The phase objective was within reach.
Events had accurately unfolded along the linear time-line, as predicted by analysis of the Carey-Construct's data.
Minerva and the McLaine unit were presently vulnerable, units of the Spectrum sector scattered, isolated and operating at less than maximum efficiency. Both the Black unit and the Carey Construct were also - as yet unknown to the Spectrum units - within target proximity.
Probability calculations indicated that any future actions undertaken by the Spectrum sector to defend Minerva were unlikely to affect the extrapolated outcome of this phase of the War.
It was an opportunity to collect additional data, to further observe human reactions under adverse conditions. Such information was deemed valuable, though the course that would elicit such enriched data decreased the margin for success by a small, but acceptable percentage.
The phase objective was within reach....
A squall of sub-zero air blasted into the entrance corridor as the door slid open, bringing snow and stinging ice pellets with it. Ochre had plastered himself to the wall at the inside lintel and he caught the brunt of it with his gun up and his feet braced against whatever unknown assault might have been waiting outside there.
Zil was crouched low beside him, one hand on the door's control, the other ready to reach out and grab Merlin by the collar just as soon as the door had opened far enough---
Which she did. Before that door had slid even halfway across the doorframe, she'd had the big mutt in hand and had hauled him---willingly enough---inside the entry. She'd hit the control panel immediately; the door slid home again, sealing with a click, shutting out the chill and violent wind and any other unknown, unrevealed threats with it. He flicked the inside lights back on.
Merlin himself was the very picture of misery. Frigid-cold and bedraggled, his fur was lumpy with bits of ice and packed snow. The dog whined once, claws scrabbling along the tiled floor of the entry corridor and then he sat, hindquarters simply collapsing beneath him as he panted and whuffed and blinked, utterly astonished to find his circumstances so abruptly changed for the better.
The dog sat there, raising one paw like it hurt, shivering violently as Zil let go of the collar and reached instead to lift the mutt's muzzle and to put her nose right down to Merlin's.
"You idiot!" she cursed, with no venom whatsoever and only heartbreaking affection in the tone. "Look at you! Ninny. Dolt. Imbecile---there are not enough derogatory terms in the whole english language for you---"
Mournful, dejected eyes stared back, and Merlin licked her face, just once, before he laid down right where he was, exhausted and frozen and suffering.
Ochre's heart went out to the poor beast, having been in achingly similar straits so very recently himself. He liked dogs in general, had come to like this one in particular and felt an irrational pang of guilt that he'd been so willing to leave the poor, dimwitted thing out there in that weather for as long as had been security-clearance necessary. He watched, gun still in hand, as Zil picked and pulled iceballs from between Merlin's toes, finding footpads raw and bleeding, and one claw cracked to the quick and tender to the touch. She paused long enough to run her hands over Merlin's back and around ribs and belly, a quick but professional once-over, assuring herself that the animal wasn't truly injured before she urged Merlin to his feet and herded him further into the cabin.
"Com'on, you. The fire's still burning, there's far better places to be than right here. Moron. Up. Inside. You can walk that much farther and no one here's about to carry you. Com'on. Right now. Let's go."
She tugged on the collar and Merlin lurched unsteadily to his feet, favoring that right forepaw and limping with Zil into the living area and to the hearth. The warm stone there must have made a positive impression; Merlin thumped his tail twice, and laid down again as Zil snagged one of the blankets and used it to begin to rub the dog dry.
Ochre closed the inside door, and chose the lock option when the security screen on the control panel prompted him for it, Zil having completely forgotten it needed to be done in her immediate preoccupation with the dog. He watched for a moment, wary of the dog's presence, despite Magenta's assurances that the dog had not been seen recently at Demeter.
Magenta had not seemed concerned. But Magenta had been gone most of the day. Magenta had had to ask. And Magenta hadn't met Merlin, either.
Ochre added up the hours and minutes, his mind engaging itself in a forensic time analysis.
