Pursuit of Diana First Pages

Juliet Parrish and Mike Donovan clung together for a long moment. Around them, the huge command center of the Visitors’ Los Angeles Mother Ship was nearly silent. Where once thirty or more Visitor technicians worked at their various stations, now only two sat at their posts —Martin, the fifth columnist leader, was at the navigation console, and Barbara, his unofficial second-in-command, was at the communications center. Elias Taylor leaned against the blown-open entrance doors, grinning at his friends, while Elizabeth Maxwell calmly sat by the doomsday device which she alone, with her half-human, half-Visitor powers, had been able to tum off, thus saving the Earth from almost certain destruction.

But for a moment Mike and Julie were not aware of even these few friends. Their need for each other was compounded by the emotional relief of victory, and heightened by the near catastrophe of global destruction. Right now Julie wanted to be alone in some bedroom with Mike, while he, to his own surprise, felt the need for her to comfort him. He had to be the strong one, though, so Julie could continue to be strong. The Visitors were gone, victory was theirs, but there was so much left to do toward putting the world back to rights again.

Over at the entrance, Elias let his gaze wander around the command center. His only concern, once they returned to Earth, was how to fit himself back into society. The thought of returning to his old way of life — to burglary, drug dealing, and petty crime — had no appeal to him anymore. Anger had motivated him before, and frustration, but now he knew that the need for excitement, for thrills had also played a large part in shaping his career; and since he’d joined the rebels he’d had all the excitement anyone could want, enough to last him for the rest of his life. But be wasn’t too worried. He knew he wasn’t alone anymore. His friends, both human and Visitor, would see him through whatever trials remained.

An opened wall hatch in the bulkhead beyond the doomsday machine seemed somehow significant. He looked again at these few people doing what needed to be done, and thought there should be one more.

“Hey,” he said at last, straightening up from his comfortable slouch. “Where’s Diana?”

Julie looked at him, and her face lost some of its calm. She disengaged herself from Mike’s embrace and nodded at the open hatch. “I let her escape,” she said simply.

Mike stepped back and looked down at her in surprise. “But why?” he asked. At their stations, Barbara and Martin paused to look at her uncertainly.

“I didn’t want to,” Julie said. Her voice carried a silent appeal for understanding. “I’m not really sure what happened. But while I was keeping her covered, it was almost as if part of me were back in the conversion chamber Diana didn’t speak, but I could hear her voice in my head. She kept saying, ‘Don’t move, be still, it will get you if you move.’ My God, she wasn’t talking. She was thinking at me! I wasn’t expecting that. I was expecting her to run or attack or something, but she just sat there in the corne. By the time I realized what was happening, she was halfway through that hatch.” She turned to Martin. “What was happening?” she asked. “Telepathy?”

“I’ve never heard of anything like that,” Martin said, “but then, I’m not a conversion technician.”

“She can’t have gotten far,” Mike Donovan said. “The toxin must have spread through the whole ship by now.”

“Except for here,” Barbara pointed out. “There may be other pockets of clean air elsewhere, but that won’t matter to Diana. That hatch leads to an escape shuttle. Mike, I don’t think Diana’s even on the ship anymore.”

“Damn,” Elias said. Elizabeth continued to sit quietly

“She still can’t get far,” Martin sid. “We’re too far from Earth now. The shuttle will never make it back there before its life support runs out. Those emergency shuttles are designed with very high power but limited range.”

“I don’t like it,” Mike said. “Especially the implication that she had some kind of telepathic control over Julie. Why didn’t she try that on someone before?”

“From what Julie’s just told us,” Barbara said, “it sounds like a by-product of the conversion process, and Julie’s the only one of us here who suffered that.”

“It was so strange,” Julie said. “I wish we could find out more about it.”

