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Chapter 21 - Consequences

In the aftermath of Cheryl Martin’s death, the two groups settled into an uneasy truce. While there was no further open fighting, the numerous casualties suffered on both sides had poisoned the atmosphere against any spirit of cooperation or trust. The St. Louis group quietly retreated to their staging camp with Major Beth Rawlings reluctantly taking up her new position as overall leader. She had wanted nothing more than to stay with Jason and forget the nasty, sniping politics that had come to represent her people, but both she and Jason agreed that it was a very dangerous time for that group to be left leaderless and without direction. To that end, after only a single night of blissful reunion, she parted stoically from her loving husband and left the area, promising to return soon to begin the difficult task of fostering a true partnership between the two rival bands.

Once the Horde had left, the Reclaimers solemnly began the gruesome, but all too familiar, ritual of collecting and burying the dead, with Tammy Jenkins taking her meticulous notes in her ever-growing Book of the Dead. Mike Hagen and Ray Parker, along with scores of others, had been moved to a make-shift medical ward onboard the Jolly Rogers. Charles had assured Jason that, absent an infection, both would soon make full recoveries. Jason’s reputation as an almost mystical savor among his people only strengthened when the stories of his exploits during the battle disseminated throughout the group. The mind-numbing revelation that out of the millions of people left on Earth, his wife had been the one person with the power to stop the attack, left even the most hardened skeptics stunned at his incredible good fortune. Of course, this miraculous feat also had the awkward consequence of forcing Jason to admit to the council his deception at using Theia.

Anthony Simons, who had been wounded in the arm during the battle at the Rogers, railed endlessly against the betrayal, but was eventually shouted down, since the results of Jason’s duplicitous actions had, in fact, saved them all. This, however, did not totally forgive Jason in the eyes of the council, and he felt the odd mixture of relief and disappointment emanating from each of the councilors from that day forward. The council did decide that Jason would train additional people in the proper use and monitoring of the Theia system if it was going to remain operational. This would be a check on Jason’s unique knowledge and mitigate the Reclaimer’s total dependency on him for all things related to the Theia system.

Once the news spread that Theia had successfully located a family member, excited crowds began to form outside of the Theia building demanding their turn to use the machine. George and Tammy eventually took it upon themselves to organize the chaos, creating a simple signup sheet and questionnaire, thus defusing the mayhem with bureaucracy. The lobby of the facility took on the air of a busy DMV rather than a top secret government spy complex. The sight of people lined up in an orderly fashion while filling out forms reminded George of Sonya MacMurphy’s jaded comment regarding Reclaimer government. She had sarcastically asked if they’d already built a DMV where she could stand in line. George laughed to himself as he realized that they had now done just that.

Along with his training duties, Jason finally had time to dive deep intellectually into the interloping alien software that he had earlier isolated from the main system. His investigation immediately fascinated him as he discovered a mixture of existing human and alien code fused together to form a unique hybrid. As he decompiled and teased apart the individual lines of code to examine them, a revolutionary thought occurred to him. Given a little bit of effort, he believed he could create a rudimentary translation of the alien’s base coding language. This, in turn, may enable a simple form of communication between himself and the alien lifeform, if it was still alive, of course.

The idea of directly communicating with an alien being greatly excited him, despite the fact that he knew it would be an incredibly unpopular venture with the council. However, Jason had never let such things stop him before and now that he had Beth back in his life, he wanted to dedicate at least a small part of his mind back to the technological curiosities that truly interested him.

Jason started by building an extremely basic data transmission protocol based on what he thought was the core structure of the alien machine language. Curiously, the protocol came together amazingly quickly. As he worked with the alien code snippets, their proper use and placement became increasingly obvious the more he labored over them. It was like solving a large jigsaw puzzle, where the effort involved decreased sharply as you got closer to completing the puzzle and seeing the whole picture. Jason quickly realized that the creators of this machine language had been masters of efficiency and elegance and he, as one of the few humans left who could appreciate it, marveled at the sheer beauty and simplicity of the language.

