Chapter Four

Trina Potter (alias Gel'tri Zor'el) walked into the Cal Tech Police Station at 9:00 a.m. the next morning. "Good morning," she said to the receptionist, adding her trademarked musical tones. (If her beauty didn't win someone over, her almost perfect pitch did. Even her fellow Protectors didn't understand that yet, didn't know she'd talked her way into an assignment on Earth.)

"Yes, how can I help you?" the lady answered politely, respectfully. She was about sixty years old, however, and Trina's charms wouldn't work on her.

"I'm here to apply for the police officer's position." Trina struggled to keep to the Californian accent. (According to her papers, she'd been born in France, but raised in the United States of America as a citizen.)

"Ah, yes... if you'll fill out this form, I'll notify the chief when you're done." The lady handed Trina a clipboard with a form, pen attached. Trina felt a little out of place; she had learned how to read English, but not how to write it yet. She figured she'd better use the capital letters, and avoid the lowercase ones entirely. At least the numbers were simple. Ten minutes later, she handed it back to the receptionist.

The receptionist blinked. I can't read half of this thing. And she didn't have the good sense to sign her name, she just printed it. She shook her head and picked up the phone, dialing 31.

Trina picked up on the conversation with her hearing. The other voice said into the receptionist's ear, "Richardson."

"Yes, Chief, there's a young lady here at the desk applying for our vacant officer's position."

"All right, bring her in."

"Yes, sir." The receptionist put the phone down and Trina pretended she hadn't heard the Chief. "Right this way, Miss Potter."

At that, Trina beamed. She got my last name! I must've done something right.

The receptionist (who surprised Trina with her height: she was actually taller in her heels than Trina) knocked on a large wooden door. The brass nameplate has the letters "Thanh Richardson" engraved in them. "Come in," a voice now familiar to Trina spoke behind the door.

The receptionist opened the door for Trina. Trina nodded pleasantly to the receptionist, walked in (the carpet needed cleaning), and sat down. The smell of coffee permeated the room, but not the smell of doughnuts as Trina had expected. Maybe the stories about cops weren't all true.

Chief Thanh Richardson turned out to be a stocky, short Filipino man with a muscular build to him. It was obvious that he was a bodybuilder in his spare time; even the body armor he wore on-duty had to sit on a rather impressive physique for a human. He leaned forward over his desk to shake her hand. "I'm Chief Richardson," his deep, almost-bellowing voice said. "Welcome to Cal-Tech." She gripped his hand and shook it firmly (for a human). Richardson was surprised, but only the grip in his hand showed that surprise as it tightened reflexively in response to the surprisingly strong handshake. She looks like the girl next door, but feels like she was raised on a farm. Hm. He released her hand and beckoned for her to sit down. Her conservative business dress did little to hide her figure, which had its own impact on him.

"We currently have one staff opening right now, for a police officer. This is not an undercover position; you will be in uniform. Your application here shows no experience in police work, but it does mention your employment as a security guard at Akano Cancer Research. I assume you do know how to use a gun," he said.

A gun? What's that? Trina wondered. "I'm sorry, Chief, we didn't use guns that much at Akano. Management there prefers the personal touch."

Richardson laughed. "Martial arts, eh?"

Trina smiled, relieved. No, actually I meant fists, feet, and strength beyond what you can conceive -- but martial arts will do fine for now. The chief went on, not noticing her thoughts.

"Well, unfortunately in our experience as police officers, more often than not the parties involved have guns themselves, and may not be afraid to use them. Martial arts won't save your life if you're a hundred feet away and a bullet is flying at your head. All police officers on my force must report for firearms training monthly. For new recruits, we usually make that daily for two weeks, minimum, until they qualify as marksman or better."

The chief went on, pleased that this young lady showed no aversion to the idea of training. "There's also a physical conditioning program, training in how we actually do law enforcement -- and you'll find that involves remaining calm even in the most tense of situations -- protocols involving both communication and filling out reports, and of course, wearing the uniform properly. We may not be more than a university campus police force, but we do want to look and be professional. In a worst-case scenario, we'll call on the city police to help us, but we'd rather not do that."

