Authors: K. S. Augustin
Save one man? Or save billions? It’s Moon’s choice.
Stellar physicist Moon Thadin and amnesiac
Srin Flerovs are on their way to possible sanctuary with an old research partner of Moon’s. But between them and safety lie a cunning arms dealer, a suspicious pirate captain, and a universe of unfamiliarity.
Refusing to turn her research into aweapon, Moon and Srin outran the Republic in
IN ENEMY HANDS
, only to find that the rebels they’re heading for want her knowledge for the same reason
they’re willing to trade critical gene therapy for it. Withhold the therapy and Srin will die. Share the research and billions will die.
Can the needs of one ever truly outweigh the needs of many?
BALANCE OF TERROR
THE STORY SO FAR
Moon Thadin was once a stellar physicist in the employ of the Republic. Idealistic, arrogant and a loner, there was only one scientist capable and tolerant enough to work beside her in her lab. His name was Kad Minslok. Moon never delved into Kad’s past or any part of his life. She wasn’t interested in politics and had no desire to contemplate anything other than the successful re-ignition of dead stars, so she was unaware that the man she regarded as her “right hand” was actually an anti-Republic sympathiser. However, when Kad receives a tip-off that the Republic’s Security Force is after him, he makes a quick getaway from the Phyllis Science Centre, leaving Moon to carry the blame.
Despite the fact that the Republic turned up no evidence that Moon is also anti-Republic, she is thrown in jail for two years, and put under scrutiny for a year after that. But what the Republic didn’t know was that Kad had left behind a clue to how to reach him. Walking through the shambles of her lab, torn apart by government forces, Moon stumbles across something that looks like a student identification token, but which is a communications chip to her old research partner. She tells no-one of her find.
Because science is all she knows, Moon thinks that a vindication of her research means a vindication of her character. She throws herself back into research with a vengeance, determined to make up for lost time. On their side, the Republic assigns the
, a medium-sized enforcer vessel, to take her to the Suzuki Mass so she can finally test her fusion research on a real star.
Because the equations for her stellar re-ignition research are so complex, Moon requires the very latest in computing power. When she finds that her laboratory aboard the
doesn’t contain the machine she wants, she loses no time in making her feelings known to the ship’s captain, Drue Jeen.
What Moon isn’t aware of is that the Republic thinks her research has such incredible potential, that they send along Srin Flerovs, the human (
) equivalent of a computer that is light-years ahead of current technology in terms of comprehension and computation speed. Initially sceptical, Moon becomes an instant convert when she tests Srin’s abilities and realises that working with such a human would be a magnitude more productive than trying to create algorithms for a machine to understand.
The shock, however, comes on the second day of working with Srin when he greets her without remembering who she is! In a blistering argument with Srin’s “handler”, Hen Savic, Moon finds out that Srin has been dosed with drugs that wipe his memory every two days. In this way, the Republic keeps a valuable resource under control while exploiting his phenomenal mental gifts.
Moon becomes incensed by what is being done to Srin but feels there is nothing she can do. She doesn’t want to go back to prison, an option that Hen Savic has already threatened her with if she attempts to object to Srin’s treatment. As the
heads for the Suzuki Mass, however, Moon falls in love with Srin, and every “new” version of him, each faithful to her in forty-eight hour cycles, breaks her heart.
On Srin’s side, things are not as cut-and-dried as Hen Savic thinks. In fact, Srin is aware that there is something going on. He suffers flashbacks to years of memories, vague recollections of other labs and other scientists, and obvious questions as to why he looks so much older than clearer memories would suggest. Unknown to anyone else, he has worked out a system of leaving cryptic messages to his future selves but is left to decipher each such message in isolation, without recourse to recent experience.
Moon has resigned herself to being a pawn in whatever games the Republic wishes to play, but Srin destroys her equilibrium by begging for help one evening over dinner. He tells her of his fragmented memories, finds out that he’s been under Hen Savic’s drug regime for almost twenty years, and pleads for her assistance.
“Can you help me? Can you stop what they’re doing to me?”
Moon tells him that there’s little hope for them to escape, trapped in a starship light-years from the nearest system.
“The truth of the matter is, I’m as much a prisoner here as you are.”
She still hasn’t agreed to help Srin when a hyperspace accident hits the
. The ship makes it through to normal space but there are casualties, including Hen Savic, who sustains serious injuries.
Without Savic around, there isn’t anyone to administer the memory-wiping drugs to Srin. He reaches Day Three (one day past his usual medication schedule) with his recent memories intact…but by Day Four, he’s hit by convulsions and a high fever. In desperation, despite the fact that she loathes the man, Moon goes to the ship’s infirmary to talk to Savic and doesn’t like what she hears.
“We retrofitted the fever effect into his DNA. If he doesn’t get his medication by the end of day five, his hyperpyrexia – a fever in excess of forty-one degrees – accelerates and permanent brain damage ensues.”
With Srin’s life in the balance, Moon doesn’t have a choice. She administers the drug to him and buys him life…at the price of once more plunging him into amnesia.
Despite its recent accident, the
eventually reaches the Suzuki Mass and the moment of truth for Moon’s research. After finalising every equation and parameter, she arms the missile and readies it for insertion into a dead star. She is confident that her research will pay off. After all, doesn’t she have the galaxy’s greatest computer – Srin, now well again – at her disposal?
