Eden 11: War

Brook watched grimly as Axen locked the helmet of the combat suit in place. The dark, ablative, anti-laser coating showed highlights of iridescent color as he turned, and the light-weight armor plates creaked slightly in response to his movements. Brook thought of old sims he'd seen, knights armoring up for battle, or matadors putting on their suit of lights.

Brook leaned back against an equipment locker, trying to look relaxed. He felt anything but. “You don't have to do this, you know.”

Axen glanced at him, as though just noticing he was there. “The Senate asked me to.”

“They didn't order you to, though. Anyone could go. I could go. Frag, half the Senate, Echo's trolls anyway, would just as soon you didn't come back.”

Axen held his wrist screen up in front of his face and ran through the checklist. “If I don't come back with the Gene Bank, then nothing I can do here will make any difference anyway. Van Dozier will have won. I have the experience, more knowledge of Plymouth than anyone, and if worse comes to worst, my status as an Elder may offer me some slight extra protection.”

Brook wrinkled his upper lip. “I wouldn't count on it. They aren't going to just let you walk out of there with their Gene Bank.”

“Has to be done. Besides, if it works, my stock with the Senate, and public opinion, can only rise.”

If you put the right spin on it.” He sighed. Axen had always said that, in politics, it wasn't what you did or what happened, it was the spin you put on things. He'd never really believed it until their return from the Masters' base.

Echo's people had started work even before they'd made it back to Eden. By the time they were through, she was the wounded hero of the day, having ferreted out a terrorist stronghold in a courageous undercover mission. Axen's role, and his, were unknown to the public. Axen preferred it that way, but the situation galled Brook. “Let her have her day,” he'd said. “The people who count know what we did, and it might even keep her out of trouble while we deal in more important matters.”

Brook didn't think so, though. He'd seen Echo only a few times since returning her to Eden, and then only passing in a corridor. But the look in her eyes on those occasions told him that she hadn't forgotten her threat, and that she intended to follow through. It was just a question of when.

Through the small view port behind Axen, he could see a Scout roll up and stop outside the airlock. Axen glanced out the window and saw it too. “My ride is here.”

“Last chance,” said Brook.

He cycled the lock open, stopped halfway through the door, and glanced back with a slight smile. “Mind the store. Whatever happens.”

# # #

There was already someone in the Scout's cabin as he climbed into the right seat and strapped himself in. The cabin pressurized, and as soon as the indicators went green, he flipped up his visor. The other person did as well. He recognized the man immediately. “Dr. Kolo. I knew they were sending someone to assist me, but you were the last person I would have expected.”

Kolo smiled. “I'm not surprised. But there are no professional soldiers in Eden, and let me assure you that I lift weights and I'm proficient in several martial arts. I won't be a problem. Also, though Plymouth's lab structures are going to be different from our own, I think I'm better equipped than anyone to find my way around and help locate the Gene Bank.”

Axen nodded. “Agreed. That's not why you're coming though, is it?”

“No. My people are in there, and if there's any chance to rescue them, then I want to help. Besides, the days of serious research in Eden are over. The colony is winding down, coiling for that last leap into space.” He turned and looked intently out the window, watching the armored convoy that was falling in around them. “If my usefulness as a scientist is over, then I have to find another way to serve.”

“Rescuing the scientists isn't a priority. We're going in for the Gene Bank. If they happen to fall into one of our vehicles along the way, so be it, but I won't endanger the mission for them.”

Kolo took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “I know. I wouldn't expect you to.” He let the thought slip by, smiled, and stuck out his hand. “Forget the doctor business. Like I said, that day is done. My name is Ule.”

Axen nodded his approval. This man was going to be watching his back. No sense in formality. “Call me Axen. Good hunting to us both.”

# # #

The RLV Eden Clipper sat on its launch pad like a vast, manmade mountain, clouds of venting fuel making it look like a barely dormant volcano. The analogy became even more apt as the countdown hit zero, and the big rocket started to belch fire, though from its base rather than its top.

Brook paused at the window of the tran-station outside his Residence to watch the launch. The ground shook as though in one of the ground-quakes that hit them with increasing frequency. Watching the launch vehicle climbing skyward in its tail of fire filled Brook with a mixture of hope and dread. As he studied the faces of people stopped around him, he knew he was not alone in his feelings.

In the enclosed, artificial environment of Eden, human smells were always there. Generally the nervous system simply edited them out, but occasionally, when something unusual happened, it could drive things above the threshold of awareness. Lately it had seemed to Brook that he could smell the anxiety, the fear, of his fellow colonists. In orbit overhead the starship Phoenix Voyager was nearing completion, and if all went well, soon some of them, some of them, would be leaving.

