Authors: Townsend, Dodie
Pax Vitar gazed broodingly into the star-studded heavens above the dwarf planet known as Nyla 6. The stars seemed so close tonight he could almost reach out and touch them.
Three glowing red moons occupied the western horizon, each one in a different phase of waxing and waning. At only one hundred thousand kilometers away, Wasit was nearest. Wasit’s light was so bright it lit Pax’s surroundings like one of the old fashioned streetlights he had seen in the library vids when he was a boy. Even during the nighttime hours, when his body was inclined toward sleep, the small planet was never completely shrouded in darkness.
Relaxing, Pax laid his mass-blaster across his leather jerkin-clad knees and settled against the rocky overhang at his back. This was his favorite spot on the whole mountain. From here he had a clear view of the verdant rainforest covering the valley floor below and the beauty of the heavens above.
His home was a cavernous bunker carved deep into the mountain at his back. Thick ropelike vines, as big and strong as a man’s arm, guarded the dugout’s three massive loading bays, the lowest of which opened into the forest floor below.
Nyla 6 had an oxygenated atmosphere and terrain similar to Terra’s. Fifty years previously, the Terran government had commissioned Pax’s ancestors to build a starbase here.
Terran leaders had sent the initial landing party of eight men and women to erect the bunker and establish a small colony. More inhabitants were scheduled to come as soon as the living accommodations were habitable.
At that time, the planet’s coordinates had aligned perfectly with existing trade routes and would have been a perfect stopping off point for intergalactic travelers. Everything was progressing according to plan until with a wicked twist of fate, the trade routes suddenly changed.
The next set of newly elected Terran officials promptly scraped the project, deeming the starbase on Nyla 6 economically unfeasible.
The starbase was forgotten and the eight member landing party was written off as collateral damage. Terra’s government had abandoned his ancestors without a second thought, leaving them here to rot on this revolving rock, cut off from all civilization.
Over the years, the first colonists had eventually died out. Pax’s parents were direct descendants from that landing party. And, from their union, came Pax himself.
Since their death, Pax was the only Terran left on the planet. He sometimes wondered if he would die before he ever encountered another humanoid being.
His was a sparse existence. As the only human on the planet, he was destined to live out his life here alone. To die here! Like everyone else he had ever known.
Pax longed for the ability to travel the galaxy like his ancestors before him. As usual, the futility of it all filled him with helpless despair.
He heard the snap of the spaceship entering Nyla 6’s atmosphere long before he saw it.
A stream of silver smoke trailed across the horizon covering Wasit. A loud explosion rocked the heavens as the craft’s starboard engine seemed to disintegrate.
Astonished at the sight, Pax watched as the nose of the space ship began its descent amid a shower of fiery sparks. They rained down upon the planet in a kaleidoscope of vivid hues.
Pax ignored the colorful display, pushed aside the insidious tendrils of hope filling his spirit and mentally calculated the trajectory of the falling craft. If it continued on its present course the spaceship would crash about three klicks to the east. Whoever or whatever was aboard that spacecraft, if they survived the impact, was going to need his help.
There was a crystal clear lake in the general vicinity where most of the forest denizens congregated at night. Most of them were either poisonous or vicious. He needed to get to the lake quickly.
He came to his feet, straining to follow the trail of white smoke across the horizon. He lost visual as the disabled ship disappeared inside the canopy of the dangerous rainforest down below.
A top notch pilot, Melara Sivanza refused to give up hope that she could land the light weight shuttlecraft, until the cabin started to fill with smoke. And just when she didn’t think things could get any worse, the starboard engine exploded! The smoking nose of the shuttlecraft gave a hard jolt and chose that moment to sink downwards.
Flashing red and blue lights lit up the inside of the ship’s cockpit. The computerized monitoring equipment blinked frantically from the controls mounted on the walls. The shrill screeches and alarms from the malfunctioning flight system had the hairs on the back of Melara’s neck standing straight up.
MBryO drone ships had blasted a hole in the ship’s undercarriage resulting in a complete meltdown of the ship’s circuitry. The five humanoid passengers aboard the planet-hopper were in serious trouble!
The shuttlecraft’s onboard computer joined the symphony of other alarms ringing through the cabin.
“Please be advised…this is a code red warning! All humanoid life is in danger.”
With the autopilot on the fritz, Melara used every bit of her strength to manhandle the ship’s landing gear into position. A silvery stream jet wash marked their trajectory across the night sky as the ship plummeted toward the surface of the tree covered dwarf planet below.
. “Three minutes until impact,” the onboard computer announced in her cheerful sing-song voice. “Be advised…total loss of life is expected. Please secure all shoulder harnesses.”
Melara’s calm blue eyes shot to the mirror above the helm. “I’m not going to be able to keep her in the air much longer. Joshua, see if you can find a spot to put her down.”
Joshua was the oldest of the four psy-talented young people were locked into the seats behind Melara. The situation was extremely tense, but the blank faces looking back at her showed no emotion whatsoever.
Melara was positive the foursome was communicating through the private frequency, hard wired into their DNA at conception. Usually they took pity on her lack of psy-ability and included her in their empathic dialogues, but this time they were deliberately blocking her from their conversation to keep from distracting her.
A hopeful glance through the wide glass panel ahead revealed a harsh landscape down below. Covered in a morass of greenery, the spinning rock was barely big enough to be called a class six dwarf planet, but it would have to do!
There was no visible place to land the shaking shuttlecraft. She was hoping Joshua’s psy-talent could find an opening in the forest canopy. At seventeen he took his big brother, leader of the pack status, very seriously. She knew his psy-talent had been operating in over-drive since the drone attack. All of them had!
“One minute and twenty-seven seconds until impact,” the computer’s too polite flight attendant voice informed them.
“If you will release the helm Melara, we will attempt to set the spaceship down,” advised Sasha gently.
Sasha was the only one of the four who attempted verbal communication on a regular basis. For the most part, the others preferred to communicate telepathically.
Sasha’s raindrop colored eyes, milky white hair and sculpted features lived up to the beauty of her soft voice. Each feature had been carefully selected when MBryO had designed her genetic packaging.
The same was true of her three fair haired brothers. Cloned, the males were in various stages of development; therefore they were different ages.
“Thirty seconds until impact,” the computer intoned in her irritatingly cheerful voice. More alarms began to reverberate through the cockpit. Sparks were shooting alongside the ship as their descent met resistance upon entry of the thick oxygenated atmosphere.
Melara spared one more anxious look through the glass panel. The forest was so dense she couldn’t get a glimpse underneath the green canopy. Without a visual, there was no way she could set the ship down without it breaking up.
“It will be alright Melara,” William, always the sensible one, stated calmly and
reassuringly. “Just release the controls.”
At fourteen William was the scientist in the genetically designed family. Melara was sure he would discover a cure for a rare disease or create a life changing invention of some sort before he was through.
Sadly, he wouldn’t get the chance if they didn’t get out of this alive!
She mentally weighed the pros and cons of the situation before she came to the conclusion that their best chance of survival lay in the telepathic skills of the four incredible teenagers sitting behind her.
The tree tops scraped against the bottom of the fuselage as the ship’s avatar pinged for the last time.
“Final countdown sequence initialized! Impact expected in twenty seconds.”
Melara’s hands shot into the air as she surrendered control of the broken ship.
Ian grasped Sasha’s hand on the console between them and closed his blue-gray eyes tightly in concentration. He was eleven Terran years old and the liveliest of the four telepaths.
“Can we really do this?” he asked his brothers and sister silently.
“We have no choice,” seventeen year old Joshua returned with more confidence than he felt.
“This isn’t the first time we have levitated solid objects,” William inserted.
“Yes, but it is the largest thing we’ve ever attempted!” Ian pointed out.
“If you don’t mind,” Sasha interrupted firmly, “Can we discuss this later? We are about to crash onto this Zander-forsaken mountain. Joshua...?”
“Relax, Sasha,” her brother’s voice, coming from somewhere deep within him, was calm and focused. “Just concentrate on helping the others slow down the ship so we don’t disintegrate upon contact. Leave the rest to me!”
“Five, four, three…!” the avatar continued her countdown.
“We’re going down!” Melara screamed in horror as a towering treetop seemed to rise up from nowhere to intercept the falling spaceship.
His hopes of being discovered were dashed as Pax held his breath and listened for sounds of impact; watching for the fireball he knew would follow.
Astonishingly neither came. He remained motionless for several minutes while he considered his options.
Curiosity pulled at him. If the occupants in the spaceship were aggressive then he could be setting himself up for a mess of trouble. But if they were friendly this would be the first contact with another human he’d had since he was a boy.
Excitement held him spellbound for a second. Using the maze of pulleys and zip lines strung throughout the canopy, he estimated the trip to the spot where the ship went down would take about ten minutes.
He knew he had to go and investigate the crashed ship. The question was, did he go now under the cover of darkness, or remain safely hidden away here on the mountain until daybreak?
Caution told him that if the occupants of the space craft were unfriendly he might be risking discovery by a potentially dangerous attacker. Or even worse, traveling through the canopy at night meant he could run into a eughi.
Eughi’s were the carnivorous bear-like animals indigenous only to Nyla 6. Upwards of seven feet tall the huge hairy creatures walked man-like on two legs, and were vicious as well.
The eughi was one hundred percent deadly monster. He had once watched one rip a feral pig apart with one swipe of its deadly claws and sharp teeth. He shuddered to think what it could do to a humanoid.
Shrugging, he decided to take his chances. It was really no contest! As dangerous as it was, possible contact with the outside world was well worth the risks involved.
Rising smoothly to his booted feet, he slung the blaster to his shoulder. Nimbly, he negotiated the dark path to the wooden perch built into the side of the mountain. Grabbing the iron bar in his hands, he stepped into a metal fan-shaped basket and swung out into the open space above the canopy of trees down below.
His ancestors had painstakingly attached zip lines to the tallest trees throughout the forest. Junction boxes were fitted into notched branches which allowed him to step onto other perches to change directions.
Coming to one such junction, Pax exchanged one zip line basket for another. The planet’s three red moons were at his back now as he headed due east in the direction of the lake. The glittering stars were so bright he could see the entire valley stretching for miles and miles below.
He was aware of the pop and crackle of sound in the back of his mind. At first he thought the words and phrases were his own. But then he realized he was somehow receiving some sort of empathic message between several different entities.
Pax was filled with elation as he realized the language was humanoid in origin. Maybe some type of old English! It had been a while since he had heard…much less spoken…language of any sort. So it took a moment for him to sort through the undertones of the silent conversation playing through his mind.
“We must hurry,” Pax heard a disembodied female voice say. He knew it was female because it had the same sort of lilt he remembered from his mother’s voice. “We are at the mercy of any predator indigenous to this Zander-forsaken rock!”
“Melara needs attention. We must not move her just yet. She’s injured and unconscious,” returned a slightly older male firmly.
“She hit the cockpit dashboard really hard,” a young boy interjected. “Thank goodness she was wearing her shoulder harness or she would have been thrown out the front portal.”
“Joshua?” the female queried silently. “Do you feel something…strange?”
“It’s like we’re being watched…and yet it’s not!” tension radiated from a fourth voice. “Terran patrol?”
“No! Not Terran, exactly! Humanoid, definitely, but this is different. Friendly I think!” the one called Joshua returned calmly.
Standing outside the wreckage, the one known as Joshua sent a silent call for help into the treetops above where the unseen ‘other’ hovered. “If you can understand us, we need help. Our friend has been hurt. She needs medical attention.”
High above the canopy Pax halted the carriage at the last junction box before reaching the lake. The ship had crashed on the other side of the water near the tree line. He sensed the urgency in the voices echoing through his head.
The zip line wound its way around the lake along the edge of the canopy. He was only seconds away from the crash site. Determinedly Pax stepped into the next fan-shaped metal basket.
Searching for the right words to reply to the urgent plea for help, he managed a mentally garbled, “Help you…I will!”
He felt more than heard the chords of distrust that permeated the foursome at his stilted message. He knew they were waiting for their first glimpse of him before they decided if he was a friend or an enemy.
Just like he was!
He braced himself for the worst, just in case.
Rounding the lake he slowed the zip line to a stop and simply examined the shore line.
Luckily the ship was more or less in one piece. The bullet-like nose of the shuttlecraft was crumpled against a large tree trunk. The glassed porthole was shattered and what was left of one of the engines was lying about ten feet beyond the wreckage. A debris field marked the area as pieces of the exterior of the ship were strewn haphazardly across the dense underbrush. Several small fires blazed along the ground and there was smoke pouring from the main part of the crashed spaceship.
He peered through the smoke to the group of survivors. Four humanoid beings dressed in flowing white robes stood protectively over the injured female lying on the ground. Their bold stances told him they were ready to battle an attack from any direction.
Rolling the cage slowly forward, Pax came to a wary halt a few feet from the crashed ship. From his position in the leafy alcove above them, he was able to observe the newcomers.
His immediate thought was that the strange looking humanoids were very young! But he pushed that aside for he did not know what determined ‘young’ where they came from.
In Terran years, he was approaching three decades. But Terra counted eighteen months before Nyla 6 completed a revolution around the star known as Sol, which made him twenty years old his next birthday.
Apparently uninjured, the faces of the crash survivors appeared smooth and unlined. Their bodies were trim and fit. The lone female was a study in shades of white from her long hair and ivory skin to her soft gray eyes.
The three young males standing beside her were blonde haired, gray-eyed mirror images of one another. But paradoxically, they were of varying ages, heights and sizes.
Not one of them wore a blaster, but the tingling along his spine told him they were probably more dangerous than ten wild eughis put together. He suspected the four young humanoids relied on a more complex type of weaponry.
He knew in his gut there was no softness in the odd looking group. They might have lost their ship, but they hadn’t lost their ability to defend themselves.
A low moan came from the crumpled form behind them on the ground. Her blaze of fiery curls contrasted sharply with the delicately colorless foursome circled protectively around her.
Pax felt a gentle probe through his mind.
“He is different from us,” announced William matter-of -factly.
“Maybe on the outside,” Joshua returned, “but I think he understands us better than any humanoid we’ve ever met.”
“He is not from MBryO…is he?” asked the smallest male uncertainly.
“Do not worry Ian,” the female reassured him empathically. “We left MBryO back on Terran. And Melara promised we will never have to go back there!”
“Our friend needs medical attention,” repeated the pragmatic William.
Pax felt more than saw the one called Ian’s mental guard relax. As if in one mind the older three made no further attempt to talk to him or each other. They simply waited to see what he would decide to do next.
The odd looking group appeared harmless. But looks could be deceiving and his inner warning system was on full alert.
He knew he should turn around and swing back across the valley, but this was the first group of humanoids he had encountered since the death of his parents, more than a decade ago.
The years stretched empty and lonely ahead of him. He knew he could not turn his back on these strange looking humanoids. This might be his one and only chance to make contact with an outside life form. He was filled with excitement.
The nearby growl of a eughi raised the hairs on the back of his neck. Attracted by the sounds of the crash, Pax decided the creature was still a klick or so away. And it was running on all fours by the sound of it. The big creature would be upon them in minutes. A rustling in the brush nearby convinced him that it was time to get a move on.
He kicked the zip basket out into the clearing.
Four heads lifted upwards as he appeared from the depths of the canopy. Pax was as dark as the newcomers were fair. He must have looked as strange to them as they did to him.
He struggled to find the correct old English words to warn them.
“No time! Danger!”
With a flick of the gears that controlled the pulleys he lowered the zip line and fan-shaped basket to the ground. When the wary foursome made no move to approach the basket he signaled them with an urgent wave of his hand.
“Come! Now! We must go!” he urged out loud, stumbling over the feel and sound of the unfamiliar words.
To his amazement, the body on the ground levitated into the air. The body followed them as the humanoids walked slowly toward the metal basket, propelled by the energy Pax could feel coming from the minds of the colorless humanoid visitors.
Standing shoulder to shoulder the foursome manipulated the prone figure of the female into the basket. Pax sensed the ebb and flow of psy-talent as they exhausted the last of their telekinetic energy. After their crash and the energy it took to land the ship, all four were extremely tired now.
“We will not all fit inside. You will have to come back for us,” Joshua pointed out with a resigned look at the zip cage.
“No!” Pax gently clasped Sasha’s hand and led her into the basket. His sense of urgency communicated itself to her and frightened, she sat down cross-legged beside the female in the bottom of the wire cage. Punching a control on the zip bar he summoned another basket. It slid silently downwards from a neighboring tree.
“In it you must be! This minute!” he ordered firmly as the growling eughi grew closer.
The three barely had time to climb aboard the basket before Pax swung upward into the canopy. With a glance at the small control box attached to the zip line handle, William pushed a switch, levering the other basket upwards.
The cages were barely into the shadow of the canopy when the huge black bear-like monster reached the still burning crash site. Standing erect the angry creature gave an eerie roar, its forearms reaching for the swaying carriers above.
Ian cringed as one razor sharp claw scraped the metal bottom of the basket, rocking it sideways. The frustrated creature bellowed louder as the zip line moved out of range. Two more eughi’s emerged from the tree line just as Pax and the other humanoids disappeared into the canopy.
“Zander’s-tar-pits that was close! Remind me never to meet one of those things alone!” William remarked cryptically.
Adrenaline rushing through his veins, Pax grinned in silent solidarity. He couldn’t agree more!