“We’ll have time after we get back home,” Mike told her, reaching out for her again. “Right now this is our first order of business. “

~~~

Martin moved from console to console, reading dials, checking status lights. One particular panel held his attention.

“What is it?” Elias Taylor asked, coming up behind him and looking over his shoulder

“Damage report,” Martin said. “When we tried to get the doomsday device away from Earth, we accelerated too hard and too fast. Two of the engines went down in the attempt, and it looks like the others are failing too.” He flipped switches, and the all but imperceptible humming of the drives stopped. “There’s been some structural damage as well. These ships aren’t designed to move through atmosphere except at a slow coast. We’re going to have to make some repairs, or when we get back to Earth we’ll just fall like a rock instead of floating over Los Angeles.”

“Can you fix it?” Mike Donovan asked.

“Not by myself. It really takes a whole team to fly this thing. That’s why we’re having trouble now. If I’d had a full crew when we were pulling away from Earth, we probably could have avoided damaging the ship. But it’s been a long time since I studied any engineering, and even with help, I’ll need some technicians who specialize in engine maintenance.”

“How about Willie?” Elias asked. “Or one of the other fifth columnists down in the docking bay?”

“Willie’s just a cryogenics worker;” Martin said. “Scott might be able to help, but I think we’re in big trouble.”

“It may not be as bad as it seems,” Barbara said, looking up from a large display panel showing a diagram of the ship. “The ship’s atmosphere monitor indicates that the toxin didn’t spread as far as we’d thought.” The others came over to see what she was talking about.

“Each major section of the ship,” she said, pointing at the display, “is represented diagrammatically. Here we are, and here are the crew’s quarters, recreation area, the water hold, and so on. Each red section is contaminated, but see, that’s only this area here.” She pointed to the docking bay, the main corridors leading from it to the command center, and a section of cabins or offices off to one side of the main corridors. “Diana must have sealed off most of the ship, probably to keep us bottled up when we made our attack. But it also kept the rest of the ship free of contamination.”

“That means most of the crew probably survived,” Martin said with obvious relief. “I have to admit I hated the thought of killing everybody like that. After all, most of the crew are only technicians and workers, people who just take orders.”

“Then surely some engine technicians have survived,” Julie said.

“But can we trust them?” Donovan asked.

“I sure wouldn’t,” Elias Taylor said. “Think about it, Julie.

If they had done to us what we’ve done to them, would we want to help them?”

“That’s a point,” Julie said, “but more important is that even if we could trust them, we don’t have enough antitoxin on board.” She turned to Martin. “If we can find the technicians you need, can we get them to the engines without exposing them to contamination?”

“I don’t think so,” he answered, examining the display panel. “See, the crew’s quarters are here, the, engineering section is here, and the only way is through this area, the central access area.” That part. of the display glowed bright red.

“How many do we need?” Elias asked. “Maggie brought enough antitoxin for thirty to forty people.”

“That would be enough,” Martin said, “if it hasn’t already been used. But how would you get it to them?” The human rebels didn’t understand his question, but Barbara did.

“Think about it,” she said. “In order to give them the antitoxin, you’ll have to unseal a portion of the ship. You can’t get in to them otherwise. And if you unseal, the toxin will get to them before you do.”

“Goddamn it!” Julie cried. “If it were just us, all right, we’ve been willing to die for our cause, though to come so close and not quite make it is almost more than I can stand. But there are ten thousand human beings in the holds of this ship. They’ll die too if we don’t get the ship back to Earth.”

“And I’d guess about two thousand of our crew are still alive,” Barbara said, “if you figure that most of those who died from the toxin were soldiers and not workers.”

“There may be a way out,” Martin suggested hesitantly. “The ship carried enough air to recycle three times. If we could get all the rebels and fifth columnists in the contaminated area up here to the command center and somehow seal off the entrance Elias blew, we could open the docking bay and flush the air out of that part of the ship. We’d have to use up a lot of our air reserves to make sure all the toxin was blown out, but if we can effect sufficient repairs to return to Los Angeles, we could pump more air aboard once we were back in Los Angeles’s atmosphere.”

“But the toxin is all over the city by now,” Elias said. “Not counting the smog, the air there wouldn’t do you any good.”

“The toxin wouldn’t have drifted that high up,” Mike Donovan reassured him. “At least not yet. Most of the toxin released by the balloons will be in the lower two or three miles of the atmosphere. We could put the ship out beyond the prevailing winds, maybe somewhere in the north Pacific where the air will be clean for at least a year.”

“I think it’s the only chance we’ve got,” Barbara said. “But if we’re going to do it, we’d better get started. With all engines shut down, we don’t have power to keep our life support going for long.”

“And there’re all our friends down in the docking bay,” Julie said. “God, they must be wondering what’s been happening up here.”

“I can talk to them from here,” Barbara said, going to the master communications panel.

“Even it we flush out all the toxin in the air;” Martin said, “we’re going to have trouble with the stuff that will be trapped in the clothing of those who died in the corridors.”

“Maybe we can move all the bodies into one of these sections,” Donovan said, pointing to a red area near the main corridor, “and then seal it off completely.”

“Yes, that’s possible. And here,” Martin pointed to a section of the corridor not far from the command center, “that’s a security door, so we can keep the atmosphere in here while the rest of this area is being flushed.”

“But wait,” Juliet said. “Our people will have the toxin all over their clothes too.”

“Nobody said decontamination would be simple,” Martin said, “but we’ve got other uniforms, and we can set up a shower system.”

“I’ve got the docking bay on the screen,” Barbara said, and they all turned to see what was going on down there.

