Cameron shook his head in disgust. The propulsion engineer in him could not believe what a simple mistake he had made. Time was slipping.
Cameron focused. He was forgetting something. There was something different in the liquid oxygen system on this model Talon.
“I don’t remember,” said Cameron to himself. During the testing of the prototype, loss of oxygen was a major issue. He regained his composure. “Captain, do you have a control panel over to your left, just below your radar circuit breakers?”
Cameron hoped that this prototype had the L.O.S.S. modification.
“Yeah, I see a panel,” said Captain Gonzalez. “It has the letters L-O-S-S on the panel. What does that mean?”
“I’m so stupid.” It was a stupid mistake; he should have never put them in this position. All they needed was the secondary oxygen tank to be full; there was a chance. “You should see a dial that has two options: Primary and Secondary. It’s probably on Primary; change it over to Secondary.”
Cameron heard the click of a switch and could sense the tension release from Captain Gonzalez. There should be enough oxygen to get them to the Stinson and Legacy.
“Liquid Oxygen Supplemental System,” said Cameron, answering Captain Gonzalez’s question. The secondary oxygen tank was put in place as a backup to the primary, but could only be used for breathing. In later models of the Talon, the vertical takeoff was removed all together.
“Good job,” said Captain Gonzalez. “Any chance you can figure out this power problem, too?”
Cameron had almost forgotten about the loss of the generator. Once the battery was dead, they would float in space forever with no control of the craft.
“Okay, Cameron, I feel a circuit breaker behind me that’s popped. I have no idea what it’s for since I’ve noticed that these breakers are not all in the same location as in our model Talon. I don’t remember any generator breakers back there in our model.”
“Do you feel any other breakers that are open?”
“Nope. I’ve run my hand across all of them. This is the only one.”
The resetting of the breaker had a chance of starting a fire if there was a direct short in the circuit. There was no other choice, though. Cameron thought it over for a minute. He knew as pilot, the decision was his. “What do we have to lose? Push it in.”
“All right, here goes.”
Gonzalez reset the breaker and the backlighting of the instruments grew brighter.
“Excellent work, Captain.” Relief came over Cameron. “How about trying out that sensor test now?”
“I’m on it.”
If Captain Gonzalez was capable of solving the problem with detecting the alien fighters, there might be a chance of beating them. Cameron knew how the gravity sensors worked, but reprogramming them was out of his field of expertise. Now was the best time to get some rest prior to reaching the radar contacts that they hoped were the Legacy and the Stinson. He would leave Captain Gonzalez to his work.
Many hours had passed before Gonzalez woke up Cameron. His neck was stiff from the awkward position he had been in; there was no way to stretch out his large frame.
“Steele, the two radar contacts are, in fact, the Legacy and the Stinson. We should be able to contact them using short-range communication in a few hours.”
Cameron liked the way Gonzalez was thinking. Waiting to use the short-range communication would lessen the chance that the Ferus would pick up the radio signal. “Any progress on reprogramming the gravity sensors?”
“I need to do some more testing, but I believe so.”
Cameron shifted in his seat, trying to get comfortable; it brought little relief. This was the longest he had ever been seated in a Talon. The hours passed slowly.
“Stinson, this is Captain Steele from the Stinson and Captain Gonzalez from the Legacy. Do you copy?” The radio was silent. Cameron checked the radio settings and tried again. “Stinson, this is Captain Steele from the Stinson and Captain Gonzalez from the Legacy. Do you copy?” Cameron waited for a response; the radio was quiet. “Stinson, this is Captain Steele from the Stinson and Captain Gonzalez from the Legacy. Do you copy?”
“Captain Steele, welcome back. This is Colonel Withers. Please proceed over to the Legacy. I will meet you over there for your debriefing.”
Cameron could just begin to make out two objects in the distance. He set the Talon up for the approach. This was the first real look he had at the Stinson since the battle; she was severely damaged.
The Talons were normally docked to the external hull of the Legacy and Stinson. Cameron decided to land in the hangar bay, unsure of this Talon’s ability to dock with the ship. He set the fighter down softly and killed the engine. A small crowd started to form around the craft.
“WEP/NAV shutdown checklist complete,” said Gonzalez, as the canopy started to open.
Cameron quickly ran through his portion of the checklist and released the harness securing him to the tiny craft. He started climbing out of the Talon as he saw Major Werke pushing his way through the crowd; he had three other security guards with him.
“Captain Steele, please come with us.” Major Werke placed his hand on Cameron’s elbow, more forcing him along than guiding.