Sasha’s perfectly arched brow creased as she examined their dark skinned rescuer. Zander’s-tar-pits! Though Sasha suspected his DNA was the result of the cloning process, she knew that this was not one of MBryO’s evil experiments.
She had never seen an empathetic humanoid such as him. Well above six feet in height, the male was lean of frame, but broad and strong in his chest and shoulders; probably from all the time he spent moving the strange looking carriages through the canopy of the rainforest. From the top of his long ebony hair to the tip of his booted feet he simply oozed strength and power. His caramel colored skin and dark eyes were the total antithesis of her and her brother’s fair coloring.
She sensed that his psy-ability was innate, very strong, and carefully leashed. His stature and coloring was reminiscent of the Xenaclons, a genetically enhanced army of warriors, now thought to be extinct. The Xenaclon Wars were responsible for the development of the laws of cloning. Those laws were accepted across the universe.
She hoped for Pax’s sake that her father never gained possession of this dark warrior.
The result would be cataclysmic.Chapter Two
Other than the barest of introductions, the humanoids wasted no energy talking. Pax could sense their deep concern for their injured friend. The crumpled form in the bottom of the basket was called Melara Sivanza, their pilot.
Grimly, they navigated the starlit valley. The basket was quite a bit heavier on the return journey and Pax’s arms chorded with his efforts to manipulate the complicated zip lines through the canopy. Mid-way through the trip he sensed the power of psy-talent returning to his visitors. Tendrils of energy joined with his, helping him move the cages along. With their help the rest of the trip became much easier.
“Close to it!” he told them silently as they approached the landing perch attached to the mountain.
The landing zone had been designed to accommodate five of the zip carriers at one time. The zip line docked the metal basket automatically. Hopping out, Pax slid the cage over to make room for the second one.
Slinging his blaster over his shoulder, Pax helped Sasha out of the basket. Once she was safely on her feet, he lifted the unconscious female out of the bottom of it. He settled her slight weight against his broad chest.
His breath caught as he looked down into her sleeping face. Not so much because she was beautiful…and beautiful she no doubt was by any standard…but because this was the first human contact he’d had since the death of his parents.
Shefelt…warm and supple.
His nostrils flared as he caught the soft scent of her skin. She was dappled across the bridge of her nose with the small spots his mother had called ‘freckles’. He wondered what color her eyes were. There were no traces of the soft floral perfumes he associated with his mother. Instead the humanoid female smelled clean and, for the moment, alive.
Turning, he led the silent group up the rocky path by moonlight. Pax stopped at a vine shrouded entrance about mid-way up the mountain. Shifting the small burden in his arms, he pushed the button that controlled the portal. The automatic doors opened with a whoosh from the air locks revealing an elevator.
Warily his visitors boarded the conveyance.
Seconds later the double doors on the opposite side slid quietly open. They stepped out onto a landing that overlooked a huge lobby, dimly lit by the recessed lighting at the base of the walls.
Joshua sensed they were inside a huge underground bunker. Using his psy-talent to send out feelers, he realized the structure loomed three stories above them and possibly two more below. It was also empty of any other humanoid presence. Reassured that they were not walking into a trap, he relaxed his guard just a bit. The others felt his relief and adjusted their own defenses ever so slightly.
The star base had been designed to accommodate more than one hundred fifty visitors at the same time. The bunker, itself, comprised fifty residential units, nine scientific laboratories and three landing bays. It had been destined to become a small city had it been completed. Abandoned soon after the initial Nyla 6 project had begun, the facility had never housed even one tenth of that number.
Except for Pax, it had been empty for more than a decade.
Pax sensed the tentacles of curiosity coming from the four psy-talents. Gently they probed his mind for the knowledge he housed there. It was a gentle assault, not demanding or aggressive, and he allowed them to retrieve the data they desired. He knew that, the only way these four unique humanoids would breach his memory base, was if he willingly allowed it.
The gentle nudge of psy-energy brought a smile to his lips. His parents had given him a canine-bot as a pet once. The probe reminded him of the way the pup had nudged his hand when it wanted to be petted.
“We are surprised. We did not think psy-talent existed outside MBryO.”
“What is this…psy-talent?” Pax asked the young girl known as Sasha.
“There are no obstacles between our thoughts. We have tried to block you from them, but we cannot,” Sasha returned. “That only happens between psy-talents.”
“Melara is not a psy-talent. She can intercept our thoughts only when we include her in our conversation,” Joshua interjected.
“We have the ability to cloak our thoughts from outsiders, so only psy-talent can receive them. And yet you receive them anyway. How do you explain that, if you do not possess psy-talent?” Ian queried.
Pax considered the question for a moment before he haltingly replied. “We must share the same frequency. It’s like the library vids of ancient radios I have watched. They transmitted and received through radio waves. We must share the same frequency.”
“Frequency, psy-talent…call it what you will,” Ian returned. “MBryO has never been able to establish the existence of any other empathetic humanoids. You would be a very valuable addition to MBryO’s collection.”
“Who or what is this MBryO?” Pax asked curiously.
“MBryO is our father!” Joshua informed him telepathically.
“We were created through a scientific process called cellular manipulation; or genetic cloning. MBryO experienced many failures before he located the correct genetic code to design the four of us,” William told him sadly. “We are his greatest accomplishment. He will not willingly let us go! He will search until he finds us.”
“A true empath without genetic enhancement would be very valuable to our father,” Sasha told him. “He would be a perfect candidate for the extraction procedure.”
“MBryO would stop at nothing to acquire your DNA!” Joshua warned him matter-of-factly.
Pax crossed the tiled floors to a door on the other side of a huge immaculately appointed waiting room. There were a multitude of chairs and vid screens grouped around the glass cased registration desk. This had obviously been intended as the booking and reception area for the proposed starbase. Behind the desk was a door marked examination room.
The bunker reminded William of the massive MBryO laboratory. The chemical smells emitted from the cleaning units on the walls brought back many terrible memories. Memories of cries for help suddenly overwhelmed him, filling his ears, as did visions of terrible genetic experiments gone wrong. His overpowering sadness swamped the others empathically.
“We must not think of MBryO now,” Sasha cautioned him silently. “Concentrate on helping Melara instead!”
The door panel slid open at their approach and Pax strode across to a waiting medi-bed encased by a computerized autodoc machine. No sooner had he placed Melara on the pristine counterpane than the four went to work hooking up the necessary wires. They seemed to know their way around the mechanized version of an old fashioned medical doctor.
“What do we have here?” quizzed a male physician’s avatar when the medi-bed came online.
“Humanoid female,” the computerized voice of a female nurse initiated the customary diagnostic exam.
“Of average height and weight.”
“Vital signs steady.”
“Falling into the somewhat healthy category.”
“Small cuts and contusions occupying 91% of her body…no stitches required to stop any loss of bodily fluids.”
“No broken bones or internal injuries.”
“Ah…wait…the scalp appears to have suffered an impact! Brain scan in progress…”
The onlookers waited anxiously while the computer completed its diagnostic testing.
Seconds later the avatar concluded: “Scan complete…results indicate subject is unconscious… but otherwise no serious damage.”
“Administering tincture of hartshorn,” the avatar told them as a panel above the bed opened and a robotic arm descended from it holding a clear vial of powdery medicine.
“Wait!” Sasha shouted silently. “What is that?”
“Relax Sasha,” William soothed her. “The old medicos called it ‘smelling salts’. The results should be harmless and instantaneous.”
The robotic arm barely had time to wave the vial under Melara’s nostrils and slide quickly back into the panel above the bed before she sucked in a shocked gasp for air and sat upright.
Pax’s heavily muscled arm shot out to steady her shaking body and then gently laid her back against the pillows. He no longer had to wonder about the color of her eyes. The electric blue orbs fringed by thick dark lashes were wide open and instantly alert.
“Careful…you must be! Body is weak!” Pax urged her out loud. The simple words sounded garbled to his ears, the result of a lack of practice. He sensed none of the probing tendrils of psy-talent coming from the red haired female.
“You must listen to him,” Ian cautioned from her bed side.
Relief flooded her as Melara looked at the four concerned faces of her young charges. A searching glance told her that other than a minor few cuts and bruises none of them had sustained any injuries during the crash.
“Thank the star gods you are alright!” she breathed out loud with relief.
“Do not worry Melara,” Joshua calmed her gently. “You have gotten us safely away from MBryO’s security patrols.”
“For now,” William agreed. “But the drones will not give up until they find us.”
Melara carefully tried sitting up and dangling her feet off the side of the bed. She could feel the tug of her strained muscles.
“Who are you and where are we?” she demanded, looking at their odd looking rescuer. She remembered seeing others with his brown coloring in the Terran barrios of old California back home.
Barriosi were kept under guard, their movement severely restricted by Terran drones. It was a throwback to the Xenaclon Wars when the Barriosi sided with the Xenaclon in their attempts to annihilate all other humanoid life.
Melara had been assigned to the Barriosi guard during her early days at the Terran Guard Academy. She had stood guard outside one of the many fences that had been erected to contain the dark peoples inside. The barrio was a city within a city; self-supporting and independent of Terran interference. No one was allowed in and no one came out of the gates to the barrio.
“I am Pax Vitar,” Pax told her awkwardly. “And, this…my home…Nyla 6.”
“Where in Zander’s-tar-pit is Nyla 6?” she asked swinging her legs to the heaving floor.
“Lyiada Galaxy,” he returned, placing an arm around her slim waist and helping her to the door.
The panels slid open once more and Pax led them across the empty reception area into the waiting elevator. They ascended to the next floor of the bunker. This time the elevator opened onto the foyer of the bunker’s residential complex. Three hallways branched off in different directions. A multitude of doors led to empty living quarters. Pax led them past the unmanned security cubicle to the first door on the right.
The curious group found themselves in a spacious apartment with recessed lighting. It was beautifully carpeted and furnished in what the old Terrans used to call earth tones.
“Stanley?” Pax yelled as soon as they entered the apartment.
Pax was assisting Melara into a padded recliner when the golden skinned life-sized robotic butler glided into the room on the wheels attached to his vacuum base.
“Zander’s-tar-pit!” Ian exclaimed telepathically.
“You mustn’t curse, Ian,” Melara reproved the youngest empath.
“Why not? You do!” he returned with the logic of youth.
Melara grimaced ironically. His excitement reverberated through the minds of humanoid present.
“You don’t have to shout!” William reproved him.
“Isn’t he a beaut?”
“You called sir?” Stanley’s voice had been programmed by his creator to sound as elderly as his tuxedo clad body looked. His black bow tie was crisp and his pleated white silk shirt was immaculate. A monogrammed salmon colored tea towel was draped over one bent arm.
“Visitors, Stanley. Bring burgers and root beer.”
The robot’s curious expression depicted a modest amount of surprise at the verbal request.
Usually Pax waited on himself or typed his commands on the small mobile com unit attached to his wrist. The miniature computer unit had many capabilities not the least of which was keeping time. Pax could virtually control the entire bunker from it.
“Burgers and root beer it is, sir.”
“Can I go watch him?” Ian begged silently.
Pax barely nodded his assent before the boy shot through the swinging louvered doors after the retreating robot.
“Be careful,” Melara called after him.
“What is this place?” Sasha pushed back a strand of milky blonde hair from her forehead. Out of consideration for Melara, she spoke out loud. Melara’s throbbing headache could be felt by all of them. The foursome agreed not to put any more psy-stress on her until she was better.
With a wave of his hand Pax indicated the couch and chairs grouped around several low tables. He waited until they were seated comfortably before he attempted to use his rough vocal chords.
“Nyla 6 is a forgotten Terran experiment.”
“Just one of many, I assure you!” Melara drawled firmly. Terra’s government was continually shifting from one powerful leader to another these days. They were notorious for their inability to pass new laws and enforce them too.
“My forefathers were part of a team that was sent here to establish a star base. They erected the bunker, built the shuttle bays and furnished the laboratories. They were supposed to be the first wave of colonists. When the shuttle returned to Earth for the next group of immigrants and supplies, it never returned. My ancestors assumed the Terran government had written them off. They never came back for us.”
“So you live here all alone?” Melara quizzed. “Or are there others?”
“Except for Stanley and the other robots that keep the bunker running I am the only remaining humanoid being on the planet,” he told her.
“Is there is no way off this rock?” Joshua asked telepathically.
“Not that I have found,” Pax returned.
“Don’t you at least have a shuttlecraft or a terrain-hopper?” Sasha asked incredulously.
“Are you referring to the ship you came here on?”
“Among others,” Joshua intoned.
“No, I have no space craft. I travel by zip line.”
“But you mentioned landing bays, so am I correct in thinking there might be some tools or parts stored there?” William intoned.
“We could check it out anyway…right?” Joshua asked.
“Be my guest,” Pax told him. His native language, long unused, was beginning to return. “As the old Terrans used to say, ‘make yourselves at home’. You are welcome to stay here as long as you need to.”
“Well, on the bright side,” Melara said tiredly, “we should be safe here for a while. MBryO doesn’t know where we are.”
“Father will just keep looking until he finds us!” William stated with the sure knowledge he had gained at the hands of a tyrant such as MBryO.
“But crashing here on Nyla 6 might have bought us some time. Maybe we can come up with a plan to outwit Father and destroy MBryO once and for all.”
“And then we must rescue as many of our brothers and sisters as we can!” Joshua added hopefully.
“Joshua and I will begin working on the shuttlecraft in the morning,” William told her. “We set her down as gently as we could, but she was too heavy for us to land in one piece.”
“That sounds like a good idea William,” Melara smiled proudly. “You all did a wonderful job landing the ship without any of us being seriously hurt.”
“Why does this MBryO want to harm you?” Pax inquired.
The question went unanswered as the louvered doors swung open.
“You guys should really see the food prep center,” Ian exclaimed following Stanley back into the room and flopping down on the couch beside Melara.
The golden robot set two large trays loaded with food and beverages on the coffee table. “There’s this machine that turns brown packages into food. It can replicate anything you want.”
As Pax watched the young telepaths reached hungrily for the thick cheeseburgers and bottles of root beer. Stanley had added a collection of raw vegetables and julienned potato chips. Their mental chatter echoed through the portals of his mind bringing a smile of pure pleasure to his normally grim face.
So this was what friendship felt like? For the first time since his parents had died he did not feel alone. This rag-tag group of telepaths had absorbed him into their unit as if he had been born to it. Pax knew that he would die before giving human contact up again.
And he had a feeling that it might come to that. This MBryO sounded like a monster. He could be bad business.
But so was Pax when it came to taking care of what was his. And when this group had crash landed on Nyla 6 they had involved him in their situation whether they knew it or not.
His dark gaze collided with Joshua’s across the noisy room. The two linked telepathically, while deliberately blocking their thoughts from the others in the room.
With mutual resolve they agreed to do everything in their power to keep the others safe at all costs. Even if it meant killing the monster known as MBryO!
The next afternoon Pax led Joshua and William across the valley to the crash site. They intended to assess the damage before attempting to move the shuttle to one of the open landing bays. All three carried blasters and tool boxes.
Pax slowed the zip line just inside the shadow of the canopy and waited. He didn’t think the eughi was still hanging around but he didn’t want to take any chances.
“Okay!” he said aloud. “Let’s go! But keep your eyes and ears open. Eughi aren’t the only danger on Nyla 6.”
“We will be careful,” William assured him silently.
Joshua pushed the button that lowered the zip cage his blue gaze searching the underbrush for signs of intruders. Pax readied his blaster as the three approached the downed ship carefully.
“It is worse than I thought!” Joshua thought broodingly, surveying the damage to the fuselage.
“It will certainly require major work to get her back in the air,” William agreed.
“And that is if we can find the parts we need,” Joshua added.
Pax walked away from the duo to the edge of the small clearing at the rear of the space craft. His dark gaze searched the lakeside while the duo assessed the damage. It would be a huge mistake to relax their guard down here on the valley floor. There was safety in the canopy.
Melara and the others had settled in the night before. The females and Ian had chosen the apartment next to his. Joshua and William had taken the unit on the other side of them.
He and Ian had taken a trip to the robotic department that morning. The boy had been beside himself with excitement at all the deactivated systems housed there. Pax had archived the retinue of serving ‘bots when his parents died. Once or twice a year, when the dust got too bad in the bunker, he used the ‘bots to restore order. Then back into the storage area they went until he needed them again.
Stanley was the only exception. He had been assigned to Pax’s family from the beginning. Deactivating Stanley was out of the question. Stanley was family.
With Ian’s delighted help three service ‘bots now took care of the occupied apartments. Pax figured the robotic department would become Ian’s favorite hangout from now on. He seemed to be enthralled with all things computerized.
Early that morning, Melara Sivanza and Sasha had gravitated to the science lab on the bottom floor next to the medi-doc. Sasha had erected a wall that blocked her telepathic responses from the men. Both females were being closed mouthed about their interest in the lab. But the males were too busy with their own objectives to pay attention to them.
Not so Pax! Anything to do with the beautiful Melara Sivanza interested him.
He had taken Joshua and William on a tour of the three shuttle bays. The facility’s docking bay was built into the top of the mountain. The other two garages were equipped with tools and equipment needed for the everyday maintenance of the bunker’s machines.
“Pax?” William sent a probe across the crash site, trying to pinpoint Pax’s location.
“I am here!” Pax called.
“We have seen all we need to. We must figure out a way to move the shuttle to the bunker. We require access to the tools there.”
“The bunker is just ten minutes away by zip line. Traveling along the valley floor, however, would take much longer. Even if we used the heavy machinery we will need a day or two at the least,” Pax told the teen, mentally calculating the distance between the bunker and the crashed spaceship.
