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Table of Contents Chapter 2

A Matter of Viral Resistance


Date: CY 10086 - AD Oct 5163
Location: In Transit

Trance wrapped her robe about her body, and opened the door that led from the berthing compartment into the common room. She rummaged around the galley until she had a cup of hot chocolate then sat down at the table cup in hand. As she was sipping her cocoa, the door on the opposite side of the common room opened and Beka stepped in. Like Trance she was wearing a robe over her sleepwear.

"Hello, Trance," said Beka. "I thought I heard someone moving around in here. Harper having nightmares again?"

"They were pretty bad ones tonight, Beka. I finally ended up crawling into his bunk with him and holding him until he fell asleep." She gave the older woman a wry smile, "And now that he's asleep I can't get back to sleep."

"I know the feeling. I used to have to do that for him when he first came aboard. You've done wonders for him, Trance. His nightmares are coming far less often than they did when he first joined the crew."

"They must have been pretty bad then. Beka, how did Harper become part of the Maru?" asked Trance. "He's never told me."

"I'm not surprised. He doesn't like to talk about his past. Tell you what though, get me a cup of that cocoa you're drinking, and I'll tell you the story of how Harper came to the Maru."


Chapter 1

Date: CY 10084 ­ AD March 5161
Location: Logan spaceport, Boston, Earth

"Well, we’re down," said Beka to her crew. "For a while I thought that we were going to be ordered to do an inter-ship transfer of the supplies."

"The Dragans do seem to be carrying security to an extreme, even for them," agreed Vexpeg from his position at the Maru's environmental controls station.

"Whatever," said Bobby Jensen as he entered the command deck and placed his hand possessively on Beka’s shoulder. "Let’s just get this stuff offloaded, collect our payment, get off this misbegotten rock and pick up Rev. How did he talk you into letting him visit Kirindushu while we were making this run anyway?"

"Can you imagine what the local reaction would have been if the mudfeet had found out that we had a Magog on board?" asked Beka. "They probably would have tried to storm the Maru. I figured making a side trip to pick him up after this run was preferable to the alternative You’re right though, Bobby," she added giving her lover's hand an affectionate squeeze. "The sooner we offload the sooner we get paid and the sooner we can leave." Turning to Vexpeg she asked, "Vex, didn’t you say that the port authorities had arranged for a work detail to offload the cargo and transport it to a warehouse?"

"I did, Beka, and if you look out the cockpit I think that’s them now."

Beka looked out the cockpit window. Coming out of the morning fog was a crane and a tracked transport vehicle. To her surprise, along with the crane and the transport vehicle, the offloading party included a gaggle of raggedly dressed men flanked by a half dozen better dressed men carrying some sort of rifles slung over their backs. Two of the escorts were carrying whips as well and were using them to encourage stragglers to pick up their pace. The men being escorted were walking with an odd shuffling gait. When Beka looked closer she could see that each man’s legs were chained together. The chains were long enough to let the men walk but too short to let them run.

"Great, just great," muttered Beka. "a chain gang. Considering how those mudfeet are dressed well be lucky if they don't all die of hypothermia before they finish offloading. According to the instruments, it's five degrees out there. Those guys are going to have a lot if incentive to take good care of the cargo." Her voice fairly dripped with sarcasm.

"Actually," said Vexpeg. "They have an excellent reason for taking care of the cargo. The Dragans prefer to take slaves with family on the outside. They feel it helps keep the local populace docile knowing the Dragans have their kin as hostages. Those men will take good care of the cargo because the Than will distribute the medicines to their families. Now I suggest that we debark so we can supervise the offloading of the cargo"

The Maru had brought nearly 100,000 kilograms of relief supplies ranging from bandages to diagnostic equipment. The heaviest pieces of equipment were loaded onto the transport vehicle but much of the cargo was offloaded from the Maru onto the backs of the slaves. Each slave was bent nearly double by the weight of the boxes of medicinals. As Vexpeg had predicted the Dragan's slaves were scrupulously solicitous of the cargo and the Maru's crew's supervisory duties consisted mainly of staying out of the way of the work detail. When all the cargo was unloaded one of the Nietzschean slave masters barked out an order and the slave coffle began to shuffle off towards the warehouses under the watchful eyes of their guards. One of the slaves, a gray haired man stumbled and fell forward onto his face. The nearest guard gave him a vicious kick in the ribs as he started to get up knocking him down again.

Behind her Beka could hear Vexpeg click his mandibles together in a rhythm he only used when he was extremely agitated. She started to tell him to calm down but Bobby beat her to it.

"Don't let it get to you, Vex," he said. "There's nothing we can do to change the situation here and interfering would most likely just get you killed."

Three of the guards detached themselves from the departing work detail and began walking towards Beka and her crew members. One of the three was the one who had kicked the elderly man, another was the one who had been leading the work detail.