To her dismay, however, the experiment fails, and she is dumbfounded. There are consequences beyond her research: suspicions, wounded pride, secret agendas. The Republic’s counter-move is to dispatch Consul Rosca Moises, a top-flight investigator and inquisitor, to find out what went wrong and put the project back on track.
“You see, Doctor, the Republic has already poured tens of millions of credits into your project. To us, it looks as though – just as we seem to be on the verge of an important breakthrough – something happens. First, it was Kad Minslok, and now it’s the failure of the first live experiment. We’d like to think this is nothing more than a coincidence, but how can we be sure? If this experiment of yours keeps failing, you’re going to force me to go to drastic lengths.”
And, at that point, Moon realises that her life is over, that she will always be under the suspicion of the Republic, despite her release and the seconding of the
in the name of her research. Srin’s exhortation that they should escape suddenly makes sense. But how?
Moon deliberately starves and overworks herself into a collapse, prompting Drue Jeen to override the Consul and declare a short shore leave on the nearest planet, Slater’s End. This is exactly the moment Moon and Srin are waiting for. They head down to the planet with an armed escort but make a daring escape.
Their safety, however, is temporary, because Moon knows that Srin’s condition will start to deteriorate after four days. Using the small token she discovered in the wreckage of her laboratory so many years before, Moon contacts her old research partner, Kad Minslok, and asks for his help. Kad agrees…in return for her research.
Moon reluctantly agrees and Kad sends a doctor, Leen Vazueb, to pick them up and treat Srin. Despite the promise of medical care, Leen cannot help. The moment news of their escape reached the
, every medical facility on the planet was put into lockdown and under Space Fleet control. The only chance of escaping the Republic dragnet is to smuggle themselves aboard a regular goods transport to the satellite of another planet within the same solar system.
By now, it’s Day Four, and Srin is suffering. Neither he nor Moon have left Slater’s End yet. And the ship they’re hiding on in order to leave the planet is about to get searched by a Republic sweep team. If a convulsing Srin makes a single move, they will be discovered and everyone on board the cargo ship will be arrested. For the second time, Moon reluctantly administers the memory-wiping medication to Srin, knowing it will keep him quiet and send him into a deep sleep.
On Lunar Fifteen, Leen tries to help Srin but she’s working with primitive equipment. The best she can do is to produce some medication to help with the hyperpyrexia and she hands over a supply to Moon. Kad contacts them and tells them he’s arranged transport to a distant planet called Marentim via the Fodox Rebels pirate cartel and Moon is given another token to play once she and Srin have reached their destination.
Srin packed the rest of their things in the bag and slung it over his shoulder. They looked at each other.
He was still thin, and his face looked tired. What he needed now was an extended period of rest. Instead, they were fleeing for their lives across space. Moon looked into his grey eyes, and the love she saw there warmed her.
“Are you ready?” she asked. Her voice was husky.
“Yes I am.”
She smiled and held his hand and they waited for the
to dock on the far side of Lunar Fifteen.
And now, onto the
Balance of Terror
Moon Thadin hesitated before palming the door open. There could be anyone behind the opaque panel – a band of local thieves, their obstreperous landlord…a squad of Republic Security Force soldiers. Her open hand hovered centimetres from the sensor panel, then she slammed it against the plate. The door slid open.
The air inside was a cool and blessed contrast to the hot soup outside that masqueraded as an atmosphere. Tightening her grip on the small anonymous bag in her hand, Moon strode through the tiny living room, her steps slowing as she headed for the bedroom. Before she had even reached the threshold, she heard the laboured breathing, stuttering and wheezy in the still quiet.
Dammit, he’s not getting any better!
She shoved the errant thought from her head and deliberately relaxed her tense shoulders, sauntering into the room as if she didn’t have a care in the world.
“Is it my imagination or are you home early today?”
The raspy voice from the bed made her smile.
“It’s hot enough out there to melt a missile casing,” she replied, as casually as she could.
Srin Flerovs lifted his head to give her a weak smile, but it didn’t fool her. She saw the damp imprint he left on his pillow and the tendrils of hair plastered against his forehead, wet with his sweat. Walking towards him, she sat on the edge of the mattress, her expression serious.
“You had another seizure while I was gone, didn’t you?”
His grey eyes flicked away from her, toying with deception, before they focused again on her face.
“A little one this time,” he said. “Not as bad as the rest.”
“And you’re still lying,” she concluded with a sigh. She lifted the small bag she still held in her hand and jiggled it. “I managed to find another benzodiazepine variant. Maybe we’ll have better luck with this one.”
Moon was surprised by how resigned her voice sounded, but Srin’s seizures had been going on for almost a month now, and they didn’t seem to be getting better, despite her best efforts. She was a stellar physicist – dammit! – not a biochemist, but she’d been forced to crash-educate herself in pharmacology ever since they’d escaped from Lunar Fifteen. She had already bought medication from several pharmacies in an effort to concoct some mixture that would make things better, that would turn Srin from an overheated, shivering mess into the strong, calm man she’d fallen in love with.