The tau ceti agenda s 2, p.2

The Tau Ceti Agenda s-2, страница 2

 часть  #2 серии  Separatists


The Tau Ceti Agenda s-2

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  However, the very big black man sitting beside the tall, slender, pale-skinned, dark-haired woman in the coaster car behind the president and his daughter was not having as much fun. Clay Jackson might have been a U.S. Marine, might have seen some serious action in his day, but the hovercoaster at Space Mountain was getting the better of him. Thomas tried not to chuckle at his longtime friend and colleague.

  "Semper fi, marine," Thomas chuckled on a private channel to his former NCO.

  "Oorah," Jackson replied with little enthusiasm. Sehera Moore, the First Lady, seemed about as enthusiastic as her bodyguard. Other than the occasional muffled squeal, she had mostly remained quiet, as was her nature.

  The hovercoaster cars streamed through the meteor storm and banked with more than two gravities of acceleration through the virtual asteroid field surrounding Belt Station. The alien invaders from the Andromeda galaxy were hot on their tails. Thomas didn't have time to pay close attention, but he could tell that the president's daughter was fearless, like a Marine mechajock. Who knew? Her old man had been one hell of a marine, and maybe it was in her blood.

  She pulled the joystick to the right to bank the hovercoaster formation, and then she swiveled the wheel with her left, yawing the middle car—the one she was in—on its axis so that they were looking orthogonally to their direction of travel. The three coaster cars were connected as if they were flying in formation with each other, and the next set of cars was more than five meters behind them and empty. The car in front held Thomas. Thomas continually swiveled it from side to side, scanning for anything out of the ordinary. His artificial intelligence counterpart (AIC) also scanned with multiple sensors attached to his personal armor system. So far, so good, he thought.

  Occasionally, Thomas would make eye contact with the president and his daughter. Moore would sometimes nod in return, and Deanna always smiled at him. The car attached behind them holding the First Lady and Jackson seldom pitched or yawed. The First Lady apparently didn't enjoy the adrenaline-filled ride. But Deanna and President Moore were at the central controls of the three-car spaceship, and they continuously piloted the cars around and over each other like fighter planes in combat formations. The occupants of the front and rear cars were to be mainly gunners and shoot at the alien invaders.

  "Shoot the alien, Daddy!" Deanna cried.

  "I got him!" Moore fired the plastic multicolored cannon, sending blue and red bolts of lightning across the virtual asteroid field and destroying the alien spacecraft with a mixture of computer-generated holography and real-to-life pyrotechnics. It was a good coaster.

  Moore looked over his shoulder at his wife behind them. Then he smiled at her with a sincerely affectionate grin. Thomas had always admired that about President Moore. Unlike many politicians throughout history, Moore was really married to his wife. And he revered his daughter as the epitome of love for their family. Thomas was certain that Moore would lay down his life in a heartbeat for either of the women in his life. In fact, he had seen him attempt to do just that.

  Back when the man was just a senator from Mississippi and had gotten himself and his family caught up in events of the Separatist Exodus of 2383, he stood tall and faced a fierce enemy because of the love he had for his wife and daughter. Moore had single-handedly faced down several enemy mecha with nothing more than a rifle, attempting to lure the enemy mecha away from his family. And he had come out on top.

  Thomas Washington had been there and had fought right beside him on that violent Martian day. Alexander Moore was a man he respected. Moore had been Major Moore of the U.S. Marine Corps once upon a time. And there was no such thing as a former marine. Thomas knew that it would be no problem for him to lay down his life to protect the President or any member of his family.

  Knowing what he did of the then-senator Moore, it had been a no- brainer when Thomas' company commander had told him that he was being offered a detail with the Department of Homeland Security to be President Moore's personal security team leader. Then U.S. Marine Captain Washington went inactive and trained at the James J. Rowlings Training Center just outside Washington, D.C., for a year in order to take the position. To Washington, it was the biggest honor he'd ever received in his life. The president of the United States of America had specifically requested him. The president had also asked for the other two surviving marines who fought with him in the Martian desert that day. Gunnery Sergeant Clay Jackson and Corporal "Kootie" Kudaf had been nothing less than gung-ho for their new assignments.

