Of Dinosaurs and Denials...
OF DINOSAURS AND DENIALS
The entranceway onto Space Station 64 led out into the spaceport concourse where travelers of all walks of life were greeted by others who'd anticipated their arrival. A very serious-looking young man in the uniform of a first lieutenant stood erect, scanning the crowd.
"Mr. Clark?" he called out.
Am I that obvious? Clark thought to himself as he walked toward the lieutenant.
"Mr. Clark! On behalf of Colonel Susan Jackson, welcome to Space Station 64," the lieutenant said, shaking Clark's hand, "My name is Lieutenant Rice, and if there's anything you require, please let me know and I'll see that it gets to you."
"Thank you," Clark replied.
"If you'll follow me, I'll show you to your quarters. You have a meeting scheduled with Colonel Jackson in about two hours."
They entered into a tram station and boarded one of the cars. The tram was tubular, with a set of two sliding doors on each car. There were about six seats in each car, and they quickly chose a spot to sit down. A whistle sounded and the tram moved off through the tunnel.
Clark had showered and changed after a long four-hour trip from Mars central. Admittedly, it was faster than light travel, but still a long way. He'd reviewed the documents that were mailed to him on the investigation, so he knew what he was getting into. A Gok vessel had disappeared only 1200 kilometers from the station during training maneuvers with an earth vessel, the USS Foster. The Gok were very upset, claiming that it had been attacked by the Foster. Of course, most of it was political saber-rattling, Clark figured. Years ago the two factions had almost gone to war over a combination of religious and political ideology. That was, however, at least fourteen years ago, when Clark was out patrolling the edges of known space for Gok intruders. He glanced into the mirror during his thoughts. He took notice of his balding head and gray temples. His face was worn, showing every bit of his forty-eight years. Retirement had been good to him, especially finding this job with the Stellar Transportation Authority as an investigator. He felt he'd truly found what he wanted out of life. The rest of his team would arrive tomorrow and they could begin the investigation procedures. He went back over the documents again.
The door buzzed. Clark pressed the intercom button.
"It's Lieutenant Rice, sir. I've come to take you to Colonel Jackson."
"Just a minute," Clark replied, checking his shirt, tie, and hair (at least what was left of it). He grabbed his things and left with the lieutenant. Clark never realized who Colonel Jackson was until the office door opened up and he saw her standing behind her desk. She looked at him in surprise as she held out her hand in greeting. Clark felt ice water run through his veins as he grasped her hand. It was what had felt like a million years ago since he saw her last. She had shoulder-length auburn hair which looked as if it hadn't changed since the day they last saw each other. He was amazed that her emerald green eyes could still capture his attention, just like the old days. She was Second Lieutenant Susan Mallavore back then. How long had it been? he tried to remember, nineteen? twenty years?
"That'll be all, Lieutenant," Jackson said, breaking Clarks daydream in the process.
After Rice closed the door, their hands were still gripping and they stared into each other's eyes.
"How long has it been, Herb?" she asked.
"More years than I care to remember," Clark replied.
She looked at him, "It's good to see you! When I sent out the initial incident report, I never expected--"
"I didn't, either. I see your name is Jackson, now."
"Unfortunately," she grimaced, " My louse of an ex-husband seems to haunt me wherever I go. I only kept it because of the difficulties involved with changing it through the military. Also, my reputation as a commander has been based on the name Jackson, so I guess it's a small price to pay."
"You look good."
"So do you," she replied. A long, uneasy silence held them as they tried to re-focus on the reason for their meeting.
Clark pulled out some hard copy from his attaché case, "Well, the way I see it, we have a real mystery on our hands here," he began, "A ship mysteriously disappears from the scanners during a routine training mission."
"Yes. The real problem is the fact that it was the first time the Gok had ever joined in maneuvers with earth forces. The political situation is really ugly right now."
"I'll bet. When can I interview the crew of the Foster?"
"They'll be in port in about three days. They had a priority mission to complete, and there wasn't another ship that could do it."
"What about the area where the disappearance occurred? Can we look for any signs of debris?"
Actually, I anticipated your request and gave orders for the station to be moved into the area."
"Moved?" Clark asked, looking up from the documents.
"Why yes, of course!" Jackson replied, startled by Clark's comment, "Oh, I forgot. You never got to pull any station duty while you were in, did you? Well, its very simple, really. The station is basically a very large ship with minimal thrusters. However, they're powerful enough to push us around as if we were a very slow moving spaceship. As long as we stay within the quadrant, the positioning beacons will adjust the coordinates to compensate."
"I see, " Clark responded, although he really didn't. His specialty was flying small spacecraft, fighters, mostly. He'd never held a command job higher than squadron commander. As a matter of fact, he didn't really want one. He liked being able to run a small operation, such as a flying unit. That way he could still get into the cockpit. However, those in the rank of Lieutenant Commander didn't get to do much flying. As a manager, his reputation for keeping things on time was legendary, and ship's captains throughout the service vied for his talents when the need came up. It often led to an admiral-level decision when it was time for him to change assignments.
His reputation as an organizer led to his being put in charge of the small four-person team which looked into incidents such as the one he was currently assigned to by the stellar traffic board on earth. Each member of the team had a talent, and he knew exactly how to put each of them to good use, assembling a formidable working group.
Jackson changed the subject, "I've arranged for you to use conference room twelve for your investigation. Your team members are all taken care of and you have an alpha two level clearance on the station computer network. My staff will help you in any way we can."
"Thank you. As soon as my team gets here and set up we can begin."
Jackson stood up and Clark followed suit, gathering up his belongings. He started for the door.
"I have a busy schedule here, " Jackson began, "But I'd like to get together with you sometime while your here. What about tomorrow night?"
Clark turned around, "Yes, that would be great!"
"We can sort out the details after I see what's on my schedule for tomorrow."
The team sat around the conference table in room twelve, which was actually designed for about fifty people. Most of the team's equipment was spread out along the wall opposite the door. Much of it hadn't even been unpacked yet. Clark moved to the head of the table and plugged in his workboard. The keyboard was displayed on the workboard's touch-sensitive multi-purpose screen, and he inserted the back of the unit into the small interface slot on the desk. He touched a couple of the "keys" on the board's surface, and an image of a battleship appeared on the conference room screen. The ship was long and rectangular. There was very little detail on the hull, except for one tower slightly forward on the vessel. The aft section was all engine, as the hyper drive unit accounted for much of it.
"This is the USS Foster," Clark began his briefing, "A middle range battleship with a crew of approximately one hundred. It's equipped with hyper-light drive, repulse shields, and rocket thrusters. It's armament includes twenty-five close range nuclear missiles and five 50 gigawatt laser cannons. Scanning range for the ship is 2500 kilometers. Optimum is 150. This was the closest ship in the area when the accident occurred. They were tracked at 75 thousand kilometers from the site,"
Another picture came up on the screen. It was another ship, but radically different in design. The shape was flat, like the Foster, but rounded with no sharply defined corners. The ship tapered from bow to stern. It was also a brighter color, more white than the dark gray of the earth ship.
"This is the Gok ship that disappeared. The closest pronunciation of its name is Grzbk (he pronounced it 'grizbik'), and I know that's probably not right. We don't know much about this ship at all. The small facts I've been able to dredge up were from the public library. It has something similar to hyper-drive, but faster. There is a deflector capability, but the armament is unknown. I'm working to try to get more information about the ship. Meanwhile, were going to concentrate on the witnesses,"
The picture changed again, this time a man's face appeared. He was a Captain, with graying hair and a stern expression. His eyes showed the wrinkles of years of space service. His round face held his eyes like to blue marbles, set close his nose, with big bushy gray eyebrows to frame them.
"This is the captain of the Foster, Captain John Carack. He's won the Navy cross and Stellar Point, which is the highest award next to a Medal of Honor. That's hard to do during peacetime. His crew is totally dedicated to him. They'll follow him through a black hole, if necessary. He and his crew may be able shed some light on what's happening here. They'll be in tomorrow. We'll start there,"
The lights came up and the picture disappeared from the screen.
"Here's the plan: Yoshi and Fukai, you're going to start looking for debris from the Gok vessel. Alhambra, you're going to see if you can get anywhere with the station logs and look for anything which could determine what happened in space. I'm going to work with Colonel Jackson to get the Gok government to supply us with any additional information. When the Foster gets here, I'll start interviewing the crew."
