Iceman - Book Two

Rise of the Assassins

Wiliam Williams sat in the green room; there were two others seated on the comfy couches beside him. William ignored them, his mind totally occupied with the speech he would soon be making. They in turn appeared to take no notice of him, but Williams knew it was a nervous dissregard. They were well aware that he was a man that you got to know at your own peril, and that a while ago they wouldn't have had a clue who he was. That wasn't a critisism of them in any way, in fact for all his professional life Williams had done everything he could to be completely invisible. Not now: now he was almost as well known as some of the movie stars who sought his company. Where once his direct associates could be seated in a small room, now he spoke to millions: and to those multitudes he was the consumate politician.
If they only knew that he despised politicians; or maybe it was because they suspected: like a great number of people, he hated the way how elected officials changed opinions and attatched themselves to causes that were popular without the slightest embarrasment. Politicians said one thing and did another. They agreed with you and agreed with your enemies and then did something that would benefit themselves. He would never be that kind of politician; when he spoke he kept faith with what he said and and he would; until the world was back to rights again.
A young woman entered the room; she smiled at him. "Mr Williams we are ready for you.'

Sand and sea, Gareth was thinking there wasn't much better than this as he picked up a soda and lay back in the wicker chair. His skin felt dry: it wasn't, it was just the layer of moisture over his body vaporizing under the hot sun. He stared out past where the gentle waves broke and washed up the white beach: out to where Catherine swam in the clear blue lagoon. He felt warm inside and utterly content; this was living and life was perfect.
Reluctantly he pushed himself up from the chair; walked a few paces onto the timber verandah and into the shade. He slid back the tinted glass door: it seemed dark inside, and he blinked several times trying to adjust to the low light. "Computer," he said softly, crossing to the desk and sitting in front of the screen before squinting as it flashed brightly on. Instantly a holographic image of a man s face appeared. Gareth stared at the face as his mind stumbled out of lazy contentment to remembering the imminent election.
"… she promised it would be a whole new World," the man said in a bitter tone. "She told us our children were safe, but she lied…"
Gareth felt his peaceful mood slip away. "Delete," he snapped, but the man carried on speaking.
"Diseases from the distant past are filling our hospitalss: Influenza is attacking us in our homes and closing our schools in epidemic proportions each and every…"
"Erase," Gareth said forcefully as the only keyword that could remove the so-called pesky spam entered his mind. The image evaporated leaving Gareth tense. "Dammed junk mail," he muttered wondering why after all the years of technological advance no one had been able to eradicate the internet's scourge. "Messages, Gareth?" He tried to think of nicer things, and his eyes were drawn immediately to Carries nik; 'Glaciergirl'
He began to read the message with slight trepidation. Carrie and Julie were in their first week of term, and he was overly alert to a problem arising; but as he read his concern eased. The message was only to bring him up to date with her latest escapades. Reading on his fears were soon unfounded.
As he continued to absorb the contents: both written and implied; a feeling of warmth came over him. It still puzzled him: although in truth most things about Carrie were unfathomable; as to why she had returned to college; but Julie had made it seem such a sensible thing to do. Back before the doomed flight Carrie had been in her final year at school; achieving good grades; and in the process of deciding which university to attend, but a hundred years had negated everything. Ignoring the aliens and their enhancements, schooling had evolved to where now a basic education required a level equal to: if not higher than, what was once considered a university entrance qualification. What level was actually needed to get into university in this society Gareth had no idea.
After the shortest of considerations Carrie had eagerly agreed; readily admitting she was unaware of almost everything of the world they now lived in. It did seem logical, and a couple of years would undoubtedly bring her up to pace. In fact it had turned out that she was so keen that Gareth had come to be suspicious: as real fathers tend to, or as Catherine had smilingly pointed out, what fathers tended to remember of their own days as school boys. An incoming call popup drew his attention.
He clicked answer and stared, slightly surprised at the image on the computer screen. "Mar… Madam President. Nice to see you..."
"Mary."was the curt reply.
He nodded, but he didn't feel like a chat. "Catherine's still on the beach…"
Her image looked confused. "Beach… I thought you were skiing?"
"We were; we've stopped off on the African coast for a while. Do you want to call back, or shall I get her to call you?" Either way suited him as his finger hovered over the dissconect icon.
"No… actually it's not important that I talk to her… we can talk some other… "
Gareth smiled politely; his finger still hovering. "K; I'll tell her you called."
"Actually I did want to talk to you as well."
Gareths finger eased. "Me?"
"You don't have to look so surprised?"
He realised he hadn't swithched on privacy mode, and only slowly realised she was waiting for him to reply. "I assumed you wanted to speak to Catherine?"
"I do."
"Then are you sure you don't want me to get her to call you?"
"Not right now; we can talk later."
