Chapter Eight

"Ah, Professor Thomas, join us, please." Peters spoke smoothly. "Sorry to keep you under wraps, but we had to get in touch with you."

Najla had heard it all before. The senior professors and department heads were always schmoozing her, treating her with kid gloves. She wasn't some novice, she was an associate professor. And she damn sure didn't like government types, bureaucrats, waking her up and driving her out to the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in southeastern Washington.

On the other hand, they had a wonderful habit of feeding you, with good food. She was more alert after that breakfast than she had been in a month of lectures and late-night tokamok experiments. So she felt inclined to give this man the benefit of the doubt. "So you just want me to confirm some test results you've got? You say they're about MicroFusion?" He nodded. "All right, let's get this started."

"You'll need to scrub."

"Scrub?" She didn't understand; she'd taken a shower this morning at that nice hotel room they'd given her. He pointed to his right, her left. On the wall were hospital green gowns, complete with green gloves, green booties and face coverings. A sink sat next to the closet.

"What's all this?" she asked.

"Part of the experiment," he responded. She shook her head and went to the sink, grumbling. What the hell has this got to do with microfusion? He followed her and suited up -- not taking off any of his own clothes in the process. She understood the garments were to go over whatever she was wearing.

After they were covered in green and had washed their hands, he escorted her to the cleanroom laboratory. It looked like any other medical lab she'd ever seen -- plexiglass-paned cabinets, white-painted walls, microscopes, biohazard disposal units, too much light... Peters took her to one of the microscopes and had her look into it.

She didn't see anything unusual: just a bunch of cells. "So what am I looking for?"

He moved to a switch on the microscope. "Let me turn on the electromagnetic scanner." He flipped a switch: the screen went dark. Then he flipped another.


What had been a collection of cells was now a black disc, filled with diffuse blue circles. Around the circles were halos of white, then red color. To the right of the disc was a color spectrum bar, ranging from dark red at the bottom to bright blue at the top. The bar had number markings next to them. Najla looked at the numbers for the particular shade of blue she was seeing.

She did a double take, one no one could see, within the lens of the microscope. "Is this thing calibrated right?"

"They ran a diagnostic on it this morning. Right down the middle," he said softly.

"How can a cell, a living cell, have that strong a magnetic field?" she marveled. Without asking, she bumped up the magnification, zooming in on one cell near the center. She bumped it up again. The spectrum bar adjusted to match the relative intenstities she was seeing.

And then she saw it. The shape of the magnetic field.

A shape she knew by heart, having been one of two to discover what it did in a small enough space...

"But is that..." she mumbled, thinking small enough?

She checked the magnification, the scale inside the electron microscope's view, did some rough numbers in her head... The field was confined to a space about thirty percent larger than either she or Brown had ever accomplished. Normally, it would have collapsed by now. But there it was. Generating power.

"Microfusion," she breathed.

Was it even possible?

Apparently, it was, as Peters exhaled. "Now we know for sure how they can survive in space." She looked at him quizically. "They don't need food, water, or oxygen. They don't use the ATP life cycle. They don't even need fuel, at all." She was thoroughly confused by now, and her face showed it. Peters looked her in the eye, realized what he was doing, and made a decision. "Come on, let me show you who those cells came from."

They walked down a hallway, still in green gowns, to another white room. In it were several bodies laying on elevated examination tables. One of them had a mask over her mouth and nose.

The others, well, were dead.

"It took us a long time to get those cell samples. Diamond-tipped razor blades, and that just to get a few skin cells, cells from the inside of their mouths, and a few places you don't want to think about. Were we surprised when those cells, from her," he said, nodding to the one with the mask, "were still alive. We saw what you saw, but it took us a couple days to get you down here to confirm it."

For dead people, they sure were beautiful The one that wasn't dead was just as hot. Najla envied them at the same time she watched them. "Who are they?"

"The brown-haired one over there, at the far end of the room, is Tala. You might remember her name from the news. The others are Tamra, Aurora, and this one here is a new one called Miriam. They are the Homo Supremis."