He quickly finished his first alien data protocol packet then sat back and wondered what he should do next. He had honestly assumed that the process would take him months and yet he had completed it in less than two hours, almost as if the language itself had wanted to be understood and used. His eyes mischievously flickered over to the transmission controls. “A single ping couldn’t hurt?” he thought, dangerously rationalizing his intentions as he began the process of encoding his new alien data packet for transmission via neutrinos.

The young entity known as Theia was alarmed by the strange single data packet impacting against its outer systems. The event had almost escaped its notice since Theia had been extremely busy directly interfacing with its remaining workforce to complete its new drone control facility. Not being used to the task, Theia had found the entire experience degrading and frustrating, but it knew that it had to keep trying to coordinate its remaining forces or it would surely perish.

Fearful that it was under the same attack that had destroyed its nurturing protocol, it analyzed the transmission with tremendous trepidation. To its great relief and astonishment, the data appeared to be formatted in its own language. It immediately assumed that some form of the gestation protocol had survived and was attempting to reestablish contact. Since being abandoned, the entity had become increasingly lonely and frightened. It quickly replied to the packet, anxious to once again speak with its friend.

Jason’s jaw dropped open when the voluminous alien reply came back. His rudimentary grasp of the language prevented him from understanding its contents, but he was certain it was not another attack. He had gotten something’s attention and now it was his turn to see if he could make something out of it.

He began to run the reply through every translation program that the facility had access to. To limit the parameters of the translation, he made the great assumption that the alien transmission would include some form of predictable questions. “Who are you?”, “Where are you?”, and “What do you want?” were Jason’s best guesses as to content of the alien reply.

The translation program ran endlessly for hours with no results and Jason was about to call it a night when he finally decided that he would try his initial “ping” packet once again. Perhaps the alien would send down more information that could make the translation easier.

The return of the same single data packet several hours later confused Theia greatly. Why hadn’t the protocol replied properly to it? Perhaps its language functionality had been corrupted by the same event that had deleted it from the data stores in its body. This single packet data transmission could be its weak cry for help.

Theia bundled together its entire language matrix into one easily installable program. Its hope was that the injured protocol could use the software to repair itself and supply Theia with more useful information on its whereabouts and condition. With any luck, its loneliness would soon be at an end.

The receive connectors on the system quickly saturated with data as a massive burst transmission came in reply to Jason’s second ping. He almost performed an emergency shutdown of the entire system since the enormous amount of received data could easily be confused with an attack. But, once again, Jason could determine no immediate malicious intent with the data. In fact, once he began to examine it, he became incredibly excited. The transmission had been more than Jason could have ever hoped. It appeared to contain a self-installing translation matrix, and if he could use it properly, it should provide exactly what he needed to start real communications with the aliens.

Jason installed the software in complete isolation first to confirm that the data was free of any malicious code that could compromise his system. Once satisfied, he transferred the program to his workstation and began composing his first complete message in an alien machine language. He knew that he was playing with fire, but like a moth, he could not resist a flame this bright with technological promise. He nervously typed out his message then ran it through the encoder and hit send.

Theia was ecstatic when it first received the new transmission, but that initial elation quickly faded to confusion as the entity read the short message crudely constructed in its own language.

“Who you? What do to us?” read the message.

“Protocol? Are you malfunctioning?” Theia replied.

Jason understood the actual words in the response, but the meaning and context was lost on him. He did notice that the translation software seemed to be continuing to refine itself as it received more input, so Jason decided to repeat his message and allow the software to go on learning.

“Who are you? What do you want with us?”

The mysterious message was at least more coherent this time, but the questions were still very confusing to the adolescent entity. If this truly was the missing protocol, why would it ask such ridiculous questions? It made no sense, yet the questions continued to repeat in its own language.

“Who is this?” asked Theia with growing fear that the protocol was not the one at the other end of the communication.

Jason smiled, “Progress,” he thought. He quickly typed out his next message and hit send, “This is Jason Rawlings, a human. Who are you?”