His aprehension intensified. "Talk? Is that for pleasure or business?"
"In politics one is often both; at the same time."
Several replies entered Gareths mind but he kept them to himself. "If it's work, Im not sure I want to remind her; it's the last thing on our minds right now."
"I'm sure it is, but it's on the minds of other people."
"So I'll take it; it is business?"
"I want her to tell me how she is?"
Gareth reluctantly smiled. "So your not going to tell me?"
"Politicians prefer not to give unambigious answers."
"A simple yes or no would be okay?"
"Nothing in the world Catherine and I negotiate is simple."
He had an answer for that too, instead he decided to change the subject, but he couldn't think of anything neautral. "So what's up?"
"What's gone is more the point."
He smiled, recalling Catherine mentioning the problem. "Another secretary is leaving?"
"You know Gareth I will never forgive you for taking Catherine away from me."
"Yes; you have mentioned that before."
"And I will continue to; until I get her back."
The thought crossed his mind to say that why would she want to? Being the presidents personal secretary wasn't the cushy job it sounded. "Well I can't speak for her on that?" he said in an attempt to be diplomatic."But I expect she will be intouch when we're back from our, honeymoon; next week: or later?" He felt a strangely pleasing sensation uttering the time frame.
"Next week can't come soon enough."
The sensation slipped away to be replaced by a slightly uneasy one. "Say something like that to her and she may be tempted to ask for an increase in her wages?"
Mary's expression didn't register a response. "Personaly I would give her twice as much, but Catherine is a salaried government employee, I have no control over her remuneration."
He felt like pointing out it was just the kind of smart arced excuse a politican would use, but didn't. Instead he followed with a flippant one. "So lots to do, eh?"
Her expression had still not changed. "Gareth you may not have a care in the world, but the world hasn't come to a standstill in your absence."
Suddenly he did. "Then if I had forgotten you have reminded me."
"You will be back in Brisbane exactly when?"
He didn't feel anything like making quips now. "In just a few more days."
"But you could also be back in just a few days less?"
His voice was challenging. "You want us to cut the honeymoon short?"
/;It doesn't have to be today, we can wait until…"
He interrupted her. "I suppose you're going to tell me the World needs me again?" he said sarcastically.
"No Gareth." There was a pause… "Leader One, Unit One does."
"What?" he said in genuine surprise.
Mary looked annoyed at having to repeat . "Leader One, Unit One wants you to meet with him."
Gareth growing annoyance evaporated; replaced by utter disbelief. "He wants to speak to me?"
"Yes; believe it or not: you?"
"Why?"
"There are a lot of very influential people in high diplomatic circles, who asked that very same question?"
"How do you know he wants to talk to me?"
Her face took on an affronted look. "Because I do?"
"Why would he want to?"
"It was his request… he didn't enlighten us on the actual reason?"
Gareth picked up on a hesitation in her reply. "But you must have an idea why?"
"It's nothing I would like to talk about across this medium."
"That's not reassuring; you can't be more specific?"
"Gareth nothing is secure… you know that, but I will say that our discussions with Leader One have arrived at a stumbling block..."
"A stumbling block?"
"A minor difficulty; nothing much in reality, but it was decided… that you should be involved."
"Decided… I thought I was?"
She was quick to respond. "He made it a requirement."
"Leader One?"
"You did seem to have a certain rapport with him?"
He hadn't thought of it that way before; but there was something; maybe pity. "Not that I was aware of?"
"That's not the impression he gave, nonetheless we decided to accede to his request."
"Well whatever the problem is, I can't imagine why he would ask to talk to me?"
"To be precise he insist's that you meet him."
A thought came into Gareth's mind. "Meet him; that's hardly going to be easy considering he's stuck in the life tank?"
"No."
Gareth spoke with no enthusiasm as he realised what was being asked of him. "We're talking about me going back up to the Mune?"
"As you have just remarked, it is impossible for him to come to the planet. You will have to go there."
It sounded like an order. "Your telling me I will have to?"
"Gareth I'm not in the habit of posing random suggestions; none the less you are a private citizen, but it could… it is important that we resolve the impasse."
"It's important that I go back up there. You do remember that last time I very nearly died."
"I am well aware of that."
"Then it should be fairly obvious that it's not somewhere I'm particularly keen to go again."
"I understand that as well."
There was a short silence that he felt compelled to break. "What does he want to see me for?"
"Gareth I have already said..."
"I was saying to Catherine," he said firmly. "We're having such a lovely time that maybe she should take a little longer off from work. She wasn't sure you would agree, but I told her you would… Should I tell her that's okay?"
Mary's image frowned. There was a slight hardness to her voice when she spoke. "Isn't that rather adolescent?"
It was but he didn't want to admit it, so he didn't reply.
Mary looked up and to the side in either resignation or for approval before she stared back at him. "For what it's worth you have got your privacy fully activated?"