Who that would be, and how many, was known only to a Savant computer in the CC, which was constantly juggling the crew roster based on a mix of necessary skills, ages, and gender balance. Even the starship's exact capacity wasn't known. The stasis units had been designed to allow some doubling up of children and smaller adults, but that would depend on a thousand other variables affecting final payload, and could only be determined at the last minute.

As the RLV disappeared from view, Brook strolled back to his quarters. He'd felt at loose ends since Axen had left with the convoy to Plymouth. His own work had slacked off, the colony was ramping down, not building up, and while he hadn't dismissed the threat of Echo and her friends, her covert activities seemed to have been curtailed by the failed base. He'd just put in several volunteer hours loading the final supply module to be launched into orbit and thought he might finally be tired enough to sleep.

He entered the tiny room, folded the bunk down from the wall, and dropped into it wearily. The rumpled sheets hadn't been changed in a while, he noticed, but he couldn't develop any enthusiasm for the task. What's the point? The world ends soon enough anyway.

He rolled over to face the wall and noticed the message icon flashing on his EnterCom screen. He gave the voice command to play the message. He nearly fell out of the bunk as Echo's face appeared in front of him. “Hello, Brook. Now that the convoy is gone and observing strict radio silence, I just thought you should know a few things. First, it's all for nothing. Jacque was a decoy, and my other spy in Plymouth will be taking advantage of the confusion created by the attack to destroy the Gene Bank.

“Second, the reason there will be such a distraction is that he'll have given Plymouth plenty of warning about the attack, so your friend the Elder will walk right into a trap.” Her smile seemed to drip venom. “The show's only starting, hon. Don't worry, though. You'll be here for the final act. Just don't count on an encore.” She laughed as the image clicked off.

He rolled out of the bunk and pulled his boots back on. Echo was right in that there was no way to contact the convoy. Even stealthy methods like Axen's tracking module had used were judged to be too risky. The unmanned vehicles were all running on internal programming, and would reestablish contact only when they reached Plymouth or engaged its forces, whichever happened first. This was a totally black mission, with no possibility of recall.

Brook chewed his lower lip. At this point, it would be easier for Plymouth to contact the convoy than for Eden to recall them. He blinked. It wasn't a good answer, but it was the only one he had. He had to contact Plymouth.

The direct channel would never work. Though there now existed an official communications link with Plymouth, he'd never get access to it in the current political climate. Even if he did, Echo would find out about it immediately and might be able to speed up her own timetable. But there could be another way.

For some time he'd had strong hints that Axen had been in contact with someone in Plymouth, and that this contact had a great deal to do with Axen's desire to be reunited with Kraft. He'd seen how Axen had rigged a link to Kraft by bootlegging vehicle control signals, and he knew that Axen had made sure Kraft had access to similar control signals for the old observer satellite that the two colonies once shared.

That was it. The satellite was still in orbit, though Eden didn't use it any more.

He immediately put through a priority call to Senator Autzen. “Senator, our mission to Plymouth is in grave danger. The Masters have a spy in the colony. I may be able to save Axen Moon and the mission, but I need a favor. I can't explain why, but I need Axen's Savant computer linked to the satellite command system.”

# # #

The convoy ran through the twilight and blowing dust as rapidly as it could without lights. Ule Kolo was sleeping, and Axen wished he could. Is that what comes from knowing your work is done? For Axen, the work was not over. He had unfinished business. There was always unfinished business.

He thought about Nguyen, Echo Van Dozier, his fellow Elders, himself. They all had something in common. They'd tried to do the right thing, and in their arrogance, they'd tried to manipulate factors too complex and dangerous for them to understand. Their sins were all different, and all the same. Nguyen had paid the ultimate price. Except for Emma and himself, the Elders were all gone now, and as for Van Dozier, her time was coming soon. He was sure of it. For all of them, time was running out.

# # #

Brook sat on a chair in Axen's quarters, leaning forward, elbows propped on knees, staring at the inert cube that was Kraft. Once before he'd been able to convince the computer to cooperate with him, but he was delving into new levels of secrecy now, with even less solid data to go on. Also, he wouldn't put it past Axen to install additional instructions to prevent another security breach. Still, this was the only chance he had.

“Kraft, you remember me, and by now, you've become aware of a new data channel that has been opened for me. That's my doing. I know you can use that channel to contact Plymouth.”


“Okay, I think you can use the channel that way. Kraft, you must know about the mission Axen is on, and why neither one of us can contact him. The Masters have a spy in Plymouth and they've tipped him off about the convoy. The Gene Bank will be destroyed, and Axen will be attacked as soon as he approaches Plymouth. I know Axen has a contact in Plymouth. Speaking with that contact is my only hope of saving Axen and the Gene Bank. Help me, please.”

Silence. Brook rubbed his forehead. He was at a dead end.

The clockwork icon suddenly flashed on the computer's front surface. “I have located the Masters' secret communications link with their spy. It employed seismic probes to send sonic signals to seismographs in Plymouth. That link has been crippled.”