George Fukai stared out the window into space as the scanner worked its magic. He'd programmed it to sense large objects, smaller than ships but larger than dust. He watched while the machine hummed and beeped. Occasionally, he'd get an alarm, and go to the viewer. Usually it was just a large meteor or piece of garbage from the station's ejection pods. The scanner chimed again. He looked at the viewer and checked out the find. It was a piece of something, and it definitely wasn't like the other finds. He raised the magnification. The object was a piece of jagged metal, twisted and charred. It looked to be about two meters long by half a meter wide. It was part of something, he thought. He grasped the controls on the grabber arm, telescoping the arm outward into the void. The piece appeared to be tumbling end-over-end. He'd have to find a way to stop it before he could grab it, or it would tear off the arm.
Clark had Captain Carack sized up pretty well. A career officer, trained for battle with the Gok from the earliest, he felt he'd done his part by defending the region from the so-called vicious and ruthless Gok. Little was known about them, other than their strong territorial pride and complete lack of consideration for anyone's rights, other than their own. The troubles began when a colony on the outer regions of known space was violently attacked and destroyed by the Gok forces. They claimed that the planet in dispute had been their territory, and they were protecting it. Public outcry in response to the event was loud and definitive. The people of the earth worlds wanted blood, and fast. Through skillful negotiation, a war was averted and tensions, although remaining, had relaxed slightly. All that was over twenty five years ago. The world had changed, and with it the Gok's tolerance of races other than their own. They were no longer considered the malevolent killers, as they were once portrayed. However, not all shared this new view of the Gok, including Carack. They were still something to be hated, a symbol of evil at its worst. Clark never quite trusted the Gok, either. One thing he had learned, though, was that not everything appeared to be what it seemed. Carack's scowl and expression was showing much more than a dislike for the proceedings.
"Let me ask you something, Clark," Carack began, "Why is our government wasting time on a conehead ship?"
"The Gok ship," Clark replied, using the proper term, rather than the slur Carack used, " was lost in earth space, therefore that makes it our problem."
"The bastards think we shot them down, don't they?"
"It's not important what they think. I'm here to find out what happened."
"Well, it's no skin off mine what happens to them."
"Thank you, captain. We may want to contact you again," Clark said as he began gathering his things. The interview was over.
Carack just grunted. Clark turned and left the captain's ready room and headed for the dock port back to the station. The First Officer, Commander Colby, entered the room.
"How did it go?" Colby asked.
"Rough. He's going to be a problem," Carack observed.
"The crew's behind you sir, one hundred percent."
Carack turned to face his First Officer, "How many of our bridge crew were actually aware of what happened at Q-170?"
"Well," Colby thought for a minute, "There's Blake, Reiger, Clifton.."
"And Cardenas," Carack added, cutting him off, "That's only a handful of officers and two chiefs. If anybody else decides to spill this, there's going to be a lot of shit."
Clark's workboard beeped, signaling an incoming message as he made his way back from the Foster. He set down his attaché case and activated the board. It was Colonel Jackson.
"Herb, we've got a problem. I need you in my office, right now. Where are you?"
"I'm just leaving the Foster."
"Something's come up."
The Gok were standing directly in front of Jackson's desk. There were two of them. Their bodies were conical, with a large nose between two dark, round eyes. Their mouths were V-shaped slits about two centimeters under their noses. They reminded him of cartoon characters. Their arms--if you could call thin, snakelike appendages arms--were wrapped together, similar to the way a human folds their arms in front of them. They moved on two large suction cups just beneath the largest portion of their conical body.
"Mr. Herbert Clark, meet the delegation from the Gok government. Due to the complexity of the Gok language, we'll forego names, " Jackson introduced, "This one on the right is a Gok senator."
The Gok on the right spoke first.
"My government wisshess to adddd one of ourr innnvessstigatorrsss to yourrr teammm," he said.
The Gok had a very hard time with vowels, and tended to over-pronounce their consonants, since their native language had no vowels.
"In this way, we can monitor the proceedings to insure fairness and objectivity," the Gok continued.
Clark surmised that this must have been what the urgency of the situation was.
"As I stated earlier, my government is conducting this investigation according to our law, and requires no outside help--" Jackson replied.
"You shall get no cooperation from us unless a Gok member is added to the team!" the Gok interrupted.
Clark had a headache after dealing with Carack, now he had to deal with this.
"We can always go home and let you do your own investigation," Clark replied.
The other Gok spoke, now, "Our government has already decided that our ship's disappearance was the result of an attack."
"On what do you base that theory?" shouted Jackson.
"We have no need of theory, Colonel. If we believe it to be so, than it must be so." the first Gok responded.
"You mean to tell me that you have no need for an investigation?" Clark asked, "What about the truth?"
"Truth is relative," the second Gok replied, "Your truth is different from ours, based on the way you perceive your world."
"Then why do you want an investigator attached to our team?" continued Clark.
The Gok looked at each other for a long moment. One began talking to the other. Their language sounded like a different series of clicks and chirps. The one on the right waved his "arms" around while speaking. The other turned to face the rest.
"There is great turmoil among our people right now. We were sent by the opposition group to monitor the investigation. The ruling group wants war with earth. We do not share this opinion, and want to discover the truth of what really happened. This would prevent war and the unnecessary loss of life."
Clark was surprised by this sudden turn of events. The Gok want to avoid war? Their religion turned out to be what caused most of the strife. Gok believed in the here and now. The only thing of any relevance at all was what they saw, felt, and touched. Their beliefs basically revolved around the concept of one's existence, and everyone's world was interconnected to another's in some way, usually by personal association. This too, was based on personal experience and observation. There was no teaching, only a passing-on through demonstration. Truth was an abstract concept to them, because truth was intangible. Stories were intangible, only the personal experience of tried and true methods were considered tangible. A machine worked because it did, not because it was designed to. The components in the device were merely set in a way to work properly. It was a combination of components that made up their technology, rather than the theory behind it. They were masters of the art of trial-and-error.
"In that case, welcome aboard," Clark acknowledged, reaching a hand out to the Gok.
Dee Yoshi held the scanner across the piece of wreckage they'd brought aboard. She played the instrument across the surface, checking the readouts on her workboard display. It analyzed the entire structure, right down to the chemical analysis of its material. It was a plastic mineral blend, manufactured by means of a cellular bond. Nobody in the known universe was known to have this sort of capability. Her first assessment of the piece was that it was manufactured by a process developed by the Gok. There were many things the Gok never mentioned, and their shipbuilding techniques were among them. She picked up the light pen and scribbled a note to herself on the board, then paged back through her results. She put the scanner down and placed her board in the interface socket on the table.
"Find something, Dee?" George Fukai asked, looking up from his work.
"Maybe. I've got to check something, first."
George and Dee were as close to being married without actually being married. They'd known each other since grade school, they grew up together in Japan, and wound up following each other through school and into adult life. Originally, they preferred working with each other because they'd known each other, then they developed a routine which was like a harmony together. Each knew what the other was thinking, one could anticipate what the other was going to do, yet they had their own areas of expertise which were separate from each other. George was the engineer. He could tell you all about what part went where, and how a hull came apart or what had penetrated its surface. Dee was the chemist and analysis half, meticulously identifying traces of chemical residue or minute bits of material which could often shed new light on a case. The two of them made up the scientific portion of the team, taking their entire laboratory with them to the site.
"I thought so," Yoshi remarked to herself, looking up from the board.
George went over to investigate.
"Here," she pointed at the display, "It's not part of the ship's original design. That's paint residue from an earth forces vessel. Standard gray."
Fukai looked where she'd been pointing. She cross referenced the chemical formula found on the wreckage to the station computer library to confirm the substance. It matched with components used in the paint of a Stellar Defense vessel.
"I can only think of one way paint from one ship could get on the hull of another.." Fukai remarked.
"You got it," Yoshi agreed.
"I'll run a simulation and see what comes up."
Neither one saw Clark enter the room with a Gok following closely behind. The suction cups made movement much slower for the Gok, forcing Clark to stop frequently, waiting for the Gok to catch up. Yoshi and Fukai looked up when the door closed behind them.
"Meet your new teammate," Clark said.
Yoshi and Fukai just exchanged glances and stared.