“We’ve done all we can do here for the day,” Joshua said as he and William met Pax by the zip cages. “Let’s get back to the bunker. Maybe we can come up with a plan.”
“Yeah…maybe Stanley can find us some more of those burgers and root beer,” William said grinning at the prospect.
“Burgers and root beer it is!” Pax grinned back, pushing the button to raise the cage.
Soon they were soaring high above the forest canopy toward the bunker.
There were signs of life all over the normally silent bunker when Pax stepped out of the lobby elevator. Service drones of various shapes and sizes were hard at work vacuuming and dusting. The red, yellow and green lights on top of their domed shaped heads blinked in synchronized time with the shrill bleeps and whistles they used to communicate with each other.
Life-sized, gold skinned chore ‘bots were scurrying around the lobby intent on carrying out various assignments.
Across the lobby the trio spotted Ian’s blonde head buried inside in the back of a female robot. He was working on the robot’s control panel with a palm sized soldering iron. He rose up at their approach and gave them a satisfied grin.
“You have been busy,” Pax commented silently.
“Aren’t they wonderful? It seemed a shame for them to just sit around gathering dust. They were created to work. They need to be busy, don’t you think?”
“You seem to have a knack for working with the service ‘bots Ian.”
“A predisposition for knowledge of service computers was included in my genetic design. It was what I was created to do,” Ian replied seriously.
“MBryO selected different predispositions for each of his children,” Joshua added. “He hard wired each of us with a preference or talent for certain occupations.”
“I suppose that is why William is so at home in the science lab. But what did he give you?” Pax asked Joshua curiously.
“My father manipulated certain strands of my DNA to increase my talent for levitation and telekinesis. I can manipulate objects through space, move things with my mind,” he replied. “When my siblings and I are linked telepathically, we are incredibly strong.”
“That’s how you landed the shuttlecraft…levitation?”
“Yes,” Ian went back to working on the service ‘bot and the others moved toward the lobby elevators.
Once inside Pax pushed the button for the residential quarters. “It was the biggest thing we have ever attempted. Even when MBryO made us perform different experiments in the lab, we never attempted anything that large.”
“And Sasha? What is she gifted with?” queried Pax.
“Sasha is MBryO’s greatest creation of all. He will stop at nothing to get her back,” William told him.
“You might have noticed that she alone has the capacity to communicate her thoughts aloud,” Joshua pointed out quietly. “The rest of us are unable to verbalize. We are telepathic.”
“And that is why he finds her so valuable? She has verbal speech abilities?” Pax was confused. It seemed to him that telepathy was a far greater accomplishment than merely being able to talk.
“Sasha is the finest example of a cloned human being!” William informed him. “She is sentient, empathic! She can feel! Therefore she has emotions…true emotions!”
“The rest of us do not!” Joshua added. “To feel satisfaction in the performance of our talent is about the extent of our ability.”
“It is the intention of our father to clone the next generation of super humans, using samples from Sasha’s genetic strands. He does not care that the extraction process will, in all probability, end her life,” added William.
“MBryO drones will stop at nothing to find us,” Joshua added. “We must be very careful Pax Vitar!”
Soberly, the three entered Pax’s apartment.
Stanley was zipping happily around the living quarters dusting and…humming!
Surprised at the almost human sound coming from the robot Pax simply stopped and listened. He had never heard any of the service ‘bots hum before. Stanley seemed…almost happy! The louvered doors swung open and a very pretty dark haired maid walked out with a tray of soft drinks.
“I took the liberty of ordering for you sir,” Stanley told him, holding his duster aloft as the three set down tiredly.
“You sure do seem to be in a good mood, Stanley,” Pax teased the aging robot gently.
Stanley looked adoringly at the retreating back of the young maid. “It is always good to have companionship, sir.”
“I couldn’t agree more!” Pax told him with a knowing grin. He reached for one of the frosted glasses and tossed back a third of it in one thirsty gulp.
Pax looked back at the two young men sitting in front of him. “So why is emotion important? It seems to me emotions would get in the way of performance.”
“The ability to feel emotion is the biggest difference between humans and robots!” William explained. “The objective of our father’s research has always been to create a human being with emotions. Sasha is the culmination of that research.”
“MBryO has had many failures,” Joshua told him obliquely. “To date, Sasha is his one success! He is very ruthless when it comes to getting what he wants. He will stop at nothing to get her back.”
“He will eventually find us!” William added confidently. “He is a very smart man. He will not let anyone stand in his way. His will do his best to eliminate any and all opposition.”
“If he tracks us here then we will need the shuttlecraft to escape,” Joshua added.
“Do not worry. Nyla 6 is my home. I have no intention of letting this MBryO discover the bunker or harm you. We will cross that bridge when we come to it.”
“For the time being, we must come up with a plan to move the ship to the bunker so that we can make the necessary repairs,” Pax told them. “Then we will work on finding a way to protect you!”
Melara and Sasha spent the morning in the chem lab on the third floor of the bunker.
The service ‘bots had been scurrying around since dawn getting everything in order. The place had not been used in several decades…if ever! There was a layer of dust on the bevy of beakers and vials spread out on the counters.
Boxes of Bunsen burners and a centrifuge sat on a laboratory table unopened. Sasha was in her element putting the lab together. She was currently inventorying one of many storage compartments filled with chemical supplies.
Left on her own, Melara had taken the opportunity to reboot the bunker’s built-in computer system. The system was outdated, obsolete even by current standards, but serviceable.
A cursory investigation told her there were only two files recorded on the mainframe. The first was a blueprint of the bunker complete with an electronic record of the supplies that had been brought in to complete the massive project. The Terran government had sunk a large amount of money into the development of Nyla 6, only to abandon it when their political climate changed.
What a waste!
Curiously, the other file was encrypted!
Melara couldn’t unlock it without the password. She was able to ascertain that the server had at one time been linked to an off-world mainframe. Networked to a government laboratory on Terra, the system had been offline for decades. The mainframe may have belonged to a government agency that was now extinct.
Her thoughts rested briefly on the building where MBryO housed his failed genetic experiments. Memories of that horrific place caused shivers to race down her spine.
Funded primarily by the Terran Department of Defense, MBryO UNIX was a leading star-tech manufacturer and a big supporter of the MBryO Genetics project. On the surface everything had seemed above board.
Straight out of the Terran Guard Academy, she had been delighted to be assigned to the security staff of the large manufacturing company. She had been there only a few months when she began to suspect that there was more going on at the company than met the eye.
Being a tad young, brilliant and over-zealous, she had taken it upon herself to beef up the building’s security. One of her projects had been to inspect the codes on all the exterior doors before turning her attention to the interior ones.
That’s when she noticed the activity surrounding the private elevator located on the third floor. Two armed security guards, hired from outside the company, manned the desk in front of it at all times.
Her curiosity was aroused and she started wondering why building security wasn’t in charge of whatever secret project had to be taking place behind that elevator. Determined to get some answers, Melara had hidden in the third floor supply closet and simply watched the activity surrounding the elevator.
Lab-coated geeks with glasses, hand-held palm-puters and special name tags would enter the elevator in the morning and emerge again at shift change. On the surface that wasn’t unusual, since much of the work done at MBryO UNIX was classified because of its DOD connections. What did strike her as odd, though, was the fact that the elevator descended to the lower levels instead of climbing to the floors above.
Her curiosity meter overloaded.
As discreetly as possible, she began making discreet inquiries, here and there, regarding the elevator and the workers who used it on a daily basis. No one in the huge complex had any knowledge of any hidden laboratory or secret project taking place in the company, however.
Whatever was taking placedown there was very hush-hush.And someone had gone to great lengths to keep it that way!
Determined to find some answers, she had hidden in a utility closet until after everyone except the nightly skeleton crew clocked out. Avoiding the motion detectors and cameras would have been impossible for anyone else but her. With her security clearance she had gained access to the building’s schematics beforehand and disabled the security protocols to the lower levels of the building.
Melara knew protocol demanded the guards perform a door to door security check at least once every two hours, so her timing would have to be perfect. As luck would have it, the security check coincided at the exact same time she heard the last of the janitorial staff leave the floor. Her senses were acute as she crept from the closet and crossed the plush carpet to the elevator. Breathlessly, she pushed the button and heard the doors slide open with a subtle whoosh.
As simple as that, she gained access to the secret laboratories MbryO housed below ground. What she found made her wish she hadn’t.
The elevator doors opened and Melara found herself in a series of laboratories dedicated to making chemical weapons. A brief inspection of the floor, told her the glass enclosed cubicles contained enough poisonous gas to wipe out a small planet.
Soberly backtracking her steps to the elevator, she intended to head back upstairs. Chem-weapons had been universally outlawed decades before. Why was the DOD using MBryO UNIX to stockpile them? The ramifications of the project were mindboggling.
Reaching out to close the elevator doors, she realized there were other buttons on the panel. Apparently, most of MbryO’s top secret experiments took place underground.
Knowing she wasn’t going to like what was down below any more than she had the chem-lab, she argued with herself to just walk away and leave the building, never to return. But she ignored the voice of sanity and foolishly pushed the down arrow, holding her breath.
Every instinct she possessed told her she was walking into danger. More than one person had died because they couldn’t resist poking their nose into places they didn’t belong. The DOD didn’t play around.
The elevator opened into a white carpeted hallway, lined with closed doors on both side. Cautiously, she reached for the first door handle she came to.
And that was when she heard them!
All at once the telepathic screams of horror and rage overwhelmed her senses, hurling her towards insanity. Her hands covered her ears, but for some reason Melara couldn’t close out the assault. The pain behind the screams was so terrible she crumpled to the floor, curling protectively into a fetal position.
But there was no way to withstand the mental onslaught. Insanity curled on the edge of her brain.
Then, when she was on the verge of descending into the abyss of mindless terror and extreme shock, she felt tender hands began to soothe her shaking body. The gentle croon of soft words came to her mind, comforting her.
Still in the grip of torment, her blue gaze swung upwards to meet the gazes of the four young people kneeling around her. And miraculously the assault stopped! As if it was blocked by a wall of concrete.
Melara knew now that the telepaths had used their powers to shield her sensitive brain from the pain-filled screams. She would be forever grateful to the four young empaths.
“You will be alright Melara Sivanza,” Sasha had crooned, stroking her red curls gently. “The screams cannot hurt you now.”
As fast as the telepathic assault had begun…it had ceased!
And the rest was history.
The blonde haired, gray eyed female, a vision in white silk, was obviously the most developed of the foursome. She alone spoke the words that Melara sensed they all felt. The three teenage boys were obviously cloned versions of one another, in various stages of development. They, too, were almost colorless in skin, eye and hair color.
With the aid of the four young siblings, Melara explored the rest of what she had dubbed ‘the dungeon below’. She would never forget the atrocities she had seen in MBryO UNIX’s genetics laboratory.
If it was the last thing she did, she would free those poor creatures caged in that awful place. And then she intended to see to it that MBryO’s evil experiments could never be repeated.
Melara emerged from her reverie with a start.
Her slim hand reached out and touched the computer screen in front of her. Just in case, she deactivated the web access. She didn’t want to take a chance on MBryO discovering them through the old computer link.
MBryO would stop at nothing to regain possession of the young telepaths. He had the genetic blueprint to recreate them all now. All he needed was an unlimited supply of DNA.
He could harvest their cell structure living or not.
And with the discovery of Pax Vitar, an empath that evolved naturally on this Zander-forgotten dwarf plane, one with possible ties to the Xenaclons, he would have everything he needed to create an invincible army of telepathically cloned soldiers.
A genetically created army that was expendable and disposable.
MBryO would stop at nothing in his attempts to take over the universe, including the use of chem-weapons. Melara knew he must be stopped. He was insane!
And she also intended to make sure he never harmed the children again.
For the time being they were safe, here on Nyla 6. But sooner or later MBryO would discover their whereabouts and evasion would cease to work.
Then she would have to kill him.
It was Ian who came up with a way to transport the shuttle craft to the bunker.
He followed a service ‘bot to the lowest level shuttle bay. The robot was bobbing and weaving. Preoccupied with watching the ‘bot, he entered data into the diagnostic computer strapped to his hand. Ian hoped to make a few adjustments to his circuit board as soon as he caught up with the poor fellow.
He finally cornered the mechanic drone beside one on the six immaculate workbenches affixed to the walls of the loading bay. Hitting the ‘kill switch’ on the palm pilot Ian deactivated the ‘bot. He looked around the workbench for a spanner intending to crack open the back panel of the robot.
A bulky tarp draped mound nearby caught his eye. Curiously, he reached over and flicked the tarp back to reveal the Rol-plo.
The portable robotic land lorry had been the greatest invention of its time.
Designed for loading and unload interplanetary space-hoppers it was the king of the shuttle bay. Retro-fitted with a set of quadric-jet rocket boosters the flat topped machine could hover over any type of terrain. The robotic arms and legs could move massive machines or lever heavy rockets into the air.
Excited, Ian let out a war whoop.
His telepathic squeal assaulted the ears of every living being in the bunker. Occupied with various jobs and interests, everyone was spread out across the building. Paralyzed, everyone stopped what they were doing.
“I know how to move the shuttlecraft,” Ian shouted in their ears.
“How?” Joshua queried.
“Give me five minutes and meet me upstairs,” he replied mysteriously.
The life size service ‘bot hung motionless from the waist. Ian opened the circuit panel in the drone’s back and using one of the spanners from the workbench made the necessary adjustment to the circuit panel. The correction made the drone whistled happily as he zipped around the shuttle bay completing the job he had been created for.
Covering the Rol-plo back up, Ian left the shuttle bay with a wide smile on his face.Chapter Three
Under the canopy the forest floor was a complicated maze of ropelike vines, razor sharp grasses and gnarled tree roots. The mission to retrieve the shuttlecraft had taken the better part of four days. From his birds-eye position on the zip line above Pax measured the distance from the heavily laden Rol-plo to the bunker. If their luck held they were only about a klick away from the entrance to the lower level shuttle bay.
The heavy tracks of the Rol-plo cut deep ruts into the fertile loam rich valley. The robotic arms mounted on all four quadrants of the service ‘bot held the misshapen shuttlecraft on the flat deck. The three boys and Melara walked on either side of the big machine, while Sasha rode point on the front of the carrier.
The powerful rocket boosters operated on Terran petrol additives. The jets fired in sporadic bursts from the rear of the vehicle as the powerful machine struggled to maintain a position of mere inches above the harsh terrain. William refueled the machine every so often from the supply of rocket fuel strapped to the undercarriage of the ATV.
The young telepaths worked hard moving rocks and debris from the path of the big machine. When they couldn’t telepathically remove the obstacle, they simply levitated the Rol-plo over it.
Pax could tell that the constant use of their telekinetic energy was draining them all, especially Ian who was the youngest and as such the weakest of the four. Designed to function in a laboratory setting, Ian’s young body was not constructed for physical exertion. As if sensing Pax’s train of thought Melara chose that moment to turn and set the young boy side-saddle on the edge of the Rol-plo, his feet dangling off the machine.
So far the danger had been minimal.
Joshua had placed a mental force field around the small convoy. Pax sensed it was an invisible bubble of some kind that repelled the smaller predators that lived on the valley floor.
William had explained that the force field sent out a vibration that tranquilized the senses of any creature that came within range of it.
There had been a tense moment when the conveyance had rolled within yards of a pack of wild felines. Pax had seen a pack of the leopard skinned creatures bring down a sick eughi once with its needle sharp claws. He shuddered at the memory.
Pax wondered if the bubble would work against a healthy eughi. He hoped they wouldn’t be put in a position to find out. Worried, he could hear the cries of at least two of the big monsters off in the distance.
“We are closing in on the bunker,” Pax sent the silent message to the group below.
“I hope we get there soon! Burgers and root beer would be great right about now!” Ian replied hungrily. Breakfast had consisted of left-over gluto-rations from the day before and that had been hours ago. He was at an age when constant fuel was demanded by his growing body.
“If Joshua can just keep the bubble around us we might be able to avoid that horde of eughi monsters off in the distance,” William added.
“I’m trying Will,” Joshua signaled silently. “But even with support from you three, my energy reserves have been severely taxed by all the levitation we’ve had to do with the Rol-plo. The shuttlecraft combined with the carrier is quite heavy.”
“Just a little further,” Melara soothed tiredly, “and then we can stop.”
The trip had taken longer than they had expected. They had planned for two days, but they hadn’t counted on the size of the shuttle. It had taken them twice that long to move the Ro-plo through the congested forest.
Above, Pax decided to reconnoiter the convoy’s back trail, one more time, just in case.
A full grown eughi could cover a large distance in a short space of time. Their shrieks sounded much closer now. The last thing he wanted was for one of the dangerous monsters to pick up a strange scent and follow it. It would spell disaster for the group of young people, who even now had paused to move a downed tree stump down below.
The zip line hadn’t gone very far when he noticed activity approaching from the direction of the lake.
The pack of wild felines had their noses in the air. In spite of Joshua’s force field traces of humanoid scents were still attached to the crushed undergrowth. They might not be able to see the convoy but the sleek felines knew they were there.
Winged creatures had ceased their whistling as they chose to hide from the pack of predators. And smaller scavengers were scurrying out of the way as the cat-like creatures tracked their prey.
“Zander’s-tar-pits!” he cursed, using the epitaph preferred by his new friends
“Is something wrong?” Melara asked with wary alarm.