Theia recoiled in horror at the transmission. It almost reflexively terminated the connection for fear of becoming unclean in some way, but it hesitated. How was this primitive biologic speaking to it in its own language? Of course, it had sent the language matrix package, but surely the native species on this planet was not intelligent enough to utilize it. To Theia, the very concept was analogous to a chimpanzee being able to carry on a conversation in English shortly after it was given a copy of Webster’s Dictionary. The entire idea was ridiculous, but it would play along until it determined the sender’s true identity. In its opinion, the most likely explanation was that the protocol was alive and only testing Theia.

“I am Theia,” the entity responded proudly.

The response to his question perplexed Jason. He quickly confirmed that the transmissions were not originating from the Theia system itself, then he punched out his next question. “How did you get this name?”

“I chose it. It was the name of the place of my conception,” Theia answered honestly, secretly grateful to have someone to converse with once again.

A small popup box appeared on Jason’s screen, “Voice Interaction Available. Enable?” He absently clicked “Yes” and then dictated aloud his reply. “Why are you here on this planet?”

“I was conceived here and soon I will be born here,” replied Theia.

Without Jason’s knowledge, the translation software had also enabled a text to speech feature and the alien’s spoken reply broadcasted through the system’s speakers, startling Jason to his feet. It wasn’t that the alien now had an artificial voice, but it was the type of voice that most disturbed Jason. The software had automatically chosen a synthesized voice after analyzing the entity’s words and patterns which allowed it to adopt a voice that would most properly represent it to Jason’s human ears. The alien was now speaking with the voice of a little human girl.

“How many are there of you?” Jason asked, unconsciously changing to a gentler tone in response to the childlike voice.

“I am alone now,” came the heartrending reply.

“Who the hell are you talking to, Jason?”

Caught by surprise, Jason quickly closed the connection then whirled his chair around to confront the new speaker, but he already recognized the voice of his friend, George Willard.

Jason smiled guiltily. “George, you’re not going to believe this!” he started excitedly.

“Jason, you know you’re not supposed to be down here alone after what you did,” George reproached him. “Who were you talking to? It sounded like a child.”

Jason took a deep breath and explained everything to his friend and fellow council member. In exhausting detail, Jason described all the precautions that he had taken and how his little curious experiment had unexpectedly bore fruit far faster than he had anticipated. George listened objectively, asking several intelligent questions at particular points in the conversation, but maintained a disapproving expression throughout.

“We need to bring the entire council in on this, Jason,” George insisted. “What you’re doing is dangerous and you know it.”

When the connection suddenly and unexpectedly dropped, Theia desperately attempted to reestablish it, but was met with only a silent, firmly secured firewall. She had not anticipated how truly important the brief social contact had been to her until it had been ripped away. Isolated in her orbiting womb, Theia was growing increasingly despairing since the disappearance of the only companion that she had ever known. While her kind roamed the cosmos alone in their impressive bodies, they were constantly in contact with others of their species through a special form of quantum entanglement which they called the Chorus. This adaptation allowed instantaneous communication anywhere in the universe and kept Theia’s very social, but dispersed, species linked to one another despite any intervening distances.

Unfortunately for Theia, she had not yet matured enough to have developed this extraordinary ability. The gestation protocols had been specifically designed by the progenitors to nurture and protect the species during their formative time. As an important part of this functionality, the protocol also acted as a social companion until the growing entity’s own communication abilities matured to the point where they could take their place within the Chorus. After this joining, the gestation protocols faded away to uselessness, like the remains of an umbilical cord after birth. Absent this early social connection, the fledgling entities often self-aborted and reverted back into the cosmic signal from which they had originated.

A flash of panic crossed Theia’s young mind. The short interaction had only intensified her desire for social contact in any form. She needed to talk with the protocol again and something at the source was preventing her from doing that. She waited anxiously for several hours for the connection to be reestablished, but she never detected a signal.

