The Hades Connection
by Gabriel S. Timar
part 1 of 2
The last things George Pike remembered about his life on Earth were the suntanned, streamlined, naked body of Lynn, the report of a gun, the bullet hole in the wood paneling, and his blood on the white carpet next to the black towel.
The next thing he knows, he’s being welcomed to the Third Dimension, where he has a choice not only of afterlifes but of accommodations and a new body, as well. George signs up with Hades, Ltd., a corporation that seems to be the best of a dubious lot.
George very much enjoys being welcomed by Arabella, who is not only highly efficient but something of a race car driver. And yet she has asked one question he cannot answer: how he died. Neither he nor anyone else seems to know. Now George must meet the head of Hades, Ltd., a certain Mr. Lucifer... and prepare himself for a career as a double agent in interstellar intrigue.
I thought I had broken the critical chain of events leading to the Great War on Khomu. However, I realized that I had not. Nobody had gained anything from the Phoenix massacre, and my bloodless settlement of the affair might not have the desired impact. If I wanted to prevent the war, I would need to learn more about the events leading up to it.
My only sources of information were Garfield and Fedorov. These youngsters had studied history in school and probably knew more about the Great War than what we had in the database on board “Baby.”
After the terrorist scare, the NUTS conference restarted. With a couple of Ranger battalions guarding the facilities and the Air Force patrolling the Arizona skies, the delegates were safe. I did not participate, but Esther was occasionally present, creating the impression that we were monitoring the activities.
While the committee was working on the practical details of the job, I retired to “Baby” and had Fedorov land on the Moon. I needed time with my young subordinates to learn what exactly had led to the Great War on Khomu and how I could prevent the catastrophe from repeating itself.
They recounted the events with reasonable accuracy. In the end, we managed to put together a timetable of what had happened on Khomu. Most likely it was applicable to the events unfolding on my world.
Garfield helped a great deal, since she was younger and had studied more history, but Fedorov had survived the war as a child and had some invaluable first-hand information.
We established that immediately after the Phoenix massacre, the U.S., Russia, Canada, Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and the newly reborn Austro-Hungarian Empire formed the so-called Northern League. There was an election campaign going on in South Africa, where the major issue was membership in the League. Immediately following the election, they applied to join.
Japan hesitated for a few days but signed the declaration of affiliation at just about at the same time as South Africa, Kenya, Zimbabwe, and Malawi applied for membership. The European Community joined a week later, while some of the Arab countries remained sitting on the fence.
At the time of the approval of the membership of the African applicants, the Red Army of China executed a sudden, well-organized, and brutal coup d’état and installed General Chen Kuo as the chairman of their Politburo.
My task was simple. If I managed to break the chain of these events, I was sure I could derail the train of history, and my mission would be successful. If not, I would fail. Therefore, Luce might fire me and I would have to go back into the kaleidoscope. As only a few days had passed since I’d averted the Phoenix massacre, I hoped I had plenty of time. I was wrong.
When we got back into Earth orbit, I tuned to NBC and heard that the Northern League had been formed. The move was denounced by some Asian and radical Arab countries; otherwise, uneasy peace prevailed on the international scene.
From the latest reports from the NUTS conference I concluded that everything was going well, but public relations were sputtering. The extraterrestrial connection did not receive enough media coverage. None of the major news organizations treated it as straight news; they just claimed allegations by a variety of sources.
As far as the orbit decay and the remedies were concerned, the media coverage was even thinner. Obviously, the establishment wanted to keep it quiet. I understood why. If they made it public, together with all the scientific conclusions and supporting data, the ensuing panic would be extremely difficult to control. The stock market might collapse, and the doomsday prophets would have a field day. People might stop working and buying; they would start drinking and using drugs. Law and order might collapse completely.
Another extended session with Fedorov and Garfield did not yield anything useful, although I learned that, on Khomu, China pressured Japan into leaving the Northern League before the war. As soon as that was accomplished, Chairman Kuo announced the formation of the Rising Sun Alliance with the wholehearted support of the Japanese government. We had to prevent the exit of Japan from the League. It was unnerving that the events did not follow the Khomu schedule exactly but reached every major milestone. I found only minor differences in the sequence of the events.
General Kuo’s coup d’état came much earlier on Earth than on Khomu. Actually the good general was supposed to take the reins in China shortly after the formal declaration of war. I was still suspicious; I was not sure that such minor deviations would really change the outcome.
As far as I could see, the beginning of the Great War was still looming over the horizon, rushing toward us like a runaway freight train. If I intervened in the war using the weapons and the maneuverability of “Baby,” I would accelerate the defeat of the Rising Sun Alliance. However, I could not stop Kuo from firing all his rockets with their nukes and deadly virus.
A cold chill ran down my spine. Did I have to fail? My head started aching; I wanted to take something for that, but when I stood up to go to the medicine cabinet, my legs gave out. I collapsed like a wet rag. I just had enough strength to press the emergency signal button and passed out.
When I recovered, I found myself laying on my bunk and Fedorov standing over me.
“Just a recurrence of your malaria, sir,” he said. “I gave you a shot of Mepaquin. You’ll be all right, sir, but for a couple of days you should take it easy. The fever will be going up and down.”
The word malaria triggered another trip into the memories of Captain von Vardy and put me back to the time of his return from Mogadishu to the United States.
