Doesn't need one as I made it all up... oh, all right, the two leads do bear a striking resemblance to another couple of well known characters that Universal possibly hold the copyright to.
This is set some time in the nearish future, in this galaxy. It's a comedy drama, though as to how dramatic or funny it is, well, that's really up to you. Hope you enjoy it.
I'd like to thank the Bards' Village for collectively making it better with their feedback, and to Stacia for once again proving she's the best proofer around.
Oh and final thanks to Mary D for having both a wonderful Xena site and the kindness to offer to post this on it.
By Mark Annetts
The pale sunshine made everything glitter under the semi-opaque sky. Christine Jefferson was less than happy. In fact she was downright miserable. Production was down and targets were slipping badly. Even the Pacifics were behind, which for them was almost unheard of. She needed a vacation so badly it hurt. And now this.
"Ain't that the damndest thing you ever saw?" asked Dave Furlow, her personal assistant and main trouble-shooter, standing by her side. They were outside, on the surface, which was not a nice place to be. And wouldn't be for at least another fifty to a hundred years or so anyway. Terraforming was something that just couldn't be rushed. Not even by the Pacifics and their oh-so clever technology.
She looked up at the body, hanging on the side of the tunnel entrance. It was naked and suspended somehow as if it'd been crucified. "What's holding him up?" she asked, with an air of resigned indifference.
"We think he's been glued up there with construction adhesive. The instant setting stuff," he added, almost unnecessarily. A moment's thought on the matter would soon make you realise that slow-setting glue simply wouldn't have worked.
"Who is he?"
The PA looked at his wrist-mounted display pad. "One Valeri Lutoshka, general worker, no specialism."
"Well, at least there's more where he came from," she said, thankful for whatever small mercies the situation gave her. "Has he got any... er, relatives, or a partner we should be notifying?"
"Not according to our records. Seems he was all alone in this god-forsaken universe."
Christine gave him a sideways look. "In need of a holiday too, I see."
"Always," he smiled. They sighed in unison. Running a major mining operation was bad enough, but to be doing it at the same time as reforming a moon into a habitable space fit for humans was a continuous struggle of enormous proportion. And then to do it millions of kilometres from any sort of backup just ground away relentlessly at the soul.
"I don't think it would be possible to come up with a worse situation. We're lagging behind in just about every way possible and now we've got ourselves a majorly bad wolf in amongst the sheep. It can only get worse from here on in."
"Thanks for being my eternal optimist, Dave. You know how I value your determinedly upbeat assistance."
"My pleasure, Christine, as always," he smiled then coughed slightly. Grimacing he slid his face mask back on and took a deep breath. "I think we should be getting back inside, don't you?"
"Yeah, I've seen enough," she said, coughing slightly herself as if in sympathy. "You know the Americans will be wanting to send someone, don't you?"
"Of course. Some pistol-packing clown, I expect."
"They do love their guns, I'll give you that."
"How soon, you reckon?" he asked.
"If you've already reported this, then I expect the wheels are turning as we speak."
"Christ, I can't believe it's possible to have such bad luck," he grumbled.
* * *
"My office, Dutch, now!" shouted the base commander. His words echoed around the mess hall, silencing the normal noise and chatter. A lone chair scraping across the wooden floor was the only sound in the room. All eyes turned to the blonde woman who stood up, wiped her mouth on a napkin and dropped it on her tray of half-eaten food.
"Clear this for me would you, someone, please?" she asked, as she side-stepped around her chair and pushed it back under the table.
"Want some old-fashioned magazines?" asked one of her colleagues.
Staff Sergeant Evelyn Bates paused, frowning. "Why would I want those?" she asked, puzzled.
"To put down the back of your pants, of course," laughed the woman. The rest of the table laughed along with her.
"Very funny, Skip," she replied curtly, but smiled anyway, taking the edge off her tone.
"He don't sound all that pleased with you."
Evelyn shrugged. "When is he ever?"
"See you guys later," she said, leaving to face the commander and find out what she'd done wrong now.
* * *
"But... but this is police work, Sir," she said, annoyed at the unexpected turn of events.
"That's as maybe, Soldier, but NASA's asked us to provide an investigator and that's what I'm doing."
"Is this because of what happened down in Lima... Sir?" Evelyn asked, her green eyes flashing with anger.
"It has nothing to do with it. Your stint in the military police makes you the best option I've got."
"With respect, Sir, that was several years ago."
Ignoring her remark he tossed a small plastic pack on the desk in front of her. "Those are your orders, Staff Sergeant, dismissed."
"Permission to speak freely, Sir?"
"Denied," he snapped.
She stood to attention, performed a perfect salute, rotated and marched from the office, banging the door shut one stop short of slamming it.
He smiled as he heard her cursing loudly, kicking chairs and any other object that came within range. "Good luck, Evelyn. You'll need it," he said quietly.
* * *
Evelyn checked out the other people boarding the shuttle. They were mostly miners and scientists making the five-week flight to Jupiter's moon, Europa. It involved two stop-over points, first the main Earth space station and then the American space station orbiting Jupiter.
The sleek jet-like craft waited for them on the runway. It took off and landed like a conventional aircraft but headed upward till it reached the edge of the atmosphere where giant ramjets pushed it clear of Earth's pull, and out into space. It then rendezvoused with the space station, the internationally owned and run vehicle that had been put in place over a century before. Ever since the Earth had been divided into three major political groupings -- the Americas, the Euro/African Alliance and the Pacifics -- it was still considered an international venture. Though now each of the three states was capable of mounting something of their own, they preferred to keep the status quo and maintain the orbiting space station as a symbol of their continued alliance in space.
The Pacifics had concentrated on terraforming, while the Alliance kept to administration and resource procurement, leaving the Americans to act as hauliers, explorers, transporters and as the main enforcement agency. All three pooled their scientific endeavours as required. The days of pointless nationalism were long gone.
After a short stay at the station they would board the deep space vehicle, with its massive ion drives for the long journey to the Jupiter space station. The continuous acceleration of the ship sped it to Jupiter in just over five weeks. The difficult part was slowing down once they got there. That was accomplished by a combination of switching off the ion drives, twisting the ship around one hundred and eighty degrees and firing the ion drives again for the last third of the journey, this time to slow them down.
A quick skip through the upper levels of the gas giant's atmosphere did the rest, allowing them to manoeuvre themselves into dock with Jupiter's space station. From there a short shuttle hop down to Europa's surface was all that was required to get them to their destinations. The scientists would spread out to their various research stations, the engineers to their massive weather creation plants, and Evelyn and the miners to the Alliance's mining development and the small city that had sprung up around it.
Evelyn spent the six weeks reading, watching movies, and playing video games, trying her best to adapt to the claustrophobic conditions, the open hostility of the miners and total indifference of the scientists and engineers. Once it was clear she wasn't really wanted by anyone on the whole ship she gave up trying to make connections and settled into a solitary existence, simply biding her time and counting the days.
* * *
She changed into her combat uniform. The small room she'd been given wasn't the worst she'd ever been in, but it wasn't far off. Space was obviously at a premium and being extra to requirements meant making do. After asking the way she reported to the managing director's office, where she was quickly shown in by the MD's PA.
"Staff Sergeant Evelyn Bates of the United Countries of America reporting for duty, Ma'am," she rattled off with a formal salute, standing straight and looking directly ahead.
Christine leaned back in her chair and regarded the soldier standing rigidly in front of her desk.
"I asked for a police detective, Staff Sergeant Bates. Why have they sent me a soldier?"
"I can't answer that, Ma'am, I just follow orders."
"Great. We need to find the perpetrator of these crimes first, not simply take them out and shoot them."
"Ma'am?" Evelyn said, looking directly at Christine for the first time.
"Nothing, I... I just need a holiday, that's all," she said, rubbing her face. "Thank you for coming at such short notice. I know the UCA's government takes these sorts of occurrences very seriously."
"Yes we do, Ma'am. I'll see to it that whoever's done this will be caught rapidly and their crimes put a stop to."
"I'm sure you will, Staff Sergeant. But if you don't mind do you think you might call me Christine. Ma'am sounds so... "
"Er, yes, that's it exactly. Military."
"This will be a military operation, Ma'am."
"Yes, yes of course. But I'd still like you to call me Christine, if it's not too much trouble."
"As you wish Ma... Christine," she said, smiling for the first time.
"That's much better, Evelyn. You don't mind me calling you Evelyn, do you?"
"You can call me whatever you like, Christine. I'm at your disposal."
Christine really looked at the woman soldier for the first time. 'Hmmm, there's something about a person in a uniform,' she thought, smiling back at Evelyn. "Do you have any experience with this type of work?" she asked.
"Yes, Ma'am, I was with the military police for eighteen months," replied Evelyn, snapping back into her military posture.
"Relax, Staff Sergeant, relax. You'll find we're not quite so rigid here. I think you'll find you'd blend in a bit more easily if you try to loosen up a little and maybe lose the uniform."
"Do you think that's really necessary, Ma... Christine?"
"Well, I'm sure you know best in these matters, but it's what I recommend."
"I'll seriously consider it, Christine."
"My assistant will bring you up to speed and give you the ten Euro tour."
"Thank you, Ma... Christine. One thing, though?"
"You said occurrences."
"Yes, I believe I did, didn't I. And?"
"That would imply more than one... event."
"Yes, it would. Dave will tell you all about them, I'm sure. Now if you'll excuse me, I have a multi-trillion Euro mining operation to run."
"Yes, Ma'am," Evelyn said, snapping off another perfect salute and wheeling smartly out of the director's office.
After the soldier left the director leaned back in her chair. 'This should be interesting,' she thought.
* * *
"Hi, I'm Dave," the man said, thrusting out his hand to Evelyn. She saluted and then took the hand, giving him a firm shake and leaving him in no doubt that military training had left the young woman with a pronounced strength that belied her height and appearance. Not that he could really tell the state of her musculature under the baggy military uniform.
"Staff Sergeant Evelyn Bates," she replied. "I'm told that you're the man who can tell me all I need to know."
"I'll do my best," he said, smiling with handsome charm. Evelyn immediately didn't like him much. She tried to not make snap assessments of people's characters, believing it best to get to know a person better before deciding what made them tick. But every now and again someone would make an immediate impression that she'd found she rarely needed to reassess. Sometimes they were favourable, but most often, as in this case, a bad first impression jumped out at her with an almost physical force. "What would you like?" he asked.
'You to let go of my hand,' was her first thought. "How about you show me some plans of the place?"
"Where would the military be without its maps?" he said, smiling his oily smile. 'If you keep smiling like that, Buster, I'm going to knock those stupid teeth down your throat!'. "Where indeed," she smiled back with a fixed grin. 'Oh, god, I want to go home,' she thought morosely.
He raised his arm and tapped his wrist display pad. The side wall of the office lit up with large overhead photographs of the base. "Here's the main mine complex," he said, pointing to the map. A red dot appeared where he was aiming. "These four things are the atmosphere generators. They create the micro-climate around the base. They allow you to breathe for short periods out on the surface. They also raise the temperature up to about two hundred and fifty Kelvin."
"That's a little cold, isn't it?" asked Evelyn.
"It's a balancing act, we don't want to have to wear ab-zero suits all the time, but on the other hand we don't want to be walking around in slush."
"How thick is the ice around here?"
"About twelve klicks."
"Is that deep?"
"It's about as deep as it gets. But up here at the scientists' base," he said, touching his pad causing the picture to zoom out significantly and moving the red dot above the complex, "well, they like to work over only three or four kilometres of ice crust. Saves 'em having to drill too deep, but stops them falling through," he joked.
"How's the artificial gravity done?"
"First thing they did was melt a two-k diameter grav-grid down through the ice to a depth of a half a klick. The grid's what keeps us all anchored to the floor. Whenever it goes off for maintenance it's like walking in a swimming pool around here. Fun for a while, but it gets old quick."
"I can imagine. Christine said there've been some more incidents."
He looked at her sharply. "Yes, yes there have been. Like to get straight to the point, don't you? And I was just getting into full tour guide mode."
"Another day perhaps?"
"Sure. So what do you want to know?"
"How about a full report on all the incidents so far."
"Here you go," he said, handing over a small oblong of plastic. She slid it into her wrist pad and flipped down a small eyepiece from her communicator over her left eye. Flicking her eye to activate the readout she scanned through the report, stopping to look at the three-dimensional photographs of the three victims. Two male, one female. All naked, all killed in a curious way.
"How was the victim suspended like that?"
"Do you mind?" he said, pointing to his wrist.
"Of course." She touched the pad on her wrist as he flipped his eyepiece down, now seeing what she was seeing.
"He was glued in place with construction adhesive."
"Must've been difficult to get him down."
"It wasn't pretty."
"Who did it?"
"Our doctor and one of his nurses, plus some muscle from one of the engineers who actually wielded the chisels and scrapers."
"And the female victim?"
"We had to melt all the ice around her to get her out. Took a lot of doing, trying not to burn the body. When she was found just her feet were sticking up out of the ground."
"You notice that she too was in a cruciform posture, albeit upside down and buried in the ice."
"The other male victim doesn't fit the pattern though."
"No. Maybe the killer was disturbed?"
"Possibly. Casually throwing the body into a waste chute does seem somewhat... hasty. Do we know the actual cause of death of all the victims?"
"Well, far as the doctor can ascertain. Remember he's here to patch people up, not perform elaborate forensic work."
"Of course. Still, I think I'd like a word with him, can you arrange that? I'd also like to talk to all the people who first found the bodies."
"No problem," he said.
"What's the general feeling amongst the workers about all this?"
"So far, nothing much. There's a bit of upset, but you've got to remember, it's a bit of a frontier town here, with a frontier mentality. People keep to themselves a lot, just waiting for their tours of duty to be over so they can go back home and blow their paycheques."
"What about the scientists?"
"They're over in their own little world, I'll bet some of them aren't even aware that anything unusual is going on back here."
"Do they mix much?"
"Nope, got their own ways of passing the time over there, without the need to come bothering us."
"What about the maintenance crews and the engineers?"
He shrugged. "They tend to keep to themselves too."
"So, there's not much socialising going on out of hours?"
"Nothing public, if that's what you mean," he said leering at her.
"Did you know any of the victims?" she asked, ignoring the obvious message behind his remark.
"Know any of them?" He shook his head. "They were all just drones, why would I know any of them?" a look of genuine puzzlement on his face.
"Just wondered what they were like, who they mixed with, what their routines were. That kind of thing."
"It's all in the report."
"Yeah, I wanted to get a feeling for them. You can't always get that from a written report. By the way, how many people are there here?"
"Counting everyone, the scientists, the maintenance guys, admin, everyone?"
"Hmmm, about oh, over a thousand, I'd say."
"You mean you don't know for sure?"
"I could find out if you really want a list of everyone."
"Yes, I'd like that."
"Would you like to go topside and see the scenes of the crimes now?" he asked.
"Okay, but they're not necessarily the scenes of the crimes, just where the body was found."
"Can you arrange for me to see the doctor afterward? I'd like to see the bodies."
"I'll see what I can do."
* * *
"Not much to see, huh?" he said, as they stared up at the side of the tunnel where the first body was found.
"Not much," she agreed. "I take it that the maintenance people have already cleaned up?"
"Yeah, we didn't think till afterwards that anyone'd want to see it before we cleaned up."
"Anyone try to investigate this, at all?"
"Well, we asked a few questions, but no one knew anything, or at least no one wanted to say anything," he shrugged.
"Nobody cares that you've got a predator roaming free somewhere in there?" she said, pointing the main buildings.
He just shrugged again. "People have more important things to worry about, such as reaching quotas and getting their jobs done. We leave police work up to people like you."
"Don't you have any enforcement agency of any sort here?"
"Never needed one till now."
She shook her head in dismay. "Helluva way to run a planet," she said, gloomily.
"Moon," he corrected her.
"Whatever," she said, trudging back to the main buildings, already beginning to hate ice with a vengeance. She waited by the main door for him to catch up. "Interesting sky though."
He looked up. After awhile you get used to it. Kinda big isn't it?"
"Gas giants usually are," she replied, neutrally. Jupiter loomed large above them, a swirling mass of colours, appearing something like fifteen times larger than the moon did on Earth.
"Can I get you a drink, or maybe we can go for a meal, or something?" he asked, as they shrugged out of their outdoor coats and balaclavas.
"Dave, you seem like a nice guy," she lied, "but I'm here for one reason and one reason only. That's to catch a killer and then get the hell out of here and back to my unit. Is that clear?"
"Of course, you don't think I was hitting on you, or anything, do you?" he asked. Evelyn could feel her lip pulling into a sneer, but she managed to switch it into a weak smile.
"No, I just wanted to get things clear from the outset, that's all. Now that that's all sorted, I'd be happy to go find some food."
"Oh, I'm sorry, I've just remembered, I've got an important meeting I've got to attend. Another day, perhaps?"
"Yes, of course," she smiled. 'Yeah, I just bet you have... now.'
* * *
The doctor pulled out the first corpse from the deep freeze on a sliding tray and peeled back the plastic shroud. "Near as I can tell all the damage was done post mortem."
"Must've stuck real hard," she said, peering at the body. She pulled back the sheet completely and hefted the stiff body over onto its front. It clattered down onto the stainless steel table with a sliding thump.