Cameron needed to get the information about the Ferus to General Helon and General Williams as soon as possible. He could see two of the security guards guiding Gonzalez in a different direction. “Major Werke, Captain Gonzalez and I need to talk to General Helon and General-”
“Colonel Withers is in command now!” said Major Werke. “General Helon didn’t make it through the attack. Captain Gonzalez is being taken to another debriefing room, and you’re to come with me!” He pulled Cameron around a corner where two more guards were waiting.
Cameron thought there was no need for this much security. Unless, of course, they still believed he was the saboteur. Cameron sighed as he was escorted into a well-lit room; he knew where he was. A large stainless steel table sat in the middle of the interrogation room.
“Sit down, Captain Steele,” said Major Werke, the door closing behind him.
Cameron sensed tension in Major Werke’s voice. They obviously still believed Cameron to be the saboteur. His mind raced. Master Sergeant Rollins was the man they wanted. He needed to make them understand. Cameron sat in the cold steel chair.
“Where are Major Galvin and Master Sergeant Rollins?”
“The major is dead, sir. It was an-”
“You killed him!” Major Werke’s voice rose, his face went red.
“We were attacked. I could not control the Scout any longer. I did everything I could. Sergeant Rollins is-”
Werke shot forward, leaning over Cameron, his hands on the arms of Cameron’s chair. “Yes, where is Rollins? What did you do to him?”
The door to the room slid open.
“Enough, Werke,” said Colonel Withers as he entered. The major backed off Cameron.
Colonel Withers took his seat on the other side of the table. “Werke, leave us.”
“Colonel, he isn’t restrained.”
“I’ll be fine, Major. Leave us.”
Werke’s face scowled. “I’ll be right outside the door, Colonel.”
The room grew quiet as the door slid closed behind Werke. The bags under Colonel Withers’ eyes stood out in the harsh light of the interrogation room. The colonel looked aged beyond his years.
“Captain Steele.” Withers leaned back into his chair; his aged hands rubbed his face. “Start from the beginning.”
It took a few minutes for Cameron to calm down. His heart rate slowly returned to normal. Cameron took a deep breath and started to tell Colonel Withers everything that had happened. As Cameron told the story, he realized how unbelievable most of it started to sound. He could not get a read from the colonel’s face. Cameron finished, he waited for any kind of response.
“Aliens?” said Withers, standing up.
“Yes, Colonel. I know it is hard to believe. Believe me, I was there, and I have a hard time accepting it.”
“Thank you, Cameron.” The colonel started towards the door. “If you’re right, Captain, the worst is yet to come. My gut tells me that you have always been honest with me, but you understand if we detain you a little while longer; others are harder to convince.”
Cameron was left alone in the interrogation cell for a few hours. They may not accept his story, but they had no reason not to believe Captain Gonzalez. This might be the second time Gonzalez saved his life.
The door to the room opened and Gonzalez entered. Cameron could see two guards in the passageway. The door slid shut.
Captain Gonzalez face was red; he locked eyes with Cameron. “Why didn’t you tell me you were arrested for sabotage?”
“I didn’t do it. If I had told you, you would never have listened to me. I needed you to trust me.”
“Trust? Trust begins with honesty.”
Cameron knew Gonzalez was right. He stood up. “Captain, I’m sorry.”
“You’re sorry? Great, they think I’m part of some master sabotage plan, and you’re sorry. I knew I never should have trusted you the minute I saw you crawl out of that enemy wreck.”
“You can’t believe I’m a saboteur.”
Gonzalez got real close to Cameron; he poked at Cameron’s chest. “You were in an enemy fighter during the battle. Now I’m not sure if you were really helping us or not. Then when things weren’t looking good for you, you turned tail and ran. I stupidly saved your life. For all I know, you used me to get back here.”
“I didn’t use you. We had to get word back to the ships to warn them of the Ferus. That was our mission. If I told you of my arrest, that could have jeopardized our success. I had too.”
Cameron knew what was next. He braced for the blow. It came quicker than Cameron expected, right to his stomach. The air escaped from his lungs immediately. The blow knocked him back, causing him to trip backwards over the chair. Cameron tried to catch his breath; Gonzalez wasn’t advancing.
“I guess I deserved that.” Cameron picked himself up off the floor and righted the chair. “Look in my eyes, Captain Gonzalez, I’m not a saboteur.”
“I don’t know what to believe. Major Werke showed me your case file. All the evidence is there. He says you even killed the two men that went down to Earth with you on the scouting mission.”
“I did not kill anyone. One of those men, Master Sergeant Rollins, is the saboteur. Major Werke put Rollins on the mission to keep an eye on me, and it turns out that he was the one that should have been watched. I wish I could prove any of this to you, but I can’t. You just have to believe me.”