He tried not to make his movements too obvious as he looked for the icon. "Yes."
"You are certain?"
"Yes; it's on," he replied impatiently as he activated it.
"You are aware of the hierarchical structure of the alien's wisdom paths?"
"Only in that age brings wisdom?"
"In principle that's what it amounts too, in reality age brings vulnerability, we know something of this from the occupation of the planet. In a nutshell the older an alien gets the more time it has to absorb knowledge and gain wisdom; consequently its individual influence increases. All the influential aliens arte, or were a great deal older than any of us, so we are considered: in their view, intellectually inferior?"
He couldn't help smiling at Mary's expression.
"You may be amused Gareth, but there are a lot of people in our political and scientific communities who object most strongly to being thought of in that way."
"I can imagine."
"And they are even more reluctant to accept the Iceman as their better."
"The Iceman?" he said unsure of what she was implying.
"To the aliens: and by their instruction to Leader One; in measure of birthdate, you are the oldest person on the planet."
It slowly occurred to him what Mary was referring to. "You mean being as I am a hundred and… as I'm the oldest human on the planet." A grin spread over his face, "It follows that I'm also the most intelligent?"
"No Gareth; both oldest and most intelligent by that criteria would be more accurately applied to Alex Hill; but Leader One is not directly aware of that fact."
It was slightly disappointing but he had to accept that. "But as far as Leader One is concerned, it's me?"
"Consequently there are things he will discuss only with a the most senior elder."
He breathed deeply. "That's it?"
"That's why he will talk only to you."
"And I just have to talk to him?"
"No, you have to talk to him for us; on our behalf."
He didn't want to say straight out 'then what do we have to talk about?' so he joked. "Hero to diplomat; does that make me a politician?"
Mary didn't appear to see the humour. "Gareth re-routed and scrambled, this is still a public medium. I can't discuss anything more; just make sure you make Brisbane your first destination… As soon as you return."
Gareth felt frustrated. "Mary, you call me up, lead me on and expect me to wait until next week for an explanation?"
"It doesn't have to be next week; but as you have made quite clear it's your honeymoon Gareth: you have a new bride to occupy your mind, so it could be understood if matters of world importance are of little concern to you; or to Catherine."
It was the casually added reference to Catherine that negated most of the entire sentence.
"But if you want me to go back up there, surely I have a right to know what's expected of me?"
Her words were dismissive. "The choice is yours; and of course Catherine's." Mary appeared to change attitude. "Speaking as an individual I can't expect you to race straight back, no matter how critically important it is, but obviously as soon as you can would be preferred: and tomorrow would be preferable; unless," her expression looked smug. "You would prefer me to talk to Captain Hill?"
The popup went blank leaving Gareth feeling extremely annoyed.

 

The car phone was insistent but William Williams still took his time to answer. "Williams," he said almost begrudgingly.
"Can I speak?" the caller replied cryptically.
"Yes."
There was hesitation as the caller seemed to wonder if they should continue. "An ideal opportunity to remove Vaughn has arrisen; I need you to confirm the details."
Instead Williams was annoyed; he had made his requirements crystal clear. "I said don't do anything."
"I know but this could be an ideal opertunity?"
"I have a solution that will be much more satisfactory than a funeral." He disconnected without waiting for an answer; his mind was thinking that revenge shouldn't only be cold, but long lasting as well.

Gareth had been reluctant to tell Catherine about the exchange with Mary; at least not straight away, but secrets so soon were not a good way to start their life together, so between his feeling of foreboding, and her strong sense of obligation a little over twenty-four hours after the phone call Gareth and Catherine arrived at Brisbane airport where a limousine was waiting to take them to the palace.
They had just made themselves coffee in the waiting room when the president entered. "Catherine," Mary said warmly, taking the younger woman in a dignified hug. Moments later she pulled away; held her in outstretched arms and looked critically at her. "You look well." She said in a fond way. "Now didn't I tell you, you needed a man in your life?"
Catherine glanced in embarrassment at Gareth, and was met by a warm smile.
"So how was the honeymoon; of course just the bits about the snow and the skiing. I heard the Ural resorts have been having wonderful powder this year?"
"The snow was wonderful," Catherine looked sheepishly at Gareth. "Though there are people who seem to prefer the lodge and an open fire."
"Ice and snow are things that I can get by without," he mumbled, believing he had good reason.
"Don't listen to him." Catherine passed off his comment. "Once I could get him out onto the slopes he's a natural."
Mary shook her head sadly. "Such a shame you had to return."
Gareth thought better of pointing out it wasn't entirely their idea. "Yes...," he said diplomatically. "but now we are here, why does Leader One want to speak to me?"
Mary looked disappointed, "But we haven't begun to talk about the honeymoon?"