Most of the back, buttocks, legs and arms were missing their normal covering of flesh, exposing bone and tissue and torn blood vessels.
"Was it cold, lack of breathable air or something else that killed him?"
"Couldn't find anything in his blood to suggest any poisons, or other lethal agents. No bacterium or viruses that shouldn't be there, either. Far as I can tell he went to sleep and never woke up again. Death by hypothermia would be my best guess."
"Drug and alcohol levels normal, I assume?"
"You assume correctly."
"So, yet another mystery. Why would someone allow themselves to be glued naked to a building at forty degrees below freezing?"
"Don't think I'd want to do it," he said, grinning.
Evelyn smiled back. "Me neither, Doc."
They dragged the next body out of the freezer. The woman was in her mid-thirties, healthy and well nourished. She looked like she was sleeping peacefully, apart from the odd damage around both shoulders.
"Had to break them at the joints when we got her out of the ice. She was frozen solid and by the time we thawed her out rigor mortis had set in. I thought it would be undignified having her hanging half out of the freezer."
"How did you do it, a hammer?"
"Good grief no. I'm getting too old for any physical stuff. Some days I wish they'd turn down the gravity field so we could all gently float around."
"Wouldn't do your old bones any good," she said, smiling at the avuncular man, who she decided she liked a lot.
"No, but it would be fun for a while," he grinned.
"So, who got the body down from the wall?" she asked, steering the conversation back before he suggested they went floating together somewhere, seeing the twinkle in his eye.
"Ah, that would be Laurie. She's my muscle whenever I need anything heavy doing."
"Is she your nurse?" Evelyn asked, having seen the nurse when she came in and not noticing any great obvious strength.
"Oh no, she's one of the maintenance crew. She and I seem to have formed something of a friendship. We play chess every Friday night. One day I might actually beat her," he said, laughing gently to himself.
"Brains as well as brawn. I must meet this Laurie sometime, I've got a few questions to ask her."
"Well, as she's standing right behind you, now's as good a time as any, I guess."
Evelyn whirled round, not having heard anyone enter the morgue. A six foot tall, dark-haired woman held out her hand to Evelyn.
"Hi, I'm Laurie, pleased to meet you."
Evelyn heard a croaked 'Hello'. It took a moment to realise it had come from herself.
Laurie frowned slightly, still holding out her hand. She was about to withdraw it, thinking the soldier wasn't going to shake hands when Evelyn snapped out of her trance and jumped to attention, executing a perfect salute.
"Staff Sergeant Evelyn Bates," the flustered soldier managed. She dropped her hand to shake Laurie's, but the other woman had begun to withdraw hers at Evelyn's unexpected salute. Blushing, she pulled her hand back, only to see that Laurie had brought hers forward again.
"Umm, I think I'll start this again," Laurie smiled, her voice deep and smooth. She gracefully turned away and left the room, leaving Evelyn blushing profusely and screwing up her eyes in embarrassment.
The door swung open and Laurie strolled through, a smile on her face. "Staff Sergeant Bates, how nice to meet you, I've heard so much about you," she said, holding out her hand.
Evelyn took it this time. "You have?" she croaked, her eyes widening as the words sunk in.
Laurie leaned forward till she was very close. "It was a joke," she smiled. "Intended to put you at ease. Doesn't seem to have worked though, does it?"
Evelyn shook her head, still unable to articulate anything.
"Evelyn," said Laurie.
"You can let go of my hand now."
Evelyn dropped Laurie's hand as if it was on fire. "I... I've got to go," she mumbled, pushing past the surprised engineer and dashing through the door.
Laurie turned to the doctor. "Am I missing something here?" she asked.
He shrugged. "Don't look at me. One minute she's examining the bodies and asking sensible questions, the next she's gone into melt down. Then again I didn't warn her about your other 'b'."
"My other 'b'?"
"Brains, brawn and beauty," he said, his face splitting into a huge infectious grin.
Laurie frowned. "I really think I'm missing something here," she said, shaking her head.
* * *
Evelyn stumbled down the long corridor ignoring the looks from passers by. "Why here, why now?" she moaned, leaning her forehead against the cool metal of the corridor wall.
"Are you all right?"
She jerked around as a gentle hand touched her shoulder.
"I... I... "
"I think you need a drink and a sit down," said Laurie, taking Evelyn by the elbow and guiding her towards the nearest canteen.
Evelyn sipped appreciatively from the hot drink Laurie had fetched for her. The place was nearly empty, most other people either asleep or doing their jobs. It was too early in the day for much socialising to be going on.
"I'm sorry if I scared you back there, I know I can be a bit forbidding, but it's not my way really, just a product of strong genes and tall parents."
"No, it's not that. I've been in the military since I was eighteen, I should be able to deal with such things without thinking about it."
"Then what's the problem?"
"This is going to sound... silly," Evelyn said softly.
"Try me." Evelyn looked up at Laurie and could see nothing but concern in her eyes. Such blue eyes.
"Erm, sorry, I was staring." She shook her head and took a large gulp of tea, welcoming the burning sensation as it went down.
"It's okay, I don't mind you staring," smiled Laurie. "If you don't want to tell me about it, that's okay."
"No, I owe you an explanation." She set down her cup and took a deep breath. "For as long as I could remember I've had a recurring dream of being trapped in a room filling with water. I'm just a kid again. I'm screaming for my mom and dad to come get me, but no one comes."
"It sounds horrible," said Laurie, instinctively leaning forward and touching the back of Evelyn's hand in sympathy.
"It would be, but that's not the weird part. As I try to get away from the rising water a woman calls to me. She tells me I have to be brave and that I can do it. She tells me to run to her. She's holding out her arms to me, but I'm too scared, I can't move with fear."
"The level rises up to my waist and she screams to me to go to her, but I can't, so she dives into the water, oblivious to her own danger, and she comes to pick me up."
"She rescues you?"
"I don't know," Evelyn said miserably, the pain of all the years of night time fear surfacing.
"I don't understand."
"As we set off back to the safety of the other end of the room, the floor gives way and we both get sucked down. I wake up terrified and sweating."
"Were you trapped in a flood when you were young?"
"No, that's the stupid part. I've never been in that situation, and I don't know who the woman is. At least till now."
"I take it that I remind you of her."
"No," said Evelyn, shaking her head emphatically. "You don't remind me of her, you're her spitting image. Seeing you was like seeing my dream come to life."
Laurie sat back in her chair, taking a sip from her own cup for the first time. "I don't know what to say," she said at last.
"What can you say? Here we are millions of miles from home, and I'm laying my twisted dreams on you." She smiled at the absurdity of the situation, though none of it was all that funny.
"That's why you... um, freaked out a little when I showed up?"
"Yeah, I'm not normally like that."
Laurie laughed. Evelyn looked up sharply, thinking Laurie was laughing at her.
"I'm sorry, Evelyn, I wasn't laughing at you, it was something the doc said. He reckoned it was my, what did he say... oh yes, my brains, brawn and beauty that had knocked you for a loop." She smiled at Evelyn, hoping to share the amusement at the notion.
"That'd be understandable," Evelyn smiled back, speaking before she realised what she was saying. She immediately sat upright in her seat. "Erm, that didn't come out quite how I intended. I didn't mean you were beautiful... though not that I'm saying you're not, of course, because obviously you are, it's just that... " she trailed away into silence as she looked up into the grinning face of her drinking companion. She closed her eyes again, dropping her head into her hands. "Oh, god," she groaned. "I really, really want to go home. Fighting drug barons in the south is a walk in the park compared to this." She felt foolish and embarrassed to have broken down so easily in front of a stranger.
"Hey, is it so hard talking to me?"
"No, no, it's not you. Jesus, if my team could see me now, they wouldn't believe it."
"A bit of a hard-ass, huh?" Laurie said grinning, apparently able to read Evelyn like a book.
"Something like that," Evelyn smiled ruefully.
"Don't worry, Sarge, you secret's safe with me, and as for the doc, he just thinks you've got an eye for the ladies. No harm, no foul."
Evelyn stood up, brushing imaginary flecks off her combats. "Look, can we start this again, and just forget any of this happened?" she asked, holding out her hand to shake.
"Sure," Laurie said, smoothly rising to shake Evelyn's hand. "Laurie Stevens, engineer, first class, no specialties. Nice to meet you. And I'll forget all about it, if that's what you really want?" she said, looking Evelyn directly in the eye.
"I... I think it best," she hesitated. "That we maintain a strictly professional relationship while I'm on this case. After that, maybe I'll find time to hang around for a while before my shuttle goes back."
"Okay, Staff Sergeant Bates. Now what was it you wanted to ask me about the murders?"
* * *
Laurie showed Evelyn the site of the garbage chute where the third body had been found. They looked around for anything unusual but as the chute was in continual operation nothing of any use could be gleaned.
"Hell of a way to end up," remarked Evelyn, pulling off her disposable rubber gloves.
"Another fifteen minutes and he'd have been in much worse shape. The tank would have been emptied into the reclamation plant. We'd have all ended up eating him," said Laurie matter-of-factly.
"What!" exclaimed Evelyn.
"Sure. The plant separates out all the organics from the non-organics and processes them accordingly. The organic matter ends up as food for the farm animals, mostly the pigs."
"There are pigs in space?" asked Evelyn.
"Farming animals is still the most efficient way of turning stuff we don't like to eat into stuff we do like to eat."
"I never really thought about it. I sort of thought that it would be... different somehow."
"There ain't no magic on Europa, any more than there is on Earth, Evie."
The sergeant looked at her companion.
"You don't mind me calling you Evie, do you?" asked Laurie.
"If you're going to use a nick I'd prefer 'Dutch', if you don't mind."
"I didn't know you were from Europe, I thought you were an all-American gal."
"Then why Dutch?"
"It's just a stupid name that's stuck with me over the years, and I've kind've grown used to it. That's all, no great mystery, no hidden meanings."
"Okay, okay," said Laurie, holding up her hands in mock surrender.
"Shouldn't you be going to work, or something?"
"In a little while. I was sort of hoping..."
Laurie didn't answer. She looked at the floor shrugging her shoulders, as if not quite sure what to say.
"Spit it out, Laurie, it can't be that bad."
"Well, I was sort of hoping that maybe I could assist you. This is the most interesting thing that's happened here in a long, long time. And I know you're on your own, so I thought, that we could, um, well, sort of..."
"Yeah," she said, looking Evelyn in the eye for the first time since the conversation started and treating the sergeant to one of her infectious smiles.
"Well," said Evelyn, doing her best to look thoughtful, considering all the options. "I suppose... I could use someone with local knowledge."
"Yes!" said Laurie, her eyes lighting up with excitement. She picked up Evelyn, much to her surprise and whirled her around in happiness.
"Put me down, you big idiot!" laughed Evelyn. "Damn, now I can see why the doc uses you for his brawn. Where'd you get these muscles?" she asked, squeezing Laurie's upper arms.
"I, um, work out a little."
"Okay, quite a lot. I sneak the gravity up a few notches while I'm doing it too. You get results much quicker that way."
"How long have you been here, Laurie?"
"Fifteen years," said the tall woman.
"Fifteen years!" exclaimed Evelyn.
"My parents brought me when I was young. I guess I liked it here. When they went back I stayed. I'd graduated college by then and they offered me a job on the engineering staff."
"Don't you want to go home?"
"I am home, Evelyn," she said, without any hint of regret.
"Won't they miss you at your work?"
"Sure, I'm indispensable."
"Modest too, I see."
"Hey, I always tell the truth."
"So they won't let you go."
"They've got no choice, I'm owed about five years back leave that I've never taken."
"You never take a vacation?"
"Nope. Told you already, I like it here."
"Can I trust you?" asked Evelyn.
"With your life," she said, without a hint of irony, false modesty or humour. Evelyn knew instinctively Laurie spoke the truth.
"Glad to have you on board, Private."
"I'm only a private?"
"In this woman's army you have to earn your stripes, just like I did."
"Shouldn't be too difficult. Where do I start?" said Laurie, grinning like a child on Christmas day.
* * *
Evelyn came out the director's office, her face set in a grim frown.
"Did she go for it?" Laurie asked Evelyn apprehensively. She was waiting outside the director's office where fifteen minutes before Evelyn had entered.
"Wanted to know why I thought I needed help from an engineer."
"What did you tell her?"
"I said I needed someone to hold my magnifying glass."
"So what did she say, Sherlock?"
"She said 'Sure, why not, that big lump's not much use for anything else.'"
"She said no such thing!" Laurie said in outrage.
"How do you know?"
"She thinks I'm wonderful."
"She does, huh?"
"If I didn't know better I'd say you're feeling a bit cocky at the moment."
"So, you don't want to hold my magnifying glass, then?"
"I didn't say that."
"Come on, Stretch, we've got a crime to solve," Evelyn said, striding off down the corridor.
"Can I wear a sexy combat uniform too?"
"So, what's my first job, Sarge?"
"You any good with paperwork?"
Laurie groaned. "I knew I'd get lumbered with the paperwork while you're off sifting for clues and chasing down arch-villains."
"Quit whining, Soldier, and start looking for any links between the three victims. I don't care how trivial or insignificant a link it is, I want to know about it."
"I can do that as we walk," Laurie said, flipping down her viewer, obscuring her left eye. "Where are we headed?"
"We're going to see some scientists in action."
* * *
"This is fun!" said Evelyn as Laurie drove the six-wheel dune buggy across the stretch of ice that separated the two bases. The hundreds of spikes covering each giant sponge tyre dug into the ice. "Pity there's no humps and bumps to drive over," she lamented.
"I once tried to ski behind one of these," remarked Laurie.
"Yeah, her Highness stepped in and banned it, though," she said with obvious regret.
"Said it was too dangerous. See those patches of yellow under the surface?"
"Well, they're made up of concentrated sulphuric acid, trapped just below the surface."
"Jesus, is it safe to be driving over them," asked Evelyn, instinctively lifting her feet up off the floor of the vehicle.
"Relax, this baby's floor pan is made of a titanium-molybdenum alloy, coated in impervious teflon. We could sail in a sea of the stuff and be perfectly safe."
"You really are at home here, aren't you?" said Evelyn, enjoying the carefree pleasure Laurie happily displayed, as they cruised across the ice-plain. "Any moment now I expect you to lower the window and start whistling."
Laurie chuckled. "I could if you want, but for two things. One I sing, not whistle, and two the micro-climate gets a little thin this far from either of the bases, so if you'd like to see what it's like trying to breath in a near-vacuum, be my guest and open the window."
"I'm really beginning to see just why you love this place," Evelyn said sourly.
"Yeah, why's that?"
"Because you're obviously insane."
"Hah, this from someone who gets a job carrying a rifle and spends her days getting shot at by people who don't like the cut of your uniform."
They drove around the perimeter of the scientific research base on a route that took on the shape of a four-leaf clover as they circled each of the four weather stations, which constantly churned out massive amounts of oxygen and nitrogen, plus traces of other chemicals necessary to make a breathable atmosphere.
"Are they automatic or are there an army of guys running on giant treadmills making them go?" asked Evelyn, as they rounded the fourth station.
"Treadmills, your shift is the four to eight," replied Laurie, completely straight faced.
"Right, well wake me up when it's your shift and I'll climb on your back, you can run for both of us."
"That doesn't sound very fair."
"Rank has its privilege," said Evelyn with a smirk.
"Fair enough. But that does mean that should we meet any bug-eyed monsters, remember, you're the one with the gun."
"Are we likely to meet any?"
"Never know with what these guys are doing."
Evelyn frowned for a moment as they pulled into the car port at the front of the main complex. "What exactly do they do here?"
"Many things, but their main interest lies in finding aliens."
"You're kidding me."
"Nope, but you can relax, ET is most likely to turn out to be a new form of slime down on the seabed, or, if they're really lucky, some type of acid-drinking shrimp or something."
"So they're not going to invade Earth and steal all our menfolk, then?"
"Hah! We should be that lucky," scoffed Laurie as she climbed out of the driver's seat and dropped down onto the icy surface.
"I've seen the old movies. If I find anything non-human drinking or drooling acid then it and I are going to have a falling out, that I can promise you!" said Evelyn, firmly.
"Don't let the white-coats hear you say something like that, they've been years trying to find something down there," she said, pointing at the floor.
"Not that I'm aware of, but then again, they only ever invite us trained monkeys over to fix something when they've broken it. I've never been asked to give them the benefit of my vast scientific knowledge."
"Their loss, I'm sure."
* * *
They waited in reception till a young man appeared.
"Boris Zyenko," he said, holding out his hand to Evelyn.
"I hope we won't be kept waiting this long in future," the sergeant replied, bristling at the off hand way they'd been treated. Laurie had warned her that the scientists were a law unto themselves and pretty much did as they pleased. The mining director, Christine Jefferson, had very little authority over them. "I'm here to investigate three murders on behalf of the Alliance and American governments. At my say so this entire facility can be shut down."
The young man blushed and looked at the floor. "I'm sorry, Sergeant Bates, I'm only doing as I've been told. If you'd like to see the director I'm sure he'll make time for you."
"That won't be necessary... yet," said Evelyn testily, only slightly placated by his apology. "For the moment I simply want to get a feel for the place, see how it's run, what the day-to-day routines are. Will you be our guide?"
He looked at Laurie, frowning slightly. "Will Engineer Stevens be accompanying us?"
