It was a strange sight.
A fireflash. Well nothing strange about that, except that it was not in the blue and black of Air Terrainean, or the maroon and gold of Europa Airways. No, this particular mach six bird was in the dull grey of the World Air Force, and was indeed a strange sight. Yet even that awful colour was not such a strain on the eye as was the huge early warning radar disc mounted on a small pylon, mid-fuselage, to enable those inside the craft to do their required job.
Surveillance and protection.
Given half a chance, those on the plane would be miles away from where they were.
The position of the plane, known only to those who needed to know, was just a few hundred miles below the arctic circle, and equally a few hundred miles inside the territory of the Bereznik Alliance.
Its reason for being there: a problem.
One that was a cause for concern for a good many people.
A problem caused by those men and women who felt that the way to solve a crisis was to create an even bigger crisis. One that would engulf all the people of the world.
Be they right thinking, or not.
A last resort.
The last way to solve your troubles.
Wipe out the irritant, and at the same time, take everyone else, including yourself out of the equation with it.
Yes, to hell with the 90% of the world’s population who wanted to just get on with their lives, go about their daily business and peruse more profitable enterprises.
If they get dragged into our squabble, too bad.
Sickening, is it not?
The protagonists, well this was an entirely local affair. Near East against Far East.
Or to put it more accurately, Bereznik versus China. Simply one of face. Or rather a loss of face. Both leaders had made speeches denouncing each others countries. Such is the narrow minded nature of the dictator that he is unable to tolerate even someone so much as batting an eyelid in protest at their activities. Thus it was that the two powers, now wound up tighter than an over wound alarm clock, felt that the solution was absolutely the only one.
The final one.
“Sickening,” Claire Turner said to herself as she looked down at her radar screen, tying her blond hair in a ponytail as she spoke.
“Its more than sickening,” her colleague Omar Ghadrai said from the seat next to her, “It will solve nothing, but it will create a whole society of refugees, and lay an entire continent waste. It’s madness”.
The turban headed, moustached Indian continued to gaze at the illuminated green disc before him, gazing in disbelief at what he saw.
Both of them were sat towards the rear of the Fireflash. They were but two amongst many. There were people on the plane monitoring radar, radio, weather, orbital activity, not to mention radiation.
Omar continued to stare, in appalled fascination.
Before him were the images of two battalions of missile launchers.
Each one was primed and ready to go off.
They knew this as they had been monitoring communications between the two sides. It was like waiting for an execution of someone for a crime they had not committed.
He then turned in his seat to face Claire.
“And you should not even be on this mission, not you not your husband up in the tail cockpit. Goodness me you only had the little lad arrive seven months ago. What the hell are you doing coming back to duty and to a duty this dangerous with a baby son at home?”
“I had no choice, you know that. We’ve been through this already. We were low on personnel and I was called in. You need not worry. As soon as our tour in this sector is over, Jarvis and I will be on the first civilian Fireflash out of Auckland and back in Manchester with him before anyone knows we’re gone. If you remember I’d retired once, I can’t help it if they invoke an emergency re-activation clause.”
“OK, I hear you,” Omar conceded, hand raised.
Their exchange was interrupted by the alarm.
“Missile launched from Bereznik battalion,” a voice called from up front at one of the sensor scan stations.
“Confirmed,” Claire said as she looked down at the display. Despite what had just been discussed, her expression betrayed all emotion.
“Missile now launched from China battalion,” the same voice now emotionally said.
Sure enough Claire and Omar looked down at their screens and saw both projectiles, represented as tiny blips. They were safe in the plane; miles from where they were the two weapons were due to impact. The Bereznik missile was bound for eastern Tibet, the Chinese one heading direct for central Asia.
Their faces may have hidden the emotion of it all, but inside they were sick to their stomachs at what they were witnessing.
Omar thought of his faith, a deep spiritual belief in the things that are right and good. How would this faith help him accept and deal with what was now happening.
Claire thought of her son. What sort of world was she bringing him in to? How could she hope for a future for her son, knowing what was being done to so many people on such a massive scale on this day. The two blips were just minutes away from their points of impact.
At which point millions would be wiped out.
They began their one and only journeys some two thousand miles apart. Gradually they drew closer and closer toward each other, until Omar suddenly realised something that he hoped was nothing more than an illusion.
A trick of the eye, or was it.
He then heard a yell.
It was from right next to him.
Claire had seen the same two blips, and she had thought the same thoughts as Omar.
“Tail from station two, evasive. Repeat, EVASIVE.”
She was almost screaming as she commanded the man who was her husband. Who was by chance on the same mission. A WAF flyer with 15 years experience in first the Royal Air Force and now the World’s equivalent.
Jarvis Turner heard his wife’s cry, and, knowing where the two battalions were based, both north of their current position; he swung the giant plane south and opened up the throttle to mach 3.
Down below Claire Turner, eyes wide with horror could only look on as the two blips merged into one.
Breathing heavily she whispered.
“They’ve hit each other.”
Outside the confines of the plane, it was night. A night as dark as the one that some people were about to enter. A cold dark long night, born of intolerance and bigotry, or a lack of the moral courage to see through the eyes of the powerless. Those who could not answer back to their dictator. The dark night of an eve of a nuclear winter.
Suddenly night gave way to sunrise.
A sunrise from the north.
Despite the dark, the two engines of destruction had found a way to see in the dark. They had ploughed a furrow, as if by chance along the same way, as though they were trying to avoid hitting their targets, as though they were trying to spare those on the ground, even though those looking up from below, were still doomed.
Jarvis Turner saw the glow envelop the night sky around his view.
It was the last thing the dark haired pilot would see.
The shockwave whacked the Fireflash from behind.
It crumbled into a million fragments.
Those inside had in some way been spared the worst. Jarvis and Claire Turner, Omar Ghadrai.
In an instant, in a blink of an eye.
For them it was over.
For seven month old Conrad Tuner, on the other side of the world, life as an orphan had just begun.
Both Created by Gerry Anderson MBE
© Carlton international Media 1962,1967,2003
“Ladies and Gentlemen, the President of the World, and her colony planets in the solar system.”
“Ladies and Gentlemen, I have just received news from the Headquarters of the Solar System Exploration Council, that the Pegasus Expedition team, lead by 50 year old Colonel Alan Tracy, has landed, safely, and without incident on the surface of Pluto. With this incredible feat, mankind is now to be found throughout the solar system. There are colonies on the Moon, Mars and Venus. Each with their own capital cities, Zond on Venus, Khara on Mars, and Armtrong City on the Moon. The Harris solar observatory now stands on the twilight zone of Mercury, named in honour of the commander of the Sun Probe mission of 2026. Homesteads exist on the moons of the gas giants, and the asteroid field has been opened up for mining. Now the human race has a foothold on the furthest planet known to man. An achievement previous generations of explorers and pioneers would be so proud to emulate.”
“What is even more remarkable, is that by sheer coincidence, not design, the team have made their landing on the planet, exactly 100 years to the day since Earth launched its first unmanned spaceship, Sputnik One, into the black void of space.”
