Snippet 3 from The Alien Element
Translocator Trilogy Book Two
by M.G. Herron
Copyright 2017, All Rights Reserved, yadda yadda
Not Quite Right
“Reuben!” Amon shouted over the electric thrum of the Translocator.
The clamor of a forklift offloading boxes with a metallic clatter swallowed his voice even through his earplugs. The boxes crashed and clanked as two engineers wrestled them onto the platform, through the gap in the concentric sphere of blue-green alloy rings. Filled with steel arms, screws, nuts, rubber wheels, and other tools, the parts would be used to assemble the last of the fabricators for the lunar base.
Ignoring Amon’s call, Reuben focused on the holodeck, where the controls for the great machine—and the particle accelerator which powered it—were located. Two floor-mounted holographic projectors cast dozens of images and models and graphs of real-time energy readouts around him like a cockpit.
Reuben reached out to the broad glass touchscreen at the center of the control unit and tapped a button. The concentric sphere of alloy rings that stabilized the molecular disassembly and reassembly process began to spin, gathering speed until they shifted into a semi-transparent blur.
Simultaneously, a two-hundred-foot-tall, arch-shaped array of silicone and metal nodes that extended to the vaulted ceiling crackled with energy. The noise heightened, filling the vast underground laboratory.
“Reuben, I’m stepping out!” Amon shouted again.
The lead engineer turned his body slightly, but his wild white hair and a hologram image of the inventory blocked him from seeing Amon in his peripheral vision. His attention was pulled back to the controls.
Amon rubbed at his temples, frustrated. Rueben had been more distracted than usual lately. It was a private matter that he didn’t talk much about, but everyone knew that his husband had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s over two years ago. Lately, he’d taken a turn for the worse, and Reuben was once again showing signs of sleep deprivation and forgetfulness that were uncharacteristic
But wasn’t Amon the same? Maybe they all could use a break. Now that the MegaPower nuclear fission reactor was online, the pace of research and construction had nearly doubled. The last few months had been consumed with the construction and shipping of supplies—heavy machinery, mostly, but also the nuclear reactors. Now, the real work began—doing the research the Lunar Terraform Alliance had been formed to do, and figuring out if we can actually sustain life up there.
A headache was new, though. That had come that morning while he was double-checking inventory on the fabricator parts. The fabricators were too big to fit in the translocator, so they had to be shipped in pieces and he didn’t want anything to be forgotten.
With a practiced swipe of his hand, Rueben locked onto the platform in Dome 2 and pressed another button. A sudden absence that Amon would never fully grow accustomed to came next as the pile of boxes seemed to energize, giving off a blinding brightness. When the light faded, the platform was empty, and the boxes were gone.
A monitor against the left wall showed that the payload had been successfully reassembled in an identical platform—minus the arch—which Dome 2 had been built on top of.
He opened his mouth to call out again but stopped himself. “Forget it,” Amon muttered.
Pinching the bridge of his nose, he turned and walked out of the room, nodding at two guards in camouflage fatigues who stood on either side of the wide doorway. They nodded back and continued to stand, looking bored with automatic rifles slung casually over their shoulders. Theirs wasn’t the most exciting job, but it was a necessary one. The Lunar Terraform Alliance and their international investors had a lot invested in this project.
Amon went past the stairwell, opting for the elevator to take him up the four flights to ground level.
At ground level, Amon passed through the main security checkpoint manned by two more security guards, a replica of the security checkpoints you had to go through at most airports. A conveyor belt fed through an X-Ray detector. There was also a metal detector and full-body scanner.
“Afternoon, Mr. Fisk,” Roger said, nodding and tipping the brim of a Rangers ball cap at Amon. Amon nodded back.
A long hall led him to the lobby of Fisk Industries. His phone showed cell signal again and he checked for a response from Eliana. Although he’d texted her to let her know he’d be at work late, she hadn’t responded.
Looking up from the phone, Amon realized the lobby was filled with people. The traffic and noise had increased until it was nearly as bad as it had been in the Translocator lab. He groaned. It must be lunch hour already. The only thing Amon had ingested all day was coffee, so much of it that his hands had a slight tremor when he held them out, and he felt a little nauseous.
Scientists and other Fisk Industries employees gathered in the glass and steel lobby. In addition to the Translocator project, Fisk Industries made solar panels and conducted other photovoltaic and energy research. The particle accelerator that powered the Translocator was the bridge between the two ends of the company, and they were all housed in this building (and the other buildings across the campus). They had production facilities around the world, but this was the headquarters.
People lingered around the waterfall adjacent to the entrance, sitting on the benches there and at the tables by the café, talking amongst themselves. A woman’s high-pitched laughter bounced sharply across the lobby and wormed its way into his ear. He squinted in the sunlight. All of it grated on Amon’s last nerve.
Seeing his people happy normally made him happy, but he was getting a headache and needed to find a quiet place to relax and maybe lie down for a few minutes.
It suddenly occurred to him that he hadn’t visited Audrey in several weeks. She wasn’t prone to chatter, which he appreciated more than usual right now. Audrey’s office was located in a quiet back corner of the first floor, also behind the security checkpoint. He decided to go back and say hi to her, and then sneak in a quick nap in his own office around the corner. Amon turned and hurried back to the security checkpoint, putting his phone and wallet through the X-Ray scanner.
