Today I’ve got an extract from Jan Domagala and his book Ronin. Take a look and we’ll be showcasing more from this book tomorrow.
He stood on the Observation Lounge looking out at the vista of stars, waiting to die.
Out of the four volunteers for the special experimental programme, only he and Kurt Stryder were left alive. The other two, Summerfield and Watson, had died in circumstances too horrible to contemplate. Was this his fate too, to die like them?
He knew there were risks involved in the programme, a fact of any experimental programme but seeing those risks, seeing the consequences up close and personal made him doubt the validity of both the programme and his eagerness to enlist in it. It was too late to pull out now though, for the final round of tests had been completed. At least he had gotten that far, more than could be said for Summerfield or Watson.
Turning away from the large panoramic viewport he decided to return to his quarters. It was after midnight station time, which was synchronous with Earth Central Time. At this time of night only the night shift were working keeping this station, Research Station Five, operational. He walked towards his quarters, nothing more than a cubicle with a bed really, and he entered. He soon had disrobed placing his uniform in the wardrobe, the only other piece of furniture present in the Spartan quarters before climbing into the bed.
He was more tired than he had first thought and sleep came to him quickly. After a few hours sleep, he was suddenly awakened by a searing pain that ripped through his abdomen like a wildfire. He tumbled out of bed wrapped in the duvet that strangled his movements. He tried to stand but a wave of nausea engulfed him like a raging tide washing over the shore. He stumbled and steadied himself against the wardrobe to prevent falling on
the floor then activated the locking pad on the door. As it opened on a cushion of compressed air he threw himself out into the corridor beyond.
A series of hacking coughs wracked his body and when his sight returned he saw the wall he had leaned against for support was splattered with blood.
This was not good. This was how the other two started before they died.
He was afraid then and he screamed for help before another coughing fit took control.
He fell to the floor, his stomach heaving, the pain building to excruciating levels. As he lay on the floor he turned his head to see a pair of boots running toward him. He had never felt such pain and he was so weak he could hardly lift his head.
He felt someone cradle his head and he looked up into a pair of worried eyes.
He coughed once more spraying the shirt of whoever was holding him with blood before he succumbed to the darkness that had been creeping into his peripheral vision.
The man cradling his head accessed a comm channel via his Neural Interface.
When the call was connected he said, “Sir, Captain Bell
has just died.”
Kurt Stryder was taking a shower when his Neural Interface tingled, telling him a comm. channel had been accessed and a call was coming through to him.
“Go ahead,” he said. The NI automatically connected him to various networks, wherever he was on a starship, station or on a planet, whether it was comm. networks or the main computer on board. Effectively doing away with the need for external devices, the NI gave remote access to the same sources. Most Col Sec personnel were fitted with these NI’s and also, some private citizens who could afford the cost of surgery, and the device.
“Something’s happened to Bell,” General Sinclair said, his voice coming through as clear as if he stood next to him in the room.
“What, same as the others?” Stryder asked almost knowing the answer, which would make his own worst fear come true.
“I’m afraid so, just like Summerfield and Watson.”
“How long have I got?” Stryder asked, for he was part of the same project and now, the only remaining test subject left alive.
“There’s no guarantee that what happened to them will also happen to you. They assure me they’re doing everything in their power, to get to the bottom of this,” Sinclair said.
“Excuse me sir if I don’t feel reassured. What I don’t understand is, if we all had the procedure at the same time, why have the others died at different intervals?”
“That’s something they’re looking into, I can assure you. I want you to come to the main lab right away. There are some tests they want you to perform and I want you
under close surveillance at all times, until we get to the bottom of this.”
“Right, I’ll just finish my shower and be right there sir.”
“There’ll be an escort waiting at your door when you’re ready, Sinclair out.”
Stryder continued with his shower now that the tell tale tingle had left him, as the connection was severed.
All he could think of was, when would he die? He’d seen the reports of the first two deaths and they were horrible. He’d seen his fair share of death during combat and had caused enough of his own to warrant his participation in this project. This was supposed to help bring about the end of the needless death, or at the very least, help reduce it. He had thought that if the results of this project helped to save one life in the field, then whatever they had to endure would be worth it.
Now he wasn’t so sure. It didn’t seem right to sacrifice three lives, possibly more, to save only one life. The balance was off, and he had no idea how to redress it.
Finishing his shower, he dried off and quickly got dressed in his uniform of white shirt and dark blue trousers. The Col Sec emblem was on the patch pocket on his shirt, over his heart and the three pips of his rank of captain were on the epithets. He glanced in the mirror to ensure he was presentable, but what he saw disturbed him somewhat. His blond hair was cut to regulation length, not too short but trimmed neatly around ears that lay flat against the side of his head. High cheekbones gave evidence of his Nordic ancestry, as did his cobalt blue eyes. His normal, warm smile was missing now, replaced with a worried frown. Trying not to think about what could lie ahead, he went to the door.