"Yes, for the duration of my investigation she will be acting as my assistant. She is to be granted the same unfettered access I am expecting."
"I will have to relay that to the director, of course, and get his approval. Normally unauthorised personnel are not allowed to wander about the station."
"She won't be unauthorised, and she'll mostly be with me."
"You should be aware that there are some locations off-limits to everyone."
"Everyone?" asked Evelyn, her curiosity piqued.
"Yes, only the director grants access."
"What's so secret?" asked Laurie.
"I can't tell you," he replied.
"Can't or won't?" asked Evelyn.
"Can't. I don't know myself what is done in those areas."
"Is that... normal?" asked Laurie.
"Normal that I don't know, or normal that they exist?"
"Both!" said the two women in unison.
He smiled boyishly for the first time since they'd met. "I think it's normal that I don't know, I'm only a junior scientist, involved in very low-level research. As for if it's normal to have off-limits locations, when I came here I was just told to do my work and mind my own business. It's worked pretty well so far."
"Fair enough. I'll discuss the issue when I get to meet the great man himself," said Evelyn, winking at Laurie.
"The sarge wants a tour, let's not keep her waiting," smiled Laurie. He nodded and took off, not looking back.
"You know you're getting old when scientists all look so young," said Laurie, leaning over and whispering in Evelyn's ear as they followed the young man.
"That's because you are old and he's barely out of his diapers," Evelyn whispered back.
"I beg your pardon," said Boris.
"Nothing, just checking on something with the boss," said Laurie, her smile remaining in place till the man turned around again.
"What exactly is it that you do, Boris?" asked Evelyn.
"I check the microscopes that scan the many ice-cores we take. I randomly check that the AI's got it right."
"Not everything is hand checked?"
"Good grief, no," he chuckled. "We'd need another twenty thousand pairs of eyes for that. No, we let the computers look for most things."
"What are they looking for?" asked Laurie.
He frowned again, obviously preferring to answer Evelyn's questions. "Anything we don't expect be there," he said, slightly petulantly.
"Does any of this require you to melt the ice?"
"Not really, we use boring machines. I do believe they have heated tips though, should they get stuck."
"No use for, say, melting a narrow band of ice into a two metre deep hole?" asked Evelyn casually.
He stopped walking. "No, I don't think so, why would you want to do that?"
"Just asking," Evelyn said breezily, striding past him, leaving him looking to Laurie for help, who just shrugged by way of reply.
"Well, that was a bust!" Evelyn said with exasperation.
"Yeah, not much to see. Or at least not much they wanted us to see," replied Laurie, as she stretched out on the couch in Evelyn's temporary office. They had been given a cursory tour of the science base and had left little wiser than when they arrived.
"I'd like to go for a spin in one of those diving vessels, though."
"You would? I thought you were a committed 'keep your feet on the ground' kinda person," said Laurie.
"We did some training with the SEALS on espionage techniques using mini-subs and the like. I thought they were fun."
"So, we sneak in there, 'borrow' one of their subs and go for a ride. I like it! When do we go?" asked Laurie, her eyes lighting up with excitement at the prospect.
"Whoa there, Tiger. I never said anything about any sub-jacking. If we're going to go for a dive it will be officially sanctioned and for a good reason."
"I want to meet ET."
"That's not a good reason."
"It's not, huh?"
"Think the director would put in a good word for us?"
"She might, but I don't think she's got any more clout with Kirsk than the rest of us."
"Oh. Why didn't anyone mention his name before?"
"No one calls him by his name, he's just known as Dos."
"Director of Science?"
"Is there a Mr or Mrs Dos?"
Laurie shook her head. "Don't think so. I'm pretty sure ol' Dos is above such things. I think he's an android."
"Really?" said Evelyn, her eyes widening a little.
"Nah, not really he just acts like one," said Laurie, smiling.
Evelyn grimaced at Laurie's ability to say the most outrageous things straight faced. "You found any connections between the three victims yet?"
"You even looked?"
"I'm hurt that you could even suggest such a thing."
"And I deeply sympathise with your hurt, but you didn't answer the question."
Laurie cocked her head at Evelyn. "I've checked over three thousand work reports from Valeri Lotoshka, victim number one, and not once did he encounter Sue Obukoo, victim number two, or Michael Williams, victim number three. Nor have I found any links between the last two, either."
"Nothing? Not one connection?"
"That's what I said."
"Then we are going to have to widen the search patterns to look for the missing link."
"I like the sound of this 'we'," said Laurie.
"Figure of speech, Private."
"Should have known," said Laurie, her shoulders slumping in a dramatic display of despair.
"Okay, let's go over what we know," said Evelyn. "We have three bodies, two of which died apparently from hypothermia and the third from..." she paused while she checked the doctor's report on her eye viewer "Cause unknown, but exceptionally elevated levels of adrenaline suggest deep psychological shock prior to death."
"He died of fright?" asked Laurie, incredulously.
"Check for yourself," said Evelyn touching her wrist pad. Laurie sat up as she read rapidly though the report.
"Wow, I never liked Williams much, but dying from adrenaline overdose... bet that was a rush!"
"You knew Williams?"
"Sure, it's not that big a place that I don't know most of the other engineers."
"So you knew them all?"
"Well, I knew of them, but I can't say that I knew them personally, not even biblically," she said with a smirk.
"Much of that go on up here?"
"Much of what?"
"I can only speak for myself, but whenever I have sex it's never, ever casual."
Evelyn swallowed at the intense look Laurie gave her as she spoke, her rich voice resonating through the soldier's soul.
She looked away, taking a deep breath and composing herself, missing the broad smile that Laurie also sent her way. "So," she said, turning back to face a grinning Laurie. "You're now my number one suspect, seeing as you have links to all three."
Laurie's grin dropped immediately. "Whadya mean I'm the number one suspect?" she said indignantly. It was Evelyn's turn to smirk. "Very good, Sarge, but be careful who you cross swords with."
"Is that a threat, Private?"
"No, just a friendly bit of advice," said Laurie airily.
"I'll bear that in mind. So summing up we have three bodies, no crime scenes worth a damn, no evidence of any kind, no witnesses, no real motives, no patterns and if some strange person, or persons, unknown hadn't decided to get creative with the bodies post mortem, I wouldn't even be here. Oh and no suspects other than you."
"That about sums it up, though for all I know, you may have sneaked here a few months ago, did the foul deeds yourself and then faked your arrival and your identity. So you're just as much a suspect as the rest of us, Sister."
"Really? What was my motive?"
"You were part of a four-way love affair that went wrong."
"Sounds pretty far-fetched to me."
"That's how these things go, it's always the least likely that are the guilty ones."
"Yup," said Laurie solemnly.
"Hey, this is great. I can go to the director and tell her that we've nearly wrapped it up. All I have to do is ask her to send for a real cop and arrest me then we can all go home."
"Can we have lunch first? I'm starving," said Laurie with conviction.
"Oh, all right, but no funny moves."
"Hey, why me, I thought you were the killer?"
"Nah, I've decided it's too far-fetched. I'm too nice for that sort of thing, and you're not clever enough to have masterminded it."
"How about we pin it on somebody else, then?"
"Anyone in particular?"
"How about Furlow?" said Laurie.
"Christine's right-hand creep?"
"Oh, you've met him, I see."
"Sure have. Okay, it's agreed, we have lunch and plot his downfall. That sound like a plan to you?"
"Sounds like a date to me."
"A date, huh?"
"We can go dutch, Dutch."
"You've been dying to squeeze that in somewhere, haven't you?"
"You know me so well," said Laurie, grinning.
"Come on, Private, let's go eat and try and think of what on Europa we do next."
* * *
"How'd it go?" asked Laurie, as Evelyn emerged from the director's office.
"You mean what did Christine think of our complete lack of success?"
"Oh, so now it's 'our' investigation now is it?"
"Till we have a break through, then it will be mine again."
"Figures. Engineers never get the glory. If it wasn't for us none of this would be possible, you know that don't you?"
"Good, then let's go interview some of the victims' work colleagues, see what we can turn up."
"All of them?"
"You got anything else planned?"
"Guess not, though I could introduce you to Dexter."
"The question is what's Dexter," said Laurie, grinning.
"Okay... what's Dexter? she said, not expecting a sensible answer from the chief suspect." said Evelyn.
"Third person doesn't suit you."
"Answer the question."
"It's a sport we invented. You can only play it in low-grav. One of these days I mean to write it all up and form a proper governing body. All sports need a governing body to stop folks having too much fun."
Evelyn shook her head and rubbed her eyes. "Why is everything so... difficult with you? Even ordinary conversations take on such a surreal air."
"Hey, I can understand if you don't wanna get your butt whipped at something."
"Why is it called 'Dexter'?"
"He was one of the guys that first thought it up."
"Well, yeah, I suppose it could just have well been called 'Stevens' but then I figured everyone would keep saying 'Steven's what?' so we stuck with 'Dexter'."
"So in the middle of a murder investigation you want us to stop and play some game you made up?"
"Sure, it might help relax you and help you see things more clearly."
"Maybe some other time."
"Well, at least come and watch one of the games. There's one tonight between EG3 and WS6."
"Oh, right, Engineering Group Three play Weather Station Six."
"Will there be a lot of people watching?" asked Evelyn.
"Sure, as many as can fit into the arena, who aren't on shift."
"It might be a good opportunity to meet some new suspects, god knows we're running out of decent ones here."
"That's my girl! I'll pick you up at nineteen thirty," said Laurie enthusiastically.
"Our second date, huh? I was always told it was bad form to fraternise with the lower ranks," said Evelyn with an evil grin.
"Yeah, but who's gonna know? You're over three AUs from base."
"Good point. But we still have to go interview those colleagues. I've got a report to file home, have some dinner and then we'll go to the ball game."
"You're on!" said Laurie with a smile.
* * *
"We have to strap ourselves down to watch a game?" asked Evelyn, eyeing the webbing on the floor in front of every seat around the arena.
"You'll regret it if you don't," replied Laurie, snapping the quick release bands over her feet. "They turn down the gravity, they have to switch it off quite a way outside the perimeter so that it's even all the way across the court. If you don't strap yourself in, first time you jump up you'll keep going. It gets a little embarrassing having the audience wafting into the match."
"Explain the rules to me again," said Evelyn a little grumpily, unhappily tying her feet down.
"There are two teams of six made up of five players and one goalkeeper on each side. The outfield players have rackets built onto their gloves. The idea is to hit the ball into the opponents' nets. Each side has a low net and a high net. You get three points for scoring a low goal and one point for scoring a high goal. You're not allowed to hold the ball at any time, except for the goalkeeper, he or she can catch it and hold it but only inside their own box."
"So far so soccer mixed with tennis mixed with basketball."
"Ah yes, but here's the unique part. The ball's got a random inertial system built in. At any moment it can alter its course by up to ninety degrees."
"So it's a game of chance as much as skill?"
"Well, to a degree. It just means the players have to react much more quickly than they would otherwise. Remember, it's played at nearly zero-g so players are every which way in three dimensions."
"Is the ball with a mind of its own your little addition to the game?"
"I guess so. I pretty much made up the whole thing. Dexter just used to hang around and play with me while I ironed out the rules."
"Where is he now?"
"He finished his tour and went back to Earth."
"How long ago was that?"
"Oh, ten years or so."
"You invented this when you were still at school?"
"Yeah, I was bored most of the time. I figured we should be able to make up a game that made use of low gravity, something unique to us."
"You're a real founding... er, mother aren't you?" said Evelyn with a smile.
"Only here two days and already you've uncovered my secret agenda to make Europa an independent world. Freedom!" she said with relish, clenching her fist in a salute.
Evelyn shook her head. "I can never tell when you're being serious or just making fun of me."
Laurie swung round, staring intently into Evelyn's eyes. "I'd never make fun of you, Evelyn."
The soldier's left eyebrow quirked up and a knowing smile tugged at the corners of her mouth.
Laurie's intense expression softened slightly. "Well, okay, I make fun of you all the time. But!" she said, emphasising her remark by raising her finger, "Never when it's really important."
Evelyn's other eyebrow rose to meet its partner.
Laurie scowled. "Okay, busted. I still clown around even when it's important. But that's only because... " she paused, not quite sure if she should continue.
"Only because?" prompted Evelyn.
Laurie huffed and shrugged her shoulders. "Because I know you can really tell... when it matters. We have... a connection," she struggled, groping for the right words. "I've known it from the first time I saw you in the morgue. Something fell into place that had been missing for as long as I can remember." She couldn't look Evelyn in the face, now that her secret had slipped out so unexpectedly and so easily.
She felt the soldier's hand on her shoulder pulling her around to face her. She still couldn't look Evelyn directly in the face, so certain that she'd see nothing but puzzlement, or worse, outrage. "If you don't want me to help you any more, I understand..."
"I felt it too," said Evelyn softly.
"I mean, I know having someone around you who acts pretty dumb most of the time and then lays this soulmate crap on you while you're trying to solve a murder, and... what did you say?" she asked, looking up at Evelyn for the first time.
"I said, I felt it too, but you were too busy busting your own ass to notice," said Evelyn, smiling gently.
"Is that all you can say?"
Laurie mouth opened and closed a few times, but nothing came out. Finally she said, "Are you sure? I mean, I remind you of your dream an' all. Perhaps that's what you felt?"
"Nope, my mind latched onto the dream rescuer I've known since I was twelve years old. But something else clicked, in here," she said, tapping herself between her breasts. "It took me a while to realise what had happened. I didn't mention it because I didn't know if the same thing had happened to you. I thought you'd just dismiss it as a reaction to my dreams."
Neither said a word for a minute or two, both absorbing the unexpected revelation.
"Phew, I have to say that dates with you are something else," breathed Laurie heavily, relieved that she wasn't being rejected by Evelyn as she had secretly feared.
"This was the last thing I expected when I was ordered here to investigate some two-bit murder in the boondocks."
"Hah!" said Laurie snapping out of her uncharacteristic state of uncertainty. "My evil plan has finally come together. I killed those poor souls just to lure you here and... and..."
"Have your wicked way with me?"
"Yes! Er, no, of course not."
"Well, okay, I can be flexible and modify my plans."
"How did you know that they would send me?"
"Yes, that's a flaw, I'll admit."
"This has got to be the strangest bit of wooing I've ever been on the receiving end of," said Evelyn, shaking her head and smiling at her very unconventional assistant.
"I'll admit that I had planned a candle-lit dinner for two in an expensive restaurant to break all this to you, but a game of Dexter, surrounded by hundreds of shouting fans works too, I guess," said Laurie. "And by the way, you shouldn't end a sentence with a preposition."
Evelyn shook her head and turned to watch the game for a moment. "Who's winning?" she asked.
"True, shall we go?" replied the engineer. "I'm keen to deepen this budding relationship further."
"And miss the match?"
"You really want to stay and watch this?"
"Nope, just wanted to see that puppy-dog look on your face," grinned Evelyn, reaching down to unhook her feet. She looked up from her shoes as an unexpected hush fell over the arena. Players were turning and twisting frantically trying to get out the way of a woman floating though the court slashing with a machete at anyone that came near. Two of the players were already tumbling in space, hunched up in tight balls spraying red globules of blood in a grotesque spiral of death.
"I take it that's not part of the rules?" said Evelyn grimly, pulling her feet free and launching herself into the arena, drawing her pistol from her shoulder holster.
"Evelyn, wait, you're not used to zero-g!" cried Laurie, frantically pulling at her feet ties.
The woman with the machete saw Evelyn coming towards her, a lazy grin spread across her face as she shifted the blade to her other hand, preparing to meet Evelyn's dive. Screams and shouts erupted from the crowd as they realised what was happening.
Laurie pushed off from her seat, twisting to avoid one of the fleeing players, desperate to avoid the mad woman with the machete. Try as she might, Laurie knew it was hopeless; physics ensured that no matter what she did she would never catch up with Evelyn in time.
The woman pulled back her machete and took a lazy swing at Evelyn, the arc of her blade timed to meet the soldier's face. Evelyn could hear Laurie's scream of 'No!' from behind, but there was no time to look back. She ducked her head at the last second and the blade passed by, slicing through some of her hairs, spinning them off into their own trajectories. She reached out, hooking her arm around the woman's waist causing them both to tumble wildly together. Evelyn had no idea which way was up or down, all she knew was that she was holding onto a mad-woman with a machete who would be slicing lumps out of her at any moment.
She brought her pistol up and fired at point-blank range into the woman's temple. The woman released the machete as they continued to spiral out of control. A siren sounded and something crashed into the pair of them, sending them spinning off at a different angle.
"I've got you, Evelyn," gasped Laurie, grabbing the disorientated soldier's uniform. "Let her go and get ready for a fall, this is gonna hurt."
"What, why?" was all Evelyn managed before a huge unseen force grabbed them both, hurling them to the floor. Evelyn's military training took over as she curled into a tight ball and rolled with the impact, coming to rest on her back, winded but otherwise unhurt.
Laurie's natural athleticism saved her from anything worse than some bruises and a few strained joints as she landed cat-like, absorbing most of the energy of the fall.
She stumbled over to Evelyn, sprawled out on her back and looking up intently at the ceiling.
"See anything up there?" she asked, leaning over and holding out her hand, ready to help Evelyn to her feet.
"Some days it definitely pays to stay in bed."