"I don't see a driver's license here," he noted unhappily.

"Yes, well, Akano is one of those large megacorporations, with everything you need to live there."

The chief nodded again: Japan lived by a different culture than the United States of America. Even if it was run by Carrie Zorkosky as President, her staff was largely Japanese. Richardson knew this, because his cousin worked there as a senior biochemist, directly under a vice president.

"Well, fortunately for you, this is one of the few positions in the country that doesn't need a driver's license. We can assign you to bicycle patrols, but that'll just make your endurance conditioning all the more important. Climbing up long hills on a bicycle is not fun. Even our more experienced bike officers don't like doing it too much. So if we do accept you for the position, I'll be sure to make sure you get that extra conditioning."

All this time, Trina had been cheating a little. She wanted the position because she knew there were Arions on campus somewhere. So she used her Protector biology to her advantage, releasing a very faint amount of pheromones into the air. Very faint, because she only wanted to tickle his senses, not cause him to rush upon her as men (and women) of many species would if she turned her pheromones on to maximum. She could tell by his body language that it was having the desired effect, convincing him that she had that air of confidence and stability needed to handle the position with ease. It was an air of chemicals instead, but he didn't need to know that.

"Pay scale is salaried; we don't work by the hour on the police beat," the chief went on. "That means that if we need you, you're on call. We'll assign you a beeper; keep it within hearing range at all times." The chief had already made up his mind; this little slip was the first indication. "Our police officers start with a salary of $25,000 per year." Trina frowned: in this day and age, twenty-five thousand dollars was not a lot. "I know, that's kind of tight, but that's what we can afford to pay first-year police officers. If you make it past the first year, we give you a two thousand dollar raise every year for the next five years." Trina nodded, understanding. Fortunately, she didn't really need the money, except to cover rent and to maintain the illusion that she was human. Food, showering, and of course, cable TV. (She found that particularly fun at Carrie's house. Especially their science fiction. Oh, if they only knew...)

"So when do I start?" Trina asked. She saw instantly that it was a mistake.

The chief looked at her, annoyed. "Miss Potter, I haven't even offered the position to you yet. We work long shifts -- twelve on, twelve off. One thing I want to make absolutely clear: we don't want heroes or martyrs. I don't care if you're the next Kara Zor'el. If you can't keep yourself under control at all times -- and I guarantee you this job gets very stressful -- if you can't handle that stress with an air of calm, I won't have you working here. Is that understood?"

Trina nodded. Inside, she smirked, I am the next Kara Zor'el. But the chief was absolutely clear. She couldn't be a Supremis here. That made her assignment here very difficult. The Arions were under no such constraints. And by the time local police got around to calling a Protector to bail them out, it would be far too late.

She bumped up the pheromones just a little.

"Yo, Tony!" Richardson called out the next morning (Tuesday), as he entered another room, Trina right behind him. "What'chu doin'?"

"What'chu tink I'm doin'?" a beefy guy at a console shouted back, turning around with a big smile on his face.

"I think you're playing connect-the-dots over dere," Richardson answered back. "When ya gonna go on t' foist grade?" Trina had a little trouble following the accents; it seemed Richardson had become someone else.

"As soon as Mayor Rudy signs my permission slip!" The two of them shared a hearty laugh.

Then Richardson's voice returned to normal. "Trina, this is Antonio Hicks. He's from New York. We all call him Tony."

"Ohhh, new girl, eh? How ya doin?" Tony said, reaching his big hand out to grip hers. He pumped it a little too much, but it didn't hurt -- it just shook her light frame around a bit. "I work the dispatch desk here; the green dots on my screen are the GPS transceivers in everyone's badge." Tony's accent was noticeably less thick than before, but still carried through. "Helps us keep track of who's where, doing what."