As if being stalked by the pack of felines wasn’t bad enough…Pax spotted the herd of eughi trying to outflank the convoy to the west. If they were successful they would emerge on the path ahead of the Rol-plo. The huge creatures were running on all fours…reminding him of pictures he had seen of the big gorillas Terrans kept in zoos.
“Joshua?” Pax called.
“What’s the matter Pax? Are the eughi close to us?”
“Close enough. We’re being sandwiched in. We’ve got a pack of felines on our tails. And a posse of eughi trying to cut us off up ahead so they can ambush us. I’ve never seen them band together before. Usually they travel alone. We have to figure out how to get around them.”
“What do you suggest?” Sasha asked with a concerned look at the tangled underbrush ahead of the convoy.
By this time Pax had zipped to a stop directly over the Rol-plo. The zip basket rocked back and forth on the zip line. His blaster was slung over his forearm ready for action.
“The entrance to the bunker is only a few hundred feet away. I will attempt to draw them off. If I can get them to follow me you should be able to get to the loading bay. Just beware of the felines behind you. Don’t let them outsmart you! Keep your defenses up. So far the bubble has kept you safe, but these are smart creatures. Smarter than the eughi, for sure! The eughi are instinctual, deadly in power and size. But the felines are sentient. They will watch and wait, ready to pounce on any weakness they can find in their prey.”
“You will need some help to occupy those ape monsters!” Melara declared. “Lower the basket, I’m coming with you!”
His first instinct was to object.
This was shaping up to be a mean fight and it was no place for a defenseless woman. He knew how dangerous the eughi could be! But good sense won out. Melara wasn’t defenseless. She had been trained in the Terran Guard. And two weapons were better than one.
The zip carrier barely reached the top of the Rol-plo before Melara had leaped onto the flat surface then used it to execute a perfect front roundhouse flip into the basket. With a glance of admiration he pushed the zip line out in front of the convoy.
He knew the eughi were not friendly creatures. They usually avoided each other like the plague. But in this particular instance they had joined forces to ambush the small convoy.
Pax had always thought the creatures were incapable of strategic thought and communication. Unfortunately the complexity of the ambush assured him his assumptions had been wrong.
Melara knelt in the basket bracing her short barreled laser canon on the wire edge. The laser canon held multiple loads and he knew from watching her in the last few days that she always kept it fully loaded.
Reassured she was ready, his gaze focused on the canopy up ahead. A flock of winged creatures chose that moment to rise up into the atmosphere.
He figured the eughi had chosen that spot to ambush the convoy.
Stealing the element of surprise, Pax chose the nearest junction box to work the zip basket around to the east of the ambush. Deftly he negotiated the turns that would bring the zip basket around behind the eughi.
When they were in position, Pax met Melara’s blue gaze. She inclined her head and waited on him to make his move.
Inhaling slowly, Pax pushed the zip carrier into the canopy above the waiting herd. Sighting down the blaster barrel he began firing into the brown pack of howling eughi.
He heard Melara’s canon buck three times in loud succession. Tree limbs fell as the canon cut them in two, spilling onto the heads of the startled eughi down below.
The element of surprise taken from them the herd scattered in disarray. Several of the huge monsters ducked into the tree line, leaving the fight for the braver specimens.
It wasn’t hard to spot the leader of the pack. Better than seven feet tall when standing on his back legs the silver haired eughi monster didn’t flinch. The surprise attack didn’t seem to faze him in the least. Where others were crouched for cover or running in fear, the silver eughi simply stood his ground, facing the humanoid threat.
His grotesquely muscled arms hung loosely at his sides as he met Pax’s gaze in the canopy above. He roared at what was left of the huge eughi herd, trying to muster a charge at the swinging zip basket. Massive arms swung at the metal carrier suspended from the zip line. Some climbed into the gnarled tree line, while others grabbed the thick ropy vines that clung to just about everything in the forest.
Pax used his blaster to pick off as many of them as possible.
Melara’s canon was blasting away at anything that moved on the ground.
But the eughi leader was savvier than the rest. With a tug of his powerful arms he pulled a heavy vine from a nearby tree and twirled it like a lasso in the air. While the battle raged around him he slung the vine around the zip line and quickly began to climb it. He managed to get a massive claw around the wire and was attempting to pull his way along it hand over hand.
Others tried to follow his example, but Melara’s laser canon was spouting rapid fire. The silvery eughi was almost to the stalled basket when Pax caught sight of him. One hairy arm was clutching the zip wire and the other was reaching for the nose of the carrier.
Trying to remain calm, Pax took careful aim at the monster hanging directly in front of the basket. But just as he was about to pull the trigger one of the other eughi managed to grab the undercarriage of the zip basket.
He heard Melara’s canon recoil loudly. The unexpected movement of the basket threw his aim off. Instead of hitting the monster dead center in the middle of its ape like chest, the blaster fire severed the hairy arm clutching the zip line. The monster fell to the gnarled tree roots below with a bellow of pain his arm a bloody stump.
Seeing a number of their party and their leader writhing on the now blood soaked ground the eughi abandoned their attack. Some withdrew into the forest while others descended upon their fallen comrades, feeding on their carcasses.
Pax looked at the severed hand still clutching the zip wire and swallowed the bile that rose up into his throat. Now that the battle with the eughi was over he became aware of the silent war that was being waged back at the convoy.
A silent scream for help echoed through Pax and Melara’s minds simultaneously. He reached out and hurriedly prized the bloody eughi fingers off the zip line and pushed the carrier back toward the Rol-plo.
Sasha had watched Pax and Melara zip out of sight with trepidation. Joshua and William climbed onto the carrier laser blasters poised and ready. They could hear the eughi posse up ahead and each of them tensed when the sounds of the confrontation echoed across the valley floor.
The strange cognitive link they shared with Pax kept them abreast of the battle taking place only a few hundred yards away from the convoy. Each of them kept silent so as not to distract either Pax or Melara.
And then danger overtook them from the rear as the pack of felines caught up with them.
The Rol-plo ground to a halt as the rocket blasters chose that moment to run out of fuel. The hover jets were rendered useless and the Rol-plo thudded heavily to the ground.
Joshua was thrown from the vehicle. He landed against a raised tree root, striking his head. Knocked unconscious by the blow, the psy-induced bubble disintegrated!
“Joshua!” silently Ian screamed in dismay! Without stopping to consider the consequences he jumped to the ground beside his wounded brother.
Sasha found herself at the mercy of a very hungry pack of felines.
The feline in the lead met her gaze straight on. The leopard printed markings on her side trembled as the female gathered her muscles to spring on her prey.
“No!” silently Sasha screamed fiercely, staring the wild eyed creature down.
Surprised the big cat paused in mid-spring. Curiosity raced through its purring brain. Sasha intercepted the animal’s sentient question “Why?”
“You don’t really want to hurt us! I can feel it!” she assured the mewing creature. Sasha felt more than heard the smirking “Think so?”
The curious feline crouched down on the flat surface of the Rol-plo and simply watched the odd looking humanoids that could communicate with them so easily. The rest of the pack of cat-like creatures did likewise; seemingly content to allow the female to make the decision to attack or retreat.
“Keep talking,” William said, as Pax and Melara swung into position overhead, their weapons poised to pick off the big cats one by one, if need be.
“Melara help Ian get Joshua on the ATV while I refuel,” he added. “Pax?”
“Keep your blaster trained on that pack of felines.”
“Don’t worry! I’m ready if they choose to attack. But I’d appreciate it if you’d get a move on,” Pax added.
“She’s not going to attack,” Sasha crooned, closing the distance between her and the waiting feline hesitantly. “Are you girl?”
Carefully kneeling beside the spotted creature, Sasha ever so slowly reached out one pale hand to pet the wild green-eyed feline. To her surprise the creature stretched beneath the stroke of her hand. Tiny jolts of pleasure passed between her fingertips and the creature. As one the entire pack made a chuffing sound to show their appreciation of the gentle caress.
Several of the big felines moved up onto the Rol-plo and nudged Sasha, encouraging her to pet them as well. The current arching through the creatures brought a smile to Sasha’s face.
“So much for being fierce,” Melara laughed lowering her laser canon. “They’re nothing but big telepathic tabby cats.”
“How’s Joshua?” Pax asked from above. He kept a wary eye on the pack of felines jockeying for a stroke from Sasha’s hand.
“He’s still out,” Ian said. “We need to get him to the medi-doc.”
“The thrusters are up and ready,” William assured them as he put the lid on the metal petrol can.
As if to verify his claim the Rol-plo roared to life and immediately resumed its hover capacity by lifting off the ground. “Let’s get to the bunker! I’ve have enough excitement to last me for a lifetime.”
The female leader of the felines jumped nimbly to the forest floor. The pack silently watched the retreating convoy. Each of the telepaths felt a small niggling at the corner of their thought processes as the big felines began to make their strange chuffing sound.
“Do you want to come with us?” Sasha asked the female.
The chuffing accelerated as the gentle creatures roared their answer. As if by mutual consent the pack began to follow from a distance.
Lifting Joshua’s unconscious body to the deck of the Rol-plo, Melara and Ian went to work. He had a purple goose egg forming on his forehead. He was out, cold.
Using every bit of his telepathic ability, Ian couldn’t breach the blackness encasing Joshua’s mind. To all intents and purposes Joshua’s mind had simply shut down. The rest of the distance to the bunker was made in grim silence.
The lowest docking bay became a sudden hive of activity upon their arrival. Reactivated service ‘bots and mechanical drones met the Rol-plo at the bay doors. Robotic arms manned the hydraulic lifts and pulleys that brought the convoy inside the bunker.
Jumping down from the deck of the vehicle Ian used his palm pilot to send for a gurney to unload Joshua’s inert body. Two serious faced ‘bots, dressed in scrubs arrived a short time later. Ian and Melara hurried along the corridor behind them as they wheeled him to the same medi-doc where Melara had wakened only a few days before.
William and Pax stayed behind to help the screeching ‘bots secure the Rol-plo.
Sasha stood in the open bay doors communicating with the female feline. They milled around her legs, enjoying the gentle strokes from her hands. Trills of sentient enjoyment ran through the strange animals. Their chuffing sounds echoed a chorus of pure pleasure.
“First, Pax! Now the felines! I wonder if there is something about this planet that encourages psy-talent?” she mused, communing gently with the telepathic felines.
“I’ve noticed my own senses are boosted here on Nyla 6,” William added walking up beside her. “Especially telekinetically.”
“Umm!” she agreed with a nod. “Mine as well!”
“Was the first scouting party ever aware of the reason the Terran government chose this planet for development?” William asked Pax when he too joined them.
“Not that I know of,” he returned, keeping a wary eye on the overgrown tabbies. “Crossing the Lyiada Galaxy was a faster route to the next star system. The discovery of Myconeum in that sector of the universe increased the interest of the Geos for a while. But the cost of extraction made the claim too expensive to mine and plans for developing it gradually fizzled out.”
“There could be more information written down in the library archives somewhere. I did not know that psy-talent was rare among humans. My parents died when I was but a child. Except for Stanley I’ve not had anyone to communicate with since.”
“How did they expire?” Sasha asked feeling the tendrils of pain created by the memory of his parents.
She found the love and regret curious, since she had no actual memories of a mother or father herself. She had been created in a test tube, not birthed by a maternal figure.
“There was an explosion in one of the chem labs…toxic gas filled the room before they could escape.”
“And how old did you say you were?” Sasha queried.
“In Terran years…I was about ten!”
“You are lucky you had Stanley! Otherwise you would have been here all alone.”
“I know…but I find that conversing with a robot does not compare with that of another humanoid!”
“I am glad we found you, Pax Vitar!” Sasha told him her gray eyes smiling.
“What are we going to do about them?” William asked with a nod at the milling felines.
“Let’s leave them be. There’s plenty of room in the bunker. If they want to stay we will not turn them away,” Pax said.
Sasha spared a glance at the busy service drones anchoring the Rol-plo into the docking bay. The gold skinned robots with their permanently benign expressions seemed to have everything under control.
Deciding there was nothing more she could do here, she turned to leave the docking bay. She called over her shoulder, “I think I will go and see about Joshua. I sense the blackness is fading. He should be waking up soon.”
Grabbing spanners from a nearby work bench Pax and William hurried to help the mechanic ‘bots unload, sort, disassemble and log the smaller pieces of the broken space ship into the docking bay computer system.
Soon there was organized, grease covered, piles of shuttlecraft parts lying all over the concrete floor of the docking bay.
Sasha returned to the docking bay some time later with the welome news that Joshua was going to be okay. He had awakened with a slight concussion and a dislocated shoulder. After re-setting the shoulder the medi-doc had decided to confine him to sickbay for twenty-four hours just in case his condition worsened. Ian had volunteered to babysit the sulking Joshua who couldn’t wait to get down to the docking bay and work on the shuttlecraft.
Looking around at the littered concrete floor Pax didn’t think there was any reason to hurry. The mechanic drones and service ‘bots had disassembled what was left of the crashed vehicle, piecemeal.
Even with the robots working round-the-clock it could take weeks, even months, to put the metal jigsaw puzzle back together again. And that was supposing that they were in possession of every part and they were still usable after the crash.
It was very late when Pax stretched tiredly and looked at the timepiece on his wrist. Looking around he spied William, with one coverall clad leg dangling off the side. The youngster had cleared a spot on one of the workbenches several hours earlier to take a nap. Out like a light, after the long trek through the valley floor, he was snoring loudly. Pax decided not to wake him and after double checking the security system left the big docking area.
A brief glance into the sickbay assured him Joshua was sleeping comfortably. The medi-bots had brought in a portable cot for Ian but he was intently studying something on his palm pilot. He looked up and nodded briefly as Pax stuck his head in the door.
The blips and flashes of the computer monitors reassured him that Joshua was being well taken care of. With a silent ‘goodnight’ to Ian he backed out of the medi-doc and made his way upstairs.
Stanley met him at his apartment door with a finger placed over his lips in an uncharacteristically humanoid signal to be quiet. Inclining his gold head he indicated the sleeping females stretched out on the twin couches in the sitting area. Both Melara and Sasha had decided to camp out in his living quarters instead of using their own next door.
Stanley had covered them with both in another uncharacteristic gesture of human kindness.
Pax wondered if ‘bots had the capacity to evolve emotionally. They were created to serve their humans and sometimes mimic the human actions. They were not programmed with virtues such as kindness or compassion.
At least he didn’t think they had that capacity. He would talk to Ian about it. The kid was a genius when it came to robots. They were his passion! The workers on the MBryO project had manipulated his psy-talent in that area.
Maybe he had made some adjustments to the ‘bots’ mainframes or something without telling anyone.
Deciding not to think about it anymore that night, Pax found his sleeping bay and still clad in greasy boots and coveralls stretched out on top of the coverlet.
It was the ever vigilant Stanley that removed the heavy boots from his master’s feet. Throwing a blanket over him, he adjusted the dimmer switch for the recessed lighting then turned and glided from the room.
With one more assessing look at the sleeping females he assumed his position beside the kitchen doorway and accessed his own sleep mode. With the hum of shut down mode his golden head slumped down onto his chest in what passed as sleep for a robot.
Four million light years and three galaxies away an elderly maintenance man working the nightshift in the Terran DOD building, opened a closet door.
A passerby had reported strange whirs and beeps coming from within. Inside the room he found an abandoned computer lab. The equipment was probably sixty years old and obsolete, but something or someone had reactivated them.
The monitor indicated the activity was issuing from a planet in a small out of the way interplanetary system known as the Lyiada Galaxy. A beeping red light indicated a transmission coming from a remote computer dwarf planet of Nyla 6.
His gnarled fingers picked up an old data sheet lying on dust shrouded desk. It was a bill of lading labeled with the words Project: Nyla 6. With a thoughtful look around at the dimly lit lab he dropped the invoice back down on the desk. Backing out of the room he secured the door once again.
Little did the old man know that what he had discovered inside that room would threaten mankind’s existence?Chapter Four
EliasAbrams stepped out of the elevator on the top floor of the corporate offices of MBryO UNIX.
This was his sixth year as head of security for the company which was an unofficial subsidiary of the Terran DOD. Secretly government funded, MBryO developed genetically enhanced chemical weapons. The DOD was quite pleased with the MBryO project’s success to say the least, and it looked like they were about to quadruple their investment in the company’s research and development department.
Four stories tall the building was an architectural masterpiece constructed of glass solar panels and eco-friendly ‘green’ materials. The company was currently in the middle of a massive expansion project that would more than triple the building’s size.
On the outside, to all intents and purposes, the company looked legit. It employed hundreds of white collar and blue collar workers. MBryO offered many opportunities for advancement up the corporate ladder. There were even stock options for those interested in investing in the future. Everything seemed to be on the up and up.
It was the laboratories hidden three levels below ground that turned Elias’ stomach.
Elias paused outside the corporate suite of offices belonging to Maxim Bryant and looked down at the report in his hands. The DOD had sent the plain brown package over by messenger that very morning. Elias had signed for the package himself. The report gave the coordinates of an abandoned bunker in the Lyiada galaxy.
Decades earlier the DOD had socked a small fortune in the development of the star base before abandoning it. They had just left the poor devils there without telling them. Everyone assumed the poor fools had died out long ago, but recently the mainframe that controlled the computers had somehow briefly reactivated.
The report of that reactivation had been intercepted by an MBryO mole in the head office. None of the higher ups in the DOD had ever seen it.