"When they get over the shock, I'm sure they'll be pleased to meet you," Clark told the Gok, "Where's Alhambra? I got a job for her."
"She's still analyzing the station logs," Fukai answered.
The Gok held out his "arm" to Fukai.
"I am pleased to make your acquaintance," he said.
"Oh, yeah. Excuse me, welcome aboard. I'm George Fukai, and this is --"
"Dee Yoshi, pleased to meet you," she interrupted, embarrassed at having treated the Gok so badly.
"His specialty--at least I think you are a he--is spacefaring tactics and navigation. He'll be our liaison to the Gok for the remainder of this investigation.
"You are correct in your assumption of gender," the Gok replied.
"We could use someone who knows how ships move through space. It might help establish scatter patterns for debris," Fukai remarked, knowing full-well that task could be handled just as easily with computer simulations.
Yoshi wasted no time integrating the Gok into the team. She pulled up her workboard and showed it to him, "I don't know much about the makeup of your ships, but this appears to be a chemical which is foreign to your vessels. Is that true?"
"I am not aware of any chemical compounds like this."
"Can we get access to Gok records concerning this ship?"
"I am only allowed to give you the basic information."
"Good! " Fukai interjected, "I'm getting ready to run a simulation, and knowledge of the structure of the ship would be a help.
Lisa Alhambra entered the room holding her workboard. She was tall and dark-complexioned, with wavy black hair which fell around her shoulders and accented her high cheekbones. She put her board down on the table and sat down, running her hands through her hair.
"Oh, god!" she lamented, "Hours and hours of nothing but long columns of numbers on charts! If I see another grid, I'll die!"
"Good, because I have something else for you," Clark told her.
"More charts?" she asked, her dark brown eyes peering through her now-touseled hair.
"No, I need your other talent."
Lisa Alhambra was a good investigator, her research techniques made her a highly sought-after source for many authors and reporters. She could recall things about ships that most people couldn't even remember. There was, however, a side to her that the rest of the world didn't know about, with the exception of those on the team, some relatives and close personal friends. She had the ability to read people, something Clark was only half as good at. He took her along to interviews and let her watch what was happening. She was also a pretty good observer when it came to body language and facial expressions. That was what Clark had in mind. He activated his workboard and handed it to Alhambra.
"Take a break and look at these testimonies for me, see what you think," Clark said.
Clark was back in his room, studying the dossiers on the command staff from the Grzbk. It had taken a little cajoling, but the Gok came through. They had to find a name for that guy, instead of calling him 'the Gok' all the time. He wondered if the Gok wouldn't mind being called 'Binky,' but that alone would probably be enough to set the Gok government on the warpath. He turned his attention back to the dossiers. The captain had an impressive record, being involved in several successful campaigns and being highly decorated for bravery and such. He'd been around almost as long as Carack had been, hell they could've gone graduated together, he thought. The captain's name was Zzzzz, or at least that's what the translator had interpreted it as. This guy had a no-nonsense approach to command, and took no prisoners. Not the kind to meet in a dark alley. It seemed most of the details of Zzzzz's career never made it past the Gok security people.
His door buzzed. He opened it, letting Alhambra into the room. She handed him the board.
"So what did you think?" Clark asked her.
"Something's definitely up. A lot of them were fidgety during their interviews and the captain, well, I don't think he requires any further comment. They're hiding something."
"Look, I know that the boat crowd is normally a tight unit, maybe a little rowdy when they're in port, but there was something else. I can't put my finger on it."
"They didn't act like witnesses to an incident, did they?"
"Way too good a description for people who were supposed to be kilometers away at the time. Nobody has scanners that good."
"Dee found gray paint traces on the wreckage we pulled in. George is running a simulation."
"I don't see what good that'll do, the nearest ship was kilometers away when it happened."
"Somebody was there. Whoever it was got gray battleship paint on the hull of the Gok ship. That much we know already."
"Coming back to the room today?"
"What time is it?"
"No, I've got a meeting."
Alhambra laughed, "A meeting? Don't you mean a date?"
Clark frowned at the remark.
"You know you can't hold back anything from me, why do you try?" She taunted.
"Because I have a right to privacy, too."
"So don't be so obvious. It's Colonel Jackson, isn't it?"
Clark had been forced into the open once again. Alhambra must really derive pleasure from getting people to reveal their innermost secrets, he thought.
"It was a long time ago, in a faraway place," he answered.
"She really means something to you, doesn't she?"
"No, now cut it out!"
"Oh, come on. Its eating you up."
Clark sighed, realizing he'd been outmaneuvered again and decided to give her the whole story. In a way, this bizarre game she played actually allowed him to get deep seated frustrations off his chest. For that, he was grateful. It was someone to talk to.
"Just remember, you asked for this," he said as he began, "We were just out of the academies. She was stellar strike force, I was navy. We met at a social in the club one night. I guess I was too young and stupid to realize I had my whole life ahead of me. Anyway we went out for a long time, then she got orders off-world. I never saw her again. I heard she got married, but I was never told."
"Ooh, this's deeper than I thought!" Alhambra giggled, "You were going to marry her, weren't you?"
"Is there nothing sacred?" Clark protested, "Yes, I was going to ask her the week she received her orders."
"Yeah. I never did know what happened to her until I got here. Now she wants me to have dinner with her."
"And you don't know how it will turn out."
"She's got a life now. She's a base commander, that's pretty important stuff. Besides, it only a dinner, not a honeymoon."
"You'd prefer that it was, though."
"Not necessarily, no!"
"So what do you want out of life?"
Clark started to answer with his usual 'house with a dog and a big backyard' answer when he stopped and thought about the question, really hard. He realized to his horror, that it wasn't an easy answer. He'd been alone most of his life. He'd done things, been places, but it was all empty, as if the choices he'd made were all the consequences of a bad decision made much earlier on in life.
"Don't you have things to do?" he asked her pointedly.
"Yes. I'm tormenting you," she answered.
"Get lost. I've got to get ready for a date," Clark laughed.
Alhambra got up to go, activating the door. She turned in the doorway before leaving.
"You know, you'll have to answer that question someday."
The door slid shut and he was once again confronted with his own reflection in the mirror above the chest of drawers.
"So the way it looks, this is about the size a ship would have to be to make that kind of indent, right?" Fukai asked the Gok. Somehow, the group referring to him as 'Freddie'. Even the Gok didn't like being called 'the Gok' all the time, and Freddie sounded pleasing to him.
"Provided the Grzbk was traveling on the course reflected in the records," Freddie answered.
"Run it again and let's see it on the screen," Yoshi suggested.
Fukai plugged his workboard into the interface and dimmed the lights. The images of the Grzbk and a nondescript angular-looking vessel appeared perpendicular to each other on opposite sides of the screen. The angular nondescript ship moved forward at a fast speed toward the slow moving Grzbk. It impacted, sending debris flying everywhere. Two wrecked hulls spun at different rotations in the simulated space.
"That's no good," Fukai commented, "I searched half the quadrant looking for wreckage. I need something that will shatter the Grzbk completely. What about hyper-drive? Does yours use nuclear power to get the field started?"
"No, its more a chemical reaction of two materials which generate power," answered Freddie.
Fukai rubbed his forehead, "Damn, this is frustrating."
"The only velocity which might do it is, if you'll allow me, please," Freddie entered the numbers on the board.
The two ships appeared again, the angular ship blasted into the simulated Grzbk erupting in violent explosion.
"That's ridiculous," Fukai commented, putting his head in his hands.
"Look, we're all tired, and it's past eighteen-hundred. Let's go get something to eat. What do Goks like to eat?" Yoshi asked.
I'm afraid there is none of it available here," Freddie answered, "However, most earth food is compatible to my digestive processes."
"So how about pizza?" Yoshi suggested.
"Pizza?" Freddie asked, "What is this?"
"We can send out for it," explained Yoshi, typing into his workboard, "The usual?"
"You have to experience it in order to understand it," Fukai explained.
The image of Captain Carack's scowling face kept appearing in Alhambra's mind. She couldn't seem to get rid of it. His beady, unflinching eyes. The crew was hiding something, but what could it be? She sipped her tea and stared at the viewboard as she was sprawled out on her bed.
She started looking through the records kept by the Foster. She started with position diagrams, and checked the numbers. There was something about the position she didn't agree with. Just for fun, she pulled up the position grid from the station records, placing them next to those from the Foster.