"Ain't that the truth," replied Laurie pulling Evelyn up. The woman lay in a pool of blood nearby. At the other end of the court the bodies of the two unfortunate players she had managed to kill before Evelyn had stopped her were crumpled on the floor.
"I guess someone panicked and hit the emergency gravity button," groaned Laurie, rolling her shoulders and stretching her back. "Have to look into putting a slow wind-down circuit in there to let folks down gently."
"Pity you didn't think of that before," said Evelyn rubbing her backside and twisting out the kinks in her neck.
"Couldn't wait, huh? You had to play hero and shoot someone," said Laurie, looking down at the fallen woman.
"Hey, someone had to stop her."
"With that?" said Laurie angrily pointing at Evelyn's pistol.
"Worked didn't it?"
"Oh yeah, it worked all right. Now we have no idea why she did what she did."
"Look, it all happened in under five seconds. I did what I've been trained to do," replied Evelyn, getting angry herself.
"Good, well tell that to her husband, he should be coming off shift in an hour or so," said Laurie, pushing her way through the crowd that had gathered around the three women.
Evelyn chased after the tall woman, grabbing her by the shoulder and tugging her around to face her. "Don't you judge me, Laurie, I saved lives here today, damnit!" she said, forgetting she still held the gun in her hand.
"Take that thing out of my face and don't ever, ever put it there again, you understand me!" Laurie said with chilling vehemence, her eyes narrowed to slits of rage. She shook off Evelyn's hand and stalked off, leaving the soldier standing open-mouthed and bewildered at the sudden awful turn of events.
She looked down at the pistol in her hand, as if seeing it for the first time. Her first impulse was to throw it violently against the nearest wall, but instead she took a deep breath, snapped the safety on and slipped it back into its holster, her training once more taking over.
She pushed her way back through the crowd. "Okay, folks, clear a space. Has anyone called the doctor yet?"
* * *
"I think you owe Evelyn an apology, Laurie," said the doctor. They stood either side of the body on the examination table. "Brenda died of a broken skull and internal haemorrhaging, not from the shot to the head. See," he said, pointing to the dead woman's right temple. "The projectile never even broke the skin. Left a big old bruise, but nothing worse. Evelyn had the presence of mind to set her rail gun to minimum before she fired. Quite a performance I might add, I've seen the replays more than a few times on the news channel. I think she did exactly the right thing. If it hadn't been for that idiot Furlow ordering the gravity to be restored, Brenda would still be alive and able to tell us what happened. Dave Furlow's stupidity killed her, not Evelyn."
Laurie closed her eyes, rubbing them with her hand. "Oh hell," she sighed. "It was just all that blood, and the sound of her gun going off, I assumed... that, well, she... you know,"
"No point explaining your actions to me, Laurie, I think there's someone else you should be doing that to," he said, putting a comforting hand on her shoulder.
"I know, I know, but I don't think she'll ever want to talk to me again after the way I treated her. I have to find a way to apologise to her."
"Well, as she's standing right behind you, now's as good a time as any."
Laurie whirled round, not having heard anyone enter the morgue.
"Evelyn," she croaked.
"Laurie," said Evelyn, without a hint of warmth. She turned to the doctor. "What have you got for me, Doc?"
"Three more bodies," he said sadly.
"Causes of death?"
"Suki Yamata, death from loss of blood due to trauma, a large cut with a sharp implement to the neck and shoulder. Same goes for Stanley Carver, arm and leg almost severed, died within moments of the first cut, several major blood vessels having been incised. Second cut wasn't really required. The third, Brenda Pulsnic, died from severe trauma to the skull, brought about by a long drop and landing on her head. But I think you know all this already. You were a witness."
"What I don't know is why, even though I saw it with my own eyes. I've just come from interviewing Brenda's husband, Steven. He is as bewildered as the rest of us," said Evelyn. "I think you might want to drop by his apartment and offer him some sedatives or a little counselling, Doc," she added.
"Yes, of course. I'll get on it right away. I'm sure you two have some matters to discuss. Oh, and Evelyn, you might want to examine Brenda's body, there are some things that may or may not be pertinent to your investigation." He peeled off his disposable gloves and picked up his medical bag then wished them both a good day and left.
The two women stared at each other across the corpse on the examination table.
"Evelyn, you have to understand how I feel about guns..." Laurie trailed away to silence as the soldier held up her hand and shook her head.
"I think that's pretty obvious," said Evelyn.
Laurie looked down at the floor, not sure what to say next. "Do you... do you want me to quit the investigation?" she said softly, bracing herself for the response she was sure Evelyn would give.
"Is that what you want?"
Laurie shook her head, unable to speak past the lump in her throat. She felt like a little girl sent to the headmistress's office. The anger she'd felt at Evelyn's use of her sidearm had long since drained away, to be replaced by deep regret and a churning stomach.
"Neither do I, Soldier," Evelyn said, the first hint of a smile playing about her lips.
Laurie looked up at Evelyn, hearing the warmth creep back into Evelyn's words. She leaned over the table and pulled Evelyn to her. "Oh god, Evelyn, I'm so, so sorry. I've been going out of my mind since all this happened. First because I thought you'd just shot her out of hand, that didn't seem to be the person I thought you were. Then because I treated you so bad, and after you'd stopped Brenda hurting anyone else, and now I found out you only knocked her out. I feel so wretched, and... and... I'm babbling aren't I?"
"A little bit," said a muffled voice buried in her shoulder.
Evelyn tried to push Laurie off gently but she gave up trying as the taller, stronger woman would not be denied. She just went with the flow and returned the hug, thankful that their friendship was once more back on track.
Laurie started giggling, heady with relief. Their argument had affected her more than she thought possible.
"What's so funny?" asked Evelyn, twisting her head round so that she could get some fresh air.
"I was just thinking that if someone should come in now and see us hugging over a dead body."
"It's not really funny, Laurie," said Evelyn, beginning to chuckle too in spite of herself.
They lurched apart as the door to the morgue opened unexpectedly.
"So, Sergeant Bates, not only have you failed to find me a killer, you've managed to double the death toll since your arrival!" snapped Christine Jefferson, the director of the base.
"To be fair, Ma... Christine, I wasn't exactly responsible for these three deaths."
"But you failed to stop them," barked the director.
"Yes, Ma'am." Evelyn snapped to attention, her eyes straight ahead "My full report will be on your desk in the morning, Ma'am."
"You've got six weeks, Sergeant. I've asked for more help. That's how long it will take for them to get here. Is that understood?"
"Yes, Ma'am, perfectly."
The director looked at the three bodies. "Hell of a mess, Sergeant, hell of a mess." She shook her head and stomped out the room.
"That was hardly fair," said Laurie, grimacing at the swinging doors.
"No, but perfectly accurate," sighed Evelyn.
"What! You can't be serious, go out there and clue her in."
"Won't do any good. She's already called for more help. Which means, partner, that we've got to get our butts into gear and solve this before someone else does."
"Okay, Sarge, you're the boss. What's next?"
"We examine Brenda again for any clues the doc may have missed. There has to be a reason for a normal, healthy, sane woman to go berserk with a machete, and I intend to find out what it is. Hopefully that will help us with the other murders."
* * *
They met the doctor just as he was leaving Brenda's apartment.
"Evelyn, Laurie," he said, smiling amiably.
"Hi, Doc, how's the patient?" asked Evelyn.
"As well as can be expected. He's in a state of shock still, I don't think it's fully sunk in just yet."
"Not every day you see your wife murder two people and then fall to her death," said Laurie.
"No, I guess not." He looked at the engineer in surprise. She wasn't normally this unemotional. "Something you're not telling me?" he said, looking back and forth between the two women.
"Let's just say we've some more questions to ask Mr Pulsnic."
"We'll let you know after we've questioned him," said Evelyn, gently pushing past the doctor and into the apartment.
"I'll keep you in the loop, Doc, don't worry," whispered Laurie as she slid past the doctor, closing the door behind her.
The apartment wasn't large, just enough for two people to live together provided they were close friends and didn't mind sharing things. A man sat slumped on the small two-seater couch in the main living space.
"We let ourselves in, I hope you don't mind, we'd like to ask you some questions about your wife," said Evelyn, sitting down opposite the man. He looked up at her, his eyes focussing for the first time since their arrival.
"I talked to you before, didn't I?" he said distractedly. He rubbed his hand across his face and sighed. "I'm sorry, where are my manners? Would you like a drink, or... something?"
"Did the doc give you anything?" asked Laurie.
"He... I'm not sure. He might have done. I think he did do something." He reached up and touched his neck, frowning.
"It's okay, don't worry about it, just relax and try to answer our questions, okay?"
"Sure," he smiled, obviously under the influence of a tranquilliser.
"Did you and your wife have a good relationship?" asked Evelyn.
"Yeah, she was the greatest." His smile broadening into a huge grin.
"Did you recently beat her?"
"I said did you tie your wife down and beat her?"
"I... I don't understand," he said, blinking his eyes, trying to focus on the woman asking the questions.
"The sergeant means did you and your wife maybe have an... interesting sex life?" said Laurie.
"Of course we had in interesting sex life, we were married," he mumbled, turning to the other woman.
"Being married and having a sado-masochistic relationship doesn't necessarily follow," said Evelyn.
"Look, what is it with you? I already told you I did not beat my wife. I wouldn't, she was my partner, my friend, why would I beat her?"
"Actually you didn't tell me. Are you saying that you have never performed a sado-masochistic act with your wife?"
"No, it's not something either of us has ever wanted to do."
"Then do you know if your wife sought that sort of a relationship elsewhere?" asked Evelyn.
"Of course not!"
"Of course not, you don't know, or of course not, she didn't?"
"She didn't... she wouldn't."
"Are you certain?"
"I... I... " He looked about in confusion and pain, finally settling on Laurie.
"It's all right, Steven, the sergeant has to ask these questions, she doesn't mean anything by it," Laurie said, glaring at Evelyn, as she pulled the stricken man to her shoulder, offering comfort.
He slumped down, his head landing in Laurie's lap and started to cry, which swiftly developed into great wracking sobs of despair. "My... my Brenda's gone," he wailed. Slowly the tears stopped to be replaced by a slow, rhythmic breathing. He'd fallen asleep in her lap. Laurie looked to her partner for help.
"Don't look at me, Florence, you're the one who wanted to comfort him," said Evelyn.
"Satisfied he didn't put the weals on her back?"
"Now I am. Come on, let's put him on his bed and leave him alone. When he wakes up I doubt he'll remember any of this. He'll think it was all a dream, or nightmare, depending on your point of view," she said, taking the sleeping man's feet as Laurie effortlessly lifted him up under his arms. They carried him through into the bedroom and laid him down, dimming the lights and closing the door.
"Shouldn't we have undressed him?" asked Laurie.
"You want to, then be my guest."
"What's the matter, Nursie, getting cold feet?"
"Keep this is up, Sergeant Bates, and you an' me'll have to have a little talk outside."
"It's forty degrees below outside, can't we sort it out indoors where at least it's warm?"
Laurie pulled the front door shut behind her as they left the apartment. "Do you always work like this?"
"What, you mean having to put up with a six-foot know-it-all who one moment wants to fight and the next wants to undress witnesses?"
"That's not quite what I meant."
"No, then what did you mean?"
"I mean... hell, I don't know what I mean," said Laurie in frustration.
"You meant that I don't play nice?" Evelyn put her hand up and motioned for Laurie to slow their fast pace along the corridor leading away from the Pulsnices' apartment. "Laurie, I'm a soldier. I've seen more death than anyone in their right mind would want to. I'm here to put a stop to any more if I can."
"I know, Evelyn, it's just you seem so aggressive, so unemotional sometimes, it worries me that we... we... oh, never mind."
"Go on, say what's on your mind, Laurie, I can tell that something's bothering you."
"Well, for one thing I feel real bad about what just happened back there."
"Why? Neither of us knew then what we know now. Either he's the best actor in the solar system, or else he's not who we're after. I'll go with the second option at the moment."
"I know I was all for going in there and getting him to confess one way or the other, but now I feel kinda... dirty."
"You think we shouldn't have taken advantage of a grieving, drugged widower?"
"Yes, and it bugs me a little bit that you don't care about it."
Evelyn stopped moving completely. She reached up and clasped Laurie's face in both hands, demanding she look directly into her eyes. "Laurie, believe me, I care. What I did turned out to be... unfortunate, but it had to be done. We have a monster loose somewhere on this moon and we have to put a stop to it, somehow cage or kill the animal. I pretty much don't care what we have to do to get that done, and I don't care who gets the glory. I just want it stopped. It's my mission and it's why I'm here. Understand?"
"Yes, yes... I'm sorry. I'm just not used to treating people so badly. I want everyone to be nice."
"So do I, Laurie, and for that you get a kiss." She leaned up, pulling Laurie down to meet her. She smiled and placed a brief, chaste kiss on the engineer's lips.
"See, I can do nice too," she said, letting her startled partner go and striding off down the corridor before Laurie could respond.
* * *
"Why exactly do you have machetes on Europa?" asked Evelyn, as she examined the weapon that Brenda had used.
"It's all the jungles we have," replied Laurie, as she too studied the blade.
"Yeah, I was going to mention all that greenery up on the surface." She slowly passed the multi-light scanner over the machete, switching colours with each pass.
"Actually it's not for cutting down creepers."
"You surprise me."
"No, they're part of the emergency store on every vehicle."
"You need a machete?"
"It's the best tool for cutting blocks of ice."
"You're kidding me?"
"No, it's true. If you're caught out on the ice when a storm blows up, and we do get them from time to time, the atmos-gennies have been pumping for more than three decades now, making yourself an ice break, or even an full igloo, is a good way to stay alive."
"I can't picture you in an igloo somehow. Why not just stay in the vehicle?"
"Better insulation. The vehicles work great all the time they have power, but when that goes they get pretty damn cold, pretty damn quick. I was the igloo building champ for three years in a row when I was at school. They used to call me Eskimo Nell," Laurie said proudly.
"I can see you guys really now how to have fun, and it's Inuit, by the way."
"I know, but Inuit Nell just doesn't sound right."
Evelyn stood up from crouching over the blade on the examination table. "Well, I can't see anything untoward on the machete, not counting the blood, of course. Brenda's fingerprints are on the handle, but that's about it, no chemicals, no pathogens, nothing!" she said with frustration.
"We'll have to trace her movements prior to the game," said Laurie.
"Yeah, I guess we do it the hard way."
"Why are we concentrating on this, shouldn't we be doing more on the original murders?"
"They happened weeks ago, everything's been done that could be done. The trails have gone cold, literally," she said smiling. "No, this is the one that's going to lead us to the killer."
"How can you be so sure?"
"I can't, but it's my informed opinion."
"AKA, best guess."
"Something like that."
"So, where now?"
"Now I will go and find out what Brenda did before the game, and you can go and get Mr Slimeball's version of why he ordered the gravity turned back up."
"Shoot, do I have to?" pouted Laurie.
"Still want that stripe?"
"On my arm or on my butt?"
"Now don't you be getting any ideas from Brenda's extra-marital activities."
"Heaven forbid," said Laurie as angelically as she possibly could, batting her eyelids.
* * *
"Any luck?" asked Evelyn as she put her feet up and bit into a large sandwich. They had returned from their own investigations and had regrouped back at Laurie's apartment.
"Nah, Weasel boy claimed it was standard procedure and that he was unaware that there was anyone at any great height."
"Christine back him up?"
"All the way."
"Think there's anything going on there?"
"What, between those two? Jesus, Evelyn, you wanna put me off my food here?"
Evelyn shrugged. "It'd fit pretty well. How's a creep like him get to be second in command?"
"You think he slept his way to the top?"
"Sure, why not?" replied Evelyn, between bites.
"I figured Christine had better taste for one thing. And for another there's about twenty years difference."
"Don't be so ageist. Christine's still a handsome woman. Despite his manner, he's a good-looking boy."
"Boy being the operative word."
"Now you're just being jealous. Christine's got herself a boy toy and you don't got one," Evelyn smirked.
"For a start I don't want a boy toy, or a man toy, or even a woman toy, come to think of it and for a second, I'm not jealous of Christine over anything."
"Oooh, touched a nerve, have I?"
"It's not working, I can see the twinkle in your eyes. You're just trying to wind me up, but I'm not going to bite."
"Mixing your metaphors there, Soldier."
"Maybe... but maybe I was talking about a clockwork fishing rod."
Evelyn grinned, forcing Laurie to join in. "Very good. So, wanna hear what I found out?"
"Do machetes make good igloos?"
"Not on their own they don't."
"Just tell me."
"All rightee. Brenda went to work as per usual. She works on one of the engineering teams."
"Knew that already."
"Ah, but did you know that her group visited the science base yesterday to fix something?"
"No, that I didn't know."
"Curious, don't you think?"
"Possibly. Then again I think you're just pissed off that they wouldn't let you poke around in some of their secrets."
"That won't last."
Laurie burst into song. "I see a bad moon rising, I see trouble on the way..."
"When you've finished serenading me, ya got any theories?"
"I once had a stab at coming up with my own unified theory."
"Yeah, what was your conclusion?"
"That I didn't know as much as I thought I did."
"That must have come as a blow."
"Deeply shocking, let me tell you! Did you know that there are so many interdependent constants in the known universe that are so finely balanced that if you alter any one of them by just a small percentage, humans wouldn't exist at all as we know them?"