He'd landed the SPJ at about nine that morning, local time. The airfield fiasco had followed - maybe five minutes worth of crisis and catastrophe. He hadn't caught up with Zil until nearly four that afternoon, precipitating another five minutes of scrapping and a polar dip. Not quite an hour after that had put the two of them in the cabin, cold and bickering---one more exceedingly unpleasant five minute interval. He'd reported to Cloudbase, had coffee, stew and a nap. Eight o'clock, she'd said then. Another report, some hot chocolate, and an unexpected romantic fireside encounter, certainly not the least pleasant thing that he'd done all day, only the least intelligent. Then a shorter, tandem-cozy kind of nap, a lot of deep thinking. Ochre glanced at his watch. Was it really only just midnight? Damn busy day....
When had Demeter lost track of the dog? How long had it actually taken for the dog to make the trip up the mountain? And - had Merlin managed to do so without incident? Even if the dog had been mere mortal canine when he'd gone for the walk, it didn't mean that he'd finished it that way. How had the dog managed a few of those steep climbs? Had Merlin taken another route...a longer one perhaps, one that would have eaten up more time? Factor in the weather, and---well, the weather wouldn't have helped at all with Merlin's speed....
It wasn't impossible that Merlin had managed to follow Zil. That was all he could conclude.
Someone at Demeter had to have been in charge of the dogs. Surely someone would have an idea - even an approximate one - as to when Merlin had walked off. Hadn't anyone done a head count when the blizzard hit? Hadn't anyone worried about the dog? Merlin was hard to miss, and should have been conspicuous in his very absence.
Really need to talk to a few witnesses, he thought. Just can't tell squat on circumstantial alone....
Zil was still muttering harmless imprecations at the dog, in what was starting to look more and more like a very dangerous proximity. "I need some real towels," she announced a moment later, discarding the now damp blanket and tossing a drier one over Merlin as she stood up and turned for the loft. "Be right back - he needs a wrap on that broken nail, too." She paused only briefly in her mission, looking at him quizzically. "Stop looking so grim, Och. And I think maybe you can put the gun away now....he doesn't bite, you know. Where have you been all week?"
Ochre shoved the electron gun back into its holster and deliberately relaxed, consciously erasing the crease from between his brows. He knew the expression she was talking about - one he'd actually practiced in front of a mirror once-upon-a-time, when street-intimidation had been - and still was - a sometimes useful law-enforcement skill. He'd slipped into humourless-cop mode.
He was worried.
"He's okay?" Ochre asked, figuring he'd best show some minimal interest in the dog's well-being, and - if he didn't change his mind about it in the next few minutes - let her pamper the thing under his armed supervision before he would have to inform her with no ifs, ands or buts that Merlin was going to be locked upstairs in one of the bedrooms as soon as she was done her veterinary routine. She would object, he was sure about that, but he'd explain it, sanely, logically, clearly, so that she'd understand it was a security non-option. For Minerva's safety. Nothing personal. She'd buy into that, after the lengths she'd gone to---
Meanwhile, Merlin would be safe and comfortable and behind a solid door that either an ordinary or a Mysteronized dog shouldn't be able to open....
If he could get the right answers out of Demeter staff, then maybe soon enough he'd agree to letting the thing loose in the cabin again.
If he got the wrong answers, well, then he'd have to do something drastic about it. Mysteron reconstructions had a bad habit of self-destructing in close quarters. When the Mysteronized Captain Brown had done so, it had been enough to level Spectrum Security HQ.
The cabin wasn't nearly that big. Wasn't nearly so well protected. And was every bit as vulnerable to that sort of attack and would have been, even if they hadn't let the dog in, so maybe it didn't matter that much that they had, looking at it that way----
Wish I'd thought of that sooner. Wish I had a detector, dammit. I just hate this Not-Knowing business, always have, always will hate it....
For sure, he wasn't going to be using any kiss-and-tell methodology on the dog.
