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Eric Summers never really questioned it before. When he found the Recharger months ago while spelunking around some old North Carolina caves, he just knew it was right that he should use it. He trusted the Code of the Patrol, he trusted the devicehe never once doubted his place in the scheme of these things. So when his damn Recharger woke him up in the damn middle of the damn night, he told it that the damn security breach had better be a damn serious one or he was going to toss the damn thing out of his damn window.
When it finished telling him about Jessie, Darren and the Seeder, all he could say was "Damn."
He left for New Mexico immediately.
Consequences and Connections
by Stewart Brower.
Jessica stood over the smouldering corpse of her husband Darren, an expression of revulsion and terror locked on her face, while her mind very clearly and evenly played out the situation for her.
You've just killed Darren, she thought.
She kneeled near his right hand, still sheathed in the Gauntlet. A small glowing green orb with seven black tendrils was attached to the silvery glove. All the rest of Darren was charred and crisp. The scientist in her took over, quelling the intense urge to run to the edge of the deck and vomit over the side. Instead, she reached out gingerly and touched the Gauntlet. It was smooth and cool under her skin, and a little slick as well. She pulled at the cuff, and it peeled smoothly off of Darren's hand. Under the Gauntlet, his skin was untouched. Something in her stomach moved at the thought of this.
Now she ran to the edge of the deck and vomited over the side.
She turned away from the railing and sank down to the floor, the Gauntlet still in her hand. Dear God, she thought, what am I going to do?
"Run?" came the reply. Jessie looked up from the body to see the Emissary hanging in the air just a few feet above it.
"You bastard," she said. "You never said this would happen."
"Right. Like you would have used it if I told you," he grinned like a snake.
Jessie thought for just a second. "Mind control. That's it. You used me, you told me what to do..."
"Puh-leeze." The Emissary settled to the ground. "You had it in you. I gave you the technology, and I gave you the idea. And yes, maybe I even gave you a little mental push." He paused.
"But you wanted this. You needed it to happen. You were so susceptible.
"You never even fought me."
Jessica began to sob, slow broken cries of anguish. The Emissary tilted his head back and sighed, "Yeeesssss. Music, sweet music."
The sobbing stopped abruptly. "Parasite," she hissed through her tears. "I'll kill you!" She pulled the Gauntlet over her right hand, stood up and leveled her arm at the Emissary's head.
"Sonuva..." She looked helplessly at her hand.
"Maybe you need a recharge," the Emissary offered. She looked at him disbelievingly. "I'll just wait for you here. Why don't you go recharge?"
Her face blankened as she made her way past him and into the house. She went to her bedroom and stood in the doorway for a moment looking at the bed. The fog in her mind cleared again. No, she chided herself mentally, I'll mourn laterthere's too much to do right now. She looked to where the Recharger...was.
She ran back outside. The Emissary, true to his word, had not moved. "What'd you do with the Recharger, you monster?"
"I did nothing," he stated firmly. "The Recharger always disappears if the Gauntlet is compromised. Every Patroller knows that." He looked down at Darren. "He knew that. Too bad you never bothered to ask him."
Overcome with outrage, Jessica lunged at the Emissary, and he, in turn, brushed her aside with a casual strike of his forearm. She flew backward into a wall, her shoulder cracking solidly against the wood. She shrieked in pain. She tucked her legs in tightly against her chest and wrapped an arm around them, her Gauntleted hand massaging her injured shoulder. Something felt loose in her mouth and she tasted the coppery sweetness of her own blood.
The Emmisary watched quietly as she pulled herself together, then spoke. "Well, Jessica, I must be goingfor now. A quick word for the wise. Dump the body and get your affairs in order. You are now one of my Agentsyou'd best get used to the idea."
Jessica wiped the blood from her mouth. "One of your agents ?" Her eyes narrowed with a look of chiseled stone. "Why would I ever work for you?"
The Emissary leered at her, with menace in his eyes. "You'll find out for yourself before long." Jessie's mind clouded up for a momentwhen it cleared, the Emissary was gone.
"Oh, Darren," she whispered at the dead body, "what have I done?"
Eric Summers was somewhere in the air over Oklahoma at 0700 hours. He had packed some provisions after he was awakened, but he had waited until daybreak before taking to the air. He never felt comfortable flying at night. His forcefield was shaped roughly like a saucer, with a large compartment in the rear for a chair-shaped indention. The bubble over his head sealed him in and gave him visibility. He wore a tight black turtleneck shirt, dark blue jeans and black hightop Nikes. His gear was in an ordinary small dufflebag at his feet. The Recharger sat nearby, with the transparent face of its AI (which Eric insisted on calling 'Al' for some reason) hovering above it.
