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Tangled Threads, Tangled Strings

by Michael J A Tyzuk

Table of Contents
Part 3 appears
in this issue.

part 4 of 11

“If that was the case then shouldn’t you have seen the dart sticking out of the victim’s neck?” Matt pressed. Gerald shrugged. “That depends upon the nature of the dart,” he answered. “There are micro darts out there whose stingers begin to degrade once they’ve penetrated the skin. The degradation is timed to allow the dart to be emptied before the stinger is completely destroyed.

“Without the stinger to anchor the dart to the victim’s skin it will simply fall away. The elapsed time for an evolution like this would be a matter of seconds. The victim probably wouldn’t even notice that it had happened, and if they did they would mistake the cause. They’d probably think that they got bitten by the local equivalent of a mosquito.”

“A really smart operator would take things one step farther,” Cyndi said. “The stinger would be coated with an inflammatory agent that would cause the area around the sting to itch and swell, just like what happens after a mosquito bite. We’ve seen bio terrorists use that kind of strategy before.”

“What about programming and conditioning the victim?” Kevin Renner asked. “I mean, if the implant isn’t being surgically installed then there isn’t going to be any time for the kind of hypnotic conditioning that the Rebels used on Detective Sergeant Morris. Whatever method they choose instead would have to take place within a matter of less than ten seconds, and I just don’t know of any methodology that’s readily available to the military that would allow someone to be programmed and conditioned that fast.”

“That’s where our other interesting discovery comes in,” Cyndi said. “After we detected the nanos and the puncture wound that allowed them to be introduced to the bloodstream, we began to investigate the nanos themselves. Preliminary scans seemed to indicate that the nanos contained some kind of chemical compound, which would be injected into the bloodstream while the nanos were breaking themselves down to construct the implant. We cracked open one of the caretaker nanos and analyzed the chemical compound, which we were able to identify as RNA.”

Half of the participants in the conference looked confused, while the ones who didn’t look confused muttered curses to themselves. “RNA is one of the two major building blocks of life,” Cyndi explained. “DNA is the physical component. It contains the blueprint that determines what physical characteristics each person is going to develop as they mature. RNA is the messenger component of the process.

“We weren’t quite sure what that meant, but Doctor MacGregor seemed to remember something that he read in the Imperial Journal of Medicine some time ago, so I performed an archive search of back issues. We found an article which described a theoretical process by which specific information could be encoded into RNA. The doctor conducting the research was of the opinion that such a procedure could be used as a replacement for conventional hypnotic conditioning for mentally ill or emotionally disturbed patients.”

“So, what you’re telling us then is that you believe the RNA contained within those nanos has been encoded with operational orders which govern how the victims act when their implants are triggered,” Rick Preston summarized.

“That’s exactly what we think happened,” Gerald confirmed.

“Was this research ever completed?” Rick asked.

Cyndi shook her head. “The Journal hasn’t published any articles on the procedure since they ran the one we encountered,” she reported. “According to the galactic net, the doctor conducting the research disappeared about six months after the article was published.”

Kevin grimaced and turned to Mike. “How much do you want to bet that he was kidnapped by the Underground and forced to complete his research?”

Mike shook his head. “No bet here,” he responded.

“Okay,” Tamara said, “so we have a new implant that’s virtually impossible to detect unless you’re in possession of some very specialized equipment, and a method of conditioning which is almost instantaneous. Now, the way I see it there isn’t a lot that we can do about the conditioning, but there has to be some way for us to rig up a portable scanner that will detect these implants.”

Rick leaned back in his chair and steepled his fingers in front of his face. “It’s a bit of a thorny problem, though,” he said. “As a practical matter, the smaller you make a scanner, the less resolution you get. There’s also the problem of data storage. A hand-held scanner can only contain a finite amount of data. Some of that has to be firmware for the scanner, and some of that has to be archive storage for sensor telemetry. Manipulating a scanner with sufficient resolution to identify something that small requires a lot of lines of code.”

“What about modifying an existing hand-held medical scanner?” Matt suggested. “The resolution on those is much higher than the traditional hand-held scanners used by Marines or by Naval boarding parties.”

Rick shook his head. “You’ll never get a hand-held medical scanner to operate at the kind of resolutions that you would need,” he protested. “It just can’t be done.”

“Tamara’s right, though,” Jeremy said. “There has to be some way for us to detect the presence of these things without resorting to transporting suspects all the way up to the Rising Star.”

“What about unique compounds?” Mike suggested. “Are the implants made of a specific compound that we can program the scanners to detect?”