There appeared to be a discrepancy. She opened up a draw program and copied each of the charts, superimposing them on each other. Zooming in, she could see that the position of the Foster reported by the station was at least one hundred kilometers away from the site reported by the Foster's instruments. Now they had proof that something was wrong. She printed the picture she'd made as well as the two separate grids for comparison, slipping the papers into her case.
The maitre d' at the restaurant greeted Clark shortly after he entered the restaurant.
"Is your name Herb Clark?"
"Yes," Clark answered.
"I have a message for you from a Sue Jackson. She sends her regrets, and that you should call her at the earliest opportunity. Business, apparently. Will you still be needing a table?"
"No, I guess not.," Clark answered. He left the restaurant and started back towards his room. He felt empty, but yet relieved that it didn't happen.
Freddie found the pizza to be to his liking, which surprised everyone else. Nobody really knew what Gok ate. Even the Gok had a hard time explaining it in non-Gok terms. The group had momentarily abandoned the subject of collisions and breakup patterns in favor of other more relaxing subjects as they sat around the conference table, eating.
"Is this anything close to a dish you would eat at home?" Yoshi asked.
"No, but it is quite good. I will have to introduce this to others. These round things, what are they called?" Freddie asked.
"Pepperoni," Fukai answered.
"So, what is a typical Gok vacation like?"
"Vacation, you know, a time away from your usual job and routine."
"Well, I prefer to harvest, uh, vklgdj by the water. Very relaxing, you see. I take a zld and put it in the water, when a vklgdj attaches itself to it, I pull it out! I could do that all day during the warm season."
Fukai was startled by the revelation, "That's what we call fishing!"
"Yeah, I do it all the time! Sit out in a boat on the water, wait for the fish to bite. It's a great time after doing five or six of these investigations a year. I think I'd like to try it on your world. Could you show me your favorite spot?"
"Absolutely! You must come, I know all the best spots!"
Alhambra burst through the door during the festivities.
"What's up, Lisa?" Yoshi asked, "You look like you saw a ghost!"
Alhambra pulled the paper from her case and handed it to Yoshi.
"It wasn't any ghost," she said.
"George, look at this," Yoshi called.
George took a look at the paper she was holding, concentrating on the grid for a minute, "There's never been a tracking discrepancy of more than five kilometers between sources."
"I know, that's because of signal attenuation from the return wave," agreed Alhambra.
"So what the hell's going on here?" asked Yoshi.
"Off the top of my head, I'd say that the Foster was up to no good," replied Alhambra.
"There were no traces of explosive powder or energy traces on the wreckage we found," Freddie commented, "The ship does not appear to have been attacked."
"Not with weapons, anyway. You tried the simulation?" Alhambra asked.
"No good. None of the simulations that were anywhere near realistic showed the proper results," Fukai explained.
"Except the last one we ran," added Yoshi.
Alhambra's eyebrows raised in curiosity
"Don't ask," Fukai said, shaking his head.
"Try it using the Foster at the same point of impact," Alhambra suggested.
"Give me a minute...here," Fukai entered some numbers into the simulator program.
The Grzbk was back in position, only now the other ship was the rectangular design of the USS Foster. The ships collided at the same point as did earlier simulations. Still parts flew in all directions, but both ships were damaged.
"Something doesn't make any sense here," Fukai observed.
"If a collision like that had happened, then there would have been two wrecks instead of scattered debris," Freddie observed.
"Well, we know that didn't happen," Fukai responded.
"What about hyper-drive collision?" Alhambra suggested.
"Then the Foster crew wouldn't be here to tell us about it," answered Fukai.
"We need more wreckage. If we could find the component that had the precise ship's heading and velocity, we'd be way ahead of the game," Yoshi observed.
"Then, its back to the grabber arm. That last piece was a pain to slow down," Fukai complained.
"No, we should go fishing for it ourselves. Let's see if we can get a transport and go looking around ourselves," Alhambra offered.
"Where's Herb? He's going to have to arrange it," added Yoshi.
"Herb's on a date," Alhambra answered.
Everyone just looked at her as if she'd grown a second head.
"What, he's not allowed a life just because you don't have one?" she quipped.
"This is my life," Fukai stated matter-of-factly.
Yoshi just shook her head, "He probably right about that."
Freddie just took the whole scene in, not knowing what to make of it all.
Colonel Jackson leaned back in her chair, looking at Clark in disbelief, "You expect me to believe that a highly decorated captain with over twenty years of service intentionally rammed his ship into another vessel?"
"Well, yes," Clark responded, slightly reluctant after hearing his theory interpreted that way, "That's the angle we're working it from, anyway."
"What brought you to that conclusion!"
"A small discrepancy in the location reports between this station and the instruments on the Foster," explained Clark. He handed her a copy of the printout Alhambra had made earlier, "This could be attributed to scanner error. Attenuation can degrade the return signal from the scanners."
"My people tell me its never more than ten kilometers, and even that's extremely rare."
She tossed the paper down on the desk and appeared to be in deep thought. She closed her eyes and shuddered.
"Something wrong?" Clark asked.
Jackson got up and went to the panel near the door to her office. She took off her security badge, sliding it into the slot. She pressed a sequence of keys and the window behind the desk went dark. A large clanking sound emanated from the door. She turned around to face him.
"We're secure, now. I can tell you what I think happened," she began.
Clark was a little taken aback by all the sudden cloak-and-dagger, but being a former member of the military, he knew this sort of thing was common.
She continued her explanation, "What I'm about to tell you is classified top secret. You can't tell anybody, not even your team members. The Foster is equipped with a stealth device known as COVENANT GREEN. It allows a ship to be reporting one set of coordinates while actually occupying another. Scanners can't report any activity in the area because they don't register until the aggressor is on top of them. The target vessel assumes that their attacker is kilometers out of range. They were not authorized to use it during the exercise."
"The ultimate weapon of surprise. Did the Grzbk have any of this technology aboard?"
"Oh, heavens, no! We equipped that on our ships so we could keep an eye on the Gok without them knowing it. Nobody really believes this buddy-buddy stuff the government is trying to sell everyone.
"I don't disbelieve it."
"After what they've put us through for the last eighteen or so years? Hah! I'd rather be at war with them!"
"The Gok on our team seems to be getting along just fine. They call him Freddie."
Freddie arrived at the meeting room where the Gok Senator was waiting.
"Any news?" asked the senator.
"We have established several theories, but none appear to verify the cause of the loss. The Grzbk has definitely been lost with all hands. We have a piece of the wreckage on board the station," he explained.
"You do? Have they analyzed it, yet? Do they know what it is made of?"
"I don't know. It wasn't central to the investigation as of yet. We've only used it as a point of reference. They've found traces of paint from an earth warship on it."
"If they find out what the ship was made of then there'll be war for sure! That object must be destroyed, and soon. They must not find out anything about that ship's material content."
"Excuse me, sir, but I thought I was to assist in an investigation."
"You are here to assist the Gok! Nothing more, nothing less. You will do as your told, Lieutenant. If you fail, the world as we know it is at stake. Destroy the wreckage and prevent any further attempts to retrieve more!"
"To destroy evidence would surely detract from finding the cause of the investigation."
"To prevent a war would be a far better thing than pursuing an intangible idea."
Sir, I think this is a mistake."
"So noted. Carry out your orders."
Freddie left the room and went back to the meeting room. He couldn't understand any of this. If truth was an intangible idea, then how could blurring the truth be so important? This was confusing. He knew very little about the Senator. Freddie had been selected personally by him for this assignment, although he'd never seen the Senator before. The investigation team would be going to the transport soon to gather more debris from the wreck. What was he going to do? He couldn't think straight.
The transport slowly proceeded through space, searching for more pieces of wreckage to examine. They'd done all they could with the piece they had, now they were looking for one piece containing circuitry for the navigational controls. Fukai searched the area by looking out the aft window of the transport while Alhambra told the pilot what patterns to search. They were operating on a grid search of the area, coordinate by coordinate, working from the outer edges inward. Fukai kept watch on the scanner monitor. The others just sat at the other stations until there was something they could do.
"I think I got one!" called Fukai.
"Scanning...It looks like a piece of ship alright," Yoshi reported from the analytical monitor.