  Thomas, I'm getting an urgent relay from HQ, Tammie, his AIC, informed him.

  Patch it through.

  Be advised of unusual bandwidth usage on the local area wireless networks. Disney World authorities don't understand the increase. Recommend protect and return protocols.

  Tammie, you heard them. Shut this thing down and get Marine One in here. Thomas thought through the procedures that had been trained into him like instinct. His first thoughts were that there was a simple and harmless technical glitch going on at Disney World, but he couldn't take any chances with the people's lives that he had been charged with. Nothing is typical, he thought.

  Tammie, you better tell Abigail to pass the information along to the president. We'll get off the ride and out quickly and smoothly.

  I have already, relayed the info to the president's AIC, Thomas, Tammie replied.

  Good. Now get this ride stopped. Thomas opened the channel to Kudaf and Jackson. "Boys, we have a glitch. Let's roll 'em up and get 'em out of here. Kootie, do you have Marine One yet?"

  "It's inbound from MCO Airport, and Air Force One is waiting hot," Kootie answered. "Snipers show nothing on sensors or eyeball."

  "Clay, I hate to end all the fun you were having on the ride," Washington commented with a hint of dry humor, but continuously scanned across the dome of the amusement park ride for danger. "We may have trouble coming."

  "What seems to be the problem, Thomas?" the president asked subvocally over the net. His AIC was clever and had a tendency to be able to hack into most networks, so they had quit trying to keep her out. Not that the president couldn't order them to give him access, but he never did, as if he were continually testing his AIC. It was rumored that his AIC was one of the smartest ever born. "Abigail is detecting some sort of wireless noise level increase that is delaying our long- range coms. Could be that there is a rogue command signal in here somewhere."

  "Yes, Mr. President. That's why we're rolling you out of here."

  "If we are rolling out, then why hasn't this ride stopped?" Moore asked nonchalantly. The man was cool, collected, and methodical—a true U.S. marine. Thomas knew the president's history. He had read all about how Moore had seen serious action during the Martian Desert Campaigns as well as being a prisoner of war for years. Moore's years of tribulation had made him a force to be reckoned with and a man with a resolve of the hardest metals known to man.

  Tammie, what gives? Thomas inquired.

  I don't know, Thomas. I've relayed the stop-ride command to the system several times, but nothing seems to be happening, Tammie said.

  What does Abigail say?

  She doesn't know either, but we are working it. So is HQ.

  "We have a situation! The President is at risk, and we need a convergence at this location and immediate extraction!" Thomas announced over the tac-net to the team.

  The hovercar path led downward to the bottom of the mountain and continued to pick up speed. The three cars aligned themselves one behind the other and all of them pointed forward. The virtual spacescape didn't seem to change from the standard amusement ride scene, and the cars continued to the drop-off point for passengers but were traveling far too fast to stop.

  At first, Thomas thought it would be the end of the line for them, literally, if he couldn't either veer the cars upward from the floor or somehow get the safety restraints off of them and get them out of the cars before they hit. The problem with the latter was that they were moving at least seventy kilomete
rs per hour. The president and First Lady might be able handle the fall at that speed, but for certain, their daughter couldn't.

  Open channel, he told Tammie.

  "All right, everybody hang on and try to keep your heads down. These cars are out of control, and we have to slow them down." Thomas pulled his M-blaster from inside his black, armored dress coat and placed the barrel on the safety bar interlock for his car. He squeezed the trigger, frying away the five-centimeter steel restraint with a brilliant white and blue flash. Some of the chromium-molybdenum steel splattered molten hot against the side of his face, searing deep into the flesh of his jaw muscles. He braced for the pain and then repeated the process on the other side of his car. The bar pulled loose as he turned and tossed it over the side of the car.

  Tammie, where is the power system for these cars?

