snapped. Hunter was insisting on permission and reporting statements from the pair, all as part of the disciplinary process.
“Sir, Rover reports as ordered: I am not sure sir. This Rover has not been called upon to wear this uniform for over a year, sir.”
Hunter gave a snort. “I haven’t worn my blues in over a year either, Rover, but mine don’t look like I slept in them, do they?”
Alec’s eyes didn’t wander, but remained straight ahead. “Sir, Rover requests permission to speak.”
“Sir, Rover reports as ordered: No sir.”
Hunter looked down at his immaculate uniform. He’d pulled it out of storage and had it cleaned, starched and ironed as soon as DJ had called in to inform them of the situation. He’d known that he’d have to discipline the pair, and a dress uniform inspection was a good was to remind the pair that they were supposed to be part of an organized, uniform team. It wouldn’t have been acceptable for him to pull an ‘open ranks’ inspection with his uniform in the condition it had been in when he had pulled it from his closet. He felt a little bad about doing this, but it was worthwhile.
Hunter finished inspecting Alec’s uniform and stood in front of DJ.
DJ stood stock-still at attention and looked dead ahead. Hunter looked
down at DJ’s uniform and arched menacingly close to DJ. The brim of his
cap nudged against DJ’s cap as he spoke.
“Is this some kind of joke, Rover?”
“Sir, Rover requests permission to speak.” DJ said through gritted teeth.
“Speak, and by God it had better be good.” Hunter growled.
“Sir, Rover reports as ordered: Something leaked on my jacket, sir.” DJ was quiet.
Hunter looked down at DJ’s uniform again and then back up, staring straight into DJ’s eyes.
“Look down at that uniform and explain to me how that happened.” Hunter could barely contain his anger.
DJ looked down very slowly at the huge, black oil stain on his dress uniform jacket. He looked back up.
“Sir, Rover requests permission to speak.”
“Sir, Rover reports as ordered: I left the valves and the heads from an engine I was doing a port and polish job on, on my shelf in my room. They dripped some oil on my uniform, sir.” DJ was flushed bright red with embarrassment under his fur.
“SOME OIL?” Hunter screamed into DJ’s ear. DJ winced a little.
“You ruined your best dress uniform with engine oil?” Hunter was still screaming. He was playing the part of a drill instructor very well, he thought.
DJ didn’t move.
“How can you stand here and tell me some crap like that? I just..” Hunter spun on his heel and marched across the room to Shepherd.
“You take care of this. I can’t handle these idiots!” He said, loudly, then walked out of the room. From the next room, Alec and DJ could hear Hunter screaming and cursing, as well as several loud thumping noises. Hunter was apparently taking his frustrations out on the furniture in the room.
Shepherd stepped forward. “You will both perform 24 hours of details, and will report back here at zero-three-thirty tomorrow morning for an open ranks inspection. Also I want your quarters cleaned and all contraband removed in preparation for a room inspection at zero-four-hundred hours tomorrow morning. Start your details by cleaning the gang bathrooms in the billeting area. Dismissed.” Shepherd turned and left.
“I told you he was going to be pissed.” Muttered Alec.
They returned to their quarters and changed into blue boilersuits in
preparation for their work details. After he changed, DJ went to his bathroom
cabinet and took a handful of painkillers. His headache had grown worse
by degrees. He washed the pills down with water, put the bottle into the
pocket of his boilersuit and waited for Alec. He sighed and hung his head.
This was a good punishment, he decided. Hunter and Shepherd really knew
what they were doing. Giving them terrible jobs, and keeping them confined
to common, shared areas. That way not only would they be working together,
but Alec wouldn’t be allowed to smoke, and DJ would have to put up with
his nicotine withdrawal stress. The door-chime sounded and DJ went to the
door. It was Alec.
“I suppose we’d best get going, mate.” Alec grumbled. DJ didn’t answer him.