~~~

William sat beside Harmony Moore’s body in one of the compartments of the shuttle.

“Come on,” Sancho Gomez said from the door, “there’s nothing more you can do.”

“I know,” William said. His voice was flat, the strange resonance peculiar to the Visitors somehow subdued by his grief. “But I told her I’d never leave her.”

“She’ll be all right here,” Sancho said, corning over to lay a reassuring hand on William’s shoulder “We have wounded friends out there who need our help.”

William sighed, then nodded and got to his feet. Leaning on Sancho for support, he went with him out into the docking bay.

The red powder of the toxin stained every surface and hung in the air like a cloud though it was now slowly sifting down to cover the deck with a layer of crimson dust. Rebels and fifth columnists were moving among those of their friends who had fallen to enemy fire. They had taken surprisingly few casualties, but not all were unscathed. The wounded were being made comfortable until some kind of first aid could be brought to them.

Speakers high in the walls came to life. “Attention all rebels and fifth columnists,” a female voice said. “This is Barbara. We have taken control of the ship, and the doomsday bomb has been deactivated. But we have more work to do.” Quickly she described the situation and the rough plan that had been worked out.

Caleb Taylor and Maggie Blodgett came over to join Sancho and William as they listened to Barbara’s report. “I wish I knew if Elias was all right,” Caleb said.

“We’ll find out soon enough,” Maggie reassured him. “Right now we’ve got to get everybody up the the command center.”

“I’ll get right on it,” Sancho said, and went off to organize litter crews to carry the wounded while William closed the shuttle hatch. With Caleb and Maggie supervising, they soon had all the humans and Visitors in order

“I don’t like this,” Caleb said. “How can we trust those engineers Barbara says we need?”

“I don’t know,” Maggie said, “but I don’t think we have any choice.” She turned to the others. “All right,” she called out, “let’s get a move on.” Then the speakers came on once more, but the voice was Juliet Parrish’s this time.

“Maggie,” Julie’s voice said, “can you hear me?”

“Yes,” Maggie said to the air as the rebels filed past her.

“Good,” Julie said. “How much antitoxin is left?”

“I think about ten or fifteen doses. It’s on the shuttle.”

“Bring it with you,” Juliet told her, “and hurry. With our power down, we won’t be able to breathe ourselves after a while.”

Maggie hurried back to the shuttle and went inside. She had to pass through the compartment where Harmony’s body lay in order to get to the pitifully small supply of antitoxin. She got the pills from their storage place and came back. She couldn’t help herself; she had to pause a moment with Harmony.

