I woke up to the sound of the telecom alert. I'd gone to bed early, after an unusually exhausting day, and was dead to the world when it awakened me shortly before midnight. At first I thought it was a PET alert, and was already halfway into my protective suit (though considerably less than half-awake) when Kiri's face appeared onscreen. Behind her were Will, Rann, and Alan. It was just four days since I'd spoken to Haley, days in which I'd begun to feel I was finally dragging myself out of the emotional pit I'd so diligently dug.
For a moment I just stared at the image. "Kiri?" I mumbled stupidly, throwing on the nearest T-shirt. "I thought you were a PET alert. What's going on?"
"Sen," Kiri said, "we're in trouble here. Real trouble. We desperately need your help." I suddenly noticed that Rann was deathly pale. I felt a sickening feeling of foreboding.
"My help?" I echoed, still groggy.
"Haley's been kidnapped," Will said.
That woke me up. One hundred percent. "Haley? Haley?" Crime is unusual enough on the Twin Planets, but kidnapping is practically unheard of. "By who? Is there something I can do?" Will looked as if he were about to say something further, but was interrupted by Kiri.
"I'm going to make this as brief as possible," she said. "We're racing the clock here. One of our researchers downloaded a Virrin mind into himself--"
"Yeah, I heard about that part," I acknowledged.
"--killed at least four people, and took her with him. We think we know where they're going, but the fastest ship we have will take over a day to get there."
"Even in the Futaba?"
"He took the Futaba. It's at least twice as fast as anything we've got. We think they're going to Rouaas."
"He took the Futaba?" I exclaimed. "How--"
"Somehow he forged my voiceprint. He's also blocked me out of the living quarters. Probably used the same voiceprint to override the security lockout and reprogram the access combination. He apparently entered via a gateway of his own and took off right from the palace courtyard." She let me digest this for a few seconds.
"The Noriko," I said slowly, finally understanding. "You need me to take the Noriko and follow them." She nodded. "And where the hell is Rouaas?" I demanded, but even as I said it I remembered. It was one of those things you learned in grade school and promptly forgot.
"Rouaas is only about thirteen hours from Qozernon with the Noriko," she answered, tactfully ignoring my question. "We're already underway, but even in this ship it'll take us over a day to get there. And with Haley a hostage we have to keep a low profile with any pursuit."
"Sen, please," Rann broke in. "Please save her. Please."
I gave him a reassuring grin, or at least the closest thing to it I could muster. "You know I will, Rann. Did you really think you had to ask?"
"We'll fill you in on the details once you're underway," Alan said, speaking for the first time.
"Fine," I assured them. "Is there anything special I need to bring?"
"Yes," Kiri said slowly. "Do you remember where I stored the mind wipe device I used on Will all those years ago?" I nodded, rather surprised. She'd shown it to me once, though at the time she hadn't told me who she'd used it on. It was quite small, about the size of a telecom's remote control. "Bring that and a case of microtools," she said. "And your protective suit. You'll need it." Thoroughly mystified, I complied. Possibly ten minutes later I was streaking out of the planet's atmosphere, pressed back into my seat by the acceleration. I'd had just enough time to contact EMRN headquarters and let them know I was temporarily unavailable again for emergency calls.
Rouaas is located a little over halfway from Qozernon to Deshtiris, a few light-years off a direct line between the two. Like the Futaba, I had only to inform the Noriko of the coordinates of our destination and the rest of the necessary calculations were performed automatically. The ship promptly notified me that we would reach our destination in approximately 13.150684 hours.
Once the Noriko was safely at hyperspeed, aimed at Rouaas, the four began filling me in on recent events. I wisely refrained from a well-deserved "I told you so" on hearing the full story of what had happened to Rokun. Besides, it wasn't just Rann who was filled with apprehension for Haley. In the brief time I'd known her the Earth girl had succeeded in unsettling my life much more than she might have imagined. It had also taken me very little time to see how much she meant to Rann.
"He's somehow genetically modified himself," Alan was explaining, the stress apparent in his voice. "His skin has mutated into some kind of nearly indestructible protective substance. One guard hit him square on with the point of his sword without even scratching him, and was silently electrocuted for his efforts. We have a recording made by a security camera, and from what we can see only Rokun's eyes are still intact. He might be vulnerable to a green laser blast, but unfortunately the only laser rifle left in working condition is on the Futaba. And don't forget he has Will's energy bolts."
"Believe me, I remember that part," I said fervently. "So what am I supposed to do?"
"You're going to modify the mind wiper," Kiri said. "Because he still has a human brain, he's vulnerable to its effects, or at least we think he is. The architecture of his mind, however, is different now from that of a human mind. That actually operates to our advantage. I've worked out a configuration change that will make it effective on him but won't affect a normal human brain within range."
That leaves me out, I thought a bit sourly. Will turned and nervously whispered something in Kiri's ear, and I saw her expression harden in return. "Because I tested it on myself, that's how," she snapped. Will, stunned, slowly sat down, disappearing temporarily from sight. "Sen," she continued, a little less harshly, "you know I'd never consider having you use this if I thought it would put you in greater danger."
"I didn't ask, Kiri," I said softly.
So I would have a weapon of sorts. Nonetheless it was pretty clear that in his reincarnated state Rokun was going to be one tough character. This would definitely not be a simple PET rescue operation, not by a long shot. "So what do I do when I get there?" I asked skeptically. Rouaas was now twelve hours away.
In a long series of precise, clear instructions Kiri had me dismantle the mind wiper. It turned out that the actual device was very small, about the size of a matchbook. The rest of the space was taken up by the keypad and command buttons. Kiri explained how to interface the core of the device with my PET suit's command module. The device itself I mounted on the back of my right glove. Altogether the procedure consumed a good four hours, and by the end of it my fingers were stiff and my eyes threatening to burn themselves into the back of my head.
"I'm sending you a code subroutine to modify the behavior of the mind wiper, so it'll resonate with Rokun's modified brain configuration. Download it into your command module the same way you would any other software update for your suit. Once you do, pressing the triangular key on your keypad will activate it. If you're close enough, and if we actually understand what we're doing on this end, it should wipe his mind completely and permanently."
I shuddered, remembering Lucie. "That's two too many ifs," I said dubiously. "How close?"
"Within about thirty feet," Kiri said.
"His energy bolts have killed people from as far away as two hundred feet," Alan broke in. "You've got to be very careful."
"Two hundred feet, huh?" I said, mustering a weak grin. "Kind of makes Will's bolts look feeble, doesn't it?" No one smiled.
"Looks like I'll just have to stay at least two hundred and one feet away, while getting within thirty feet," I observed dryly. "Piece of cake."
"I'm sorry, Sen," Kiri said. "We have no one else to turn to."
"This is my fight too," I snapped, suddenly angry. "Of course I'm going to do this. Hal's a nice kid. I'm not about to let anything happen to the little squirt. Got it?" There was a stunned pause.
"Thank you, Sen," Rann finally said, his voice unnaturally hoarse.
"Please be careful," Alan added. Simple words, and directly from the heart, I realized. I gave him the Qozernan equivalent of the thumbs up sign in return. "Now, how do I find the Futaba?"
This page last updated 2/5/2010.|