An hour later, DJ was entertaining fantasies of snapping Alec’s neck
while they scrubbed the quarry-tile floor of the latrine. Alec’s cravings
were in full swing, and it was showing.
“See, you’ve never been an addict and that means that you can’t appreciate what it means to truly want something.” Alec was saying. “Sure, you think you know what it feels like, but you don’t. You can’t appreciate it. You don’t know what it’s like to need something. It’s like knowing your heart is missing, and you know you need it, or you’ll die, but you go on living and it bothers you; You think ‘damn, where is my heart? I need it, dammit!’ Do you know what I’m talking about?”
DJ looked up. “Alec, shut up. You’re making no sense and you’re pissing me off.”
Alec shook his head. “ I knew you wouldn’t understand.” He rinsed off his scrubbing brush and stood up.
DJ looked across the floor. It looked clean.
“So, are we done?” Alec asked. He was fiddling with his brush, trying desperately to keep his hands busy. “We’re done, right? I mean, that’s it?” DJ picked up the bucket and stepped out into the hallway. It had only taken an hour to clean the male bathroom. The female bathroom was next, and heaven only knew what Hunter would have for them to do afterwards. He wiped off his hands, took out the pills and popped a few more. He’d had headaches before, but this, he thought, was ridiculous.
Alec emptied the bucket into the utility sink in a janitor’s closet,
and re-filled it. As he was about to enter the female bathroom, Hunter
appeared from around a corner. He looked into the bathroom they had just
cleaned, then approached Alec.
“Guys bathroom looks good. Do as good a job on this one and you can take a ten-minute break. Where’s DJ?”
Alec looked puzzled. “He’s right over there.” He turned and pointed at nothing. “Maybe he went back into the bathroom for something.” Alec crossed the hallway and opened to the door the male bathroom. Hunter followed.
DJ was laid on the floor of the bathroom. He was half-curled into a
fetal position, convulsing. He twitched slightly and moaned as Alec and
Hunter rushed to his side.
“DJ! DJ, can you hear me?” Alec shouted, straightening DJ’s body and propping up his head. Hunter opened DJ’s eyes. His eyeballs were rolled back into his head, and all Hunter could see was the whites of his eyes. DJ was still twitching a little. Hunter checked him for a pulse and breathing. He had both.
“You stay with him, I’ll get help!” Hunter stood and ran out of the door, leaving Alec to move DJ out into the hallway and make him comfortable until help arrived.
A short time later, DJ lay on a bed in the infirmary. He had been given
a mild sedative, and seemed to be asleep. Alec and Hunter stood by his
“I don’t know what’s wrong with him.” Alec was saying. “I know he had a headache, but that was all.”
Colleen entered the room and hung a clipboard containing DJ’s charts at the foot of the bed. She shook her head and looked at Hunter.
“Well, I’ve stabilized him for now. We ran some tests on him, and well, I’m stumped. It’s like he’s just not there. He’s completely unresponsive. Not even like he’s asleep, either. He’s just…not there.” She placed her palm on his forehead and looked back up at Hunter.
“He might wake up in fifteen minutes.” She looked back down. “He might not wake up at all.”
Alec shook his head and chewed his lip. “It doesn’t make any sense.”
Why would he just go into.. a coma all of a sudden? He was fine twenty
minutes ago.” Hunter looked blankly at Colleen, all thoughts of punishing
the pair gone. Suddenly, Alec looked up.
“Azelin!” He said, quietly, as if realizing some great secret. Hunter and Colleen looked confused.
“What about him?” Hunter asked.
“When he found DJ and I in the desert a few days ago, he did something to DJ, got inside his mind and.. he showed him things..” Alec trailed off. “Maybe he did something to his mind?”
Hunter shook his head. “No.. It can’t be. That’s not possible.”
Colleen looked at Alec, then at Hunter. “It’s not possible?”
“I know Azelin, He’d not do something like that.” Hunter whispered.
“Why isn’t it possible?” Colleen asked.
Hunter looked down at DJ. “Because he did it to me, too.”