“What do we have?” Jacob asked as he walked through the computer room and peeked over the shoulders of the analysts. With the confirmation of the alien intrusion, and the loss of the Order’s Seattle base because of them, his analysts had been working nonstop trying to learn all they could from the one alien they had been able to conclusively identify. Namely, Steven Crow.
“Everything. Basically,” Jorge said, looking up. He crossed his arms. “We have his adoption papers, education transcripts, college. Did you know he has never been to a doctor?”
Jacob looked at him. “From our scans, that’s not surprising.”
“They’d have freaked over his heart,” Jorge nodded. “We’re still sequencing the DNA samples we took. But, Jacob, it is most definitely not human DNA. It’s like the old samples we have in storage. That kid is as alien as they come.”
“Is he, was he modified to look like us?” Jacob asked.
“No. His looks are legitimate.” Jorge pulled up what data they had so far on his genetic information. “There. Black hair, humanoid configuration, it’s all there. But that is where it ends. Inside, even his organs, let’s just say there’s no donor list he’d qualify for,” Jorge nodded. He pointed at a DNA segment. “This right here could cement our fixation solution once and for all. We’re testing it now.”
“What’s that?” Jacob squinted.
“That would be human segments mixed in with the alien segments. How they work together is giving us a lot of information for our own modification teams.” Jorge grinned. “Our latest batch of treatments are using a modified form of fixation thanks to this already.”
“Our alien modifications would stick better,” Jacob understood, “and we had him.” He sighed.
“It would be good if you could get him back again. A live specimen would help us interpret the more complicated parts a lot faster.”
Jacob shook his head. “The kid escaped a hyper-secure base of the most powerful military organization on the face of this planet. And he defeated one of our top field agents. A live specimen might be a tall order to fill.”
“Perhaps he’s had training?” Jorge said. “Nothing we have indicates that, but he did spend a lot of time out in the forest.”
“He certainly had help from the aliens,” Jacob nodded.
“His paperwork is flawless. He definitely had help.”
“Well, Sally and Jonah would have been able to do that. They were that good back in the day. Match their digital signature to that hack and verify that,” Jacob mused. He looked at Jorge. “The samples Laurence brought back? From that furry woman?”
“Spectacular. The alien genetics, they are really close to Steven’s. I’d say identical if we were further along in our analysis. But I can pick out the human segments in his which has given us a significant edge in interpreting hers.” Jorge closed a computer window and opened another one. “It’s incredibly dense, like his. But we’re still processing it. Jacob, it’s like we were given a Rosetta stone here. Our old samples don’t even compare.”
Jacob smiled. “You remind me of Tracey, Jorge.”
“He’s the reason I got into this field,” Jorge said, grinning. “I still have his notes on the old samples we processed.”
“I’d say we’ve come a long way from those.” Jacob nodded at the computer screens. He squinted at the data. “The furry aliens can teleport too?”
“That is an unknown. Laurence had one captured and restrained, so I would hazard a guess to the negative.”
“Steven never teleported when we had him, and yet he was able to.”
“Laurence’s intelligence indicated that Steven was unaware of his abilities until recently,” Jorge said. He looked at Jacob. “You saw the video. He and his alien friends just disappeared. And the seismic anomaly stopped the instant he was gone.”
“They were chasing him,” Jacob said as he looked up at a larger video screen. There were looping videos of Steven in the forest being chased by the aliens. And yet another video of Steven rescuing one of them in their old base. “Perhaps they wanted his teleporting ability, too.”
“He is the only one we have documented as having this ability. And get this,” Jorge grinned as he reached for a controller to activate another screen, “we have detected spectacular bursts of energy during periods of time when he teleported. Like an explosion of exotic particles that put our colliders to shame. The entire region around Seattle, and even here, our granite bedrock didn’t block any of it when he teleported from the base. It’s like an aurora borealis opened up on half of Washington.” Jorge nodded to the screen as he hit a button on the keyboard. “There…”
“He’s causing all that?” Jacob gaped at what looked like a massive light-show that covered hundreds of square miles.
Jorge nodded. He glanced at Jacob. “You have to admit, teleporting has been largely theoretical up until this, and even then the theoretical energy requirements were immense. There it is, right in front of us.”
“Can we use that to track him?” Jacob still gaped at the video. It was like watching solar prominences erupting from the crust of the Earth. “Can we refine it to narrow the range?”