Eric was yelling at Al. "Are you joking ? Why am I the only Patroller going to investigate? There're bound to be others that are closer to the source."
"There are," Al replied calmly, "but you were selected for more reasons than locale."
"Level-headedness in a crisis situation. Ingenuity. Your previous relationship with Jessica Cochran. Your education in..."
"Whoa!" Eric shouted. "What previous relationship? Who is Jessica...wait." He licked his lips nervously. "Are we talking about Jessie Holt?"
"Good God. I haven't seen her in years. How'd you know I knew her, Al? I've never mentioned her to you."
"But she has mentioned you before," Al explained. "To her husband, the late Darren Cochran. His Recharger overheard the conversation while the Cochrans were in bed. They had just finished making love when Jessica commented on how you were the only person she ever knew who could"
"Enough, Al, enough!" Eric was shocked. He and Jessie had attended MIT together over a decade ago. They had mutual friends, started dating their Senior year, drew a lot of heavy stares from the localsin those days, a black man and a white woman would do thatand ultimately gave it up when they each got careers in different parts of the country. It was cool at the timethey tried the long-distance relationship for a while, but ultimately just fell out of touch with each other. He never knew that she had gotten married.
"Al," Eric began slowly, "even though Jessie and I knew each other previously, it still doesn't explain why I'm being asked to handle a crisis this serious by myself. Can you explain the logic of this to me?"
"Simply put, this situation requires a subtle approach. Were the entire Patrol to swoop in on her, things might get bloody. We still hope to reclaim the Gauntlet, and hopefully, 'cleanse' Jessica Cochran of her sins. She could be quite valuable to the cause of Civilization on this planet, in time. We want you, to use the English colloquialism, to 'talk her down'to make her see that she can be free of the Enemy's controls."
Eric thought for a moment and took a deep, slow breath. "All right then. Tell me everything you know about the Seeder. Maybe I can figure a way for her to get out of this mess."
Security had pretty well put the whole thing together. Darren's pass card had been used on the lab doors at 0400 hours. The equipment was turned on at that same time.
The Metro Police had received a call from his wife about thirty minutes later. She was panicked. The young couple had just had a huge fight over money right after work the previous day and the husband had left in a rush. Now it was four-thirty and he still hadn't come home. She was very worried.
At 0600 hours, a cleaning maid found the husband's charred body in the locked laboratory, with all the broadcast power machines running full tilt. His hand was on the lab door knob and was the only thing unscathed from what must have been a huge power surge. The security tape was blanked out, probably from the EMP of the broadcast power blast.
There was alcohol on his clothes and in his mouth. A half-empty bottle of bourbon poured out onto the lab floor.
The wife, young Jessica Cochran, was informed of what happened at 0625 by the police. She was shocked and obviously grieving.
Security had it down cold. A terrible, tragic loss. The company would not open its doors today. All workers were called and told to stay at home.
Lewis Wilcox, CEO of Veertech, entered the Cochran home quietly, without knocking. He made his way through the darkened house to the living room, where the loud, obnoxious images on the TV played a stark contrast to the room's total silence. From behind him, Lewis heard the clinking of ice in a glass. Jessie stood there in her bathrobe, a bottle of whisky in one hand and a tumbler with ice in the other.
"Oh, Lewis," she spoke tonelessly, "thanks for slopping by. C'n I get you a drink?"
Lewis smiled at her gently. "No. Thanks. I just came by to see how you were doing."
"Did you knock?" She turned to look at the closed front door. "I di'n't hear you knock."
"Ya know, Jessie," he looked down to the opening in the front of her robe, "I just wanted to be here for you. The board of Veertech wanted me to pass along their condolences."
"Well, Lewie," she pulled the front of her robe close, "I'm awful glad you did. Now, jus' get the hell out of my house." She stared at him evenly. Water was dripping on the floor around her ankles.
"Oh, sure. Ya know, I was hoping I could show you something. It won't take long." He walked over to the VCR on top of the set, slipped in a cassette and tapped the 'Play' button.
"Oh, God, Lewis. Don' tell meyou use' to be a porn star called Lew Smallcox..." Jessie began cackling to herself, and took another drink.