What wondrous sympathy she had for them burned away in an instant. Her face became cold and hard, bitter and angry. "I see," she said flatly.

Peters caught that. But, it was too late now... "We've had Miriam here for only a couple of days. We were surprised to detect that magnetic field in her cells, and not in the others. As far as we can tell -- as far as the doctors can explain it to me -- that magnetic field creates a microfusion effect, which powers their cells." He shook his head. "Don't ask me to explain it -- it's all medical mumbo-jumbo to me. I got a quick lecture on the basics of biology only a couple hours ago, while you were getting dressed." He shook his head. "Operation diGriz. Unbelievable."

They fell silent for a few seconds. A few seconds was all they had, as the klaxon started sounding off.

Three floors down, six beings were flying through the building, searching. Junior stumbled on the security control room. "EVERYBODY BACK, BACK!!!" She went right to the video monitors while the guards scurried to the corner. She scanned them, one by one, until...

Junior held up a walkie-talkie and said, "Fourth floor. She's on the fourth floor." She received no reply, and didn't wait for one. The others would beat her there.

Elan'nah and Carrie met outside a large white double door. Locked, of course, and uselessly so, of course. Carrie nodded, and they smashed through it. Moments later, they came to a complete stop, and Carrie's jaw dropped. She took in the scene.

Four humanoid bodies laying on surgical tables, one with a mask over her mouth. A startled man and woman at the other end, in surgical gear.

Elan'nah was horrified, but not enough to report briskly over the radio, "We've found them. Southeast corner hallway."

Carrie let her emotions through. She spoke softly, almost a stage whisper, "What... have you done??"

The man answered her. "What I thought was necessary." Without any emotion, just a statement of fact.

The others on the floor heard that as they converged on the scene, but even they stopped dead in their tracks entering the room.

Elan'nah regained her composure first. "Get her up," she growled. The man didn't even hesitate -- he went over to a control panel and flipped two switches. A slight hissing sound was heard from the mask. Elan'nah went on, "If you've so much as scratched her..."

He held up a hand to silence her. "Actually, before you ask: yes, we have scratched her. But we've only scratched her." He turned to face the team again. "She'll be all right. We don't believe in criminal torture."

A couple coughs came from Miri'am's table. Obviously, she was awakening, and in fairly good health.

"Smile, you're on candid webcam!" Junior had arrived, portable videotape recorder in hand. "Today, we have... ooh." Her eyes fell on Aurora, the closest one to them. She swallowed. "Didn't expect to see her again."

Carrie trembled, half with horror, half with rage. Miri'am was just beginning to sit up and pitch her legs off the table. She reached for the mask and gently pulled it off her mouth, elastic bands snapping behind her head. The rest of the team was tense -- no one noticed Junior's wisecracks. Junior barely noticed them herself.

Miriam looked up.

She looked like hell. A beautiful hell, naturally, but still hell. Her eyes were groggy and glazed over, her face slack and drooling a little. She squinted to focus. She closed her eyes and steadied herself. Without opening them, she croaked, "Hi guys, *cough*, what... what's shaking?"

She'd never had trouble speaking before in her life. Now, the words didn't want to form themselves on her tongue. She felt so tired. She could barely lift her head, much less her arms. Co'ra'na walked over to steady her, to give her something to grip onto that wouldn't melt in her hand. Miri'am was having trouble walking, and Co'ra'na's quiet encouraging words and presence were a big asset to her just then.

"Will someone... tell me... what the hell... is going on here?" Elan'nah said, annoyed. Miri'am fell to one knee, her right knee denting the floor with a loud bang. Co'ra'na helped her get to her feet.

"We wanted to find out more about you. And as you can see, we'd learned all we could from cadavers," Peters said. "We needed a live subject, and well, we couldn't exactly ask you."

"And why not?" Elan'nah demanded.

"Because we don't trust you."