"I'm sure you and Catherine will have plenty of catch up time, but right now I want to know why we had to rush back?"
Mary released Catherine's arms and her attitude became more formal. "Apparently he has a personal interest in you?"
Gareth smiled as if she had made a joke.
"No really. It appears he overheard much discussion about you before the aliens departed."
Gareth felt a strange feeling of uneasiness. "I assume not good things?"
"Did you know it was he who opened the cell?"
It had puzzled him who had. "No, I didn't know that."
"Not only did he release you, he alerted us and allowed the rescue shuttle to land."
A feeling of deep gratitude overwhelmed Gareth. "It seems I owe him a great debt."
"It would be true to say that you owe him your life."
Gareth could find no words to reply.
"I'll also remind you that facilitating your rescue was the first time any person from this planet was actually invited aboard, and while that in itself is unprecedented it isnt as unprecedented as the fact that we believe it was the first time a Leader One acted independently?"
"Independent… then what about the aliens?"
"What about them indeed? the truth is we don't know. All we do know is that we have never had contact with a Leader One as we have since your return."
"Then the aliens have gone?"
"I've just said we don't know; but we have had no contact with them in that same time, so we are assuming such."
"You've asked Leader One?"
"In a round about way."
"And?"
"We recieved no answer."
"Then why don't you just ask straight out?"
"Gareth in negotiations you don't ask point blank questions."
"That's one I though you would have?"
"There woiuld be no point; he won't respond to our questions: he just issues demands."
Gareth grunted his displeasure. "So what happens if I were to go up there and find the place is crawling with aliens?"
"Without using such blunt words we asked if you would be safe and Leader One assured us you would."
"Well he would wouldn't he if an alien was holding a gun to his head?"
Mary sighed. "Gareth do I need to remind you he let you go?"
"And now he could want to correct his mistake?"
Marys voice tightened. "I said before I can ask captain Hill. Tell me now if you have made up your mind and you can go and Catherine and I can talk about something more peasurable?"
Gareth looked at Catherine, her expression told him that that was what she wanted. He knew that all he had to do was say he didn't want to, but he couldn't. He hesitated and her expression saddened. It was on the tip of his tongue to say call Alex, but his lips stayed shut. He looked at Mary: her expression was of expectation; she and he knew that Alex and Katrina had already risked their lives for him: true they had taken him to his probable death but they could have stood back. He couldn't ask them to put their lives in danger a second time because he wanted to stay safe. He looked again at Catherine; she knew now that he couldn't say no.
In the end it was Mary that made the decision that he couldn't. "If things … Are not as we have been led to believe we don't intend to do stand idely by and do nothing."
"I guess this puts me in the history books?"
"I don't get your gist; you already are?"
"I mean the first person in the human race to go onto an alien spacecraft; twice?" He smiled.
Mary looked at Catherine. "Your not that special: Catherine can claim to be the first, though of course not by choice."
"We're forgetting the children: it wasn't their choosing either." Catherine said sadly.
"No; I realise that you were at the end of a long line of abductions; but that time is behind us and you are the very beginning of a change. You Gareth are front and center to all this change and that why we cannot let these negotiations fail."
Gareth looked at both women: especially at Catherine, as he thought on all the problems he had brought with him. "I seem to have been in the wrong place at the wrong time all my life."
Mary nodded, "Or the reverse, without you things probably would not have changed?"
"I doubt that, sooner or later someone else would have attacked the antenna; and maybe they would have suceeded?"
Mary nodded. "That may or may not be right, or what the cost would have been; either way we will never know. But that is not what we have to consider at this time. Gareth some of the best diplomats in the world have tried to convince Leader One to talk to us, but he won't. Neither can any of them imagine for a moment what reason he had to see you survive: he must have had a reason and maybe this is it?"
It seemed too absurd to Gareth. "He knows he calls the shots, maybe he's just toying with you."

Mary looked at him. "We're talking about someone who has had every shred of humanity taken from them, and you think he's playing a joke on us?"
"Probably not."
"We can't get into his mind maybe you can?" Mary stared at him as if she was expecting him to reply. "However you put it, it's beyond doubt that for some reason he saved your life and that's the only card we have left to play."
Gareth shrugged. "At the time I wasn't thinking of anything but finding Catherine, and both of us escaping. I was just glad to get off and back to Earth."
"That's understandable."
"If I had known I would have thanked him."
Again Mary nodded. "And now's your chance."
"Theres no other way…"
"The life tank, I would have thought it quite obvious?"
"I know, I was hoping maybe you were being over dramatic."
"No."
"But he asked you by link… couldt I…?"
"Actually he didn't contact us that way: nobody but you have ever had a direct exchange with a unit, nevermind a Leader: never. We we're sent a text message."
"Text, what on a phone?"
"That's the ususal way."
For a moment Gareth nearly laughed. "Your serious?"