Rick shrugged. “Sure, but the problem is a software one,” he answered. “The amounts you’ll be detecting are very small trace amounts. The scanner itself could probably detect them, but the operating firmware probably wouldn’t know what to do about it.”

“So, how long would it take to alter the firmware to flag trace amounts of those compounds?” Mike pressed.

Rick shrugged again. “It shouldn’t take too long, but we’re assuming that each of these implants is going to be identical. That may not be the case.”

“It’s a logical assumption, though,” Gerald interjected. “I mean, think about it. The base implant design would be exactly the same, but what happened when the implant was triggered would depend upon conditioning and which portions of the brain were being stimulated.”

“It makes a certain amount of sense to design several thousand implants with the same basic design,” Cyndi agreed. “They can always employ conditioning to achieve certain objectives.”

Mike nodded and turned to Rick. “Consult with sickbay about the composition of the implants and begin modifying hand-held medical scanners to detect and identify them,” he ordered.

“Aye aye, sir.”

“The idea does have a certain appeal,” Jeremy mused. “If we can get to a disturbance fast enough then we can use a scanner to determine whether or not the person behind the disturbance is under the influence of an implant. If they are then we can subdue them with non-lethal force and hospitalize them.”

“How difficult would it be to remove one of those implants?” Tamara wanted to know.

Cyndi and Gerald both grimaced. “That’s a tough one to answer,” Gerald said. “Those implants are pretty small. Certainly the operation would be beyond the capabilities of a civilian hospital.”

“A military hospital might be able to do it,” Cyndi suggested. “Specialist nanos could be programmed to destroy the implant and the caretaker nanos, but that’s just a theory. It might be easier to use specialist nanos to take out the caretaker nanos and then simply disable the implant without actually removing it.”

Mike nodded. “Consult with the Surgeon General on the problem,” he ordered.

“Before we go any farther with this operation,” Tamara said, “I’m going to need to contact my division lieutenant in Acheron City and get his permission to proceed.”

“Very well,” Mike answered. “Lieutenant Beach, please escort Detective Sergeant Tomson to Ready Room One and open a comm channel to the surface for her.”

“Aye aye, sir.” Tamara and Sandy got up and left the conference room.

“If there’s nothing else, then this meeting stands adjourned.”

One by one the crew and visitors filed out of the conference room until just Mike and Jeremy were left. “Something on your mind?” Mike asked.

Jeremy nodded. He leaned forward and rested his elbows on the table. “I’m concerned about something, yes,” he answered. “How well do you know Tamara?”

Mike leaned back in his chair and folded his arms across his chest. “Not very well,” was his answer. “I only dealt with her the one time, about eleven years ago. I helped her and Alan take down a fellow who was preying on homeless and transients.”

“That much I know,” Jeremy said. “The case logs are required reading at the Academy.”

“I didn’t know that,” Mike commented. “So, what’s on your mind?”

Jeremy seemed to steel himself. “You know that Tamara and Alan became lovers about a year after they started working together, yes?” Mike nodded. “It broke Tamara’s heart when she had to kill Alan. She’s been deeply emotionally troubled ever since, and I think that she knows it, and that she needs to do something about it, but she doesn’t seem all that interested in seeking treatment.”

Mike frowned. “You’re wondering about her stability,” he suggested.

“Yes, I am,” Jeremy said. “She’s been drinking rather a lot lately, and I know that she hasn’t been sleeping. You might have noticed that she looks more than a little exhausted, more than a little withdrawn. It’s taking every last bit of her personal will power to keep going, but that’s got to run out sooner or later. She’s going to collapse, and when that happens it’s going to be spectacular. I’m concerned about the state of her mental health and I think that it’s a mistake to have her on this case.”

Mike shook his head. “I’m the last person you should be talking to about this,” he insisted. “Have you talked to your division lieutenant?”

Jeremy nodded. “I’ve talked to him, and I’ve talked to Gerald, Doctor MacGregor. He’s known Tamara all of her life. They’re just as worried as I am, but they think that a little hard work might be just what she needs to get back onto her feet again. Besides, Gerald thinks that bringing down the bastards who created and released these implants will provide her with some much needed closure.”

Mike cocked his head. “They could be right, you know,” he offered.

“Aye, they could be,” Jeremy admitted. “But I don’t believe it for an instant. Do you?”

Mike had no answer to that question.

* * *

Mike and Jeremy entered Ready Room One and took the visitors seats in front of the desk. Tamara looked up at them with a smile on her face. “Boss man says the operation is a go,” she reported. “He has to get in touch with the Chief of Police and get his backing, but there isn’t any reason for him to say no.”