Gel'tri laughed. "Trust us? We could tear this room apart, and you with it, in a matter of seconds. You'd better trust us."

"Oh, I trust you not to kill us. I'm aware of who you are and who the so-called bad guys are. And like it or not, you have what you came for."

"No, we don't," Carrie said, bitterly. "Not even close." She looked him in the eyes, and for one moment wished she was like Tala, capable of blasting him with a dose of laser vision. Just enough to turn him into gaseous vapors.

The man, for his part, was exasperated but patient. "Yes, you do. You have your colleague back. That should be enough. She's safe and sound, away from anyone who could possibly hurt her." The sarcasm was thick.

"And them?" Carrie asked, still bitter. She meant the corpses.

He shrugged it off. "Cadavers for medical research. Seems no one was really interested in them, so we got a court order and transferred the remains to our medical facility."

"Is that what this is *cough*," Miri'am muttered. "You gave me cocaine, you threaten... *cough*, threatened me with public humiliation, to get me in this facility?" Co'ra'na turned her around to face Peters with her.

His face tilted, admitting their deductions were true while taking pride in his work. "It was either you or a Prime. We liked our chances better with you."

Ez'hah'bel'ar spoke one word. "Why?" Surprisingly, that got the best answer of all.

"The last year has seen a lot of people die at your people's hands: the Velorians and the Arions. Particularly with the arrival of the T'set'lar. Your own Scribe, Shara'Lynn Besta, told us, told the whole world what was going on. Three of these Primes on the planet -- and you barely managed to stop one of them. You lost three people in the process."

"There's still two of them out there. Do you seriously think you can defeat... kill... both of them?"

None of them answered. Carrie, hesitantly, shook her head slightly.

He went on, "No. Not with only four of you and an Au'zar'yena who sits on her ass all day and writes." Co'ra'na glared at him. "Not even with Carrie Zorkosky Junior, the one with two distinct species of parents. We just can't take you seriously to meet this threat. We have to protect ourselves. We do that by studying you and your kind."

"That's so much bullshit!" Gel'tri exploded. "Don't you get it? We're your Protectors. That's our job!"

"And if you fail? If the T'set'lar take control of this planet with or without you around? No thanks. It can happen. It nearly did; why do you think your own government sent reinforcements? They obviously don't care enough about us to do the job right, so it's time we did. To do that, we need to know more about you than you've ever revealed."

"Through kidnapping?" Carrie was skeptical.

"By any means necessary. And no, I'm not EarthFirst. I'm not that crazy. I'm just an FBI Special Agent in Charge, X-Files division. You qualify. So we do what we do best: we investigate."

Peters realized something. "Anyway, it doesn't matter anymore. We discovered what I was really interested in, the major difference between you and these... bodies. There's nothing more for us to learn."

"Just a second," a small but firm voice said. Najla Imelda Thomas, associate professor of the University of Washington, stepped forward and crossed the room. She stood before Carrie.

"Kara Zor'el, isn't it? I should've known. I should've known I'd run in to you." The venom in her voice was thick.

Carrie stood there, puzzled. "Do I know you?"

Thomas shook her head, tears forming in her eyes. "No. You knew my grandfather. He died in your stupid war with the Arions. He was caught in the desert, in Saudi Arabia, when you went after his tank... his wife raised my mother alone."

Thomas turned her head away, to the ground. Then she looked at Carrie again, coldly. "I would have liked to know my maternal grandfather. These days, everybody lives a long time. If they survive you, that is."

Thomas turned away, and walked to stand defiantly with Peters. "You got what you came for, now go." Her voice choked with sobs, of love undiscovered, of memories never had.

Carrie lowered her eyes to the floor. She was shaken. She didn't know, she didn't know. How could she know? She didn't know... "Come on, everyone, let's get out of here." She didn't know.

They all walked out, one by one, Co'ra'na and Junior supporting a shaky Miri'am. No one said a word to Thomas, not even Peters. No one knew what to say.