"Yes."
"When folks back in my time talked about alien contact it wasn't by text."
"There is a movie in the motion picture museums about an alien phoning home?"
It seemed only he found it amusing."Then maybe it wasn't Leader One who sent it?" he said hopefully.
"If you mean is it some kind of set up; we did think of that. The satelite data all checks out."
Gareth was deflated; it was his only line of argument. "Look Mary, that place doesn't have particularly good memories for me… for us."
"Nor would it for any of the children."
There was no reply, so he didn't.
"Gareth I totally understand how you feel, but he can't and won't leave: we have no other option but for you to go up to meet him."
I was worth one last try. "So we can't talk by phone?"
"Gareth we need his cooperation to get the children back, he's not going to let them go with a pretty please over the phone, and besides we don't want anybody listening in."
"Anybody?"
"I shouldn't need to remind you that the aliens are still out there. We believe that at the moment they are waiting out a quarantine. Transmissions to or from the spacecraft can be picked up, and if the aliens were to assume there was a collaboration who know what they would decide?"
Catherine interrupted anxiously. "It could be a trap?"
"We have considered that, but what for?"
Catherine looked at Gareth, "Like Gareth said, maybe they want him back?"
Mary shook her head. "Release him and then want him back? If the aliens are still in control that doesn't add up, but it makes sence if Leader One is genuine." She looked at Gareth. "Sorry, but the reality is that Gareth isn't and wasn't the leader of any uprising, to imprison him again just doesn't make any sense."
Gareth reached over and took Catherine's hand. "It hurts my pride to admit it, but Mary's right; at least I hope she is."
Catherine smiled back at him. "Maybe, but none of this explains why would Leader One suddenly have begun collaborating with us?"
"Not completely," Mary agreed, "But don't forget that Leader One was once a child from Earth."
Catherine reached out to grip Gareths hand. "If we have the chance we have to do everything we can to get the children back."
Mary nodded. "It is our highest priority to get Leader One to release the living ones."
"Living?" Catherine let go of Gareth and stared at Mary. "I thought they were being brought down? Wasn't that the whole Idea? Get them to medical facilities, get them reunited with their families?"
Mary nodded slowly."That was the plan, and that is also the problem…" She looked uneasy. "You already know that emergency medical teams went up. They did what they could, and made decisions on repatriation. Beds were readied and teams of doctors and nurses were on standby back here on Earth, but Leader One refused to let the children leave. The doctor in charge insisted; he filled the spacecraft and flew off. Everything went well for a while…I'm told it was a dreadful experience…" Mary looked visibly disturbed. "It seems the aliens don't entirely wipe the children's long-term memories, only lock them out of reach. Once the children are removed from the alien environment and the Nanonites are deactivated, long term memory resumes." She looked at them. "Do you know what happened to the children once they were taken?"
Gareth looked at Catherine, he had a feeling it was something he didn't want to know.
Mary took a deep breath. "It was in fact far worse than we feared; though in hindsight possibly one that we decided not to consider. When the children arrived on the alien's ship; processed children met them. They were undressed and their clothes; along with any personal items were destroyed." She looked at Catherine and hesitated. "Their heads were shaved, and the hair was incinerated. The children were then fully immersed in an antiseptic solution; from how Leader One described it… something like a cattle dip…"
Gareth found what he was hearing hard to comprehend. "Leader One told you this?"
"No, not by him, but the rescue crew describe that they were told in a cold; uncaring way by some of the childr... units as if a mechanical operation was being explained to them, which in a perverted way it probably was." There was silence for a moment before she continued. "Permcaths were inserted for intravenous feeding: and." She looked at Gareth. "I don't know if it was the same term in your day, but a Permcath is a permanently introduced catheter, inserted through the flesh. The also had permanently fitted pouches for... body wastes."
Catherine had begun crying, Gareth was just stunned.
"They were given overalls and finally a cocktail of drugs which contained an extra powerful form of Nanonite. After that they were forced to climb into tiny chambers, where they were sealed in until the Nanonites had done their work." Mary's voice had taken on a distinct faltering. "We are quite used to the Nanonites, but these were of a different type. They make their way into the brain where they disrupt neuron activity to the long-term memory. From this point on the children can remember only what happened during the previous few hours." She looked at them, her eyes cold, and her words bitter. "Can you imagine? Can you even begin to imagine, what these children went through?" Tears began to run over her cheek. "Just think about… No... No don't think about it, I have, and it's driving me to despair. We did that to them... I did that to them... and may I rot in Hell for what I…" She could hold it back no longer and abruptly turned away as she began to sob. Immediately Catherine was at her side, arms about the woman, comforting her: crying together. Gareth stared at them wanting someone to hold him and drive away the images that fought to be seen in his mind. For some time, other than the sound of weeping there was silence.