“We knew each other for so short a time,” she said softly. She wiped a red smear from the now cold face. “But you didn’t die in vain — I hope.” Then she hurried out to follow the others.

~~~

The scene at Visitor Headquarters in Los Angeles was doubly chaotic. Bodies of Visitor soldiers littered the ground, mingled with those of the few rebels who had fallen. A thin red haze hung like a pall at knee height, slowly dissipating across the grounds. At the same time, the rebels who had discovered the cache of champagne and other fine beverages that Steven, the Visitor security chief, had kept on hand for his human collaborators, were having a wild, impromptu party. Even the wounded were joining in.

But not Robert Maxwell. He and a few other rebels were checking the bodies of their fallen companions, finding those who still lived and carrying them to one of the trucks. Robert was anxious to get back to the lighthouse rebel base, concerned for those who were still there, and especially his three daughters. Robin, he knew, would be a particular problem, at least until Elizabeth, his half-human granddaughter, was returned safely — if she ever was. And there was a lot of work still ahead of them all putting their lives back together.

Inside, in Steven’s control room, several rebels stood examining the wall of computers, communicators, and other equipment the Visitors had installed. Steven’s body had been · unceremoniously pushed to one side. Jason Cunningham, a tall slender man in his late forties, went from panel to panel, examining the dials, the readouts, the controls and displays.

“We’ve got to keep this from being destroyed,” he told his two companions. “If we can figure out how all this stuff works, we my gain something from the Visitors after all.”

“You’re the electrical engineer;” Ian Browne said. Not as tall as Jason, he was even more slender; and rapidly balding in spite of not yet being thirty. “All I know is how to fix TV sets.”

“Then you know enough not to damage anything while we take this apart,” Jason told him.

“Can’t we leave it until later?” Markos Dimitrios asked. The shortest of the three, bis Greek features were darkly handsome. “I want to go out and join the party.”

“If we don’t do something to protect this equipment,” Jason said, “it will be destroyed by vandals. You saw how eager the others were to rip it apart. People won’t want anything of the Visitors’ to survive, so either we set a guard or try to take as much as we can with us.”

“Well, I’m not going to stay here any longer than I have to,” Ian said. “I’ve got to get back to my TV store and find out if my family’s okay.”

“Then let’s get to work,” Jason said. “We’ll need screwdrivers, wire cutters, and wrenches.” He turned to Markos. “You said there was a shop of some kind in the basement, didn’t you?”

“Right. I’ll go get whatever I can find.”

“Great. Now, Ian,” Jason said as Markos hurried off, “some of these devices just slip into mounts. Be careful with the plugs and stack everything over on that table. When Markos comes back, you show him what to do. I’ve got to get a truck and some help in carrying this stuff out.” He left the man to his task and went out onto the balcony.

Jason went over to the stone railing, where the body of Mike’s mother, Eleanor Dupres, still lay, a look of surprise on her face. Below him he could see none of the rebel leaders. Only revelers were visible. He called down to one.

“Find Robert Maxwell,” he said. “I need some help up here.”

“Haven’t seen him,” the man called back, his voice thick with drink.

“Then get Ham Tyler;” Jason said.

“Haven’t seen him either ”

“Well, go looking for him, man,” Jason Cuinningham said as he hurried toward the stairs. “You,” he called out to another rebel who was talking with two women. “Can you back a truck up here?”

“Sure thing,” the man said and trotted off.

“What’s up?” one of the women asked.

“We’re going to save some Visitor technology,” Jason told her “They left a lot of stuff up here, and I’m going to need help getting it out.” He started back to the control room, the two women coming up the stairs behind him.