"Really? Known many of them?"
"Good, experience counts for a lot in my book."
"Pretty confident you're going to have your wicked way with me, huh?" asked Laurie, smiling.
"Yeah, forgone conclusion. Chicks just love the uniform."
"Oh yeah," said Evelyn with a smirk, as she finished the last of her sandwich.
"What if I'm immune to the lure of the military?"
"Then it's on to plan two."
"If I told you then you'd be able to strengthen your defences. It never pays to give away all your intelligence."
"You seem to have enough to spare."
"I thought you were the brains of the outfit, I'm just the hired gun, remember?"
"Yeah, but you had the presence of mind to turn down its force before you incapacitated Brenda."
"Nice way of avoiding the word shot."
Laurie shrugged. "I dislike guns so much I don't even like talking about them."
"I'll let you in on a little secret. And I do this not to upset you, but to show you that above all, I will always be truthful with you. When I first arrived I turned down the weapon to minimum energy discharge because I didn't want to be in a situation where overstrike might become a problem."
"I didn't want the munitions passing through the target and causing any additional damage, either to other persons or the fabric of the buildings."
"So when you fired you already knew that it would be on minimum setting, you didn't do it just for Brenda?"
"When I fired I simply wanted her to stop, I didn't give a second's thought to what the gun was set on."
"But you already knew that it was set on minimum, you said so yourself," persisted Laurie.
"Yeah, all right, if it makes you feel better about it," replied Evelyn waving her hand to signify that that part of the conversation was over. "Now, I don't know about you, but I think we need to find out where Brenda went in the science base and what she did there."
"And who put those marks on her, and why," said Laurie, still a bit subdued from Evelyn's admission about the gun.
"Yeah, and that, though I think they're probably linked," added Evelyn.
* * *
"He wasn't very happy, I take it?" said Laurie, as they drove across the ice plain to the science base.
"Didn't sound like it to me," grinned Evelyn. She'd gone to Christine and insisted that the director tell the science director in no uncertain terms that Evelyn be allowed full access to all parts of the science base, otherwise they would be forced to withdraw all support. The scientists would be forced to close their station in under a week without such backup. The science director was not at all pleased with the situation but finally agreed that he personally would accompany them around his facility.
"What are we looking for, now that you've won the war?"
"Oh, this is only the first skirmish, I assure you. He'll try every which way to keep us from finding out anything useful."
"But why, surely he wants to see the killers caught as much as everyone else?"
"Maybe, maybe not. Perhaps he's involved, or perhaps he knows who is and is covering for them. Either way, now it's personal, now he doesn't want to help just because I'm an outsider and I forced him into it."
"I thought you guys had a hearts and minds policy these days?"
"And now I'm going to grab him by the balls and make sure the rest follow along for the ride."
"Remind me not to upset you again."
"Don't upset me again."
"Thanks for the reminder."
"Anytime, darlin', anytime," said Evelyn with a smile, as the entrance to the science station loomed above them through the windshield.
"Sergeant Bates, how nice to finally meet you. Gerald Kirsk." The man got up from behind his desk, holding out his hand. Boris Zyenko had met them in reception again and taken them straight to the director of science's office. It was a grand office by any standards, but extraordinarily opulent for Europa. A large display panel covered most of one wall. At the moment it was showing a view from some cliff tops looking out to sea on a windswept day.
"Nice image," said Evelyn.
"You like it?" he said with obvious pleasure at the compliment.
"I suffer from claustrophobia, I have to have it to be able to work here at all."
"Must be difficult not being able to move around much," said Laurie.
"Engineer Stevens, I've heard many... good things about you, too," he said, not offering to shake hands.
"Shall I call you Director?" asked Evelyn.
"Gerald will do fine."
"I was led to believe that you wished to accompany us personally around the base."
"I intend to," he said, smiling.
"How will that work?" asked Laurie, knowing from his expression that he was enjoying himself immensely.
"With these," he replied, picking up a small case from his desk drawer. He handed it to Evelyn. Inside was a pair of glasses. "Try them on for size."
"How will these help?" she asked.
"In the frames are cameras, microphones and speakers. It's configured to connect back to this desk over an encrypted link. Wearing these will enable me to see what you see, and I can unlock any doors remotely that you may encounter. Try them on."
Evelyn slid them onto her face. They were very lightweight with plain plastic lenses. Kirsk pressed a button on his desk causing a panel to rise up from its surface. It showed an image of what Evelyn was looking at, which happened to be a smirking Laurie.
"I like the intellectual look, Sarge. I've only ever seen anyone wearing spectacles in old movies," Laurie whispered to Evelyn.
The director pressed another button, switching the huge wall panel to the same view. Evelyn turned to look at the panel, forming hundreds of smaller images of itself disappearing into the distance.
"Hmmm," said Evelyn, removing the glasses. As she folded the arms the picture faded. The large panel returned to the cliff tops. "Do you have a second pair for my partner?"
"Sorry, I've only given permission for you to enter restricted areas. Engineer Stevens will have to remain here, or accompany Boris to non-restricted zones."
Evelyn handed him back the glasses. "When you've decided to consent to all my requests, let me know. Where I go, my partner goes." She turned to Laurie. "Come on, Soldier, we're wasting our time here." At the door she turned back to the director who stared at her with malevolent, narrowed eyes. "You've got twenty-four hours to do exactly as I ask or I'm sending for the rest of my squad. Believe me, when they shake down a place it's not pretty. I shall be requesting that Director Jefferson withdraw all support for your operation this time tomorrow. Have a nice day, Director Kirsk," she said, making his name sound like an insult.
Laurie looked to Kirsk, expecting some sort of response, but he said nothing. She followed Evelyn out of his office, to be met by Boris. "Did everything go as planned?" he asked.
"Not quite," said Evelyn tightly, as she strode past him towards the main entrance and their waiting vehicle.
"Didn't play ball, I take it?" he asked Laurie.
"You could say that."
"What will you do?"
"I'm not sure, Evelyn's a bit pissed at the moment. I think she's going to cut you off and then call for a goon squad to tear this place apart."
"Can she do that?" he said in amazement.
"I think she's capable of almost anything, don't you?" said Laurie.
"She seems... determined."
"That she does."
"This should be interesting The irresistible sergeant meets the implacable director," he mused.
"I think you've got that right," said Laurie, winking at the man then chasing off after Evelyn, who'd already left the building.
* * *
"You really going to call for your people?" asked Laurie, after they'd sat in silence for ten minutes, the only sound coming from the low throb of the electric motors and Evelyn's grinding teeth.
"Son of a bitch!" growled Evelyn.
"Wants to play hardball, huh?" she muttered.
"Nice view, eh?"
"Christine better come through for me, or I'm really gonna get mad. None of them will want that!"
"I prefer cats myself. Never could get on with dogs. Too demanding. Too clingy."
"So, you're really going to shut down the scientists?"
"Er, yeah, he wants to know who's boss I guess I'll have to prove it to him. Did you just say something about a dog?"
"Not me, never mentioned it."
"I could've sworn--"
"You think Christine will really do as you ask?"
"She has no choice," said Evelyn, with conviction.
"I hate to rain on your parade, Sarge, but we're at least six weeks away from reinforcements. If Christine really doesn't want to join you in your campaign against the scientists, there really isn't a lot you can do about it, I'd have thought. And might I remind you that Kirsk has agreed to allow you anywhere you wanted to go. All he was objecting to was me going with you. I don't see that that is cause enough to go to battle stations just yet."
"Whose side are you on?"
"I always sleep on the left."
"That a fact?"
"What if I always sleep on the left too?"
"Then there we have a problem."
"Because I'm implacable too."
"Really. Implacable, huh?"
"As they come."
"I'm not even going to go there," said Evelyn, shaking her head, grinning for the first time since they'd left the science base.
"Okay, so Europa War One has been averted by the timely intervention of a plucky, yet strangely gorgeous engineer. Where do we go from here?" asked Laurie.
"Regroup to plan some covert action."
"Would this meeting include Christine?"
"Later, when we've gone over all the... possibilities."
"Are you asking me to go out with you, Sergeant Bates?" asked Laurie, turning to look at her partner.
"Maybe. Wear something black."
"If you consider ski masks sexy."
"We're going back to the science base in the dead of night?"
"I'm seriously considering it."
"Might I remind you that we have a three-and-a-half-day day here. It won't be dark for about another, oh, forty hours," said Laurie, checking her wrist display.
"Rats. How about something in white then?"
"Well, it looks nice against my dark skin, even if I say so myself."
Evelyn swallowed at the mental picture that loomed in her mind as to what would look nice in white on Laurie's olive coloured skin. "I think we need a break for some food and a little rest. What say you?"
"I'd say that sounds like the best thing you've said in the past half-hour."
"You really don't like dogs?" asked Evelyn.
* * *
"It must be difficult adjusting to a controlled twenty-four-hour day underground, but having eighty-four-hour days on the surface."
Laurie looked up from her food. "Not really, you get used to anything, given enough time."
"How'd you keep up your tan without the sun?" asked Evelyn, scooping a large forkful of unidentifiable meat into her mouth.
"It's mostly natural, the lamps are designed to emulate the sun at Earth's surface."
"So you wander around naked?" said Evelyn, with a smile.
"Of course. It's good for me."
"I can see that."
"When do you intend to attack Kirsk castle?" Laurie asked, ignoring Evelyn's compliment.
"Later, after I've had a word with Christine, and after we've both had some sleep. If you don't want to come with me, I'll understand. It would put your job on the line, and I don't want that, if I can avoid it."
"Don't worry about me, we're partners, right?"
"Didn't you tell Kirsk that where you go, I go?"
"Well, then, that's settled," said Laurie decisively.
"I was hoping you'd say that. It's always a good idea to have back up. This is awful, by the way," she said disgustedly, looking at the thing on her fork with suspicion.
Laurie sighed and nodded. "Like I said, you can get used to anything, given enough time."
"There ain't enough days in the week," replied Evelyn, shaking her head.
* * *
Evelyn looked around, petrified. The room was filling inexorably with water. Masonry and metalwork crashed down around her causing great splashes, drenching her. She could feel the chill biting into her legs; the ice cold water already up to her thighs.
She backed up against the wall, shivering. "Please, help me," she moaned, barely above a whisper.
Water continued to pour in through holes in the roof and cracks in the walls. "Help!" she shouted, surprised by the loudness of her own voice. "Please... help!" she screamed.
"Evelyn, over here," a voice called from the partially collapsed doorway.
"Laurie, is that you?"
"Yes, Baby, it's me. Come on, we need to get out of here, the place is collapsing around us, we can't stay."
Evelyn tried to wade towards Laurie but she couldn't move. Looking through the crystal clear water she could see a hand tighten its grip around her ankle. The hand seemed to be buried in the floor.
"I... can't, my foot's stuck," she cried out.
"Pull it free, we don't have much time," shouted Laurie above the roar of the water. It had risen to Evelyn's waist.
"Please, you must help me, I've tried but I can't free my foot." She felt like crying, not in fear, but in frustration.
"Okay, I'll come and get you."
"NO!" shrieked Evelyn.
Laurie paused. "Why not?"
"You'll be trapped too, we'll both die."
"It doesn't work like that, Evelyn. Where you go, I go, remember?"
"But... but you mustn't, you'll lose your job. They'll send you back home."
"I am home, Evelyn, I'm with you."
"No, you don't understand, you must go, you must save yourself," pleaded Evelyn.
"Why?" asked Laurie. "Why must I save myself?"
"Because if you come to me, you'll die, don't you see that?"
"What would that matter?"
"Because... because I love you," said Evelyn, surprised at her own admission.
"Then we will die together," said Laurie, jumping down into the water and wading towards her. The floor shook beneath them. Their hands reached out towards each other, their fingers within centimetres of touching. A loud rumble vibrated up from below as the floor gave way.
"NO!" Evelyn's eyes snapped open, her whole body shuddering. She sat up, gasping for air, sweat glistening on her face and arms.
"That nightmare again," said Laurie, sitting up beside her and wrapping a powerful arm across her shoulders.
"It... it was horrible. I wasn't a child this time. And... and you said you would rather die than leave me." Tears filled Evelyn's eyes and streamed unchecked down her cheeks.
"Aw, Baby, come on, come to momma," said Laurie, pulling the distraught woman onto her shoulder. "There, there, it's all right, Baby. It was only a dream, you're safe now. I won't let anyone hurt my baby."
"You... called me your baby in the dream," whimpered Evelyn.
"That's because you are a little baby and I'm going to have to punish you." Laurie held Evelyn's wrists together, forcing her onto her face as she ran a riding crop across her bare back. "And children who play with guns are the worst kind, they have to be punished the most."
The alarm on Evelyn's wristband trilled next to the bed. Evelyn rolled over, disentangling her arms from the twisted sheet wrapped awkwardly around her. She leaned over and clicked her fingers above the device, silencing it. She rolled back onto her pillow, staring straight up at the ceiling. She took a deep breath to calm herself, her mind still caught in a whirl of images and feelings brought on by the dream. She rubbed her face with her hands, closing her eyes and concentrating on the reality of the small guest apartment.
"Whoa," she breathed out loud. "Well, that was different."
"What was different," asked Laurie sitting up beside her.
"I had the strangest... No! This is not happening!" Her eyes flicked open. She rolled over and checked the time. Still another hour before she was supposed to rendezvous with Laurie. She blinked rapidly, carefully patting the other side of the double bed she was sleeping in. It was empty. 'Thank god!' she thought. 'Then again...' she let the thought trail away into a smile. "There are worse people to dream I'm in bed with," she said out loud, laughing softly to herself.
"What's so funny?" asked Laurie as she emerged from the shower room, naked, drying her long black hair with a bright yellow towel.
"Enough!" shouted Evelyn, closing her eyes, trying desperately to centre herself. "This is not happening!"
She tentatively opened her eyes. The room was empty once more, save for herself.
She reached for her wrist display she left on the nightstand. She slipped it on and pressed a few buttons.
"Yes, Sergeant," came the bleary voice.
"I think I've been drugged with some psychotropic drug. I'm having weird dreams and hallucinations."
"How do you know I'm not an hallucination?"
"That's a good question, Doc, are you?" she asked resignedly.
"Well, I don't think I am, but you can never tell in these cases." His cackle echoed around her room.
"Doc, get Laurie to pick me up and bring me over to you. I'm not sure I can make it on my own."
"Of course, but isn't she right beside you?"
Laurie looked at her wrist pad, pursing her lips. She slowly turned around. Laurie was smiling at her, dressed only in white stockings and lacy white underwear.
"Oh God, help me," groaned Evelyn, slumping back down onto the bed.
* * *
"Hi, Doc," said Laurie, in between spoonfuls of breakfast cereal. The doctor sat down across from her.
"No pretty sergeant to share your breakfasts with these days?" he asked, smiling. "I heard you two were getting on really well."
Laurie frowned, pausing mid-spoonful. "She was supposed to wake me last night and then we were going to do something together."
"Sounds like fun."
"No, I mean really go and do something. Something important."
"I can't really talk about that, but it was important."
"She didn't do it, I take it?"
"No, she never called."
"Did you try calling her?"
"Of course I did!" she snapped. The doctor raised his eyebrows. "Sorry," she said, her shoulders drooping. "I'm worried about her. She doesn't answer my calls. I even went and knocked on her door, but there was no reply and it was locked. I think she may have done what we were supposed to do together, on her own."
"Is that bad?"
"Could be terrible," she replied dejectedly.
"Then we'd better find her then, hadn't we. Can't have my favourite engineer moping around like this, can we?"
"I can't go looking for her, if she's okay then it could jeopardise what she's doing. If she's not okay, then we'll know soon enough."
"That's not the attitude I'm used to hearing from you, Laurie. What's really wrong?"
"I'm... I'm worried about her," she said, tears glistening in her eyes. "I can't think straight I'm so worried."
"Come on let's start at the beginning and go from there," he said, standing up and taking her gently by the arm. She didn't resist as he led her towards his office.
* * *
"So you think Evelyn's gone off commando style to sneak around the science base?"
"Yes," sighed Laurie, slumped in one of the doctor's comfortable chairs.
"If she has, I'm sure she's all right. She's a trained soldier, she's more than capable of taking care of herself."
"But it doesn't make sense. Last night we talked about it over dinner. She said she was glad I was going with her, that she wanted the backup. Why would she then ignore that and go on her own?"
"I can't really say. Maybe she thought about it some more and realised it would be too dangerous for somebody untrained like you?"
"She knows I'm capable."
"Of course, Laurie. We all know that. Perhaps she... has a fondness for you and didn't want to see you put you at any extra risk?"
"I can't just sit here not knowing, Doc, I've got to do something."
"Have you asked the communications people if they can locate her wrist display?"
"I thought about it, but I don't want any more people in on this than necessary. Besides, she's military, it will have a stealth override if she wants to remain hidden, and I can't imagine she doesn't."
"Good point. Isn't there something you can try with your own equipment, just to see if she can be located?"
"I suppose," she said reluctantly.
"Can you do it from my terminal?" he asked.
"Not without a few extra bits and pieces," she said thoughtfully, a smile on her lips for the first time that day.
"Don't go away, Doc, I'll be right back." She all but ran from the room, glad at last to have something positive to do.