At last Mary began again, but this time with Catherine's arm around her shoulder, she took a deep breath and continued. "Once away from the power source, the Nanonites release past emotions, and memories, and this is what happened to the children the recovery crew was attempting to bring back. Shortly after they left the spaceship they were in a traumatic state and the crew could do nothing but sedate them. At the time they didn't know what I have just told you, but they knew enough to realize they had to return the children back to the spacecraft. We have no treatment, and until we do: and as wrong we may feel it is, we must leave the children on the spaceship, where mercifully the Nanonites block off their memories."
Gareth was at a loss for words. Nothing he could think of saying seemed adequate. "So all the children are still up there?'
"As I said, all that are still alive… They had no imunity… The smallpox virus was very effective." For a moment Mary almost broke down again but she fought her emotions and continued. "Those that were… The ones beyond help have been brought back. We are trying to locate famil... but… It's not that easy… What I am telling you has never been made public, I… Maybe it should have; maybe it would counter the propogander about how better off we were under the alien rule that some people are spreading, but it isnt fair to deepen the grief that untold numbers of families feel. In fact very few people know the truth, and I for one think it should never be made common knowledge."
Gareth glanced at Catherine, she seemed too distraught to speak, and he didn't want to. "Does anyone know what's happening to them… the other children?"
"That's the reason you are here. Leader One communicated that some units… some children, are paramedics and are looking after the sick. He demands we supply him with drugs to completely eradicate the smallpox."
At last Catherine spoke. "That's all the help they have?"
"According to reports from the medical team, these children are first class paramedics. It may seem counterintuitive, children barely in their teens acting in a professional capacity, but we are dealing with a situation where all our preconceived ideas about children don't apply."
"They are still children." Catherine said firmly. "And I'll stick to my preconceived ideas."
"Of course they are," said Mary in a conciliatory tone. "Their bodies are of children, but their minds function in an adult way… no, not an adult way that implies they actually know what they are doing. They act with fully mature abilities."
Catherine rejected to idea. "When they have been stripped of emotions they can hardly act in a mature way."
"Catherine I'm not in any way condoning what has happened, but the reality is: like it or not, that the aliens expect them to operate the spacecraft. That means being forced to work three five hour periods, separated by two one hour breaks for meals, personal hygiene and replacing their ostomy pouches. Then they have a seven-hour rest and re-indoctrination period. That is their day; every day; seven days a week; three hundred and sixty-four days a year: and while we find it abhorrent, the aliens see it as perfectly acceptable."
Gareth could see the rage in Catherine; he interrupted before she could speak. "Judging from what I've seen here I know my idea of paramedics is outdated, but how can a thirteen year old have any idea what they are doing?"
"Thirteen is when they first arrive; many are older, though it probably makes little difference as the type of Nanonites they are implanted with create an organic wireless link in their auditory system so during the rest periods they can be instructed directly into their brain ready for the next work period. Depending on what is required, children can be… there no other word but programmed, to operate the space ships engines, be a paramedic or even ostomy pouch cleaners. But it must not be forgotten that all they have is a set of instructions, the information induced is simply a procedural one. Now whatever we think morally, or emotionally, children as young as they are certainly do have the dexterity, all that is missing to give them the abilities of doctors who have taken years of study, is a set of instructions."
It was obvious that Catherine didn't see it quite so clearly. "No; instructions are nothing without the compassion, or the intuitive or untaught things that doctors experience or give."
Gareth had become so used to radical ideas he nodded. "Basically they have become robots…?"
Mary looked at Gareth. "I think cyborgs is the word you mean."
He wasn't sure what he meant. "Whatever they have become, they are doctors carrying out treatments without any understanding of what they are doing?"
"No, they know exactly what they are doing, they just don't understand why they are doing it."
Gareth realised what had been troubling him. "Even though they have that knowledge, he wants help eradicating the smallpox?"
"Yes, knowledge is nothing without the appropriate tools."
"I must be missing something here; if the… If knowledge; instructions can be given that can make child… someone so knowledgeable howcome the smallpox hit them so hard?"
"I thought you … maybe you werent told, but it was because smallpox was eradicated back in your time. Simply put it was so long ago that it was forgotten."
"Forgotten; it killed millions of people."
"But not in our time: in history, and then other scourges came along. There simply were too many other diseases to conquer to spend time thinking about one that had been eliminated."
"Then we can't help them?"
"But we can, the centre for disease control has a stockpile of the tratment."
Gareth nodded his hope rising. "That the aliens don't know about?"
"No, and to be precise, neither did the centre. Decades ago: when the weapons research laboratories were being closed, it was probably sent to be destroyed. Don't ask me why but fortunately for us the sample too was forgotten. Very good fortune as it turned out, because when the aliens arrived it was just another historical disease that wasn't in any current medical publication. It was only rediscovered when the resistance began searching for a weapon we could use against the aliens."