"Yeah, he'll be okay---he's a bit hypothermic." Zil answered. "Happens to animals, too. He could use a bowl of water, if you're not busy."
"Right." Ochre agreed to that absently, his hand still on the butt of the electron gun, backing a step toward the kitchen as she headed up the stairs. Merlin hadn't moved, was simply lying there on the hearth under the blanket, all limp-relaxed and with eyes closed. Exhausted. Certainly not looking as if he was about to detonate.
Zil had been right there, face-to-muzzle with the dog - an opportunity to kill her, surely, that the Mysterons might have taken advantage of, if things truly weren't as innocent as they appeared.
Ochre decided he'd get the bowl of water, right then. Get that done and free himself up from any other minor tasks before Zil got back and he'd have explain why he wasn't going to leave her alone with the dog, not even for the minute it might take to run some silly errand. He could see a jug of water sitting on the counter near the coffee maker, hadn't a clue where any bowls might have been stashed....he spared a glance at the still motionless dog. The kitchen wasn't big, opening a couple of cupboards couldn't take long.
He was two steps into the kitchen when his shoulder epaulettes flickered unsteadily with the rapid flash of an incoming urgent message - the flash was deep red, it was Scarlet wanting something----
His head had turned at the flickering, the signal degraded by scan-shielding, his eye caught by the indicator lights and that, possibly, was the only thing that saved him. His peripheral visual field had come around just far enough to see that Merlin was suddenly not only up, but was hurtling toward his unprotected back as if the call had been a cue for attack; Ochre whirled reflexively and caught the animal in mid-leap, lost his cap and all of his balance under the driving impact and went down hard beneath almost two hundred pounds of mute, Mysteronized canine fury.
And what Scarlet was yelling about wasn't even news by the time his back hit the floor.
It was the beeping of the epaulettes that had awoken him.
Or at least, he thought so.
Scarlet sat up groggily in bed, sure that he'd heard the familiar sound. He'd locked his transceiver open, one of the last things he'd done before finally turning in, so that his cap's processor would pick up a call to any Spectrum personnel there at Demeter, and not just to his own specific frequency, a kind of rank-sanctioned eavesdropping.
Despite his many apprehensions, he'd gone out like the proverbial light when his head had hit the pillow. It had been a long day. A long and not such a good day besides.
His recap sessions with both Lieutenants and with Magenta afterwards had only been useful to a small degree and had largely failed to answer the many questions that had arisen throughout the course of the day's events. Those questions had continued to roll around inside his head as he'd restlessly paced his assigned guest room until he'd finally made up his mind that he wasn't going to resolve any of them without a proper rest; so he'd adopted Magenta's advice, and decided he'd sleep on them.
He'd learned long ago how to fall asleep when he needed to - an ages-old soldier's skill that he fell back on whenever there wasn't a Room of Sleep handy. Fatigue, however, must have caught up with him - for all of the tensions and unresolved questions, he'd been slumbering more deeply than he'd imagined he might have. Whatever the call had been about, the conversation hadn't lasted long enough for him to have come to sufficient consciousness to catch any of it.
No one had seen fit to alert him as to the content of that missed conversation, so it couldn't have been too terribly important. Surely he could just roll over and go back to sleep....
But he was awake now, and it wouldn't hurt to ask.
His glance went to the clock. It was just shortly before midnight. The blizzard was still raging outside, though the scans had predicted the worst of it would peak before dawn. It was an intense weather system, but it was moving quickly, and would pass the Demeter area before the following noon.
Scarlet rolled out of bed, clad still in his uniform trousers and the universal black shirt. The colored over-tunic was too stiffly uncomfortable for sleeping, and it bristled inside and out with pocket kits, utility clips and weapons holsters. He stepped into his boots and fastened them before shrugging himself into the tunic without bothering to zip it up. Hopefully, he'd be out of it again in only a few minutes.