Alhambra spoke to the pilot, "Bring us around, ten, ten zero. We can reach out and grab it from there.
The piece was large. It was about half the size of the entire transport, which was about thirty meters long. There was wire and twisted portions of metal protruding from it.
"Computer identifies it as a piece of the forward section," reported Yoshi.
"That's where the computer is!" remarked Fukai, gleefully, "All I need is a few memory components for analysis and we'll be ahead of the game!"
"Can you get it yet?" Alhambra asked.
Fukai activated the controller arm and maneuvered the grabber arm toward it. The arm made contact with the piece, shaking the transport.
"Let's take it home," Alhambra told the pilot.
Freddie had a knot inside him. The Senator hadn't wanted on another piece to be discovered. He had to act soon. What could he do? He thought he had an idea, but he'd wait until the time was right.
"There's probably more out there we could use," Fukai commented.
"We can go back later. This will give some more to look at, anyway," Alhambra remarked.
"I've marked the coordinates in memory, we can use them to re-start the search on the next run," the pilot added.
Freddie was in near panic. He moved over to where the arm controls were, looking like he was observing. Nobody noticed him reach over and hit the release button on the arm control. Then, he moved quietly away from it again, hoping he'd done the right thing.
The transport began its entry run to the docking port. The pilot lined up the transport with the target lights, synchronizing the transport's movements with that of the station. They slid into the dock port area, touching down on the magnetized surface. The object they'd been towing was still following behind them in the exact same path, no longer held by the gripper arm. It made contact with the dock port, skipping off the floor of the dock port and slamming into the rear of the transport. The object pushed the transport across the floor of the dock port and into the wall.
Inside the transport, people were thrown around violently. All the glass in the cockpit exploded into splinters as people were thrown around the cabin. Pieces of metal and electrical conduits came crashing out of the ceiling as the floor came up in portions, meeting the ceiling. Freddie felt as if he was caught in the pincers of a drgzl. The space between floor and ceiling became very small.
Alhambra was thrown into the control panel, which was erupting in sparks and flames. She lost consciousness about the time her face felt the flames.
Fukai rolled into a seat mounted on the floor as the floor buckled. There was a sharp pain in his side. Yoshi felt herself flying across the cabin only to meet up with a piece of the ceiling and lots of flying glass. She crawled up through the wreckage, looking for signs of life. The klaxons on the landing deck were sounding, now. She could hear them through the remains of the cockpit.
"Is everyone all right?" she shouted through the smoke-filled cabin wreckage.
"I can't move!" Fukai shouted.
"Hold on! I'm coming!" Yoshi pulled her way through the wreckage and found him.
"Something's got me caught!"
"I see it, it's the seat mount. You're pinned under it. Grab my hand, I'll try to move you."
He grabbed her hand and they worked him free.
"Help me," Freddie groaned.
Yoshi and Fukai looked at him, assessing the situation. He'd been trapped between the floor and ceiling panels. He was leaking some sort of clear substance that one could only guess was Gok blood.
"Oh, man," gasped Fukai. They wouldn't be able to move him. His sheer size alone was too much for the two of them, plus he was injured. Badly injured.
Rescue personnel began ripping away at the outside until they made their way into the damaged hulk. They pulled the three of them out, placing them on stretchers.
Yoshi looked around to see if anyone else had survived, but someone held her down and put a breathing apparatus on her face, blocking her view. As they carried her off the docking port she heard one of them say, "This one's DOA."
Jackson was beginning to lose her patience with Clark. Her green eyes bore into him as he sat in front of her in her office.
"What exactly have you accomplished in the last four days?" she asked in an acid tone.
Clark began to speak but was cut off.
"I'll tell you. You've pulled in two pieces of wreckage and killed one of my pilots! On top of that, you give me a cock-and-bull story about a military battleship ramming into a friendly vessel! Do you realize what will happen when word gets out about this? There will be more Gok running around here than we have people assigned to this station! You better have some answers, and soon!"
"If it makes you feel good to yell at me, then hopefully I've made you feel good. If not, then I'm sorry I wasted my time letting you do it," Clark said, getting up from his seat. He turned away, toward the door.
"No, wait," Jackson called to him, "I'm sorry, Herb. I know your team is trying hard to solve this puzzle. It's just that now everything has gotten out of hand. I've got half the earth parliament on their way here right now!"
"I'll try to help you any way I can, but my all team members were involved, so they can't do any of the investigating."
"That doesn't mean that my staff and I can't act as consultants to your investigators, as long as the questions are general or procedural in nature."
"I see, well if there is anything that requires your expertise, I'm sure they'll be looking for you."
"We'll be waiting. I have to check on my casualties, unless there's anything else."
Jackson shook her head slowly. Clark could tell that something was really eating away at her. He started for the door once again.
"I could lose my job over this," she told him as he started off.
Clark turned around again, "I'm sure you'll pull through this unscathed."
"I wish I had your confidence."
Alhambra was bandaged up from head to toe, with tubes coming out of her nose. The monitor over the bed displayed vital signs and heart rate. She looked to be in critical condition, unconscious. Clark wasn't sure how to react to this scene after seeing her only a few hours ago, active and energetic as she so often was. She'd been burned over most of her body, and received several broken ribs and a punctured lung, which the doctors had already treated. Someone entered behind him. He turned around to see a nurse, who was making her rounds.
"Has there been any improvement?" he asked the nurse, awkwardly.
"You'll need to check with the doctor," she replied.
"Two of your group are being discharged this afternoon. Fortunately, they didn't get too badly injured."
"It's pretty common that the injury disbursement of crash victims is variant. Usually due to their positioning in the vehicle at the moment of impact," Clark observed.
"Well, they should all be lucky they're alive. I saw the ship's wreckage on the news."
"There's a tape?"
"They broadcast the entire landing sequence from the landing bay's cameras."
Clark had an idea, but first he had to see those tapes.
The senior controller for the landing bay greeted Clark and took him into a small conference room. There was a video monitor set up, with a tape disk player sitting on top of it.
"I'm going to be in charge of the crash board for this incident. I've seen this tape hundreds of times already," he said as he put the disk into the player's slot.
The screen displayed the interior of the landing bay, looking out into space. The transport was still fairly small, but getting larger as it approached.
"Everything here appears to be normal," Clark remarked.
"Yes, everything is fine up until here, time index one minute forty-five," the controller explained.
The ship had settled onto the deck of the docking port, then there was a flash and the ship slammed into the side of the port, exploding.
"On board explosion?" speculated Clark.
"That was the first thing I thought, too. Then I looked at the tape again. Watch."
The tape moved backwards and the ship moved back out of the docking port. The controller hit a button and the scene froze.
"Look over here," the controller pointed. There was a flash of something, just beyond the aft section of the transport.
"Some sort of object behind them, looks like."
"The ship was transporting something in the aft grabber arm when they were on final."
"Has anyone found the object?"
"That's the funny thing, there hasn't been any trace of it on the deck. Could you tell me what it was they were carrying?"
"I'm told it was a piece of the Grzbk, the Gok ship we're investigating."
"Then there should've been some traces of it on the deck."
Clark sat alone in the conference room, surrounded by equipment and notes made by his team. He looked at his notes and scratched his head. He looked over at the piece of wreckage they had managed to pull in. It looked like any other wreckage, charred, torn, and twisted. He heard the door slide open with Fukai and Yoshi entering. Fukai was on crutches, Yoshi had a bandage on her arm.
"I can't leave you alone for any length of time, can I?" Clark joked.
"I always said I needed a keeper," Fukai shot back.
Clark paused for a long moment while the two sat down next to him.
"So what happened out there?" he asked.
"Everything was routine, up to the point where we landed. Something blasted the ship into the side of the wall, then all hell broke loose," Fukai described the events of the incident.
"You were bringing back a piece of the Grzbk, right?"
"Yeah, a big one. It would've helped the investigation a lot," Yoshi answered.
"It was lost in the explosion, presumably vaporized," Clark said.
"You would think that something that big would just break up and re-deposit itself in smaller pieces all over the deck," Fukai surmised.
"Not if that piece was made out of a mineral plastic blend," countered Yoshi.
Fukai and Clark turned to stare at her.
"Plastic?" Clark responded.
"Yeah, here's the chemical analysis of the piece we have. I did a chemical analysis of the piece, earlier. It wasn't real important at the time, so I never mentioned it. We didn't even know why the ship had disappeared as of yet. Actually, I forgot about it until I saw the news."