"You'd better listen to him," Richardson said to Trina. "You're replacing him."

Tony's face lit up. "Oh, you mean I get out of this desk job?" Richardson nodded. "Oh, hallelujah! It's about time, too. I gotta get back to the real police work." To Trina, he said, "Okay, so I gotta train you in this. It's really much simpler than it looks. The black phone on the console is our standard phone, the red one for 911. Any time you get a 911 call, you put the other line on hold or call someone up front to take it over. 911 is our first priority. To pull up a police report page, just hit F2 on the keyboard. It'll have all the form fields you need to get someone calling for help started, the vital information our guys in the field need. The most important thing, when it comes to a call, is to keep the person on the other end calm. The second most important thing is to tap the nearest available officer -- the busy ones are marked in yellow -- and assign him to the call. When you get the address in the computer, the call appears as a red dot on your screen. You tap the officer with this light pen," here Tony held up a thin black pen connected to the console by a cord, "and then, you tap the call. That assigns the officer to the call, and his handheld computer will tell him everything you're entering into the system, real-time."

"For 911 calls, if they're legitimate emergencies, you always dispatch an officer and call on the local fire department and ambulance. In a 911, you can never tell what the officer on the scene will need, but the fire department and ambulance can usually handle whatever the officer can't. One hard part about this job is that you have to remain detached from the calls that come in. The people who call in will have all sorts of drama: wild parties, people getting hurt, a car crash, stuff that means a lot to them. You can't let that bother you. You have to keep your head, because the entire department is relying on you for information. If you get wrapped up in one guy crying about his cell phone, you might miss a fender-bender six blocks away where people are hurt or dying and need immediate medical assistance."

Trina gathered all this in silently, but she was confused near the end. Fender-bender? That must be a very bad thing.

"Oh, and one more thing: we get a lot of calls on 911 that aren't emergencies. That's part of your job as a dispatcher. You have to know what really is an emergency and what isn't. I'll stay with you through the morning to help train you."

The morning was pretty uneventful: two students got in a knockdown brawl, and another decided to complain about a traffic ticket he was receiving. The latter called 911 unnecessarily; Trina handled it very well.

At 11:30, Tony stepped out for the first time in the day. This left Trina alone in the dispatch desk (something Richardson would yell at Tony for later, though it was only twenty minutes before he was supposed to leave her), and she grew a bit nervous. She knew how to be a Protector, but that didn't have much to do with restraint, only with stopping the people who meant to do harm. Tony spent a lot of time that morning explaining some of the harder times he had at that desk and on patrol: how he sometimes wanted to "kick the crap out of some lowlife that desperately needed it", but he had to hold back. Trina wasn't sure she had that kind of restraint: it just wasn't in her training.

Ten minutes later, though, Tony returned. "Lunchtime! Hope you like roast beef and turkey." He returned with a couple of small sandwiches for her (fortunately, Carrie had shown her about sandwiches. She loved turkey.) "The cafeteria here makes good sandwiches. They added cranberries to the turkey sandwiches today; I asked for them." He offered her the pick. She picked up the turkey sandwich.

Trina discovered she liked cranberries. A lot.

"Whoa, slow down there, Trina. Here, have a napkin." Tony handed it to her (brown, not white like the ones she had at Carrie's house).

While the rest of the campus settled down to lunch, a small meeting was taking place in a blue van. "All right, listen up," the driver said quietly. "Remember, our goal here is not to cause a lot of panic, just to grab our targets, assess the situation, and be gone. If there's nobody near our primary target, we can disappear quietly. If there is someone near our primary target, we'll have to take them hostage. No one dies here, no major injuries, and try to avoid even a scratch on non-targets. Act human. With the command change up top, they really don't want any humans mad at us." The men and women in the van chuckled at this. Command had just changed their whole strategy, and the new strategy didn't make much sense. But, the old military adage goes, "Ours is not to wonder why..."

"Ready?" No one in the group said a word. "Go."