“Kraft! You're talking to me!”

“I had to locate the link before I was convinced of your sincerity. I can establish a link to Plymouth, but I warn you that Axen has not used this channel in some time.”

“I'll take my chances, my chance, the only chance I've got really.”

“Do you wish visual?”


“Working. I have established a link with a computer in Plymouth. It is now paging the contact.”

Brook sighed. Kraft was cooperating, but he could tell that the computer was being less than forthcoming with information. Unless the contact chose to identify him- or herself, he would never know the person's identity.

Several minutes passed before the EnterCom screen on Axen's wall flashed to life. He recognized the handsome but weathered woman who appeared on screen from Axen's recent diplomatic assignment. He watched as she casually pushed a strand of salt-and-pepper hair out of her face, but her eyes studied him with an intimidating intensity.

“Elder Burke,” he said, “I'm honored.”

“Well, pup, I'm not. Who the frag are you and where is Axen?”

“My name is Brook Panati. I've been helping Axen with a number of concerns lately.” He swallowed. “Look, I don't have much time to convince you of my sincerity. I take it that you're somebody Axen trusts. I hope so, because I'm about to give you some vitally important information you'll want, but in so doing, I'm putting his life in your hands.”

Her eyes narrowed in concentration. “I'll be honest with you, pup, I don't think Axen trusts me as much as you think anymore, and I can't make any promises as to what I'll do with any information you give me. Given that, do you still want to talk to me?”

Brook's mouth was dry. He had no choice at all.

# # #

The Scout hung back while the armored column rammed head-on into Plymouth's defenses. The crossfire from their defense turrets was brutal, but the whole point was to create an opening that the fast but unarmored Scout could slip through. Lightning flashed from the new Thor's Hammer weapon, which Axen had given its first trial by fire. Now that experience was paying off, as first one, then another of the Guard Posts exploded, and a section of the defensive wall began to crumble under the constant bombardment.

Axen took the controls and surged toward the growing opening, bouncing over the rubble just as the wall collapsed. While Axen weaved the Scout between buildings, Kolo rubbernecked, looking for the Advanced Lab. Information clandestinely transmitted to them by the captured scientists instructed them what to look for, and where in its lab the Gene Bank was located, but the scientists' freedom had been restricted enough that they had no idea of the layout of the colony. Satellite photos helped, but there were still several candidate buildings to visit.

Axen spotted a Plymouth Lynx passing between two buildings ahead, and slammed the tiller over to steer them into a side passage. He didn't think they'd been spotted.

“There it is!” Kolo pointed to their right. They were almost to the building.

Axen switched the Scout over to computer control and flipped the switch to open the hatch. “Grab your gear. Here we go.”

They each carried a shoulder bag, a tool belt with holster and pistol, and a light rifle. The Scout slowed slightly as they passed the building, but didn't stop. The two men leaped wide from the vehicle's fender to clear the churning rear tires, and hit the ground rolling. They scrambled under an overhang at the base of the building and huddled there while they got their bearings.

Kolo pointed back to their right. “The emergency lock is that way.”

They moved carefully, watching the windows of neighboring buildings for any sign they'd been spotted. So far, so good. It appeared that most of the citizenry had taken shelter deep within their buildings.

Axen turned his attention to the door's mechanism. The trick was to break in without depressurizing the building. That would sound alarms and be a clear giveaway as to their position and intentions. He placed a small box containing a shaped charge and radio-detonator over the panel and moved back a meter or so.

He pushed a button on a belt control box and the box popped and fell off the scorched panel, which now had a neatly cut rectangular hole in it.

He clipped a probe over one of the cables and attached it to another small box, which he attached to the wall with a bit of adhesive. He pressed another control on the belt and the outer door of the lock opened.

They both stepped inside, and Axen cycled the lock. The inner doors slid open, and they were in an emergency suit locker. Axen eyed the suits, then started pulling off his combat suit.

Kolo raised an eyebrow. “What are you doing?”

Axen ran his finger along the suit rack until he found one in his size. “Once we get inside, I'll take the point. You hang back and cover me. That way, if I run into someone unexpectedly, I won't appear to be an intruder.

Kolo looked skeptical, but he nodded.

Axen finished dressing in the flimsy Plymouth emergency environment suit. He handed his rifle to Kolo, but kept the belt, side arm, and bag.

They emerged into a narrow service corridor and followed an equally narrow set of stairs up to the main lab level. Even through their closed suits, the sounds of battle surrounded them: alarms, recorded announcements giving directions to shelters, the occasional thump or crackle of a near miss.

With Axen staying three or four meters ahead, they searched the lab rooms one by one. By the information given them, the bank should have been in the first lab, but it was not. With each new door, they came up empty-handed.

