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Tangled Threads, Tangled Strings

by Michael J A Tyzuk

Table of Contents
Part 8 appeared
in issue 151.

part 9 of 11

Tamara Tomson, detective extraordinaire of Acheron City, has had a few successes in the recent past, but they have been earned at the cost of some terrible losses. Now, she awakens every morning a mess, not sure how many bottles of wine she drank the night before. Her dissolving life must be put on hold, though, when a set of simultaneous murder sprees occur throughout the City.

Tamara is assigned to the case along with her partner, Jeremy, who may care a bit more for Tamara than he does for the case. As the connections between these murders become tangled like a puppetmaster’s strings, Tamara realizes that while her problems may have been suppressed, they can come back to haunt her.

Jeremy saw the cylinder and recognized it at once for what it was. He kicked out, trying to knock the pressure injector out of Phillip’s hands, but he missed. He completed his turn as Phillip approached and the two of them grappled like wrestlers.

Tamara picked herself up off of the deck and shook her head to clear it. She looked up just in time to see Jeremy and Phillip come together. She saw the cylinder in Phillip’s hand and recognized it, felt a cold shiver walk up and down her spine. “Oh, hell,” she whispered to herself and got to her feet.

It was all over in a matter of a heartbeat.

Jeremy was doing a credible job of holding his own against Phillip, but he was at a decided disadvantage. Jeremy was bigger and more muscled, but Phillip had the edge in training. He jabbed two stiffened fingers into Jeremy’s belly. Jeremy folded and the air whooshed out of him. Tamara was halfway across the hold when Phillip brought up the pressure injector and touched the activation stud with his thumb.

Tamara screamed and pulled her sidearm from its holster. Her weapon was halfway up when Phillip pressed the injector into the side of Jeremy’s neck, then sidestepped and slapped the control beside one of the escape pod hatches. Tamara brought her weapon up and pulled the trigger. Her pulse bolt slammed into the bulkhead, carving a deep gouge in the metal.

* * *

“Distance between us and the runabout?” Matt inquired.

“One thousand kilometers,” was Irene’s answer.

“Very well. All stop.” Matt turned to Kevin Renner’s station. “Do we have a firing solution yet?”

Kevin nodded. “Solution established and locked in.”

“Stand by to fire on my mark.”

* * *

It didn’t take long for Mike to undo what Phillip had done to the computer and bring the fusion reactor back under control. He added an extra level of security to the settings and then made his way back to the hold. He was halfway down the corridor when he heard Tamara scream and broke into a dead run. He unslung his rifle and came through the door into the hold just as Tamara fired her weapon and Phillip scurried into one of the escape pods. He heard the sound of a muffled explosion and felt the ship shudder as the pod blasted free.

Mike didn’t hesitate. “Rising Star, boarding party, priority one!” he shouted into his comset.

Rising Star, Kyle here.”

“There’s an escape pod launching from the runabout!” Mike snapped. “Destroy it before the Underground has a chance to make a grab for it!”

There was a short pause. “Pardon me for asking, Captain, but don’t we want to take Graham alive?”

“No time for that now!” Mike snapped. “You have your orders.”

* * *

Matt turned back to Kevin Renner. “Talk to me.”

Kevin was working at his station. “I’ve got the pod on sensors,” he said. “It’s clear of the runabout.”

Matt didn’t hesitate. “Aft guns,” he ordered. “Fire as they bear.”

There wasn’t time for Kevin to calculate a firing solution. He switched his targeting system to manual control, sighted the pod in his scopes, and his fingers stabbed down on the firing control.

* * *

Martin Graham watched from the bridge of the Peregrine as the Rising Star opened up with two of her aft guns and the escape pod that had blasted free of the runabout erupted into a short lived ball of flame and spinning debris.

Martin knew that Phillip had been in the pod. Martin also knew that Phillip had been carrying the only surviving copy of the operational and theoretical data for the Puppet Master Project. Oh sure, there were incomplete copies of the information in other cells on other planets, but it would take time to put all of that information together. Phillip’s loss was a serious setback.