Jorge shrugged and pointed. “This right here, he was here when that happened. But we haven’t found any pattern yet. He’s not centered, and not even in the strongest part.”
“Find a way,” Jacob said sharply, looking at Jorge.
“Already got a team trying to crack that.” Jorge fidgeted, glancing furtively at Jacob. “We’re not having a lot of progress just yet.”
“This boy can do that without any technology,” Jacob said, dumbfounded. “His scans didn’t give us any hints of this energy.” He shook his head. “He took me to Iceland, Jorge. And there were no theatrics or anything. I was just suddenly there, then suddenly back in my office.”
Jorge moved another window on his screen and looked at the larger screen. “Here are more concise results of your scans.”
“Nothing.” Jacob frowned.
“We did find volcanic ash in your mucus and on your clothing. You were definitely there.”
“I want that.” Jacob looked at Jorge. “We need that. Especially…”
“…since four aliens and a child brought down one of our bases?”
Jacob glared at Jorge. “That is not going to happen again. We know what to expect now. How far has R&D come in their development of a response?”
“We’re incorporating energy weapons and hypervelocity weapons into our drones,” Jorge nodded.
“What about lightning protection?”
“They already have that. We found scorch marks on the wreckage of our last drone but it survived the static discharge. It’s really not an issue unless they’re grounded.”
Jacob nodded. “What about hand weapons?”
Jorge shook his head. “We’ve simulated the alien resistance to everything in our mobile inventory and there is nothing.”
“I suggest we replace our inventory with something that will work then,” Jacob snapped. “Our bellies are bare and we’re the only ones even aware of the threat.”
“Yes, sir,” Jorge nodded. He looked at his logistical database. “I’ll allocate more teams on that. Rome and Chicago have the most expertise.”
“Not good enough,” Jacob said. “Make this a Priority One mission. I want everyone involved.”
“The Board needs to approve that, sir.”
“Leave that to me.” Jacob scowled as he looked at the video of Steven reacting to the wolfman that had invaded the base. He hated the politics of the Board and would have rather faced the wolfman than the stuffy bureaucrats. “Something is up and it’s going to happen soon, Jorge. I can feel it in my bones.”
He glanced at Jorge. “How far have the profilers come?”
“They have a pretty exhaustive analysis of Steven’s characteristics, his associations, and habits. We can predict his reactions pretty accurately now.” Jorge smiled.
“Excellent. It’s time to put that data to work.”
~ ~ ~
Tor’eng sat down next to Chaser Guildmaster Orin and Lohet after bringing a couple of large mugs of Rodan blood for his Keratian guests. Orin nodded as he sipped his warm meal while Lohet moved his out of the way, continuing to work with the data he had collected over the past twenty years. Tor’eng pointed at the intelligence data that Lohet had processed so far and moved a data block to the side out of the way. “That looks like the coverage they had at Rholling.”
Lohet looked at it and nodded, sober. He had seriously underestimated the golems there. What they had discovered during their stay on Terra was terrifyingly similar. Orin zoomed out on a representation of Terra. The former Cooperative Defenses Commander crossed his arms as he looked at the sphere critically. Lohet glanced at him then looked at Terra more closely. Orin scowled and zoomed in. “There is one big difference between Rholling and Terra.”
“No indigenous space presence,” Lohet said, mirroring his thoughts.
“The Sadari clearly have superiority over Terra,” Orin said, nodding.
“We have yet to find their carrier. But we have been unable to leave Terra without our cloaking technology becoming compromised,” Lohet said, scratching his arm. “We had to scour the system remotely. There are a lot of places where we need to look closer.”
“The solar corona and the radiation belt of…Jupiter? Is that what they call that planet?” Tor’eng asked, pointing.
Lohet nodded. “Those are two candidates. However, we will need to probe their superiority better before sending teams to investigate.” He rubbed his arm where Steven had singed him a few weeks ago. It was technically healed, but it still itched a little. “Another optional location is simply on the opposite side of their star from Terra.”
“Would they hide in that obvious of a location?” Orin said, scowling.
“They have superiority in space and have shut down the fractures. However unlikely it might seem, it’s still a distinct possibility,” Lohet said. “I will have Steven visualize that region of space.”
“Using the deviant is risky, Lohet,” Orin said. “It was to be terminated immediately. Our law is clear on that.” Orin looked at the information hovering in the air between them. “This does not clear you of that bad decision.”