"So, Paul, I hear you're getting a grant from Titus," his friend, Associate Professor Hiram Parks said jovially. "That must be nice."

Associate Professor Brown smiled. Parks was a mathematics instructor, working towards his Ph.D in the field. The two of them often shared lunch together (Parks loved working with surreal numbers, and happily blamed Brown for finally capturing one, much to Brown's amusement), and Parks had been waiting for him after yet another classroom lecture.

"Yeah, Dr. Tolban, their CEO, came by Friday." Brown picked up a tray and entered the faculty cafeteria line. He leaned forward to scoop up some fresh fruit salad. "He seemed nice enough. Don't know how big the grant is yet. Should keep our lights on for... another minute or two." Brown winked, and they both laughed. "And what about you? Kruskal integration isn't good enough for you?"

"Hell no. In fact, I've been thinking about an experiment using your tokamok to actually retrieve data straight from your MicroFusion. What happens when you shoot the fuel stream into the chamber, instead of a static pellet?"

Brown sighed. "You know we haven't been able to do anything with that yet. Seems that with any motion whatsoever we can't control that precisely whether the deuterium and tritium actually reaches and stays in that spot long enough to fuse. By the time it fuses, it's left the magnetic core."

"Well, what about a spiralling-down magnetic flux? That way, it'll get tight enough where the fuel can't go anywhere."

Brown laughed in his face. "And how, my dear Professor Parks, do you propose I build a spiral EM field? The closer you get, the more likely the field will interact with itself and knock itself out -- or worse, short-circuit."

"Which is why you need an ultra-high frequency for your alternators."

"At the energy levels we talk about? You can't possibly build a Faraday cage to contain that -- and the FCC would fry us as soon as we tried..."

"DON'T MOVE!!!" a voice bellowed from the cafeteria door. Seven people -- all in black catsuits and sunglasses, their expressions bland -- entered the cafeteria with a determined stride. Walking directly for Associate Professors Brown and Parks.

Brown recognized them. His eyes went very, very wide. He dropped his platter on the floor, and bolted. It didn't do him any good -- two of them (a lady and a bigger man) barreled after him and caught him before he reached the soda machine five meters away. (One elderly professor was knocked over by the man in passing; he ended up with a broken tailbone and some bruised ribs from the hit.) He screamed as they gripped his arms far too firmly, cutting off circulation. They lifted him up three inches off the floor, so his feet couldn't run him anywhere -- and carried him back to the other five.

The voice, far quieter and vastly amused, spoke. "Professor Brown. I believe I told you to keep your mouth shut." Brown struggled, but it did him no good: his heels bounced off their shins and they didn't even wince. He tried wrestling his arms free, but they were encased in iron grips. "But since then, you've done exactly the opposite: you've carried on as if we hadn't said anything. Six people we've observed you chattering on about your project, six people on your calendar."

"What do you want?" Brown asked, darkly, angrily. He dared show no fear.

Stupid Terran, the leader thought. Your best bodybuilders on Earth might have a chance of breaking free of those two. But those same bodybuilders would be butchered meat in my hands. "Outside," he ordered his fellows. Their heavy boots stomped loudly on the floor.

As a parting gesture, one short woman stopped and turned around. She smiled to the stunned audience, squatted a little, and put her foot down. Right through the tiled floor and the wooden foundation beneath it. The tile crunched noisily, the wood breaking very loudly. She lifted her foot up and showed her boot to the crowd, her knee bent at a right angle. The boot had mud on it.

She turned again and followed her comrades. The muddy left footprints provided a trail. No one in the room followed it.

"911," Trina answered.

"Oh, my god," a woman cried. "They've taken Professor Brown."

Alarm bells went off in Gel'tri's head. But she was being recorded, she was being watched, she was on duty as a dispatcher. "Okay, ma'am, calm down. Where are you?"

"I'm in the faculty cafeteria on Folsom Street." The woman was on the verge of tears, very frightened indeed. "They walked right in and grabbed him!"