Inside he found Markos and Ian working at disassemblingthe mass of electronics. Two dozen or more devices were already stacked on the table by the door, their wires dangling and tangled. Each piece of equipment was only two inches thick, typical of the compactness of Visitor electronics.

“It comes apart easily,” Ian said, wielding a screwdriver to disconnect a heavy cable from a conduit, “but there’s an awful lot of it.”

“Cut the wires if you have to,” Jason said, then turned to the two women. “Get this down to the truck,” he said. “Be careful with it if you can, but speed is more important than caution if it comes to that.” He turned back to the instrument wall, picked up a wrench, and started undoing some of the more substantial mountings. “Going to be a real jigsaw puzzle putting this back together again,” he said.

“What do you want?” a man’s voice came from the door Jason turned to see Ham Tyler, nicknamed the Fixer; and behind him the bulk of his friend, Chris Faber.

“Something here you might be interested in,” Jason said, “if we can ever figure out how it works. I think some of this equipment was used for surveillance and espionage.”

Ham’s interest was suddenly aroused, though his only action was to raise an eyebrow. “Not really my line,” he said, “but you’ve got a good point. Clemmons will know what to do with this. I’ll send a message to him over in Detroit.”

“Great,” Cunningham said, and went back to his work.

Ham and Chris stepped out of the way as the two women rebels came back for another load of equipment, then went back out onto the balcony.

“I think we’ve done just about all we can here,” Ham said. Chris Faber nodded, and again they stepped aside as the women, their arms laden with electronics, went past them down the stairs to where the truck was parked. The Fixer and his colleague followed, ducked around the open tailgate, and started across the lawn. Here the party was finally beginning to wind down. They saw Robert Maxwell, who now had drunks as well as wounded to attend to, and went over to say goodbye.

“But you can’t leave now,” Maxwell said. “I can’t lead all these people by myself.”

“You seem to be doing a pretty good job,” Ham said.

“At least stick around until Mike and Julie get back,” Robert pleaded. “You’re the only other authority figure we have.”

“My job’s finished once the battle is over,” Ham Tyler said. “You’re the one who’s going to have to put the pieces back together again.”

“I would kind of like to see Alice again,” Chris said musingly.

“Who’s Alice?” Ham asked.

“Just a friend,” Chris replied. “Just like to say good-bye.”

“You’re getting soft,” Ham said disgustedly.

Robert grinned. “I thought you and Alice seemed to be getting on pretty well ever since the raid on the pumping station.”

“She’s a tough lady,” Chris Faber said, his face bland.

“So, how about it,” Robert asked Ham, “you going to stay with us just a little while longer?”

“I guess I’ve got no choice.” He rubbed his hand across his thinning hair. “And, yes,” he admitted, “I would like to know if Donovan’s all right.”

“That’s what’s got me worried,” Maxwell said. “We should have heard from him by now.”

“At least we know that they were able to stop the doomsday bomb,” Chris said.

“Unless it blew up on the other side of the world,” Ham countered.

“No,” Robert said. “A bomb that big would have been noticeable even then, if it had gone off. Even against the full light of day, we would have seen the flash shining around the world like a new kind of sunset. But the fact that it didn’t go off is all we know.”

“All right,” the Fixer said, “I’ll go along with you, but there are other groups all across the country, and they’re going to have to be informed too. If we don’t hear from Donovan pretty soon, I’ll just have to get back to the network. Besides, there will be plenty of other jobs for me during the aftermath.”

“Right now,” Robert Maxwell said, “we’ve got to. get everybody into the trucks, and a lot of them are drunk. They’ll follow your orders, Ham. Let’s do it.”

“There’s one other thing,” Ham said. “If Donovan and the others are all okay, they’ll be bringing that Mother Ship back, isn’t that right?”

“Of course,” Robert answered, “unless they want to stay up there forever ”

“How do you think the people of Los Angeles are going to feel about it when that thing is back in the sky again?”

“I hadn’t thought about that,” Robert said.