"That explains why the simulations we ran didn't come out right!" exclaimed Fukai, who reached for his workboard and began punching in numbers.
"You're going to run another simulation," Yoshi observed.
"With the new numbers. Let me see your chemical analysis notes."
After a few minutes, the simulation ran again, with the Grzbk image bearing the improved figures and the Foster on the other side. This time when the two ships ran into each other, the Grzbk disintegrated and the Foster sailed through the debris, unharmed. Clark sat there, amazed at what he'd just seen. He stroked his chin, thoughtfully.
"I believe we have a working hypothesis," he commented.
Colonel Jackson saw the simulation on the screen in her office. Her jaw hung open in what could only be described as total shock.
"Are you absolutely certain of this?" she asked him.
"We found traces of the Foster's paint on the piece of wreckage we found," Clark answered.
"I'm going to recall the Foster for more questioning. I can have them here in a few days."
There was some commotion going on outside the door to the office. The secretary was desperately trying to control the situation but failed. The door slid open and a Gok appeared.
Jackson stood up from her seat, "What's the meaning of this?"
"I tried to stop him, Ma'am, he insisted on entering," explained the secretary, "Besides, he's like moving an elephant!"
"Thank you, that'll be all," Jackson said, staring at the Gok.
The secretary closed the doors behind him and the three were alone in the room. She looked at the Gok with a cold, hard stare normally reserved for disciplinary actions toward her subordinates.
"What is the meaning of this intrusion?" she asked again.
"I must ask that the investigation into the Grzbk's disappearance be halted at once," the Gok began, "There is no further need for your government to risk life and limb in the pursuit of this affair. We shall consider the matter closed."
"That's not up to your government, especially in light of recent evidence," she answered.
"It would appear that the cause of your ship's disappearance lies with an earth vessel."
"There was an attack?"
"That has yet to be determined, " Clark warned.
"I must relay this information to my government at once," the Senator said.
"Not until everything has been verified," Clark shot back.
"Then I must withdraw our participation in this investigation."
"You do that. Meanwhile, we'll continue," Clark countered.
The Gok stood still for a moment, presumably thinking about his next move. He then tried again.
"I request to speak to Colonel Jackson alone," the Gok said.
"If it has anything at all to do with this investigation, Mr. Clark will stay," Jackson retorted.
The Gok shifted from one suction cup to the other, "Very well. I have recently come into knowledge that the Gok delegation to your team has been involved in a movement which sponsors violent sabotage and attacks against earth forces. They wish to engage our people in an out an all-out war with earth. This accident involving your team members may not have been an accident, but rather a violent attempt at disrupting your investigation."
Freddie lay in the bed, which was inclined to allow the Gok to lean back while keeping his suction cups on the floor. He was bandaged as best as he could by the doctors who were available. He was conscious, but carried a deep cut on his right side. He looked over at Clark, after hearing about the accusations by the Gok senator.
"What?" he said, visibly stunned.
"That's what he said. Is any of it true? Did you sabotage the mission?"
He thought his actions on the transport had been undetected, but now he came to the conclusion that someone had seen what he'd done. There was no malicious intent, but people had been hurt. One was killed. He'd come to enjoy these human's company, but he was being threatened by his superiors. His disobedience could result in the disappearance of his entire family! He felt he'd die knowing he did the honorable thing.
"I am not a member of any violent group," he began, "but I did sabotage the transport."
Clark almost fell backwards at the revelation.
"Go on," he said.
"I was told to keep you from getting any pieces of the wreckage for your investigation. I was somewhat surprised at the order, myself, but I have to live among these people. It could have a profoundly disastrous affect on my family. So I disengaged the grabber arm controls before we re-entered the docking port. I never thought that it would remain on our approach path! We must've changed headings before I disengaged it. I didn't want to hurt anyone."
"Why? What didn't your superiors want us to know?"
"I..I can't reveal that information."
Clark was losing his patience, "Look, it's bad enough you went and did what you did, but I don't think you realize the consequences of your actions!"
Clark walked over to the intercom panel, pressing a button.
"Nurses station," someone answered.
"Can you transfer a visual of room two-thirty six to this panel?" Clark asked.
"Normally, we reserve that function for medical personnel," the nurse explained.
"I just need to prove a point to someone. I'll only need it for a minute."
The nurse hesitated for a moment. She came back on, "One moment please."
The screen abruptly changed from the nurse's face to that of a patient in intensive care. It was Alhambra, still unconscious, still unmoving.
"Look at the screen," instructed Clark.
Freddie's eyes moved in that direction.
"Do you see who that is? That's Lisa Alhambra in there, and she's a friend of mine. You want to know the consequences of your actions? There you have it. Now, spill it! What is it they want you to hide!"
Freddie paused for a little longer before he spoke, "They don't want the fact that the ship was made out of a new substance we've been experimenting with. It's a metal blended with plastic. It has the ability to evade long distance scanner detection."
"That was important enough for all this?" Clark shouted, pointing at the screen, "We could've found that out using the piece we had! You didn't protect anything!"
Clark could no longer control himself. He felt like beating on Freddie, but instead he left the room.
Clark had been reviewing the records of the Foster's command crew and found himself staring at the picture of Captain Carack. He'd requested the man's medical and psychological records. Overall, the man was stable, but prone to violence. His biography mentioned an incident with a Gok ship twelve years ago. Shots were exchanged, but the incident resolved itself. The Gok ship involved was named the Fkvh. The other details of that ship were unknown. At the time, the records showed the Gok broke off unexpectedly. There were heavy casualties, including three of the command crew. He tried to put himself in the captain's position, what would he do?
Captain Carack looked at Clark as if he were an insect. To Carack, Clark was nothing more than a key-presser. Not one to get his hands dirty. He hated people like that. They'd known no war or personal suffering, always finding an easy career path, without doing anything important or particularly challenging. He couldn't wait for this questioning session to be over.
"Captain, I need to know if your ship was running with COVENANT GREEN activated at the time of the incident," Clark asked.
"How the hell do you know about COVENANT GREEN?" snapped Carack.
"I know about a lot of things, captain. Please answer the question."
"Yes, we were using it to avoid detection during the game. It was all above-board. We cleared it with the exercise officials first. It worked great."
"So it did. When did you first notice the Grzbk's disappearance?"
"We were on a tracking run, getting ready to fire when it just disappeared."
"Just like that?"
"I see. What about trace radiation from the explosion, was there anything your scanners detected?"
"What do you think of the Gok?"
Carack was taken aback by the sudden turn of the questions. He hesitated before he answered.
"I think most of them are evil. We should've kicked their asses years ago."
"Would you arbitrarily kill one if you had the chance?"
Carack got out of his seat, "What kind of a question is that?"
"A direct one. Would you answer it?"
"Hell, no! I'm not on trial here, and I don't see how this is relevant to the investigation!"
"So it's safe to say that you would, judging from your reaction?"
"I'm not answering any more questions. Get the hell off my ship! If you want me to answer anymore questions, you talk to my lawyer."
"This isn't over yet, captain. You'll have to answer the questions sometime."
"Get out before I call security!"
Clark was going over the conversation in his mind later that day.
"I think I pushed a little too hard," said Clark to Fukai and Yoshi in the conference room.
"If he's prone to that sort of violence, it didn't take much," Yoshi observed.
The intercom panel sounded. Clark answered. It was Colonel Jackson.
"I have bad news, Herb. I've got the parliamentary chairman in my office. He's ordered me to stop the investigation," she said.
"The publicity this is causing is threatening the peace between earth and the Gok."
"What about the people on that Gok ship? Who'll speak for them?"
"It's not your problem anymore."
"Can I see the chairman? I've got evidence that I think he'd be interested in."
The Parliamentary chairman was an older man, with thick gray hair and a weathered old face. He sat unsmiling as Clark prepared to present his case. Clark explained everything to the man, briefing him on the events leading up to the present.
"Mr. Clark, do you realize what kind of effect this will have on the current agreement with the Gok?" sneered the Parliamentarian.
"I should think that getting an answer would be quite satisfying enough."
"This captain you've all but accused has an exemplary record of service!"
Clark couldn't tolerate the duck-and-cover game anymore. He let loose the full fury of his temper.