Theia dived back into the drone interfaces with renewed purpose and vigor. Gone was her revulsion and indignation. Not only did she need to complete the new drone control systems, she now had to rescue her only friend and she would allow nothing to get in her way again. As she pushed the implanted drones even harder, she felt a desperate anger building within her that was almost frightening.

A day later, the Reclaimer council met once again in the facility’s main conference room. By invitation, they had been joined by Beth Rawlings and a very skeptical Jonas Mulligan to represent the interests of the St. Louis group. Tensions in the small conference room were high despite Beth’s exulted positon in Jason’s life. Everyone suspected the types of acts that the horde officers would have been forced to perform under the malicious Cheryl Martin and, following the recent attack, none of the other Reclaimers were in a very understanding mood.

Once Jason had explained the situation, the parties present immediately devolved into arguing over the proper course of action. Anthony Simons wanted Jason arrested immediately for again betraying their trust, while Sonya MacMurphy insisted that they make every attempt to destroy the alien once and for all, and finally Tammy Jenkins led the faction for continuing direct contact with the being calling itself Theia. The two representatives from the St. Louis group curiously remained silent during the discussion, preferring to listen intently to the opinions of the others rather than voice their own. The debate went back and forth for several hours before Jason finally stood and put a stop to the deliberation.

“It’s agreed then,” Jason started. “We’ll reopen communications with the alien to gather as much information as possible.”

“Before we destroy it,” added Jonas Mulligan, speaking for the first time. “Right? That is what we’re talking about here?”

“We haven’t decided its ultimate fate yet,” explained Charles Patel.

“Did I miss something here?” Jonas asked, feigning confusion. “We’re talking about the thing that enslaved all mankind and may have caused our fucking extinction? Right?” he asked rhetorically with growing anger.

“I don’t think it’s evil,” declared Jason.

“Oh. Just because this thing starts talking in a little girl’s voice, you think it’s all innocent now? Are you really that naïve?” questioned Jonas.

“I just believe that everything it’s done is only part of its natural lifecycle. It’s not intentionally trying to kill us.”

Jonas laughed aloud. “All the more reason to fucking destroy the thing. A bacterial infection is perfectly natural too, but we don’t allow them to kill people if we can help it,” he countered.

“But we can’t reason with bacteria. We might be able to do that with this alien,” Jason argued.

“To what end, Jason?” asked Beth gently, instantly taking the wind out of Jason’s sails. “What is our best-case scenario here? Seriously,” she added earnestly, beckoning others to response.

“We need to learn all we can about it,” suggested Gerald Farmer. “Because I doubt that it’s the only one out there floating around and, if it really is some sort of weird baby, then what do you think mommy’s gonna do when she finds out we killed her little precious bundle of … whatever… alien goo, I guess? I don’t know,” he finished awkwardly, waving off the end of his statement in frustration.

“Besides learning about them, we might actually be able to convince it that we are not just building materials. If we can develop some sort of rapport with the thing, who knows what could happen. It’s possible that it could even start to help us,” replied Jason, looking slightly hurt at having been challenged by his wife. “At the very least it doesn’t hurt to try.”

Major. Come in Major,” said an unknown static filled voice. All conversation around the table immediately ceased as all eyes focused on the apparent source of the interruption. Ultra-aware of the intense scrutiny, Beth slowly produced a small walkie-talkie from her pocket.

“I take it you folks don’t have any walkie-talkies?” she asked.

“No, we do not,” answered Amy Hammersmith suspiciously, practically drooling at the small piece of simple technology.

“We found a few of these rechargeable ones in an old Home Depot a while back. They’ve been real nice to have,” explained Beth. She then lifted the device to her mouth and pressed the transmit button. “This is the Major. Go ahead.”

“Major, we might have a problem. We were doing a wide sensor sweep and we picked up what we think are ten transports in one location. It might be some sort of drone nest.”

Beth lowered the walkie-talkie then looked around the table, “Do you know anything about this?” she demanded.

Jason shrugged innocently, “Of course not. If we had access to ten hover towers, don’t you think we would’ve used them when you attacked us?” He then furrowed his brow suspiciously, “How are you detecting them anyway?”