~~~

William and another fifth columnist, George, stepped out of a large compartment into a corridor of the ship. Both carried sidearms, as did two or three others who, having been given the antitoxin, were at least momentarily immune to the thick red dust which covered everything. Other Visitors, trustees wearing respirators and torn-off sleeves to distinguish them from fifth columnists, were carrying bodies from the corridor into the compartment. These workers were a few of the survivors whom William had known, and had suggested could be trusted, at least somewhat. Those fifth columnists who did not need respirators were removing all weapons to yet another compartment before the trustees got to them.

“It hurts to find people you recognize,” George said, turning over one of the dead soldiers.

“Are you sure that compartment can be completely sealed?”

William asked, indicating the place to which the bodies were being removed.

“I checked all the inside vents,” George said. He moved to another body · and tossed the dead soldier’s rifle to a fifth columnist. Only those who had been with the invasion force were trusted to handle weapons, and there were few enough of them.

William went up the corridor in the direction of the docking bay. The bodies here had all been taken to another compartment, which also had been sealed. Two or three of his shipmates, now in respirators, were sitting on the deck, resting a moment before going back to work.

“ls it my imagination,” one of these asked, “or is the air beginning to get bad in here?” He was breathing heavily, and not just from the exertion. The temperature was slowly rising as well.

“The ventilation has been cut off for over an hour,” William said. “Nobody gets fresh air until this corridor is cleared.” He didn’t like playing the tough guard, but somebody had to do the job. The three in respirators struggled to their feet and went back up the corridor to where George and the other fifth columnists were supervising the continuing work. William sighed and followed them. There was an awful lot to do, and so little time to do it in.

~~~

Elias Taylor stood guard just inside the door to the quarters that so recently had been Diana’s. A rebel and a fifth columnist, escorting three Visitors in respirators, came to a halt until Taylor let them in. There at a table sat Martin and Peter, shuffling a stack  of papers. Peter, a fifth columnist of long standing, checked names off a list while Martin took three slim folders from a stack beside him.

The Visitors and their guards stopped in front of the table. At Martin’s nod, Elias closed the portal. There came the sound of air hissing through the ventilator system. After a moment, that too stopped.

“You can take off your respirators now,” Peter told the three prisoners. The two men hesitated, but the third, a woman, complied immediately. When she didn’t collapse choking, the other two followed suit.

“The situation is this,” Martin said. “We are stranded in space. All the other Mother Ships are now on their way out of the solar system. At this moment, we can neither join them nor go back to Earth. In trying to get Diana’s doomsday device as far from the planet as possible, we suffered the loss of two engines and some slight structural damage. That must be repaired.” He looked down at his folders. “You were all with the engineering section. Are you willing to help us get this ship running again?”

One Visitor, whos artificial face had Oriental features, shrugged his shoulders. “I couldn’t even if I wanted to,” he said. “I was just a maintenance man, not an engineer.”

“How about you?” Peter asked the second man. The prisoner just stared at him, disdain evident on his face. Peter sighed and made a mark on his list. Then he and Martin both looked at the woman. Her gaze shifted from one to the other She put her hands to her face a moment, then sighed.

“Yes,” she said, “I’ll help. I guess we’ll all die if I don’t.”

“That’s correct,” Martin said.

Elias came up and led the woman Visitor through a door at the side while the guards gave the two men their respirators back. One of them picked up the third respirator to take with them back to the other Visitors yet to be interviewed. Elias returned, let the four of them out of the room, then turned back to Martin.

“How many so far?” he asked.

“Seven,” Martin said. The strain was showing. “But none of them is really qualified. And we’re not going to be able to keep refreshing the air in here much longer”

Elias heard footsteps out in the corridor and went to admit three more prisoners and their two guards. As before, the prisoners were wearing respirators. And as before, once they were inside, Elias closed the door so the air could be refreshed.

Martin took up another stack of three folders, having put the last three to one side. Facing him now were three women, one apparently black. Once again he briefly told them the situation and asked if they would help. The three women looked at him but didn’t answer.

“You all know,” Peter said, “that Our Leader lied to us. The inhabitants of this world are not animals, but people not that different from ourselves in many ways. We have committed a great crime by trying to steal their water and take them back as food. It is up to us to make some small restitution.”

“I’d rather die,” the black Visitor said. She turned her face away. The second woman looked at her with disgust.

“We may die anyway,” she said. “Much good it will do you. Yes,” she said to Peter, “I’Il help.”

“You’re a fool,” the third woman said. “How long do you think they’ll let you live after they get you back to Earth?”

“I’ll take my chances,” the second woman said.

“Thank you,” Martin told her as Elias came up to lead her to the inner room. The guards gave the other two prisoners their respirators and, carrying the third respirator, led them back out into the hall.

“That one will be a real help,” Peter said, checking a name off his list. “She’s a qualified engineering supervisor”

“I don’t think I trust her;” Elias Taylor said. “She seemed just a little too willing.”

“I don’t think so,” Martin said, “but even so, what choice do we have?”

“I know, I know,” Elias said, “but think about it. She could sabotage the engines instead of repairing them.”

“I think I can remember enough of my training,” Martin said, “to be able to detect that if she tries it.” The door tone sounded, signaling the arrival of yet more interviewees. “Let’s get back to work,” Martin said tiredly.

Elias started to protest, then shook his head and went to open the door Beyond, as expected, were two more guards and three more Visitors. This was going to take a long time.

