“No, sir, I will not.” Dr. Samuel Brewer spoke the words firmly. “I am on a mission to Sezaron to conduct crucial medical training. Whatever project you have in mind for me, surely it can wait.”
“The Kordon Alliance,” responded Colonel Singer, “does not bargain. This is a direct order.”
Dr. Brewer’s cheeks flushed and his gray eyes brightened with heat. “I am not a soldier. I am a doctor. I am not yours to command, and you cannot order me. Or am I to assume that I’ve been conscripted?”
Colonel Singer steepled his hands upon his desk and replied, almost softly, “I think you underestimate the severity of your situation. Do not think we are unaware of your…connections.”
“What connections?” Dr. Brewer removed his knit cap and ruffled his hair agitatedly. “Look, I’m a certified medical aid ambassador to all stations in the Veris Quadrant. I’ve passed all background checks and I live on a mobile medical vessel with my family. I have no connection to the resistance. I would never put my family at that kind of risk.”
“Many men have used their families as a shield, to divert suspicion from their covert activities.”
“All right, describe my ‘covert activities.’”
“You have a son from your first wife: Ethan, twenty-six years old. Where is your son, doctor?”
Dr. Brewer shifted in his seat uncomfortably. “I don’t know. I haven’t seen or heard from him in two years.”
“If you must know, he wanted to join the Kordon fleet. I hoped he would continue working with me.”
“Is there anything wrong with the Kordon Alliance, Dr. Brewer?”
“I stay out of politics, colonel. Surely my record can tell you that.” He paused, then added, “Did my son join the fleet? Have you any news of him?”
The colonel regarded the doctor impassively, then said, “His medical records were erased from the database. Pictures, fingerprints, iris scans, DNA samples, medical history…”
Dr. Brewer sat up straighter. “He’s gone ghost?”
“I understand that you have the necessary code to access the database.”
Dr. Brewer’s jaw tightened. “It’s one of my privileges, yes. But if you’re suggesting that I deleted the records, you’re wrong.”
“The records were deleted using your access code.”
A span of silence stretched between the two men, charged with tension. Then the colonel smiled—the toothy smile of a crocodile—and said, “You have just come from Naveen.”
“You are aware, no doubt, that Naveen has strong sympathies with the resistance, and has furnished many young fighters and weapons for the effort.”
“I am aware.”
“You transported the drug Taxil to the Naveen base.”
“Yes, to treat an outbreak of the ‘blue fever.’ Is that a crime?”
“Five of the Taxil cases carried blueprints of Kordon missiles, blueprints which are now in the hands of the resistance.”
Dr. Brewer blanched, removed his rectangular glasses, and rubbed his eyes. “That’s news to me.”
“Do you know what the penalty is, doctor, for complicity with the resistance?”
Dr. Brewer spoke between his teeth. “Go to blazes, colonel. I never had any dealings with the resistance.”
“Then perhaps you would be willing to make a show of good faith.” The colonel’s taunting smile darkened. “You will report tomorrow at Kordon Central on Thegmis, or you will be considered a fugitive, and a member of the resistance.”
He rose and the door behind Dr. Brewer opened. “Captain Raymes will show you out.”
Clasping his hat like a man only half-awake, Dr. Brewer turned. The captain, with a hard, lean jaw that belied his youth, extended a hand to the doctor and shook it stiffly.
“It is good to see you again, doctor,” he said briskly.
“You have met?” Colonel Singer asked.
“Yes,” replied the captain. “You probably do not remember me, doctor, but I attended an infectious diseases containment workshop you conducted some time ago on Rhonda. It was most informative. I’m glad you’ve agreed to work with us.”
Dr. Brewer’s eyes traveled from the tips of the captain’s spotless shoes to the inflexible gaze of the man’s deep-set eyes. He did not seem to like what he saw.
“I’m not sure I’m happy to see you again,” he said. “Not under these circumstances, anyway.”
He brushed past the captain, who followed him out.
“Your ship has been moved to Hanger F,” the captain said. “It has been refueled, and you’ll find your family ready to leave immediately. A prompt arrival at Thegmis will go a long way to encourage a favorable opinion of you.”
Dr. Brewer did not reply. The lenticular ship awaited them in the hangar, and, as they approached, the gangway lowered and a woman in a black sleeveless tunic and khaki pants descended to meet them. “Sam? What’s going on?”