“True. However, at the moment he is lucid and cooperative,” Lohet said.
“For how long?” Orin challenged, raising an eyebrow.
“I am not entirely sure, Orin. He has been sentient since he was born and that has not changed. He expresses none of the hunger that a regular deviant suffers, and is distinctly a pacifist.” Lohet looked down. “He has not exhibited any of the habits of the Elder, either. Not yet.”
“It burned you.” Orin nodded at Lohet’s arm.
“Unintentionally. He currently has control over that. And we are watching him very closely,” Lohet said. “The Council is debating his status even now.”
“I do not require Council approval to order its termination.” Orin glared at Lohet.
“His status as a deviant could change,” Lohet said, subdued. “He could be reclassified.”
“Your report indicates that it still has nightmares. Nightly even. I propose it could be more similar to the Elder than you have stated,” Orin said. He sipped his drink thoughtfully as Lohet continued looking down at his.
“Yes. He does. Sometimes things get broken. But, they’re not incidents. Not like before,” Lohet said.
“They could get worse. They could become incidents again,” Orin said.
“True. However, his bond-mates are reinforcing him every moment he is awake. He is never alone. And he is responding surprisingly well to that,” Lohet said frankly. “The Elder did not have that luxury.”
Lohet glanced at Tor’eng then back to Orin, thoughtful for a long moment. He sighed, shaking his head. “I agree with your concern. What we are doing, it is extremely heterodox to our policies, Orin. He is absolutely unique. And thanks to him, Lorei has access to the fractures there. Between the two of them, we might be able to track down the Sadari carrier and facilitate a final solution.”
Tor’eng nodded. “Our fleet is nearly complete. The Ordan have an upgrade to our weapons, too. Not the old modified mining tools we used last time.”
“He also cracked the Sadari network,” Lohet reminded Orin.
“Using work that Lelana and Meruk performed,” Orin countered dryly.
“No. They never made the connection that he did. And he didn’t have access to their work directly,” Lohet said. “He just knew they were interested in the chips and he tried to replicate their experiment without really knowing what it was or what to look for.” Lohet looked down. “He learns, assimilates information, and processes it extremely rapidly. You’ve seen our reports of his work on the Terran networks.”
“That makes the deviant an even greater danger,” Orin said quietly.
“I agree.” Lohet sighed. “He was able to elude Penipe in the trees. He matched her climbing skills then surpassed them when he had the need. He was able to combat a soldier of the Order.” Lohet shook his head. “It’s like he just absorbs what you know but then does it better.”
Orin looked at Lohet, scowling.
Lohet sighed and picked at his robe. “It is risky, but he is controllable, Orin. He has what we need. He is the key.” Lohet looked up. “You’ve been there. You’ve actually been to Axis. You’ve seen the Sadari home. You were actually on one of the enormous Sadari motherships. One of those is in the Terran system right now. You know Aradia cannot face them alone, not even with our fleet.”
“I also know that they have plans for the deviant,” Orin stated. “Anything we do, it simply has to be something they have already considered. Using it will only hurt us.”
“They couldn’t have planned his physical nature. Orin, he is bonded to three Elves, two of which are experienced Chasers. How can that be helpful to the Sadari?”
“Its relationship with the Elves,” Orin looked at Tor’eng who averted his gaze, “is the only thing that is saving the deviant at the moment. You will stress test it, Lohet. We need to know what it is truly like when it is under extreme duress. When it breaks, I want to see in what direction it goes.”
“I concur.” Lohet nodded as he took a sip of his meal while keeping Orin in his sight. “That is already in the plans.”
Orin glared at Lohet, clearly displeased. “I suggest you stop making this Steven central to your plans, Lohet. Terra may be forbidden, but we could yet send Chasers after the deviant. So keep it peripheral and rely on Aradia’s fleet and resources. Our Gatekeepers are already probing the limits of the jamming and are working to set up bases outside the Terran system.” Orin stood up. “And Lohet, I should not have to remind you that Steven is more than expendable. You may be working under Aradia, but you are a Chaser, too. If it should prove necessary, the deviant must be put down without hesitation. Am I understood?”
Lohet nodded, sober. Tor’eng looked down, clearly thinking about his daughter. His death would mean her death thanks to their bond. He was still uneasy about the whole thing, and even more so now that Steven’s future was still balancing on a razor’s edge.