Radecki / Dark : Emerald Flight : Star Wing – Chapter 5 – A Walk in the Dark

Elizabeth arrived at the conference room ten minutes early and closed the hatch. She sat down, lowered her head against the table, and breathed out a tired sigh.

So much for “light duty” . . .

It had taken her more than twenty minutes to receive acknowledgments out of everyone. The Chief, of course, had responded last. She had been tempted to go down to the Engineering Deck herself to make certain that he had seen her message. He responded, though, just moments before she made up her mind to do soheaded for Engineering.

Acquiring the conference room had been no less of a challenge. The Emerald Flight held countless little spaces where two or three people could meet. However, it contained only two conference rooms that could seat more than five. It was almost impossible to get access to one without several days’ advance.

Unless you’re the Captain, Elizabeth mused with more than a touch of smugness. Rank does have its privileges . . .

“I’ll be speaking to the Captain about this,” Lieutenant Sheldon had threatened, when informed that he would need to re-schedule his astrophysics report because the Captain needed the conference room.

Elizabeth suspected, though, that most members of his team viewed the postponement as a blessing. She had attended a few of Sheldon’s lectures, her interest drawn by their stated topics, but she had managed to sit all the way through only one of them until the end. It was not just that she found the mathematics involved to be nearly impenetrable, but Sheldon’s presentation style alternated between a deadly monotone and an irritating high-pitched squawk.

Elizabeth had nodded, and tried to keep a polite smile fixed onto her expression. Still, she had little doubt that Sheldon would contact the Captain. The Captain, then, would tell Elizabeth to handle it.

No matter how I slice it, Elizabeth told herself, it’s going to come back to me.

She heard the hatchway open and jerked her head up from the table, concerned that she might have dozed off during those brief few moments of quiet. Wiping at her mouth, she was relieved to find it dry. She glanced down at her tablet, relieved to discover that only slightly more than two minutes had passed.

Lieutenant Hawkes walked in, regarding her silently for a moment.


Elizabeth smiled at him, trying to be friendly without being too informal. “Lieutenant.”

Hawkes regarded her for another moment, and then moved to take the seat on what would probably be Captain Devereux’s left. Elizabeth wondered again why he had never been promoted to First Officer.

He must have years and yearsmore experience than I do.

It was not that she objected to her promotion, but she was certain that there must have been other officers like him who deserved it more than she did. Still, she could not imagine anyone else standing at the Tactical station. She could not decide whether it was his quiet, almost serene competence, or his utter calm under fire that she appreciated more.

It was interesting, she realized, that on planet-side missions, she felt safer with Rusty at her back. She was certain that both men would sacrifice themselves for her, while at the same hoping that it never came to that. She had seen Hawkes take down men three times his mass, almost without effort, but there was something about Rusty that reassured her more. He had a much more impressive physical presence than Hawkes did, but Elizabeth did not believe that was the reason—or at least not the sole one.

As if prompted by her thoughts, the Chief entered, making more noise than was necessary. He winked at Elizabeth. His mischievous grin looked much like it always did.

There’s something about his eyes, though . . .

As he seated himself, the Chief opened his mouth, ready to remark on something to Hawkes, but was distracted by Hope’s arrival.

“Hey, Doc!” he greeted her cheerfully. Leaning back in his chair, he announced to the others, “You all might be glad to hear that the Doc here now has irrefutable proof that I really do have a brain inside this thick head o’ mine.” His eyes narrowed mockingly at Hawkes. “Contrary to some people’s opinions.”

Hawke’s eyebrows rose slightly, almost unnoticeably. Hope stared at the Chief for a long moment, but said nothing. Still, her gaze seemed to deflate him.

But only a little, Elizabeth noticed.

Hope made her way around the table to the chair beside Elizabeth. She seated herself, maintaining a rigid posture that Elizabeth was sure would leave her own back stiff for days. Elizabeth started to greet the doctor. Her word were lost in the Captain’s entrance.

“My apologies for being late,” she offered, making her way to the empty seat between Elizabeth and Hawkes. As she sat down, she turned toward Elizabeth. “Commander,” she said. “Can you please bring up the charts on the anomaly in debris field?”

“Yes, Captain,” Elizabeth acknowledged quietly

She worked the controls for the room’s holographic display. The sensor data and visual recordings of the debris field flickered into view above the table.


Rusty studied the holographic images as they floated above the table. He had heard about the reports, but had not had a chance to look over the data himself. At first glance, he was unimpressed. He had seen rocks in space before.

“Great . . .” he murmured, a little too loudly. “It looks like we stumbled on some giant’s rock garden.”

He opened his mouth to express another remark, and then stopped abruptly. Something in the slowly scrolling data caught his eye. Releasing a slow breath, he turned his gaze toward the visual images of the debris cloud.

“Microgravity displacement,” he mused aloud. “Now there’s something you don’t see too often.”

Devereux gave a slight smile. Rusty tried to maintain a disinterested look. It took considerable effort.

“There’s something inside this field,” Devereux said, tapping a control on the table. A section of the debris cloud grew brighter. “Our sensors can’t penetrate it clearly enough for us to get a good look inside.”

“So we take the shuttle in,” Rusty proposed.  It was the obvious solution, after all. Without looking, he could sense Hawkes’ disapproving look. He ignored it.

Devereux shook her head. “I checked with Pyrafox,” she said. “He says he’s having enough trouble holding position with this ship, but can manage it because of its mass. He doesn’t think he can maneuver the shuttle safely through that field.”

 “We have other pilots,” Rusty countered persisted. He shot a brief glance in Hawkes’ direction.

The Tactical Officer regarded him dispassionately, disappointingly refusing to be baited.

“I have to concur with the Lieutenant’s caution,” Hawkes announced. “The navigational challenges of traversing such a field are not to be underestimated.”

Rusty made a rude noise. 

Hawkes’ eyebrows rose slightly above the rims of his glasses.

“It doesn’t matter,” Devereux interjected, giving Rusty a sharp look. “We’re not going to attempt this with the shuttle.”

Rusty settled back in his chair and then his eyes widened. “You’re not taking my ship in there, are you?”

Devereux stared at him with a controlled look, but one that clearly told him that he had insulted her intelligence.

“No,” she replied flatly. “By EVA.”

There was a long moment of silence before anyone spoke. Rusty kept quiet, fighting back a sudden wave of uneasiness.

“Are you sure that’s wise, Captain?” Hawkes asked steadily.

“No,” Devereux answered him with a slight smile before her more serious demeanor returned. “But there’s something out there . . . and I want to find out what it is.”


Devereux quickly surveyed the reactions of those seated around the table. While Hawke’s expression was, as usual, nearly unreadable, she saw concern in the autumn brown eyes behind the lenses of his spectacles. Rusty, on the other hand, appeared ready to jump right up, don a spacesuit, and head out to find whatever was waiting out there for them.

That worked out so well when we found that derelict Argolian vessel, she mused without rancor.

Hope’s large dark eyes revealed nothing of the Aerian’s thoughts. They simply watched her, waiting for her to continue. Elizabeth was clearly uneasy, and Devereux suppressed a slight smile. Extra-vehicular excursions were far, far down on her First Officer’s list of favorite activities.

All part of the job, Devereux considered. The truth was, Elizabeth might be spared this time around, as she had not decided yet who would participate in this particular mission.

“Based on what we have so far,” Devereux said, “it might turn out that the best instruments we have for investigating this phenomenon are our eyes.”

“Doesn’t it always come to that?” Rusty quipped. “I’ve said so.”

Devereux shot him a quick glance. He countered with a quick grin, but quieted down.

“We wcould be putting ourselves at considerable significant risk, Captain,” Hawkes stated.

We’re not going,” Devereux responded with an impish smile. She turned back to the rest of the group. “I want to keep the team small,” she told them, surveying their expressions again.

“I’m assuming for the moment that we’re dealing with some kind of astronomical phenomenon,” she went on. “But I don’t want to discount the possibility that there’s some of device in there causing these effects.”

She turned toward Rusty. “Chief,” she said, “I’d like you and one of your engineers on the team. You’ve probably logged more space hours than any of us, so you’ll be in charge.”

Devereux turned next to Elizabeth. “Who do we have who might be a specialist in space geology?”

Elizabeth consulted the tablet in front of her, running a quick search through the crew records. “We have two,” she reported a moment later. “Laneville and Jeffries. I’ll see which is coming on duty next.”

Devereux nodded her approval and then turned toward Hawkes. “Lieutenant,” she said, “I want someone from your Security team accompanying them—preferably someone with heavy weapons experience so they can help out the others with the core sampling equipment, if needed.”

“Yes, Captain,” Hawkes responded evenly. “I’ll see that someone is assigned immediately.”

Devereux offered him a quick smile. She leaned back and addressed the others again. “Have your team ready to depart in two hours,” she told them. “Make sure they review what material we have beforehand.”

Elizabeth and Rusty each nodded their understanding. Hawkes entered something onto his tablet. Hope, as usual, remained almost perfectly still.

“Any questions?”

Devereux surveyed the faces around the table. She saw nothing to indicate that anyone was holding back.

“All right, then,” she said. “Dismissed.”

She rose, but waited until the others had left the room before exiting it herself, musing silently that there were sometimes distinct disadvantages to being the Captain.

I hardly ever get to see the sights any more . . .


As Hawkes headed back toward the bridge, he consulted the tablet in his hand. He had the duty roster for his staff committed to memory, of course, but wanted to confirm that no changes had been made since he had last checked it. There were none. He then searched the crew profiles for members of his proficient with heavy armaments in zero-gravity environments. This last part was key. It was quite a different experience to manage heavy weapons in space than it was while under gravity.

He agreed with the Captain’s reasoning. The light mining and ore sampling equipment that the EVA team would be bringing along operated on very similar in principles to many of those heavy armaments. Having his Security officer there to assist with those operations would be a highly efficient means to keep the size of the EVA team to a minimum. 

Checking the results of his inquiry, he sent a message for Ensign Yvonne Ferahim to report to him on the bridge for a mission briefing. She had, he noted, spent nearly two years working with the asteroid miners in the belt between Mars and Jupiter before enlisting in the Star Force.

Reaching the bridge, Hawkes relieved Ensign Cortez at the Tactical station and begin to prepare a briefing packet for Ensign Ferahim. He glanced up a few moments later when the First Officer Banks entered the bridge. She did not look over at him, but went immediately over to confer with Lieutenant Gho.

Hawkes reviewed looked over the sensor data again. Based on his analysis, this appeared to be a comparatively low-risk mission. While there was always danger when dealing with previously unknown astronomical phenomenon, experience had shown him that the odds of something potentially fatal happening would be far less than sending someone into a combat situation.

The main hatch opened again. Ensign Ferahim entered and immediately approached the Tactical station. She stopped in front of it and saluted him smartly. Her silken black hair was pulled back into a tight knot, exposing her cocoa-hued features. Her eyes matched the color of her skin.

“Ensign Yvonne Ferahim, reporting as ordered, sir!”

Hawkes returned the salute, silently pleased with her adherence to proper protocol. Noting with approval that she had already exchanged her duty uniform for utility fatigues, he passed the tablet over the console to her. She accepted it without looking at it, tucking it sharply under her arm while she waited for any further orders.

“Review the mission briefing,” Hawkes instructed her. “Let me know if you have questions. I have authorized your access to the armory. My recommended personal armaments are listed as an appendix in your briefing. Report to Airlock Three aft at seventeen forty for EVA departure.”

“Yes, sir!”

Hawkes studied the Ensign for a moment, mentally verifying that he had covered everything with her that he needed to for now. Satisfied, he told her, “Dismissed.”