"Okay, ma'am," Trina said again, "who were they?" On her screen as she hit the RETURN key, a red dot lighted up at 300 Folsom St. Two officers were nearby and available: she tapped both of them with her light pen. Both dots turned yellow, and moments later one of them started moving towards the scene. The other moved away. (What's he doing?, Trina wondered with even greater alarm.)

"Five men, two women, in black, wearing sunglasses -- I didn't get a good look at them."

"All right. Can you tell me which way they were going?"

The woman hesitated. "I can see them out of the window now. They're getting into a blue van... oh, there goes Professor Brown. Yes, they're all getting into the van... and the door just closed on the van. Can you help him?" The second officer tapped had stopped.

"Yes, ma'am, help is on the way." As Trina said that, Gel'tri raged on the inside. But not the kind of help he needs!! She was gratified to see the second dot accelerate suddenly, in the direction of Folsom Street. He must be in a car.

Damn. That's not enough! Gel'tri had run out of patience, knowing what she had to do. "Okay, ma'am, stay there. Go ahead and hang up," she said reassuringly but urgently, not knowing this wasn't the correct procedure, "and we'll have somebody there in a few moments."

"But he may be goooone!!!"

"Yes, ma'am, that's our job to handle. We're on our way." Now.

"Oh-okay," she stammered. The shock was pretty bad for her, but she hung up.

That done, Gel'tri hung the phone up herself. She stood up and walked away from the desk, determined. "Hey, where are you going?" Tony asked her, angrily, before he could rebuke his trainee for having the lady hang up.

Gel'tri didn't even slow down; she lengthened her stride, replying to the man behind her without turning her head. "Call your local police department and the National Guard. You may need them. I'm going after them." She pushed the double doors open hard; they flew around on their hinges and dented the walls designed to stop them more than before. She didn't even wait for the doors to hit: she broke into a dead run. Tony swore and picked up the light pen, tagging every green dot. Then he picked up another phone on the console and dialed a phone number. While waiting for the connect, he tapped an emergency code into the computer, turning every remaining yellow dot towards that ominous red dot.

He stayed at the desk and prayed silently, mixing in profanities with calls for help.

Gel'tri didn't even bother changing out of her police uniform, a mistake that would come to haunt her later. Instead, she simply ran to Folsom Street, in front of the blue van, and put her hands out. She showed no fear.

"Where the hell'd she come from?" the male passenger in the right-front seat shouted, pointing directly ahead.

"It doesn't matter," the female driver said, mashing the accelerator down. The van picked up speed, and slammed into her.

Gel'tri, for her part, had locked her elbows. The result was quite a jolt that traveled all the way up to her shoulders and made her wince in momentary pain in her shoulder joints. She moved backwards about a millimeter from the hit. The passengers, for their part, continued forward, but all of them (Brown included) were wearing seat-belts. It left them all with a bit of a headache.

The van itself was smoking quite badly, its front end crushed around her arms about a foot deep. The rest of her body left a two-inch-deep impression in the van's front radiator grill. In the dispatch room, Tony yelped in surprise: Trina's dot disappeared right off the screen. He typed in another code into the computer: Officer Down. (In reality, it wasn't the "officer" that was down, just her badge and walkie-talkie radio.)

Richardson, by then, had arrived at the armory and picked up a rack of guns for riot control. "Dispatch, this is Richardson. I'm taking riot gear to the scene. Tell me where to go."

"Chief, this is Tony," the reply came, "680 Folsom Street. I say again, six eight zero Folsom Street. All units, converge on six eight zero Folsom Street."

Outside 680 Folsom Street, the front-right passenger grunted in mild pain and replied, "I guess it does matter, if the hell she came from is Velor." The sarcasm in his voice was thick, especially on that foul name.

"Belay that," the leader said then. "Everybody, out, except me, the Professor, and Than'ya." A few grumbles at that: the two Primes were the ones staying in the van. As usual, the Betans were cannon fodder. And they couldn't possibly stand up to a Protector. They couldn't stand up to Primes either, so they got out of the van and put on their most menacing faces.