“In the 100 years since that fateful day, October 4th 1957, we have seen people from Earth walk on every major body in the solar system. A whole generation of pioneers have travelled the sky. In the same way the people if the 20th Century mentioned the names of Columbus, Bleriot, Shackleton, and Hillary, so in this 21st century we now, and will for many years to come utter the names of Gagarin, Armstrong, Tracy, Harris, and Travers.”
“All of them pioneers, and those who are still with us today will join with me on this October 4th 2057 in congratulating Colonel Tracy and his team. To them and their predecessors we dedicate a wish that although for now, we have reached the limits of exploration, that we make a home from home for all those who wish to live and experience a life away from Earth, and that we do it in peace, for all time.”
“In order to preserve this new peace, and to ensure that contact is maintained with all Earths colonies, a new fleet of spacecraft will be built. Construction of these new sentinels of the skies will take five years to complete. These ships will be the most powerful ever built, and their job will be to maintain communications and supplies with the colonies as I have already said, but they will also patrol the solar system to ensure that the basic principles of law and order an upheld, as well maintaining a watch of the skies beyond the orbit of Pluto. Their crews will be the finest in the space service. To them we pass on the legacy of the past century, and hope that the next hundred years are as exciting, if not more so than the last hundred.”
“Perhaps, the greatest adventure in the history of our species has just begun.”
The screen went blank.
A man standing in front of it turned to face a small audience that had been watching the message. He spoke.
“That speech was made some four years ago by the then world president Ishmael Frobje. It appears he was a little too generous in his estimation of the time it would take to construct these new ships. For as you will see if you walk with me over to the observation window, you will be able to look at one of the new ships on its launch run.”
Commander Wilbur Zero, head of the World Space Patrol, an organisation set up by the World Government to operate the new fleet of super spaceships, walked over to a huge window that looked down on the aforementioned launch run.
A huge railway in fact.
On it sat what could be crudely called a rocket with wings and a tail. Under its fuselage was slung a trolley, to enable it to run along this track. A track which went is a straight line for something like a quarter of a mile before rising steeply up a gradient to an apparent dead end. On its massive tail fin was the legend XL3, the same lettering was shown on two giant fins that were situated ion the end of each wing. Each fin was joined to the wing at the centre. Toward the front was a small flattish bubble situated on the top of the fuselage. Then at the front, the nose cone could clearly be seen, with a cockpit cum control room in it. It was also clear that this cone could be separated from the rest of the ship as it had its own small fins set out in a criss-cross shape. Just behind the cone was embellished the word “Fireball XL3.”
Media organisations throughout the solar system had described the new ships as glorified missiles.
However this was not anything to be taken lightly in either appearance or potential. It was an instrument of exploration, and at the same time, a weapon of huge power.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, Fireball XL3. Just four months into service in the WSP, and about to assume patrol of the Martian sector. Each patrol within the orbit of the asteroid belt lasts a week, those ships that patrol the outer rim of the system inward through to the Jovian moons can take a number of days just to reach their assigned sectors, once there however they will spend a week on patrol before being relived. So were looking at a maximum of 13 to 14 days in space on those flights. XL3 here will take a day or so to reach Mars, and will be back here in six days. Each crew has a set number of days rest in between patrols, this is relative to the length in days of each stint in space.”
The assembled guests, made up of World Government ministers, local civic dignitaries, invited military guests, and of course, the press, who were on a conducted tour of the launch complex, now had their attention drawn to two people who were a few hundred yards behind the tail engine of the patrol craft.
They were sitting on two jet-mobiles. Motorbike like craft that could hover-fly rather than traverse terrain on the ground. They could maintain a height of no more than a hundred feet. Each occupant was in World Space Patrol Uniform. The one nearest was in standard medical green, while the other, much taller person was in the white and red of command.
Their tiny aero-vehicles rose, and Zero continued the lecture.
“Here we see the principal crew members of the XL3 now boarding the vessel. The crew complement of each WSP ship is just 4. Commander, Pilot, Doctor, and Engineer, with one of the four usually doubling up as navigator. Already on board the XL3 are Pilot Cameron Menzies, who holds the rank of Captain, and Engineer Mary Stewart, also a Captain. Now on their jet mobiles and approaching the ship are Doctor Melanie Wharton and the commander of Fireball XL3, Colonel Conrad Turner.”
The two astronauts now brought their jet mobiles to a hovering position directly above an open hatch just behind the nose cone fins. The Doctor’s bike was first to sink into the hatch, followed by that of Colonel Turner.
The hatch doors closed, and Zero unhooked a small hand held mike from his belt, held it to his mouth, and spoke.
“Lieutenant Ninety, as soon as Turner reports ready, give him the green light.”
“Will do commander,” came the tinny reply from the mike speaker.
Zero turned again to face his audience.
“In a few moments we will see the craft run along its launch rails and take off. No, not to worry about the noise that thing will generate,” he pointed to the massive single booster at the rear of the ship, “The windows and walls of this building are sound proof.”
Sure enough, the massive tail booster burst to life, and the vehicle, sitting on its trolley moved slowly down the railway. It began to pick up speed until it was travelling at around a hundred and twenty knots. By now it was coming up on the incline at the end of the run. It hit the incline just as the gage touched a hundred and twenty-five. Inside the ship its occupants were thrown back in their couches as the angle of the XL3 suddenly changed, and it shot up and off the end of the incline. The instant it left the rails, the trolley underneath came away from the belly of the Fireball, and fell into a specially cushioned pit situated just after, and below the end of the rails.
The XL3’s speed continued to increase. By the time it had left the atmosphere, it was doing mach 10. Inside the ship, all was well.
“Space City from Fireball XL3, about to leave orbit. Estimating Mars orbit and rendezvous with Fireball XL9 in 26 hours”.
“Understood XL3, have a safe trip. Space City out.”
Zero closed the link, and sat back in his chair. He was now back in the control room in the space city tower, a huge T-shaped revolving structure, 15 stories high, and the centre of the huge launch complex that was Space City. Built solely for use as the headquarters of the WSP, Space City was located on the island of Bermuda, only a mile or so from the World Government Capital, Unity City.
The WSP’s job was simply to police the Solar System. Nothing more, nothing less. Missions of exploration and scientific research were still handled by the Solar System Exploration Council, and its fleet of Zero X craft. Although these ships were over 30 years old, they were still seen by many as reliable, if slow, workhorses, with at least another 10 years of life left in them.
While some supply duties were now in the care of the WSP, the vast majority of such work was taken care of by independent operators, contracted out by the World Government. Another phenomenon to grab a foothold on the nine planets was tourism. Big business, and growing fast. Space liners darted back and forth between Earth, Mars, Venus, Mercury, and the Moon. While even bigger cruise ships traversed the asteroid belt and took their paying guests on sight seeing trips around the gas giants.
Pie in the sky to anyone from the 20th century, looking up in wonder at the first Sputnik, yet following man’s first trip to Mars, and the discovery of the Rock Snakes, all man wanted to do it seemed was explore space and occupy it. The fact that life did after all exist on other worlds had an extraordinary effect on the human race.