The communications room was down one level and halfway along the corridor. Magenta was still on-duty there, absorbed at one of the computer terminals with Taylor leaning over one shoulder, the two of them probably reviewing the security records. Lance was curled into a compact lump of fur nearby, and Weller's dog spared him only a sidelong glance as he came in, not even bothering to get up.
Things looked pretty tranquil.
"Can't sleep?" Magenta asked, looking up at his arrival. "It's not even four hours yet."
"I was," Scarlet replied. "But I thought I heard a call come in. Was I dreaming? Things look calm and cool here."
"Just Ochre checking in."
It seized his attention, the bad feeling back again, sudden and unexpected for all the evident tranquility. "Everything all right?"
"Seems to be---he wanted to know if we'd seen the dog. Seems he's just turned up there and Ochre wanted to be sure that---"
"Yeah, he said that----"
"Merlin's dead! Merlin was with Weller and Prince!" Scarlet's hand was on his cap mike in that instant. "Ochre! Ochre---don't let that dog in! That's a Mysteron! Ochre!" He shouted Ochre's name, trying to gauge the time elapsed since the call.....
How could he have been so stupid? How could he possibly have failed to mention that to Ochre? Or to Magenta? Both of whom had heard about Weller and Prince, and neither of whom had been there to see the bodies or know that the dratted dog had been in that doomed lift too---
It all came together in his head in the space between two heartbeats. He and Roan had seen three living things climb into that lift. Teal had welcomed only two downstairs. Roan had - doubtless by Mysteron design - been peeved enough with Weller's antics not to have remembered that the dog had tagged along...and after that, everyone had been upset enough over Weller and Prince not to even care about the dog---the dead dog being little more than a piece of low priority collateral damage, at best.
Out of sight, out of mind. He heard his own words echoing in his head...
I doubt you want the details.....that was what he'd said to Ochre.
And to Magenta: Extrication of a couple of bodies.....
Two equally empty and useless statements. Vague. Non-specific. Worthless.
The details were in his written report to Cloudbase. Which, again, Ochre and Magenta had not seen, because Ochre had been out in the bush battling the elements and Magenta had been on a time-critical touch-and-go round trip to Cloudbase and back.
He thought about the dog....poor, not-so-bright Merlin. Silly, friendly beast. Not a hazard anywhere, unless it was to foodstuffs not nailed down. A clumsy, pony-sized puppy-mind that could be sent slinking, tail down, with nothing more than a harsh word.
Grey had been checking Lance out with the detector the week long. Lance looked like he could be potentially dangerous.
Ochre --- Ochre had called to check up on Merlin's possible whereabouts, had been thinking exactly down the right lines and had asked----
And had gotten rotten, lousy misinformation back.
Both Magenta and Taylor were staring at him, aghast. Taylor hadn't known either - evidently Sanchez hadn't thought to pass along that same bit of information to her either, the big news, again, being the untimely demise of SWC magnate and heir Andrew Weller and boy genius Arthur Prince along with him. Big, bad news that had severely disturbed all of the remaining staff. The bodies hadn't made it upstairs; the bodies were in storage down in one of the cold labs, awaiting transfer to Cloudbase's morgue as soon as the weather cleared.
A simple, visual count of the body-bags would have told the whole story, had there been a general viewing.
One of the missing pieces had just turned up and fallen horribly, blatantly into place, leaving Scarlet hoping with a fervent desperation that the body count wasn't about to go up----
Ochre's cap had landed upside-down when it had hit the tiled kitchen floor - in the overworked corner of his eye he saw it spin slowly to a stop with the mike sticking up into the air, activated.
There had been an incoherent shout gathered in his throat, lost when the impact against the tiles knocked the wind from his lungs with a painful jarring of spine and ribcage. He fought for air, fought to keep his elbows locked and his hands clenched in the fur at the scruff of Merlin's neck----instinct did that much for him, his mind being otherwise completely engaged, overwhelmed by the imminent hazard of snapping teeth and the all too evident bone-crushing strength in the jaws restrained scarce inches from his own jugular.