She saluted again, waited while Hawkes returned it, and then turned and left the bridge. Hawkes nodded once again with approval. As he watched her go, he made a mental note to see when she might qualify for a promotion.


When she arrived back at the infirmary, Hope immediately got to work . Just because she was not part of the mission team did not mean that she did not have plenty to do to help prepare for it. She began by accessing the medical records for the known team members. The Chief Engineer’s was already updated on her tablet. Hope read the message from the Tactical Officer assigning Ensign Ferahim to the mission team and downloaded her medical profile as well.

Moving to one of her research stations, she downloaded a copy of the astronomical data for the debris field. She studied the radiation levels, and strength of the magnetic and gravitational fields. None appeared to be particularly troublesome. Still, she asked the computer to run some simulations on how prolonged exposure might affect the crew members during their passage through it. The simulations would take several minutes to run, Hope knew, so she turned to other tasks.

A message on her tablet from the First Officer informed her that Lieutenant Jeffries had been selected as the team’s geology specialist. Hope noted that his medical records, while current according to regulations, required updating before she could authorize his participation in the mission. She sent him a request to report to the infirmary for an updated assessment. His response was prompt, but, if Hope judged his tone correctly, grudging. She prepared Diagnostic Bed Two for his examination.

While she waited for his arrival, Hope examined the results of the Chief Engineer’s brain scans again. She still had no more of an explanation for the increased activity in his Gamma band. His behavior during the mission briefing had been slightly on the boisterous side, but far from being out of character. Hope wondered if there was time to run a new set of neurological scans before the Chief Engineer left on the mission. 

Unusual that the Captain assigned him.

She had never fully comprehended the relationship between the Captain and the Chief Engineer. In all other things, the Captain was almost always predictable. Her attitude toward the Chief Engineer, though, often seemed irrational, given some of the risks that the Chief Engineer exposed the ship and crew to. There was not, as far as Hope had been able to determine, an emotional component that might imply a deeper relationship between the two. The Captain spent no more time with the Chief Engineer than she did any other member of the crew—even less, perhaps.

The main hatch opened and Lieutenant Jeffries entered. He was an older Human male. His thick hair contained patches of gray and white. Slightly shorter the most human males, his thick body contained a surprising amount of muscle, despite its slightly flabby appearance.

“You wanted to see me, Doctor?”


“I’m rather busy just right now, you know,” Jeffries protested, remaining just outside the main chamber of the infirmary. “I’ve got an expedition to get ready for.”

Hope stared at him, expressing none of her annoyance.

Why they always delay? It is inefficient and there is no discomfort to the procedure.

“Come.” She pointed toward Diagnostic Bed Two.

Jeffries hesitated, and then shuffled toward the designated bed with obvious reluctance.

“I don’t have to take off my clothes or nothing?”

“Remove any equipment.”

Jeffries patted down his uniform before removing a small case. “Just this.”

“Place there,” Hope directed him, pointing to an empty space on the counter.

Jeffries carefully laid the case on the countertop.

“Come,” Hope repeated, pointing again at the diagnostic bed.

Jeffries shuffled over to it and, with incredible slowness, lifted himself onto it. He sat there for a long moment and Hope thought she might need to instruct him again. Before she could, though, he lowered his body onto it.

Hope began the scan, watching as the medical data appeared on the various displays.

Respiration: normal. Pulse rate: slightly accelerated. Heart rate: slightly accelerated.

Both of these readings, while higher than normal, fell within their acceptable ranges. Their cause could be attributed to several non-pathological factors. Human physiology, Hope had long ago learned, was astonishingly susceptible to changes based solely on psychological and emotional factors. It was entirely probable, she suspected, that the increase was due to nothing more the Lieutenant’s anticipation of his participation in the upcoming mission.

Blood pressure: High.

Both measurements were highlighted in red.

Hope waited while the rest of the scans completed. Other than for a minor trace mineral imbalance in the Lieutenant’s blood chemistry, all of the readings, except for blood pressure, satisfied the requirements for an EVA mission. Hope studied the data once more, comparing it once against the baseline readings in the Lieutenant’s medical records.

“I cannot approve.”

The Lieutenant turned his head to see the results for himself. His expression betrayed a flash of anger, and then went slack with disappointment.

“Look, Doc . . .” the Lieutenant said, almost pleading. “I know I haven’t been good about getting my medication . . . or watching what I eat . . .”

“I cannot approve,” Hope repeated, hoping to forestall a litany of excuses so that she could inform the First Officer that a different crew member must be selected for the upcoming mission.

“Please, Doc,” the Lieutenant went on. “I’m going to retire soon and taking a teaching position at the University. This could be my last chance to see something truly astonishing.”

Hope stared back at the Lieutenant. He fidgeted uncomfortably under her gaze, but did not look away. She was prepared to repeat her statement once more, but spent a moment considering his request. There was medication she could provide for him, that had only minimal side effects, which would bring his readings within acceptable levels. Doing so, however, would violate the intentions of the medical regulations.

Hope lifted her tablet and made the necessary notations.

Radecki / Dark : Emerald Flight : Star Wing – Chapter 4 – Cloudy Space

( Things are starting to get a bit more interesting as the ship begins to work into the debris field.  Microgravity as envisioned is a small but comparatively intense gravitational field that can effect ship travel.  Enjoy Chapter 4 🙂 )


Elizabeth walked the bridge, trying to ignore the cold sensation of dampness between her shoulder blades. The collar of her uniform adhered with clammy wetness against her skin. She had given up try to pull it away.

What I wouldn’t give for ten minutes alone with a hair dryer . . .

Status reports from the various stations throughout the ship appeared on the tablet she held. Other than on the bridge, things appeared routine through the ship. Until they were close enough to actually enter the main body of the debris cloud, there was little else beyond their usual jobs for anyone else to do.

The Captain had come back down from the command, apparently surrendering to her urge to be closer to where the action was happening. She paced a slow circuit between the helm and main Science station. Neither Pyrafox nor Gho had anything interesting yet to report. Elizabeth could tell, though, that they were both growing increasingly nervous under the Captain’s constant attention. She suppressed a tiny smile at the sight, silently glad that Captain Devereux’s attention was on someone else for a little while.

I can’t believe I was late. I’m never late.

That had been true even at the Academy, although it had been a near thing on more than a few occasions. There was that one morning in particular when she had slipped in the rain crossing the quad from the dormitories. Her stumble sent her tablets and other materials skidding across the wide puddles. Commander Atchison had given her no sympathy, and had seemed genuinely irked that she could not grant Elizabeth at least one demerit for tardiness. The last Elizabeth had heard, Commander Ilsa Atchison was still terrifying second-year cadets in both intermediate quantum mathematics and championship volleyball.

Her eyes kept drifting back toward the main hatch. She had seen the Chief escorted away by the two guards, followed by Hope. Some part of her, though, still expected him to walk back through the hatchway with his usual jaunty smile and stride.


Devereux’s voice interrupted her reverie.

Elizabeth’s cheeks burned with embarrassment.

Twice in the same day? I’m going to be back on reclamation maintenance before mid-shift at this rate.

“Yes, Captain?” she answered as smartly as she could manage. “What did you say?”

“Nothing,” Devereux replied, studying her carefully, “exactly.”

“Oh,” Elizabeth said, almost too softly to hear. “I’m sorry, Captain. I’m . . . I’m worried about the Chief.”

Devereux’s expression softened and yet also became serious. That makes two of us, is what Elizabeth thought she would say.

Instead, the Captain responded with, “I understand.”

Her eyes darted toward the main hatch for a moment before turning back to Elizabeth.

“Hope will let us know when she has something to report,” Devereux went on. “For now, I need you to do your job.”

Elizabeth’s face tingled again. “Yes, sir.”

Devereux looked at the main bridge displays and then over toward Gho at the Science station.

“Who’s in charge in Engineering?”

It took Elizabeth a moment to realize that the Captain was addressing her.

“The Ch—“ she cut off her automatic response, looking down at the tablet she carried before anyone could see her reaction. She consulted the duty roster before answering. “Lieutenant Aruna, sir.”

Devereux nodded slowly. “Ask her to assign a team to monitor the starboard sensor junctions. I don’t want us to miss anything if something in the cloud interferes with those units.”

“Yes, Captain.” Elizabeth entered the appropriate orders onto her tablet and then looked back up at Devereux. “Anything else, Captain?”

Devereux thought for a moment before answering.

“Not right now,” she said. “Return to your duties.”

“Yes, sir.”

Elizabeth swallowed hard, determined to remain focused and make no further mistakes that day. Taking a firm grip on her tablet, she began another circuit of the bridge.


Rusty paused in the corridor outside the infirmary.  He noticed then that the two Security guards were still with him. Although they remained stoically composed, Rusty was convinced that they were as uncertain as he was about what they should do next. The Captain had given them no orders what to do after they had escorted him to the infirmary.

I’d better decide before they do.

As he was still technically on-duty, he could not return to his quarters. He quickly considered his other options Going to the bridge probably meant lots of questions, almost none of which he could answer. He did not know any more than what Hope had told him—and that he had barely understood. From what he had gleaned, his brain appeared to be producing extra Gamma waves. As they had not seemed to have granted him telepathic or telekinetic powers, his interest had pretty much ended there.

Engineering, he decided. Fewer questions.

Word of his trip to the infirmary had probably already circulated among the crew, but it would be a lot easier for him to deflect those on his home turf than on the bridge. He took only a few steps toward the shaft that would take him to the Engineering Deck. The guards fell into step behind him after a moment of shared uncertainty.

“You two don’t have something better to do?” Rusty asked them, trying to sound annoyed.

“Captain’s orders, sir,” the dark-haired one on the left replied. While taller than his partner, he was the clearly the younger of the two.

“That’s interesting,” Rusty countered conversationally. “I heard her tell you to take me to the infirmary. I didn’t hear nothing about you tailing me around the entire ship.” He stared at each guard individually for a moment. “I mean, I’m flattered and all . . .”

The two guards exchanged a long look.

“I’ll need to check with the Captain,” the older one finally told Rusty.

“You do that,” he agreed. “I’m heading for Engineering.”

Without waiting for a reaction, he turned and continued on his way. A moment later, he heard two sets of footsteps echoing behind his own. As he climbed into the shaft, he considered sliding down the rails and scampering off on a higher deck just to see how the guards reacted. He bowed to reason, though, deciding that being monitored on the Engineering Deck was far preferable to being subjected to it in the brig.

He exited the shaft and entered Engineering. Without turning, he addressed the guards.

“Just stay out the way,” he warned them. “Or I’ll put you to work.”

He did not bother to check their expressions. What he imagined was amusing enough. Humming quietly, he strolled across the deck.


Devereux remained on the command deck, although she was sorely tempted to follow Elizabeth on her rounds throughout the bridge. Like her First Officer, she was deeply concerned about her Chief Engineer’s recent behavior. Even during his previous assignment aboard the ship, despite his other shortcomings, he had at least been reliable.

“Captain,” Gho called out from the Science station. Although she addressed the Captain, she received the attention of everyone present on the bridge. “We’re picking up some more detailed readings now.”

“Post the data on Screen Three,” Devereux told her.

The scene of the star field ahead was replaced by a representation of the data coming in from the ship’s sensors. As they watched, the information was updated in real-time, the numbers and graphs changing as new data as the systems received new data.

Some of it made sense to Devereux; much of it did not. She recognized the spectroscopic and metallurgical analyses, even if she did not understand what some of the details meant.

“It looks the typical ores and elements you’d expected to see from a moon or asteroid,” she remarked.

