Authors: James Axler
Grant spied Brigid take Kane out of the side door of the meeting room, and she gave him a quick nod while he was distracted. She was going to do her best to minimize any problems with him, whether he was genuine or fake. Limping and battered from hand-to-hand combat with what appeared to be the product of Tuatha de Danaan mutation technology, the Cerberus staff had a valid reason for sidelining the man who was, by record, reputation and the blood he’d shed, the star player for the human rebels. If anyone deserved a chance to throw himself back into a comfortable bed and get some rest after the battering he’d received, it was Kane.
Brigid, with her close relationship with Kane, took the task of escorting him out of the meeting room and assuring him that this was one crisis that Cerberus could handle without his assistance. Of course, that meant that Grant was going to be the only member of Cerberus Away Team Alpha immediately ready for action. He caught Domi looking mischievously at him.
“CAT Beta is ready to go,” Domi told him.
Lakesh’s forehead wrinkled with the statement.
“We’re not even certain that friend Grant’s avalanche was sufficient to cripple the Fomorians and their Thrush liaison.”
the liaison is still in that valley,” Grant said, his voice low, as if he were tempting fate.
Lakesh looked toward the hallway, then cleared his throat.
“Come on, Moe,” Domi protested. “We’ll have Grant with us….”
“It just doesn’t seem to have the same confluence of fate that would be available if it were Kane, Brigid and Grant,” Lakesh said. “My apologies for any disrespect.”
Grant shook his head. “None taken.”
“Listen, if Kane is back at the Poconos, then we’re going to have to have people in the area to find him,” Domi said. “And outside of Sky Dog’s people, I’m the best wilderness tracker in this hemisphere.”
“She’s got a point,” Grant said. “And if Kane catches me sitting around Cerberus while we’ve got Thrush and mutant man-eaters running around and working together, he’ll want to get back out into the field.”
“Which could aggravate his injuries, leading to real problems if he’s the real thing,” Lakesh spoke up. “Or if he’s fake, give him the opportunity to return to the Thrush Continuum after accomplishing whichever task he was sent to do.”
“Even if it were just to throw doubt onto one of our own,” Domi added.
“We have to keep Kane here and under wraps for
now,” Grant said. “Anything else is just an invitation to disaster. Lakesh, maybe you should start thinking about exactly what Thrush would want to do with the resources we have here at Cerberus that he couldn’t do from his Orb.”
“I’ve been running everything I could in my mind,” Lakesh said.
Grant nodded. “All you need to do is keep an eye on Kane to figure out what he’s trying to do here and put it up against what you’ve suspected.”
“Precisely,” Lakesh answered. “Be careful, darlingest Domi.”
“I’m going to have to say the same thing,” Domi returned. “Edwards, go get Sela. We’re suiting up for the field. Grant, you might—”
“I’m already on the way to the armory to pick up some spare gear for Kane,” Grant cut her off.
“And more restraints,” Domi added. “What we run into might look like Kane, but what if that really is the fake, and we’ve been stuck running around and picking up the infiltrator when we brought the real guy home?”
Grant grimaced. “DeFore, could you spare a couple painkillers for me? All this shit’s giving me a headache.”
“You’re not the only one lost here,” DeFore responded. “But I’m going to give you my educated opinion. I’ve been over that man easily forty times in the past. If he’s a duplicate, then whoever kidnapped the real Kane stripped him naked and looked over every inch of
his body, then utilized some pretty impressive technology to copy every bit of scar tissue around.”
“That’s not saying much,” Lakesh returned. “Sam regressed my age. Remolding a patch of skin to look like healed tissue shouldn’t be beyond that level of biological engineering.”
“Or we could just be too damn paranoid for our own good,” Grant said. “Domi, did you get anything wrong about him?”
Domi shook her head. “It’s not as if I have the sense of smell of a dog or shit like that. I’m a good tracker, but the only superhuman ability I have are the soles of my feet. They’re harder than armadillo shells.”
Grant shrugged. “I just thought you’d spot something the rest of us didn’t think of. You’ve proved to be pretty perceptive on more than enough occasions.”
Domi sighed. “Sorry. I’m not thinking straight.”
“Which I believe could be Thrush’s plan,” Lakesh said.
“Whatever the plan, the more time we spend jawing about this shit, the closer it comes to succeeding,” Grant growled. “Come on, Domi.”
