by Brian K. Asbury
Garv was clearly chafing, and that meant that he was pacing the floor, and that his super-dense body was slowly wearing a groove in the plastic floor covering. “I don’t like this, Bek. I don’t like it at all. I’m supposed to be the president’s bodyguard, but Zen won’t let me in there.”
Garryn Bek munched on the sandwich he had brought with him into the observation booth. “Of course he won’t, Garv. You’re not sterile.”
“And he is? Look at him — he’s not even wearing gloves!”
“Nothing more sterile than a Durlan, Garv. Their homeworld is radioactive. Short of those from their homeworld, which are harmless to any non-Durlan, there’s hardly a microorganism known to exist anywhere in the rest of the universe that will live on them.”
Garv studied the Cairnian security chief. Normally twitchy and nervous, he seemed uncharacteristically calm. Perhaps it was because, for once, he knew exactly where Dox was and what he was doing. “Do you think this will work, Garryn?”
“I don’t know. But Dox usually knows what he’s doing. He’s in good hands with Zen — no better surgeons anywhere than Durlans.”
“But what about this Luthor? Surely you don’t trust him.”
“Not this far.” Bek held up his thumb and finger, pressed tightly together. “But he knows what’ll happen to him if he doesn’t do the job exactly as specified. If I were threatened with being handed over to Stealth and Boodikka, I sure as hell know I’d behave.” He took another bite of this sandwich.
Garv decided to change the subject. “Did you get anything out of that girl, Phase?”
Bek shrugged. “Hakk is still working on her. Stealth is giving him a hand — it’s helping to take her mind off Dox forbidding her to cut Garguax and Luthor into little pieces, at least for now. The universal translator’s made some progress, although her language isn’t like anything in the standard database. It doesn’t help, though, that she seems to have amnesia.”
Bek nodded. “We can make a few words understood on both sides now, and it’s clear that she doesn’t remember her own name. She can recall a few things, but not how she got here. From what we can make out, she just found herself here suddenly.”
“Weird, my friend.”
“She says she thinks she comes from a place called… uh, now what was it? Oh, yeah — Bgtzl. That’s what it sounds like, anyway. But she’s not even sure about that.”
“I never heard of a planet called Bgtzl, Garryn.”
“Me, neither. But maybe it isn’t the name of her planet — could be the city or the country she comes from, or even the name of her house. Who knows?”
“Or maybe it’s just a very long way away?”
“Like I said, who knows? Oh, look — has Zen finished already?”
They looked down into the operating chamber. The Durlan was replacing Vril Dox’s skull and sealing it with a surgical welding beam, one of the few instruments he condescended to use, and only then because he could not duplicate its function, only its form, with his own morphing body. “Damn, but he’s good,” said Bek admiringly. “Come on. By the time we get down there, he should be all done.”
They left the booth and made their way to another chamber, where Lex Luthor, guarded by Boodikka, was standing over a magnifying screen through which he had been watching the procedure and guiding the Durlan.
“Everything go OK, Luthor?” asked Bek.
“So far as I could tell,” grumbled the bald scientist. “I could’ve done without that blasted valkyrie breathing down my neck, though. If I’ve made any mistakes…”
“Then you will pay for them with your own life!” growled Boodikka.
“I already got that message, thanks,” Luthor muttered.
Just then, the operating room door opened, and Zen came through, guiding a hovering trolley upon which an unconscious Vril Dox rested. Bek whistled. “Smart work, Zen. Apart from the shaved head, he doesn’t look any different. Not a scar to be seen.”
“I pride myself on a thorough job,” said Zen.
“Well, if we’ve all finished congratulating each other, anybody mind if I get some rest now?” said Luthor. “I’ve had a very bad day.”
“No,” Zen said. “President Dox gave very strict orders that he was to be woken up as soon as he was out of theater. And no one was to go anywhere until…”
“For the love of God!” Luthor swore. “The man’s just been through brain surgery! Let him rest and recover!”
“No,” said Zen. He produced a hypo-spray and injected Dox in the shoulder.
Garv looked at Garryn Bek. He was starting to look twitchy again with the prospect of Dox coming around. Boodikka also looked tense. She said nothing, but her hand hovered on the hilt of her sword in such a way as to suggest that Lex Luthor would be minus his head if anything had gone wrong.
As they watched, Dox’s eyes began to flicker, then came open. They seemed momentarily unfocused, but then they moved from side to side, taking in the other occupants of the room.
“Dox?” said Bek. “Are you all right? How do you feel?”
Vril Dox offered no reply. Instead, he suddenly shot bolt upright — and began to laugh like a maniac.
“Oh, grok!” gasped Bek. “His mind’s gone!”