Gho nodded in agreement. Devereux felt tiny swell of pride that she had interpreted the data correctly. Her training and experience leaned more heavily on the tactical side. The hard sciences were not her strong suit.

“The configuration is strange, though,” Gho said, highlighting the boundaries of the debris field on the screen. “There’s a lot more dust than you’d expect and not as much mass still in larger chunks.”

“Debris from a comet then?”

Gho studied the results again. “I don’t think so, Captain. The mass and elements don’t match any comets we’ve ever recorded. Although there are organic components.”

That got Devereux’s attention. Pyrafox’s ears perked up as well.


Gho nodded, appearing unsurprised. “Organic compounds have been found on a number of comets,” she replied. “Nothing complex, though,” she explained. “Mostly simple hydrocarbons.”

Devereux continued to study the image in silence, watching as its resolution slowly improved. Behind her, Gho took deep breath that sounded a lot like an exasperated sigh.

“What’s wrong, Lieutenant?” Devereux asked, turning to face the young Science officer.

“I’m still having trouble getting clear readings from one section of the debris field,” she answered. She tapped controls on her console and the previous highlighting on the main screen was replaced by a new one position toward the upper right quadrant of the field.

“What’s there?” Devereux asked.

 “I don’t know,” Gho replied, shaking her head. “There’s something scrambling the sensors in that section of the cloud. We can’t get a clear reading.”

“What would do that?” Devereux asked. “Do the sensors need calibrated?”

Gho tapped some controls and intently studied one of her console displays for a moment. “The sensors seem fine,” she reported. “And there’s any number of things that might confuse the sensors.”

Devereux nodded at that.

I know a few tricks for doing that myself. Almost none of them, though, exist without artificial means.

She studied the image on the screen again, paying particular attention to the area that Gho had highlighted. She found the data associated with that region, but saw nothing that caught her eye as unusual—other than that it was annoying incomplete.

“Let’s take a closer look,” she announced quietly. “Helm,” she called to Pyrafox. “Slow our approach to one-quarter. Head toward the patch there on the outer edge.”

“Aye, Captain,” Pyrafox acknowledged quickly. “Slowing to one-quarter. Adjusting course.”

Devereux watched the navigational display as their velocity and heading changed. She turned back toward the Science station.

“Anything new yet?”

Gho studied her displays for a moment before shaking her head. “Not yet, sir” she replied, sounding disappointed. “I think we’re going to have to get a lot closer before we can punch through the interference.”

Devereux nodded her understanding. Although it was the prudent thing to do, decreasing their speed meant that it was going to a bit longer to get that much nearer.

She glanced toward the Tactical station. Hawkes worked intently at his console and she wondered what he was so focused on. There was absolutely nothing for him to fire at or defend them from except for some drifting chunks of rock.

He’s probably expecting to discover at any moment that one of those chunks is a disguised enemy vessel.

Devereux turned her attention back to the data display, seeing once again the highlighted area of the debris cloud.

If I was going to hide a ship in there, she considered. That’s where I’d do it. Force them to move in. Lure them nice and close.

For a moment, she considered ordering Hawkes to place the ship on a standby alert.

It’d just be a distraction, she decided. And so far we’ve found nothing but rocks out here. She glanced over at Hawkes again. He’ll be the first to tell me if he sees anything even remotely suspicious.

Devereux allowed herself to relax and went back to studying the data displays.


Hawkes studied the feed from the Science station. He understood most of the data, enough to determine that there appeared to be no immediate threat from the debris within weapons range of the ship. The patch of obscure readings, toward which the Captain had now directed their course, troubled him. During all of his years of combat experience, he had witnessed a variety of techniques used to scramble sensor feedback. This was unlike any he had seen. He took some small comfort that the area affected could not mask any particularly large vessels.

We might end up being outgunned, but we’re not likely to be outnumbered.

Based on what they had discovered so far, he saw no reason yet to bring the ship’s weapons systems online. He had hoped that Captain might at least place the crew on stand-by alert status, but she had so far failed to do so. She seemed to feel comfortable with the risk.

He studied the sensor logs for some the larger fragments, examining them for signs that might indicate a masked vessel or hidden weapons platform. So far, the readings had indicated exactly what Lieutenant Gho had reported: rock fragments and conventional ores. The lack of active energy signatures of any kind told him that whatever force had created these fragments had done so a long ago.

“Captain,” Lieutenant Gho called out hesitantly. “We’re getting some new readings.”

Hawkes looked up from his station as Gho tapped out commands on her console.

“It’s not much,” she reported as the data on the third bridge display changed, “but it’s something.”

Devereux stared at the screen for several long moments before shaking her head slowly. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” she admitted, turning toward Hawkes.

“Nor have I, Captain,” Hawkes reported. “I can find no matches for it in the Tactical database.”

“There’s nothing in the cosmological records either,” Gho reported. “We may have encountered a new astronomical phenomenon.”

“You just might get yourself into the record books yet, Lieutenant,” Devereux smiled at the Science officer.

Although Gho tried to mask it in her expression, Hawkes could tell that the young officer was pleased by prospect.

“It looks like a gravitational disturbance,” Elizabeth offered, looking at the data display.

“That small?” Devereux asked. “And erratic?”

Elizabeth’s eyebrows rose in the equivalent of a shrug. Her eyes turned toward Gho.

“It could be pockets of microgravity,” the Science officer hypothesized, “caused by heavy elements in the ore. If they’re highly radioactive as well, that would explain the trouble our sensors are having with them.”

Devereux nodded. Hawkes agreed that it was a reasonable explanation, but by no means the only one.

“Can you give me a visual?” Devereux asked.

“I think so, Captain,” Gho replied. “Let me see what I can do.”

“Center screen.”

The image of the star field displayed on the center display, now littered with jagged chunks of rock, flickered, turned gray, and then resolved into a new view. A soft gray haze now muted the definition of objects visible on the screen. It reminded Devereux of the ground fogs she would see during early morning rugby practice in the spring.

Except there’s no fog like that in space . . .

“Can you magnify that?”

Gho tapped some controls and the image shifted again. It did not help much. Some of the objects were larger now, but not much clearer.

“Any idea what’s causing that?” Devereux asked.

Gho consulted her console quickly before answering. “It’s just dust, sir.”

“What’s holding it there?” Elizabeth asked.

“Good question,” Devereux replied, nodding slowly. “It should have dispersed long ago.”

“It might be the microgravity pockets,” Gho suggested. “They might be holding it in place.”

Devereux nodded again. “That would explain why it’s localized there and there almost none at all in the outer sections of the debris field.”

The deck of the ship seemed to sway beneath her feet slightly. She glanced down and then over at the helm station, seeing Pyrafox working furiously at his console.

“Something wrong, Lieutenant?”

Pyrafox’s hands slowed. He paused a moment, both his hands poised ready over the helm controls. After a few seconds passed, he began to relax, breathing out a hoarse sigh. It reminded Devereux of the irritated growl from a long-haired Chihuahua one of her secondary school friends had owned.

“Sorry about that, Captain,” he remarked without turning. His gaze remained fixed on the navigational displays. “Just a small issue with the gravity pockets.” He reached down and tapped a control, although with less urgency, Devereux was relieved to note, than before. “I think the computer’s got most of them mapped out now.”

“Is there any danger to the ship?”

Her question was directed to anyone who had information, but it was Pyrafox who answered her.

“I don’t think so,” he replied. “They’re more like potholes in a dirt road than anything really dangerous.”

Devereux tried to map that analogy to space navigation in her mind. She did not find herself particularly comforted by the imagery that arose.

“Bring us to a stop, Lieutenant,” Devereux ordered. “I don’t want us any closer until we have a better idea of the effects.”

“Aye, Captain,” Pyrafox responded crisply. Something in his posture expressed his disappointment at no longer being allowed to meet the challenge of their course ahead. “Answering full stop.”

The images on the main bridge displays became stationery, but not before the deck rolled one more time underneath Devereux’s boots. She opened her mouth, but Pyrafox interrupted her before she could speak.

“Sorry, Captain.” He sounded genuinely apologetic. “One last pothole.”

“Better check the tires,” Devereux chuckled.

Behind her, Elizabeth snickered.

“Yes, Captain,” Pyrafox replied, making no effort to hide the laughter in his own voice.

Devereux’s expression grew serious once more. She studied the data still being flashed onto the third screen. So far, even at this closer distance, the sensors had revealed little new information.

“Commander,” she called out to Elizabeth without turning. “Have all stations continue to collect data for now. Assemble the senior staff for a briefing in one hour.”

“Yes, Captain.”

“You have the bridge, Commander,” Devereux told her. “I’ll be in the infirmary.”


Hope puzzled over the results of the Chief Engineer’s medical scans. Except for the unexplained increase in his Gamma band activity, all of his other readings fell well within established ranges for humans. Some of them, she noted with some surprise, had even improved since his last complete examination. There was, as far as she could determine, no biochemical cause for the change in the Chief Engineer’s brain activity. Her research on the subject so far had produced frustratingly little new information.

The Captain will want a report.

She could produce one, of course, but it would be one that would yield more questions than answers. Hope possessed a deep understanding of the human nervous system and neurological biochemistry, but she had never seen readings like these before. The most relevant analogy were the examinations conducted of suspected Psi-actives, but even those tests had yielded completely different results than what she had received from the Chief Engineer.

The main hatch opened. Hope knew, without turning, that the Captain had entered. She heard the familiar cadence of the Captain’s footsteps as she approached. That was, of course, not her only clue to the Captain’s presence.


Hope turned to face the Captain. “Captain.”

The Captain glanced over at the empty diagnostic beds and then took a closer look around the infirmary.

“Where’s the Chief?”

“He is gone.”

The Captain frown deepened and she examined the infirmary again.

“You released him?”

Hope hesitated for a moment. The Captain was displeased.


The Captain stared hard at Hope. Her words came out sharp and clipped.

“May I ask why?”

“The data,” Hope said. “I do not understand.”

The Captain frowned thoughtfully and then shook her head slightly. “What do you mean?”

Hope stared at the Captain for a moment longer and then gestured toward the diagnostic equipment still connected to Bed Four.


The Captain followed her to the diagnostic bed. Hope activated one of the displays, showing the results of the neurological scans. The Captain studied the screen carefully for several moments before turning back to Hope.

“I don’t understand what I’m seeing here.”

Hope tapped a control and one of the waveforms displayed on the chart grew brighter.


The Captain studied the image again and then shook her head again. “I’m still not seeing it,” she said, leaning back slightly. “Is it something dangerous?”

Hope stared silently.

“Is it?”

“I do not know.”

The Captain’s expression held a mixture of astonishment and concern.

“And you released him?”

“Yes,” Hope answered flatly. “Security went too.”

The Captain visibly relaxed. She studied the diagnostic display again.

“But you don’t know what this means?”


 “Could it explain his strange behavior?”

“I do not know.”

The Captain released a long, slow breath.

“What do you know?”

Hope stared back at the Captain for a moment before answering.

“Increased Gamma band activity.”

The Captain breathed deeply.

“All right,” she said, stepping back from the display. “Let me know when you do find something. In the meantime, I’ll have Security keep an eye on him.”


The Captain laughed softly. “I’m glad you approve.”

The chime from the communication console sounded. The Captain’s smile grew a little bit more.

“That’ll be Elizabeth letting you know about the briefing.” The Captain’s expression became more serious. “See what you can find out before then.”


The Captain frowned, looking at the diagnostic display and then back at Hope. She appeared ready to speak, but seemed to change her mind. Turning away, she strode purposefully toward the main hatch.