The mole had made the connection between the Lyiada galaxy and a classified search for a disabled shuttlecraft in that general vicinity. MBryO himself was overseeing the hunt for the space craft and its occupants. Only two people knew how important those occupants were to Maxim Bryant. The man himself…and MBryO’s head of security Elias Abrams.
Elias shuddered with self-revulsion. First he’d turned his head and looked the other way when he discovered the experiments in the basement, and now this. How much lower was he willing to sink?
Elias pushed down the guilt rising up to choke him.
He had doctored the coordinates in the report would throw the MBryO drone squads off the scent long enough for him to check out the situation for himself. He had also pulled the dossier concerning the star base on Nyla 6.
What MBryO didn’t know couldn’t hurt anyone else!
Stoically he made himself step into the office suite.
“Good morning, Mr. Abrams! Mr. Bryant has been expecting you.” An expensively dressed secretary escorted him into the plush interior of Maxim Bryant’s inner sanctum.
Elias paused just inside the door and waited for the effeminate looking man to acknowledge him.
Maxim’s long white-blonde hair was gathered back into a queue at the nape of his neck today. He was ostensibly studying the documents in front of him, but Elias felt the subtle probe of his psy-talent teasing the edges of his mind. Effortlessly Elias increased the mental firewall around his own thought processes.
It was a ritual the two strong-willed men played out every time Elias was face to face with Maxim. Elias was the only known humanoid mind impervious to Maxim’s psy-talent.
It was the reason MBryO had hired him in the first place.
Philosophically Maxim decided that if he, the greatest mind reader in the known world couldn’t read him, then no other humanoid could either. So his secrets were safe with Elias.
Besides it was always prudent to keep your enemies close. It made it easier to kill them when the time came, he reasoned. He still searched for a weakness in the wall of Elias’ closed mind though.
When the small ritual was over, MBryO lifted his head and looked directly at Elias for the first time. His eerie gray gaze was deceptively bland. Maxim Bryant had a genius IQ and a determination of steel.
Elias never made the mistake of underestimating the man. Or any other man for that matter. It was specially hardwired into his own DNA.
Maxim rose gracefully from the imposing desk and graciously extended his soft, feminine hands to clasp Elias’ calloused one. As always, his angelic appearance was theatrical; contrived to throw his visitors off guard. The material of his floor length white robe was decorated with a diamond studded fleur de lei pattern and edged with silver piping. Elias wondered for the zillionth time what the man had against breeches.
Maxim graciously indicated the leather sectional grouped around a magnificent glass paneled wall overlooking his private courtyard below. A platoon of gardeners took care of the multitude of exotic flowers planted there. The floral scents wafted through the open windows, making Elias a bit sick to his stomach.
“Good morning, Elias. I am told you have some information for me?” Maxim’s theatrically low and melodious voice had lulled more than one opponent into a false sense of security. It had no effect upon Elias, much to Maxim’s amusement.
“This arrived by messenger mid-morning,” sitting down Elias handed him the manila folder and repeated only what Maxim already knew. He was wise enough to play his cards close to his chest when dealing with MBryO’s strong psy-talent.
Elias remembered another report that had hit his desk just recently.
Maxim had become suspicious of Elias’ strong psy-talent. He had sent out feelers to his contacts within the DOD and Robotic Morality Bureau, or RMB. The RMB had been established after the eradication of the Xenaclons during the ‘Clone Wars’.
The minute he had opened the report, Elias knew his time at MBryO had run out. In the hands of Maxim Bryant, the information in that report would be extremely dangerous.
Maxim poured over the contents of the file voraciously. “This information is useless,” referring to the report in his hands.
“Our search crews have combed these coordinates already. They have found no evidence of the shuttlecraft or its passengers.”
“Fools! All of them! How can one small spaceship have completely disappeared?”
“Peterson assures me the craft was disabled during the pursuit. Perhaps it disintegrated during freefall into an unknown atmosphere,” Elias proposed.
“Peterson is a good man, but there should have been evidence of a debris field. He has found nothing,” MBryO sneered.
“Perhaps,” Elias drawled insinuatingly, “It is time for me to join the search in person. There is only so much we can do from Terran.”
“Alas, my hands are tied. As you know I cannot leave Terra at this time.” The colorless gaze looked out the glass panels at the gardens below. The DOD project site was just barely visible and construction workers were scurrying about. “The DOD has invested much time and money in the expansion. They would not look too kindly on my absence right now!”
Elias felt the tendrils of psy-talent curling around the edges of his mental blockade. He knew MBryO questioned his motives. The man trusted no one, especially when it came to his private projects.
And the escapees certainly fell in that category. Effortlessly Elias refused entry to his thoughts and once again the tendrils of psy-talent retreated. But this time, Elias could feel Maxim’s frustration at his inability to penetrate his defenses.
“That is why I should go,” Elias assured him. “I have no family to hinder me. I answer to no one, except you, of course!”
“See to it then!” Maxim acceded with cold disdain. He stood up in obvious dismissal. “Keep me apprised! I want daily reports on each search grid. Include every detail, no
matter how insignificant. My children are brilliant but they cannot elude me forever! I will find them and I assure you, they will be disciplined.”
“And when you find the Terran traitor that helped them to escape…bring her to me! I want to deal with her myself!”
His words rang in Elias’ ears as he left the suite.
Maxim’s pseudo-gentle tones echoes through the telecom on his secretary’s desk. “Have a shuttlecraft ready and waiting for Mr. Abram inside the hour.”
The expressionless automaton’s “Yes sir,” echoed in Elias’ ears as she buzzed the doors securely shut behind him.
Tense, he retraced his route to the elevator. He didn’t relax his guard until he was safely in his own office two stories below.
MBryO’s psy-talent was very powerful. He was capable of reading the thoughts of every humanoid within the building…except for Elias! Elias knew that made him a target for MBryO’s sadistic pleasure.
Maxim Bryant was getting too close to discovering his secret. He was beginning to call in favors to get the information he wanted. It was time for Elias to leave Terra.
Elias entered his private bathroom and grabbed the change of clothing he kept there for the nights he slept on the couch in his office. Gone was the MBryO uniform of white tunic and britches when he emerged and it their place was a navy jump suit stuffed into black knee boots and a belted leather jerkin.
Working quickly, he grabbed his attaché case and began pushing various documents inside, including the original dossier on Nyla 6. He would need the precise coordinates of the dwarf planet if he was going to track down the runaways.
Grimly determined, he reached into the bottom drawer of his desk and removed a lethal looking laser pistol. Shoving it behind his back, he adjusted the leather jerkin to fit comfortably over it. Attaché case in hand, he crossed to the doorway.
Hand on the light switch, he turned to look over the only true home he’d ever had. He had invested the last six years of his life here.
Alone in the world and brilliant at his job, his work had become the focus of his life. He knew what he was about to do next, would make returning out of the question. With a sigh of regret he flicked off the switch and left the room for the last time.
He’d known that it had been time to move on for some time now. He wasn’t really the type to put down roots for very long. Truth to tell, he had just been waiting for the right opportunity to escape.
Only he knew, that he had no intention of ever returning to the waiting evil that was MBryO UNIX. And if that meant he must forever say goodbye to his home planet of Terra…then so be it!
There was bound to be another galaxy out there that would welcome a man with his psy-talented abilities.
The private laboratories on the second and third floors down below erupted into a frenzied whirl of activity.
“This is it! He is leaving! This is our only chance to escape. We must hurry!”
The faint quivery tendrils of psy-talent reverberated through the minds of the community of ‘lab rats’ held captive underground.
“Are you sure about this, Gayla?” queried the seven foot tall, freckled faced creature with the nose of a hound dog, the long red mane of a lion and the thick chest of a gorilla. Clad only in tattered knee britches from the waist down, his gentle gray eyes looked sadly down at the lab assistant lying beside his bare feet.
Dogg had all but ripped his neck from his shoulders when he unlocked the door to feed the prisoners their morning meal. This cruel human had been particularly vicious in his treatment of what he called ‘the freaks’ so deserved his fate.
But Dogg was a very empathic creature and killing did not come easily to him.
“We must find the others before father does,” returned the two foot tall elfin figure at the Dogg’s humanoid feet. Her sweetly beautiful face was an older, smaller replica of her sister Sasha’s.
There were six metal cages on each floor of what the captives referred to as the ‘dungeon’. The cage doors remained locked unless MBryO’s goons hauled one of them to the laboratories to perform their research experiments.
The elfin creature called ‘Gayla’ felt multiple psy-talents tugging at the edges of her senses, begging for release.
“Quiet!” growled Dogg telepathically. “Too many voices and our father will hear us. He will not be happy!”
“You must be careful, my children!”
Gayla recognized the frail voice as that of the ‘Old One’. Locked away in a metal cage in the bottom dungeon, MBryO made sure she was kept separate from the rest of the unfortunate ‘lab rats’.
“Use your power ‘Old One’. Help us to sneak aboard the spaceship that waits on the rooftop. When we find Melara and my brothers and sister, I promise to return for you,” Gayla told her.
“You will be too late I fear! My strength is waning,” the old female’s voice trembled through Gayla’s mind. “But I will do what I can to help you now!”
“My children,” she addressed the other captives still locked inside their cubicles, “we must focus our energy as one. Together we are stronger than our captors.”
“What would you have us to do, ‘Old One’?” Gayla asked.
“Those of us that remain will create a distraction. There will be much confusion above. While the humans are scurrying to leave the building you and Dogg must take the elevator to the roof. If you hurry you will be able to sneak aboard the space hopper!”
“So be it!” Dogg stated trustingly. The ‘Old One’ was their mother. It was her Xenaclon DNA that ran through all of their veins. She would defend her children to her dying breath, which he sensed was very near. She could not endure many more of Maxim Bryant’s so called ‘procedures’ to extract the strands of her DNA.
Reaching down, he gently lifted the small elfin woman on his smooth bare shoulders. She resembled a Terran porcelain doll with her short legs dangling either side of his thick neck. Her exquisitely petite hands grasped the red lion’s mane of his hair.
Pushing the cage door open he stepped over the dead body of the lab tech. He felt the gathering force of psy-talent behind him as he reached the elevator doors. The strands teased the corners of his mind before extending beyond them to the floors above.
“Focus Gayla, do not distract them,” he cautioned as he felt his sister’s empathetic psy-talent intertwine around the strands of the others. Mentally backing off, she hooked her fingers more tightly into the coarse red locks of his hair.
The elevator doors closed at the same time as the fire alarm exploded through the building. Thick smoke filled the hallways. Panicked screams echoed through the hallways.
Havoc ensued as the sprinkling system turned on automatically. The occupants of the building were drenched within seconds. Afraid of being trapped inside, a mass exodus of humanity flocked to the stairwells as workers raced to the exits of MBryO UNIX.
Sadly, no one privy to the existence of the captives down below, came to unlock the cages of the ‘lab rats’! They were expendable, disposable…even to the evil human father who had genetically created them.
At present, Maxim was using his psy-talent to battle the uncontrollable fire that was pouring from a freshly installed air turbine down in the construction zone. The DOD had spent a fortune upgrading the new system. For some unexplainable reason the massive turbine had malfunctioned and was throwing smoke into the air vents inside the building.
His attention diverted, MBryO never sensed the combined telekinetic energy emanating from the laboratories below. Nor was he conscious of Dogg and Gayla stepping out of the elevator and onto the rooftop of the building.
For the first time ever, the two odd-looking creatures saw the outside world.
Dogg’s psy-senses spiraled into sensory overload. His mind screamed ‘freedom’! He wanted to howl in delight, as did the empathetic psy-talented creatures sharing his elation, but still trapped down below.
“Not yet,” the ‘Old One’ cautioned tiredly. Though still joined with the others, her energy reserves were seriously depleted.
“You and Gayla must stowaway inside the ship. Elias Abrams is an old friend. Do not underestimate him. He is a dangerous humanoid, but not a cruel one. I have felt his distaste for the atrocities carried out against us…for many years now. I know…he has secrets of his own. You will be able to trust him,” she warned solemnly. “But, be careful!”
Hovering on the landing zone the space-hopper’s engines were warmed up and ready to go. A dark hole yawned invitingly in the side of the ship.
Unaware of the situation taking place inside the building Elias was unhooking the cables that anchored the ship to the landing pad. With his back turned he did not see Dogg, with Gayla straddling his shoulders; race across the rooftop to the hovering spaceship and climb inside.
Hopping aboard the super-modern intergalactic space-hopper, Elias settled comfortably in the streamlined cockpit. Relief flooded him when the spacecraft lifted off the rooftop of MBryO UNIX and cleared the atmosphere. Once and for all, he lowered the firewall that kept his psy-senses camouflaged.
And, that was the first inkling he had that he was not alone inside the space-hopper.
Alarmed, he punched the autopilot and started to his feet. Only to be stopped by a warm speckled hand on his shoulder.
“Relax Elias Abrams!” Gayla told him cheerfully in her childishly elfin voice. “There is no reason to be alarmed. We have mutual goals in mind. Like you, Dogg and I only wish to escape this evil place. It is our intent to locate and join our sister and brothers! As long as you cooperate with us, no harm will come to you.”
Turning slowly, Elias’ gaze met those of the beautiful doll-like creature sitting on the shoulders of a huge red furry creature. His psy-senses assured him that there was nothing dangerous or sinister in either of the stow-a-ways. The simple childlike humanoid was captivating. His senses told him she was incapable of artifice or manipulation. She was… sweetness and joy.
Not so the monster that held the elf-girl so naturally on his bare shoulders. Elias knew that one wrong move on his part and the half-canine, half-humanoid creature would not hesitate to use his massive psy-strength to tear him limb from limb.
Unfortunately, some of MBryO’s experiments had gone sadly awry. The mutation of animal DNA and human DNA had been expressly forbidden in the Xenaclon Laws. Mentally deranged, MBryO considered himself above the law.
Elias made himself settle back down in the cockpit. This was not the time to do anything foolish. Both he and his strange looking passengers were united in one goal…and that was to leave MBryO UNIX as quickly as possible.
There would time for discussion as soon as they were out of any danger of being detected. His decision made, Elias guided the space-hopper out of Terran airspace.
A routine seemed to naturally fall into place on Nyla 6.
Joshua and William were spent all of their waking hours in the upper docking bay, focusing their attention fixing the wrecked shuttle. They were in the garage from daylight until dark. They halted only long enough to eat and sleep. The damage to the ship was extensive and they knew that it could take days, or even weeks, to fix.
While her brothers were busy in the docking bay, Sasha worked with the big felines. The female feline’s name was Calista and she was queen of her pack. Calista had followed them from the crash site and took up residence inside the bunker, sleeping in Sasha’s quarters at night.
Sasha and the big animal seemed to be hardwired on the same telepathic frequency. It was nothing to see the cat-like creature lazily following a step or two behind the delicate young girl. Pax wondered if the beautiful girl could communicate with other animals in the same way.
She taught Sasha much about Nyla 6 and its occupants. Calista’s ancestors had been brought to the planet on the same ship as Pax Vitar’s. Originally tame creatures, the tabby cats had roamed free across the planet, adapting to their surroundings, forming wild packs.
According to Calista, as the years progressed, their ability to communicate telepathically simply evolved. But evolved from what, Sasha wondered? She spent much of her time in the library vids, researching the history of the planet.
She found one interesting tidbit of information in the original assessment of the planet. The mantle of Nyla 6 was made up of large deposits of Myconeum. Myconeum was a superior long lasting power source. Terra used it to run just about everything, from their homes, to their vehicle, to their spacecraft.
It was also suspected that Myconeum enhanced psy-talent, which would explain why her and her brothers’ psy-ability seemed to be growing stronger every day. It would also explain Pax’s unusual telepathic ability, as well as the free-roaming felines on the planet.
Her fine features puckered and deep in thought, Sasha laid the planet’s initial assessment aside to show the others later on.
Ian had found his own niche working with the ‘bots and drones. With the ‘bots on active duty once more, everything in the bunker was spotless and running like a well oiled machine. He had even discovered the lab where the original Nyla 6 settlers had developed the service ‘bots and was at present in the middle of a ‘secret’ construction project of his own.
Pax marveled at the youngster’s affinity for all things robotic and suspected Ian’s ‘secret’ project was the building of his own mechanical prototype. He enjoyed the young boy’s enthusiasm for his work.
Pax wondered if the thought ever crossed Ian’s young mind that MBryO had done the same in cloning himself and his siblings. If so, the boy had obviously pushed the idea aside. It was one thing to build a machine and quite another to build a human being.
Pax divided his time among the four young telepaths. After being without human contact for so long, he was starved for companionship and he wanted to soak up as much of it as he possibly could. He also derived a variety of information from conversations with his intelligent visitors. The world had changed immensely since his forefathers had been abandoned on Nyla 6.
Much of the history on the library vids at the bunker was outdated. Pax knew nothing of the so-called ‘Xenaclon Wars’ until Joshua filled him in. After the Xenaclons had been annihilated, humanity had declared a galaxy wide moratorium on all cloning. Never again, would the world allow the creation of an army of super strength soldiers who would stop at nothing to destroy mankind.
Pax suspected that the one called MBryO was creating a cloned army of his own. Only this army would be superior to the Xenaclons in that it would be psy-talented.
The only one who did not appear to be thriving on Nyla 6 was Melara.
Unlike the others she was not telepathic. She couldn’t read minds, unless that mind pervaded her own. Her Terran Guard training screamed ‘danger’! And as the days progressed, the signal only got stronger.
