Amut’a remained closed to Gunnar. Gunnar realized that she was probably engaging in battle using her mental prowess and decided to reach her soon, hoping that she would be safe. It didn’t help that his focus kept shifting back to the full-figured, leather-clad woman walking ahead of him. Her wavy auburn hair flowed ever so softly in the cold Antarctic wind.
They gradually crossed the path to Ali’s Noxvis 2. On the way, Gunnar noticed the various disturbances in the snow, backdraft from the Leya’s landing, several hover-drone tracks, and what worried him more, fissures from the sonic mining being carried out by the Leya crew. Gunnar was worried about the integrity of the operation, and he voiced his opinions to Ali. Ali calmly replied, “ The crew has not been told anything about why we’re here. They’ve only been briefed that they’re here to collect antipodal geodesic samples. But we have to do this fast. Some of these people are beginning to wonder why the Council has sent the great Gunnar Skjold to guard a block of ice.”
“ Do you think that the sonic mining is safe ? “
“ It’s not, but we didn’t have the time to let you dig it out alone. As soon as they get within 50 menes of the objective’s co-ordinates, they will suspend operation and we will take over. Two hours tops. “
“ And what’s all this tripe about Franklin Delaney ? I understand the need for a secondary, but a tertiary ?!”
“ Like you said, the Convenor is very thorough. When you mentioned the Second-Comers…” Ali grinned at the pun,”…she cross-referenced prominent members of the Church with people on her staff. One important name came up. Commander Gorthan. She decided to feed him a red herring. She had two options to choose from. Obviously, she chose me as your real secondary. “ The pride in her voice was evident.
Gunnar had heard of Ali Shansee before. Orphaned at the tender age of 9, both parents killed in the Solar Wars. Inducted into the Council operatives list after her valiant efforts in the defence of her hometown during the Insurrection. Trained in specialized alien warfare. Gunnar could understand why she had chosen that field. She had ample reason to hate the Zirkonians.
Gunnar had also heard of Franklin Delaney. He couldn’t deny that Franklin was good at his job. But Franklin Delaney was also a cold, pompous, self-righteous bastard. He’d coldly executed the survivors of the Mellinks when it was learnt that they were suffering from the deadly and highly contagious pyrorexia disease. Gunnar knew that Franklin had no compunction in taking justice into his own hands. They had crossed paths once before, and it had not been pleasant.
It was clear to Gunnar that Finalta had made the right choice. And, Gunnar thought to himself, the more attractive one.
Just then, he felt something squirm in his pocket. He took out the small lizard that had lain in suspended animation till now. He began to read the letters on its belly.
Amut’a looked on in disbelief. Telimar merely chuckled and answered her questioning clicks. “ It’s a method Gunner and I devised ages ago to keep in touch. Completely indigenous. We each carry a small lizard with us. Mine’s called Reptoc. Normally, the lizards lie in suspended animation, like in hibernation. That’s why we used reptiles, they’re cold-blooded, easier to de-animate. So, they remain like that till one of us writes on the belly of the lizard with this special energizer pen. Both animals come to life, so we know we have a message. Their epithelial tissues are genetically manipulated to mirror each other, so what I write here is also seen on Gunner’s lizard. Impossible to track, trace, tap or decrypt. Brilliant, isn’t it? It was mostly my idea, of course. ”
Amut’a merely smiled and thought to herself, “ How many more secrets do you have, Narhar ?”
By the time, Gunnar read the message, his warrior instincts kicked in. Telimar had written that Gunner was being followed by a human male. With lightning speed, a thought that had worried him at first struck him. The multiple hover-drone tracks. Ali’s was parked in front of him, and his own was on the other side of the mining site. The Leya had no hover-drones. Then who had made those tracks ?
“ Ali, would Franklin have had a Noxvis 2 as well ? “
“ Probably, it would have looked suspicious if he didn’t. Why do you ask ? “
“ Is there any way you can tell me if there any more Noxvis drones here aside from yours ?”
Ali, slowly beginning to comprehend, whipped out a handheld thermal imaging device and said, “ Yes, hold on. “
The imaging device performed a thermal scan of the entire area. Within minutes it picked up a hotspot 12 frades from Gunnar and Ali. Out of the corner of her eyes, Ali checked out the area. There was absolutely nothing there.
Her warrior instincts kicked in. Within a second, she unhosltered her PZ Magnum phaser-gun and fired three successive energy blasts in the direction of the hotspot. The energy blasts destroyed some of the metamaterial coating and with sparks and smoke, the Noxvis came into view. Realising that he’d been caught out, Franklin kicked open the hatch and jumped out onto the other side of the Noxvis, taking cover there. Gunnar advanced forward, prepared to follow Franklin. But before he had taken more than a few steps, Franklin emerged, brandishing a plasma cannon. Ali and Gunnar stopped dead in their tracks. The plasma cannon would release a deadly burst of ionized gas that would vaporize anything that got caught in its electrical charge field. The same though struck Ali and Gunnar simultaneously. If Franklin fired, there was every chance that both of them would die and the mission would fail. That could not be allowed.
Ali shouted out, “ What are you doing here, Franklin ? You’re supposed to be leading your pursuers away from us, not directly towards us. “
Franklin, in a menacing tone, replied ,” How do you think I feel like, being used as bait ? Especially, if I’m going to be sacrificed for this prick of a ‘hero’? ” Franklin motioned towards Gunnar with his plasma cannon.
“ Gunner, you know I’m better than you. And when you’re dead, and I bring back the God-seed, I’ll be the hero I was meant to be. Do you hear me ?”
Gunnar was not really listening to him. He was quickly formulating a plan.
Ali continued, trying to control the anger in her voice, “ Franklin, you do realize, if they find out what you’ve done, you won’t be too much of a hero. Besides, you might have already jeopardized the mission.”
“ You have no idea how much I will be able to get away with. I suggest you worry about yourself. I already have a safe exit route. Now, drop that phaser! “ Franklin pointed the plasma cannon almost squarely at Ali. This was what Gunnar had been waiting for. For a fraction of a second, he was out of the line of fire, and he thrust forward with all his might. By the time Franklin realized that Gunnar had dived, Gunnar ahd already slid across the slippery snow and ice, to reach Franklin’s Noxvis. In one fluid motion, Gunnar slipped out a hunting knife hidden in his left shoe, and cartwheeled over the Noxvis to reach Franklin. Franklin tried to fire at Gunnar, but it was too close and he could barely maneuver the cannon. Gunnar pushed the muzzle of the plasma cannon upward with all his might, simultaneously kneeing him in the guts. Wrenching the plasma cannon away from Franklin, he threw it away and rapidly jammed the knife into Franklin’s temple.