The pair was as physically different as could be, one tall, muscular and seemingly cast out of bronze and obsidian, the other small, wiry and looking as if she were crafted from porcelain. Yet the two people shared an identical intensity and determination as they left the meeting room.
Kane to the canteen, where he finished his meal. She watched as Kane threw away the
remaining trash from his lunch. He sighed and picked up his plate and utensils, carrying them to the washing basin. “I know, don’t make more work for the kitchen staff. You’d think with all the extra bodies around, we’d need something to keep them busy.”
Brigid raised an eyebrow. “You mean that digging through the garbage for your fork and knife is a good utilization of some of the most brilliant minds left over from the twentieth century?”
Kane shrugged. “Look at the world they left behind for us. All that genius and…”
“You’re putting the blame for skydark on them?” Brigid asked. “Especially when we saw Colonel Thrush himself pull the trigger that blew up the Russian embassy?”
Kane shook his head and grimaced. “Thrush took advantage of the tensions those big brains created. I’m not absolving that freak. He’s the one who jumped me and set a bunch of Fomorian mutants on my ass. Right now, I’m just realizing how antisocial I feel with all these people crowding around.”
Brigid took a deep breath and nodded. As compassionate as Kane was toward the plight of others, ever since the Manitius personnel had been evacuated and relocated to Cerberus redoubt, privacy and peace and quiet had been curtailed. Beset with a pounding headache, and not at the top of his physical condition, his impatience couldn’t be cast aside by strolling off into the surrounding hills and spending time in the relative tranquility of
Sky Dog’s village. Brigid had often joked that she’d keep an eye out for little Indian papooses with blue eyes, but the truth of the matter was, Kane was much like Domi in that they were at home in the wilderness. The trappings of the redoubt were cold and sterile, no matter how brightly lit or colorfully painted. With the addition of more people, Brigid could see that Kane’s momentary musings were not an endorsement of Thrush’s destruction of humanity.
Still, Kane winced internally. “I’m not doing much for my case by being so misanthropic.”
Brigid shook her head. “I’ll bring you some coffee. We’ll start over.”
Kane rolled his eyes. “I wouldn’t overlook that kind of a rant if I were you.”
Brigid rested her hand on his shoulder. “Why? It
a sentiment you’d voice if you were too hurt and too tired to get back into the fresh air. In fact, I’d be afraid if you didn’t let some of your rough edges show. As much as we get called heroes, we’re still just normal people who are allowed to be grumpy and hold some loathing for others.”
Kane took a deep breath. “Maybe…but you don’t have to disguise the fact that you’re babysitting me because I haven’t been officially cleared.”
Brigid nodded. “Find us a table, okay?”
“Sure,” Kane relented.
Brigid cursed herself for being too quick to disregard Kane’s rant, but that was an emotional reaction. She
went over the pure logic of the situation and she stood on her decision. Everything she knew about the man pointed to someone who’d make a glib statement, a joking condemnation. Throw in the effects of physical trauma he’d experienced, including one tortuous bit of combat that occurred before her eyes, and she really had nothing to flag in Kane’s behavior or speech.
She prepared their coffee mechanically while her intellect threw up a flow chart of possibilities in her mind’s eye. The benefits of having a photographic memory allowed her to visualize a thousand different things at once. In one part of the flow chart, she ran before and after imagery of Kane from multiple angles, looking for details that didn’t quite match. Nothing showed up, which frustrated her. On another part of the flow chart, she remembered the details of the Thrush Continuum’s transdimensional Orb ship. The great ark was staffed by copies of Thrush from across a multitude of universes, though they all bore only minor variations of appearance.
Brigid brought up her memories of the young boy into whom Thrush had implanted his mind. The child had been birthed by Erica van Sloan, and had seemed entirely human, except for an intellect that dwarfed anything Brigid had ever seen, and access to technologies such as the Heart of the World and the nanomachines that rebuilt Lakesh so adeptly. She concentrated on young Sam’s face, processing its similarities to the more adult versions of Colonel Thrush. Thanks to her
eidetic mental imagery, she was able to compare facial bone structure, eyes, jaw profile and ears. She ran those pictures through her mind’s eye and sighed in disgust. If she hadn’t recognized the boy Sam as a younger version of Thrush with her infallible memory, then why would she be able to pick up such alterations and similarities now?
“Because you’re being thorough,” Brigid whispered to herself.