"Did you know that he's prone to violence in most situations? His record is full of accounts of his temper and their results. I guess that as long as he's killing Gok and not us, it's perfectly OK to let him go."
"Are you accusing me--"
"You bet you ass I am. You made this guy what he is today and now you're going to pay for it! I've worked with people like him, and they always seem to find their way out of trouble. You know why? Because people like you keep making excuses for him, that's why!"
"Mister Clark!" Jackson shouted, "That will be enough!"
"No, it won't! This guy is dangerous. He's going to get someone killed eventually. He also has some sort of problem with the Gok. I don't know what that problem is, but I intend to find out. I think it has something to do with a previous encounter twelve years ago."
"You're risking a war with the Gok! This investigation cannot continue," the Parliamentarian pleaded.
"Excuse me, sir, but the Gok appear to be holding back, too. I've found out that the Gok don't want us to know what their ships are made of, and I know why. What I don't know is why that led to most of my team being injured. If you could help me, we could get to the bottom of this matter and end this thing."
Clark appeared to be turning the conversation around to his advantage. Most of these parliamentary types would listen, if you could just get their attention. Sure, there was a lot at stake here, but he was sure he could prove everything if he could get access to Gok records of the Fkvh from twelve years ago.
"What do you want from me?"
"If you could get the Gok senator to furnish me with records of a ship called the...I have trouble with their pronunciations, Fkvh, about twelve years ago. It had an encounter with a ship that Captain Carack was commanding, the USS Templeton. I think the answer lies there."
"If what you say is true, then there will be a major publicity surge as a result of this."
"Sir, if you let this go unnoticed, there will be a major problem wandering around the stars, ready to do this again. That can't be good for the public image, either."
"I'll see what I can do."
Jackson held up Clark as he was about to exit. She shut the door.
"Where the hell do you get off insulting a member of Parliament like that?" she shouted.
"If you're going to act like an idiot, you've got to pay the price."
"That's bullshit! We have standards of behavior, even from retirees!"
"First of all," Clark began after trying to regain his composure, "That guy doesn't give a rat's ass about the safety of Navy personnel. Carack is a liability, and someone needs to accept responsibility for that. Second, you don't really care about this investigation, only the lasting effects it will have on your career. I can't believe you'd sell your fellow servicemen out for the prestige of high command."
Realizing he'd said enough, he opened the door and left.
As Clark was leaving, the secretary called to him, "Sir, I got a message for you. He wouldn't give a name, just that he'd meet you outside the Officer's Club entrance. He didn't give a time."
"I see. How do I know when to show up?"
"Maybe he's down there now," suggested the secretary.
The Officer's Club was two decks down from Colonel Jackson's office. This section of the station was mostly military service and administrative personnel. Having the military functions grouped together with the official areas simulated the way things were on a military installation, although the station was more like a community or a city in space. To gain access to the military areas, you had to produce a military identification. In some cases, a clearance badge had to be issued before gaining access. Clark had a retiree's military identification, so gaining access to the club wasn't a problem, but what intrigued him was the fact that this person wanted to meet him outside the club. He stood there, looking at the entrance, watching people entering the club. It was late in the afternoon, so people were arriving after work to gather for the evening.
"Mr. Clark?" a voice said.
"Yes," answered Clark, looking around.
"Follow me," a figure wrapped up in a hooded robe spoke, moving away from him. The figure led him into a small alleyway, normally reserved for maintenance to the area. The figure pulled off the robe and turned around to face Clark. He was a tall man, in his mid-twenties, wearing the insignia of a petty officer second class, "Scanner Operator Max Farthing. I'm glad you came to meet me. I apologize for the sneaking around, but believe me, it was necessary."
"I was on the bridge the day of the incident. We were on maneuvers, and we were closing on the Gok ship. The captain had contacted the captain of Gok ship, and they were communicating."
"What did they say to each other?"
"At first, the Gok captain was kind of taunting Captain Carack."
"Something about finishing what he started a long time ago."
"Then what happened?"
"Well, the captain started shouting insults at the Gok, then my proximity alarm went off."
"Did you tell the captain?"
"Yes, but he kept on course, heading for the Gok ship."
"Did the Gok try to avoid your ship?"
"No, but it's possible that the COVENANT GREEN misled their scanners into thinking we were farther away than we were."
"Approximately how far were you?"
"The scanners couldn't even register, we were too close for an accurate readout."
"Then you should've been within visual range. Did the captain order the ship to stop?"
"Will you make a sworn statement to this?"
"Well, I normally would support Captain Carack, but this time all I can think about is the other ship disintegrating right in front of us."
"So you'll testify, if necessary?"
Clark stopped by the station hospital to check up on Alhambra. He was quite surprised to see her sit up when he entered the room.
"Well, welcome back to the land of the living!" he greeted her.
"I still don't feel one hundred percent. I don't know exactly how I got here."
"There was an accident. It must've affected your memory."
"That explains the bandages," she quipped, "So, when can I go back to work?"
"You've got to be kidding me."
"No, I can't stand lying here in this bed! Isn't there something I can do?"
Clark thought for a minute. Her mental abilities were still there, and he sure could use her right now.
"Are you sure you're up to it?"
"Its only my body that's injured. I can still think."
Clark pulled out his workboard, "Okay, I've just received the download of Gok personnel records from twelve years ago. Concentrate on a vessel named Fkvh. I want to know who was in command of that ship and the Gok version of the events that transpired between them and an earth warship Templeton. Carack was in command. I think there was a connection. Call me when you've found something. I'm going to check on Freddie."
Doctor Sorenson looked grim as he exited Freddie's room. No one was allowed in. Clark was cut off by the doctor as soon as he entered the doorway.
"I'm sorry, but I can't allow any visitors right now," the doctor explained.
Sorenson gave a big sigh of defeat, "I...don't really know. He's got a major infection started inside the wound, but my knowledge of Gok physiology isn't enough to pinpoint the cause or suggest treatment. I've had one of our technicians arrange for a Gok surgeon to take over. I'm still waiting for confirmation.
Clark was back in his room, badly in need of rest after the events of the last twenty four hours. The situation was beginning to take its toll on him, physically. He started to lay down on the bed when the intercom rang. Wearily, he sat up and pressed the acknowledge button.
"Mr. Clark? Commander Sims here. I got the information you passed along from your investigation. We used the chemical signature and found that piece of debris scattered into bits all over the dockport. There were pieces of it embedded in the transport wreckage, too," the voice said.
"Glad to be of help. Did you do an operational test on the grabber arm for malfunction?"
"We just finished it. It looks as if everything is in working order."
Then Freddie was telling the truth, he thought quietly to himself, "Well, thanks for the update. Let me know if there's anything else you need."
"Will do," Sims acknowledged, then his face disappeared from the intercom screen. Clark lay back down and immediately fell asleep.
There was a buzzing in Clark's ear as he awoke. the first thing he did was look for an alarm clock, then after the wake-up fog cleared, he realized that he hadn't set one. It was the intercom that was demanding attention.
"Sorry, did I wake you?" Colonel Jackson asked from the intercom.
"I needed to get up anyway. Time sort of runs together when there's no sun or moon."
"That's true. It took me a long time to get used to this. There were times I'd literally drop from exhaustion because I'd get confused between night and day."
"Let's hope it doesn't come to that."
"Can you come up to my office? I have something I'd like you to see."
"Something I can't appreciate by intercom screen, no doubt?"
"Nope, besides, the field of vision on a typical camera won't be able to capture this properly."
Clark grunted in acknowledgment, "Well, give me a few minutes."
"Sure," Jackson's image disappeared with that and Clark was alone with his thoughts again.
Jackson greeted Clark outside of her office, " I'll be in a minute. Go on in and have a seat."
"Is this going to be a show?"
"You could say that."
Her tone suggested that she was still upset with him over his comments earlier, but not as mad as before. Clark was going to fire off a dirty rebuttal, but she was out of sight before he had the chance. The suspense was killing him as he walked into the office. The Gok senator was also in there, standing over by Jackson's desk. He looked the way he normally did, which was as an expressionless cartoon character, like most of the Gok. The parliamentary Chairman was also there, seated in a chair in the far corner of the room. He got up to greet Clark.
"You too?" Clark said, off-the-cuff.
"Apparently, the good Colonel has something in mind. I suppose all will be revealed shortly," the Chairman remarked.