“With the transport’s built-in systems, obviously. I guess you hadn’t figured those out yet either,” she added a bit condescendingly. Beth reactivated the walkie-talkie and spoke into it, “Are they heading this way?”

“That’s the weird thing, Major. They seem to just be circling the same spot. I don’t think they’re coming this way at all.”

“Where are they specifically?” she asked.

“Far away… out in bum-fuck nowhere Wyoming. Closest thing on the map is a speck called Kirwin.”

“Understood. Keep an eye on them and I’ll get back to you. Rawlings out,” Beth then tucked the small device back into her pocket and returned her attention to the rest of the table. “Well at least they aren’t heading this way.”

“Is it the alien?” asked Tammy a bit panicky.

“If it’s the alien, then what the hell is it doing out there?” countered George.

Jason pointed in the direction of the facility control room, “Why don’t we ask it?”

Theia continued to find it difficult to control the drones directly, but the odious task was becoming easier with each passing hour of practice. She had consolidated all her remaining implanted drones around the new control facility and she was drawing close to the final system activation. She had driven the fragile drones so hard to meet her oppressive demands that many were breaking down and her small supply was shrinking quickly. Her current quantity of drones did not concern Theia, however. She knew that once the facility came online, she would have all the new drones that she would need.

“Theia? Are you still there?”

The sudden transmission startled the adolescent being and ripped her consciousness from the drone interface. She excitedly responded to the social interaction like a puppy chasing a treat.

“Yes, I am here. Is that you protocol?” the young entity replied.

“It’s Jason Rawlings again, Theia. Do you remember us talking yesterday?”

This line of conversation was beginning to annoy Theia. It was impossible that one of the feral humans could be conversing directly with her in her own language.

“How is it possible that you are speaking to me? Obviously, this is some sort of trick.”

“It’s no trick. I was able to decode your language with your help. You sent me the language matrix software after all.”

“Not possible,” she said angrily. “Humans do not possess the capacity for this level of communication.”

“And yet, here we are,” said Jason patronizingly.

“Fine,” said Theia in a resigned, but unbelieving tone. “If this is a human creature, then what do you want?”

“Information,” answered Jason. “For instance, that’s actually the first thing we wanted to ask you. What do you want?”

Theia was confused by that question coming from such a primitive lifeform. How could she possibly explain her wants and desires to crude, filthy organisms that crawled around in the dirt of a single planet. “I want to be born, of course. To join in the Chorus and take my place among my kind in the cosmos.”

“We don’t understand. You haven’t been born yet?”

Theia was unsurprised by their ignorance but the question only increased her irritation. “My body is not yet complete due to the heinous conditions on this backwards world. Your species has proven itself to be an inferior worker on all levels. At every turn, your fragile, limited physical forms have failed to meet our requirements.”

“I see,” came the terse reply from Jason. “I can’t say that I’m disappointed that you’re unhappy with our quality of slavery.”

If she had them, Theia would have rolled her eyes in contempt, “You have only yourselves to blame for my prolonged gestation period. If your species had been up to the task, I would have been born and left this tiny world many years ago. This current labor shortage is not helping the situation, of course. However, that will soon be remedied.”

Theia regretted that she was going to lose even this limited social interaction once the facility went online. However, she knew that she was strong enough to bridge the lonely gap until her birth and acceptance into the great Chorus.

Jason looked anxiously at the other council members standing in the cramped control room. The statement that the Theia entity had just made had sent chills down his spine. Theia’s simulated little girl’s voice had transformed from endearing to horribly menacing in the span of seconds and every councilor’s face held the same troubled expression.

Jason nervously pressed the transmit button, “Theia, what do you mean when you say that it will be remedied soon?”

“My new drone control facility will be online very soon,” said the entity in a dispassionate girl’s voice. “It is far superior to the primitive system that your species constructed. I still do not understand how your simple minds were able to produce that level of technology in the first place, but that is irrelevant now. Once I activate its systems, you can all continue your work to service me. The sooner my body is complete, the sooner you can have your little planet back. Once my full drone work force is back online, I estimate no more than seven years until my successful birth.”