Within ten minutes she was back, carrying a small metal suitcase, which she dropped down on to the floor at the back of the doctor's main computer terminal. Snapping the catches on the back of his desk she lifted the panel away, revealing the workings. Taking a device from her case she disappeared inside the terminal up to her shoulders.
"Is it safe to be doing that while it's all switched on?" he asked.
"Not at all for you, but not a problem for me," she said, her arm snaking out and reaching into the case for another component.
She backed out and stood up. "There, all done. Now, if you'll allow me," she said cracking her knuckles and riffling her fingers above the keys of his terminal. She started typing at a frightening rate, her hands a blur. She stopped for a moment examining the screen closely, grinned and started typing again.
"Couldn't you just ask it the right questions, rather than all this old-fashioned finger work?"
"Not for what I'm doing, Doc, this is all strictly low-level."
"Ah, I see," he said, doing nothing of the kind.
"There, now we can do a few things that we couldn't before and no one will be any the wiser and there won't be any records of it, either," she said, proudly.
"Aren't you the clever one," he said, smiling at her.
"Yes," she said, without a hint of false modesty or inflated pride.
She waggled her eyebrows. "Science station. Locate. Sergeant Evelyn Bates." The terminal bleeped its acceptance of the command.
"Searching... Sergeant Evelyn Bates is not located in the science base."
"Damn!" The terminal ignored Laurie's outburst.
"Mining base. Locate. Sergeant Evelyn Bates." The terminal bleeped again.
"Searching... Sergeant Evelyn Bates is located in guest apartment thirty-seven, row five, corridor alpha."
Laurie frowned. "But I checked, I knocked on the door, she didn't answer."
"Perhaps she's a heavy sleeper?"
"No, she wakes up at a pin dropping."
"Oh does she?" he said, grinning.
Laurie blushed. "It's not like that, Doc."
"No, of course not. Well," he coughed. "I suggest we get over to her apartment and see what we can see."
"Right, just wait a moment, though," she said, snapping the metal suitcase shut. "We may need some of this."
* * *
They knocked repeatedly on Evelyn's door, but got no response. Looking up and down the corridor to check they were alone, Laurie pulled a small device from her case and held it up against the door lock. It clicked, allowing her to slide the door open. Inside, the lights were set down to almost a blackout level.
"Lights up," called Laurie. The room flooded with light, revealing a bed in disarray. Evelyn huddled motionless in the far corner of the room, her knees drawn up under her chin, staring vacantly ahead.
Laurie ran across the room, dropping her case. "Evelyn, what's wrong?" Evelyn blinked slowly. "Can't you stand up?"
"Stand up," repeated Evelyn, as she unsteadily rose to her feet, still staring vacantly in front of her.
Laurie took a step back, swallowing hard. Evelyn was holding her sidearm. "Evelyn, what are you doing with the gun?"
Evelyn looked down at the gun in her hand, frowning as if noticing it for the first time.
"Put down the gun, Evelyn, please," begged Laurie.
"I... I..." Evelyn flexed her fist, gripping the gun tighter. "I... I... c...can't do that," she grunted.
"Laurie, be careful," warned the doctor. Evelyn's head shot up.
"Yes, of course it is, don't you recognise me?"
Evelyn levelled the gun at Laurie and fired.
Laurie twisted away in a blind, reactive panic but the bullet still hit her in the chest, spinning her to the floor. She grunted once, rolling over onto her back, her eyes flickering shut. Evelyn looked down at her fallen partner impassively.
"Now don't do anything hasty, Evelyn," the doc stammered as he edged away backwards to the door, holding his case up in front of him like a shield. She ignored him, looking thoughtfully at the gun in her hand. She slowly raised it to her temple, her hand shaking with tension, as if trying to resist some outside force pushing the gun to her head.
"Evelyn, don't," croaked Laurie, trying to sit up, cradling her left breast in her hand. She gasped at the pain shooting down her chest and side. Pulling herself nearly upright using the bed, she staggered towards Evelyn. The soldier's finger was turning white from the physical effort of resisting the urge to pull the trigger. Laurie reached out for Evelyn's wrist, grabbing it just as the weapon fired.
"NO!" shouted Laurie as Evelyn's head snapped sideways and she slumped bonelessly to the floor, dragging a screaming Laurie with her.
* * *
"Please, somebody shoot me," groaned Evelyn. She had yet to open her eyes but the throbbing in her head was about as painful as she had ever experienced.
"I think you already tried that," said the doctor, leaning over her, gently touching the side of her head, examining the purple, mottled lump on her temple.
"You most certainly did, young lady."
"I... I don't remember."
"Not uncommon following a severe blow to the head. You've suffered a concussion and bruising to your brain, but with a little rest you should be back to normal. If you count trying to commit suicide and murdering your partner as normal."
"Murder... MY PARTNER!" shouted Evelyn, lurching upright and instantly regretting it as everything started spinning and nausea rushed in on her.
"Sorry, meant attempted murder. She's fine, though she too has got some pretty impressive bruising, if I say so myself," he said, gently but firmly pushing the distraught soldier back down onto the bed.
"What happened," she managed, keeping her eyes tightly shut against the spinning room.
"What's the last thing you recollect?"
"I... we had dinner. We were going to meet up later after a quick sleep. I went to my room and turned in. That's the last thing I can recall."
"You don't remember shooting Laurie then turning your gun on yourself?"
"No... I didn't really do that, did I?" she asked in disbelief.
"I'm afraid so."
"But... I wouldn't... why would I do such a thing? I lo... I would never shoot my partner."
"I can't answer that, Sergeant Bates, however I can tell you I saw it with my own eyes. Laurie was worried about you, you missed an appointment with her. She asked me to help look for you. We found you in your room behaving strangely. When Laurie approached, you shot her, then you shot yourself. If your gun hadn't been set on minimum you would probably both now be dead."
Tears welled up in Evelyn's eyes. "It's not possible, Doc, I just wouldn't do that. Not to Laurie."
"I'm sorry, but you did. I've checked your blood for any intoxicants or drugs but can find no trace."
"But I remember calling you in the night saying I'd been affected by a psychotropic drug."
"Not to me you didn't. I had a perfectly restful night. And I thought you said you only remembered getting into bed?"
"It... just came back to me... as we were speaking."
"Memory can work that way. Perhaps you'll remember more as time goes by?"
"I hope so." She looked up at the doctor. "How is she? Laurie, I mean."
"As well as can be expected. You shot her, that tends to hurt a lot. She's in her apartment resting. I've given her some painkillers. I've scanned her breast and ribs, there doesn't appear to be any permanent damage."
"On minimum it's only designed to stun. It's like being punched very hard. Not nice, but not usually lethal."
"You should know, I think," he smiled.
Evelyn tentatively touched her head, wincing as she lightly felt the lump. "Damn, that hurts. Maybe in the future I won't be quite so ready to pop people on the head. But it's what we were trained to do, it's just so damn effective." She cringed as she pressed a little too firmly on one spot.
"I think it best if you rest now. The director has taken possession of your weapon and she wishes to see you as soon as you're fit enough."
"Of course," Evelyn said quietly. She felt terrible both physically and mentally.
"Just rest, I'll come see you later."
"Okay, Doc," she replied, yawning and closing her eyes. She didn't feel lucky to be alive because it still seemed too incredible to believe.
* * *
"I don't care, I want to see her!" demanded Laurie. The doctor patiently shook his head.
"I wouldn't recommend it, Laurie. She... both of you, need rest, not more excitement."
"But we have to solve the case, we're running out of time."
"She's the one with the blow to her head, but you're the one behaving crazily."
"I have to know why she did what she did. I know it's connected to the case. Someone did something to her and sent her mad. They hypnotised her, made her do it. There's no way she'd harm me or herself."
"We don't know that, Laurie. You barely know the woman. She could have suffered a breakdown from the stress of not solving the murders."
"She's not like that, I know she's not."
"Because... because I just do, that's all there is to it."
"Hardly a good scientific explanation, Laurie."
"Damn it, Doc, don't you pull the kindly old guy routine on me, not now. My very good friend is hurt and confused, I have to be with her."
"You're an adult, you can do as you please, but just remember, I don't recommend it. Besides, she's probably fast asleep now, I gave her some painkillers and a sedative."
"It won't be too stressful, then, will it!" Laurie side-stepped the doctor, wincing as she twisted her body, momentarily forgetting her own injury. The doctor had strapped her ribs to support them and given Laurie some cream to help reduce the bruising on her breast. But it still hurt a great deal to move suddenly.
* * *
Evelyn nearly missed the gentle knocking on her door. She sighed, rolling over onto her back. "Come," she called out. Laurie pushed the door open and hesitantly stepped into the small room.
"Can I come in?"
"Looks like you're already here."
"Yeah, I guess I am. How do you feel?" Laurie asked.
"Like I've been shot in the head."
"I've had better days."
Laurie sat down on the edge of the bed, taking Evelyn's hand in her own. "I know you didn't mean to do it. I know there's a good explanation."
"You do? Good, well that's more than I do," replied Evelyn sourly.
"Don't you... remember anything?"
"I get flashes every now an' again, but it's like I'm suddenly remembering some old movie I once saw as a kid. It's vague and indistinct."
"Would it help if I told you what I know?"
"The doc's already gone over it once. You came in and I shot you, then myself. That about cover it?"
"That's the bare bones, I guess. But you weren't really there, Evelyn. It was like someone was controlling you and you were trying hard to fight it. When we first came in you were huddled in the corner, staring into space, like you were in a trance or something. You didn't stand up till I told you to. It was like you'd do whatever anyone ordered you to do."
"Did you tell me to shoot you?" asked Evelyn, puzzled.
"No, that's another thing. You didn't really react to anything until the doc called me by my name, then you looked at me and just pulled the trigger, like you were programmed to do it."
"I... I'm sorry, Laurie. I'd never knowingly do that to you. You mean too much to me. I just don't understand it..." she trailed away, tears glistening in her eyes. Laurie immediately pulled Evelyn's hand to her lips and kissed it. She leant down, trying her best to avoid Evelyn's sore head, hugging the soldier. She jerked in pain as the soldier squeezed back.
"Oh God, I'm sorry, Laurie, I forgot. Is it really bad?"
Laurie winced as she rubbed gently under her breast. "Feels like someone took a baseball bat to my boob," she grinned, covering up the grimace of pain that flickered over her face.
"I'm so, so sorry."
"Hey, it's all right, Sarge, I know you weren't yourself. Something was done to you to make you do it, and we've got to find out who, why and how."
"Think we must've been getting close without realising it, and spooked the bad guys?"
"I know it!"
"You sure you trust me? I wouldn't want you thinking I'm going to lose it and try to kill you again."
"I trust you, Evelyn. I'm not sure exactly why, but I trust you with my life. Some bastard did this to us and we're gonna get them."
"Yeah, let's get the sons of bitches!" Evelyn tried to sit up but abruptly fell back down as the room spun. "Though let's leave it till tomorrow, huh? Don't think I'm in any fit state to tackle anything but lying here holding hands with you."
"That's okay, I don't mind being in bed with you," said Laurie, grinning then wincing as she shifted position. "Can't promise much more than holding hands at the moment," she groaned, holding her chest.
"Never mind, when we're feeling more human I'll kiss it better."
"Yeah, what about her pal on the other side?"
"I'll save a kiss for her too."
"I'll hold you to that."
* * *
The following morning Laurie and Evelyn left the soldier's apartment and sedately walked to the nearest canteen.
"Look at us, like a pair of little old ladies," grunted Laurie, still protecting her battered chest with a crooked arm. Evelyn held onto Laurie's opposite shoulder, walking slowly to reduce the faint background effects of vertigo still swirling around in her head.
"Remind me not to play with guns, will you?" asked Evelyn.
"I told you not to, but you wouldn't listen to me."
"Yeah, well, you were the one who wanted to punish me with that riding crop."
Laurie stopped walking, turning to Evelyn. "What?"
Evelyn blushed. "I... I'm not sure where that came from. I... I just... had this sudden mental image of you... um, holding me down." Evelyn swallowed. "And threatening me with... um, a riding crop." She blushed even harder.
Laurie shook her head, letting out a deep breath. "The doc said the blow on the head might bring up some odd things. He wasn't kidding." They started walking again.
"Look, I don't know where that came from. It's not my fantasy, I don't want you to hold me down and whip me, okay?"
A couple of engineers passed by just as Evelyn was speaking. Laurie stared them down, but she could hear the sniggers as they left. She pursed her lips, turning to Evelyn who shrugged, trying a weak smile. "Oops," she said.
Laurie shook her head. "Come on, Loudmouth, let's go get breakfast before you tell the whole moon any more embarrassing little gems like that."
* * *
Evelyn gazed at her spoon.
"What's the matter? It's only cereal and milk," said Laurie.
"I can't help thinking that whatever flipped me out might have been something I ate."
"Relax, the doc ran all sorts of checks after I told him where we'd been. The food's clear of anything strange. And if it had been the food, we'd all have been going crazy, not just you."
Evelyn frowned and put down her spoon, staring at the table. Laurie touched Evelyn's hand. "Hey, I didn't mean it to sound like that. All I meant was that it wasn't the food, okay?" She squeezed Evelyn's hand in reassurance.
"What if it was?" asked Evelyn softly.
"What if it was, what?"
"If it really was just me going crazy?" She looked up into Laurie's eyes, her own filled with self-doubt.
"Hey, of course you're not crazy."
"How can you be sure? The doc's run every test he can, and found nothing. The most logical explanation is that I did go crazy, and I nearly got us both killed in the process."
"Don't say that, Evelyn, you just wouldn't do that. You're one of the most level-headed people I've ever met. Someone, or something, got to you and made you try to kill us. You have to believe that."
"How can I? Where's the evidence?"
"Right here, Evelyn," said Laurie reaching over and touching Evelyn's head. "If you had wanted to kill us, you would have set the gun to max and blown us both to pieces. Someone was controlling you from the outside and didn't know about the setting on the gun. It couldn't have been you."
"I'm glad you've got such faith in my ability to kill," Evelyn said quietly, unable to look at Laurie directly.
"You know that's not what I meant. Why are you giving yourself such a hard time? We're both still here. A bit battered and bruised, but we're here nonetheless. I say tonight we return to plan alpha and see what's over there that the scientists so badly don't want us to see."
Evelyn smiled. "You know what, Soldier? You're okay."
"Yeah, but you're worth it."
"So, now the pep talk's over, what are we going to do to prevent either of us being taken over again?"
"Ever the practical engineer, huh?"
"Yup. You know, I've been thinking, to do what they did, they had to take control of your brain, right?"
"Uh-huh," said Evelyn, noncommittaly, unsure where Laurie was going with this.
"I could put together a Faraday helmet."
"You know, a Faraday chamber, stops all electromagnetic radiation, but built into a hat."
"You want to make some hats out of what, chicken wire?"
"That'd work, sure."
"You're not serious?"
"What?" Evelyn raised her eyebrows.
"Just wanted to see if you'd go for it. I think you'd look kinda sweet in a chicken wire hat. It'd set off that purple bump a treat."
"It's a good job Christine's got my gun, else I'd be tempted to use it again."
"Eat your breakfast."
* * *
"I'm sorry, Sergeant, but under the circumstances I don't think it would be prudent to let you have your weapon back, just yet," said Christine, seated behind her desk. Dave Furlow hovered nearby.
"Ma'am, you can't keep it, it belongs to me. It is my responsibility as a member of the American armed forces to guard that weapon. I must have it back." Evelyn was trying very hard not to lose her temper.
"Don't you think you've done enough damage already?" asked the director's assistant.
Evelyn briefly considered her alternatives. A direct physical assault was tempting, but counterproductive. And in her present state she doubted she could pull it off anyway. She could hardly ask Laurie to assist her in forcing the director to return her weapon. She tried diplomacy.
"What if I were to remove the power cell and render the gun unusable, would you return it to me then?"
"What use would it be to you if it didn't work?" asked David.
She ignored him. "Please, Christine, I'm in enough trouble already without facing a military investigation into why I lost my weapon." She smiled as sweetly as she could manage.
The director leaned back and whispered into her assistant's ear. Evelyn watched him subtly shake his head.
"I'm really very sorry, Sergeant, but we think it would not be wise to return your weapon at this time. When the time is right, we will return it to you."
"And when will that be?"
"We will let you know."
"Fine," Evelyn said through gritted teeth. "Do you wish me to continue my investigation into the murders?"
"If you wish. I assumed you would rather take time to convalesce."
"I'm feeling much better, thank you, Ma'am."
"Do you wish for Engineer Stevens to continue to assist you?"
"I would like that, Ma'am."
"Very well, but Sergeant, please refrain from causing anymore trouble, and try not to kill our engineer, she's a very valuable member of our team." She smiled at her own attempt at humour. Evelyn cursorily smiled back.
* * *
"How'd it go?" asked Laurie as Evelyn left the director's office, though from the expression on Evelyn's face, she pretty well knew the answer.
"Before I leave this god-forsaken place I am going to have a little conversation with Mr Furlow," she growled.
"Oh goodie, can I hold your coat?"
"That you can, Laurie, that you can."
"We still on for tonight?"
"How's your boob?"
"Hurts like a sonofabitch."
"Slow you down any?"