As the door opened he saw his escort, two marines from Recon Delta. Delta was his old unit, the elite of Col Sec, which meant the General was taking this development
seriously. The marines promptly fell in behind him as he left his room.
Arriving at the main lab he was met by General Sinclair and Doctor Baxter, the two main men heading this project. General Sinclair was in overall command of Col Sec; both Recon Delta and Intelligence Division. Doctor Baxter was in charge of the lab.
“There you are Captain,” Sinclair said as Stryder entered the lab, flanked by his escort. Sinclair was in his fifties but still ram-rod stiff from his years in Col Sec. His brown hair was receding from a high forehead in a widow’s peak. Below that, his deep brown eyes were unfathomable, as was his normal, stoic expression. Thin lips rarely if ever, spread into a smile. It was said in some circles that, if Sinclair had ever indulged in playing poker, with his normal deadpan expression, he could have been wealthy beyond his dreams.
“Yes sir, I see you’ve beefed up the security somewhat,” Stryder replied with a sardonic smile.
“Yes I thought it about time.”
“Granted, but don’t you think it smacks of closing the stable door after the horse has bolted, just a little?”
“Your opinion is thus noted Captain, but Baxter here doesn’t share your sense of doom. Tell him Doctor.”
Stryder turned to the doctor not daring to hope. He said, “Tell me what, Doc?”
Baxter was smaller than the other men in the lab who were all professional soldiers standing between six feet one and six feet three inches tall, with lean hard physiques that had been honed through years of hard training. Baxter, however, was five feet ten inches tall, with a thin, reedy body that had rarely seen exercise. His mind though was as sharp as any blade known to man.
“Well Captain, you know as well as any on this project, that what we’ve witnessed, has been unprecedented and quite frankly, simply should not have happened…,” he
said, his slate grey eyes aglow with excitement. He ran his hand through his thinning, salt and pepper hair, and then pushed his spectacles up his aquiline nose, a habit of his when he was nervous, or excited.
“But it did happen, sir, three times now. The same every time. What I need to know is, when is it gonna be my turn and can you prevent it?” Stryder asked.
“But that’s just it, the same every time. All three died exactly the same.” said Baxter, thrusting his hands into the pockets of his white lab coat.
“I understand that Doctor, what’s your point?”
“You know the basis of what we’re doing here, right? We’ve injected you all with a serum that would alter you genetically; to enhance your immune system, to give you the ability to heal faster and to aggressively attack toxins.”
“Yes sir, I was briefed fully at the induction, we all were.”
“And you agree that no two people’s d.n.a. is exactly the same?”
“So why would the treatment affect three people in exactly the same manner, at different intervals, when it has been proven, that there are no toxins present in the serum?”
“I don’t know Doctor; you tell me, you’re the expert. No wait, you suspect foul play. How is that possible? I thought the facility was locked down tighter than an air lock in deep space”
“It is, but considering we are in deep space, that comment is redundant. Having said that, it’s the only explanation that fits the facts,” Baxter said.
“So what’re we gonna do sir?” Stryder asked, glancing at the general.
“You are going to continue with the program, leave the security of this facility to me,” Sinclair replied confidently.
“Do you have a list of suspects sir? I’d like to know so I can keep an eye out, or am I to be the bait?” Stryder asked.
“We’re looking into it Captain,” Sinclair said, giving nothing away as usual.
Stryder watched as Baxter turned to the General and said, “Tell him.”
“Tell me what sir? What is it you’re keeping from me?” Stryder asked suspiciously.
Sinclair stared at Baxter for a second, his eyes boring into him with repressed anger. Baxter was a civilian scientist working for Col Sec, but not directly under Sinclair’s command, otherwise that little outburst would not have happened. He looked away from the doctor then turned to face Stryder. There was a battle going on inside his head, Stryder could see that. When he came to a decision he said, “Okay, we suspect that Captain Howard may have something to do with all this.”
“Howard? Isn’t he in charge of security here?”
“Yes and we have to handle this carefully. If he has ties to the Alliance, then we need to find out. We’ll have to keep him under close surveillance but without alerting him to the fact we’re on to him. If he is our man and he gets wind of our suspicions, there’s no telling what he might do.”
“One thought has occurred to me sir, why is he going to so much trouble, when this project clearly doesn’t work?” Stryder asked.
“Excuse me?” Baxter replied indignantly, staring at the taller man as if he had insulted him.