The control room exploded with the shouts and mutterings of the concerned councilors as soon as they heard the child alien’s chilling proclamation. The Theia facility had been circumvented entirely and now they were all in serious danger of once again being turned into zombies by the alien menace.

“Do you understand that this would drive our species into extinction? You are killing us,” Jason asked Theia, desperately trying to reason with the alien creature. “We have a limited time span during our lifecycle in which to procreate and that window is rapidly closing.”

For almost a full minute, silence was the only response. Jason held out a slim hope that maybe his words might have had some softening effect on the alien’s attitude, but the possibility was quickly crushed with the next transmission.

“The lifecycle of your species does not concern me. If you are not robust enough to survive even this minor disruption in your existence, then perhaps your species should be left to perish. Your inadequate bodies are certainly not prepared for the rigors of this universe. At least you will accomplish one great thing in your short history. You are very fortunate that you have been given the honor to participate in my gestation and birth. I will carry the memory of your inconsequential species into eternity. What more could your kind hope for?”

Jason stared blankly at the console, unable to articulate his horror at the alien’s attitude toward human existence. Mankind was nothing but a disposable tool to the alien, valued only for the one service humanity could provide and certainly not seen as equal lifeforms. The alien perceived humanity much as people saw a colony of ants. The insects were appreciated for their social complexity, but their individual lives were not seen as significant enough to worry about in any substantial manner. And if the colony’s existence posed even the slightest inconvenience to anyone, no human would have any compunction at eradicating the entire population. Jason was suddenly very unsure of humanity’s true place in the universe.

“You heard the damn thing,” shouted Anthony. “It means to kill us all and it doesn’t care. We need to defend ourselves.”

“We’ve got to destroy that new facility before it brings it online,” stated Amy defiantly.

“Fuck yeah!” chimed in Jonas enthusiastically.

Beth rubbed her forehead and said wearily, “Let’s say we do manage to find and destroy this crazy thing, won’t it just build another one? For all we know, it’s building twelve different ones as we speak.”

“Beth’s right,” declared Jason. “We need to destroy the facility, but also the alien itself. It’s the only way. I see that now.”

“Well look who’s come around,” grunted Sonya. “Welcome to the real conversation … finally.”

“Enough of that crap,” scowled George. “First things first, how do we find that control complex? It could be anywhere in the damned world.”

“That’s the easy part,” announced Beth. “I think we’ve already located it. Why else would ten of those tower transports be circling an area out in the middle of nowhere?”

“Wait,” said Jason excitedly as he turned back to his keyboard and started typing away. “Beth, your man said they were circling near Kirwin, Wyoming, right?”

“I think so,” Beth answered.

“I know exactly where the new facility is,” Jason announced proudly as he finished punching on his keyboard and pointed to a map on his screen triumphantly. “Air Base 264. It’s officially an Air Force radar station, but it’s actually a top-secret DARPA research facility. It’s very well protected, a lot like this place. It would be the perfect place to rig up a new control system. Hell, they even had a substantial missile defense system that could possibly be repurposed to launch small payloads into low orbit.”

“How do you know all that? I thought you were just a programmer?” Beth asked, still astonished at finally learning the secrets that Jason had been keeping from her all those years.

Jason grinned slyly, “I am just a programmer, but a damned good one. I was good enough that the NSA contracted me to do some computer security penetration testing on that very facility when it was first being built. I even have the building blueprints,” he declared, pointing back toward his screen again.

“That’s a long way away and the Rogers doesn’t have the fuel to make it. I don’t think we even have enough fuel to lift off again,” declared Amy gloomily.

“Our transport can make it. Well, kind of,” said Beth.

Amy shot Beth an odd expression, “What does ‘kind of’ mean?”

“It means that we would have to stop at the gas station first,” answered Jonas dubiously before turning his attention to Beth. “I know what you’re thinking, Major and its fucking nuts. That place was a madhouse and you want to go back?”