Merlin twisted and pulled within his grasp, snarling deep and low, trying to bite laterally at his arm, to loosen that desperate grip and seize at something more susceptible to a quick and savage killing. Ochre tried to roll, to pull up one knee and get it under the dog, looking for leverage enough to get himself out from beneath an adversary that outweighed him---but the dog would not stay still, was lurching wildly side-to-side, lunging at him. One massive paw landed on his face and slipped floorwards...he felt the skin at his cheekbone tear under the claw that caught it and finally found enough air to yell----
He was not going to win this one himself. He simply could not get at his weapons, could not free up a limb long enough to reach for a gun without sustaining a critical, likely fatal injury. He didn't know if Zil had heard the commotion, didn't know if she still had her head buried in a closet looking for towels and a first aid kit. He was perhaps all of thirty seconds into the attack, she could be any place upstairs and still unaware...
Because this Mysteronized animal had come after him with an uncanny, unnatural kind of stealth and timing. Aside from his own frantic shout, there had been precious little noise made in the short course of the scuffle that might have alerted Zil to the fact that there was a problem.
It was as if the shout had changed the rules, as if the Mysterons knew that it would soon be two against one - the dog growled aloud, a vicious, menacing sound, redoubling its efforts to shake his hands loose and coming close to doing just that. With his left hand Ochre managed to snag the dog's collar, giving him a firm, harder-to-dislodge hold on the beast. He hauled downwards, rolling his own weight in the direction of the pull, trying to bring Merlin's center of gravity over - if he could only wrestle the dog down onto its back, take the legs out from under it, get a knee onto the thing's ribs and his own mass leveraged to pin the animal down, a few seconds was all he'd need after that to get one of the guns out of its holster again and----
The flaw in that sequence was that his own arm hit the floor first - as the dog toppled and twisted, claws scrabbling, Merlin's snout came hard up against his shoulder still biting and snapping, and finally found solid purchase.
Ochre heard the fabric as it tore, felt the teeth as they pierced skin and flesh just below that shoulder and at close range saw in one terrible time-stretched instant the instinctive wrench and shake of a predator ripping into its prey. He lost any remaining grip he'd had on the dog in a rolling wave of raw visceral horror and excruciating pain; blood spattered the tiles beside him as something clattered and clanged to the floor nearby, a sudden, nonsensical sound he couldn't place or identify. Then Merlin let the mauled muscle of his bicep go, a snarling recoil that he watched in surreal slow motion, as the Mysteron drew back and then lunged directly for his throat---
---movement that seized up short and was thrown bodily to one side as Zil loomed abruptly into view behind the dog; with both hands she wrenched that killing strike away. She was white-faced and shaking, but she dropped down beside him, picked up the wrought-iron poker from where it had landed on the floor and then crouched there with it in a solid, double-handed grip. She made a defensive barrier of herself while the Mysteron skidded and scrambled to its feet before turning their direction again.
For a brief second, maybe two, things hung suspended in a silence broken only by their own hard breathing and the tiny, distant shout of Scarlet's voice in the cap speakers.
" ---a Mysteron! Ochre, do you copy?! That's a Mysteron---"
Now he tells me.... Ochre thought dizzily, groping after the two weapons holsters at his hip, righting himself and trying not to pass out with the effort of just coming up to his own feet. A few seconds, just a few more damn freaking seconds----
The Mysteronized Merlin was squared off for round two, and launched itself, not at Zil directly but at him again, he evidently still being the greater perceived threat with his electron gun halfway from the holster than Zil was with her iron poker raised and at the ready. She swung that poker nonetheless, cracking the dog broadside across the ribs as it came within range, a strike that had to have hurt, but hardly slowed the Mysteron down. In desperation, she threw herself sidelong into a physical body-check at the thing, contacting hard across the rump and spinning the dog's hindquarters ninety degrees, buying Ochre that necessary window of opportunity...he fired---
A heart-stopping near miss.