From taking 71 years to get from Sputnik, in 1957 to Mars, in 2028, via the Moon, in 1969, Venus, in 2010, and Mercury in 2015, it had required just another 29 years to complete the job of colonising our star system. It was that last quarter plus four years of exploration that some people still found hard to take in.
The Solar System was now a thriving community.
There were times when Conrad Turner felt glad that all the WSP had to do was just act as the “space police”, leaving the job of ferrying tourists, ordnance, supplies and other perishables for someone else.
He sat back in his seat, as the tail motor of the XL3 pushed the ship further and further to wards escape velocity. He glanced over to his pilot, Cameron Menzies.
“Is our course laid in Cameron?” he asked.
“Plotted and on the board sir,” came the enthusiastic Australian reply. The dark haired lad had not been with the fleet very long, and the thrill of the job was still very fresh with him.
Turner could not understand it though. He was doing a job. Yes it was a job as spectacular as anything a human could imagine, allowing him to see some quite amazing sights, yet one thing he never regarded himself as was a latter day Paul Travers, or Jeff Tracy.
“OK Cameron, execute TMI once we are past the Moon. We will be clear of local traffic and free to navigate then.”
“Right. Now at 23,000 and leaving Earth, speed increasing to star speed one, Trans-Martian-Insertion, in ninety-six minutes.”
The young man glanced to his right and saw the Earth slowly disappear down the side of the view port. He noticed his commanding officers face. Not even a brief glance, nothing. Cameron felt that he could never tire of such sights. In fact he began to wonder how anyone could not find the movement of Earth away at speed as escape velocity was attained, a spectacular sight.
Yet Turner did not bat an eyelid.
He rose from his seat once the XL3 was a star speed.
“I’ll be in my cabin Cameron. Let me know once we are at TMI.”
“Yes sir,” Cameron acknowledged, and in seconds Turner was out of the control room.
A while later, Menzies was joined by Doctor Wharton. The ship’s chief medical officer was bearing medicine for the young pilot.
“Ah, coffee. Good. It’ll be a cure for insomnia on the leg up to the moon. This should do the trick, thanks.”
He took a cup from the small tray the Doctor was holding. She took a seat opposite him, and took a sip from her cup. She was in her mid-fifties, Canadian, a dark-haired, handsome woman. A twenty year space veteran as she liked to be known. She had become a sort of mother figure to the lad, a confidant.
“Settling in well?” she asked.
“Oh great,” Cameron replied. A huge smile now adorned his face. “Never expected it to be like this. It’s better than I ever imagined.” It was only his second flight as pilot of XL3, having been transferred at the request of Conrad Turner following a glowing report from the training corps in Greenland. Things hadn’t worked out with their first pilot.
His boyish enthusiasm pleased the Doctor. She was however not here for just a chat.
“So, what do you think of your commanding officer?” she enquired.
“He’s OK,” Cameron responded, nodding, and looking straight ahead as he spoke, “Quiet though,” he added, glancing across at her.
“Oh, yes,” she nodded in return, staring ahead as she talked. “Very quiet. He’s now in his cabin, and won’t be out until we reach Mars. It’s typical of him, something you’ll get used to as the months pass.”
She paused, took another sip of her drink, unlocked the pivot in her seat, turned it to face Cameron, leaned forward, resting her elbows on her knees, clasping her cup in both hands, and spoke.
“Cameron, there’s something you should know about Colonel Turner. I figured it’s only right that you should be told as you’re going to be working with him for the foreseeable future. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m sure you are both going to get along very well, but I need to make you aware that he will not always be as talkative as the rest of us. He won’t always join us for dinner. Chances are he will eat alone in his cabin, and then relieve you when it’s time for you to eat. He’s no socialiser either. He doesn’t spend time making small talk or chit-chatting on duty.”
“Oh,” said Cameron. A little taken aback by what he had been told. Melanie Wharton continued.
“You must not be offended by his manner in any way, there’s nothing personal, and you must understand that. He’s a man with a very sad and tragic past.”
“In what way?” a now concerned looking Cameron Menzies now asked.
“Thirty-two years ago, his parents were killed in the Fireflash Nuclear Incident. They were, by sheer chance, both on board the plane when the Bereznik and Chinese missiles hit. She was an observer for the World Government nuclear monitoring corp. He was a pilot who just happened to be assigned to this mission as well. They were ten miles from the blast, yet the shock wave was so severe that it smashed the plane to atoms. He was only seven months old.”
She paused, a shiver when down her spine as she thought of the disaster, and all the memories that it brought back for her. Unlike Cameron, she was old enough to remember all the horror of a nuclear attack.
It had only been the third such incident in history when an atomic device had been detonated in anger. It was enough to bring the two warring factions in the affair to their senses. Whatever it was that had possessed them to engage in the attack was exorcised when their respective governments saw the consequences of their actions.
The people of each nation were not about to tolerate having such brutality committed in their name.
Within hours, both governments had fallen.
A civilian administration had taken root in China, a military, but less hard line one had emerged in Bereznik.
Yet the damage had been done.
“Colonel Turner has had a life without what you and I would take for granted. A loving family. His childhood was spent moving from one children’s home to another. His parents had no immediate family. Thus there was no one to take care of him. To make matters worse, he was fostered by different parents on a number of occasions. He never had a stable home, and at fifteen he ran away to join the military. I won’t bore you with the rest.”
“How do you know all this?” Cameron enquired.
“I was serving as chief medical officer onboard the rocket freighter Dortmund. The Dortmund’s main job was running courier duties between Earth, Venus and Mercury. He was second in command to Colonel Tyburn. I was privy to all medical, reports on personality and attitude. I managed to get him to talk a little about his experiences during his childhood. I could see he was troubled by what he had gone through as a child. He came out of his shell a little as we got to know each other. Eventually I became something of a confidant. He chose me as his ship’s Doctor for the XL3 in many ways as a thank you for helping him during those years on the Dortmund.”
“Why are you telling me all this?” the Australian asked.
“To help you understand him a bit more”, Melanie replied, “He is so much more open a person than he was when I first saw him. More to the point though, your predecessor didn’t get on with him, mainly because he wasn’t able to get used to Colonel Turners manner. It’s for this reason that I’m telling you all this. So that you won’t make the mistake that Captain DeSalle made during his time here.”
Cameron Menzies stared at the large window for a few moments. He thought long and hard about what he had been told. He tried to imagine life without a family of any sort, where you are a stranger, among other strangers. He turned to look at his colleague, now on her feet and collecting their cups and tray.
“Thanks,” he quietly said.
The intercom buzzed.
“Control from engineering.” It was Mary Stewart.
“Control. Go ahead,” Cameron replied.
“See that big thing moving down the port side of the ship?” she asked, with an air or sarcasm in her voice.
“Yikes! The moon. Sorry engineering, yes, you can go to star speed four, engaging TMI course now.”
“I’ll let the Colonel know,” said Melanie, “I’ve got to stop by his cabin on the way back to sick bay.” She placed a reassuring hand on the shoulder of the pilot, and left.