After Eliana returned home last year, the Lunar Terraform Alliance and NASA had agreed that it was everyone’s best interests to move the carbonados to a more secure facility. Fisk Industries was an obvious choice. The building had ample office space. Amon had tried to hire Audrey once, and admired her work ever since, so it seemed fitting that she would work in his building not as an employee, but as a colleague and friend.
In the back halls of the sprawling headquarters building, the lobby’s ruckus receded to a dim buzz, and the pounding ache behind his eyes eased. Amon shoved his hands in his pockets to still the caffeine shakes as he walked slowly toward her lab. The walls here were salt and pepper tile, with geometric green and blue designs running around the corner to Audrey’s office. He was tracing the designs with his eyes, thinking about calling the cafeteria to order lunch, when he caught sight of a small stream of red liquid in a puddle on the floor.
His stomach clenched, and he gripped the soft cloth on the inside of his pockets with both hands. Ducking low and pressing close to the wall, Amon crept closer and slowly peered around the corner.
The two guards that were always stationed in front of Audrey’s lab were sprawled out awkwardly on the floor. One lay on top of his rifle, his elbow bent oddly. They each had a hole in the back of their head from which the blood seeped. The wall across the hall was stained with two distinct red splatter marks. Amon laid his hand on the nearest rifle. The barrel was cold.
A crash of glass came from inside the lab.
Amon unbuttoned the pistol holster on the thigh of one dead guard and withdrew the man’s sidearm, a black Glock. He released the magazine and glanced down—it was fully loaded. Amon replaced the magazine with a snap and racked the slide of the gun. The adrenaline now surging through his veins made his hands shake even more. He paused momentarily, considering whether or not to use the guard’s radio to call for backup.
The thirty seconds that would take could be the difference maker. Audrey was a friend. Amon made his decision. He tapped his hip, where his ID was clipped, against the card reader to unlock the door, and gently turned the handle, cracking the door a quarter inch. He peered in.
In the middle of the lab, on a rectangular island with cabinets on all sides, the glass cage of a large glove box isolator had been shattered by a heavy chunk of meteorite—not the large, midnight-black carbonado sample, but a different chunky brown rock the size of a large melon which lay among the mess of shattered glass.
On the floor, sprinkled with glass pebbles, another form lay sprawled. It was Audrey, fair skinned with a neat red braid trailing along the floor.
Amon hurried to her side and knelt down, fearing the worst. As he reached her, she twitched and groaned, but there was no blood. Her eyes opened, flicked to the gun, and a flash of fear contorted her face.
“It’s just me,” he said.
She stared at him for a long moment, obviously disoriented. Then she tensed as the sound of glass crunching underfoot startle them both. They scurried behind the rectangular base of the island.
“If I didn’t tell him where the carbonado was, he would have hurt me,” Audrey whispered.
“Who?” Amon mouthed.
She pointed back toward the other end of the lab where the sound had come from, patted her pocket, and gave him a weak smile. “But I didn’t give him the key.”
Amon glanced around the island, and sure enough, a large man in black with short-cropped hair was limping around near the storage shelving at the back, where the meteorite samples were kept. The carbonado was kept in a special locked safe not twenty yards away. The man looked vaguely familiar, but Amon couldn’t place him.
The man cursed when he saw Amon, his hand darting to his waist. Amon ducked back behind the island. Wood splinters flew into the air near his eyes.
Gasping, Amon held the gun to his chest and rose to a squat on the balls of his feet. He only had the element of surprise. Go where he least expects.
He held the gun around the corner and shot blindly twice, then dove the other way. He jumped up and squeezed the trigger once, twice, three times.
All of the bullets went wide. Amon’s throat clenched. The man raised his own gun, training it on Amon, but the gun wavered. Amon tucked, and his shot went wide, too.
Amon screamed, raising his gun and firing rapidly.
One of the bullets finally struck the man in the gut. Another squeeze, and another. The man jerked back and his gun slipped from his fingers. Amon lowered the Glock, breathing heavily.
He waited for a long minute, his own ragged breathing settling as the ringing in his ears receded. Amon crept carefully across the room.
When he kicked the dead man’s gun back, away from the body, the doors were shoved open—it was the two guards from the security checkpoint down the hall. Amon held his hands high over his head. Roger, recognizing Amon, lowered his weapon and waved for the other man to do the same.
As he waited for them to approach, Amon looked back down at the dead man’s booted feet. Something was off. He wore cowboy boots of nice brown leather, but one of them was facing the wrong direction. Had that happened when he fell? Amon’s eyes swept up the man’s clothes. There was an awkward bulge in the area of his ribs that was not quite right either.
His face was normal. And it was a face that Amon recognized. It was Montoya, the Hawkwood mercenary who had impersonated an FBI agent last year after Eliana disappeared last year.
As if that wasn’t worrisome enough, Amon knew with a rising terror that there was only one way Montoya could have snuck behind the two guards shot them in the back of the head without raising any alarms. And that this method was also responsible for his backward foot and the bulge in his side.
The guards approached and peered over his shoulder. as Amon used one shoe to lift the man’s shirt, exposing the bulge near his ribs.
Roger hissed his breath inward. “What in the hell?”
The other man cursed and turned away. Audrey came up behind Amon, one hand on her head. “Oh, my.”
Amon grimaced when the shirt was drawn up to reveal a complete knee joint sticking out of the Montoya’s abdomen.