"Yeah, but then my slow is still quicker than anyone else's fast," Laurie said, grinning.
"It's a good job Christine wouldn't let me have my gun back, 'cos when I concentrate and focus on something, it starts to drift a bit left or right."
"Still woozy, huh?"
"A little, but not enough to stop me finding out what the hell is going on in this place."
"Yeah, that's the sergeant I know and l... ike."
"Careful, Soldier, you nearly said the 'l' word."
"And what if I did?"
"Then I'd be forced to do this." She grabbed Laurie, swinging her round and pulling her down, and kissed her passionately.
"Whoa, what was that for?" gasped Laurie, staggering back a little when Evelyn finally let go.
"For believing in me, for never doubting me even after I caused you great pain and confusion."
"Oh that? That was nothing, it was easy."
"Yeah, piece of cake."
"Think it deserves another kiss?"
"It's what I'm hoping." She wasn't disappointed.
* * *
"Let's go over what we know again," said Evelyn, now back in Laurie's room.
"We have three original bodies, two of them found in strange circumstances. Which were highly unlikely to have been achieved by the victims on their own," said Laurie.
"Right," agreed Evelyn.
"Unless, of course, Williams was the other person for the first two murders and then killed himself."
"What, he scared himself to death throwing himself down the waste chute? Doesn't seem very likely."
"But we know that whoever's doing this has the ability to make people do things against their will. The first two allowing themselves to be crucified and buried in ice, Brenda with her machete, and then... you... with your gun."
"It's all right, Laurie, you don't have to dance around the subject. For reasons unknown I shot us both and have no recollection of doing it, or worse still, the slightest idea why I did it. I'd say your theory that someone can control our minds is a pretty good one."
"What's the link?"
"What do you mean?" asked Evelyn.
"I mean why three engineers, why Brenda, why us?"
"Well, we know the common link's the science base, we'd all recently visited it. What we don't know is the why."
"Perhaps the early ones were simple experiments. Tests just to see how far you could mentally manipulate someone. Brenda was maybe a little fun along the way."
"You mean the lash marks?" prompted Evelyn.
"Yeah, our person's got a sadistic streak maybe?"
"Or someone else got hold of the technology and thought they'd have a little fun too."
"Possible. What about us?"
"No, I didn't do it. Don't even like whips and chains and stuff. Can't speak for you, of course."
Laurie smiled. "No, I meant 'what about us' being targets, not 'what about us' being perpetrators of a bit of kink."
"I think we rattled someone's cage with comments about my team taking the place apart."
"That sorta narrows it down to Kirsk, doesn't it?"
"At the moment, he's my number one suspect. If it wasn't him directly I figure he must know all about what they've got over there and can put two and two together the same as we can."
"But he was willing to let you wander about the place on your own. Doesn't sound like someone with something to hide," said Laurie.
"Okay, then it has to be someone over there who has the ability to listen in on conversations in Kirsk's office."
"If they can control minds then I doubt a bit of eavesdropping would present much of a problem."
"Laurie, would you do me a favour? Something's just occurred to me."
"How... how did you know?"
"Know that my nickname came from me being called Duchess when I was in military training college."
"I... I didn't, Evelyn, it was just a wild stab in the dark. Why did they call you Duchess?"
"Doesn't matter now, let's stick to the investigation," Evelyn said, tersely.
Laurie could tell the subject was closed from the look on Evelyn's face. "What was it you wanted me to do?" she asked softly.
"Erm, oh yeah, would you take a real close look behind both my ears."
"What exactly am I looking for, evidence that you don't follow your mom's advice and wash behind them?" asked Laurie, as she gently pushed back Evelyn's hair and folded her ear forward.
"See anything unexpected?" said Evelyn, ignoring Laurie's comment.
"Let me get some more light on it. Hang on a moment." Laurie produced some glasses with spot-lights set in the frames from her equipment case. She perched them on her face and switched them on.
"Cute," said Evelyn.
"I find them useful for illuminating dark little places I want to look into."
"I bet you do."
"Hold still, Fidget-Features." Laurie peered closely behind Evelyn's ear. "Hmmm," she said.
"What does 'hmmm' mean?"
"It means turn around so I can look behind the other one."
Evelyn swung round, presenting the other side of her head. Once again Laurie carefully pushed Evelyn's hair back, this time being extra careful as it was close to the soldier's injury.
"You've got a lovely pair of ears and your skin is blemish free. Well, apart from that big ugly lump on your temple, that is."
"Aside from my lovely ears, what else did you see?" Evelyn asked in exasperation.
"You've got a small red patch on your left side that looks a bit angry. Did you hit it when you fell down?"
"Don't think so."
"Does it itch?"
"No, not really."
"Then why did you ask me to look there? And wouldn't the doc have been a better person to be doing this anyway?"
"I can't trust anyone, not even the doc, I'm afraid."
"But the doc, I'd trust him--"
"No, you don't understand. I can't even trust you."
"It's not what you think, Laurie, under normal circumstances I would trust you with my life."
"These aren't normal circumstances. Hell, I can't even trust myself," Evelyn said disgustedly.
"You think anyone can be taken over at any time?"
"No, I don't think it's that sophisticated. I think they need to administer an agent of some sort. I figure it couldn't be airborne, else we'd all be under the influence. So it has to be either oral or through the skin."
"And the only thing you touched that was unique to you, over in the science base, was those glasses Kirsk asked you to put on."
"So, now we go to the doc and get this red patch looked at, right?"
"Wrong. We do everything ourselves from now on. Get something to take a swab of my red patch and we'll slide it into the analyser, see what we can see."
"What are you expecting?"
"If I knew that I'd be saying 'You are in my power, hah hah hah'," Evelyn said, dropping into a not very convincing Eastern-European accent.
"Oh, very Bela. And what would you be telling me to do, pray tell?"
"To get me a cup of coffee and give me a foot rub."
"Doesn't sound too onerous."
"I'm sure I could come up with something better," said Evelyn, grinning.
"Like not shooting your partner and then yourself?"
* * *
"Well, hot damn, would you look at that!" exclaimed Evelyn. They both stared in amazement at the analyser's monitor.
"Now that's not what I expected," said Laurie. Minute organisms covered the slide. A few still wriggled about in a half-hearted fashion, but the majority were clearly dead. "No wonder your skin's red, your antibodies must be having a field day with these little critters."
"Are they really organic? They're not nano-technology, are they?"
"I'm no expert, but they don't look like robots to me."
"Well, there goes my theory. These are just locals along for a free ride. Probably don't like human blood and are wishing they hadn't bothered."
"Don't be too hasty in dismissing them, Evelyn. They may be the agent you were talking about."
"Nah, that would be a drug or toxin of some kind. Something that drastically affects brain activity. Not a bunch of little dead bugs."
"Why not? We don't have a clue what their effect on humans is. I know you don't want to, but I think we have to bring the doc in on this."
"No, we can't."
"Well... at least let me get something from him to kill those things," demanded Laurie.
"No, just get a first-aid kit and douse it with disinfectant for the time being. They seem mostly dead already."
"Okay, but first we put a drop on the slide and see if it does for the little buggers."
Laurie dripped some of the colourless, odourless liquid onto the slide. They watched on the monitor as all wriggling activity ceased instantly on contact with the disinfectant.
"Okay, Partner, time to get de-loused."
"Very funny," said Evelyn as Laurie applied the liquid to the red patch behind Evelyn's ear. Laurie put down the bottle and the swab then carefully started working her way across Evelyn's scalp with her fingers.
"What are you doing?"
"Looking for more infestations. You can't be too careful. Oh, there's one," Laurie said, pulling her hand back with a flourish, her thumb and forefinger held together.
"Where?" demanded Evelyn.
"Too late!" said Laurie, popping the unseen creature into her mouth and dramatically swallowing.
"You think that's funny, huh?"
Laurie laughed, shaking her head. "No, it's not funny at all," she giggled.
Evelyn let Laurie finish her not really laughing fit. "So, what we have are bugs that cause red patches, but they were in a suspicious place that, if my theory's right, is where Kirsk would have drugged me. With me so far?"
Laurie struggled with a grin, nodding her head in agreement. "If you're right, then shouldn't we find some red patches on the other bodies?"
"I doubt it now. Not after they've all be in deep freeze for as long as they have."
Laurie's eyes unfocused as she slipped into one of her meditative states. After a moment she came back out of it. "You know, simply hitting you with the bugs, assuming they're involved, wouldn't make you do what you did, would it?"
"I don't know. I'm not sure what they're capable of," replied Evelyn, not sure where Laurie was going.
"Well, I mean, they may be interesting bugs with strange properties, but I doubt they can whisper in your ear to tell you to shoot yourself. They probably only speak Europan, for a start."
"Yeah, I see what you mean. So that means that sometime during the night somebody came into my room and gave my some hypnotic suggestions."
"I suppose you've checked to see if you've got any rope marks on your wrists?"
"What?" Evelyn looked down at her wrists in a panic. Seeing nothing she looked up at Laurie's grinning face. "You're a real comedian today, aren't you?"
"I have my moments."
"Uh-huh, well how about getting out some of that fancy equipment of yours and checking to see if anyone contacted me over the coms link during the night."
"I'm on it, Boss." Laurie flipped the cover off her coms terminal and inserted a small metal box inside the panel. She typed something into the keyboard. "Right... oh, so it's like that is it!" she said.
"You normally talk to your terminal?" asked Evelyn.
"All the time."
"It ever answer back?"
"Nope, it's too well trained. Wouldn't dare."
"I'm so glad I asked."
"Hah, they tried to cover their tracks, but they didn't reckon on me being after their sorry asses," said Laurie gleefully, as her fingers raced across the keys. Evelyn smiled at the look of rapt attention on her partner's face. "Oh, that's not good... "
"What?" said Laurie looking up and focussing on Evelyn.
"I asked if there was a problem."
"Problem? No, there's no problem," said Laurie, mystified at the question.
"Never mind, just go back to whatever it is you're doing."
"Go get 'em, Tiger!"
"What?" asked Laurie, looking up again, mid-keystroke.
"Forget it, never mind, just... do it."
"Well, I would if you didn't keep interrupting," said Laurie indignantly.
"Come here and give me a kiss."
"What, now?" asked Evelyn.
"Sure, why not?"
"I thought you were busy."
"Not enough to miss out on a kiss. Besides," Laurie said with a flourish, "I'm done." She sat back with a smug grin.
Evelyn nudged Laurie to one side to look at the results of the trace. "I think that definitely deserves a kiss," she said, turning round and straddling Laurie's waist, sitting down on her lap.
"Who's a clever girl, then?"
"Me," replied Laurie closing her eyes and puckering up her lips.
* * *
"You sure this is the best thing to be doing?" asked Laurie as they trudged across the ice plain towards the science base in the far distance. They were kitted out in ab-suits and re-breathers, plus assorted equipment.
"Unless you've got a handy-dandy matter transporter in your back pocket, then yes, this is what we need to be doing."
"I've got a matter transporter back at base. It's called a snow truck and it would have got us there a damn sight quicker and with a lot less energy expenditure."
"Couldn't take the risk, they would see it coming and be prepared."
"Hah, they're not a bunch of friggin' scouts over there. We could fly in with a ramjet and they'd hardly notice."
"For someone who's got rippling muscles and is so keen to demonstrate their physical prowess, you sure do complain whenever the going gets tough."
"I am not complaining. All I'm saying is that there's covert and there's covert. I just don't think this is necessary, that's all."
"No one asked you to come."
"Yes you did."
Evelyn thought about it for a moment, as they plodded along. "Yeah, now you mention it, I guess I did. But I wouldn't have, if I'd have known I'd have to listen to this all the way there."
"Hah, you need me to keep you from falling into any acid ice."
"When exactly was the last time you actually walked anywhere?"
"I walk all the time."
"Not out here you don't."
"How do you know?"
"Because I know you. You're like a big old cat. You'd rather stay indoors in the warmth and sleep."
"You reckon, huh?"
"Okay, time to put your money where your mouth is, Sergeant. Race you to the science base."
Before Evelyn could answer, Laurie was pounding off into the distance. Evelyn threw her hands up in the air. "So much for covert," she grumbled, before chasing off after Laurie.
* * *
Evelyn finally caught up with Laurie underneath the sheer wall of one of the four atmos-generators ringing the science base. Laurie was bending over at the waist, resting her hands on her knees, drawing in great gulps of air. The atmosphere was less rarefied by the generator so she didn't have to rely so much on her re-breather.
"What... took... you... so... long?" she gasped.
Evelyn gave her a smug look, not breathing nearly so heavily. "Years of military training saved me from wasting my reserves. You might have got here first, but I'm the only one fit for duty."
"Oh... yeah? I... can... do... any... thing... you... can... do."
"Want to race me over to the station?" asked Evelyn pointing over to the base.
"In a... moment."
"Okay, let's rest here for a while. Looks like you could do with one," smirked Evelyn. Laurie gratefully slid down the wall and sat on the ice, idly flicking icicles of sweat off her forehead.
"Now what?" asked Laurie, her breathing finally coming under control.
"Now we crawl over to the base."
"Crawl? Please tell me you're kidding?" begged Laurie. Evelyn just grinned evilly as she slid down onto the ice and started towards the base. "You're not well!" hissed Laurie as she followed Evelyn's example.
* * *
"That sure was fun," grumbled Laurie, her tone at odds with her words.
"Moan, moan, moan. Is that all you ever do?" chided Evelyn softly, as they made their way along the wall of the main building. It had taken two hours of sustained crawling to reach the base. She doubted anyone had seen them in their all white ab-suits. This wasn't a military base, and probably didn't have any guards or perimeter sensors set up, but even so, Evelyn wasn't taking any chances. They'd probably only get one shot at this.
"There's only one entrance to the main building, so how are we going to get in there without being seen?" asked Laurie, as she crept along behind Evelyn, keeping her back to the wall.
"I'll let you know when we get there."
"You do have a plan, don't you? I'd hate to think I just spent the last six hours running and crawling here, only to find out you don't have a plan to get us through the front door."
"Of course I've got a plan."
"Good. Which is what, exactly?"
"I'll let you know when we get there."
"Great. You don't have a plan at all, do you?"
"I've always got a plan, but it's... on a need to know basis," grinned Evelyn.
"Of course, wouldn't want to upset thousands of years of military protocol in one mad frenzy of common sense, now would we?" snapped Laurie.
"We most certainly wouldn't," replied Evelyn solemnly. They crept on in silence.
"See anything?" hissed Laurie, huddling up behind Evelyn as the soldier observed the main front doors using a small mirror on a long, thin handle.
"It seems deserted," replied Evelyn, tilting the mirror back and forth.
"It's good to know that you guys keep up to date with the latest surveillance equipment."
"It's all done with smoke and mirrors," said Evelyn folding up the mirror and putting it away. She slid round the corner into the main loading area leading up to the main hanger doors. A small personnel door was off to one side.
She leaned up against its smooth plastic surface and listened. Slowly pushing the door open, she stepped inside. A moment later she stuck her head out and waved for Laurie to follow her.
"No one's around, no door sensors, no security," whispered Evelyn, shaking her head.
"And you're complaining?"
"No, it's just almost as if they're letting us in, they're toying with us."
"You're paranoid. All they do is monitor the snow trucks and send someone down if one comes their way. They're just not set up to deal with individuals creeping in from the cold. They have no reason to. It's not like they've got any restless natives to deal with."
"No, I guess not. Still, it doesn't feel right to me. I wish I had my gun."
"Well, look on the bright side, at least it means you can't shoot either of us with it."
Evelyn gave Laurie a withering stare before setting off down the corridor into the base. They made for Kirsk's office, creeping from doorway to doorway. "Where is everyone?" asked Evelyn.
"At a Dexter game?" offered Laurie.
"All of them?"
"It's a popular game."
"Yeah, but not that popular."
"Something's not right. There should be at least a few scientist types wandering around in white coats, carrying clipboards."
"Isn't that doctors you're describing?"
"Like I said, I wish I had my gun right now." It was Laurie's turn to give the withering stare.
Kirsk's office was empty. It seemed much smaller without the large screen playing views of cliff tops.
"That thing really works. I'll have to get one for my place," declared Laurie, switching the display back on.
"Can you use his terminal to try and locate him?" asked Evelyn.
"Well, when you've finished admiring the view, perhaps you'd care to do that?"
"Okay," said Laurie, distractedly watching a seagull float on some updrafts.
"In your own time... don't let me hurry you or anything."
"Okay, okay." Laurie quickly messed with the innards of the console, then set it searching for Kirsk.
"Director Kirsk is located in the submersible launch pen on level B5," intoned the console.
"Tell me the fastest route to B5 from Kirsk's office?" said Laurie.
"Elevator S4 will take you to the submersible launch pen located on level B5."
"And where is elevator S4?"
"That information is classified." Laurie raised her eyebrows in astonishment. She frowned for a moment before diving back inside the console, muttering darkly about it being impossible.
"Has Kirsk put in something you can't bypass?" asked Evelyn squatting down and watching Laurie swapping cables and components around.
"Nope," came the terse reply. Laurie resumed her position in front of the console and asked the elevator question again.
"The elevator is located at the back of director Kirsk's office."
"Open elevator S4's door," commanded Laurie. A section of the rear wall's panelling slid to one side revealing a small lobby.
"Curiouser and curiouser," remarked Evelyn.