"So they have no way to combat it?"
"Not exactly; When the virus was relased a wiki on what is basically first aid was made available."
Gareth could barely believe how Mary presented it as a perfectly acceptable way to fight the aliens. "And Leader One knows this?"
"He has access as everybody does to the Internet."
"Everybody… That's all that anybody even down here knows?"
"Gareth back in your time details of biological weapons were not made public. Not then and not now is anything that allows for any in-depth research to be released, and with no information all the paramedic children can do is treat the symptoms in whatever way they are told is best."
Gareth couldn't help the sharp edge to his words. "But isn't this what you planed and wanted; murdering children?"
Mary made little attempt to defend herself. "I said before that nobody has been onto one of their spaceships; consequently we were not aware of the extent the children were used; once we were it was the intention was that our medical crews would tend and cure, and they did: they had basic drugs, but that is a long way from the real treatment. That was to happen back here on the planet."
Catherine was softly weeping."Can nothing more be done?"
"We have sent up medical teams, made assistants from the children who seemed to have some immunity, and as I said we tried to bring the seriously ill back down: past that no."
Gareth was trying to hold back his anger. "This was always going to happen."
"Oppressed people do not have the luxury of choosing how they shake off their oppressor." Mary snapped back with unconcealed sarcasm. "They do what they can and then have to cope with the consequences, and one of those consequences is that Leader One will not allow us to move around the ship: we can't treat the children there, and we can't bring them here."
Gareth tried not to sound sarcastic. "And you want me to sort the problem out for you?"
Mary's voice became forceful. "Gareth, you have a special place in our society, but you did not save the world single handed, and neither will you entirely solve this problem on your own. At this moment, in this particular situation Leader One considers you above all the negotiators on the planet. I: amoung others, have serious doubts that he is right, and that makes you another consequence."
Gareth felt offended; but he could also see Mary's point. He replied by saying nothing.
"Whatever are the rights or wrongs of the situation we created and now find ourselves in I yet again have cause to wonder just why you have a unique ability to be at the center of things?"
Gareth tried to sound conciliatory. "Then think of it from my perspective. I'm the one that finds myself in places I don't want to be; taking decisions I don't want to take. I'm more than happy to walk out that door and never seem my name mentioned again until it's in my obituary…" He gave a weak smile realizing what he had said. "You know what I mean?"
"Unfortunately that isn't an option Gareth. As I have said Leader One considers you above all the negotiators on the planet: if he didn't we would not be having this conversation, instead we would be chatting over canapés at some social function." She stared at him, as if daring him to speak. "Leader One has requested all the microbiological information we have. He says he wants to set… units to research the disease. That is where we have come to an impasse. It has been decided to withhold that information."
Catherine was shocked. "But you can't; that's inhumane," she blurted out.
Mary's hard voice softened. "Catherine, if we let them have that information it could find its way to the aliens, and they could produce their own vaccines, and our advantage would be lost."
Catherine did nothing to hide her anger. "This is not a game of tactics; if you don't let them know more children will die. All the children will die."
Mary took a deep breath. "And that depends on if Gareth can convince Leader One to release the children so they can be brought here for treatment?"
Gareth had begun thinking ahead. "You realize the aliens could already be making a vaccine?"
"I have no doubt they are, but vaccines cannot be created overnight, and we won't make it any easier. There is no way they can obtain data, and without live virus they have a hard road to travel."
Gareth pointed out the obvious. "But they have live virus inside the children on the ship?"
"And in a place that is at this moment out of reach to the aliens themselves."
"Though not to Leader One?" he said slowly understanding what he was going to have to do.
"Something we must use to our advantage for as long as we can." Mary gave a weak smile. "…enter the Iceman. I have said before that their system is rigidly hierarchical. Leader One adheres to that system and sees you as the elder. He may reconsider his priorities?"
Gareth shook his head, trying to clear his brains and comprehend her words, and his place in them. "So now me being the elder is a good thing?"
"Amazing as it seems; and in this situation… yes."
"Putting aside that I have a thousand other questions, what am I supposed to do?"
"You are to convince him that he doesn't need to have live antivirus, instead to let us have access throughout the spacecraft."
Something in the way she spoke made Gareth suspicious. "I thought you wanted the children returned to Earth?"
"Time is esscential, treatment up there would save lives and suffering."
Gareth grunted in a contemptuous way. "And what if Leader One won't accept that and keeps on demanding live antivirus; or is already developing one, what's to stop him racing off into space and handing it: and me, over to the aliens?"
"Working on viruses is not something you can do at a distance; the aliens have seen the effects of contagion, and will stay well clear until they have a guaranteed way of controlling it. It will take time; time we can't waste."
"That's doesn't stop leader one zipping off into space with me while he creates one?"