The Gok just turned and shifted from one suction cup to another.
Jackson entered the room, "So, senator, I suppose you'd like to know why you were asked here?"
The Gok finally spoke, "Yes. Yes, I would."
"Well, I have considered your earlier statements on the Gok position, and I must say, you strike a hard bargain."
The Gok just stood there, saying nothing.
"However, there's been some new information to add to this affair," she activaTED HER INTERCOM, "Come on in."
Three more Gok entered the room. The senator looked over at them. Clark though he saw an expression of surprise in the senator's eyes, but discounted it. Gok were incapable of facial expression. Still, he thought, his eyes did look wider.
Jackson broke the silence, "Is this individual a senator in the Gok government?"
The Gok in front of the three who entered spoke, "No, he is not."
Clark was glad he was sitting down, or he would've fell down as a result of that revelation.
"Can you identify just exactly who this individual is?" she continued.
"This is General Kfg, leader of the Kdgfh Blzss." the Gok answered.
"Would you please explain further?" Jackson prodded, mostly for show.
"The Kdgfh Blzss is a hate group which favors war with the humans. They believe that the only way to deal with others is by force. Their philosophy is based on literal interpretations of our religious texts," explained the Gok, "However, up until now, this group has limited itself to show protests and minor acts of terrorism on our home world. this is the first incident to take place outside of our borders."
Jackson turned to the General, who'd been posing as a senator, "So, General, what do you have to say for yourself?"
"This is all a fabrication! None of this is true!" The General roared.
"Really?" Jackson said, turning to the other Gok, "For the record, could you tell everyone your name?"
"I am senator Hrfv Kdl, leader of the majority senate," the Gok answered.
"You see," Jackson said, facing Clark, "I made a few calls to some contacts I have in the Gok government. They were very cooperative. It seems they like the service my staff give to your ships when they dock here."
The Chairman, who'd been all but invisible, stood up and spoke, "There was no way myself or any of the other Parliamentarians could know who this individual was! We were all fooled."
"It takes a Gok to recognize a Gok. They have features which are distinctive only to each other," Jackson explained.
"This is why it was easy for us to know who this individual was when you showed him to us from the outer office," the Gok leader added.
"I thank you for your time," Jackson concluded, "This will help us get on with our investigation. And tell Lord Jvch I said thanks."
"I shall give him your message," the Gok turned to the other two standing behind him and clicked in their native language. The two moved forward, and one produced a long glowing wand, pointing it at the General. A ring of glowing blue surrounded the General as one Gok positioned himself behind the General and the other led the way out of the office.
"He shall be dealt with on our home world, " the Gok leader said. He followed the others out of the office.
"I got word from the Gok ship that Freddie's condition has stabilized. He's going to be all right, now that he's getting proper medical attention. Since he was duped into acting under direct orders of a superior, he won't be facing any charges," Jackson said to Clark. She faced the Parliament Chairman, "Sir, thank you for coming. In light of recent events, I hope you can see the relative importance of the outcome of this investigation."
"Due to these new circumstances, I'll take full responsibility for its continuance. I'm sure my fellow parliamentarians will agree."
"That's great," Clark replied, "We're just about to wrap everything up. I have to check up some leads, first."
"Keep me informed, " the Chairman replied as he left the office.
Jackson and Clark faced each other alone in the office for a few minutes.
"That was some performance," Clark commented.
"That was nothing. Wait till you see my private performance," she began, " I've been thinking a lot about what you said to me earlier today."
Clark raised his eyebrows in response.
"You were right. It was a rather blunt way of putting it, but you did open my eyes. The last thing I want to do is to let someone else come into harm because of my inaction."
Clark didn't exactly now what to say. He had actually been lashing out in anger and didn't mean any of what he told her. She was only trying to defend her integrity. It was hard to believe that a remark so off-the-cuff could be interpreted so deeply.
"I didn't want to hurt you," he offered, awkwardly. He paused, the silence overcoming both of them, "Well, I'd better be getting back to work. I'll give you a report as soon as I clear up a few unanswered questions."
Fukai greeted Clark at the conference room door.
"Looks like this scenario is beginning to pay off," Fukai commented, "We found traces of the chemical signature on the bow of the Foster."
"We've got a new version of the scenario for you to see. Oh, and Lisa called. She's got something for you," Yoshi added.
Clark went to the intercom and called Alhambra.
"Looks like the captain of the Gok ship was the same one who commanded the ship Carack had it out with twelve years ago," explained Alhambra, "Near as I can tell, this guy was one nasty customer. You thought Carack was bad? This guy was known to shoot first and ask questions later. I'll send you the details by message."
"You've done enough already, Lisa. Get some rest, now"
"Rest? I've been cooped up in here forever! What I really want is to be able to get out of here!"
"If you do what the doctors tell you, they should let you out of there pretty soon."
"Yeah, sure. They like confining people here. Gives them the illusion of control."
"Well, don't start any riots."
"I'll be good."
"You'd better be."
The intercom went blank, and Clark faced the others in the room.
"So, what've we got?" he asked.
"A high-stakes game of chicken, from the looks of it," Fukai answered, "I used data from the station records to determine their approximate positions prior to impact."
"Run the simulation," Clark ordered.
The ships were at the start positions, only this time, each came towards each other, head on. Neither ship slowed down. Soon the Foster crushed the other ship, leaving nothing but scattered debris.
"I think we have it," Clark commented.
"Wait, I've run the simulation up to the point where both of the pieces of wreckage we spotted turned up," Fukai demonstrated. He pointed to one of the pieces of debris with a laser pointer, "Here's the first piece we detected. I didn't intentionally program this, but it's right about where I first detected it. Heres the big chunk we tried to grab, over here. Right on the money!"
"We've got them. I'll draft up the report. Download your notes for me."
Clark brought the disk with the report into Jackson's office. He handed her the disk.
"It's all here. Facts, figures and testimony. We've got enough to establish guilt against Captain Carack and the Gok Captain."
She took the disk from him, "That'll be up to a court-martial board to decide. You'll probably be required to testify."
"I'm expecting it."
"Well, how much longer are you going to stay?"
"We should be out of here the day after tomorrow. As I recall, we had a date."
"I'll be there. Same place?"
The restaurant wasn't quite as crowded as it had been the last time he'd been there. He suspected it was probably due to it being a Thursday night. People didn't go out much during the week. He sat down at the table and began looking over the menu. He figured she'd meet him at the table, just like the old days. She was never one for punctuality, he recalled.. The Head Waiter was hurrying around checking tables and generally spot-checking things at the different tables. He passed by Clark's table once, then turned back toward him, muttering something to himself.
"Excuse me, sir. Is your name Herb Clark?" the Head waiter asked, as if remembering something important.
"Yes, what can I do for you?" Clark answered.
"I should've said something earlier. A Sue Jackson left me a message to give to you. She was called away on business and would be off station for three weeks. She had to leave early this morning. She asked me to give you this."
Clark slumped back in his chair, taking the envelope. He felt like the air had just been let out of him.
"I see," he said, half muttering.
"Will you be staying for dinner?" the waiter asked.
Clark looked down at the menu. He'd wanted to try the prime rib last visit, but was too upset to eat. The hell with it, he thought, recalling Lisa's words. Make yourself happy first.
"Yes, I'll have the prime rib and a bottle of the house wine," he said affirmatively.
"Very good, sir," the waiter said and hurried off to other business.
Clark stared out the observation window, sipping his glass of water. It seemed he always found comfort in the stars. Space was the one constant in his life which let everything else fall into place. He opened the card. It was a little greeting card with some eloquent words of thanks in the form of a poem. He read the inscription at the bottom, which read "thank you for helping me re-prioritize my life. I'll never forget you." He smiled wanly as he set the card down on the table. Sue had only briefly come into his life, once long ago when they were all young and the world was different, then once again. It was easy to be sucked into a vortex of past memories and forgotten feelings, he realized. She seemed to be more of her own person these days, but quite possibly she really wasn't ready to revive their old relationship either. He wondered if she ever got lonely. Maybe he'd come back out here for a visit, someday, maybe not. He reflected on his own life and accomplishments with a strange feeling of contentment. So what does make you happy? he thought to himself, as he stared out at the great realm of stars. Maybe the Prime Rib he was waiting on.