Martin leaned back in his chair and stared at the image on his main view screen. Now he had to make a choice. He could stay and engage the infidel battle cruiser, but he was grossly out gunned and overpowered. He could offset some of his enemy’s advantage by using the squadron of star fighters that his ship was carrying to make the Rising Star’s life interesting, but it would be a useless gesture. Besides which, there was also the matter of reinforcements from Proxima Station. It wouldn’t take long for a flight of fast attack vessels to cross the distance between Iskander and Proxima Station at flank speed.

The bottom line was simple. If the Peregrine engaged the Rising Star in open combat she would lose, and the movement has suffered enough losses in this operation as it was.

Martin ordered his helmsman to bring the ship around and head back to the asteroid belt.

* * *

Jeremy had known what was in the pressure injector when he was fighting Phillip. He had known what would happen to him if he allowed Phillip to press that thing against his skin, but that hadn’t been enough to help him.

Tamara threw aside her helmet and dropped to her knees beside Jeremy. He looked up and found himself staring into her emerald eyes. She was crying and shaking her head. “No,” she insisted as tears streamed down her cheeks. “This can’t be happening. Not to you, not to me, not again.”

Jeremy could feel a small pain building at the back of his head. He started to wonder whether or not Phillip had had enough time to activate the implant before he had been killed. “Hey, I’m not done yet,” he chided Tamara gently.

Tamara took hold of Jeremy’s armor, gripping the chest plate so tightly that her knuckles turned white. She was still shaking her head, still muttering to herself. “This can’t happen. I can’t let this happen, not again. There has to be a way to keep this from happening. This has to be some kind of nightmare.”

Yeah, Tammy, this is a nightmare all right, Jeremy thought to himself. It’s only going to get worse, too.

Mike knelt down on Jeremy’s other side and reached into a thigh pocket, pulled out a hand scanner. He switched the scanner to medi-scan and held it over Jeremy’s body. “This one is the prototype that Rick and Cyndi modified to detect the nanos,” he explained as he waved the scanner around Jeremy’s head for a moment. There was a grim expression on her face. “I was afraid of that.”

“He injected me with nanos, didn’t he?” Jeremy asked. “They’re constructing one of those implants in me, aren’t they?”

Mike nodded as he pocketed the scanner and pulled out a pressure injector. “Yeah, that’s what’s happening.”

Tamara looked up at Mike. “We have to get him to the Rising Star,” she pleaded. “There has to be a way that we can stop this from happening.”

“Oh, God, I hope so,” Mike said as he pressed the injector against Jeremy’s neck. Jeremy’s eyes closed and he went limp.

“What the hell is that?” Tamara demanded.

“It’s a sedative,” Mike explained. “I had Cindy send it up to my ready room while we were getting ready. I had a feeling something like this might happen. Knocking him out for a while will keep him from becoming dangerous, maybe give us the time that we need to figure out how to remove or destroy that implant.”

“We have to figure it out,” Tamara insisted. “We have to help him. Oh, God, Mike, I just got him. I can’t lose him like this. Please don’t take him away from me.”

Tamara’s body rocked with a new wave of tears. She slumped down on Jeremy and buried her face in his chest.

Mike reached out and rested his hand on Tamara’s back. “I promise you, we’ll do everything we can to help him,” he said. “We’re not going to lose him without a fight.” But Tamara couldn’t hear him. Her grief was all consuming. He heaved a heavy sigh, reset the injector, and pressed it against her neck. She went limp on top of Jeremy.

Mike keyed his comset. “Rising Star, boarding party.”

Rising Star, aye.”

“Ship’s status,” Mike demanded.

“The Underground cruiser decided to leg it out of the combat zone as soon as we gunned down that pod,” Matt said. “We’re coming alongside you now. We should be docked in a couple of minutes.”

Mike breathed a sigh of relief. “Expedite the process, if you will,” he ordered. “And get a medical team over here, stat. We took casualties.”

* * *

Tamara and Jeremy were loaded onto portable gurneys and taken to sickbay. Cyndi examined each of them when they arrived. Tamara had nothing physically wrong with her so she was sent to one of the beds in the recovery ward and the privacy curtain was drawn around her. Jeremy was another matter.