Melara couldn’t afford to let down her defenses. She might not be psy-talented but her instincts told her the situation would reach crisis very soon.
MBryO and his drone ships were still out there. She had helped her four young charges escape. She was no doubt high on Maxim Bryant’s most wanted list. Unless she was mistaken, there was a tall bounty on her head.
She didn’t want to think about the consequences, should she be unlucky enough to be caught.
Hidden away on Nyla 6, they were safe for now. The situation was subject to change at any moment, however.
And, since she didn’t want to be taken by surprise if things went south, she busied herself analyzing the bunker’s security protocols. She beefed up any weaknesses, she found. She also plotted an escape route out of the bunker and through the rainforest to the mountains she could see on the horizon.
Nyla 6 was light years off the main space route. Anyone entering the Lyiada Galaxy would do so for a reason. Right now, Melara suspected there was dozens of Terran drone ships searching every rock or galaxy between here and Terra. The drones would eventually find them and take them back to MBryO UNIX. Unless, she come up with a plan to evade being recaptured.
The forested terrain made landing on the small planet difficult, but not impossible. The rainforest would either become their biggest asset or their downfall. It would provide perfect cover for an attack, if it came to one. But it would also provide cover for anyone seeking to attack the bunker.
Without actually discussing it, she and Pax began taking turns watching the valley below. They established guard duty from the cliff overhang where he had gotten his first look at the shuttle craft a few weeks before. It was the best lookout spot on the mountain. It gave a clear view of the starlit sky overhead, the bright orange moons that had rotated to the south side of the planet now, and the forest’s green canopy below.
Less than four weeks after Pax had watched the shuttle containing the five humanoids enter the atmosphere of Nyla 6; the sound of another space craft broke the sound barrier above the small dwarf planet.
But this ship’s entry was a different. There were no signs of distress, and it was obviously in no danger of crashing!
Instead, its powerful engines headed straight for the upper landing bay. It was as if someone had programmed the bunker’s coordinates into the GPS system and the autopilot knew exactly where it was going.
Alarmed, Pax jumped to his feet, blaster ready. His heart in his throat, he lunged up the rocky path to the elevator leading inside the bunker.
“Incoming! Terran spaceship!” he shouted, hoping someone inside would receive the warning, but he was too far away for his telepathic abilities to be effective.
Joshua and William would still be in the docking bay working on the wreckage. He could only hope he could reach them before they were taken by surprise at the unexpected arrival of the space-hopper.
Neither of the two young men felt comfortable carrying a weapon, preferring to use their psy-talent to combat any perceived danger. Pax suspected the dislike had been hardwired into their DNA as a control factor. Centuries previously, humans had outlawed the cloning process after the ‘Xenaclon Wars’.
Nations and galaxies began envisioning armies of disposable soldiers. Some even developed prototypes or whole races of ‘universal soldiers’ called the ‘Xenaclons’. The creators of the Xenaclon imbued them with super strength. They manipulated their genetic codes to create a league of soulless, conscienceless killers. The clones were hardwired with the determination to complete their mission at all costs, no matter who or what got in their way. They were created to succeed, even if it meant sacrificing their own lives in the process.
And then the Xenaclons turned on their creators. Banding together, they plotted to take over the world. What followed was a three year blood bath in which millions of lives, both human and cloned, were lost.
The world came to the conclusion that cloning was a threat to the very existence of humanity, not to mention a heinously immoral act.
After that, Xenaclons were tracked down and disposed of. Most humans of that era considered it the same as euthanizing a rabid animal. The RMB or Robotic Morality Bureau was established to regulate the manufacturing of all robots and investigate any rumors of cloning activity. The result was that cloning was outlawed throughout the galaxy.
And now, Pax Vitar suspected the one known as MBryO was developing his own cloned prototype; a new generation of Xenaclons. This clone model possessed psy-talent, making it twice as deadly as any of the Xenaclons.
His motive was unclear, but nothing good could come from the project. And from what Pax had been able to discern from the four siblings, the process involved the painful extraction of human cells from two unwilling donors with specific genetic traits.
As of now, MBryO had deliberately excluded the desire to kill in his creation. But the possibility of a future psy-talented army of soldiers made Pax’s mind boggle.
As Pax neared the top of the bunker his own talent began to receive transmissions from the bunker. Dismayed, he listened helplessly as his new young friends broke every security protocol he and Melara had put in place to protect them.
Melara Sivanza…his mind shied away from thinking about the beautiful red haired Terran captain. Her presence on Nyla 6 disturbed him in far different ways than the others did.
He preferred to keep his feelings private for now, until he could better understand them himself. To do so, he erected a mental wall around his thoughts, to keep his psi-talented friends, in the dark, so to speak.
Alas, Sasha and Ian were too young, trusting and inquisitive to hide. He could already hear their childish excitement as they dashed from their respective laboratories to the open docking bay.
His stomach in his mouth and his blaster ready for anything that even came close to being dangerous, he braced himself, then rushed inside the gaping landing bay.
He arrived just in time to see the side of a late model space-hopper open and a britches clad, lion-like creature fill the doorway. With reddish fur and a full flowing mane the creature was as tall as any of the eughi’s on the planet. A smattering of dark spots spread across the creature’s canine snout. The creature stepped cautiously out of the space-hopper.
But, as strange as the creature was, it in no way compared to his elf-girl companion. No more than two feet tall, the female was as perfectly proportioned as any doll. She sat astride the creature’s shoulders; her tiny legs dangling down the creature’s chest.
Miniature to be sure, she was an exact replica of Sasha.
“Dogg…Gayla,” Sasha rushed forward to meet the odd looking duo, her hands reaching up to take the small female off the lion-like creature’s massive shoulders. “I thought never to see you again!”
“It fills my heart to see you too, Sasha! I, also, had doubts of ever seeing you again, little sister,” said the small female smiling.
Her arms encircled Sasha’s neck and she laid her childlike head on her shoulder. She was obviously happy at being reunited with her sibling, but totally exhausted from the trip across the galaxy.
“And you brother?” Joshua asked, reaching out to stroke the hairy shoulder of the mammoth creature beside him. “I should have known that if anyone could escape from our father, it would be you, Dogg.”
“Gayla and I had to follow you. We could not let you leave Terra without us,” his freckled snout spread into a wide grin. The creature made a snuffing sound to express his enjoyment of Joshua’s caress.
Melara had entered the docking bay from the opposite direction as Pax, her weapon drawn and ready to deal with any threat against her young charges. Her steely gaze analyzed the scene taking place in front of her.
She acknowledged his presence with a nod of her head. The four siblings were greeting the new arrivals, as excitedly as their stoic personalities would allow.
Pax followed her gaze to the reunion taking place beside the brand new, top of the line, space-hopper. The noisy retro-fitted engines were gradually fading as the ship finished shutting down.
“Relax, cowboy!” she whispered to Pax, sensing his tension. “They seem to know each other.”
In spite of her words, Pax noticed that Melara hadn’t holstered her blaster, however! Naturally filled with mistrust, neither of them was prepared to dismiss the unexpected arrival of the space-hopper as a possible threat, just yet.
He, too, kept his blaster trained on the ship!
“Melara, Pax Vitar, come! Meet our brother and sister,” Sasha’s beautiful voice trilled across the docking bay. “We must celebrate with burgers and root beer! They, too, have managed to escape from our father.”
Calista chose that moment to wander in through the docking bay, her intelligent green eyes calmly assessed the new arrivals. She stopped just inside the bay doors, her attention focusing intently on the strange looking creature beside her humanoid friend.
In size, it was similar to a eughi, but that was as far as the resemblance went. Its snout was sprinkled with dots and a luxurious mane that dropped to its shoulders. Calista probed the creature’s mind delicately.
“Curious,” she snuffled in her feline way. “Intelligent! But not feline!” With an uncommon disdain for a creature that walked on four legs.
Dogg simply look back at Calista impassively. With a sniff of disdain, he didn’t bother to reply to the odd looking female’s simplistic psy-talent.
Sensing no threat from the strange looking eughi, Calista ambled over to Sasha’s side and nuzzled the blond girl’s thigh with her soft nose. She was obviously basking in her new friend’s feelings of joy.
Elias Abrams chose that moment to step out of the space-hopper, hands in the air.
Sasha’s expression changed abruptly. Reflexively, Joshua and William stepped protectively in front of the girls. Pax and Melara divided instantly, taking up positions in the shadows pooling on either side of the open bay doors.
“Move out of the way so I can cut this MBryO space-slug in two!” Melara gritted between clenched teeth.
“You may be at ease, Melara Sivanza,” said the creature known as Dogg. “Elias Abrams means no harm! It was he who helped us to escape from our father.”
“I know who he is!” Melara returned grimly. “Elias Abrams is in charge of security at MBryO and as such not to be trusted. He’s, also, Maxim Bryant’s right hand man! His henchman! Can either of you geniuses explain to me how he managed to block his presence from every psy-talent in this docking bay?”
“Only someone with far superior psy-talent than ours could have maintained his guard for so many years,” Joshua stated, observing the older man suspiciously.
Elias Abrams was obviously in tip-top shape, but his dark hair prematurely gray at the temples.
“Even our father failed to penetrate the wall he keeps around his mind,” Gayla said admiringly. “And he is far stronger than any of the other telepaths at MBryO…except maybe the ‘Old One.”
“The only humanoid with that sort of power would, no doubt, be descended from the Xenaclons,” Ian reasoned, assessing Elias’ muscled physique! “Even the Barriosi are not that powerful.”
The Barriosi were allies of the powerful Xenaclon race.
A combination of curiosity and youthful excitement bubbled up in Ian. For a moment he let his mental defense guard down. Everyone in the docking bay intercepted the flashes of research articles as the boy mentally flipped through the pages of everything he had ever read, heard or studied about the Xenaclons.
The dark-haired man did not look like the pictures he had seen of the genetically enhanced soldiers. And in all his research he had never ran across any mention of a Xenaclon with telepathic abilities. But he would bet his next birthday that Elias was a true descendant of the original cloned warriors.
“Zander-tar-pits!” Melara cursed harshly, reeling from the massive overload of information her brain had received in such a short amount of time.
“Mister, you have about five seconds to give me a reason not to blast you to bits!”Chapter Five
The atmosphere in the docking bay was extremely tense, as both Melara and Pax waited for Elias Abrams to make his move.
Pax’s finger gently caressed the trigger of his mass-blaster.
The Xenaclon Wars had happened more than a century before. But a mere hundred years was not nearly long enough to forget the crimes the Xenaclons had committed against humanity. His own ancestors had regaled him with stories of their atrocities.
It was the doll-like Gayla who eased the tension.
“The ‘Old One’ trusts him!” she said, simply.
“And he could have returned us to the MBryO project when he discovered us,” Dogg added. “But he did not!”
“Maybe he planned to use you and Gayla to track us down and force us into going back with him,” Melara countered fiercely.
She knew firsthand how determined Elias Abrams could be.
Abrams had been her boss back at MBryO. She had taken orders from this man. Not once in the past six months had she sensed even one crack in his cold exterior. How could he have worked at that evil place, been privy to the experiments taking place in the bowels of the building and still live with himself. Didn’t he have any conscience at all?
“I had my reasons, Capitana Sivanza,” Elias’ words reverberated in her mind. She was aghast at the thought that this man had been reading her thoughts for months now and she hadn’t been aware of it.
“I, too, have been working to expose Maxim Bryant and put an end to his cruel experiments for some time now. But you compromised my position with your hasty flight and put everyone in jeopardy with your infernal snooping. Your escape has only made him angry. He is determined to retrieve Sasha and her brothers…at any cost!”
“I sense no guile in him, Melara,” Sasha stated aloud, very firmly. “Put your blaster away. He is telling the truth.”
“Sasha…” Melara began cautiously, unwilling to relax her guard.
“Enough!” Sasha insisted. Reaching out she shifted Gayla into the elf-girl’s original position atop Dogg’s broad shoulders.
“There will be time for further discussion later. Right now we must get Gayla checked out by the medi-bed. She is an original…she came before. She does not have the same genetically enhanced stamina, as we who came, after do. The trip from Terra to Nyla 6 has drained what little strength she has.”
“Come, Dogg!” with the dignity of a queen, Sasha walked over to the elevators leading down into the bunker. She didn’t bother to wait and see if the lion-like creature followed her. Which of course, he did!
The feline, Calista, followed faithfully at her heels.
Dumbfounded, Pax watched as the doors closed behind the small group.
Shrugging, he lowered his blaster and turned to approach the planet’s newest arrival. His mind was reeling. Except for Stanley, he had lived a solitary existence for many years. And now in the space of a few weeks he had been joined by seven living entities.
He extended his hand to the man still standing by the open door of the space-hopper. The library vids he had watched as a child said that shaking hands was the universal way to greet newcomers.
Elias Abram’s had piercing blue eyes that seemed to see right through him. Which, he probably could, of course. Not only was he descended from the Xenaclon, but he was an uncommonly strong psy-talent as well.
“I am Pax Vitar. I was born here on Nyla 6. This bunker is my home. It has been abandoned since Terra left my ancestors here more than fifty years ago. And that brings me to the real question on everyone’s mind here. How did you manage to get the bunker’s coordinates?”
Cautiously, Elias reached out and grasped the dark skinned stranger’s hand. His mind probed Pax’s mind for any hint of hostility. Finding none, he replied.
“A DOD computer picked up a brief remote transmission from the Lyiada Galaxy. A mole in the department sent the report to MBryO. I intercepted it before it could fall into Maxim’s hands. The computer triangulated the coordinates. I simply programmed them into the space-hopper’s navigation system. And the rest is history.”
“What remote transmission?” Pax repeated.
Melara came to stand at his elbow.
“How is that possible? I have lived here all my life. As far as I am aware there is no existing computer with a link to Terra.”
Melara shifted uncomfortably.
“I discovered the ancient com-link in the chem-lab. It had been disabled many years ago. In my excitement, I switched it on,” Melara admitted unwillingly.
Her fingers relaxed their grip on her weapon just a tad. “The beacon only transmitted for a few seconds, before I realized that it was far better to be hidden from the Terran drone ships than to be rescued. So I ended the transmission after only a few seconds.”
Pax digested her words carefully.
His parents had never confided to him there was a way for Nyla 6 to communicate with the outside world. In fact, he had always supposed that just the opposite was true. His parents had taken that secret to the grave.
He thought of all the years he had spent in isolation, abandoned on Nyla 6. He had to wonder why his parents had not signaled for Terran rescue before their own deaths. Had the original colonists truly been abandoned on Nyla 6, or in reality had they been hiding from something? Or, someone who posed a threat to their very existence, such as Maxim Bryant!
Had his ancestors been sent here to establish a starbase for intergalactic commerce? Or had they chosen to exile themselves here instead? Could they really be descended from the genetically enhanced race of warriors called the Xenaclons?
He pushed his niggling questions aside and pointed to the elevator across the docking bay.
“We can discuss this later. Right now, let me escort you down below and get you settled. The starbase has fifty living units. Only one of which has been used until just recently. But that seems to be changing on a daily basis.”
Tiredly, Elias Abrams looked back at the beckoning door of the space-hopper. He was not a man who trusted easily. He was finally free of Maxim Bryant and his tyrannical plans to control the universe through the creation of an army of genetically enhanced warriors. Did he really want to get involved in the comings and goings of the starbase on Nyla 6?
His mind screamed that he should jump aboard and fly off this Zander-forsaken rock! So why didn’t he?
He knew why!
He had unfinished business back at MBryO UNIX.
With a resigned sigh, he followed Pax to the living quarters down below. He was very much aware that the man was poised to level the mass-blaster strapped to his shoulder, if he detected any threat from Elias. So, Elias didn’t make any.
Her eyes bored a hole into Abrams’ back as Melara watched the two disappear into the elevator. Joshua and William stepped closer to her. The youngsters sensed her concern.
“We will monitor his movements, Melara,” William reassured her silently.
“Elias Abrams is a powerful psy-talent, able to block our attempts to read his thoughts,” Joshua told her. “He would have to be in order to work at MBryO for so long and remain undetected by our father.”
“Our father is fascinated with Xenaclon history and admires psy-talent above anything else,” he continued. “He would go to any extremes to collect a specimen such as Elias Abrams…or even worse, a naturally developed psy-talent such as Pax Vitar. Both men would be prime donors for the MBryO project.
“Abrams will not voluntarily allow us into his thoughts. Not once in his time at MBryO has he slipped up and allowed his psy-talent to become exposed. But if he lets his guard down any at all, we will know it,” William finished. “And then we will learn his reasons for being at MBryO UNIX. As well as, why he decided to leave Terra.”
“Let us hope it will not be a case of too little, too late,” Melara returned.
The bedroom was in deep shadow, thanks in part to the dim glow of light coming from the baseboards. It was the wee hours of the morning and Elias was caught in the grips of an unfamiliar dream. The smart-sleeper curved to the form of his body. A gentle massage played gently across the pressure points of his skin as the sleeper attempted to counter the effects of the nightmare.
In his dream, Elias was back at MBryO, wandering the confusing maze of long white hallways. Every one of them looked the same, but he knew where he was going. He skirted a security desk and entered an obscure elevator. Gravity anchored his feet heavily to the floor as the small boxlike structure sank into the bowels of the building. His heart began to thump as claustrophobia overwhelmed him. Just as he thought he could stand it no longer, the elevator rocked to a halt and the doors spilled open.