The captain turned abruptly to Dr. Brewer and thrust a folded paper in his hands. “Those are your orders. Follow them exactly. Do not disappoint, doctor.”
Five children, ages fifteen to three, swarmed the doctor when he arrived on board. He kissed the tops of their heads absently, and met his wife’s questioning gaze with a flicker of warning. She shooed the children away. “Launch positions, everyone! Quick, quick!”
The children buckled themselves into their seats, and the woman joined her husband in the forefront of the cockpit. He refolded the captain’s paper and tucked it into his breast pocket as she sank into her seat.
“Sam,” she said quietly, pointing to a notice on one of the cockpit screens. “The quarantine bay exterior hatch is open.”
“I know. Just before launch, close it.”
“Are we in trouble?”
“Yes,” he replied, tight-jawed. “Buckle up. I’m about to break the law.”
Fear drained her face of color, but she obeyed. Then, as the engine revved, she murmured breathlessly, “Sam, is there any other way?”
“No,” he said, and, for a moment, tore his eyes away from the dashboard and laid a hand over hers. “I need you to trust me, Meg.”
She turned her hand under his, until they locked fingers, and waited in breathless silence.
A male voice spoke over the communicator. “Panacea, you are clear to launch.”
Meg closed the exterior hatch of the quarantine bay, and her husband took the controls. With a roar and a whine, the space vessel lifted, then streaked forward, and exploded from the hanger into the twinkling blackness beyond.
“Stay seated, kids!” Dr. Brewer warned over his shoulder. For a few minutes, as he tensely read the distances on the dashboard, the flight almost seemed normal, like the hundreds of other flights the family had shared. Then, without warning, Dr. Brewer pressed a blue button.
Fuel ejected, warned the computer screen. Drawing from reserve fuel.
“What?” Meg gasped.
Dr. Brewer’s brows remained puckered in concentration. “They placed a tracking device in the tank when they refueled.”
“We’re still in sensor range, Sam. They’ll send out fighters…” She stopped at the sound of a hiss deep in the ship’s belly. “Is that the quarantine bay?”
Rapid, heavy steps sounded on the metal stairs, and Meg turned as a young man thundered onto the bridge. Captain Raymes.
“What now?” Dr. Brewer shouted.
“Let me,” the captain commanded, and, leaning over the doctor, adjusted the controls.
“You’ll burn up our engine at this pace,” Dr. Brewer warned. “And just where are we going?”
“There’s a cloaked resistance carrier waiting just outside sensor range,” Captain Raymes replied. “I put a signaling device in the bay. As soon as you’re in range, the carrier will lock onto our signal and pull you in. Then we make the space jump—and we’re clear.”
Meg, meanwhile, surveyed the newcomer’s face with alarm, then astonishment. She reached out and touched his beardless cheek. “Ethan?”
He flashed her a quick, preoccupied grin. “Hey, Meg.” Turning, he waved to the astounded children. “Howdy, guys. Jason, you’re a lot taller than I remember.”
“Care to explain?” Meg interrupted.
“I lied to Dad,” Ethan said, his gaze fixed on the controls. “I had to, to protect both him and myself. My wish to join the Kordon Alliance was a cover for my real mission. I joined the resistance.”
“And used my code to erase your records,” Dr. Brewer snapped.
Ethan cast his father an apologetic glance. “I had no choice. If they had those records, they could trace me. I would be caught within days. I scrambled the activity, so it would take them some time to trace the deletion to your code. Enough time to make plans.”
“And the Taxil blueprints? Was that you too?”
“No. The Kordon Alliance itself planted that evidence, as leverage against you, and as misinformation for the resistance.”
Dr. Brewer flushed. “So it’s been you and the Alliance, playing secret tug-of-war over me for…what? Months?”
“Dad, it was only a matter of time before the Alliance drafted you anyway. Your knowledge is too valuable. I’ve been planning your escape to the resistance for half a year now.”
Dr. Brewer threw his hands up in the air. “What if I don’t want to be on either side?”
“It’s too late for that, Dad,” Ethan replied soberly. “The times will force you to choose.”
At that moment, the craft shuddered and a powerful force, like magnetism, drew the craft toward an invisible source. Ethan let out a whoop, then relaxed visibly and ran his hands through his short, dark hair.
“Dad, Meg, family,” he addressed them all, expansive with victory. “As of this moment, all of us have officially gone ghost. Welcome to the resistance.”