When she looked up from her drink, she caught the flat of Lewis' palm against her cheek. "You should really watch the smartass remarks, you little bitch. Ya know?"
Her cheeks flared red and her voice sobered in an instant. "Get the hell out of my house, Lewis, or I'll kill you."
"Oh yeah? Like you did Darren?" he countered.
Jessie stood stock still, and her eyes moved down to the television screen. Lewis' tape was replaying the grisly events of this morning, as she dragged Darren's corpse into the lab, splashed him with alcohol, called the cops, and finally propped up the body to fall against the door as she wriggled through the opening and closed the door behind her.
"You've had a busy morning, haven't you Jessie?"
Time. Empty. Alone. Pain. Jessie?
You will never be alone again.
"I've already killed one person," Jessie bluffed. "Why won't I kill you now?"
"I could say I've left instructions for a package to be delivered to the police in the event of my death, but that's not true. The truth," Lewis sipped at his vodka and tonic, "the truth is that you don't know what kind of precautions I have or haven't taken, and that I'm not about to tell you." He began taking off his shirt. "Why don't you go back to your room and put on your sheer black teddy. And the fishnet stockings." She looked at him aghast. "The ones you wore special for Darren's birthday."
She turned to walk back to the bedroom. "You're a real piece of work, Lewis," Jessie muttered defeatedly.
"You have no idea," came Lewis' sardonic reply. He popped off both his shoes and kicked them into the middle of the floor.
"So the Seeder just wipes out the memory of the Gauntlet, like some kind of computer virus, but leaves the hardware intact. Why doesn't it vaporize when the Recharger realizes it's been compromised?" Eric was closing in on Albuquerque. ETA 7 minutes.
"A Recharger," Al began, "will cut off the energy supply to a compromised Gauntlet just before the Recharger itself disappears. This usually results in the Gauntlet losing cohesion from the power loss. However, the Seeder provides just the amount of energy necessary for the Gauntlet to maintain its form.
"The problem is that, since the memory of the Gauntlet is wiped, it is incapable of doing anything. On other worlds, more advanced than yours, it could possibly be reprogrammed with a new set of instructions. Here on Terra there is no 'software' advanced enough to drive the Gauntlet's abilities."
Eric seemed worried, "Yeah, but Jessie is a software expertspecifically, she's into artificial intelligence. Could she put together any software capable of driving the Gauntlet?"
"Negative. The codes are far too advanced, even for Terra's greatest programmers. Only one computer on this planet is powerful enough to drive the Gauntlet's systems."
"That being?" asked Eric.
"The human mind," said Al.
Jessie returned to the living room to find Lewis stripped down to his slacks and socks. He looked up as she entered. "Hey, that's not what I told you to wear," he blurted. She had changed out of her robe into a dark blue tee shirt and a pair of hiking shorts. She had the Gauntlet on her right hand and a bulky daypack hanging from the opposite shoulder.
"Sorry, Lewis," she said. "I knew someone would figure it out soonthe coverup in the lab was just to buy me some time. I'll be going now." She turned away from him and started toward the front door.
Suddenly there was a sharp cracking in the air above her head and the distinctive sound of a ricochet near the doorframe. She whipped back around, crouching, holding out the Gauntlet in front of her. Lewis stood there, a blank dullness in his eyes, a small handgun held stiffly in front of him, leveled at Jessie's head.
"No. No, you...uh...you stay here. I'm...I'm..."
"Put the gun down, Lewis. Don't make me use the Gauntlet." She said it with much more confidence than she actually felt.
Lewis began jiggling the gun nervously. "No...we, uh, we're going to the cops...I've got the tape..."
"I know you have the tape, Lewis," she reasoned calmly. "But I won't go with you to the police. It's just not going to happen like that."
"Don't make me shoot, Jessie, please..." Lewis' eyes closed in on her. "I'm serious, ya know!"
"NO! NO DAMMIT! IT'S NOT FAIR! I HAD YOU!"
"LEWIS, NO!! PUT THE GUN DOWN NOW!"
There was the explosion of a soundless voice from somewhere between them. Get the hell away from my WIFE! A beam of pure white light burst forth from the Gauntlet, cleaving Lewis in half, diagonally through his midsection. His lifeless body slid into a pulpy mass on the floor.
A green glowing face appeared in front of Jessie, hovering in the air. She recognized it immediately.
She whispered to the air. "Darren?"
Next issue: Jessie and Eric meet again, and the Emissary returns for a major confrontation!
Copyright © 1995, 1997 by Stewart Brower