* * *
The Hercules landed at the airport that used to be the international airport of Miami, but after the war it was only a landing strip in the middle of nowhere. Helicopters were standing by to take the passengers to an isolation facility constructed on the ruins of Fort Lauderdale.
The site consisted of a hospital, a tent city and a single building in the middle. This was the new Communicable Disease Control Center of America, as the old one in Atlanta had disintegrated in the ground burst of a dirty plutonium bomb. It would be impossible to get at the data or the equipment for at least twenty-five thousand years.
For about a week, von Vardy shared a tent with a couple of other officers, but he did not get to know them very well. One after another, they disappeared into the central building, which housed the victims of the Mogadishu virus. The crematorium attached to the main building was working at full capacity; the population of the camp declined rapidly.
A couple of Kenyan officers survived the disease and took over the management of the center. One of them, an elderly doctor, became the chief medical officer, while the other, Captain Umbegheni, took over command of the camp. The doctor developed a crude treatment of the disease by using immune plasma prepared from the blood of the few survivors.
When the doctor determined that von Vardy had the disease, he sent him into a two-bed isolation cubicle. The other patient did not last long, and for the Captain it was touch and go. He did not remember anything except the regular visits from the doctor who administered the immune plasma.
Von Vardy was fortunate in becoming one of the very few survivors of the Mogadishu virus. The doctor told him that the malaria-infested immune plasma saved him, and the price of his life was a dose of another deadly disease.
“It is a recurring condition, which tends to disappear over the years,” the doctor explained.
* * *
My first clear thought was that somehow I must stop Chairman Kuo from firing the miniature rockets carrying the active virus. How I could accomplish that I had no idea.
I thought: “the action must start now at the NUTS conference.” I sent a message to President Holdsworth, Ilya Kamarov, and Beau Park to come to Phoenix and make the big splash.
My timing was better than I expected. That morning, Japan announced its intention to join the Northern League. If history repeated itself, Chairman Kuo would mobilize his army and air force, and begin making threatening noises to pressure Japan into canceling its membership or leaving the Northern League.
As it takes about a month to mobilize a huge military force anywhere, I thought I had a fair chance of implementing effective countermeasures. I knew that the American Congress and the public were opposed to being nice to Japan, which they blamed for their balance of payments deficit and lost jobs, especially in the manufacturing sector. The trade unions were clamoring for sanctions. President Holdsworth did not want a trade war with Japan, but the pressure of the electorate, especially from his traditional supporters, was mounting. Under normal circumstances, he did not have many options, only the introduction of sanctions.
When I learned the timing of the big shots’ arrival, I had Fedorov land the “Baby” on the tennis courts of the Pointe and with Ensign Garfield I marched into the main building. Since the meeting was in recess, I met Esther in the lobby. She told me that Mike was in his office sending off his dispatches to the various news organizations.
Esther wanted to discuss something important with me, but the presence of Garfield seemed prevent it. Now, Ensign Garfield, with her knowledge of history, was the most important member of my team and I did not want her to leave. I told Esther to discuss whatever she wanted in her presence.
“Well,” Esther started, “it is very difficult to explain what has transpired. Strictly out of boredom I seduced Mike.”
“Congratulations,” I said. “I hope you both enjoyed it.”
“We did,” she replied. ‘”The trouble began when he proposed to me. I told him it was okay, but as my last fling I wanted to go to bed with you and him at the same time.”
“Sounds interesting,” I mused.
“It would be, I’m sure,” Esther said. “But Mike is such a traditionalist he wouldn’t hear of it. He said that from here on it was he and he alone.”
“What is your decision?” I queried.
“After a lot of thinking and soul searching I decided I would like to accept his proposal, if you don’t mind.”
From the corner of my eyes I saw the eyebrows of Ensign Garfield rise a little. Before I could have replied or said anything, Esther turned to Garfield: “I’m sure being with two men at the same time may be repulsive to you, Teri, but I happen to like it.”
“No,” Garfield replied, “it is not repulsive at all. In fact, I find it a little boring, as I prefer three or four to make things lively and interesting. What really surprised me was that he asked for exclusive rights. As you know, very few women survived the Mogadishu virus on Khomu, and the present ratio of five males to a female is not getting any better. Can they afford such luxuries here?”
Now it was Esther’s turn to be surprised. I decided that before they got into detailed discussions of group sex etiquette, I had better steer the conversation back to the real problems.
“We should continue this discussion in private, if you don’t mind,” I said.
“I have no secrets from Teri,” replied Esther. “The sooner we conclude this matter, the better I like it.”
“Aren’t you forgetting about the real Ann Forrest?” I asked.
“No,” Esther said. “I hope you can negotiate with her and find a solution to my problem.”
“How about the legs of a field goal kicker and the height of a sitting Pekingese?” I queried.
Finally, the imperturbable Ensign Teri Garfield seemed shocked.
“I can handle it, if you could talk to Ann Forrest for me. After all, she would be getting the better end of the deal, wouldn’t she?” Esther replied calmly.
I had to admit that she had a point. There was a reasonable basis for serious negotiations with Ann Forrest.
“Are you sure this is what you want?” I asked. “Is Mike that good?”
“Let me put it this way,” she replied. “He’s a diamond in the rough. I can turn him into the greatest lover of all times.”
“Good luck,” I said. “You have my blessings.”
* * *
Copyright © 2004 by Gabriel S. Timar