Gonzalez moved over to the other side of the table and sat down. “There was something I felt my brother and sister weren’t telling me.”
Cameron knew where he was going with this. “Don’t ask me that, Gonzalez.”
“I have to know, Cameron. What were you talking to my brother about the night before we left?”
Cameron sat down and rubbed his forehead. He looked Gonzalez in the eyes. “I know you don’t think my word means anything right now. However, I promised your brother two things before we left. The first was that I would protect you with my life. The second was that I would never repeat to you what he revealed to me. Just hear me when I say that these Ferus do horrible things to humans.” Cameron’s eyes began to swell. “They have to be stopped; we have to stop them.”
“What happened to my family, Cameron? I want to know.”
Cameron lowered his head. “No, you don’t, Alex. No, you don’t.”
Cameron couldn’t see Gonzalez, but he could hear him weep. He wiped the tears from his own eyes.
Cameron rose and walked over to Gonzalez. He put his hand on his shoulder. “I’m really sorry, Alex.”
Gonzalez brushed Cameron’s hand off. “Leave me alone.”
The door to the room opened and the guards entered.
“Captain Gonzalez, come with us,” said one of the guards. “We’re to take you to the holding cell.”
The chair made a screech against the metal deck as Gonzalez pushed it back to stand up. He leaned with his fingers on the table. “I believe you, Cameron, but if you ever lie or hold the truth from me again, though, I won’t just knock you to the floor.”
There wasn’t anything to say, Cameron just nodded. As Gonzalez left the room, Major Werke entered. He pushed Cameron down into the chair. The major’s fist followed and smashed into Cameron’s jaw. Cameron spat out blood. Even though Major Werke was a big man like Cameron, he felt he could easily take him; he held his composure.
“You will confess to the sabotage and the killings of Major Galvin and Master Sergeant Rollins.”
The other fist hit Cameron, this time it was to his left eye; it started to swell. His fist instinctively clenched. Cameron remained seated. He did not strike.
The major leaned over Cameron. “We left billions of people behind on Earth to possibly die. Maybe we’re getting what we deserve, but that doesn’t mean you are going to get away with this.”
Major Werke stepped back and kicked Cameron square in the chest, knocking him over backwards in the chair. Before he could get up, the major was on top of him. He struck him again. Cameron couldn’t take it anymore. He grabbed Major Werke and rolled over; Cameron was now on top.
“Guards!” said Major Werke.
In rushed the guards, they pulled Cameron off the major. Cameron felt the cold metal of the handcuffs as the guards slapped them around his wrists.
Major Werke stood up and straightened out his uniform. “Thank you,” he said to the guards. “Take him to his holding cell.” Werke turned his attention to Cameron. “You’re going to get what you deserve.”
Something clicked inside Cameron. Those words sounded vaguely familiar and gave Cameron an odd feeling of déjà vu. Yes, he had heard those words before. Could Major Werke be one too? A saboteur? It would be easy to cover up his actions and get away with pinning the crimes on someone else. Cameron thought fast; Werke was enraged and, therefore, not clear headed.
Cameron stared directly into Werke’s eyes. “Sergeant Rollins told me who you are.” It was a bluff, but well placed if true.
“Leave us!” Werke said through his teeth.
The guards left the room; Cameron had struck a nerve. The two stood in silence. Cameron knew it was Werke’s move. If Cameron were wrong on his accusation, they would never believe he was innocent. He watched as Major Werke’s nostrils flared. Cameron did not flinch.
“What are you saying, Steele?”
The veins in Major Werke’s neck bulged. His muscles were tense.
“Rollins wasn’t the only saboteur.”
The first blow was right to Cameron’s gut. The second, following almost instantly, was to the side of his head. Cameron’s vision collapsed to nothing; he went down.
Cameron tried looking up at Major Werke. His vision slowly returned, but was heavily blurred. Werke was speaking to one of the guards. Cameron did not see him enter, he must have blacked out for a few seconds. He shook his head to try to regain full consciousness. Cameron tried to stand, but his legs failed him.
“Put him in the cell with Gonzalez,” said Major Werke. “We don’t know how much the two of them know. I’ll arrange for them to be taken care of.”
“Yes, sir,” said the guard.
Major Werke squatted, bringing his face down to Cameron’s level. “It’s a shame you came back, Captain Steele. Your disappearance made the sabotage charges more convincing. Now I will have to take care of you and Gonzalez myself. You will not make it through the night.”
“Why destroy the Stinson?” Cameron managed to wheeze out while still trying to catch his breath.
“Rollins must not have told you much. Destroying the Stinson was never the plan.”
Cameron’s vision was back; Werke had a slight grin, as if he was taking pleasure in all this.