Hope watched the Captain leave, feeling the familiar sense of emptiness as she departed. She turned away from the hatchway and studied the diagnostic display once more. Again, it failed to reveal the answers she needed.

Radecki / Dark : Emerald Flight : Star Wing – Chapter 3 – Off to a Rocky Start

Entering her quarters, Elizabeth lifted her left arm experimentally, prepared to feel sharp twinges of pain shoot along her shoulder. Instead, she felt some tightness, but no real discomfort.

That’s good stuff Hope has, she mused with a faint smile. It faded quickly. No wonder the Chief wanted it so bad.

She eyed her bunk, wondering if she dared try to remove her tunic before she lay down. She swung her arm slowly across her body.

It really doesn’t hurt that bad any more. And a little rest wouldn’t hurt. Hope said “light duty” and . . .

Elizabeth’s eyes caught sight of the chronometer on her desk.

Damn it! I’m supposed to be on the bridge in ten minutes!

Her eyes searched the room for the pieces of her uniform, silently praying that last night had been one when she had bothered to hang it up.

Thank god this isn’t the Washington.

Captain Dresden made it a point to conduct regular inspections of his crew’s personal quarters. Officers were subject to even more severe reprimands than non-commissioned personnel. Elizabeth had discovered this very quickly, but not before she was assigned to three extra shifts and some particularly unpleasant duties with the reclamation maintenance teams. Dresden’s quarters had looked as if he never actually used them. 

She located her trousers draped over the side of her chair and held them up, satisfied that they were presentable. Her duty tunic, which she found buried under her pajamas, was a wrinkled mess. She shook it out, but that proved to be of little help.

I could wear my dress uniform . . .

She turned toward her closet.

No, she stopped herself. Stupid idea!

Glancing at the chronometer again, she swore again.

Damn it, I still need to shower!

She knew without checking that skipping that step was not an option. Taking a slow breath to calm herself, she considered her options.

I can do that in ten minutes. She felt her dismay begin to grow again. My hair . . . !

It was stiff with dried perspiration and, she guessed, probably smelled almost as bad as the rest of her.

Damn! Damn! Damn it!

She peeled off her clothing, forgetting about her injured shoulder, and let it fall in a pile on the floor. She palmed on the shower and stepped inside before making certain itt was warm.

Eight minutes later, she emerged, dripping wet and as clean as she could manage. She rubbed viciously at her hair with a towel, feeling its strands tangle, and wondered irritably once again why she liked to wear it long. Her shoulder tingled fiercely. Elizabeth forced herself to ignore it.

She checked the chronometer.

Damn, I won’t have time to brush it out. She swore silently at herself, thinking of the mess she would have to unsnarl after her shift was over. I’ll just have to pull it back . . . and pray.

It was not at all unusual for her to wear her hair pulled back into a ponytail while on duty, but she usually brushed it out thoroughly first.

She dried the rest of her body, having to reach around to dry her back several times as her hair dripped water down it. After dressing in her underwear and pants, she attacked her hair again, getting as dry as she could manage with the single towel.

That’s what I get for not doing laundry . . .

After sliding into her tunic, she reached back to gather her hair. Gritting her teeth, she threaded her hair through a narrow elastic band, managing to snap only two of her fingers with the band. Waving her abused digits in the air, she resisted the urge to place them into her mouth like a child. The abrupt movements did little to appease her damaged shoulder.

Dressed now, and with her hair passably arranged, she glanced at the chronometer again.

Less than two a minutes left!

She darted out into the corridor, nearly colliding with a passing crew member. Apologizing to him breathlessly, and then trying not to look as if she were running, she resumed her dash toward the bridge.


Rusty prowled the main Engineering Deck. He peered into open access panels as his technicians tried to work inside them, generally making a nuisance of himself. The crew had become skittish in his presence. He knew that he was driving morale down right through the deck plates, but he was determined to find out just what was not right with this ship.

“Carson,” he said, walking by a thin, blonde-haired crew member, “watch out for that yellow conduit. You’ll short out the aft radiation sensors.”

Carson started and then stared at the activated micro-welder in his left hand, wide-eyed at just how close he had nearly come to severing that conduit. He swallowed hard and then, very slowly and carefully, deactivated the tool and pulled it clear of the junction.

“Thanks, Chief,” he called out, his voice trembling slightly.

Rusty grunted something unintelligible in response, distracting the technician from realizing that he had not actually looked inside the panel.

He noticed that conversations stopped as he approached. Whispers returned as he passed. Both of these just added to his irritation. It was not at all how he liked to run his department, but he could not shake the feeling that something was wrong, that this ship might be in serious danger.

“Tsu-tao,” Rusty called to the dark-haired technician. “Make sure all the ramscoop feeds are closed and sealed tight before we get too close to . . . whatever this thing is. The last thing we need is to flood the intakes with a bunch of magnetic or irradiated ore.”

“I’m on it, Chief,” the short, but sturdy, engineer replied with a genial smile, making a note on the tablet he carried.

“You’d better be,” Rusty warned him in something that resembled a growl. “Or you’ll be cleaning them out with tweezers.”

Tsu-tao’s smile faded. Swallowing visibly in response to his Chief’s uncharacteristically sour mood, he looked down at his tablet as he walked away.

Rusty’s eyes turned upward and surveyed the ceiling, the equivalent of two decks above him. It was covered in a maze of tubes cabling, most of which were accessed from the deck above. He had not thought to study it before.


It took a moment, but then a male voice answered him from across the wide space of the deck.

“Yes, Chief?”

Rusty continued to stare up at the ceiling as he spoke.

“I want a team to inspect every conduit, junction, and vent up there.”

“Right now?” Sandersen’s voice sounded incredulous.

“Right now,” Rusty replied flatly.

His eyes remained pointed toward the ceiling, but there was no change in the nagging sense of uneasiness that drove him. That was not it.

Still, it won’t hurt to check.

He looked down and his gaze quickly swept the Engineering Deck again.

Maybe it’s not here at all.

“I’ll be on the bridge,” he told Aruna, who had come up beside him. “Don’t break anything while I’m gone.”

“I’ll try not to, sir,” she responded softly, sounding far more sincere than was probably necessary.

Rusty did not look at her as he headed for the main hatch.


Devereux sat at the command station, trying to review status reports. Despite her best efforts, she was unable to keep herself from glancing up at the main bridge displays every few minutes. Although they would be entering nominal sensor range shortly, it would be a while before they provided any new information about the mysterious field they had detected. Given the many types of suspense to be had out in space, Devereux was more than willing to experience this kind than that of heading into combat.

Looking up from her desk, Devereux covertly surveyed the other members of the bridge crew, noting with a certain relieved satisfaction that few of them were having any better success at staying focused on their routine tasks than she was. At the helm, Pyrafox occasionally made what were probably unnecessary adjustments to the navigational controls. He leaned forward in his seat, as if by willpower alone he could propel the ship ahead more quickly. She even caught Hawkes taking a glance at the trio of large displays. Only Gho appeared to be solely focused on her assigned tasks.

But then she actually has work to do.

Devereux was tempted to ask for an update, but stopped herself.

She’ll report when she has something to report.

The main hatch opened and Elizabeth entered. Devereux turned to look, watching as Elizabeth appeared to nearly stumble over the hatchway. She also seemed to be slightly out of breath, but trying to hide it. Devereux fought back a smile.

“Nice of you to join us, Lieutenant . . .” she paused, seeing her First Officer’s light-skinned cheeks grow pink. “. . . Commander.”

To her credit, Devereux noted, Elizabeth met her eyes. The young officer was less than not even two minutes late. Still, A a little light-hearted teasing would ease the general tension of the crew—and probably ensure that the Elizabeth would not arrive even remotely tardy for a duty shift for weeks to come.

Like you’ve never overslept . . .

“I’m sorry, Captain,” Elizabeth said, standing straight and nearly at attention. “I was—”

The hatch opened again, interrupting her, and Rusty stepped inside. Devereux was surprised. She had not expected the Chief Engineer to make an appearance on the bridge.

“Is there something wrong, Chief?”

Rusty turned to look at her and seemed, for a moment, to have trouble focusing on her.

Damn. He’d better not be—

“I don’t know yet,” Rusty replied. His words came out as a kind of loud mumble, not slurred exactly, but definitely the indication of a distracted man.

Devereux and Elizabeth exchanged a glance. Elizabeth moved closer to Rusty. He seemed unaware of her until she nearly touched him. At that moment, he stepped forward, staring with fixed intensity at the main bridge displays.

“What’s going on?”

Devereux and Elizabeth exchanged another look. They both knew that the Chief had been briefed when the course was made.

“We’re entering scanning range of the debris cloud,” Devereux said, trying sound as matter-of-fact as possible.

Rusty nodded as if he understood.

“Anything yet?”

Devereux looked toward the main Science station and caught Gho’s eye. The science officer shook her head.

“Nothing new yet, sir,” she said. “From this distance, it still appears to be just a collection of rocks.” Gho tapped some controls. “We’re having trouble getting high-resolution scans,” she reported, frowning. “There’s probably a lot of some ionized dust particles in the way floating around out there.”

Rusty made a thoughtful sound, his eyes never leaving the main screens.

“There’s something out there,” he murmured, loud enough to be heard.

Devereux looked over at Elizabeth, whose mouth tightened into an frown.

“Yes there is,” Devereux agreed, trying to sound calmly reasonable.

She noticed a change in the Chief Engineer’s posture. The muscles along his back and shoulders appeared to relax. Not certain whether to take this as a positive sign or a warning, she considered ways to reach the intercom and alert Hope without alarming Rusty. She caught Elizabeth’s attention and directed her eyes toward the intercom controls on the Science station. Elizabeth nodded almost imperceptibly and then turned her eyes back toward Rusty.

“That’s what it is,” he announced, sounding surprisingly lucid and relieved.

“What is, Chief?”

“That,” Rusty replied, nodding toward the screens. “It wasn’t the ship at all.”

Devereux’s expression tightened with concern. Looking toward Elizabeth again, her First Officer just gave a faint shrug.

“Chief,” Devereux said, calmly. “I don’t suppose you’d be interested in telling us what you’re talking about?”

Rusty continued to stare at the main bridge displays. Devereux wondered if he had not heard her, then he turned around. He looked like a different man from the befuddled one who had wandered onto the bridge. Although his grin appeared to be genuine, Devereux remained unconvinced that there was not something else going on with her Chief Engineer.

Rusty regarded her for a long moment, glanced at Elizabeth, and then back to Devereux. His grin faded, making him seem somehow less menacing.

“It was out there,” he said, smiling happily. “It was out there.”

“What was, Chief?” Elizabeth asked gently.

Rusty turned to her, still smiling, but his eyes reflected his seriousness.

“I don’t know.”


Hawkes watched the Chief Engineer carefully. Although the man appeared intoxicated, Hawkes found himself surprised . . . and not quite ready to accede to that explanation. To his knowledge, Chief Rayna had ceased his usage of unauthorized medications ever since returning to the ship. For him to regress now was too great a coincidence for Hawkes to readily accept.

He had seen the Captain and Elizabeth exchange a number of meaningful glances. Based on the direction that their eyes moved, Hawkes concluded that their intent had been to reach the intercom. They could not without attracting the Chief Engineer’s attention, so Hawkes had keyed a silent request for medical assistance on the bridge. He also instructed a security team to report to the bridge, but not to enter it without orders to do so.

Devereux moved closer to the main Science station.

“Anything new?” she asked Gho.

The lieutenant checked her console before shaking her head. “Nothing, Captain,” she reported. “We’re still too far out.”

Devereux nodded, frowning slightly. She looked over toward the Chief Engineer, but he offered no reaction to Gho’s report. Devereux started to speak, but was interrupted by the sound of the main hatch opening.