"My, how nice of you to notice," Gel'tri said cheerfully, but with relish. "Actually, you might as well say Dax'xan instead of Velor; I was born there."

"How charming," the leader replied loudly (not enough to blast the windows out, but just loud enough to be heard and to make Brown scrunch his eyes in pain.) "And I suppose you want our dear Professor safely out of our hands."

Gel'tri nodded slowly.

"Well, I'm afraid that's not going to happen." The leader then leaned forward to unbuckle Brown from the seat. Brown, Than'ya, the leader, and Gel'tri all caught the implication: they planned to keep Brown on the move. Gel'tri tensed, preparing to launch herself into the sky in case the Primes went through the van roof with him. "You see, we are the ones with the dear Professor. We are the ones who are in charge. So, if you ever wish to see him alive again, I suggest you back away right now." In truth, Brown wasn't supposed to die anyway. Oh, no. They needed him very much alive and intact, so that Than'ya could work her body on him and convert him to their side.

Unfortunately, both Primes knew that having a Protector around made that exceedingly difficult. There weren't supposed to be any deaths, and nothing more than minor injuries. High Command demanded that, for reasons he still did not understand. He chafed now under the orders, which hadn't taken into account this foe, but were unconditional and did not allow him that leeway he now desperately needed to succeed.

For her part, Gel'tri simply pulled her arms back -- out of the van -- and walked confidently to the right side, where the nearest Arion was and the door was open. That proved to be another mistake, but at that close range, one that would not have mattered.

"Fire," Richardson ordered.

A single canister erupted from a grenade launcher next to Richardson. It bounced on the upper back of the van and dropped. A light-grayish cloud erupted from it. Immediately, everyone within thirty feet of the van began coughing violently. Brown's eyes watered; his lungs were burning up!

"Everybody out!" the leader screamed between hacks and coughs. "Hran'atya!" All of the Arions ran (or more appropriately, crawled) like hell, except the two Primes, who burst through the roof of the van, to the safety of the clouds. Gel'tri herself fell to her hands and knees, coughing and crying at the same time.

She even sneezed, many, many times.

Still coughing and hacking, in what was left of her police officer's uniform, Trina Potter sat on the grass, her hands behind her, her legs extended out before her and her knees bent. Her face was covered in nose slime and tears.

"I said I don't care if you're the next Kara Zor'el, Officer Potter!" Richardson stood over her, furious. No one offered her a rag to wipe her face; no one dared in his presence. He had his fists mashed against his weapons belt (the only place he could think of to keep them from bashing her face in).

"I *cough* am the next Kara Zor'el, *cough cough*," she answered weakly. "Gel' *cough, cough, sneeze* Gel'tri Zor'el, at your service." She continued hacking and coughing for a good ten seconds after that, uninterrupted. His pants fluttered around his legs at the force of her sneeze. He didn't care.

"I told you I don't need heroes or martyrs, I need police officers. And I meant it." He picked up his walkie-talkie. "Tony?"

"Yeah, Chief?" the tinny voice came back.

"Tony, you're back on the dispatch desk until further notice." His frustration carried even over the radio.

Tony, for his part, was too professional to let his surprise show over the radio. "Understood, Chief," he replied firmly. Gel'tri, too caught up in her suffering, didn't notice.

"And that," Richardson said to Gel'tri, "means you're FIRED!!!"

"What?" She blinked her eyes wide open at that.

"Not only that," Richardson went on, shouting, "the next time I catch you on campus, I'm filing charges against you for unlawful trespass! Now get the hell out of here!"

Gel'tri Zor'el came to her feet (weakly), and tried to stare Richardson down. She couldn't even look him in the eye, though he was only a few inches shorter than her. The tears just made that impossible.

Frustrated, she started walking towards the gate. Richardson muttered a curse below his breath, one she barely heard but pretended not to.