Menzies saw the starfield changed slightly as the ships course altered and the console display showed a new heading for the Mars sector. He sat back in his seat, and thought again about what he had been told.
Doctor Wharton made her way down the main corridor on the XL3 to the Colonel’s cabin.
She came to the door, and pressed the buzzer.
“Come in,” she heard.
The door slid open, and Melanie walked in. She saw the tall figure of Conrad Turner, standing in front of the large window, silhouetted against the glow of the departing moon. He turned to face her.
“Trans Mars Injection initiated. ETA as initially projected.”
“Fine,” Turner responded as the door shut behind Melanie.
He motioned her to sit down, and turned once again to face the window.
“How’s our new pilot?”
“Oh he’s OK,” Melanie responded, half smiling, “I think he’ll get on better than DeSalle.”
“Good,” said Turner.
By now the Moon’s light has disappeared and Turner pressed a small switch by the window frame and adjusted the cabin light.
Still staring out at the stars he continued, “Now seems as good a time as any to say it, now that we are under way again. It’s just that I want to take this opportunity to thank you for all you’ve done for me. I’ve never really done this properly in all the years we’ve been friends. Yet you’ve always been there for me, and for that I’m eternally grateful.”
“Thank you Conrad,” Melanie replied. Even a few words like this were an improvement on the Conrad Turner she first met all those years ago. A lad who’d been in more different home than she could care to mention, and a lad who, as a result of all this moving about, had found himself with a North American accent to his voice by the time he was sixteen. Most of his fostering had been done in the States or Canada, so many miles away from his home country of England.
For some time now they had been on first name terms, at least behind the closed door of either cabins or the sick bay. She stood up and walked slowly over to Conrad and stood alongside him.
“Have you given any thought to my suggestion, about going to see the memorial in Asia, during your next leave?” she asked, looking at the mass of stars as she talked.
Moments passed as the XL3 commander gave due consideration to his Doctor’s enquiry. As he did, Melanie noticed his facial expression change ever so slightly, as though the question had brought up another long forgotten memory, or something from the past.
The memorial in question was the giant obelisk erected to remember the events of 2029 and the atomic war that lasted just one day.
The war that killed his parents, and many others.
The names of his father and mother, along with countless others had been engraved on the many sides of the obelisk. The structure was over 1,200 feet high, 160 feet wide, and stood on a giant plinth. It was located on the south side of Unity City. It will remain there until the radiation hazard in the area of the attack, the Khrebet Cherskogo mountain range in north-east Asia, dissipates to a safe level. Once that has happened, the obelisk will be transported, section by section, to its final resting place, the remains of the small village of Oymyakon, which is situated at the foot of mount Gora-Chen. Right at the heart of the mountain range itself.
The village was laid waste in the blast, and the radiation will not be within safe tolerance levels for another one hundred and seventy years.
Turner thought long about what was asked, and then turned to face Melanie.
“Not yet,” he said quietly. “Perhaps some time in the future.”
Melanie, smiling, nodded, “I understand. Will there be anything else?”
Conrad Turner shook his head.
She quietly left the cabin.
“Fireball XL9, WSP Mars Garrison, and Space City Earth, from Fireball XL3, we now assume patrol of the Mars sector as of now 15:00 hours PSSC.”
“This is XL9, confirmed stand down as of fifteen-hundred, Pan Solar System Clock. Returning to Earth, have a good patrol XL3. This is Colonel Barnes, out.”
“Have a safe trip home, Donald, this is XL3, out.”
The two Fireball ships were alongside each other in a high orbit over Mars. The official rendezvous point for patrol changeover in any sector in the solar system was the planet the sector was named after.
XL3 had met with its sister ship just an hour earlier. The usual routine then followed. The commander of the ship assuming patrol would come aboard the departing ship, meet that ship’s commander and be filled in on anything that was happening in the sector that the arriving commander needed to be aware of.
Once done, the departing ship would exit the scene and head for home, and so it was that XL9 did just that, leaving XL3 to begin it’s week in space.
“Course projected for patrol, commencing rocket burn for orbital exit in 1.2 minutes.”
“Roger Cameron,” Turner replied, now back in the control room. “Everybody, stand by”.
Sure enough, Mary and Melanie had strapped themselves into their couches, Mary in the engine room, Melanie in sick bay. The four astronauts sat and waited for the motors to kick in.
Then, suddenly, an alarm went off on Cameron’s console display.
“I’m picking up a distress call sir.”
“Let’s hear it,” Conrad ordered.
“This is the rocket freighter Benghazi, fifty-nine spacials in from the asteroid belt, there has been an explosion in our port nacelle. The blast ripped our rear goods pod open. The nacelle itself is a write off. We’ve lost one crew member, our engineer. Another, our Doctor, is seriously injured. Our starboard nacelle is damaged, it might yet hold, and then again it might not. We will try to limp to the nearest observatory. The Ranger 7 is just twenty-one spacials away. But if we loose the other nacelle we’re in trouble…”
The noise of an explosion was heard. It cut out the transmission for a moment. Cameron, startled by what he had heard, and unnerved by it all, looked across at his CO.
Turner sat, impassive. He did not so much as bat an eyelid.
The radio suddenly burst back into life.
“…Did you get that, whoever is listening to us, did you get what just happened. The starboard nacelle blew. We’ve had it. You’ve gotta help us, fast…”
The signal went dead, Cameron tried to re-establish communication.
“Benghazi, from WSP ship Fireball XL3, please respond.”
“Benghazi, this is Fireball XL3, come in, please.”
Not a thing.
“Can you get a fix?” Turner enquired.
Menzies looked down at his left hand display, “Yes, Mars sector, reference 291 by 615 by 437.”
“That’s put them just a few million miles inside the belt, on a line from here to the present position of Saturn. Signal the nearest vessel and get them to alter course to intercept as soon as possible. We’ll go and render aid anyway. Lay in an intercept course, Cameron, and keep trying to get in contact with them.”
“Will do,” Cameron replied.
The young Australian scanned for any ship near the area. Nothing.
“Sir, it looks as though we are the closest.”
“OK.” He looked out of the main view port, “it appears this is our baby.”
Turner got up to leave the control room. “I’m going to the navigation bay. I’ll get Mary to access the master computer from Earth at the SSEC. We’ll see if we can get some more data on the Benghazi, and what her assignment was in this sector. In the meantime let Doctor Wharton know about the situation and advise her to get sick bay ready to receive casualties.”
“Understood sir, now leaving orbit, ETA Benghazi’s last reported position in nineteen hours.”
Fireball XL3 exited Mars at maximum star speed. The distance between Mars and the stricken ship was a little less than the distance between the Earth and Mars. Yet nineteen hours was still a long time.
In the navigation bay, the XL3’s engineer had anticipated Turners request for information on the Benghazi, and Mary Stewart wasted no time in getting the data on the computer display ready for when her commander would enter.
The door slid open, and as Conrad walked in, Mary stood up and offered him her seat at the revolving desk, tossing back her long ginger hair as she did so.