The charge failed to connect, it just skimmed and singed Merlin's fur with little or no effect and seared into a cupboard door, grounding out on the hinges in a shower of blue and white sparks. The dog lurched around to come at him once again, and once again Zil swung her iron club, aiming for the dog's skull. The hooked end of the poker inadvertently caught under the collar; she was able, against the dog's forward pull to haul and hold it back, her bare feet more effectively braced than Merlin's - whose claws were rasping uselessly against the tiles. Ochre's finger closed over the firing stud and then he hesitated to depress it in a fractional second of dread realization---
"Zil..." he breathed her name once, scarcely even an audible whisper, gathered air for a desperate shout. "Drop the damn lightning rod! Now!"
A single discharge of the electron gun packed sufficient voltage to kill a Mysteron.
Sufficient voltage to kill a human, too.
Her eyes went wide. She let go of the poker and Merlin, free of that restraint, surged forward as Ochre fired the electron gun at point blank range - there was a pained yelp from the Mysteron and then Ochre staggered back as Merlin's limp mass hit him. His spine came flat up against a wall with the momentum of that dying charge and he went down a second time under the dog's weight, as his own flagging strength simply deserted him in a moment of mind-numbing relief…
The stench of burnt dog hair, electrically scorched flesh and the scent of ozone filled the air. His gut revolted - he really didn't feel well. Not at all.
Zil stared at him from across the floor. He blinked back, just trying to catch his breath, realizing that he was suddenly cold and starting to shake. In a lucid, short-lived second, he knew that he was falling off the ragged edge of an adrenalin rush, pitching headlong into shock----
"Och!" she moved finally, after what seemed an eternity but was probably no more than a few heartbeats. Heaving Merlin's dead weight aside, she got one shoulder under his undamaged arm and maneuvered him first to his knees, and then to his feet, dragging him the few feet necessary to deposit him into one of the kitchen chairs. The blood left his head and he greyed-out briefly, leaning heavily on the tabletop; he plain lost track of where he was, lost track of her…..
For few seconds, he thought, when his vision cleared. Only a few seconds. He heard fabric tearing again, but it was Zil doing it that time, she was getting the sleeve of the uniform out of her way and wrapping something soft and dry tightly around the torn and bloodied arm that he hadn't even gotten a good enough glimpse of to properly assess the damages.
A towel, he thought vaguely. One of the ones she found for the damn dog…
So, surely the first aid kit wasn't far away either.
Ochre concentrated on taking a few slow, deep breaths, wanting as much oxygen as his depleted blood supply could carry to his brain, wanting---God, no--- needing to stay conscious----
"How bad?" he heard himself ask, pragmatic habit in an emergency. Especially in one in which he figured rather prominently, and which wasn't - in all likelihood - over yet.
"Could have been worse."
"Evasive…." he murmured, letting his forehead rest on the table. Glancing sideways, he saw his cap was still laying on the floor, on the far side of a puddle of blood - his own - and a dead Mysteron. "Dammit," he cursed again. And then, more loudly: "Shutup, Scarlet! I'm alive and breathing!"
Because Scarlet was still there on the open line, still trying to raise an answer of out either one of them.
Zil finished with the towel, and moved to scoop up the cap. She slapped it onto her own head, turning with her jaw clenched and a taut, tightly controlled fury in every single syllable that followed.
"Is there maybe something important that you forgot to mention today, Captain?!"
And it really was too bad, Ochre thought dimly, in perverse black humour, that Scarlet wasn't there to see that look on her face….
Lance was no longer curled into a comfortable knot in the corner. Weller's wolf-dog was up and pacing the communications room uneasily, agitated by all of the yelling and the tension in the air.
Ochre's line had been active and transmitting - and it hadn't been terribly difficult to follow the events as they had audibly unfolded on the other end of that open channel.