Hope entered, carrying a medical case. Hawkes noted with satisfaction the two Security personnel that flanked her, but remained outside the hatch, taking positions of each side of the hatchway.

“Hope,” Devereux said. It was almost a breath of relief.


“Hey, Doc!” Rusty called out without turning away from the bridge displays.

For several moments, no one spoke. Devereux’s eyes directed Hope toward Rusty. Hope placed her case down on a nearby console and removed a portable medical scanner. Hope finished her scan of the Chief Engineer. Although she said nothing while she scanned the Chief Enginner, Hawkes noticed that she appeared to be startled by something the scanner had shown her. It was only the most subtle change in the Aerian physician’s expression, but Hawkes was certain that it was there. The Captain appeared to have noticed it as well.

Hope finished her scan of the Chief Engineer. Even as she stepped back, her dark eyes fixed on the scanner’s readout display. After a moment, she looked up and stared at Devereux. The Captain read something in the Aerian’s expression that made her jaw tighten.

“Chief,” she Devereux said, sounding reasonable, but firm. “I want you to go with Hope back to the infirmary.”

Rusty did not respond, nor did he move for several moments. Finally, he turned slowly around. He regarded Hope critically, as if he had never seen her before.

Although Hawkes saw nothing belligerent in the Chief’s manner, he held his fingers over the control that would summon the guards waiting out in the corridor. He noticed a change in the Captain’s posture. She, it appeared, also waited for the Chief Engineer to protest or resist.

“Chief,” Hope addressed him flatly.

Rusty looked down at the scanner in her hand. Awareness seemed to dawn on him.

“You think I’ve finally gone space happy, don’tcha?”

“Chief,” she repeated. It was a command, not a plea.

The Chief Engineer met Devereux’s eyes. Elizabeth shifted awkwardly on her feet. Devereux’s throat moved as she swallowed, but she remained resolute. The Chief’s eyes moved to Elizabeth, causing Elizabethher to shifted awkwardly on her feet awkwardly. and His gaze then fixed on Hope. Hawke’s fingers hovered above the security alert signal.

The Chief Engineer smiled, but Hawkes saw no signs that he intended to attack Hope or bolt for one of the hatchways. He continued to smile, the familiar bright twinkle returning to his eyes.

“I think you miss me, Doc.”

Hope stared back at him silently. Her large dark eyes revealed nothing. Devereux nodded once to her and then inclined her head in the direction of the main hatch.

“Come,” Hope said.

She waited for him to move in the direction of the hatchway. The Chief Engineer waited for only a moment, and then before headinged for the bridge’s main hatch. When it opened before him, he paused and looked back at Hawkes.

“For me?” he said, grinning with clear amusement at seeing the guards positioned there. “You shouldn’t have.”

He stepped into the corridor, the two security personnel falling in behind him. After a moment, he stopped and turned around.

“Whatcha waiting for, Doc?” he called out. “The Captain doesn’t have all day.”

Devereux exchanged a look with Hope that Hawkes interpreted as silent approval to depart. Hope stared back at the Captain for a long moment and then headed for the hatchway. Hawkes raised his hands from his console and looked at the Captain. Her expression betrayed deep concern as she watched Hope depart. Her eyes continued to follow the Medical Officer until the hatch closed behind her.

Devereux glanced for only a moment at the main bridge displays before turning and returning up the ramp to the command deck. Hawkes regarded her for a moment, and then turned his attention back to his console. He keyed the security monitors so he could follow the Chief Engineer’s progress to the infirmary, to ensure that he actually arrived there.


Hope trailed the Chief Engineer and his two Security escorts. She had been surprised by the Tactical Officer’s signal. His message had been brief and vague, giving her little other information than that the situation was potentially critical and she needed to report to the bridge immediately. She had done so, and was still not clear on what had transpired there. Clearly, there was an issue involving the Chief Engineer, but she had witnessed nothing that deviated significantly from his typical behavior. She would follow the Captain’s orders, of course, hoping that doing so might provide her with some answers.

She still held the medical scanner in her hand. The readings that it had produced her troubled her, not so much from that data that it had reported, as it did from what it had not shown her. After they reached the infirmary, she could conduct more detailed physiological and neurological tests that might explain what the portable scanner had reported.

When they reached the infirmary, the two Security personnel stopped outside the hatch and waited for her open it. One took a position on each side of the Chief Engineer with one hand resting openly on their weapon. Hope completed the security procedure quickly and efficiently, standing aside as one of the guards pushed open the hatch. The other one, using nothing more than his physical presence, ushered the Chief Engineer inside.

Hope entered, letting the hatch close behind her. 

“Bed Four,” she instructed them, moving toward one of the starboard cabinets.

Although the diagnostic beds were essentially the same, she had equipped Bed Four for more detailed neurological diagnosis. One thing she had learned during her first voyage on this ship was the wide variety of ways that myriad spatial phenomenon could affect the human brain. She was now also better equipped to deal with human birthing as well. However, sShe was not surprised then suspected the likelihood that she would needed to use either the new equipment or the knowledge was low so soon.

The two Security personnel moved closer to the Chief Engineer. He appeared to ignore them, stepping forward before they approached him. Standing next to the diagnostic bed, he surveyed each of the displays as Hope brought them online.

“The Cap’n wants you to make sure I really have a brain in there?” the Chief Engineer said, snickering.

He stood beside the bed for a moment and then lifted himself onto it. Parts of its metal structure creaked as he settled more comfortably onto its pad. He looked toward the ceiling, seeming uncharacteristically calm and composed. The two Security guards stepped back, taking positions between the Chief Engineer and the hatchway.

“Remain still,” Hope instructed him.

“I’ll do my best not to boogie too much.”

Hope regarded the Chief Engineer for several moments, but he remained motionless. This behavior added to her uneasiness. Despite his customary quips to the contrary, he was being far too compliant. After giving him one more look, she activated the diagnostic scanners. Within a few seconds, the first results appeared.

Respiration normal.

Pulse slightly elevated.

Blood pressure slightly elevated.

The latter two readings did not surprise her. Although both were higher than normal, they were not significantly out of range based on her previous medical scans of the Chief Engineer. Still, Hope noted them in her log. It was data and might prove useful later.

The preliminary blood scans showed no traces of any restricted pharmaceutical substances. This both surprised and frustrated Hope. She had not expected to find any, but their presence would have helped to explain the Chief Engineer’s unusual behavior. It meant the cause was something else entirely.

She waited for additional reports. These scans involved deeper analyses of the Chief Engineer’s body functions, measuring factors such as hormonal levels and tissue density, and would require more time to complete. Hope looked at the Chief Engineer, but he remained uncharacteristically still and silent. She looked back at the readouts just as the next set of results began to appear.

Hope studied each one with increasing incredulity. There was not a single deviation from any the Chief Engineer’s previously recorded medical scans that would account for his unusual behavior. If anything, there was a marked improvement in several of them as his body began to repair itself after years of chemical abuse. All that remained now, was were the results of the deep neurological scans—and . Hope was rapidly losingheld diminishing confidence that those they would reveal anything useful.

The diagnostic indicator flashed blue, signaling that the neurological scans had been completed. The results appeared on the screen. Hope noted without surprise that variations among the different bands fell well within both established norms and those previously recorded for the Chief Engineer . . . except for one.

“What is it?” the Chief Engineer asked, breaking her concentration. “What’d you find, Doc?”

Hope looked up at him, said nothing, and then turned her eyes back to the display. The Chief Engineer turned his head. Unable to see the display clearly from that vantage point, he sat up and looked at the diagnostic readouts.

“Good thing my engine outputs don’t look like that,” he remarked, “Or we’d be spinning in circles.” He studied the graphs more closely. “Or in lots of little pieces.”

Hope said nothing, but continued to stare at the diagnostic display. The graphs showed a distinctive spike in the Chief Engineer’s Gamma band.

“Okay, Doc,” the Chief Engineer said. “Want to tell me what we’re looking at?”

“Gamma,” Hope said.

The Chief Engineer peered at the graphs on the display, clearly without comprehension. “Which means . . . what?” he asked with clear irritation. “I’m going to turn big and green and nasty the next time someone ticks me off?”

Hope turned to face the Chief Engineer.


“That’s a relief,” he replied, grinning back at her. “I don’t look good in green.”

Hope said nothing, failing to understand either his meaning or the cause for his sudden amusement. She was nearly certain that her response had not prompted it.

There was a long silence as Hope studied the results again. The Chief Engineer fidgeted. He had stopped looking at the diagnostic display, as it was essentially meaningless to him. He tried staring at Hope, as if willing her to turn around and address him. A few seconds into his little game, his eyes widened suddenly with realization.

“You don’t know what it means either,” he announced. His grin widened. “Do you?”

Hope regarded him for a long moment. His eyes continued to study her expression, although she was reasonably certain that it revealed nothing.

“No,” she admitted. Her voice, normally soft, was barely more than a whisper. “I do not.”

The Chief Engineer burst out laughing. Hope turned quickly to the medical monitors, but none of them signaled that he was in any distress. All she could do was to wait until he regained a measure of control, although his grin never went away completely.

“You really don’t know what it means?”

“I do not,” she repeated. “I will research.”

“I’m sure you will,” the Chief Engineer chuckled. He slid from the table. His boots banged against deck, echoing in the infirmary chamber. “Is there any reason you can think of I can’t return to duty?”

Hope studied him critically. His behavior, while needlessly boisterous, was not atypical. Based on the results of the scans, she had no medical reason to detain him. The spikes in his brain’s Gamma band were not justification enough. At least, they were not sufficient enough that she wanted him to remain there while she conducted her research.

“No,” she answered finally.

The Chief Engineer grinned with triumph.

“You will return,” Hope said firmly, “when I inform the Captain.”

“You do that.”

Hope held the Chief Engineer’s gaze for a long moment. She was the one who looked away, turning to face one of the Security personnel.

“He may depart.”

The Security guard nodded her understanding and stepped back, clearing the way to the hatchway. The Chief Engineering strode past her, seeming to be in no hurry.

“Doctor,” the other Security guard said courteously, and then turned and followed the Chief Engineer and the first Security guard out of the infirmary.

Hope watched the hatch close, and wondered what she was going to tell the Captain.

Dark Renaissance – Chapter 14 & 15

Chapter 14

Hamish Montrose settled in behind his new, polished oak desk. The promotion ceremony went without any incident. He was surprised by the appearance of Donald McDonough, the executive secretary to the High Magus Harold Crist. “Congratulations on your promotion, Captain Montrose. Your rise in the ranks bodes well for your future”, McDonough informed him. Montrose smiled and replied, “I’m at the Council’s beck and call. I serve with pride.” McDonough nodded, then smiled slyly. “Indeed, your service has been impressive. The only blemish being The Yellowjakket. I’d heard that she’d beaten another sweep for her.”

Montrose gritted his teeth behind a bland smile. “She’s certainly a challenge. One could wonder that with the power of the Council, how she has managed to survive.” Montrose smiled internally as he saw McDonough’s eyes narrow. “It is a puzzle”, McDonough replied, with feigned nonchalance. “I hope that, for all our sakes, she’s brought to account soon.” With that McDonough proffered his bare hand. Montrose made certain his glove was on as they shook. He felt a tingle of an attempted spell in his fingers, and smiled knowingly at McDonough, who finished shaking and released. He turned away and disappeared into the crowd, as others moved in line to shake Montrose’s hand.