"You will accompany us to the port administrative building where you will wait until the supplies have been inventoried," ordered the Nietzschean who had been commanding the work party. He was wearing what Beka thought was a squad leader's insignia. "If the inventory is completed satisfactorily, you will all then be allowed to board your spacecraft," the word spacecraft came out almost as a sneer, "and depart our planet."

"I don't think so." answered Beka. "We're going to go along with you during the inventory."

" Are you implying we can't be trusted?" demanded the slaver who had kicked the old man.

"Let's just say I want to insure that there are no inventory oversights," responded Beka.

By way of reply the slaver unleashed a backhand slap at Beka that would have broken her cheekbone had it connected. Nietzscheans prided themselves on the genetic manipulation that had been done on their ancestors, claiming it made them superior to all other races, but genetic manipulation was not the sole province of the Nietzscheans. Beka had been modified while still in her mother's womb to be a slipstream pilot. Her reflexes might not have been quite as fast as a Nietzschean's but they were far faster than any unmodified human's and she had been expecting the slaver's violent response.

In one fluid movement she ducked under the guards slap, drew her gauss pistol, and shoved it into his stomach. For a brief instant everyone froze in place, then Nietzschean squad leader began to slowly applaud.

"Well done my lady," he said as he gave her a bow, the amusement in his voice and gesture obvious. "Cain," he said turning to the guard who was still staring unbelievingly at the pistol pressed against his abdomen, "I've told you that your tendency to underestimate kludges is going to get you killed someday. You're lucky today wasn't the day. The woman will accompany me to the warehouse. You and Skorzaney will escort the other two to the administration building and wait until the inventory is completed."

Beka holstered her weapon and straightened up. Her eyes met those of the Nietzschean she had bested and she gave him her most insincere smile. The Nietzschean called Cain said nothing, but if looks could have killed Beka would have been lying dead on the landing field.

"You may have made a dangerous enemy there," said the leader after Cain and Skorzaney departed taking Bobby and Vexpeg with them. "He doesn't take humiliation lightly and he has powerful family connections. It would be best if we complete this inventory and get you off planet as quickly as possible." Then with the same look he had shown earlier, he offered Beka his arm.

Beka stood there not knowing if she should be offended or amused, then after a moment took the proffered arm.

" I hate those Niets," muttered Bobby after they had left the administration building, and were hopefully out of earshot. "They're always acting as if they're better than us, yet they're the ones who wrecked the Commonwealth, and then couldn't replace it with anything. Most of them live off of slave labor, and a lot of their prides aren't much more than gangs of thieves."

"You must admit that their reflexes, strength, and senses are better than that of normal humans," put in Vexpeg.

"So are those of a lot of wild animals," countered Bobby. "Just because they're stronger doesn't make them better."

"I don't like them either, Bobby," said Beka attempting to defuse her lover's anger before it erupted into a full blown rant. "But they're in charge here. Now lets hurry up and get aboard the Maru. The sooner we get aboard the sooner we can leave." The inventory had gone over with typical Nietzschean efficiency, but the Nietzschean administration center had the typical bureaucratic love for paperwork pettiness, and it had taken Beka another six hours after the completion of the inventory to finish dotting "i"s and crossing "t"s to get Bobby and Vexpeg released from 'administrative detention'. Beka was anxious to leave Boston, and Earth in general, in case the warning the squad leader had given her concerning Cain was accurate.

The trio walked the rest of the way to the spacecraft in silence. Bobby stewing over the Nietzscheans' arrogance, Beka calculating how to use the profits from the trip and Vexpeg simply remaining silent since he had nothing to say. When they arrived at the Maru Beka lowered the entrance elevator and started to open the door only to be stopped by Vexpeg's outstretched hand. The Umbrite leaned forward and took a look at the base of the door.

"Someone's been on board," he announced.

"What?!" exclaimed Beka. "How do you know?"

"When were were in the elevator I noticed a spiderweb in one of the corners. I took it with us and when we left I put some of the webbing across the base of the elevator doorway. If the door was opened the webs would break. The webs are broken."

"So that's what you were doing when we got off the elevator." said Bobby. "Very tricky. No one would pay any attention to spiders or their webs. I don't suppose you can tell if our visitors are still aboard?"

"Unfortunately no. Beka, do we call the port authorities or handle this ourselves?"

"We do it ourselves, Vex," answered the Maru's captain. "If those are Nietzscheans aboard the Maru reporting them won't do any good, and if it's some mudfeet, we would be expected to handle it ourselves anyway. Do you think the entranceway is booby trapped?"

"Unlikely," replied Vexpeg. "A Nietzschean customs inspector would have no reason to do so, and the natives wouldn't have access to anything that would make a good booby trap. I suspect our visitors are a gang of mudfeet would be thieves."