“Thanks Mary, seems you read my mind.”
“Just doing my job,” she replied, smiling. Just in her early thirties, she was in many ways like Cameron, eager to please. No bad thing, Conrad thought.
The XL3’s commander sat down, and looked at the display. It did not please him what he saw. He pressed the address-intercraft button, enabling both Cameron and Melanie to hear him.
“OK everyone, here’s what the central computer at Glen Field has on the Benghazi. She is a Deimos class freighter. One large fuselage wider than our own on the XL3 with two small nacelles strapped on. She’s a conventional rocket. Vertical launch and landing.”
He paused for a moment to read more. His expression changed, not for the better.
“We’ve got trouble. The ship is transporting a small consignment of Rinzium. It’s a compound that can ignite upon exposure to radiation. It’s being transported to Earth to be mixed with another compound, Carbardium. This mixing, once done, a new compound will have been created, it will be called Carbarduim-Rinzide.”
“Purpose being?” Mary asked.
“Purpose being so that it can be used in augmenting and repairing life support systems on ships. So if the shielding on this Benghazi is damaged around the cargo hold, then we might be wasting time. That ship could have already gone up. How ironic, a compound actually conceived to help preserve life, could actually bring about the end of the lives of those on this freighter.”
He paused, to allow the other to take in the seriousness of the situation. He then continued.
“Cameron, activate the shockwave scanner, and keep an eye on it. Zero it on the last known position of the Benghazi. Now her crew complement is three, Captain/Pilot, Engineer, and Doctor.”
“Any names?” Melanie cut in from sickbay.
“Well Melanie, her Doctor is a Franz Hintameyer. Ever heard of him?” he asked.
“Nope,” she replied.
Looking at Mary he continued, “The dead engineer was a chap called Hudson, Dale Hudson.”
“Same here, never heard of him. What about her skipper?” she asked, leaning over the desk to see the monitor.
Turner looked at the data, “All it says is Acting Captain Appointed, no name.”
For once a furrowed brow adorned Turners face.
“Always more questions than answers,” he said. He got up from his seat.
“OK everyone, here’s the drill. Our ETA is nineteen hours. That puts our arrival time as ten-hundred PSSC, tomorrow. Melanie, get sickbay ready as advised, Mary, I want to know all there is to know on this compound they are transporting. If it ignites when exposed to radiation, as the computer is saying, I want to know exactly how much radioactivity is required to set that lot off. Cameron, you are due for night watch tonight, advise Space City and the Mars garrison of what we’re doing, then take a couple of pills from the Doctor, and get some shut eye. You can relieve me up front at oh-one-hundred tomorrow.”
He made for the exit, “OK folks lets get to work.”
“Good morning Cameron,” Turner greeted his pilot as the young lad took his seat at the controls. It was 09:50. The Benghazi was just ten minutes away.
“Morning Sir,” he replied, a little taken aback by his commander’s informality. As a rule, it was always business as soon as he got to the control room at the start of each shift. He sensed a different mood in Conrad. Born perhaps of the situation they would soon be facing. There had not been a peep out of the stricken ship since Cameron had picked up the distress signal a day earlier.
Perhaps he was worried, Cameron thought.
It was a long shot that anyone could have survived the accident. With the compound apparently needing only a small amount of radiation for it to go critical, it was highly unlikely that once in the Benghazi’s sector, they would find anything, except a mass of debris.
That said, the shockwave scanner would have reported something. It hadn’t.
There was still hope.
“OK Cameron, slow to one third. Navigation bay, as soon as we’ve slowed, begin scan. Sick bay, stand by.”
Menzies fired the breaking rockets, and XL3 slowed to one third of star speed one. Star speed one is 186,000 miles an hour. At one third of that, 62,000 mph, it would make it easy for Mary in the navigation bay to make a detailed scan.
Sure enough, barely had XL3’s speed moved below 65,000 than she saw on the screen a small blip. It had to be the Benghazi.
“Control room from Nav Bay, have a bogey at 113, mark 18, distance 870 miles.”
Cameron responded, “Understood Mary, altering course.”
The XL3’s pilot slowed down still more, and in a matter of minutes, a small moving dot appeared before them. Gradually it grew to reveal the craft in question.
Conrad and Cameron stared in disbelief.
The fuselage was, against all odds intact. The port nacelle was two thirds destroyed, the starboard one completely gone. The cargo bay outer shielding was ripped off, but the inner shields appeared to still be flush in place.
Cameron manoeveured the XL3 alongside the ship, and once again tried radio contact.
“This is the WSP ship Fireball XL3, come in please.” He turned to face Conrad.
“Let’s hope they have a working short range transmitter,” Conrad said.
“Agreed,” Cameron responded.
Sure enough they had.
“This is the Benghazi. Boy, are we glad to see you, now there isn’t much time. The Rinzium in the bay has begun to react. Reckon we’ve got no more than ten minutes.”
“OK get into your space suits, I assume the two of you are OK. We got the message about Hudson,” Turner mentioned.
“You’re right about that, Hudson never stood a chance. It’s just me and Hintameyer left. However we’ve got worse that that to deal with, all space suits were damaged during the initial explosion. Is your Fireball Junior’s rear hatch compatible with our starboard air-lock?”
Turner turned quickly to his pilot, “Cameron?”
Cameron turned quickly to his left hand console, “Scanning.”
“Affirmative, we can dock.”
“Right. Control to sick bay, Melanie come up front and join me, were going across in Junior. Nav-bay, Mary, go to central control, and begin continuous scan of the Benghazi’s cargo bay. If that Rinzium so much as flickers, I want to know about it. Prepare for separation everybody.” He looked at Cameron.
“Go to central control, and move the main body to a safe distance. Reckon about a thousand metres, and come in for pick-up only when I give the order.”
Cameron sprung to his feet. “Respectfully request that I go over alone and you remain with the ship. I’m expendable sir. You and the others are not.”
Conrad privately admired the young Australian for what he was offering to do, but was looking for no heroes on this day.
“Sorry Cameron, this is my call, this is one time when experience is needed over youth. Report to central control please, that’s an order.”
“Understood sir,” Menzies replied, trying not to show his disappointment.
Conrad Turned to the mike by his seat.
“Benghazi from Fireball XL3, stand by, we’re coming in, our airlock will fit yours. Get ready.”
“Understood XL3, and thanks.”
Once Doctor Wharton had joined Conrad in the control room, and Cameron had taken his seat in the bubbled dome just behind Fireball Junior’s fins that was central control, the separation sequence began.
“Junior from central control, I have a green light on the connector ring. Both hatches secure, de-magnetizing clamps, withdrawing clamps,” Cameron announced.
The junior was now separate of the XL3, even though she appeared to still be docked to it.
“Firing forward motors,” Conrad called, and slowly Fireball Junior moved away from the main body.
“Separation confirmed, Fireball junior now clear of main body, you look good. Withdrawing now to one thousand metres, will keep this frequency open, and will come in for pick up on your signal sir, good luck.”