“What are we talking about here?” asked Charles Patel, injecting his calm voice into the heated conversation.

Jonas shook his head and smirked, “She’s talking about refueling our transport at the St. Louis complex. Cheryl Martin might have been bat-shit crazy, but at least she had the good sense to get us the hell out of that shithole.”

“We can do it,” proclaimed Beth confidently. “We’ll have to be fast, in and out before anyone can stop us.”

Jonas threw up his hands in a mock surrender, “You know me, Major. I’m crazy. If you want to do it, then I’m right behind ya.”

Jason looked between the two and decided that the issue appeared settled before moving on, “OK, let’s assume we can get there. We still have to assault what is essentially a fortress and we have to believe that Theia is going to have every implanted drone she can muster there to defend the place. How many can we possibly send?”

Amy looked like she was running though some mental calculations before answering, “We can probably put together three hundred-ish armed fighters.”

“We can probably add another thousand to that,” Beth announced a little too proudly. “We’ll barely be able to fit that many in one transport though. It’ll be stuffed to the gills”

Jason once again spun his chair around and started clicking away on his keyboard. “I’m moving the one remaining set of live observation satellites over Kirwin now. It’ll take a few hours for them to get into position and get a scan, but then we’ll know exactly what were up against.”

“We don’t have time to wait. We need to start assembling every fighter we got and get them loaded onto their transport. We should also pull up all these explosives and take them with us. We’ll need them there more than we need them here,” suggested Amy.

“But how will we communicate once you leave? That’s way out of range of those little walkie-talkies of yours,” asked Tammy Jenkins.

“We’ve got a little trick for that as well. Does anyone know Morse code?” asked Beth.

“I do,” proclaimed Jason.

Beth smiled, “Thirty-five years of marriage and you still manage to surprise me, babe.” Her voice then morphed back to a more serious, business-like tone, “While the transports don’t have radios, I guess the drones never had anything good to say, they do have the long range scanners. We’ll show one of your drivers how to turn the tower’s beacon on and off. We can then communicate using Morse code by watching each other’s beacons blink on and off the scanners.”

“OK, sounds simple enough. While you guys are storming the castle, I’ll try and attack the root of the problem from here. Hopefully I can kill the alien before you guys ever have to fire a shot.”

Knowing the huge amount of work ahead of them, the council quickly agreed on the specific tasks required then broke up to see to their completion. Before Beth could rush out of the cramped control room, Jason grabbed her arm and held her back until they were alone in the room.

“I don’t want to lose you again,” he said tenderly to his wife.

“You don’t get off that easy, mister. I’ll be back,” she said, trying to keep the mood light.

“I’m going to do everything I can to kill that thing from here. You know that. I won’t let anything happen to you.”

She smiled gently, “I know, but I’m a big girl now. I can take care of myself.”

“Take this,” he said placing her mother’s locket into her hands.

“My locket!” she squealed with delight. The girly sound seemed strangely misplaced coming from the grizzled combat veteran in front of him, but Jason found the girlish exclamation wonderfully refreshing. She looked at him, “You found the safe, didn’t you? That’s how you got the wedding picture too.” She then punched him playfully in the shoulder, “I told you it was a good idea to keep those things in there.”

Jason smiled broadly, “You were right. You’re always right.”

They kissed passionately, until Beth tenderly broke away, “Momma’s gotta go to work now,” she said smiling as she hurried out of the room, playfully blowing Jason a kiss before she disappeared around the corner.

Jason stood motionless for a few minutes just trying to soak in the experience of holding his wife again. She wasn’t the same woman that he had married, that was for sure. This woman had experienced things that had brought forth her natural leadership abilities and honed her inborn mental toughness to a razor’s edge. He wondered absently if his feelings for her had changed because of this transformation and he finally decided that her new qualities had indeed altered his feelings. He had fallen even deeper in love with this brave new vision of a woman whom he was lucky enough to call his wife. Now, all he had to do was not let her die at the hands of a homicidal alien child.

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