Cyndi stood at the head of Jeremy’s gurney and stared up at the diagnostic screen. A window was open on the display showing the progress of the nanos that had been injected into his bloodstream. Gods, those suckers work fast, Cyndi thought to herself. They’ve been in him for less than an hour and they’re almost done building the implant. They’ve even started their caretaker operation.

Cyndi turned when she heard footsteps behind her. Mike came through the door. He had ditched his armor and was just wearing his standard duty uniform. He gestured at the display. “That’s the nanos?” he wondered.

Cyndi nodded. “Yeah, that’s them.”

Mike stepped up beside the gurney and folded his arms across his chest. He stared up at the scanner display for a long moment, watched the nanos do their thing. “Do you think that you can get that sucker out of him?” he asked finally.

Cyndi shrugged. “I have an idea, but I don’t know if it’s going to work,” she admitted

“What’s your idea?” Mike demanded.

Cyndi heaved a great sigh. “Remember when Gerald MacGregor and I identified the newer implant?” she said. “During that briefing we hypothesized that it would be possible to use the same technology that created the implant to destroy it. We’ve got a rather sizable supply of nanos in stock. What I’m thinking of doing is programming some of those nanos to go out into the bloodstream and attack the implant and the caretaker nanos.”

“Do you think that can work?” Mike wondered.

Cyndi shook her head. “I don’t know. It all depends on how well those caretaker nanos have been programmed to defend the implant.”

“So, in other words this could take a while.”

Cyndi nodded. “I may have to use this therapy technique several times to get the desired effect. And if that fails I may just have to do things the old fashioned way and perform brain surgery to extract it.”

Mike grimaced. “Somehow I get the feeling that the brain surgery is more dangerous than using the nanos.”

“It is,” Cyndi agreed. “If I go into his head with cutters and my hand slips the game is over. He’ll be dead before he realizes what’s happening.”

Mike nodded. “So, what do we do with Tamara?” he wondered.

Cyndi turned and looked through the door into the recovery ward. “She’s safe enough for the time being, but we can’t keep her sedated forever.”

“I know,” Mike acknowledged. “But I think it would be best to keep her out of the loop until we figure out whether or not we can help Jeremy.”

“She deserves to know what’s going on,” Cyndi insisted.

“Under normal circumstances I would agree with you,” Mike answered. “But you didn’t see her on that runabout. Cyndi, if we allow her to regain consciousness now, when we’re not even sure if we can do anything to get that implant out of his skull, then she’ll never leave his side. She’ll even follow you into the operating theater if you let her.”

Cyndi turned to Mike and looked him in the eye. “If we can’t take that thing out of him then we can’t ever allow him to return to Acheron City. You know that, yes?” Mike nodded. “So, if that happens are you going to be the one to tell Tamara?”

Mike shrugged. “I’m going to have to be,” he said. “It’s my operation and it’s my responsibility.”

“You’re a brave man.”

“Aye, balls of solid rock.”

“You’re also a fool,” Cyndi reminded him. “You’re playing with fire.”

“Isn’t that what starship captains do best?”

* * *

It took Doctor Geller two days to program the specialist nanos to act against Jeremy’s implant. Jeremy was taken into the operating theater and connected to diagnostic scanners on the morning of the third day. Then he was injected with the nanos.

Mike was sitting behind his desk in his ready room, anxiously waiting for word of Jeremy’s condition. He had sent several messages to Jeremy and Tamara’s division lieutenant over the last several days, trying to keep him as well informed about his people’s conditions as possible. Kevin Dubois messaged back that he appreciated the care and attention his people were getting.

The text of a fuel consumption report burned brightly in a window on Mike’s terminal screen, but Mike ignored it. He had already written his after action report for the attacks on the safe houses and the boarding of the runabout, and that had pretty much cured him of any real desire to push paper. He had other things on his mind.

Proceed to part 10...

Copyright © 2005 by Michael J A Tyzuk

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