  Here and here. A three-dimensional map of the hovercoaster cars filled his mind's eye, and two points on the underbelly flashed on and off in red highlight.

  Make sure Clay is getting this.

  I am relaying this to Susan now. Tammie sent the information to Clay's AIC. Unfortunately, the First Lady was sitting with Clay, and he was hesitant to blow the restraint bar free as Thomas had.

  "Clay, can you get a shot on the power system for your car?"

  "Not without getting free. But I've got a clear bead on Hovercar One's."

  "Take the shot," Thomas ordered. Jackson took aim and began firing white and blue bolts of directed energy into the back of the president's car.

  "Done!" Jackson responded as the two front cars dipped forward from the abrupt power loss but then corrected themselves to normal flight. The three-car amusement ride was being propelled through the air by the propulsion system of the front and aft cars. The Disney imagineers had overengineered the ride with triple redundancy. "Thomas, we have to take the propulsion out!"

  "I know, Clay! I'm working on it!" he shouted.

  Thomas stood in the front car trying to maintain his balance as it sped faster and faster toward the deck of Space Mountain. He aimed his blaster at the first highlighted spot in his mind's eye and pulled the trigger twice, searing holes through the plastic in the bottom of the amusement park ride. The power system vaporized with a shower of pungent burning plastic and sparking vapors. Then the car lurched, tossing him upward more than a meter over the middle car.

  As he passed over the president and his daughter, Thomas could see the panic in the twelve-year-old girl's eyes. She covered her face with her arms and screamed. Thomas continued to fly upside down through the air as the rear car approached. Clay instinctively rotated the axis of the rear car and stretched his hand upward as far as he could. Thomas reached down with his left hand just in time to be grabbed by Clay's right. He could see the First Lady's face contorted with fear as he passed over them.

  His trajectory arched over the car, slamming him into the back side of the only car still powered. The force of his body colliding with the car stretched Clay's arm to its limit. The impact of Thomas's torso and head against the vividly colored plastic knocked the wind from him and bruised his already burned face. Clay clutched at his right arm with his left hand but didn't let go until he saw that Thomas had a handhold on the hovercar.

  As Thomas came to his senses, he searched frantically for a handhold with his right hand, which still held the blaster, until he managed to get the grip of his weapon wedged over a faux instrument panel that could support his weight. He let go of Clay's hand and quickly found a better handhold for his left hand, freeing his blaster hand. Thomas held on tight and scrambled for a foothold on the plastic rocket nozzles jutting out from the back of the hovercoaster car. Finally gaining his balance, he trained his blaster on the power system and fired once. Sparks flew in his face, forcing him to lose his grip and balance, and he was flung free from the hovercar. As Thomas watched the car pull away from him, he maintained his focus and aimed his weapon at the remaining power unit of the ride. He held his aim tight and pulled the trigger.

  The directed energy bolt danced across the darkened virtual space room toward its target, passing through a holographic asteroid and hitting home on the remaining power plant. The explosion of the supply threw the same cloud of vapors when it hit. "Yes!" Thomas thought. Then something pounded into his back and his head cracked against it too—the floor.

  Thomas tucked as best he could and rolled with the impact. At seventy kilometers per hour, he continued to tumble wildly until he smashed into a wall of chain-link fencing that was surrounding several racks of the ride's special-effects computer equipment. The final impact against the fence knocked him unconscious briefly.

  He came to looking upward into the darkness with his feet above him resting on the fence. There was a serious pounding in his head, and the moist feeling he had on his face was probably blood from the broken nose he was certain that he had.

  Thomas! Thomas Washington! Get up! Snap out of it, marine! Tammie yelled into his mind.

  Without hesitation or complaint, Thomas reached into his breast pocket with his left hand—his right was now broken—and pulled out the immunobooster injector and jabbed it into his neck. He then followed the booster with a painkiller and an adrenaline injection. A few seconds later, the pain was gone, and he managed to get to his feet.

  Where are they, Tammie? Thomas inquired.

  The cars came down seventy meters west of here, she replied.