“Thorough about what?” a familiar voice asked. A scientist from the Manitius base stood by the table that Kane had selected. Daryl Morganstern gave a small wave to her. “Hi, Brigid. I wasn’t expecting you guys back so soon.”
Brigid’s cheeks burned. “Well, you can see Kane took a knock to the head, so we’re letting him recuperate before we go running back into the field.”
“I know that he’s from the moon base, but I for one can’t place this guy,” Kane said.
Brigid sighed. “That’s because I hadn’t introduced you two yet.”
“Introduced us?” Kane asked.
Morganstern shrugged. “Well…we’re sort of dating.”
Kane shot a glance toward Brigid. “Dating?”
Brigid set down the coffee cups. “Have a seat, Daryl.”
“Thanks,” Morganstern replied. He sat next to Brigid but turned his chair to avoid eye contact with Kane. He’d lowered his head, hunching his shoulders in a turtlelike defensive posture.
“Straighten up, Daryl. I’m not going to bite your head off,” Kane said. “Dating?”
Brigid rolled her eyes. “Listen, I’m not sure if you can remember past that head trauma, but just because you seem to have been happy to learn from Sindri that we’re married in some alternate future, I’m not buying it.”
Kane took his cup of coffee and took a sip. “We undid that timeline, didn’t we?”
Brigid nodded. “And aren’t you the one who’s always fighting fate?”
Kane lifted a hand to hold off Brigid. “Hang on, Baptiste. I’m not complaining. I just didn’t realize that you’d found someone worth dating from Manitius.”
Brigid didn’t have to look back at Morganstern, who had put a hand up to his eyes to hide his wince. The lunar scientist was a theoretical mathematician and part of a new team that Lakesh had assembled to rework the quantum equations to further enhance and refine the interphaser and mat-trans system. He was also another person who had been gifted with a near perfect memory, and while Brigid was helping out with Lakesh’s interphaser program, they had started talking. Physically, Morganstern was average, and his eyes and hair were a plain brown, though he had a sweet smile and dimples. Still, the pair had developed a rapport.
“There are quite a few nice people who came down to Cerberus,” Brigid stated. “Plus, he’s been a great chess opponent.”
“I’ve played chess with you,” Kane said, sounding almost hurt.
“We don’t need the board,” Morganstern said, voice low and brittle. He looked at Brigid. “Oh. I have you in check on board two.”
Brigid nodded. “Game five, though, I’ll mate in six moves.”
Morganstern winced. “I was hoping you hadn’t taken queen’s pawn into that equation….”
Kane gave a low whistle. “Okay, maybe I haven’t played chess with you that well. How many games do you have going?”
“We’ve tied and drawn so many times, we’ve expanded it to seven concurrent games,” Morganstern admitted.
“And how many moves until mate?” Kane asked.
Brigid glared at Kane. “Excuse me?”
Morganstern flinched at the flare of anger on Brigid’s part. “I don’t—”
“Oh, I know what he meant,” Brigid replied.
“You bust my chops over little blue-eyed Indian babies,” Kane said.
“That doesn’t mean you can be a prick and put poor Daryl on the spot,” Brigid said.
Morganstern swallowed. “I think I’ll go get myself a soft drink.”
“I’m not letting Kane drive you off,” Brigid said. She narrowed her gaze at the man as he took another sip of coffee. “That’s why I didn’t introduce you—because I knew you’d be a pig.”
“Really, Brigid. I’m just thirsty,” Morganstern said, his voice rising an octave with obvious nervousness. “I’ll be right back.”
Brigid puffed out her cheeks. “You’ve got a minute.”
Morganstern nodded, a little too rapidly to be anything but on edge. He scurried out of his chair and headed toward the drink station.
“I’m sorry, Baptiste,” Kane said. “He’s an okay-seeming guy.”
“Yeah,” Brigid grumbled. “It’s nothing big for you, Mister Hero-man, to lay a slick line on one of those barbarian trollops you encounter on days ending with the letter
but it’s not easy for women. He told me there’s a dozen moon base scientists who are afraid to talk to me because I’m out of their league.”
“You are,” Kane admitted. “Guys are intimidated by pretty girls,” Kane continued. “Throw in the fact that you’re a resident superheroine, able to walk across dimensions by concentrating on funky rugs and regularly prance about in skintight uniforms…”