"And I thought I knew pretty much everything there was to know about both stations. They must have doctored the plans."
"Makes you wonder what else isn't as it should be."
"Yeah. Maybe we should... oh, I don't know... go back and tell Christine about all of this."
"You getting cold feet, Soldier?"
"No, the ab-suit's doing just fine," replied Laurie, eyeing the small lobby apprehensively.
Evelyn sidled up next to her. "Hey, is there something really bothering you?" she asked her partner gently.
"I really don't like this, Evelyn."
"Something's got me spooked. I'm not sure what, but I have a really bad feeling."
"We have to go and investigate."
"You can stay here if you want to."
"No, we either both go, or we both stay."
"I have to go, you know that."
"Yeah, I guess so."
"Tell you what, come with me and I'll tell you why they call me Duchess."
"Really?" said Laurie, suddenly distracted from her inner alarm bells.
"Sure. Follow me."
* * *
"You're kidding me, right?"
"No, it's the god's honest truth."
"Wow, that is so..."
"You must promise me that doesn't go any further. It's strictly between you and me."
"And the drill sergeant," smirked Laurie.
"Yeah, well, he's dead."
"Oh." Laurie's eyebrows shot up. "You didn't--"
"No, it wasn't me. He died down in South America, nothing to do with me." The elevator shaft lights flashed by as they continued to descend.
"How long do you think it'll take to get there?" asked Laurie.
"It's got to drop nearly five kilometres I believe, so quite a while yet."
"What will you do when we get there?"
"I'll have a word with Director Kirsk, then we'll take it from there."
"What do you want me to do?"
"Try and stay in the background. You can be my trump card should things go wrong."
Laurie pulled Evelyn into an embrace, kissing her softly on the lips. "Promise me you'll be careful, Evie. These people have killed, or been responsible for, at least six deaths, not to mention trying to kill us both once already."
"I know. I've taken all the precautions I can. Now it's up to him where we go from here."
The elevator slowed and finally stopped, the door sliding open. They crept out into a massive domed room with gantries and cranes filling much of the space. Vast floodlights illuminated an open well of water in the centre of the floor. They ducked down behind some machinery, observing the people down by the pool's edge.
Kirsk lifted his arm, reading the display on his wrist. He smiled and turned to where Evelyn and Laurie were hiding.
"Ah, our guests have arrived," he said, his voice echoing around the large cavern.
"Whatever happens, stay put," hissed Evelyn, standing up and walking towards the group by the pool.
"Christine, why don't you make the sergeant welcome," grinned Kirsk. Christine turned around to face Evelyn. She was holding Evelyn's gun.
"Hello, Sergeant Bates," said the director, holding up the weapon and showing it to Evelyn. "As you can see it's not set on minimum anymore."
Evelyn stepped closer to Christine.
"Give me the gun," she said forcefully. The director hesitated for a moment, as if unsure.
"Here, take it," she said, handing the gun to Evelyn. The soldier pulled a small spray from her leg pocket and doused the weapon, liberally coating her own hand at the same time.
"Christine, Gerald, I want you both to listen to me carefully. You are both to just listen to my voice. Nothing else matters."
The science director touched his ear. "I must not let you escape," he said, almost conversationally, as he leapt at Evelyn. She easily parried his awkward lunge, spinning around and hitting him on the side of the head with her elbow, dropping him to the ground stunned. Evelyn grabbed Christine's head, twisting it sideways, exposing her neck, and pulled a small receiver from the director's ear. "Don't move!" she ordered. The director stood still, immobilised by Evelyn's command.
The soldier knelt down next to the scientist and removed a similar device from his ear, tossing both receivers into the water. She felt his neck for a pulse and was pleased to feel it beating firmly. Another death was the last thing she needed. She rolled him over and lightly tapped his cheek with the back of her hand.
"Come on, Kirsk, no time for sleeping now, we have a murderer to catch. And I'll bet they're watching us right now," she added quietly to herself. She looked up, sweeping the area for likely hiding places, but there were too many to choose from to narrow her focus. The scientist moaned and opened his eyes.
"Sergeant Bates?" he groaned.
"In the flesh."
"Why am I lying on the floor in the..." he looked around him, puzzled "submersibles bay?"
"It's a long story. I take it you're back to your old self?"
"I... I'm not sure. I do feel a bit... unwell. My head hurts."
"Yeah, well, sorry about that. I had no choice."
"You hit me?"
"You were trying to attack me at the time."
"That doesn't sound like me."
"Like I said, long story."
"Can I get up now, do you think? You're not going to hit me again, are you?"
"I'll try and control myself," Evelyn said, smiling and offering him a hand up.
"Did you get into a fight?" he asked, looking at her bruised face.
"Yeah, tried to head-butt a bullet. Didn't work out."
"You must forgive me, but I seem to have no memory of the past several... um, I'm not sure, really... days, I suppose."
"Make that weeks. Someone fed you a neural toxin that left you highly susceptible to hypnotic suggestion. You've been under someone else's control for some time."
"And Christine?" he said, nodding to the director.
"Yes. Oops, I forgot about her." Evelyn stood in front of the patiently waiting director. "Christine, I want you to listen carefully to me. I am going to touch your forehead and you will wake up and remember everything that happened to you. Do you understand?"
The director nodded. "Okay, here we go," said Evelyn, counting backward from five she touched her finger to Christine's forehead and gently pushed. The director blinked a few times, then her faced screwed up in panic.
"Oh my god!" she whispered. "What have I done?"
"You didn't do anything, Christine. You weren't in control, someone else was using you."
"You don't remember?"
"I... I... " she lapsed into silence. After a moment's pause "Boris? Boris Zyenko?"
"That's who we believe to be behind all this," replied Evelyn.
"Why Boris?" asked Kirsk, still mystified by the whole affair.
Evelyn turned to the bewildered scientist. "Laurie managed to trace a heavily disguised call to my room from his coms terminal the night someone tried to get me to shoot myself. Also, we know that part of the scheme involves the unusual properties of some local alien life. We suspect he discovered them while examining a core sample."
"I don't understand any of this," he said, shaking his head.
"Where is he now?" asked Christine.
"That we don't know."
"You mean he's still at large doing as he pleases?"
"Yes, and we have to be especially vigilant. He has the ability to make anyone do just about anything he wants them to. Oh, and before we go any further I have to check both of you for any red patches on your skin, especially around your neck and head, but really, they could be anywhere on your body."
"And why would you want to do that?" asked Christine.
"It's where you'll have your own little colony of Europans living on you. I'll just call Laurie over to assist." Evelyn turned back to where Laurie was hiding. "You all right over there, Laurie?" she called out. There was no reply. She ran back to where she'd left her partner, but it was empty. Laurie was nowhere to be seen.
* * *
"I'm not best pleased with you, Engineer Stevens."
"No, I'd imagine not." Laurie stood before the man as he swung back and forth in the director's chair. The view of the cliff tops had been changed to a live view of the surface. The light was slowly dimming and a strong wind was whipping up the ice in flurries. Two large men stood either side of her, both armed with machetes.
"You and your little soldier friend have made quite a mess of things. For your sake you'd better pray that I can put things right."
"That would be right as in you continuing to murder people, just because you can?" said Laurie.
Boris Zyenko smiled thinly. "Not that I owe you any sort of explanation, but most of them were mistakes."
"Oh, that's all right, then. Only a couple of them were real murders, so if you said you were sorry we could shake hands and all go home."
"You know, normally I quite like sarcasm, but for some reason it grates coming from you."
"Well, I'm real sorry about that, Boris. Really I am, truly."
"Would you be sorry if I told them to start chopping off your extremities, a small piece at a time?"
"Good, then I'm glad we've reached an understanding. I suppose you want to know why?"
"Not really. I'm sure your explanation would be full of self-righteous, self-exonerating bullshit."
"On the contrary, when I realised what I had stumbled upon, I knew straight away that Kirsk would never really understand the full potential. That's why I asked for the military to send me one of their own guinea pigs so that I could demonstrate what it was that I was offering them."
Laurie's eyebrows rose up. "You mean Evelyn's bosses sent her here just to see if you could get her to kill herself?"
"More or less. Cruel universe, isn't it?" he smirked.
"Hey, Boris, you want to know what really pisses me off in all this?"
"I'm sure you'll tell me," his smug grin remaining firmly in place.
"The fact that you think these two--" her right elbow arced out, hitting the man next to her in the side of his neck, making him stagger away "...could, in any way,--" Her fist swept round, connecting hard with the other man's chin "...keep me from ripping your stupid --" She lashed her right leg out, kicking the first man in the face as he fell, rendering him unconscious, following it with a roundhouse kick into the second man's stomach, dropping him to the floor. "... ignorant nuts off!" she roared, stamping on the handle of a dropped machete. The blade spun up into the air, the handle dropping neatly into Laurie's left hand. She repeated the move on the other machete, catching it in mid-spin in her right hand.
Boris rolled backward out of his chair, his face blanched white at the sudden turnaround. He raced for the elevator lobby as Laurie pulled one of the machetes back and threw it like a knife. The blade embedded in the wall next to Boris's head. He screamed, staggering back into the elevator, frantically calling for the doors to close.
"Tchah! Wuss," said Laurie, casually tossing the second machete onto the director's desk. One of the two men on the floor groaned and sat upright.
"Where am I? Jesus, what hit me? "
"A really pissed-off woman. Don't worry about it, just go back to sleep," said Laurie, barely giving him a second glance. She tapped the communicator on her wrist. "He took the bait, Sarge. He's on his way back down to you."
"Roger that, Soldier," replied Evelyn.
* * *
The elevator door opened revealing Boris Zyenko cowering in the back. He stepped carefully out into the cavern.
"Come on Boris, I haven't got all day," said Evelyn, sitting on a nearby barrel, holding her gun in her lap.
"Give me the gun!" he said.
"Attack her!" he shouted at the two directors emerging from behind the machinery where they had been hiding. Neither moved to do his bidding.
"Looks like you're out of options, Boris. You want to come quietly, or do you want me to shoot you a few times, just for the hell of it?"
"Bitch!" he shouted, looking around desperately for somewhere to run. Evelyn took aim and fired. The bullet hit him in the foot, knocking his feet out from under him. He cried out in pain as he crashed to the floor.
"Hurts, don't it?" said Evelyn as she took a bead on his backside and fired again. He screamed out in pain as the bullet hit home. "Count yourself lucky that I set it back to minimum, you sonofabitch!"
"I think you've made your point, Sergeant," said Christine, wincing as Boris thrashed about on the floor in obvious distress.
Evelyn snarled, stifling a comment she was about to make. She took a few deep breaths, then holstered her weapon. Leaning over Boris she pulled his hands behind his back and tied them together with a cable tie.
"Come on, Dipshit, we've got a nice warm cell for you and then a free ride back to Earth to face trial," said Evelyn, hauling the whimpering scientist to his feet.
"Shouldn't you be reading him his rights or something?" asked Kirsk.
"Yeah, you're right." She swung her prisoner round and shouted in his face. "Boris, you have the right to stand still while I hit you repeatedly, you understand me?"
"That's not quite what I meant."
"No, well it's the best you're going to get from me." She pushed Boris towards the elevator. Just as he arrived it opened and he fell into Laurie's arms.
"Please, help me, she wants to kill me," he blubbered.
"That makes two of us," replied Laurie, grabbing hold of his ear, forcing him up on tiptoes. "Tell me one thing, Boris. Why'd you make Brenda kill those players?"
"It was an accident. I wasn't even involved. I told him not to do it, but he wouldn't listen." The man started crying. "She was still highly susceptible to suggestion. He should never have let her go like that. Someone in the crowd must have said 'let's kill them' or something."
"Who's responsible, goddamnit, who?" shouted Evelyn, pushing the defenceless man up against the wall, her forearm across his throat. He choked and spluttered, shaking his head violently from side to side, trying to evade Evelyn's crushing grip.
"I think we've played bad cop, bad cop long enough," whispered Laurie into Evelyn's ear.
"You think," she said grinning at Laurie and letting the man go. "I was quite enjoying that. Can't I shoot him in the butt just one more time?"
"Well, I guess we could get him to turn the other cheek," said Laurie grabbing the weeping man and spinning him around till his backside was facing Evelyn.
"No, please, I'll tell you everything!" he cried. Evelyn and Laurie grinned at each other in triumph, but the two directors felt a little queasy.
* * *
"This sure beats crawling," said Laurie as she gunned the ice truck into top speed.
"You're too soft for this woman's army, you know that, don't you?" remarked Evelyn, standing behind the driver's seat and looking out the front screen. The light beams of the truck illuminated the sparkling ice, broken only by the occasional patch of yellow.
"Hah, show me anything you can do, and I'll do it better!"
"Yeah, how about this?" She leant over, pulling aside Laurie's long hair, and kissed the back of her neck, causing the vehicle to swerve slightly as Laurie jumped.
"Much as I can appreciate you wanting to do that, Sergeant, perhaps it would be best when Engineer Stevens is not driving the vehicle at top speed in the dark?" said Kirsk from the back of the vehicle.
Evelyn shrugged. "Guess so, but it's not like there's anything to hit out there, and even Laurie, rotten driver that she is, isn't going to manage to hit a mining base."
"Keep it up, Short Round, I'm making a list," growled Laurie.
"Yeah, whenever you're ready, Stretch."
"You don't suppose they've been put under again, do you?" Kirsk whispered to Christine.
* * *
"We have to get everyone to report to the doc to check for any signs of contact with the bugs," Laurie said to Evelyn, as they walked down the main corridor, each of them taking one of Boris Zyenko's arms.
"Yeah, good idea. That includes all the scientists."
"Especially the scientists. I reckon they're all likely to be still under Mesmer here's control." Boris remained silent.
"So, are we going to find us a nice deep, dark hole to drop him down for the next month or two while the cavalry gets here?"
"I know just the place. But first we better see if anyone ever actually did call for reinforcements. Christine maybe only thought she did."
"True, good thinking."
"Stop right there, ladies."
Standing at the end of the corridor was David Furlow with two men, both armed with machetes. Furlow had a thermal projector.
"Well, well, another bug has crawled out from under his rock," said Evelyn.
"Shut your mouth, bitch. I can melt both of you into a puddle where you stand with this." He waved the mining tool menacingly at them.
"Wouldn't that kinda do for your buddy here, too?" asked Laurie.
"I don't mind a little collateral damage."
"I bet you don't," said Evelyn.
"Put your hands up where I can see them," he ordered, pointing the barrel of the projector at the soldier.
"That what you used to melt Sue Obukoo into the ice?"
"I said shut up!"
Evelyn flinched slightly as she felt something unexpectedly touch her back. Laurie's hand was feeling for her holstered gun. "Why the crucifixion?" she asked, trying to keep him distracted.
"No reason, I just liked the image."
"And the waste chute?"
"Hah, Williams got greedy. Wanted to start slaughtering wholesale. He was an arachnophobe; I told him he was surrounded by giant spiders. But I wouldn't shed any tears for him if I were you, he was a sick bastard."
"And you're not?"
Furlow smiled thinly. "Come here Boris, they won't stop you."
"The hell I won't. We let him go and you'll burn us for sure."
"Oh, well, sorry, Boris, you can't say I didn't try." He raised the barrel and aimed it at the three of them.
Laurie pulled Evelyn's gun free and snapped a shot off at Furlow, hitting him in the chest. She fired twice more in rapid succession, striking him dead centre each time. Two more shots followed, slamming the other men in the head, dropping them to the ground unconscious.
"I thought you didn't like guns?" said Evelyn, surveying the devastation Laurie had wrought.
"I don't, but I never said I didn't know how to use one."
"One day, Princess, you're going to die of smugness, and I'm going to be there to see it."
"Yeah, really. Now give me back thing before you start shooting folks for fun." She snatched the gun back from Laurie. Boris sagged to his knees, weeping softly.
"What's with him?" asked Laurie.
"Maybe he's overwhelmed with your presence?"
"I can understand that," she smirked happily.
* * *
"You know I was rather hoping he would run and then we could have ended this in a high-speed chase across the ice, or something dramatic like that," said Laurie, leaning back in the doctor's large leather chair and putting her feet up on his desk.
"Or maybe an underwater chase in submersibles?" said Evelyn, sitting down in Laurie's lap, casually brushing some of Laurie's errant hair behind her ear.
"When you two have finished fantasising about happy endings perhaps you'd care to join me for a cup of tea?"
"Sounds good to me," said Laurie.
"Me too," agreed Evelyn. "And you never got to rescue me from drowning. What is it with dreams, huh? You just can't rely on them."
"Talking of dreams, isn't it about time I gave you a bit of a cropping, you naughty girl?" asked Laurie, a wicked grin spreading on her face.
"I'm not sure I should be listening to any of this," said the doctor.
"It's okay, Doc, she's just having one of her funny turns," said Evelyn, tweaking Laurie's nose.
"I get the feeling that you two would rather be alone than sharing your time with an old fart like me."
"No, we'd love to stay and have a cup of tea with you, Doc," said Laurie. Her breathing caught as she saw the look in Evelyn's eye. "On second thoughts..." she closed her eyes as Evelyn leaned in for a kiss.
The doc smiled and quietly left the room. There would be plenty of time for shared cups of tea in the weeks ahead. What the future held after that was anyone's guess.
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