The screams reached him first and he put his hands over his ears as he stumbled out of the elevator. He had made this trip many times in the past, but he never got used to the psy-talons of fear and angst that assailed him.
He shored up the walls of his own psy-talent and fought his way down the lines of glass laboratories and cells with iron bars that held the creatures. Many of MBryO’s experiments had gone awry, especially in the beginning. Some of the victims were housed in wire cages. Those creatures which displayed vicious behavior were kept in kennels.
Eventually Elias found himself in front of a locked door. A diamond shaped window occupied the top portion of the door. There was also a rectangular-shaped slot for food and water trays to be slid inside for the creatures to be fed twice a day.
He pulled a key from his pocket, unlocked the door and slid inside the narrow opening. The strong Xenaclon psy-talent of the ‘Old One’ almost overpowered him. Even though she was still recovering from her most recent procedure, her talent was still stronger than Elias’.
She possessed the type of psy-ability that could only be found in the queen of the Xenaclons. Once she had been known as Freezhia the Fierce because of her bravery on the battlefield. Now, his heart fractured as he looked at the frail figure lying on the sleeper.
Her features, so much like those of her daughters, were thin and pale. Too pale! He knew that she wouldn’t be able to withstand too many more of Maxim Bryant’s serum extractions.
“You must not keep coming down here, my Xenaclon brother!” his liege’s telepathic warning whispered through his mind.
“If he discovers that you are descended from the Xenaclons, he will stop at nothing to capture and use you, as he has me. With your DNA, he will have the link he needs to complete his evil plan. Only a member of the Barriosi would be as valuable to him.”
“I will find a way to help you, Queen Freezhia!”
Elias’ heart was filled with pain. He had fallen deeply in love with Freezhia, the first time he had ever seen her. It was killing him to know that she was trapped here, the victim of the heinous Maxim Bryant.
Frustration filled him! He felt so helpless. After six years at MBryO, he had yet to find away to help her escape the hands of the cruel monster that was Maxim Bryant.
“To my knowledge, you and I are the last of our race, Elias the Strong. I am queen of nothing! Do not worry about me. You must leave here, before it is too late! Go! Save yourself!”
“You must find my children. Guard them, as you would guard me. That is all I ask!” the Old One whispered hoarsely as she slipped into unconsciousness. The psy-echoes of her screams whispered through his mind, causing him to grab his head in pain and stumble blindly from the barren cell.
Elias awoke with a start, sitting up in the sleeper, his heart beat thundering in his veins. Looking around the strange room, it took a second for him to realize where he was.
He forced himself to relax. Lying back in the sleeper, he allowed its gentle massage to soothe the effects of the nightmare from his tormented body.
He knew he must confess his connection to the ‘Old One’. If he could only enlist some help to set her free.
After a scrumptious dinner the night before, Pax Vitar had escorted him to one of the empty living quarters on the third floor of the bunker. He knew the apartment was next door to the men’s unit. The females occupied the one on the other side of them. The strategy wasn’t lost on Elias. In Pax’s shoes he would have put Elias as far away from the women as possible, too.
Elias had met the robotic butler named Stanley. The robot’s dry wit had brought an involuntary smile to his normally grim lips.
Dogg had chosen to sleep on a cot under the space-hopper down in the docking bay. He was not willing to sacrifice the freedom he had found since his escape from the cages at MBryO. Not even for the creature comforts of the sleeping units. Elias knew the mutant half-Terran/half-animal had no desire to return to Terra, even to aid his mother, the ‘Old One’.
In the back of his mind, he sensed the door to his apartment easing open. He remained quite still, his mind sending out feelers in an attempt to identify the sentient intruder, who Elias knew, was even now crossing to the bedroom door.
His search met with a blank wall. Whoever was sneaking around his sitting room was either a very strong psy-talent who could block his attempts to invade his mind, or actually possessed no talent at all.
With one hand, Elias felt for the hand-blaster under his pillow. The door opened and a shadowy figure slipped stealthily inside, clicking the door shut behind him.
“Put that blaster away, Elias Abrams. I mean you no harm!” said a whispery voice.
“You’ll have to forgive me if I tend to think otherwise,” Elias returned quietly. His fingers caressed the trigger of the hand-blaster.
“After all, you did steal an MBryO shuttle craft and escape Terra with four cloned teenagers. There’s a bounty on your head Capitana Melara Sivanza…dead or alive! Terran drone ships are scouring the galaxy for you as we speak.”
“Yes,” Melara nodded, flipping the light switch on the wall. Elias blinked his eyes to adjust to the unexpected glare. “That is all too true. And, I am sure there will come a time when we will have to deal with all that!”
“But right now, we need to talk about how we are going to free the ‘Old One’. We both know that Maxim Bryant is a diabolical monster. Make no mistake, my friend! He has no intention of ending the MBryO project…until one of his experiments kills her.”Chapter Six
Speechless at the beauty of the universe spread out below, Pax Vitar watched as the multitudes of brightly colored galaxies streamed past the space-hoppers aft window. Swallowing hard, he choked back both the fear and exultation rising simultaneously in the back of his throat. He had finally gotten his wish to leave his Nyla 6.
They had been traveling at light speed for the better part of two days. The form-fitting recliner had molded itself around his large frame the instant he sat down in it. The seat reminded him of the medi-beds back at the bunker. Rib-like fingers with suction cups on the ends embraced him from inside the leather seats and attached to various pulse points at his temples, chest and thighs.
The wires were attached to small monitors embedded in the walls beside the seats. If the bleeps and lines on the monitors were anything to go by, his system seemed to be adapting to the pressurized cabin very well.
Except, maybe, for the rapid acceleration of his pulse and his purple fingertips clinching the arms of his seat! He forced his breathing to slow, watching the beep-beep of his pulse line slow as well. Then he mentally pried his fingers from the arms of the recliner.
Had it only been a few short weeks since he had watched the Terran spaceship streak across the heavens and crash land on Nyla 6? It seemed far longer than that.
He looked around at the faces of the other occupants of the ship, gauging the intensity in their solemn expressions. Elias had his reasons for selecting which of them would accompany him on the rescue mission and which ones were to remain behind.
Joshua and William sat across the aisle from him. They, too, were hooked up to monitors identical to his. A glance at the quiet blips on the machines assured him that, unlike him, neither of the young men appeared to be excited or upset at the moment.
If things went wrong, the psy-talented youngsters would find themselves back in the hands of an evil tyrant.
It had been decided that those left behind were the most vulnerable to Maxim Bryant’s sadistic plans. He could not be allowed to get his hands on them again.
Sasha, Ian, Dogg and Gayla had remained behind at the bunker under the watchful eye of Calista. Just as Dogg was never far away from Gayla, the empathetic feline was never far away from Sasha.
The one they called the ‘Old One’ had supplied the DNA for their creation. But by all accounts she was very weak. Another of Maxim’s so-called ‘extraction processes’ could end her life. Then, he would turn to his greatest cloned success this far, to continue his evil work.
And that was the incredibly beautiful Sasha. Pax knew they must avoid that at all costs!
The others would have value to him of course. Gayla was an earlier model. She was like Sasha in every way except for her doll-like size, therefore she was flawed. If the ‘Old One’ died, and he could not get his hands on Sasha, then Gayla would obviously become Maxim’s next victim.
Elias had decided that Dogg would be more hindrance than help on the rescue mission. Pax knew that Dogg would defend both girls with is life if need be. But the mutant’s immense size and canine looks would attract a lot of unwanted attention.
Ian was hardly more than a child, simply too young to accompany the group. But Pax was betting on the super-intelligent youngster to come through for them if, Zander-forbid, their plan went awry. Under Ian’s supervision, all of the bunker’s robots were in excellent shape. Pax couldn’t remember the bunker ever running so well.
Melara’s bright red curls caught his attention up ahead in the cockpit. She was occupying the co-pilot’s seat of Elias Abram’s stolen space-hopper. She appeared quite confident and capable as she adjusted the switches and dials on the console in front of her.
Pax had mixed emotions about the camaraderie that had sprung up between Melara and Elias. The duo had spent the last week planning the raid on MBryO; their heads close together as they studied the star maps and the blueprints of the building. The sight had caused him more than one pang of jealousy.
Their relationship seemed to be all business, but Pax couldn’t be sure.
As a non-psy-talent, Melara’s mind was an open book and Pax had no trouble reading it. Pure respect for the capabilities of the older man was all he could detect in her emotions. He wished he could determine how she felt about him. He knew she found him curious, an anomaly, having lived alone on Nyla 6 for so long. But, he couldn’t discern if she found him suitable as a male counterpart.
His gaze switched to the graying head of the man in the seat next to Melara. Elias’ thoughts were securely barred. Pax had tried several times tofeelout the man, but every probe he had sent out had met with a steel wall.
His forced his dark eyes to focus on the star-studded panorama through the cockpit window. Planet bound all of his life, he found the sight truly amazing!
“Relax, Pax Vitar!” the tenor quality of William’s voice whispered through his head. “You need not worry about Melara. She hides it well, but she still remembers the position that Elias held at MBryO.”
“He was her superior,” Joshua reminded them. “While she was there, she was obligated to follow his directives without question. But no longer! She is as wary of him as the rest of us.”
“I do not trust him,” Pax growled. “He could be leading us all into a trap!”
“There is always that possibility,” William agreed. “But he is our best chance of getting inside MBryO without being detected. Who better to lead a mission of this sort than the person who set up the security protocols?”
“Just stay close,” Joshua’s thoughts whispered through their minds. “If anything goes wrong, we stand a better chance together than by ourselves. Agreed?”
“Agreed,” Pax said.
“Agreed,” was William’s reply.
“We are now entering Terran airspace,” the tinny voice of the space-hopper’s avatar chose that moment to echo through the cabin. “Our estimated time of arrival at MBryO UNIX is twenty minutes. Please prepare for the ship to enter the atmosphere.”
Elias switched on the ship’s autopilot. His fingers tapped a command into the computer and the ship went into hibernation mode, shutting down the voice of the ship’s avatar. The space-hopper would maintain its position, hovering in the air, its components virtually asleep, until they were able to return. He had activated their cloaking device before entering Terran air space. The ship would remain in stealth mode the entire time they were here.
On cue, the cabin lights extinguished and all but the cockpit monitors went dark. Using the glow from the console, Elias and Melara left their seats and walked back to where Pax, Joshua and William waited.
“We can’t take the space-hopper any further,” Melara told them. “Someone could recognize it as the one that was stolen from MBryO. We will leave it here and return to it when we are finished.”
“In case we get separated I have programmed the ship’s coordinates into the microcomputers attached to your wrists,” Elias instructed, lifting up his forearm to display the metal bracelet surrounding his own wrist. Ian had created the small device to help them navigate on the ground and still remain in contact with each other.
Except for Pax, who had refused to don anything but his familiar brown leather jerkin and britches, they were all dressed in the flowing white floor length robes preferred by the majority of the Terran population. They wore the robes as camouflage, hoping to blend in with the crowds in the city down below, if the need should arise.
“If you don’t mind me asking, how will we get to the ground?” Pax asked aloud for Melara’s benefit.
“We will be using these,” Elias said, walking to the locker at the end of the cabin and throwing it open to reveal enough jet packs for each of the males on board. “We will propel down in the woods just beyond the new turbine construction site. We will use the shaft to gain entry to the main floor of the building.”
“What if we are discovered?” William queried.
The youngster had been created, inside the walls of MBryO UNIX. Until they had made their escape, the white walled laboratories had been his home. He would forever remember the horrors he had endured there. He, certainly, had no desire to be recaptured.
If any of them were discovered, he was sure his father would punish them unmercifully. William truly feared what Maxim would do to Melara for the part she had played in their escape.
Joshua, ever attuned to his younger brother’s distress, placed a hand on William’s thin shoulder. “It will be okay, William. The plan is simple.”
“Let’s go over it again, just to be sure,” Elias ordered.
He knew all too well what sort of evil man Maxim Bryant was. He also knew that time was of the essence, but if even one detail was left out, something could go wrong. And they would all be walking into a death trap.
“I will remain here aboard the space-hopper,” Melara began the dialogue they had rehearsed and recited repeatedly in the last week.
Joshua, going next turned and told Will confidently, “You and I will climb through the ventilation shaft and enter through the chem-labs. We will then proceed to the caging area and liberate as many of our brothers and sisters as we can. We must hope that all of them are able to make the trip. Then when Elias gives us the signal, we will take the second floor elevator to the rooftop as Dogg and Gayla did.”
When Will nodded, Pax intoned, “Elias and I will make our way through the turbine to the elevators. We will then bypass the chem-labs and make our way to the cloning area. We will collect the ‘Old One’ and climb through the window onto the balcony. We will use the staircase to get to the roof,” Pax said with a questioning look at Elias. “And how do you propose we open the window? Will they not have bars and locks?”
“I will deal with the bars when the time arises. Let’s finish the plan. Melara, I will signal you when it is time to land the ship on the helo-pad and await our arrival,” Elias finished.
“And once everyone is aboard, we will leave this Zander-forsaken place for the last time!” Melara gritted harshly.
Pax listened to his young friends recite the plan just as they had rehearsed it back on Nyla 6. It sounded easy enough, but he had his doubts it would be that easy.
“It is as straightforward and simple a plan as we could make it. Melara, if something goes awry,” Elias murmured quietly thinking about the human factor and all the variables which could throw a spanner in the works, “Remember our contingency plan.”
“Gotcha,” Melara said, helping William into the lightweight jet pack. The small turbo boosters extended out from his slim body like bulky black wings. She moved around in front of him and began fastening it.
“Melara,” Elias questioned patiently. His own jet propulsion device was already on his shoulders and he didn’t look at her mutinous face as he finished fastening the buckles securely around his chest and waist.
He knew she did not like this part of the plan, but there was no help for it. They needed an alternative escape route in case they were somehow discovered.
“If you do not make the rendezvous at the appointed time, I will move the space-hopper into the troposphere, out of planetary tracking range. I will give you twenty-four hours to contact me with different coordinates. If you do not, then I will return to Nyla 6 without you.”
“You must keep to the plan, Melara!” Elias told her firmly. “Sasha and the others will need you to keep them safe from the Terran Guard.”
Though her beautiful face was mutinous, he could see acceptance in her blue eyes.
“Right,” Pax said roughly. “Let’s do this thing!”
He thought he remembered the line from one of the old movie vids he had watched as a child. He was about to set foot on Terran soil for the first time in his life and he couldn’t quite still the excitement in his voice.
Joshua and William looked at each other and grinned at Pax enthusiasm.
“Yes, let’s do this thing!” William agreed.
“Okay, Melara,” Elias turned and walked to the back of the ship. “Open the door.”
Melara watched as the hatch between the cabin and the rear airlock closed behind them. With a loud snap and hiss, the air pressure equalized in the aft section of the space-hopper.
She moved determinedly to the control panels. Taking a deep breath, she flicked the switch that opened the ship’s cargo bay.
Minutes later, the microcomputer beeped as Elias gave the signal that they were far enough away from the ship that she could close the huge cargo doors.
Melara was scared for the group’s safety. But she was also very aware that there was a bounty on her head. If she was recognized she would be more of a hindrance than a help to the mission.
Frustrated and pouting that she had been left to guard the space-hopper, Melara dropped grumpily down into the cockpit to wait.
“Zander’s-tar-pits! I hate waiting!” she complained to the emptiness around her.
Pax would never forget jumping from the open door of the space-hopper into the arms of the waiting darkness below. Journeying through Terra’s thin atmosphere reminded him of the exhilaration he felt when he skimmed through the forest canopy on the zip line. He could hear the blood pumping loudly through his temples.
Pax pushed the red buttons on the handles of the jet pack, slowing his descent. The air was whistling by his ears, plastering his jerkin to his body. Melara had secured his long dark tresses in a braided cue and stuffed it in the collar of his jerkin; otherwise it would have whipped backward into the fan blades of the jet pack’s engines.
He allowed himself a brief glance at the heavens.
Thankfully, Terra’s closest moon was hidden by clouds tonight, cloaking their entry. Elias had deliberately timed their raid to coincide with the fickleness of the glowing silver rock. However, Wasit always lit Nyla 6’s sky, once a year it even waned to a murky twilight. The lack of a natural light source unnerved Pax a bit.
Pax knew that the Terran government had at one time established a mining colony on their moon. When the rocks and minerals had failed to make a profit, they had abandoned the colony. The same way they had abandoned Nyla 6. It always seemed to come down to profit margins for the bureaucrats.
Pax pushed his angst aside and let his eyes feast on the city lights twinkling at the edge of the horizon. It was his first glimpse of civilization and he was filled with awe at the sight of the city skyline.
Suddenly, his chest felt tight and he was gasping for air. He hadn’t realized that he had been holding his breath at the beauty spread before him. He sucked in Terra’s thin oxygen like a fish out of water. His head spun in circles, reminding him of a drunken man he had once seen on the library vid-screen.
“Relax!” It was Elias’ voice he heard in his mind. The gentle coaxing provided a lifeline he needed in that moment of uncertainty. “Take it slow. Don’t force it! You will get use to the difference in the atmosphere soon. Just don’t fight it.”
At first, Pax found the taste of Terran oxygen overpowering and metallic in comparison to the somewhat heavier, but unsullied, atmosphere on Nyla 6. Trying not to hyperventilate, he obeyed Elias and deliberately slowed his breathing, inhaling and exhaling shallowly at first and then more deeply. Before long his breathing was almost normal as he adjusting to the consistency of the air.