“All right, then,” Mike said as he reached out and tapped the intercom control. “Signals, Commanding Officer.”

“Signals, aye.”

“Have the flight deck prepare a shuttle to the surface,” he ordered. “I want the XO, the Tactical Action Officer, the Chief Engineer, and the Chief Medical Officer to meet me on the flight deck in thirty minutes.”

“Aye aye, sir.”

Mike closed the intercom channel and smiled at Tamara. “It looks like we’ve got some safe houses to hit.”

* * *

The operational planning for the safe house raid was largely done, and it was fairly late in the day so Mike and his officers returned to the Rising Star. The raid was scheduled to happen first thing in the morning.

Matt was piloting the shuttle and Kevin Renner was acting as his copilot. Rick Preston was sitting right behind the cockpit making notes on a datapad so that left Mike alone in the back of the passenger cabin with Cyndi. He told her about Jeremy’s comments regarding Tamara’s state of mind. “You were watching her during the strategy session,” he observed. “What do you think? Is Jeremy right to be concerned?”

Cyndi nodded. “Her depression is obvious,” Cyndi responded. “She’s holding on to a great deal of personal pain and guilt, but she’s not doing anything with it. Sooner or later she’s going to have to release at least some of what she’s feeling.”

Mike leaned back against his seat. “Is it fair to say that she will probably get worse before she gets better?”

“Absolutely,” Cyndi answered. “Mike, she’s repressing all of her pain. There’s only so much of that kind of personal, emotional abuse a person can take before they explode.”

“Do you think it’s a mistake to allow her to participate in this operation?”

“I think that there’s a potential for things to turn out that way,” Cyndi replied. “It’s obvious that Alan was very important to her. His loss was a great personal tragedy, and it isn’t unreasonable to picture her wishing to exact vengeance against the people who took her lover from her.” Cyndi grinned. “You set yourself up good with this one, didn’t you? Here you thought that you’d be doing her this incredible favor, making up for all the things that happened the last time you were here. You wanted to balance the scales and there’s nothing wrong with that, but you underestimated the power of the darkest of human emotions.”

Mike shrugged. “Well, it seemed like the thing to do at the time,” he defended. “You know, it’s amazing. Physical resemblance aside, doesn’t Tamara remind you a lot of Maureen? When I look at her I can’t help but see a picture of what Maureen could have been if she hadn’t found her way through the Academy.”

Cyndi was grinning now. “There is a definite resemblance,” she acknowledged. “Is that why you wanted to be involved in this, because you’re drawn to her the same way that you’re drawn to Maureen?”

Mike considered that for a moment. “I can’t deny that there is a tangible feeling of attraction,” he admitted. “When I’m around her I feel a lot like I do when I’m around Maureen, and that in itself is pretty remarkable because I’ve never felt about anyone the way I feel about Maureen.”

“They’re both cut from the same mold,” Cyndi observed. “You know, I remember the day you came aboard as Executive Officer. Alex Hansen was giving you the tour of the ship and took you to the bridge. He took you in through the aft access way, so when you came in the operations station was behind you and you didn’t see her waiting for you. You didn’t even know that she was there until Alex pointed her out to you.”

Mike smiled as he remembered that day. Alex Hansen was the engineer who designed the Rising Star class of Battle Cruisers, and he had served as the ship’s original commander. He was a long time friend of the Richardson family and had served with Mike on the Lexington, back when he and Maureen had first met. “Alex was quite proud of himself for that one,” Mike remembered.

“What I remember is the sudden difference in your morale,” Cyndi said. “Rekindling your relationship with Maureen cured you of a lot of the loneliness you were feeling, helped you rebuild your sense of self worth. You were a happier man when the two of you were together. It must have been difficult for you to have to put your relationship aside after Alex was killed and you were given command of the Rising Star.”

Mike nodded. “I don’t think that it was easy for either of us,” he observed. “I don’t really have any right to complain, though. Things have worked out well enough, and even if we can’t have our old relationship we still have a very deep and intimate friendship, and I’m thankful for that. I know what my life was like without her and I’m not too eager to live that way again.”

“And one day Tamara will remember what she was like when she was mourning Alan’s death,” Cyndi said. “The words Never Again will have a very special meaning for her, just like they do with you.”

“If she allows herself to get better.”

Cyndi nodded. “She’s the only one who can solve her problems.”

To be continued...

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Copyright © 2005 by Michael J A Tyzuk

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