Scarlet paced along with the dog, perturbed, angry. And when his path inadvertently crossed with Lance's and the animal snapped at him, he had to consciously restrain an urge to kick the thing. Nothing that had happened was Lance's fault. He nonetheless glowered darkly at the show of canine aggression, and Taylor immediately took it upon herself to remove the dog from the communications room. Taylor was unhappy and upset too - and was no doubt about to rouse out Sanchez to ask him the very same question that Godzilla McLaine voiced only a moment after Taylor's departure.
For once, both the tone and the question were justified.
"Good question," Magenta muttered under his own breath, sitting motionless in the seat at the workstation, sitting there deliberately biting back what had to be a similar harangue; Ochre and Magenta were close as partners, as close as he and Blue were, and Magenta was exercising an uncommon, monumental restraint holding his current silence.
"That would be an affirmative, Doctor McLaine." Scarlet replied, all contrite and remorseful. "And I think you already know just what that oversight was."
"Oversight." She simply repeated the word. Ice cold and furious.
"For which you have my most profound apologies, Doctor. Now, may I please have either Captain Ochre on the line or your report on the current situation?" He kept his voice level, calm.
But he was seething.
How did they even know? Roan's earlier, anguished question rang though his skull. Only Scarlet was asking that question for himself, angry and frustrated. How---how had the Mysterons known enough to time such an attack such that the only duty officers available for Ochre to ask had been probably the only two that hadn't known about Merlin's demise?
Teal and Roan---both off-duty---knew. The two of them had pulled the carcass from the wreckage. Sanchez had known. So had the techs. The techs had likely reported it to Demeter's security – because Spectrum had delegated charge of the staff to them, while Taylor and her crew had been out and engaged in the unpleasant task of collecting Mysteron bodies from the airfield after Magenta had flown back to Cloudbase. After that, Taylor wouldn't have heard about it because at that time, he and Taylor both had been preoccupied and arguing with Demeter's Security chief over the communications blackout that he'd imposed for the duration of their initial investigation. Finally - and with Cloudbase's knowledge and consent - he'd nailed a highly unpopular lid down on all external communications - because word of Weller's death was going to have far-reaching repercussions, both corporate and otherwise, the very instant that word leaked out.
Scarlet could well imagine that Spectrum HQ had people working overtime on damage-control, this round.
In any case, from the techs the word would have spread amongst Demeter's staff – where news of the dog's unfortunate end would have registered far, far below that of Weller's or Prince's.
The entire point being, of course, that no one, therefore, had been looking for Merlin.
Futura, Scarlet thought bitterly. It's like Harris. They put their reconstruction somewhere else – after the fact. Gravener's driver had been missing and presumed drowned after that incident. The only people that had been looking for Harris at the time had been police divers, searching downstream of the car wreck.
Ochre would never have believed that anything human might have come knocking. But the dog----
There had simply never been a precedent for a Mysteronized animal - and the dog was therefore very possibly the only thing that had stood any sort of a chance of getting into that cabin. It was a heinous ploy. Heinous and insidious and very nearly successful, that too.
"I am going to refrain from further comment." Godzilla's response was terse and carefully measured. "I want Cloudbase medical staff on the line."
Magenta moved on that, instantly, his worried frown deepening by the second.
"In the works," Scarlet replied. "How serious is it, Doctor?" God, the size - the size and weight of that dog, he thought with an inward shudder. The hazard of it turned vicious. At least, however, at the very least she had some relevant professional medical experience, enough to handle the situation---whatever it was.
"Could've been worse." It was Ochre answering for himself in the background. "Give me the damn cap, Zil!"
Scarlet exchanged a long, inexpressibly relieved look with Magenta - that tone out of Ochre, even under the circumstances, said loud and clear that Ochre was not only still alive and breathing, but kicking too.
"He's lost some blood and he's in shock," she reported, something sensible and informative at last. "He's chewed up a bit. But it could have been much worse. Tell him he's off-duty. I'll be right back with the med-kit."
There was a few seconds of general, low-level noise over the background static, as Ochre recovered his cap. "I'm fine," Ochre said, not very convincingly.
