The Hades Connection
by Gabriel S. Timar
The last things George Pike remembered about his life on Earth were the suntanned, streamlined, naked body of Lynn, the report of a gun, the bullet hole in the wood paneling, and his blood on the white carpet next to the black towel.
The next thing he knows, he’s being welcomed to the Third Dimension, where he has a choice not only of afterlifes but of accommodations and a new body, as well. George signs up with Hades, Ltd., a corporation that seems to be the best of a dubious lot.
George very much enjoys being welcomed by Arabella, who is not only highly efficient but something of a race car driver. And yet she has asked one question he cannot answer: how he died. Neither he nor anyone else seems to know. Now George must meet the head of Hades, Ltd., a certain Mr. Lucifer... and prepare himself for a career as a double agent in interstellar intrigue.
I was beginning to feel at home in the captain’s quarters. It was not as elegant as a suite at the Ritz, but it was okay. I had a little bathroom with a chemical shower, a basin, and a toilet. The bed doubled as a couch during the so-called day periods. The workstation with two computer screens and a keyboard dominated the cramped residence.
I could monitor the ship’s operation from my quarters and issue instructions to the officers, but I had no direct access to the controls. In other words, I could not fly the ship from my cabin.
When I entered, a little blue light was flashing on the computer console, indicating that I had a confidential message from fleet headquarters in my e-mail box.
It was strange. The Nimrod was traveling too far from Khomu to be reached by conventional communications. Nevertheless, I sat down and pressed F6 to call up a display. A jumble of characters and numbers popped onto the screen. I stared at it for a few seconds; I realized that it was a coded message. To decipher it I had to use my platinum-coated command plate, the size of a credit card, hanging on a stainless steel chain around my neck.
I pulled down the zipper of my flight suit to reach for the plate, but my finger touched a lion’s claw on a light gold chain. Suddenly I was lost in the memories of Captain von Vardy again.
* * *
The Great War between the Northern League and the Rising Sun Alliance was practically over. The Nimrod, the Artemis, and the other smaller gun platforms had demolished the conventional armies of the Rising Sun. Peace negotiations started in Geneva. There was some progress; the negotiators saw the light at the end of the tunnel. However, the peace agreement eluded them because Chairman Chen Kuo of China suddenly and unilaterally dispatched rockets carrying nuclear warheads to strike the Northern League. Zhdanov, the president of the League, had to retaliate immediately.
The peace negotiations broke off, but it was immaterial, since Geneva was high on Kuo’s hit list. A five-megaton Shogun missile hit the city, killing everyone, including the negotiators. When the dust settled, no more than twenty percent of the world’s population had survived Chairman Kuo’s nuclear holocaust, despite the Herculean efforts of the civil defense forces on both sides. The Northern League came out well ahead of the Rising Sun due to its low population density in the U.S., Canada and Australia.
* * *
The nukes somehow bypassed the Horn of Africa, and unusual tranquility prevailed in Mogadishu where Captain von Vardy was a patient in the VIP convalescent center on the beach. The High Command reserved the Al Curuba, a luxury hotel, to aid the recovery of the injured high-ranking officers of the Allied Forces. The Northern League called its army, navy, air force, and space fleet “Allied Forces” to commemorate the name of the victors in World War II.
At first the Captain felt out of place among the generals and admirals despite the respect commanded by the blue and white ribbon of his North Star, which was the highest decoration a Northern League soldier could receive. Von Vardy was not a healthy man. In addition to his wounds received during the crash-landing of the Saturn, he had psychological injuries as well. His wife and children had died in Salzburg when the city took a direct hit from another Shogun rocket with a six-megaton warhead.
Von Vardy walked for hours on the beach under the cloudless night sky of Africa, trying to come to grips with the painful reality of the loss of his family. The icy stare of the stars and the silver bridge of the Moon reaching far into the Indian Ocean became his trusted companions.
The captain hardly noticed that he had found a partner in his lonely walks on the beach: Doctor Edina. She was the chief medical officer of the Center, a Somali with the finely chiseled face and the lithe body of her proud race. She became a very special person to von Vardy; her broad spectrum of knowledge, as well as her manners and interests, constantly surprised him.
It was only a matter of time till the first kiss, the first caress, and the first act of love. Her loving tenderness touched the badly wounded soul of von Vardy.