“Well sir, if this serum is supposed to increase our immune system, to make us more able to fight off toxins, how is he killing us off one by one? All the testing we’ve undergone so far has been to see if it affected us on a physical level. As far as I can see, our immune system has not been tested yet. Surely if a poison or toxin of some sort has been used shouldn’t the serum have neutralised it?” Stryder explained with no trace of malice.
Baxter’s expression softened a little. He said, “That again, is something of a mystery. You were right to point out about the testing. We had to ensure that the serum had no debilitating effects on your abilities to perform as a soldier. In fact, in your case Captain, it had quite the opposite effect; it actually increased your strength and stamina. I’m sure you’re aware that your endurance levels have increased by twenty five per cent.”
Stryder expressed mild surprise and a little bewilderment.
“To be honest Doc, I thought you were taking it easy on me, well on us, actually. I never realised it was just me, we never tested together. I just put it down to my training in Recon Delta being harder than what you put us through.” He paused then asked, “But why me?”
Baxter had no answer for him other than a shake of his head and a bemused expression. When he spoke his voice displayed his frustration.
“We’ve encountered so many variables that that were, to be honest, unexpected. Each test subject has had a different reaction to the serum, however small. You, it seems Captain, are the only one to exhibit any positive reaction to the serum. It seems the serum did not affect the immune system of the first three. In fact, once the autopsy results are in on Bell, I’m sure it will confirm my earlier findings, that their immune system, actually saw the serum as a threat, and destroyed it.”
“How is that possible sir, and what does it mean for me? Am I in danger from it?” Stryder asked a little concerned.
“On the contrary, it seems to have increased your metabolism, now all we need to do in order to get it to increase your immune system. We need to get it to attach itself onto your DNA to affect your immune system genetically; otherwise it could be perceived as a threat by
your body’s defences and be destroyed by the very thing it seeks to improve.”
“And how on earth do you intend to do that?”
“I’ve developed a nano serum, billions of tiny robots programmed to attach the serum to the specific strand of your d.n.a. We just inject it into your bloodstream and they get to work. We should see results within a very short time.” Baxter said smiling and almost rubbing his hands together in glee at the prospect of this new development.
“Billions of tiny robots Doc? I’m no scientist but how have you programmed so many, in such a short space of time,”
“We’ve been working on nano bots for many years. They’re used extensively throughout the medical profession as I’m sure you’re aware. Programming them was relatively easy; they work in series you see. If you programme one, it passes that data along to the rest almost instantaneously.”
“When are you planning on—” Stryder stopped short when he saw Baxter reach for a syringe.
“Right now Captain, roll up your sleeve please.”
Before he knew it the injection had been administered and he was pulling down his sleeve again.
“How soon Doc, before you know? What can I expect?” he asked, unsure of what would happen next.
“Not sure really, but the nano bots should get to work immediately. As to the question whether you’ll feel anything, I wouldn’t expect so. Remember this is taking place at the genetic level so the changes should go unnoticed until the immune system is threatened.”
“So what you’re saying basically, is that I won’t know if it’s worked until I get injured?” Stryder asked.
“Well, I suppose that’s somewhat true, yes,” Baxter replied seeming a little unsure.
“You don’t sound too confident Doctor.” Sinclair said.
“We’re not dealing with absolutes here, we’re into uncharted waters. This has never been attempted before and quite frankly, until we get some sort of results, until we can test this, I don’t know what to expect.”
“Forgive me Doc if I don’t feel reassured.” Stryder said.
“If it works though, just think of the potential. Think of the lives we’ll be able to save.” Baxter said, pushing his spectacles up his nose again.
“Going back to my earlier question about Howard sir, why is he going to so much trouble to kill us all off? Does he know something about this that we don’t, or is the Alliance so afraid that we may be on to something, that they’re desperate to stop us at any cost?”
“It’s no secret that they are desperate to prevent us gaining any sort of advantage over them and if they can’t duplicate our research, then the safest thing to do is either discredit it or destroy it,” Sinclair said.
“If he’s in charge of security won’t he be pissed off that you brought in Recon Delta to take over?”
“Oh, I do hope so,” Sinclair said with an uncharacteristically smug smirk.
“I get it, you want to rattle his cage and force him to make a mistake.”
“Of course,” Sinclair said.
“So, not only am I a guinea pig, but I’m bait now as well?” Stryder said.
Baxter looked from him over to Sinclair, then down to the floor, unable to maintain eye contact with him. The General though, had no trouble at all looking at him.
“Don’t feel guilty Doc, I’m first and always a soldier, this comes with the territory,” Stryder said never taking his eyes off Sinclair.
“You got that right Captain; this is what you signed up for,” Sinclair said coldly.
“Yeh! The life in Recon Delta, it’s not just a job, it’s an adventure.” said Stryder.
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