Then they checked a storeroom near the center of the building. The door was locked, but Axen was able to crack it in only a few minutes. The door to the small room slid open, and there was the bank, plugged into a coolant supply panel in the wall and strapped to a two-wheeled dolly.

Kolo slipped past Axen and, after inspecting the Gene Bank, disconnected the cooling lines and prepared it for travel. Axen kept watch through the open door. There was also another locked door on the far side of the room, so he occasionally looked over his shoulder to check it as well.

“Ready,” said Kolo, who stepped behind the bank and tipped the dolly back onto its wheels.

Axen stuck his head out into the corridor, and found himself staring into the muzzle of a pistol. Emma's hand was steady as she pointed the weapon for a killing shot, and she didn't even seem surprised to see him. “Step back inside, Axen, and move away from the door by your friend, whoever he is.”

Axen complied, and Emma moved inside the storeroom and closed the door behind her.

The corner of her mouth twitched slightly, as through trying to smile. “I wish I could say it was good to see you, Axen, but under the circumstances….”

He met her gaze unflinchingly. “I've come for the Gene Bank, Emma. Please don't make this difficult.”

This time the smile was genuine. “Oh, this is very difficult, no matter what happens. I heard you were coming, and decided we just had to have a chat.”

Axen frowned. “Heard I was coming. How?”

“Your young friend Panati figured out a way to contact me after you left Eden. He sends his regards.”

Axen's jaw clinched in anger. Had Panati really sold him out?

Emma shook her head, as though reading his mind. “He couldn't help it, Axen. He found out there was a spy here, representing someone called 'the Masters.' I wish there was time to hear that little story. Anyway, he was going to destroy the Gene Bank and give us an advance warning so we'd be ready for your attack.

Axen tilted his head slightly in puzzlement. If the defenses had been especially prepared for them, he hadn't been able to detect it.

“Oh, I kept my mouth shut, Axen. It wasn't an easy decision, but I knew what you were after and where to intercept you.”

Kolo, his hands kept carefully in the air, stepped from behind the Gene Bank. “My name is Dr. Ule Kolo. You have some scientists here who worked for me in Eden. Can you tell me if they are all right?”

She seemed surprised by this revelation, but quickly recovered. “They're fine. They're working for me on a special project.”

Kolo was surprised. “Working?…”

“Willingly, I might add. We have some common humanitarian concerns. In any case, they won't be going with you.”

“Does that mean,” asked Axen, “that you're going to let us leave?”

“Is your ship as far along as your pup Panati says?”

Axen nodded. “And I assume that Plymouth is as far behind as we suspect?”

A look of terrible sadness crossed her face like a shadow. “Yes.” She hesitated. “Axen, if I let you take this, it is on the condition that I may approach you for a favor before that ship departs, and that you'll do everything you can to accommodate me.”

Axen couldn't imagine what that request would be. He knew Emma too well to think it could be anything as simple or selfish as passage on the starship. “I'll do what I can. You have my word.”

She nodded and lowered the gun. “Good.” She glanced at the Gene Bank. “It's yours, but I warn you, you won't be able to keep it without a fight. Plymouth was already planning an all-out attack on Eden to capture your launch facility and, in turn, your starship. They've started converting our launch vehicles into makeshift EMP missiles, that's how desperate they are.” Her eyes remained fixed on the bank. “I only pray to the Maker that somebody gets it to orbit safely. It's our future, Axen; take care of it.”

He smiled sadly. “I will.” He looked at her and thought of wasted years. “Emma, I wish it could have been different.”

She smiled back, with equal sadness. “I do too, Axen. I -” Suddenly her eyes widened and the gun raised to firing position. “Duck!”

Axen went down and to one side, but he still felt the shot as it whizzed past his neck. Before he could reach the floor, three more rounds were squeezed off. As he fell, he turned and saw a muscular blond man crumpling in the now-open rear door.

Then it was all over, and he and Kolo climbed uneasily back to their feet. Behind them, the blond man lay on his side just inside the far door in a growing pool of his own blood.

Emma stared at the gun as though it had just appeared in her hand, then looked up at Kolo. “This is your spy. Your scientist friends were supposed to have taken care of him before he got here. I'd better find out if they're okay.” She saw the concern in his eyes. “I'll get word to you through Axen, let you know that they're okay, but you have to go, now.

# # #

Exhausted, Brook unlocked his quarters and slipped inside. The damaged replica of the Plymouth Gene Bank was planted just outside the colony so that Axen could make the switch before his return. If all went well, the ruse would protect it from further sabotage by the Masters, at least for a while.

He was about to fall in bed when he spotted the flashing message icon. He groaned softly and pressed the icon, anticipating another threat from Echo. Instead, it was an official message from the Savant in charge of launch control.

His request for a spot on the starship crew roster had been denied.

Written by J. Steven York.

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