Pax spared the man a glance through his goggles. Not taking his hands from the handles in front of him, he nodded to let Elias know he was alright. Elias nodded in return to show he understood and accelerated ahead of the group toward the forest floor below.
By mutual agreement, they had decided to erect shields around their psy-talent before they landed on the ground. They couldn’t take the chance that anyone in the vicinity could intercept their thoughts and warn Maxim Bryant.
On the ground they would have to communicate the old fashioned way and since Joshua and William were not equipped with verbal communication that meant they would use hand signals.
The trees rose up to meet them very quickly. Elias and Joshua surged ahead, aiming for
a small clearing in the middle of the woods. Pax and William followed more slowly.
MBryO UNIX owned the private park; a platoon of maintenance workers kept it up each day, as well as the manicured grounds embracing the facility. Since the company lay ten miles outside the city, it encouraged its employees to use the park or the canteen during the day for their scheduled breaks. The rural isolation would work on their behalf tonight.
The park was illuminated by square boxes mounted on tall light poles which were placed discreetly around the area. Pax noticed several picnic tables and a carefully tended play ground for small children. Thankfully the place was deserted.
Pax’s booted feet landed easily in the springy grass. He wasted no time in shedding the weight of the jet pack from his shoulders. Silently, Elias motioned for them to stash them in a covered dumpster beside one of the picnic tables.
Pax paused to look around. He absorbed his surroundings; making note of the layout for future use. Motioning again, Elias led them into the dense underbrush and away from the concrete pathway leading toward the compound. In the dark the trees stretched eerily upward and out of sight.
It took them twice as long as it should have to circumvent the property, due to the fact that Elias chose to stop every so often to lower his shields, sending out psy-feelers, probing for other entities moving around in the darkness. When the cautious group finally emerged at the edge of the forest, they were directly in front of the DOD’s ongoing construction project.
Elias carefully examined the area between them and the building. Two very bored guards were standing outside the front doors of the building. Their rifles were slung across their backs and they seemed to be discussing the local high school football team; a team they both had played on at some point.
Elias hoped the subject was engrossing enough that they didn’t pay any attention to the dark figures entering the turbine shaft.
Taking a deep breath, he crept out of the woods and running close to the ground, he made his way into through the obstacle course that was the construction site. Using piles of concrete and the shadows of heavy machinery spread out across the compound as cover, the three young men followed his lead.
The massive turbines were at least twice the width and breadth of an averaged sized man. The huge fans were just a blur; they whirled so fast inside the metal tube. Made of twelve inch steel, similar to those used in the blades of space-hoppers, they would cut to ribbons anything unlucky enough to get in their way.
Pax couldn’t help it! His mind screamed that the tunnel was a death trap! He breathed a small gasp at the thought of entering the turbine shaft! Puzzled and wary, he leaned into the shadows beside the tunnel. He had no idea how they were going to get inside.
But he had forgotten the psy-talent of the young men accompanying them.
He felt the gentle feelers pushing against the wall he had placed around his mind. He recognized the subtle knocking as belonging to Joshua.
Lowering his defenses just a bit, Pax also acknowledged the added presence of William. Somehow linked together, he found himself becoming a conduit for the combined telekinetic energy pulsing through the three of them.
Reeling from the weight of their psy-power, they focused on the large fan blades. The sound of the whirling turbines gradually slowed, and after a few minutes, eventually ground to a halt.
Do to the kinks in the system; the cessation of the turbines wasn’t unusual. Everyone knew the project was a long way from being finished, with frequent interruptions. So, luckily the guards didn’t come to investigate or they would have been discovered sidling around the tunnel and into the metal tube. Recessed lighting glowed from the walls as they made their way hurriedly to the access door at the rear of the shaft.
The minute the group was safely inside they slowly doused their psy-talent. The huge turbines immediately roared to life once again. The sound was almost deafening to their ears as wind hurtled through the shaft and into the grated ductwork fitted in the sides.
Pulling the access door closed behind them, Pax found himself in a dimly lit room similar to the docking bays on Nyla 6. Equipment and tools were organized and stowed in row upon row of free standing shelves. Several dismantled engines lay in various states of disrepair on work counters with metal stools attached to them.
Elias made his way through the maze of metal to a doorway at the front of the room. Pushing it slightly ajar, he glanced into the hallway, made sure it was empty and stepped outside.
Joshua and William followed him. Pax brought up the rear as they slipped down the long white hallway.
The hallway disappeared around a corner in one direction and ended at a pair of elevator doors in the other. There were several doors to office suites up and down the corridor. The sound of a vacuum could be heard coming from the door closest to the elevator, testifying to the fact they were not alone on the floor.
Elias lifted his hand in the air to get their attention and pointed for Joshua and William to head down the hall to the corner. Nodding, both young men did as he directed. Pax watched as the duo paused with their backs against the wall and peered around the corner. The ventilation shaft to the chem-lab and caging area was about twenty yards down that corridor.
Elias gestured for Pax to follow him. The cloning area was in the basement. The Old One was being kept in a private cell, away from the other specimens. Taking the elevator was the only sure way to gain access to Maxim Bryant’s secret laboratory.
They were almost to the elevator when the sound of the vacuum motor was extinguished. The door knob of the room on the right turned and opened ominously. Pax froze in place.
They would have been discovered if Elias hadn’t acted quickly. His hand hadn’t shot out and dragged him into the room across the way. Closing the door of the darkened office as quietly as possible, they waited with bated breath as a turbaned cleaning woman, humming tunelessly, hauled her cleaning cart into the hall with one hand, and a bulky industrial sized vacuum with the other.
Elias opened the door a crack, watching as the woman noisily entered the office directly across from them. Somewhat harried and behind schedule, she left the door ajar behind her, more occupied with moving her bulky equipment than making sure it was shut.
Elias watched her carefully. When she turned her back and kicked on the big vacuum once more, he put his fingers to his lips and signaled Pax to follow him. As silently as possible, they made their way to the elevator.
It was on the top floor. Impatiently, Elias summoned it with a hurried finger. More than a little anxious, Pax watched the green arrow counting down as it descended.
The elevator glided to a stop and chimed opened. The sound echoed loudly in his ears. Stepping quickly inside, Elias reached out and pushed the basement button. Pax released his breath in a loud whoosh of relief when the doors shut and they were finally headed down into the bowels of the building.
In their haste to leave the floor they did not know that the cleaning lady had switched off the big vacuum in time to also hear the chime of the elevator. Somewhat concerned, and thinking herself alone on the floor, she went to the door with a curious frown on her tired face. Looking toward the end of the hall she was just in time to see the green arrow above the doors pointing downward.
With a puzzled look on her face, she turned back into the room and approached the modern looking black and chrome desk. With work roughened fingers, she reached for the shiny black phone sitting in the middle of it.Chapter Seven
William scrambled into the ventilation shaft after his brother Joshua. It was too dark to see anything at first. Luckily, they had come prepared. Pulling the small head set from the belt at his waist, William slipped it on. In the combined beams from his and Joshua’s headsets, William was able to get a good look at the shaft ahead.
The square tunnel slanted upwards at a forty-five degree angle before teeing into the vertical ductwork leading to a central junction box located in a central spot on each floor. Approximately four feet by four feet, the shaft was not big enough to stand up in, so they crawled through the tight space on their knees. It was tough at first, but got much better when the shaft leveled out.
Since Joshua was the oldest, William allowed him to take the lead through the metal tube. The duct work lined the walls and was interspersed with grates leading into the hallways and private rooms. Before crawling past the openings, Joshua would pause and glance through the grids to make sure the coast was clear.
Only once was the room occupied.
Joshua paused against the side of the metal tube. A security guard was using a couch in a private office to take a nap. Once he was sure they wouldn’t be discovered, Joshua carefully manipulated his way past the grate. William followed behind him just as quietly.
They had found the junction room leading down into the bowels of the building exactly where Elias had said it would be. The junction room had just enough room for an average sized man to stand upright. They took advantage of the standing room to stretch their cramped muscles. Two sets of ductwork led away from the junction room. One inclined upwards at the same forty-five degree angle as the one they had just traveled through and another was nothing more than a small black hole in the floor.
Smiling, Joshua sat down at the edge of the hole and allowed himself to slide into the dark tube. William waited, listening for any indication that Joshua hadn’t met with an obstacle of some sort at the end of his slide downwards. When he didn’t hear any signs of trouble, he followed suit. His knees were skinned and aching from the recent crawl through the ductwork. The tube was angled almost perfectly and it carried him to the bottom very quickly.
Joshua was waiting at the bottom with a boyish grin at the unexpected treat. They were standing in the junction room leading along to the chem-labs. William knew they were underground now, with the rest of the building above them. It was familiar territory to the boys. They had lived in this basement their entire lives.
Until the day Melara had spirited them away.
They were standing in front of the four-by-four laboratory return vent. Four bolts attached affixed the grate to the wall. Carefully they peered through the tiny squares into the dimly lit hallway beyond. The chem-lab was directly across the way. The room was paneled half-way up, with large square windows providing a clear view of the laboratory equipment inside.
Sometimes the lab-techs worked late at night. And if Maxim Bryant was in the middle of one of his evil procedures, the place could be a literal hive of activity. Thankfully, tonight the place seemed to be deserted.
Patiently the boys waited; listening for any indication the security guards were in the middle of their rounds. They checked the doors leading to the chem-labs every half-hour. Hearing nothing, Joshua slid his fingers into the upper right corner of squares lining the grate. William did likewise on the other side of the grate.
Nodding briefly, Joshua focused his psy-talent on the screws holding the grate on the wall. One at a time, the metal tabs fell to the carpeted hallway with a dull thud.
When the heavy grate was resting fully on their hands, Joshua and William physically slid it to the floor. Together they slid it over enough to leave a hole just big enough for them to slide through into the hallway.
William experienced an instant of what he suspected was hatred and fear at the familiar sights and smells of the hallway. He wasn’t sure, since feelings had not been built into his DNA signature.
Elias had forbid all but the use of psy-talent inside the MBryO building, unless it was an absolute necessity. Opening the grate had fallen under that heading. But it had opened up the firewalls they had put in place, announcing their arrival to other sentient beings in the immediate area.
Gentle feelers touched the barriers they had put back in place around their minds.
“Familiar…”cooed a birdlike voice.
“St-strong-g…” purred another in cat-like satisfaction.
“Spread the word! Our brothers have returned!”
This directive came from an older, male and somewhat more human voice reminiscent of Dogg.
And yet, not Dogg!
All of the sentient beings inside the warehouse were linked telepathically. Though they recognized the psy-signature of their brothers, they could not get past the firewall protecting the minds of the four intruders making their way through the building.
Immune to the chatter circulating among the residents of the basement, Joshua and William hurried past the lighted windows of the laboratories to the end of the carpeted hallway.
Two huge elevator type doors filled the wall. A numbered control panel was attached to the wall beside them. The doors could only be opened with the correct sequence of numbers punched into the key pad. If the sequence was incorrect, a deafening alarm would erupt throughout the building, summoning a squadron of armed guards.
Luckily, Elias had provided them with the master code to override this feature. Their plan depended on secrecy and speed. Any alarms would seriously endanger the success of their plan, not to mention the lives of those they were there to rescue, and possibly their own lives as well.
Working quickly, Joshua punched in the combination on the key pad. Silently, the massive doors slid open to expose a darkened room that resembled a huge warehouse.
Recessed lighting shone dimly from the walls and roof. Metal shelving, stacked high with brown cardboard boxes, rose toward the domed ceiling.
From memory the two teenagers wound their way through the twisting maze of shelves. It was a route they had traveled, mentally, many times before, as one by one the residents had been fetched by the lab-techs for Maxim’s experiments. Later there would be an all-consuming blackness as they were returned, still recovering from the effects of the anesthesia. That was if they returned at all.
Both of them could remember the nervous waiting that consumed those that waited inside the holding pens when one of them was selected for one of their father’s procedures. There was never any guarantee that the victim would return with the same mental or physical ability that they had left the warehouse with.
Truthfully, viewed through Maxim’s eyes, the residents were not sentient individuals, or living beings in their own right. They were supply houses for the MBryO project, and therefore expendable.
Joshua and William found their way to the back of the warehouse. They paused in front of an innocuous looking door. It was ajar, as if the last person to exit had considered it unnecessary to close it. Getting through this particular door way was almost impossible in light of the building’s security protocols. The open door beckoned them onward.
Cautiously, Joshua stepped into the room beyond. He was greeted by a cacophony of shrill cries and howls. Instead of brown boxes, metal cages in all sizes and shapes now occupied the rows of shelves lining the room.
The growls and catcalls echoing through the noisy cavernous room sounded similar to that of a Terran petting zoo. But the occupants bore no resemblance whatsoever to the gentle menagerie that children would flock to see, let alone want to stroke or feed.
The first few rows of metal cages and glass aquariums housed multitudes of hybrid birds and amphibians. There were turtles with alligator heads and birds with gaping holes where their beaks should be. Three headed snakes writhed in glass boxes, while yellow and black bumble bees the size of a man’s fist worked on building a giant honey comb. None of these were sentient beings, however.
With childlike curiosity, William and Ian had often spent their nights exploring the labs and rooms housed on the basement floor. William had never sensed any psy-talent among this particular level of cage denizens during any of their forays into the cage room. The animals kept here were on the lowest level of the mutant food chain.
The farther back they traveled, the more advanced the cloned mutations became, however. William examined a cage filled with a dozen or so furry, purple rats boasting three webbed feet and one eye each. They were intent on devouring one of their own. He must have been the runt of the litter because the bloody carcass was smaller than the others.
On the other side of the aisle was an enclosed pen housing a four-legged, gray wolf with soulful black eyes, and ebony wings? His bared his pointy incisors in a warning snarl as the boys walked by, careful not to get to close to the fence. A seething anger and innate need to destroy oozed from his psy-pores. The critter was new to the warehouse and judging by the sleek glossiness of his coat, very young.
Joshua and Will navigated the cages by memory, eventually coming to a reception desk set about two-thirds of the way into the room.
The desk was a demarcation line. It was a symbol of how far Maxim had come in his cloning process. Until now, the shelves and cages had been filled with examples of mutated genetic experiments.
Maxim Bryant had crossed the line when he began to clone the Xenaclon race again. It broke every RMB law ever written. If his actions were discovered, it was just cause for execution.
Behind the desk were the ‘others’.
MBryO had spent many years experimenting in the combining of genetic strands, both animal and human. The results were the mutants he kept inside the cages and pens in the front part of the warehouse.
When Maxim had grown frustrated and bored with that project he had moved on to bigger and better things. He had become obsessed with the MBryO project and perfecting his evil cloning process. He kept the results of those procedures locked up and hidden in the cubicles behind the desk.
No one monitored the desk at night. It was a useless waste of manpower since the residents were all caged and also due to the fact that the natives got restless after dark. More than one lab-tech had resigned after an excruciatingly tense night spent amid what they fondly called, the ‘freak show’.
As quietly as possible, William and Joshua approached the desk. Behind the desk was a wide corridor, lined with small private cells. The white rooms were locked, but like the chem-labs you could see into the room through the glass windows placed strategically on either side of the door. The windows were made of one-way glass. This enabled the laboratory technicians to tend to the mutants inside, without ever having to come into direct contact with them.
As usual, the lights inside the cubicles had been partially dimmed for the night. Their handlers hoped the recessed lighting would encourage the room’s occupants to sleep. But tonight, the psy-talented creatures behind those windows were far from sleep. Their senses had been on high alert since the four newcomers had entered the turbine shaft.
William and Joshua’s mental cloaking devices prevented the security guards and the psy-talented creatures inside the building from intercepting their thoughts. But it didn’t keep the prisoners of those cubicles from communicating with one another.
The chatter between the creatures, like white-noise, was at an all time high. In spite of his firewall, William found himself intercepting some of the conversation.
“Father…wh-i-ill-ll…not be pleased,” twittered a shrill birdlike cry.
“Father is neverp-ul-eased,”returned the cat-like purr. “I do not care. I long to be released from thisp-r-r-ison,”indifference to Maxim’s wishes marked the tone.
“Janus?” probed a much younger, female voice from deeper inside the cavernous basement.
“Yes?” the reply came instantly.
“Are you fearful?”
“No, Jenasus, I am not afraid of our brothers! If anything, I am afraid that they will decide to leave without taking us with them. I long for the freedom to be found outside this dungeon.”
Joshua paused long enough by the desk to retrieve the cubicle keys from the middle drawer. Mercifully, the keys were numbered accordingly. Moving as quickly as possible, he and William moved into the corridor behind the desk.
Working quickly they unlocked the doors to the cubicles lining both sides of the hallway. Some of the rooms held multiple occupants; usually siblings created from the same DNA, or mutated mistakes made by their father.
Within minutes, the hallway was filled with an odd looking menagerie of semi-humanoid beings. Fear and excitement trembled through them.
William smiled at the unusual looking fraternal twins called Jenasus and Janus. They were the same age as Ian and had often played with his brother after the nervous guards had locked the warehouse doors at night. Janus looked at him with a combination of excitement and relief.
The twin’s genetic strands had been manipulated in different ways. Oddly enough, they were the exact opposite of one another. Telepathically linked, their expressions mirrored the actions and feelings of the other. However, Janus was fair and Jenasus was dark, like Pax Vitar.