~~~

Barbara sat at the communications console in the command center The screen in front of her showed the interior of a barracks. Twenty or so Visitor soldiers, armed and armored but with their helmets off, sat or stood around within range of the camera.

“Let me speak to your ranking officer;” Barbara said. The soldiers, grim and angry, exchanged glances until one, a sergeant, came to the front of the group.

“I guess that’s me,” he said. His attitude indicated he didn’t really give a damn.

“Sergeant,” Barbara said in a tired voice, “as you are now aware, we control the entire ship. You are the last platoon of soldiers left alive. The others all died when the toxin was pumped into portions of the ventilating system.” The sergeant lost his devil-may-care expression, and the other soldiers with him began muttering to each other “That is hard news, l know,” Barbara went on, “but that’s the way it is.”

“So what do you want?” the sergeant asked.

“We don’t want to kill any more of you than is necessary,” Barbara said, “but we can’t let you keep your weapons. Several of our people are outside your door right now. Put all your weapons into the security locker and move to the far side of the room. I’ll unseal the door then, and let our people in.”

“And then they’ll shoot us all down?” a soldier in back called out.

“No,” Barbara said. “If we wanted to kill you we could do it without risk. All I’d have to do is pump toxin directly into your barracks.” She didn’t like threatening them with this, especially since she knew several of the men and women there. The sergeant’s expression became even more grim. Barbara let the soldiers talk it over among themselves.

“What will it be?” Barbara asked after a moment. “You’ll have to make up your minds fast. We have too much else to do.”

The sergeant came away from his men and again faced the camera. “All right,” he said. “We’ll go along with you.”

Barbara watched as one by one the soldiers went to the locker at the side of the barracks, put in his or her weapon, and then retreated to the other side of the room. She tried to see that each did as instructed, but sometimes two or three of the soldiers would crowd in together At last they finished. Barbara took a breath, punched a button, and the barracks portal unsealed.

~~~

Outside the portal, two rebels and two fifth columnists heard the lock click, then went inside, guns drawn. While one of the fifth columnists went to the gun cabinet, the other three kept the soldiers covered. The fifth columnist at the cabinet took a heavy device the size of a paperback book from his pocket and placed it over the latch. But before he could trip the lock, one of the soldiers pulled a pistol he’d kept concealed, and shot him through the head.

His victory was short-lived. The other three guards all fired in unison, and the soldier fell, blue sparks racing across his chest and abdomen.

“Anybody else want to try something?” the rebel in charge asked while the other fifth columnist went over to the gun cabinet. The soldiers stood silently.

“He’s dead,” the man at the cabinet said, kneeling over his fallen companion. He stood and touched the switch on the locking device. There was a crackling as bolts welded themselves to the latch and door He grabbed his dead friend by the shoulders and while the two rebels covered him, dragged him out the door.

“You’ll have to tend to your own dead yourself,” the rebel in charge said. As he stepped back out into the hall, the door closed, and he could hear it lock again.

~~~

Barbara watched the scene grimly. Several of the soldiers went to the cabinet, but the locking device resisted their efforts to remove it.

“There’s still one gun in that room,” Mike Donovan said, corning up to look over her shoulder.

“That’s true, but the situation is a lot better than it was before. We could have lost twenty lives instead of just two.”

“But we can’t trust any of them,” Mike said. “Can the gun shoot off the lock?”

“No. It’s a special security device designed against that very thing. At least we can stop worrying about them for a while.”

She switched the view to another part of the ship, a section of corridor where the fighting had been heavy. It was clear of bodies now, and the red dust on the floor was smeared with footprints and the tracks of dragged corpses.

“Looks good,” Mike said. “How much more left to go?” Barbara switched the scene again. Another empty corridor. Yet another shot showed Sancho Gomez and his crew still working. Visitor trustees in respirators were carrying bodies into a compartment under the watchful eye of several armed rebels and fifth columnists.