Once the crowd had thinned, he left the ceremonial to sit in his new office. He was now Captain of East London, with the power to move resources about as he saw fit. He reported directly to McDonough he found out after the man had left. The spell bothered him. It was so subtle, he couldn’t determine what it’s intent was. McDonough also hadn’t seemed to notice the failure of the spell to affect him. Perhaps he had noticed and was playing ignorance. Either way, he would bear watching. He would need to be very careful about his position.

The political waters ran very muddy and very deep at this level. Any mistake would be magnified. That worked both ways however. He knew that the Council was always in flux. With some luck, and some careful planning, a seat could be his. He reached for the mind-crystal. It was time to inform Root and Thorpe of their new duties. The game’s stakes had been increased, and he was determined to win.

Chapter 15

Yellowjakket had run hard through South London, looking for a potential target. The mages here with the authorities were the ones most likely to have any information on the raid, and where any prisoners were taken. She’d had no luck at all as she ran the streets. The notorious London Fog had come in off the river, blanketing the city in grey so thick that she had to slow down to avoid the ubiquitous double decked buses, autos, and cabs. It made movement like a huge game of blind man’s bluff. She turned hard left at a main street and finally spotted her target. The short distance of maybe forty meters visibility worked to her advantage. She was among them like a fox in a hen house before they realized she was there.

A quick look at the situation made her focus harder. This press-gang was in the middle of hauling away a teen-aged girl, who was hanging limp in her captor’s grasp. A man in work clothes lay sprawled on the step, and a woman was huddled against the door lintel, clutching a little girl to her as she tried to stab another mage who was trying to pull the child from her. She concentrated and hit the first man with an electrical cage, locking his voluntary muscles. The cage was about two meters in diameter. One mage who spun towards the speeding huntress, brushed the cage, and grunted as his body locked in place. Two out of the fight, six to go.

She fired an electrical blast at a mage who’d pulled a stone from his pocket. The stone glowed reddish and pulsed as he was hit in the chest. The blue-robed mage was lifted off his feet and propelled four meters away, striking a trash receptacle, and falling stunned to the sidewalk. One mage finished a quick spell, and a blue glow covered him. He drew a pistol, and fired a quick pair of shots at Yellowjakket, who skidded sideways, and leapt into the air. The bullets cut a path of disturbed air through the fog underneath her, to shatter some glass in the fog.

This is unit three-oh-five”, she heard and turned to look at the speaker. He’d ducked into the house, using the door as a partial shield. She fired again, and the surge of power hammered into the man struggling with the woman. He blew backwards into the door and frame. She missed the mage trying to contact help, but did startle him enough to stop his communication. Right now that was all she wanted.

Another mage began glowing blue. The first who’d set a defensive screen began intoning a quick spell she’d heard before. He was trying to hit her with a disruption spell. She didn’t fire, knowing the blue would stop electricity, so she sped at the man rolling her shoulder forward at the last moment before impact. She caught him flush in the stomach, knocking him backwards into the front of the townhome. A quick cage locked up another wizard mid-spell. Five down three to go. The three left were going to be difficult. One was the mage in the doorway, trying to call assistance. Another still had the girl, and had retreated down the street, holding the girl between him and Yellowjakket.

The third aimed the pistol and fired again. Yellowjakket dodged, and hear a meaty thwack behind her. She glanced back, and saw a blotch on the girl’s thigh. She’d been hit by the bullet. Something clicked off inside her. The next blast took the shooter in the chest, burning away the robes, and charring his skin as he was hurtled towards the townhome, snapping ribs on impact with the brick facade.

The next shot tore the door away from the frame, blowing it to flinders and blasting the mage with splinters. He screamed and clawed at his eyes as he blasted backwards, colliding with the inner wall headfirst, and dropping to the floor, bleeding from a dozen wounds. The last man dropped the bleeding girl and vanished in the fog. Yellowjakket sent a blast his direction, and a yellow-orange ball erupted from a unseen vehicle in the fog.

She sped over to the girl, and dropped to one knee to inspect the wound. To her untrained eye it looked bad. The area was swollen already at least half-again as much as her undamaged leg. “I’m taking her to a doctor, Where’s the closest hospital?” The woman stood silent, clutching her child and staring that the downed wizards. Yellowjakket looked at the man, who was trying to sit up. “Lewisham, I think. She’s North of here and a few streets left.” His voice was rough, unsteady. He sounded drunk, or maybe a concussion. “I need to know NOW! Exactly where it is! This girl’s been shot! I need you to think!” She urged him. The desperation in her voice lending it an urgency that helped the man focus.

Go west to the one-two-one then north, it’s about a kilometer, maybe two up. It’s on the left.” His eyes dropped to the unconscious girl then back to Yellowjakket as she shouldered the girl in a fireman’s carry. The fear in his eyes lent Yellowjakket a desperate strength and she lurched into motion, hitting a solid stride after a few shaky steps. She accelerated, turning right on one-twenty-one and speeding north.

The hospital loomed out of the fog, the lights creating a soft whitish glow in the fog. She turned and sped to the doors, her free hand yanking the door open and stepping through. “Emergency! I’ve a woman who’s been shot! I need assistance for her! The activity in the lobby stopped in shock as she shouted over the din. The distinct costume drew officers and medical staff. “Take her she’s been hit in the thigh. I’m not certain how bad”, she explained hurriedly. The police were moving between her and the door, trying to box her in.

All righ’ gel, settle, an’ we’ll take it easy on ye”, an older man in uniform said. He was about one point eight meters tall, and stocky. His paunch lapped out over his belt, which he adjusted as he spoke at her. His left hand had an automatic pistol, and his right was up to his microphone on the shoulder. He had it tight on the mic, so everything was being radioed to his precinct house. She didn’t hesitate. A quick glance showed three halls that would be possible exits. She chose the leftmost and accelerated past the surprised officer, and disappeared into the hall before the officers could react.

Yellowjakket sped through the halls, finally coming across signs the guided her to an exit at the back of the building. She slowed to push the door open, then was out in the open once more speeding northwest away from the hosptial. She darted back south after a moment, intent on finding the mages she’d fought. It took her about eight minutes for the full round trip back to the fight. One of the mages was trying to struggle up, confronted by an ugly sounding crowd of people. She datarted past the men and women to the mage’s side. “They’re in a foul mood. I think they dislike you”, she told him with a smirk. “I’ve a mind to help them out, unless you can tell me something I want to know.”

The mage peered at her. He’d been the first one hit, and held in the electric cage. “You come in quiet, and I’ll put in a good…hrrk!” He dropped to his knees as Yellowjakket kneed him in the groin. “Try anything at all and I leave you here. You’re screwed, mate. Think you can get a spell off before they decide to beat you to death? I don’t think so. They’re too close, and you’re too slow. You’re about to die here. Unless you give me something. There was a sewer squat hit just south of here a little while ago. What do you know about it? Where’d they take the people?” Her voice was hard, brittle. She meant every word.

Faerie Thoughts

This is a story from the writing challenge a friend and I are doing as a way of practicing our writing skills.

The picture is below the story, and here is

Faerie Thoughts

Taeliun Highfeather slowed her wings as she gently touched down next to Chuckling Creek. The buzzing clatter faded to a bubbling quiet from the waters as she sat on a small boulder. She concentrated, and both leaves and grass, bent and flowed to her, covering her with a rich emerald dress held by two thin straps across her shoulders. She shook out her short brown hair that she’d cut just that morning, and waited for Siki’ek to arrive.

The morning sun had barely started to shed its orange coat for yellow when the Iridescent Drake made his appearance in a whirl of colors and melodic chirps. Siki’ek noodled through the air to hover in front of Taeliun. She gazed at the miniature Drake hovering scant inches from her nose as a wistful pout formed about her lips. The Drake noticed the change and hovered higher concern darkening his scales.

“Whyfor are your wings not humming the air and your nose reveling in the scents of morning little Taeliun?” The young faery blew her bangs away from her forehead then brushed them to the side with her left hand.

“I’ve been told by Mother to wait here. So I’m waiting.”

“Wait for what?”

“I asked Mother the same question, and she said, ‘you will know when it happens.” She rested her elbow on a knee, and supported her chin as she sat. The other hand draped across her legs. “I do so wish I knew what I was waiting for.”

The diminutive Drake whirled in the air, his colors brightening as he gamboled above the ground. “Perhaps it is an adventure! All adventures wait to happen!”

Taeliun perked up, her eyes getting a sparkle of mischief. “I do so hope it is! I shall wait for it!”

For the next while she and her companion waited eagerly, and quietly. It wouldn’t do to startle the adventure into running off before it started. Birds flitted from tree to tree in colors of brown and green, and red and yellow, and orange and black. Each melodius whistle and chirp felt like a premonition of excitement to Taeliun as she cast her eyes everywhere looking for the adventure. Finally she slumped back down on the tree root once more and sighed.

“I suspect it is not an adventure. Adventures must be what one goes looking for, not waiting for.”

The Drake whirled again, flitting a quick circle about her head, and stopping to hove mischieviously in front of her once again. “Maybe adventure is something that needs to be looked for. I shall think more about it.” Siki’ek settled with a quick whoosh of wings next to Taeliun. “Perhaps it must be something else we are waiting for.”

“You do not have to wait with me, Siki’ek, Mother did not ask you to wait.”

The little Drake scoffed and huffed and fluttered his wings. “Whyfor should I not wait? You are waiting, I can wait also.” He gave a dragonly smile of iridescent good cheer. “If I do not wait, I will miss what you are waiting for. It is much more fun to wait with another than adventure alone.”

Taeliun smiled and Siki’ek bounded off the ground, bright colors dancing as he noodled about once more in the air in front of her. “I wonder what it is we are waiting for, Taeliun. Whatever it is, it is certainly taking its own time getting here.”

He settled on the ground and resumed his waiting along with Taeliun’s. Over the next while of aniticipation the observed deer of brown and white pick carefully through the trees; small brown rabbits scampered about, nibbling plants. They froze mometarily when the birds squawked loudly. The sped off in a blur of brown just before a fox in soft orange appeared just where the rabbits had been.

It sniffed the ground, casting back and forth slowly, then began trotting the direction the rabbits had sped off. Taeliun wished them well. A hungry fox was a fast fox, and rabbits were smart to be elsewhere when one searched for food. Siki’ek lept into the air, startling the fox, which vanished into the low growth in an instant. The two friends gazed at each other, smiling and Siki’ek once more dropped from the sky to sit next to Taeliun.

A leaf chose that moment to drop from the lofty branch it clung to. It’s fluttering descent captivated both companions as the light breeze flipped it, spun it in a circle then lifted it higher in the air before finally allowing it to tumble to the ground. The breeze played with it, and rolled the leaf onto its edge and then over onto its back, finally laying flat against the ground. The breeze tried to lift it once more but now the leaf clung stubbornly to the ground and refused to move.

The little Drake pounced on the leaf, grasping it by its stem and leapt into the air, flying near the tops of the trees and releasing the leaf to begin fluttering back down once more towards the waiting earth. “It’s fun to chase, but slower than dragonflies. Flying bugs are easier to catch than it. They don’t bounce around as much.” Siki’ek swooped at the leaf which the breeze flipped into a roll, causing the Drake to undershoot. He rowed at the air, wings buzzing determinedly for altitude, then he flattened out and dove, snapping up a butterfly before returning to attack the leaf.

“I wonder when waiting is going to be over. Today has been fun, but I do not want to stay here after dark.” She remained properly proper sitting on the root as the leaf fluttered once more to earth. Siki’ek remained in the air chasing moths and butterflies for a snack. Seeing the little Drake eat reminded Taeliun that she had not eaten anything since setting out to do as Mother asked.

“Perhaps,” said the tiny Drake thoughtfully, “Perhaps what was to happen, did happen?”