Junior now veered off to the right, and began its approach to the Benghazi. Cameron then fired the XL3’s main rockets and took the ship away from the Benghazi. Once at the agreed distance, he turned the main body around so that it faced the rescue zone. By now he had been joined in central control by Mary. She took a seat to his right and began watching the scanner.
They both watched as the Junior got closer to the Benghazi, and more to the point, zeroed in on its forward starboard hatch.
The small nose cone came to a dead stop some ten feet from the hatch. Inside Conrad triggered the thrusters toggle and two small attitude control jets fired for a split second.
Junior turned through 180 degrees. Now it’s rear hatch was facing the Benghazi’s hatch.
Conrad now flicked another toggle and a flexible connecting tunnel no more than 2 feet long, and made entirely of canvas protruded out from around the back hatch. The seal ring had a row of small magnetic nodes embedded in it. Conrad activated these and the end of the tunnel now attached itself to the Benghazi’s hatch, bending itself into a “C” shape as it did so, so as to cover the entire entrance and provide a sealed environment for people to walk through.
Melanie, seated at Cameron’s seat, kept her eye on the docking systems while Conrad eased Junior into position.
“Seal Active. Pressurising,” Melanie reported.
“Right, let’s get in, and get these folks out of there.” He flicked the mike button. “Benghazi from XL3 Junior, is your hatch working OK?”
“Junior from Benghazi, zis iss Dr Hintameyer speaking, our captain hass just collapsed. Ze hatch iss OK, opening now, and get in here fast. Ze captain iss close to breaking point.”
“OK Hintameyer, opening our hatch now.”
The two from Fireball walked in, a small gangplank had protruded from under Junior’s hatch and met flush with the base of the opposite door.
They were met by the stench of stale atmosphere. All the oxygen re-gen units had been affected it seemed, it felt as though they had only been on half power, if that.
The hatch they had entered led into a corridor. They turned on their torches as the lighting had gone, pointed them to the left of where they were standing, and stopped in their tracks.
It was one of the crew, slumped on the floor, blood pouring from a head wound.
Melanie knelt beside him, took out some antiseptic wipes from her bag and began to clean the cut.
“Thank God, you’ve got here just in time. I’m Hintameyer. I’m OK but I’m vorried about our captain, he iss just across ze corridor in ze supply locker, I heard him just fall down. I’m not surprised. If it were not for him, ve vould all be dead by now.”
“How so?” Turner asked, crouching down next to Wharton.
The Doctor sat up against the wall, “After ze explosion, he vent out in a space suit and reinforced ze shielding on ze cargo bay, it vas dangerously close to splitting open. Tiny explosions were taking place all ze time in ze cargo bay. This was putting stress on ze shielding, causing it to rupture. If he had been so much as a seccond late ze Rinzium vould have been exposed to ze cosmic rays of space and ze whole pile vould have ignited.”
Turner got up, turned around and walked over to the supply locker, pressed the door button, and sure enough, slumped on the floor in the corner, when the door slid open, was a young blond haired lad, probably no more than twenty-five years old, his face covered in scars, and still wearing his space suit, sans the helmet and tanks.
“In here Mel!” Turner yelled.
“Stay put for a moment,” Melanie said, putting a reassuring hand on the other Doctor’s arm.
She joined Turner in the other room, he was feeling for a pulse, and breathed a sigh of relief when he found one.
“He seems OK,” Melanie said as she looked him over, “Just cuts and bruises, but judging by his heart rate and blood pressure he is really very exhausted.”
“I’ll bring the stretcher,” Conrad said, “Hintameyer, you feel up to walking now?”
“Yess, wery much so,” the Doctor replied.
The boarding party, together with their casualties, made their way back over to XL3’s main body. Within ten minutes of them arriving on the Benghazi, they were back with the mother ship, seated at the meal table in the galley, cups of coffee at hand, all except Cameron who was in the control room. The tree others were assessing the situation.
“Hintameyer is OK, I’ve assigned him guest quarters,” Melanie continued, “He’s gone to sleep already. I didn’t have the chance to ask him what the lad’s name was.”
“Never mind,” Turner reassured his Doctor, “We can ask the lad himself when he comes to. Which will be in, how long, Doctor?” he shot a quizzical look at Melanie.
“A couple of hours, I’ve given him a blood transfusion and he’s on a food drip. He should be OK.”
Turner turned to face Mary.
“What about the Benghazi?” he asked.
“I’ll place a beacon on the hull to warn any traffic nearby to stay clear. I’ll initiate a WSP warning message to be relayed out from her on all frequencies, recommend a range of fifty miles on it.”
“Agreed,” Conrad nodded. “I’d still like to know what caused the blast in the first place.”
“Well, they didn’t report an attack of any sort,” Mary added.
Suddenly the radio bleeped.
Turner stabbed the button on the table.
“What is it Cameron?” he barked.
“We’ve got company, ship closing in fast. She’s very small, possibly a one man ship or two man at best.”
Turner jumped up to face the others. “Mary, get down to engineering and give us all the spare power you’ve got, just in case this crafts hostile. Melanie, stay with our patient. Let’s hope they’re friendly.”
Conrad wasted no time getting up front. Cameron shot him a concerned glance.
“I’ve been trying all the radio channels, nothing. He coming in a star speed two, closing to 10,000 miles, should be a visual in a few minutes.”
“Right.” Turner looked around through the view port. He had wondered on more than one occasion since the distress call had come, just why there had been explosions for no apparent reason in the two nacelles. Perhaps now some answers would come.
“Got it,” he said. “Coming in now at two o’clock to our view”.
“I see it,” Cameron responded, now even more puzzled. “What the hell is it?”
It was nothing more than a tiny dot, but one that appeared to be nothing more than a meteorite, yet it started to slow down. The tiny dot coming in from the top right hand side slowed down and began to grow in size.
“At last,” Cameron breathed. “They’re opening a com channel”.
“Let hear it,” Conrad ordered.
The radio crackled.
The voice was hoarse, old sounding.
It did not betray the fact that it was the voice of a person with nothing but contempt for anyone who so much as batted an eyelid in difference to what he was saying.
“The Rinzium must not be saved. Do not attempt to preserve it. I cannot overstate the importance that the cargo of this freighter is wiped out.”
“That will be the day,” Cameron uttered under his breath.
The message continued.
“You and your Fireball XL3 crew are expendable in this case. It’s the price to pay in order to ensure the success of this mission. We failed the first time when we placed small adhesive charges on the two nacelles. They didn’t do their job properly, but I will.”
The two men on XL3 looked at each other.
Answers at last, it was sabotage after all.
A sabotage that has failed, and now the crazed madman behind it, who sounded completely unbalanced, almost devoid of any sense of what he was saying or doing, was now bearing down on Conrad, Cameron and the others.
The ship was now fully in view, and closing fast on the Benghazi.
It was saucer shaped, with no other distinguishing features, save a pair of small engine nozzles at the rear, and a smaller set of retro thrusters at the front. That was about it. Its shape was perhaps its asset, as it appeared to be designed for travel at incredible speeds. Yet how fast, and who was onboard were not the issue.