Barbara turned on the mike and spoke into it. “How is it going?” she asked.

~~~

Sancho Gomez looked up at the corner of the corridor wall from which Barbara’s words had come.

“We’re almost through here,” he told her “Then just two more sections left.” “Very good,” he heard her answer as he went back to his work.

The compartment into which the bodies were being carried was stacked high. Trustees in respirators brought in the last of them from the corridor, then left as Sancho surveyed the scene one more time. He turned away at last and closed the door behind him. He did not notice that one of the last bodies, that of Captain Jake, did not lie perfectly still but rolled over.

~~~

“That’s the last of them,” Elias Taylor said as he let yet another group of guards and prisoners into Diana’s quarters. Martin and Peter slumped in their chairs as the three approached their desk. The prisoners were all men this time, all resembling Caucasians.

The resonance in Peter’s voice was coarsened by fatigue as he explained yet again what he wanted of these people. One of the three men nodded his head in agreement.

“We could have learned a lot from humans,” he said. “Not all their technology is behind ours. I saw some articles on recombinant DNA. We haven’t come nearly as far in that area. I’ll be more than glad to help.”

“They’re just relavish,” the one beside him said, spitting a stream of venom onto the floor in front of the desk. “You don’t expect me to associate with creatures like that.”

“What does relavish mean?” Elias asked from the door. “Mammalian vermin,” Martin translated, “sort of like rats, in your language, but inedible.”

“But they’re not inedible,” the third prisoner said. “Humans are very tasty. Will we be able to keep the ones we’ve got in the hold?”

“No,” Martin said shortly, and gestured to the guards. Elias came to lead the one who had agreed to cooperate to the back room to join the other Visitor technicians who had similarly expressed a willingness to help. The other two were given their respirators. Elias came back to let them out with their guards. At the same time he let in Juliet Parrish and Caleb Taylor, his father.

“How’s it going, Pop?” Elias asked.

“We’ve got the corridors cleared,” Caleb said. “We can start flushing the air any time now.”

“Good,” Juliet said. “How many technicians do we have?” she asked the two fifth columnists behind the desk.

Peter looked at his list. “Seventeen,” he said, “and several of them are even qualified.”

“They’ll all have to work under armed guard, though,” Martin cautioned. “I don’t know any of them personally, and we can’t take a chance on trusting them.

“I agree,” Caleb said. “I’m going to personally pick their guards, and if any one of them even looks like he’s trying to sabotage the engines, he’ll finish the job in a wheelchair.”

The communicator at the side of the desk suddenly chimed. Martin pressed a button. “Yes,” he said, “what is it?”

“Is Julie there?” Barbara’s voice asked.

“Right here,” Juliet said.

“You’d better come up the command center right away,” Barbara said. “We’re getting a signal, a strong one, from somewhere between here and your moon.”

~~~

Mike and Barbara were sitting at the communications console, listening to a loud, strange, almost musically modulated signal.

“What is that,” Mike Donovan asked, “a Visitor version of heavy-metal rock?”

“No,” Barbara said as Juliet and Martin came in. “It’s a distress call.”

“But who could be sending it?” Juliet asked.

“There’s only one person I can think of,” Martin said, “and that’s Diana.”

“He’s right,” Barbara agreed. “And only an escape shuttle has a transmitter powerful enough to send a signal that strong.”

“And as far as we know,” Donovan said, “there are no other escape shuttles out there, so it has to be Diana.” Martin nodded. “Can you tell what she’s saying?”

Barbara punched buttons on the console. “I’m afraid not,” she said. “It sounds like a standard code, but the computer can’t translate it.”

“Then it’s not just a call for help,” Martin said. “That would be broadcast in the clear.” He reached over Barbara’s shoulder and touched a few more buttons. “No good,” he went on. “That’s a high security signal, for ship’s commanders only.”

“But who can she be calling?” Juliet asked. “Can that signal reach all the way to Sirius?”

“No,” Barbara answered. “It can’t even get to the rest of the fleet. They’re all well out of range by now.”

“Take a fix on it,” Mike told her “Once we get this ship running again, I want to go pick her up. She has a lot to answer for”

Barbara bent over the console. “It’s like I said,” she told them. “It’s coming from a place about a quarter of the way between here and your moon. But it’s going toward the moon, not Earth.”

~~~~~