“We were mankind’s greatest chance of survival,” said Cameron. He gave up his efforts of trying to stand.
Werke’s lips squeezed tightly together as he shook his head back and forth. “How little you know Steele. You believe all of what HOPE and the Agency has told you. It is a shame you’re so brainwashed by them; we could have used a man like you for our cause. Now it’s too late.”
Cameron remained motionless, this was all hard to grasp. “We’ve got to work together to stop the Ferus, or they will end us all.”
Werke’s grin grew. “Now why would I want to stop the Ferus? They are making it easier for me to complete my mission.”
“But all those innocent people-”
“Are getting exactly what they deserve. Humans raped this planet for far too long. We are a virus.”
Cameron thought of Gonzalez. It was Cameron’s fault Gonzalez was in this mess. “You’ll never get away with killing us both.”
“They won’t question my actions when they find out you tried to escape and killed two of my security force.” Werke stood up and kicked Cameron in the head with the heel of his boot, knocking him out.
“Cameron. Cameron, can you hear me?”
Cameron came to in a small cell; Gonzalez was kneeling over him. Cameron’s head was pounding. Blood trickled down from his nose. “How long was I out?”
“I’m not sure.” Gonzalez turned his head to the side and spit out some blood. “You were unconscious when they threw you in this cell. Why are they doing this to us?”
Cameron sat up and wiped the blood with his sleeve. “They are trying to frame us. Werke is in on this. I don’t know how many others. This is much bigger than sabotage.”
“We’ve got to talk to General Williams, he’ll listen to me.”
“They’re going to kill us before morning; make it look like an attempted escape. Besides, they would never believe us.”
Cameron rubbed his forehead. There had to be something they could do besides sitting in the cell waiting for their execution. They couldn’t let Werke get away with this.
“Why didn’t I think of this earlier,” said Gonzalez to himself. “It’s a long shot, but it just might work.”
“I’m out of ideas, Gonzalez. Your long shot might be the only shot we have.”
Gonzalez unzipped the pocket on his upper right arm. “Check your flight data transmitter. I linked the frequencies up with the onboard computer prior to takeoff. I had trouble with your transmitter link, it kept cutting in and out; probably a result from your crash.”
Cameron unzipped his pocket. The transmitter was still active. “It’s on.” The transmitter sends data to the Talon’s computer, including an audio transmission. “You secured all systems after we landed though.”
“I only secured power from the main supply. During our power troubles, I had routed some systems to the backup power bus. I never routed them back, and I never shut down that power system; it’s not part of a normal shut down checklist.”
“So, it’s possible it is still recording data?” Cameron thought of his encounter with Werke.
“There’s a chance. If no one else shut down the system, and your link hasn’t failed, then yes.”
Cameron paused. “Werke said enough. We have to get that data to Colonel Withers or General Williams; they are the only ones I would trust at this moment.” Cameron stood up and placed his hands on the door to the cell. “Even if we were to get out of this cell, none of the doors would even work without us wearing bio-bracelets.”
“Even with the bracelets, the doors wouldn’t work,” said Gonzalez. “I’m sure you have no access on this ship, and my access most likely has been pulled by Werke already.” Gonzalez reached into Cameron’s pocket and removed his data transmitter. “We can’t bring the recording to them, but it may be possible to have someone else do it.”
Gonzalez started pulling apart Cameron’s transmitter. “If I use the power from your transmitter to boost the signal from mine, I might be able to send commands to the Talon. I could have the aux power unit on the Talon start up. This should alert someone in the hangar bay that the ship has a problem. I could program a message into the error codes. That way, when the technician downloads the data to troubleshoot the problem, he would then see our message to check the audio recordings.”
It might work. Cameron hoped luck was on their side. “That’s a lot of ducks that need to get in a row in order for this to work. Can’t you just reprogram our transmitters to work on the Legacy’s frequency?”
“There is a completely different encryption for the ship’s communication system. We don’t have enough time for me to reconfigure this transmitter for that encryption.”
“What can I do to help?”
“I’m just about done. All I have to do is finish sending the aux power unit start up command and-” Gonzalez started to tap on the side of the transmitter.
“Everything all right?” Cameron saw the look of disbelief in Gonzalez’s eyes.
“I hope that went through. The extra power from your transmitter fried the main board. I’m not sure if the command was sent.”
Cameron pounded his fist on the steel wall. If that command didn’t go through, there was no chance for them. They needed to escape.
“We can’t sit around here and wait to be killed,” said Cameron. “We need to get out.”
The locking mechanism to the cell door clicked; the door was going to open.
Cameron reached down and pulled Gonzalez up with one hand. “Be ready, this is it!”