The issue was the Benghazi.
Conrad realised that the intruder could probably outrun, and maybe even out gun the XL3, but something had to be done.
Something must be done.
Conrad suddenly found himself thinking about more than just the question of saving the Rinzium from igniting and being destroyed. It was a compound that could preserve life.
Thoughts of a man who openly kept his emotions in check were racing through his head.
Why was it so important that such an act of goodwill, to transport and develop a compound that would be of benefit to those who were brave enough to travel in space, should be wrong to some people.
Why was the need to preserve some state of vulnerability for those who travel in space, so important to these people?
Why is it that the need to destroy, to prove a point, to undermine an enemy was worth the taking of a life?
Why was it the case now in 2061?
Just as it was in 2029.
Why did so many people have to pay with their lives that day, because someone was intolerant of another person, or people’s point of view?
Why now must there be people who have the same grudge against life?
Conrad took a deep breath, and looked across at his colleague.
“Cameron, give me helm control.”
“Transferring helm,” Cameron responded, realising after seeing his commanding officer in a near trance thinking the thoughts he had just thought, that Turner had something up his sleeve.
The Australian hit two switches on his left console. One switch disabled his helm, the other transferred power to Conrad’s.
The commander of Fireball XL3 barely nodded in acknowledgement of the helm control coming to him.
His mind was miles away, and yet also very much focused on the here and now.
He opened his mouth to speak, yet his words could just about be heard by Cameron. They came out slowly, yet they were said with a level of meaning that was not lost on Cameron.
“We are not gonna take this. No way. This time the bastard is not going to win.”
With his mind focused to the exclusion of all that was around him, Conrad Turner slammed the XL3 into full forward thrust, and raced toward the incoming saucer.
Without warning the saucer opened fire.
Two small projectiles were spat out at the XL3, Conrad flipped the ship in its port side, and the two missiles fired in anger passed by within a matter of a few feet.
They missed the Benghazi by even less.
The XL3 now pulled up in a steep climb that took it several thousand feet away from the Benghazi, and Conrad hoped the saucer would do what he wanted it to do.
The saucer now made for XL3, leaving the freighter unattended.
They raced away from the Benghazi so fast that it shrunk to a small dot, smaller than even some of the stars in the mass of tiny campfires in the sky that looked down on the drama being acted out by the two vessels.
Conrad now sensed his chance. The saucer perhaps was still capable of out running the XL3, but its pilot was perhaps one not to make mistakes, and wanted nothing, no matter how trivial, out of the way, so as to leave him able to concentrate on his task.
In short, the pilot of this strange saucer was erring on the side of caution. Take care of the XL3, he was thinking, underestimate this craft at your peril.
Turner saw the saucer on his display and it was closing. He flicked a switch on his side console.
“Alright everybody, hang on”, he growled, a voice of pure anger, hatred for what was at hand, and a sheer determination not to fail.
His parents, through no fault of their own had failed.
Thirty-two years ago.
Not him, not today.
For their memories, and for the memories of those who perished in North East Asia that day.
No failure, nothing.
Conrad hit another switch on his right console.
He glanced at his display, and saw the result of what he had done.
The port engine of XL3 had now shut down, from underneath it, a small shoal of tiny canisters now appeared, jettisoned from the XL3.
They were right in the path of the saucer.
There were so many of them that any attempt to pull up or down or bank over to the left would result in one or more of these tiny capsules hitting the saucer, and possibly hitting its small array of retro thrusters that jutted out at the front.
This would almost certainly result in an explosion, killing the pilot.
Only one option left.
In the time it had taken the saucer’s commander to slow down his craft, Turner had now played his ace.
By now the interceptors had been deployed, and turned through 180 degrees, and now faced the small array of fuel canisters, and Conrad Turner, on behalf of the thousands who had died all those years ago, and on behalf of the many millions who would benefit from that was being preserved, fired all the missiles in a simultaneous burst.
The saucer, and its pilot, on this day, were not going to win. Far from it.
If anything, it was possible that the pilot did not know what was going on.
In fact, it was a safe bet that he never knew.
The interceptors hit the canisters. The explosion engulfed the XL3’s opponent.
The saucer was blasted to atoms.
“This is a World Space Patrol Priority Warning Signal. Do not approach this vessel, repeat do not approach this vessel. By authority of Wilbur Zero, commander in chief, World Space Patrol.”
The beacon had been set, and had began transmitting as the XL3 left the Benghazi. A repair crew was already on its way from the Mars garrison and would make the craft safe for towing before bringing it back to Mars where it would be relieved of its cargo and either scrapped, or repaired.
Inside the Fireball all was well. Cameron was at the controls, steering the ship to Mars where the crew would take on a new fuel load, drop off its two guests, and then resume its patrol.
Speaking of guests, the captain of the Benghazi was now awake and ready to take visitors. Conrad made for sickbay and once greeted by Melanie was escorted to a small side ward where he at last saw the man who had saved the Benghazi.
Melanie had said that he was still weak, and could only be with anyone for a few minutes, but it was long enough for Turner.
He sat down next to the young lad.
“Hello, I’m Conrad Turner, commander of Fireball XL3. I just want to thank you for what you did. You saved the lives of yourself and your colleague.”
“I only wish I could have saved Hudson’s, I was too late.”
Turner interrupted, “There was nothing you could have done. It wasn’t your fault. What you don’t yet know and must now be told is that your ship was sabotaged. Two small sticker bombs were attached to the nacelles. By a miracle of deliverance, they didn’t entirely work.”
“They worked enough to kill Hudson,” the young man now interrupted back.
Conrad paused, and looked down at the floor, aware that the blond-haired lad was right. However, he was determined to have the last word.
“They may indeed have worked enough to kill him, but he can rest in peace. Those who were responsible for what happened paid us a visit while you were out for the count. They were trying to finish the job. Needless to say, we finished them, and the Benghazi is intact. Your work on the cargo bay was superb. Well done.”
“Thanks,” the tired lad now replied. He was starting to get sleepy again.
Conrad had just a couple more things to ask.
“How long have you been in the space service?”
“Left home when I was 17, enlisted in the SSEC as a trainee Astronaut, left there a couple of years later to join Trans Solar Freight, the people who own the Benghazi. That was two years ago.”
“You’ve not been idle then,” he said.
“Nope,” the lad said.
“You know,” Conrad said, “we could use people like you in the WSP. You kept a cool head on your shoulders. You showed the sort of bravery that would not be out of place in the World Space Patrol. Tell you what, I’ll mention your name to my commanding officer, if that OK with you.”
“Well, yes,” the young man said. He was clearly flattered by what Conrad had said.
“Fine,” said Conrad as he got up from his seat. He then realised he’d forgotten something.
He turned once again to face the patient.
“Oh yes, one last thing. I’d plain forgotten all this time we’ve been chatting, and I’ve not asked one very important question.”
He found himself starting to laugh, realising how stupid he’d been.
“What is your name?”
The lad looked back, smiling.
“Zodiac, Steve Zodiac.”
The obelisk was indeed an impressive sight so high, so wide, so simple.