The walks on the beach with doctor Edina were far more effective than the group therapy and the multitude of drugs prescribed by the learned shrinks. Despite their ministrations and contrary to their predictions, Captain Rudolf von Vardy began to heal.
On a warm, breezy morning, he was having breakfast on the patio when Edina’s gold-colored car pulled up to the entrance. Leaving the motor running, she jumped out of the car and dashed to the patio.
“There is no time to waste, Rudy,” she said grabbing his hand. “You’re urgently recalled to active duty. You must leave at once.”
“Hold on, Edina,” von Vardy said with a smile. “Why the big rush? Even condemned men are given time to finish their last meal.”
The doctor was adamant: “Not this time, darling: they are holding a plane at the airport especially for you. I have your orders here,” she said, waving a manila envelope. “You must leave at once.”
“But...” Von Vardy tried to argue. Edina was adamant. “Captain, this is an order,” she said with a serious face and a mocking smile. “I will see to it that your belongings catch up with you; the plane is waiting. Let’s go.”
There were no ifs or buts; within fifteen minutes, the captain was saying farewell to Edina on the steps of the aircraft. She kissed him on the cheek, took a gold chain with a lion’s claw out of her bag and hung it on the captain’s neck: “Just something to remember me by, darling.”
Von Vardy’s answer was lost in the roar of the engines.
The plane was heading for Miami. Over the Atlantic, the pilot announced: “I’m sorry, fellows. On arrival we will be quarantined for a couple of weeks. It seems there is an epidemic of a mysterious fever in Mogadishu.”
He said a few more things, but von Vardy did not hear them. He tore his orders open. There was no urgent recall to active duty, just a plain medical discharge signed by Doctor Edina. He touched the lion’s claw and a teardrop rolled down his cheek.
“She must have known about the new disease and wanted me in the safe haven of the U.S.,” he thought.
Nobody realized at the time that Chairman Kuo had just played his last card. He had fired miniaturized rockets carrying vials of an active mutation of the Ebola virus. When the scientists in the laboratories identified it, the authorities decided to call the mysterious disease the Mogadishu virus. This city was the first one completely depopulated by the deadly disease.
Kuo never realized how virulent the virus was. It became aerobic and did not need a carrier. Although the miniaturized rockets hit the U.S., Europe and Africa, the Mogadishu virus eventually mounted the jet stream and wiped out most of the population in the countries of the Rising Star Alliance as well.
* * *
The recall of von Vardy’s memories was agonizing. Despite being the dominant ego in our dual personality, I felt his pain. I knew how special Edina had been to him, and I realized that Captain Rudolf von Vardy was an incurable romantic.
I shook my head to clear it, although the recollections were over in a fraction of a second.
I fitted my command plate in the decoding slot, pressed F11 and punched in the serial number. The unintelligible letters and numbers hardened into a text:
FROM FLEET ADMIRAL TO THE MASTER OF THE NIMROD
TOP SECRET FOR YOUR EYES ONLY
NEGOTIATOR FORREST WITHDRAWN STOP
KEEP UNDER CLOSE ARREST STOP
YOU ARE PROMOTED TO REAR ADMIRAL AND WILL TAKE CHARGE OF THE BATTLE GROUP BERLIN STOP
WAIT FOR REPLACEMENT AND FURTHER ORDERS ORBITING CANOPUS STOP
ACKNOWLEDGEMENT IS NOT REQUIRED STOP
SIGNED FLEET ADMIRAL ZELLER
STOP STOP STOP
The message was a bad attempt at forgery. I was sure whoever had sent it was the major competitor of Hades. First, they forgot that Khomu did not have the technology to send messages to such distances. Second, the sender forgot or did not know that the saintly old Admiral Zeller had died just a few months before the Nimrod left Khomu. Third and finally, the sender did not realize that I knew about all these events. I deleted the message with a clear conscience.
I entered a change of route into the computer, giving Canopus a wide berth. I assumed that the message was a test, just to see if we had survived the latest attempt to stop us. If we did not show up at Canopus, the competition would conclude that their drone’s nuke had blown us out of existence. If we appeared, they would prepare another surprise, just to make sure that we never arrived at our destination.
Unexpected events always seemed to be preventing me from visiting Miss Forrest’s boudoir, and I did not like that at all. This time it was Commander Nelson-Sired reporting that the shuttle had returned and the UFO was in the storage bay, ready for my inspection.
Copyright © 2004 by Gabriel S. Timar