“I warned you!” Boodikka growled, grasping Luthor around the throat. “Prepare to die, false one!”
“No, wait!” Dox swung his legs off the trolley and let them dangle. He had stopped laughing. “It’s all right, Boodikka, stand down. I’m fine.”
“You are?” asked Bek.
Dox grinned. “My brain has been effectively rewired, Garryn. It took a moment to regain full control.”
“What a relief, boss!” said Garv. “We thought you had brain damage.”
“He still could have,” Zen said. “Please lie down and be still, Mr. President. You have just been through a very serious operation.”
Dox waved him away. “I know, I know,” he said. “But you can’t imagine what this feels like. I… I understand everything now. Things that were clouded to my mind are now clear. It’s wonderful!”
“It won’t be wonderful if you start hemorrhaging!” said Zen. “Please stop jiggling about like that. Give the operation seals time to settle, at least.”
Dox stared at the Durlan for a moment, then shrugged and lay down again. “Doctor knows best — except that he doesn’t, of course. I understand exactly what has been done to me, and I can tell you that the chances of any of Zen’s seals coming open are precisely one-point-seven-four-three-four-eight-two-zero-zero-one-nine…”
“OK, OK,” shouted Bek. We get the message. It’s worked. You’re super-smart. Great. So now what?”
“Somebody get me a computer pad and stylus,” Dox said. “I have some urgent calculations to make. And open up a communications link to Colu, of course.”
“Right away, sir,” said Garv, moving to obey.
“And what about me?” Luthor said.
“Oh, you did a good job, Luthor,” said Dox. “I thank you. You can go.”
“I can go,” said Luthor flatly.
“That’s right. Is there something wrong?”
“We’re on the Moon, remember?” said Luthor. “I can’t exactly just walk out the door and go home.”
“Details, details,” said Dox. “Very well, Luthor, you may have the shuttle you arrived in. Boodikka will escort you to it — I’m certain a human of your intellect will have no difficulty in working out how to fly it. But you will take nothing else with you, and I don’t advise you should come back. Ten minutes after you leave, I intend to tell Stealth I’ve let you go. She won’t be best pleased, so I’d try to avoid ever meeting her again if I were you.”
“Oh, don’t worry, you don’t need to say that twice.” Luthor turned to Boodikka. “Come on, Red Sonja. Let’s go.”
“What did you call me?”
They left the room. Seconds later, Garv returned with Dox’s pad and stylus. “Now please leave me,” Dox said. “I have to do this as quickly as possible.”
“You sure you can?” said Bek.
“I have to,” Dox replied. “This is what we came here for, remember? If I can’t get this right this time, even with my enhanced intellect, Colu and all the surrounding worlds are doomed to fall!”
General Tinar scanned through the reports coming in on the screen, and his face grew more grim with each one he read. “It looks bad, Amvi,” he said to his second-in-command. “The Khund fleet has broken through in Sector 838. They could now swing about and catch our main task force in the jaws of a pincer. Or, worse still, they could come straight for us.”
“I doubt that, sir. Knowing the Khunds, they’ll engage our remaining fleets first. And we still have our planetary defenses, sir,” said Commander Amvi. “With the additional weaponry the president added to the Star Cross defense station before he left, we can hold off the Khunds for some time.”
“In theory, yes. But with Sector 838 lost to us, they can now bring in their allies to reinforce them.” He turned away from the screen, removed his cap, and wiped his eyes. “Barring a miracle, Commander, it’s only a matter of time before Colu falls. And if we fall, then the way is open for the Dominion and its allies to take every inhabited planet from here to Pelgaria. Damn it, if only our own allies weren’t so–“
“Good a word for it as any. With them fighting fit, we could have ripped through the alien fleets like a hot wire, but…” He closed his eyes in despair.
“To be fair, sir, the president didn’t know about their… ah… disability when he invited them here. They didn’t know about it themselves.”
“I know, I know. Doesn’t make it any easier, though.” The communications console buzzed. “Answer that, Amvi. I don’t think I can stand to hear any more bad news at the moment.”
“Yes, sir.” Commander Anvi switched the audio output to a headset, which he placed on his head. “It’s Colonel Arro, sir. He says they’ve just heard from the president.”
“About time!” Tinar rushed to the console and switched the output back to the speakers.
“…and the formula came through a few minutes ago. We’ve rushed it through to our chemists, and they’re making it up right now.”
“But will it work?” Tinar almost screamed into the microphone. “Will it work?”
“The president is confident it will,” said the voice of Colonel Arro on board the Star Cross satellite. “But until we’ve tried it on the patients, all we can do is pray.”
“Then we’d better do so,” said Tinar. “For Colu’s sake and any hope of a future!”