“What do you mean?”

The Drake settled on Taeliun’s knee for a moment, then flitted up to eye level.

“Perhaps it was to find what we could wait for?”

Taeliun frowned and gazed at the iridescent creature. “What do you mean?”

“Did your Mother tell you what to wait for?”

“No, she did not. She only said I’d know when it happened.”

“Maybe that was what happened.”

“I am very confused, Siki’ek. Why are you saying something happened? All we saw were bugs, and sky, and clouds, and rabbits, and birds, and foxes, and deer” she said in frustration.

“Because that was what happened.”

She glared at Siki’ek, and as she opened her mouth, it closed again just as quickly.

“We were supposed to see all that?”

“Yes, Taeliun! We saw what we were supposed to find! We saw it! We saw what happened!”

“But, if what was supposed to happen, did happen. Why was it not an adventure?” She pondered for a moment, then found herself getting caught up in the idea. “We saw the day happen, and it happened around us! No one else could see what we did!”

“Let’s go tell your Mother!” The Drake noodled in the air then darted straight for Taeliun’s home, darting and dodging between branches and leaves. Taeliun laughed and spread her wings. She buzzed after her friend and back toward home.


Dark Renaissance – Chapter 13

Yellowjakket sped into Whitechapel, and dropped her power. She’d near exhausted herself holding onto it for longer than she’d ever done before. She’d needed to rest and ready herself. She hurtled though the narrow side streets, turning and skipping through them like a mad hare. When she’d felt certain any pursuit had been shaken off, she dove into the Aldgate East Tube entrance. Yellowjakket dashed down the steps and launched herself off the landing, heading west. Following the tracks, she slowed to a stop and blasted a service door open, disappearing off the tracks, and out of the search area.

She kept up a steady run. The dark, narrow tunnels were filled with pipes and littered with debris, making high speed travel very hazardous. More than once she barely ducked a low-hanging valve or bend in a pipe. At her speed, a concussion would be a lucky result. She finally reached her destination after a slow fifteen minutes. She entered the back end of the hidden tunnel, and immediately the bitter smell of marijuana assaulted her. The thickness and intensity caused her to gag involuntarily.

She recovered, and crouched, listening. Up ahead a number of voices carried to her. She started to stalk forward slowly. Yellowjakket wanted to charge in, but it was prudent to get a look first. These might be metas, and if so, it would be potentially very dangerous to get in a fight. The last thing anyone needed was the interest of the Patrols. The smell made her light-headed. She shook her head to clear it, and fell on her side, partly dazed by the potency of the smoke. Her vision swam, rippling like a heat mirage above hot asphalt.

The talking stopped when she fell. Fortunately, no one came to check out the noise. She slowly pushed upright and retraced her steps, finally getting out of the tunnel into clean air. The slim woman took deep gulps of air trying to clear her head. She couldn’t figure out why the smoke in the tunnel was so potent. She’d been around marijuana and other drugs growing up. In the public schools it was impossible to get away from. Kids wanted the latest, and greatest drugs. Their way of rebelling against family authority, or something to sell and make some quick cash.

After ten minutes, her mind cleared. Balance and a sense of wholeness returned. She started down the tunnel, and towards the checkpoint. The guards would want to know about the tunnel and the people nearby. New smells met her as she moved closer. Smoke from burned plastic hung in the air, along with a charcoal smell. She started to trot, suddenly fearful. There was no noise. She moved past the first home. The curtains over the small man-made caves had been burned away. She didn’t smell any petrol or other liquid flammables. The regularity of the burn marks made her think mages. Those were the only ones who might trouble themselves to attack a place underground like this.

The checkpoint was devastated. The metal pipe that served as a watch point had been melted so thoroughly that the sewer tube had collapsed. Debris and loose dirt half-filled the main tunnel. She kept walking, occasionally seeing a location where someone she knew had stayed. Where there had been a small, bustling community, there was now only the sound of dripping water and the quiet squeal of vermin that scurried through the debris of the lives that were once here.

She held her sorrow tight inside. This was not the time to grieve. Right now was time to look, search the detritus for any possible clues about the attacker, and the fate of the people. She sifted slowly through the wreckage, hunting for anything that might tell her where and who to focus her efforts on. A spot of color drew her attention. She moved a piece of charred wood, revealing a strip of blue-grey cloth with a distinct bit of red piping on it. A mage’s robe. That confirmed who the attackers were. It also meant that the people here fought back rather than ran. A piece of robe doesn’t just fall off.

So, with the mages being the culprits, she needed to find a group to question. That could get problematic. The other problem was, why had this place been attacked? It was small, out of the way. Nothing was here that would draw a full-on raid to her knowledge. She needed more information, which went back to finding someone to ‘talk’ to.

Dark Renaissance – Chapter 12

Montrose was up and shouting orders as soon as the call came in. Yellowjakket had been found, just south of the main search. She’d apparently felt the pressure as she’d accelerated and was now just east of Stratford, moving towards London at a measured three hundred and forty kilometers per hour. Her sped made any ambush futile currently, but he knew she’d have to slow down. The past reports said that Yellowjakket couldn’t maintain that high rate of speed for long. He contacted Root and Thorpe, and had Control’s apportation specialists ready a teleport for him and his new team. Once she slowed down, then they could chance a jump ahead of her expected travel. Perhaps what he needed was a few metas himself. Fight fire with fire.

He returned in his mind to Root’s words. She wasn’t a teleporter. So what had really happened in those earlier encounters? He had built and cast out any number of scenarios, as any magic would have been detected by the mages trying to capture her, and if it was another meta, they would have shown in the sense-scans the mages performed trying to locate her. The only way to avoid either was to teleport far enough away. Once the target got a kilometer or so away, the traces faded unless a majo working was done by Control’s tame wizards. But with their inability to pin her location, they might as well be throwing darts at a map to try and predict her location.

Hamish stepped to his private teleport circle. The essence he’d gotten from the boy was almost used. He’d need another recharge when he got to Control. He wanted to be fully ready when he confronted Yellowjakket again. The teleport took hold when he triggered the permanent spell, hurling him in an eyeblink to Control in downtown London. “Where is she?”, He demanded as he strode from the circle. Montrose nodded at Root, walking past as the small man mumbled a ‘good evening’. He stepped to the prefect in charge. “Who’s on the list?” The prefect lifted his arm, and mumbled a spell. A face and name appeared above his open hand. Montrose nodded. “She’s in the ready room?” “Yes, sir. I’ll ring ahead and make certain you’re not interrupted”, the prefect said in a high, shaky voice. Montrose smiled. He enjoyed the respect power gave him. When Yellowjakket died, he’d be another step to a full council seat.

Sir! We’ve got news! The team assigned to search the tip for Charing Cross found the runaways.” The courier snapped a salute, and handed Montrose the memory crystal with the full report detailed therein. Montrose pressed the crystal against his temple and concentrated. The report said that the press-team had searched the Charing Cross orphanage, and had found exactly what the mole had described. Upwards of thirty children, all young mages and metas, currently unwakened.

Dark Renaissance – Chapter 11

Yellowjakket sped east, darting through London Fields and continuing was through the small streets. She’d slowed enough to be seen, now it was time to move back North and West. She needed to meet the boys and guide them to the next conductor. He would guide them out to points north. She turned north, hiding in between buildings and away from the large main streets, sticking to feeders and cutting between buildings. She ran through Highbury Fields and turned Northwest, It took another half-hour to work her way up to Hampstead. Hampstead Heath is on the north side of London, still in the city proper actually.

This was the toughest portion of the trip. Pryor’s Field was a large area, and out here, while more remote, was out in the open. The fog thinned as she moved north so travel was much easier under near cloudless skies and a full moon. If they were spotted, there was no quick escape. The boys would be taken to Rochester, if they were lucky. If not, to Control, and then to god knew where. She was dead if they caught her.

It took ten minutes of searching quietly around the prior to find them. They’d huddled in the trees as she’d told them, going up to Joy pond to hide. One of the boys yelped when she seemed to step out of the shadows next to him. She stifled a tired giggle, then said quietly. “This is going to be the hard part. We need to traverse north, to Monken Hadley. I’ll be staying with you more on this leg of the trip. It will take a day, and we’ll find a place to hide at sunrise.”

The trip to Monken Hadley took two days, as the neighborhoods between there and Hampstead had active police patrols going day and night. One of the boys found out that there was an escaped felon loose in the area. Taking it slow and careful, the small party made it through without attracting attention. She finally ushered the tired and hungry students inside the building. The lights were left off, leaing Yellowjakket and the fugitives in the dim light.

The place had a surreal look. The building was one large open room, with double doors front and rear. One small water closet, and a bank of dimmable switches for the interior lights. Light coming from the streetlamps was filtered by the closed curtains, bathing the interior in a disturbing greenish glow. Dust seemed to dance in the beams of light, making the place feel almost disconnected with reality.

The Hadley Memorial Hall, and most of Monken Hadley, had been abandoned when it had been deliberately burned by Control. A small group of metas had used this area as their home, until someone had informed the authorities about their activity here. Control adopted a ‘scorched earth’ policy to send a message and create an object lesson as to their intentions. Whole families had been taken and tossed in the new isolation camp at Water’s End. Only a few still lived here. Those who stayed were unswerving in their loyalty to the Council, and Control.

So, on one hand, this location was one of the worst to choose because of the people. It was also one of the better places as most of the people had been removed. From here, they were in the hands of the UG, until they made it to Scotland. Yellowjakket decided to take a quick turn around the small town before turning in. She started to the door, when she heard a lock turn at the back door of the hall.

Everyone froze in place at the sound. She moved next to the door, ready to attack should something attack. The door rattled as someone pulled at it, then a second lock was turned at the bottom of the door. Yellowjakket drew a breath, and focused, as an old woman entered. She took a quick look at the boys, pointedly ignoring the black and yellow meta by the door. Hse was dressed in a dingy looking dress that looked a sickly green in the light. A darker, purplish-green shawl was around her shoulders. Her heavy black-framed glasses made Yellowjakket think of a librarian. Her skin had the same sickly greenish tone as the light. Her nose was a classic Roman nose with the prominent spur between the eyes. Her thin lips were a garish pink, and pressed in a thin line as she gave each boy in the room a once-over.

Hurry up dearies, let’s get you out and to the house. We’ve got food and a warm barn for you to sleep at.” She smiled then turned as Yellowjakket stepped behind her. “How do we decide to trust you?”, she asked bluntly, her hand beginning to glow with a yellowish cast. “Oh how clumsy of me”, she chuckled. “Ah, oh dear my memory.” She frowned in concentration, and then looked at Yellowjakket. “You’re that girl in London that’s got everyone in a snit. Yellowjakket’s baker’s dozen. So what is the countersign?”

The smile left her face, and she made a claw of her left hand. A bluish liquid seemed to form there, smoking and spitting like boiling fat. “You’re Granny Goodwitch.” Yellowjakket said, and watched the old woman’s face wrinkle with distaste. “Yes, you’re the one and I’m the one. No one would call me that to my face around here.”

She looked at the children. “You’re a day late, and you’re way out of your home, girl. Why?” “Gewlry asked me to. She had some difficulties crop up and wanted these out soonest”, Yellowjakket informed her. “As for the late part. There was a report of an escapee around Hampstead, and the patrols were heavy. I prefer stealth to speed, especially when none of the boys can outrun a car, or a bullet.” Granny nodded. “That’s very true. I heard about that escaped prisoner. Bloody rotten luck the timing. But when is timing good for anyone?”