Most of all so dignified. As a memorial to thousands killed should be.
It was on a hill that was itself many hundreds of feet from the ground. On a plateau.
The two men who stood before the structure had different thoughts going through their minds.
For one man, there was the relief that he had not suffered the losses felt by so many.
For the other, there was a promise kept.
A pain eased.
“I promised Melanie I would come here some day. Five years ago I said I would. When she died, I just had to do it.”
Steve Zodiac looked at the man who had rescued him and his colleague off the Benghazi, all those years ago. The man who had become his friend that day, and had stayed a good and trusted friend ever since.
He felt that nothing had gone right in his life for this fella. He’d lost his parents before he was even old enough to remember anything. Now, he had lost a friend closer to him than anyone else.
Despite the fact that the obelisk was clearly visible from the T-Tower at Space City, Conrad Turner had never been anywhere near it. It was indeed a massive structure. A fitting memorial to those who has perished in the so called, “Nuclear Night”.
It was however an appropriate time for the man who had been in the WSP right from its inception to make this first visit. He had just received his release papers from the WSP.
He was moving to greener pastures.
People in higher places had heard of what he’d achieved in his many years at Space City.
Now these same people had acted, and he was made an offer he could not refuse.
A challenge now awaited him that was unlike any other.
First though, there was one last duty to perform.
In his left hand were three roses.
He walked up to the Obelisk, and placed the three flowers at the base of it.
For the first time in his life, he found himself fighting back tears. It was as much as he could do to speak, but speak he was definitely going to do.
“There you are. A rose for you Jarvis Turner, the father I never knew. A rose for you Claire Turner, the mother I never knew.”
He took a deep breath.
“For you Melanie Wharton, a rose for the only woman I ever loved. My only regret is, I never told you.”
He stood back, stood to attention, and bowed his head. He remained in that position for exactly one minute.
He turned and walked back to Steve.
“I’m going now. I hope we’ll see each other again one day. I know I’m doing the right thing moving on. You see the organisation I’m going to work for is one that is dedicated to preserving peace on our world. It is the fervent hope of World President Younger that this new agency, the name of which I’ve not yet been told, will ensure that tragedies like the one that killed my parents never ever happen again. I can think of no better way of honouring my parent’s memory than by doing this.”
Conrad Turner held out a hand.
“It’s been a privilege knowing you, Steve”.
The blond-haired lad was now a Fireball commander in his own right. The XL3 itself having had been given to him just days ago. This was the just reward for serving as 2nd in command of the XL10 under Colonel Ozaka and then and 2nd in command on the XL7 under Colonel Bryan. Four years in total, learning the ropes, now he had his own command, and he owed it all to the man standing opposite him.
Steve Zodiac shook the hand of his friend, and hoped indeed he would one day meet with the man who had saved his life, and help change the course of it.
“Whatever path you choose in life, Conrad, may it lead to happiness. Goodness knows you deserve it.”
The men shook hands warmly.
Turner then turned and walked away to the edge of the plateau. Steve noticed for the first time a grey-haired man in a black overcoat waiting by a car that had quietly made its way up to the obelisk by way of the winding track that lead up from the outskirts of Unity City.
When he got to the car, the man introduced himself.
“Good morning, Mr Turner, my name is Mr White,” he said in a very plumb English accent. “Your codename, that you will be known by from now on, is Mr Black.”
The men shook hands warmly. Just a moment ago, one handshake had brought one chapter of a life to an end. Now another handshake brought about the beginning of another.
Mr White opened the car door, he gestured for Mr Black to get inside, and as he did so, he said three words that would indeed, usher in a new chapter in the life of the man formerly known as Conrad Turner.
“Welcome to Spectrum.”
The years that followed the events to what historians referred as the Benghazi incident, had mixed fortunes for those directly involved.
Melanie Wharton’s death was tragic and very sudden. A terrible explosion at a solar observatory, where she was lecturing, having left the WSP, left her with serious injuries. It was thought that she would survive, but a week after the accident she took a turn for the worst. By the time Turner had been told of the change in her condition, and had been able to get leave to go and visit her, she had died. It was only at this point that he began to realise he was in love with her.
Mary Stewart also left the XL3, but stayed in the WSP, working on the new combined compound that had been created using the Rinzium that was saved during the Benghazi incident.
She helped refine the now re named Carbardium-Rinzide and in a matter of two years, it was being fitted to all WSP, SSEC, and private vehicles as standard life support shielding. It turned out that the Rinzium on the Benghazi that was saved by the XL3 was the only supply of the material. It had taken seven years for scientists based on Jupiter’s moon Ganymede to perfect the formula, and it had taken a further nine years for it to become stable enough for it to be transported to Earth. It was the same case with the Carbardium. Eleven years in all had been spent with that compound on Earth. This made the efforts of those on XL3 to save the Rinzium all the more important, and this only spurred Mary on to succeed in her attempts to refine the new compound.
Cameron Menzies served three more years as number two to Conrad, before getting his own command, the XL12. At the enquiry into the Benghazi incident, he was one of the more fierce critics of the lack of security for the transport of such an important compound. The official response was that a WSP patrol would have aroused suspision. Cameron typically responded by saying that that a WSP escort would have saved the life of the Benghazi’s engineer, Dale Hudson. Such respect for human life is what earned Menzies a reputation for being a first rate WSP commander. His time on the XL12 would prove that. In years to come his name would be uttered in the same breath as Travers, Tracy, and yes, Turner.
Steve Zodiac commanded the XL3 for five years before in 2072 he was given the command of the Flagship of the WSP, the XL5. On his first mission, he was involved in events that would forever change Mankind, the discovery of alien life beyond our nine planets, a discovery that would result in our Earth system being invited to join an alliance of over sixty planets in some fifty solar systems. The formula for faster than light travel was given to us by these people, and Humanity, in the space of a few months, took a leap forward that would otherwise have taken centuries, had Earth remained on her own.
For Conrad Turner, it was a different story, as a Spectrum representative. On a special ZERO-X/SSEC mission to investigate mysterious signals from a remote, still un-explored area of Mars, signals that had been monitored from Earth, a strange city was discovered. A device that resembled a weapon was pointed at the MEV.
It was only a transmitter.
It was shot out of sight, along with the rest of the city.
It was Turner who gave the order to fire.
For a man who had dedicated his life to seeing that the harm that had come to his family, did not come to anyone else if he could help it, the irony that he had fired in haste on peaceful beings, was not lost on him, but not for long.
The Mysteron war had begun, and Turner, was taken over by the Mysterons, to be their eyes and ears on Earth. Strangely, their quarrel was only with Earth, not with any other planets in the solar system. This being because it was Earthmen, and only Earthmen, that had fired in anger that day.
Yes indeed. The years following the Benghazi incident were ones of varying degrees of fortune for those involved.
Melanie Wharton is no longer with us. Mary Stewart continues to work at perfecting aspects of spaceship engineering. Cameron Menzies still flies the skies in the XL12. Steve Zodiac still flies the skies in the XL5.
Captain Black still remains at large.
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