"Och!" Tylan McLaine's receding voice snapped irritably. "Does that blood on the floor register with you at all? You're not fine! Don't believe him, Scarlet!"
Scarlet ceased pacing, closing his eyes. "Ochre?"
"Yeah, it's me."
"Sorry about that, Rich. Should've thought of it. That's entirely my fault." Agitated still, feeling guilty that time, Scarlet resumed motion.
"Don't waste your breath. It's a moot point, Scarlet. It just wouldn't have mattered, even if we hadn't let the stupid thing in."
"Could've saved you a little pain, not to mention bloodshed."
"Doubt that. Use your head. The thing just would've sat an inch outside the door and detonated there - and I wouldn't even have seen it coming, in that case."
For a second time, Scarlet stopped abruptly in his pacing. That possibility hadn't crossed his mind as yet. "Good point," he conceded.
"They're still playing, Paul. The game's not over yet."
Scarlet exhaled slowly. They were still, even now, missing a few important pieces in the game. Both Black and Carey were unaccounted for.
"You're saying that was just a feeler? That they were testing your defenses?"
"What would you call it?"
"I'd call it attempted murder." Scarlet sighed again, glancing over as Magenta motioned to him that Cloudbase was online. "Standby, Ochre, we've got Fawn on the line for you."
Scarlet very quickly briefed Doctor Fawn on the situation, listening as Godzilla found her way back into radio proximity with her med-kit and he made the long distance introductions. She spoke with Fawn, civilly and professionally, outlining Ochre's injury in precise clinical detail. No nonsense. No hesitation. Tearing wound to left bicep, bleeding under control, treating for shock and blood loss....
“Not an avulsion, then?” Fawn asked.
“No,” she replied. “Lacerations. Moderate to deep. Puncture wounds. No evidence of arterial damage. He was damn lucky.”
“That's good. You have suturing?”
“Stitch him up, then, Doctor. Keep him warm. Keep him quiet. If he can hold it down, give him fluids. If you have any, a general antibiotic. He's not allergic.”
Scarlet listened while he paced, as Fawn exchanged pharmaceutical information and medical talk with Godzilla, clearly imagining the sour expression that had to be there on Ochre's face. As a patient, even when it was in his own best interests, Ochre was only marginally tolerant of treatment, loathed time spent in Sickbay and invariably made himself a thorn in med-staff's collective sides on the apparent theory that they'd toss him out of the Infirmary all the sooner if he did.
“Great,” he heard Ochre complain on the other end. “While you're at it, ask her if she's got any horse pills that'll keep me on my feet.”
“Behave yourself, Captain. I'd tell her to give you a horse pill that would knock you right down if you weren't stuck on the active duty roster. Do I have to make it an order?”
“Save it – I catch the drift.” Ochre was irritated. “Damn Inquisition...." he grumbled under his breath.
“Is that an affirmative, Captain?” Fawn pushed for the response he wanted. Ochre also had a way of side-stepping issues by simply not answering questions, and Fawn knew it.
“S.I.G., Doctor!" Cranky and hurting, Ochre was cross and touchy, right to the point of insubordination. "I heard you the first time!”
“Keep the blood pressure down, Ochre. It sounds to me like you're going to live. Now---“
Whatever instruction Fawn was about to dispense was lost as a siren wailed abruptly all over Demeter's PA systems, echoing through the corridors, as startling and as unexpected as it was loud.
Magenta swore as he spun his seat around and hit the security key on the console there behind him – the security schematics flashed live, auto-tracking the breach to source, and Magenta swore a second time, just as Scarlet reached the console in two wide strides.
“Intruder alert.” Magenta identified the klaxon, up out of the seat and moving for the corridor.
“Where?” Scarlet demanded, torn for an instant between trying to read the screen or following Magenta, who obviously already knew where they were going.
Magenta didn't hesitate to reply, specifically and with urgent haste.
Not to mention with one hand on the holster at his side.
“Residency,” Magenta answered. “Weller's quarters.”