  "This is Washington; somebody talk to me!" he announced over the net. Thomas ran as best he could in the direction of the crashed cars. His AIC told him that his M-blaster was more than fifty meters behind them, but his railpistol was still in his rear holster. He pulled the railpistol free with his left hand and the safety interlock recognized his biometric signature and went green, ready to fire.

  "Everybody is fine, sir," Jackson reassured them. "It was a bumpy landing, but we came to a stop with no injuries. I'm removing the restraints now. We need backup in here."

  "Kootie! Backup converge on the sarge's signal," Thomas ordered. "I want Marine One, now!"

  "Yes, sir!"

  Thomas found a large hole that the falling hovercars had apparently made in the wall of the virtual-effects dome and into a "backlot" area. Drywall, sparking electrical conduits, and broken aluminum studs protruded like jagged teeth on the gaping hole. Being careful not to touch the electrical wires, Thomas quickly weaved his way through the jumbled mess of rubble and debris until he stepped into a larger cavernous room filled with amusement ride vehicles in need of repair. The three crashed hovercars rested sideways against a large metal I beam on the other side of the room. The car that Thomas had been in was cracked in half and was wrapped around the beam, while the beam was basically unscathed. Had he stayed in that seat, he would have been a slimy spot on the metal beam and would be dead for certain.

  "Mr. President! Are you okay, sir?" He rushed up to the middle car scanning the president and his daughter for injuries. His AIC assured him that they were alive and in stable condition.

  Thomas! Deanna has a broken right ulna, Tammie exclaimed.

  Tell Abigail.

  "I'd say we are in at least as good of shape as you, Thomas," President Moore replied. Neither he nor his daughter realized that the latter was injured yet. "What the hell is going on?"

  "Uh, not sure yet, Mr. President," Thomas replied. From the look on the president's face, he could tell that his AIC had just informed him that his daughter was injured.

  "Deanna?" President Moore turned to his daughter and helped her down from the car.

  "I'm okay, but my arm hurts, Daddy."

  "Don't worry, baby," Moore said unwaveringly, and kissed her forehead.

  "Mrs. Moore?" Thomas turned to the third car, where Clay was dropping the First Lady to the floor carefully.

  "I'm fine, thank you, Thomas." Sehera straightened her blouse and dusted herself off. Thomas pulled another immunobooster injector from his coat pocket and handed it to the First Lady.

Deanna has a fractured right ulna. This is immunobooster."

  "Understood." Sehera took the injector from him and calmly hugged her daughter to her as she administered the medication.

  "I have no detailed information about what has just happened. The most important thing is your safety right now. We need to move along the wall to the exterior of this building, and from there we'll make our way to Marine One." Thomas scanned the room and caught a glimpse of motion. He quickly raised his pistol to the ready and made certain that his body was between the motion and the president.

  "Clay!" He nodded in the direction of the motion.

  "See it, sir," he said. Clay squared up his shoulders and stood slightly to the left of Thomas. The two men held their weapons at the ready and began running scenarios in their minds for escape routes to Marine One.

  "Sniper Three to Boss. I've got your motion in sight. Do you want me to take action, sir?"

  "Negative, Sniper Three. Hold for further instruction," Thomas ordered subvocally. He didn't want to kill any innocent civilians by accident.

  Disney World emergency teams began to flood through the hole in the virtual-effects dome and move toward them. Thomas waved the pistol up in front of him so they all could see it and stepped cautiously toward them. The emergency teams were shocked by the sight of the weapon and froze in their tracks.

  "Nobody moves!" Thomas said. "There are snipers with a bead on you right now. Any false moves and you will not get a second chance to explain it. Back through the opening slowly, and wait there until you are given further instructions."

  Michael and a squad of other agents pushed through the crowd from behind and then turned and forced them back with weapons at the ready. Once it looked like the Disney crew was under control, Kootie moved to his commander's side; he didn't seem to react to what a bloody mess he was.

  "Marine One is on the ground and ready to go, sir."

  "Mr. President, let's get you and your family out of here," Thomas said.

  Chapter 3

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