You seem to do well by it.”, Yellowjakket smiled. Granny frowned at Yellowjakket, who could see the mischievous twinkle in Granny’s eyes. “If you mean I’m old and slow, you’re a cheeky one.” Yellowjakket shrugged, and looked over to the children. “They’re yours now, I’ve got to get back to Londinium. I’ve got to find where they’re training the children to be Control members. If that place could be shut down, there might be a chance to really disrupt things. Maybe even get a full resistance going.”

Granny looked at her. “The resistance is there already. Someone just has to start calling for it.” Yellowjakket looked at the old woman. Granny Goodwitch opened the door, which turned the shawl from a sickly purple green to a warm lavender. “Well? We’ve not all night to chatter, fun as it is. Let’s get you to the house and some food in you.” She stepped out the door, and slowly walked towards the back of the lot and then turned north. The boys filed out and followed her in a silent gaggle, turning north and disappearing around the edge of the wooden fence at the edge of the property.

The slim huntress watched for a few minutes, then stepped out the door, quietly closing it behind her. The streets were empty of any moving traffic. Curfew was in effect. Yellowjakket flitted quickly from house to house. She could move much faster now that she needn’t worry about the boys. She swung wide around downtown Monkton Hadley, then paralleled the tracks back towards London. She was far enough outside of London proper that it was easy travel, without the dangers of overhead reconnaissance. She moved east intending on coming in from the last direction she’d lured them towards. If they took the bait, the area around Stratford would be futilely searched for her, at least for a few days.

Dark Renaissance – Chapter 10

Yellowjakket sprinted hard and dodged left past two abandoned cars. The police sirens were louder but so far she’d only seen one and a quick shot had blasted the front left tire, crippling the car. It had swerved, and skidded to a stop as she sped off. She hoped it didn’t roll. Up ahead, over the rise she could see a number of flashing strobes in the gathering fog. There were a lot of police cars gathering. She needed to find a way to get by the roadblock and into open ground. The further away from the enclosed streets, the harder it would be for them to corner her.

She came hurtling over the rise, a dark blur in the light fog. Two vehicles had turned across City Road, blocking her path. A quick glance to her right showed officers behind vehicles on those streets also. Yellowjakket considered pulling a reverse, but discarded the idea immediately. The police would be blocking the roads, hoping she’d turn and allow the trap to close. It was time to push her limits.

She concentrated, then her body lit up like a firefly. The glow surrounded her, and she accelerated to thrice her original velocity. A hard left at the patrol car then a leap put one foot on the boot, and she was over and past before the officers could react. She ran, turning right when the street ended, then chuckled grimly to herself, charging into the City Road Basin and turning up the basin and then east in Regent’s Canal. She dropped her power, running on top of the water at a solid one hundred twenty. She was past the blockade and in the open. The helicopter following her she lost them after turning up Kingsland basin, and losing them in between the buildings.

* * * * *

Montrose gaped at Yellojakket’s sudden break. “No! No no no no no no no no NO!” She disappeared in a blaze of Yellow, passed over the parked police car and was gone. He heard the police radio frantically trying to redirect officers enroute to cut her off, but none were equipped to deal with the canal. “She’s a proper bitch, she is.” Root ambled up to Montrose, who ground his teeth. “I thought you said she’s a ‘porter. That weren’t no ‘port.” “She didn’t need to ‘port! You saw what she did. She just ran through the blockade like it wasn’t there. Root held up his hand placatingly. “No sir, I mean she’s not a ‘porter at all. If she were, using it or no I’d feel a shift. If ye ken ‘port, there’s always a, displacement, if you will.” He nodded at Haverstock, where Yellowjakket had disappeared. “She don’t have it.”

Montrose was still seething as the words sunk in. “No teleportation. Are you sure, Mister Root?” “Sure as I am standing, she cannot teleport. There is no feel of a ‘porter to her at all”, the small man replied seriously. “I repeat, Mister Root, you are certain?” “Yes, I am absolutely certain, Mister Montrose. There is no way that Yellowjakket is a teleporter.” A whoosh, a burst of light from overhead, and a wash of heat pushed down on them for a moment. Mister Thorpe, came at a trot towards the other two. “What happened? I’ve been holding that heat for nigh on three minutes. I never saw the git. I had to let it go. So, if you please, why did you leave me to cook like that?”

Montrose glanced at Thorpe, who returned his angry gaze with one that nervously flicked from his shoes to Hamish’s and back down again. The man had been left out of the events. Montrose noted that the police scanner had partly melted on Thorpe’s jacket. The heat he’d built up apparently shorted the system. Montrose went over the details briefly to bring Thorpe up to speed. “That’s a proper bollocks. Something like ‘er is hard to pin with just normals about. Perhaps more auxiliaries to control the edges?” Thorpe noted the slow building of anger and power in Montrose, and stopped talking.

Will you be needing us further, Mister Montrose?”, Root asked him, very politely. Montrose got his temper, and his power back under control, then looked at Root and Thorpe. With Yellowjakket out of reach until they sighted her again, there was nothing to do about her. Root and Thorpe were both good, obedient wizards. A tighter relationship between them would be mutually beneficial. With the captain’s job all but his, he would need reliable lackeys to watch his back as he worked to further his own power.

He looked at Thorpe, and forced a rueful smile to his face. “You are right, Mister Thorpe, it was a bollocks of an operation. We tried a slapdash approach, and it failed. What we need, is a dedicated force to find and corner her. Would you two be interested if such a possible group were to be formed?” He watched their faces carefully as e presented the idea. The two men listened, then turned to look at each other for a moment. Montrose almost chuckled to see them shrug their shoulders at the same time. “We’d be in, sir, if such a group were put together”, Thorpe said quietly. Root simply nodded in agreement with Thorpe.

Montrose smiled in genuine good will. He had a start of something. Certainly, it was spontaneous, but some of the best efforts came from spontaneity. Things were looking up.

Dark Renaissance – Chapter 9

Yellowjakket took out at a flat sprint, holding to alleys and back streets until she was a good distance away. She was out on the street, in view, and moving as fast as she could, going south, crossing the Thames at Vauxhall. She angled southwest, then dropped into the underground. She followed the tube back to Euston, then scrambled through the tube to Camden Town. The black-clad huntress was listening to the radio traffic. While the wizards used magical means to communicate, everyone else used their cells and the police used their own channels. This was how she knew where the press-gangs were. The police would report their movements as a way of staying out of the wizards way. The less attention you had from those in power, the safer you were.

She listened to the radio traffic, trying to visualize the moves the ‘PG’ were making. If nothing seemed to be coming north, then they could use the train, otherwise it’d be on foot to avoid discovery. The radio traffic didn’t sound like they’d seen her. She decided to play it safe. She trotted through Camden Town station, and spotted the children where they had gathered. The platform had a few evening pedestrians, though none seemed inclined to notice her when she landed on the platform. She watched the commuters as she waved the children near. Making sure none of them tried to leave or take cell-phone pictures, Yellowjakket whispered the next set of directions to the boys.

“All right everyone, we’re going out to Hampstead. I have a few places to be to keep the PG off of us. Once you get to Hampstead, Go northeast to Pryor’s field, and stay in the trees. I’ll meet you there.” She looked to the two oldest boys. “Keep an eye out for the others. And watch the people on the landings when you exit the station. Anyone tries to follow you, alert the others and try to lose them. If you can’t, scatter in two’s and lie low for a few hours. Then gather at Pryor’s. I’ll be there, and any trouble, I can handle it.”

She hopped down to the tracks, then places a hand on the outside rail, closing her eyes. She could feel the faintest vibration, the subway was near. Yellowjakket jumped the track, then jumped the southbound line, accelerating up the steps and actually generating enough of a draft to pull dust and paper into the air behind her. A couple of commuters shrank back against the wall fighting the sudden draft behind her. The dismayed security had an eyeblink of time before Yellowjakket was past him and gone up the steps and into the night.

* * * * *

Montrose was reading when the link went active. “Sir, she’s been spotted, Camden Town, moving east at high speed. We’re diverting teams to cut off her escape. Latest report coming in is Euston, now moving due east. Estimated speed one hundred twenty kilometers per hour.” Got you, Montrose gleefully thought. “Send two emergency auxiliaries a kilometer east, I’ll be there momentarily.” “Very good, sir”, the disembodied voice replied. “Messers Thrope, and Root will be meeting you. They will pop red for ident.” “Understood.” “Control, out.”

He gathered the pitiful remains of the boy, condensing the essence into a space, then he envisioned his destination. A moment later, there was a slight ‘pop’ as displaced air rushed to fill the location he had been in a moment earlier. He appeared Just east of St. Mark’s hospital. There was activity ongoing as a police cab screeched to a halt straddling the road Yellowjakket was expected on. Two plain clothes officers braced themselves on the hood and boot, aiming back up the road. Montrose raised a hand and a a ball of red light formed. Two other red globes popped into existence to his right. He smiled as the two auxiliaries trotted over.

Both were in dark long-coats that trailed to their ankles. The short thin man Montrose knew by sight and had worked with before. Andrew Root looked like he could be blown over by a strong wind. His face at first glance seemed emaciated, which a further glance at the body beneath the long-coat seconded. Barely one point two meters tall, Root looked like his namesake. His eyes however were a striking yellow-green, and almost seemed to glow in the dim light. The other man, was taller, and more rotund.

Philip Thrope had been a sideshow ‘freak’ before the turning had occurred. His skin hung in loose flaps, hair sprouted thick like a pelt in patches, giving him the grotesque visage of a animal with a case of mange. He weighed over two hundred kilograms, and while his appearance was striking, his strength and abilities with fire magic were known and respected. Both had been tested in combat, against men, and metas. Montrose smiled as the two men joined him by St. Mark’s.

“What’s the plan, mate?”, Thrope asked him. “The plan is to kill her when she gets here, start casting now, she’s due in seconds. “Righto, we’re on it.” The big man rotated his hands, speaking in a clear voice, “اللهب جمع، يدي المصدر، ذهني النموذج، هل لي القوة

The air glowed then caught fire around his hands, the flames getting brighter as he brought them together in front of him. Root began his own chant, a reddish darkness forming around him, then floating aside as another liquid-like outline formed and moved away to make room for yet another. In mere seconds thirty reddish black humanoids had formed. Shouts and shots from the west announced the arrival of their target.

Montrose grinned. Twice Control had been certain she had died, and twice she’d somehow survived. This third time would be the charm. He wondered how she’d survived the ambush at the prison. He’d snapped her neck, he knew it. Yet, here she was. The location spells had confirmed it. What instinctual power did she have, that allowed her to survive a broken neck? What power would cause teleportation to explode the ground around the teleporter like she did? He’d find out and claim that power. That was Root’s function. Each of his simulacrums devoured entangled displacement. More properly, they devoured the energy. She couldn’t teleport away, not with Root locking her down.

“You there!”, Montrose roared at the police. “Block off Pickard street, and ..” He glanced at the streets, “put men on Haverstock and Remington! Keep her on the City Road!” The second half would be on Thorpe. His fire could stop her from being able to escape. He could form barriers, and create balls of fire. Thorpe’s fire could, and would, burn anything it touched. Montrose’s personal specialty was metalmancy. He could warp metal, and animate it. The one flaw was that he had to touch his target. So it would be up to Root and Thrope to trap her. Then when she had no place to run, he could finally kill her.

It would be another step up the ladder. His previous commanding officer had died last night. The cause was a sudden heart attack. No one knew he’d hidden a small metal ‘bug’ loaded with potassium chloride just outside the odious man’s window. A thin wire that allowed control made it easy to inject the man with a lethal amount. Now the job was his. All that was needed was a proper conclusion to this trap.