Beka drew her gauss pistol from her holster. "We're going to show them what happens when someone tries to steal from my ship."

After Vexpeg checked the elevator for booby traps, they entered and rode up to the access area guns drawn and ready for a fight. "Better to err on the side of caution," he said after Beka gave him a quizzical look. "Even if I don't think the locals have access to anything really dangerous."

They encountered no resistance in the entrance way, but they could hear voices coming from the direction of the common room.

"They certainly aren't trying to be inconspicuous," whispered Beka.

"Stupid mudfeet," muttered Bobby.

"Vex," said Beka, "stay here and watch the corridor to the common room. If anyone comes out shoot them. Bobby, you and I will go forward and check out stateroom and the command deck, then we'll come back and take care of those creeps in the common room."

The stateroom and command deck were deserted. Meeting back in the airlock area Beka gave the other two instructions. 'Vex, you're strong enough to kick the door in. When you kick Bobby and I will go in to the left and right while you come in low and up the middle."

Her companions nodded their comprehension and on Beka's signal Vexpeg kicked the door. The door which was not completely closed practically flew off it's hinges and Beka and Bobby stormed through the door while Vexpeg covered them.

There were two men and a woman in the common room. One of the men and the woman were sitting at the common room's table, while the other man was lounging against the entertainment console. All three were dressed in clothes that were little more than rags and none of them looked as if they had eaten well any time recently. The woman and the man standing were of indeterminate age Beka guessed they were somewhere between 40 and 50 judging from the amount of of grey in the woman's once black hair and the lines on the man's face. The man sitting at the table was younger perhaps in his late twenties with light brown hair and a scruffy beard and mustache, he was holding some sort of device in his hand.

"It took you long enough." he said, apparently totally nonplussed by the weapons trained on him. "I was beginning to think that we were going to have to give you a written invitation."

"Who are you, and why are you on my ship?" asked Beka almost more angry at the intruders lack of concern at the weapons pointed in their direction than at their presence. "Give me a one good reason why I shouldn't shoot you all and dump your bodies out the airlock. "

"To your first questions," said the man at the table, " we're are members of the Earth resistance movement and we need your help in destroying the cargo you just delivered.. As to your second, if I should relax my grip on this detonator the explosives we planted on this ship will blow us all into near orbit, Now, would you please point your weapons in some other direction. It would be embarrassing if we were all blown up by accident."

Beka glared at Vexpeg. "I thought you said the locals didn't have access to explosives."

The Umbrite shrugged. "So I was wrong."

"You're bluffing," she stated, looking at the intruders.

The man sitting at the table smiled a humorless smile. "Do you really think we would come aboard completely helpless?"

Frustrated, but noticing that the intruders didn't appear to be armed, Beka holstered her weapon and motioned for her companions to do the same. "Ok," she said. "For the moment I'll buy your claim that you've planted bombs on board. That brings up another question. Why do you want to destroy the medical supplies we just delivered? They would be going to your people not the Nietzscheans."

"Because they've been poisoned," said the woman.

"What!" exclaimed Beka.

"Not all of them," said the standing man. "Just the influenza vaccine, and not exactly poisoned. It will protect the recipients from influenza but it will infect them with a different disease instead. One which we have no cure for."

"Wait a minute," said Beka. "Are you telling me the Than poisoned their own medicines, and how did you find out about this anyway?"

"Not the Than, the Nietzscheans," replied the seated man. "And the resistance wouldn't have survived this many years without a decent intelligence network. We know nearly as much about what goes on in our overlords' headquarters as they do. I think I can provide satisfactory proof of our assertions, if you're willing to accompany us to one of our safe houses."

"Accompany a bunch of Nietzschean owned mudfeet to the middle of who knows where?" retorted Bobby. "I don't think so. I like living too much."

"What would we have to gain by harming you?" asked the woman. "You're worthless to us as hostages, and other than maybe your small arms, you have nothing we really want or could use anyway. You have nothing to loose if you accompany us other than some time."

"What if we don't by off on your story?" pressed Bobby. "Aren't you worried that we might tell the Nietzscheans?"

"Not really," answered the sitting man. "I have no intention of letting you know where the safe house is, and if you do go tell the Ubers that that you know about their plot, they'll kill you for us. They can't afford to let slip what they're planning. The Than might take exception to them poisoning Than supplied medicinals. "

"Ok," said Beka. "We'll listen to your pitch. Answer me one question though. How did you guys get on board without the Nietzscheans noticing you?"

The woman reached under the common room table and pulled out a pair of shackles. "No one pays any attention to a slave," she said.

As he got up the man at the table tossed the device in his hands to the other man. Beka's heart skipped a beat, then when nothing happened it dawned on her that she had been outmaneuvered.

"You never planted any explosives on board the Maru did you," she stated.

"Of course not," said the woman.

"Told you," said Vexpeg.

Table of Contents Chapter 2