"It's not our intention that Leader one goes anywhere."
"At least we agree on that. And I suppose that while I'm convincing him to do nothing, I have to find out if they are, and how far they are in any development?"
"And delay it."
"Oh...K..." he said his suspicion growing. "And what you're not going to tell anybody is?"
"You suspect an ulterior motive?"
"I don't want to sound as if I don't trust you… but back in my time what governments told you, and what they were doing were different things. What you are asking has no payoff?"
Mary sounded offended. "You're saying releasing the children isn't?"
"No," Gareth said defensively. "But after what you have said I don't think you believe he will release them to me?"
"You want the truth… then I doubt it?"
Gareth looked at Mary; he hadn't expected the admission. "Then if we both can't see me convincing him; it's all a waste of time?"
Mary looked at him expressionless. "Nothing we do is a waste of time; the fact that something is tried and doesn't work is still progress." She looked between Gareth and Catherine. "The fact is Gareth that you are correct; we do have a last resort plan. It's almost beyond doubt that the aliens have instructed Leader One to find a vacine whatever the costs, and the fact is that after all I have said that we don't know what facilities or technology they can use, or how quickly they can get a result."
Gareth was baffled. "So what's the point?"
"The point is that the spacecraft mighnt as well be the otherside of the galaxy; we can't get onto it." She looked directly into his eyes. "But you can."
Gareth looked at Catherine but she looked as equally confused as him.
"We have an opertunity," continued Mary, "To ensure that whatever advantage Leader One has gained, is negated. You will be carrying a vial of live Pneumonic Plague."
"Plague?" said Catherine puzzled. "What's Plague?"
Gareth's jaw had dropped. "The black death; it wiped out half of Europe in the Middle ages."
"That was Bubonic Plague, it was spread by contact; pneumonic on the other hand can be weoponised much easier."
"You can't be serious?" Gareth said with a calm barely hiding his rising anger.
"When the pussy footing is over; it's war Gareth."
"It's genocide; and those children, and children on any other ship will be part of it. How can you even think of doing that?"
"What I'm thinking of Gareth, is keeping the freedom that the billions of people on this planet have won back."

As Catherine and Gareth left her office Mary's intercom began to buzz. "Yes what is it?" she said sharply.
The temporary receptionist sounded nervous. "There's an urgent call from your re-election campaign manager; madam president."
"Put him on a secure line."
There was brief pause before Frank Haige answered. "You need to see the news feed immediately."
Mary said nothing as she reached towards her monitor; her hand gestures activating the screen. In less than three seconds she was staring at a man making an animated speech; behind him was a banner proclaiming the Reunification League.
"… promised us that things would get better, but they haven't." his words were delivered like an evangelical preacher. "Our children … our elderly are dying of illnesses and disease that we once believed had gone forever: she lied to us. She promised us that security would be by the people for the people; but we are less secure than we ever have been, and at the same time government agents and their policies are entering every facet of our daily lives. Schools are closed, open meetings are banned and..."
Mary switched the feed off. "Your getting it all?"
"I'll have a transcript to you immediately he's finished, and a rebuttal soon after."
"Who is he?"
"A William Williams, I've requested a full fact file and analysis on him."
"What's his pitch?"
"He's just been elected the leader of the league and says he's going to be president no less."

It was the usual bunch of passerby's: office workers, the odd stopped driver and housewives doing their shopping, who looked anxiously as the police cruiser pulled up beside the small group of bystanders. As he opened the door and slid off the seat the police officer looked around, hoping a parent or guardian would came forward; but no one did. It pissed him off how people made calls and thought that, that was the end of their civic responsibility.
He had no idea who had made the call, but it stood to reason that it was one of the faces looking in his direction, and there was more than one relieved face. Intuitively he knew it would be the usual: once the police arrived they could feel they had been good citizens and be on their way, he wished he could do the same.
It made little difference whatever they did or didn't do; someone had reported a distraught child who claimed to be lost? He stepped away from the vehicle trying not to make it obvious that he wasn't really interested: lost kids were a pain in the backside, and the one they were trying to console looked old enough to know where he lived. That's all he needed; some kid wanting to punish his parents and waste his time. It was almost the end of his shift and now he had become involved there would be be paperwork, and phone calls to make; and maybe even having to drive all the way across town to take the kid home. It was all too much of a hassle; but he had no choice, the boy was sobbing hysterically and people were watching and looking in his direction expectantly.
"I don't know what's wrong?" said a woman trying to console the child as the office came up beside her. "I offered to take him home, but he just dropped to the ground… I don't know if he's ill or not?"
The policeman wondered that if she had been that concerned why hadn't she had called an ambulance, and it could have been them here instead. He knelt on one knee beside the boy. "What's the problem son?"Still sobbing the boy slowly stood: the policeman didn't. The kid was obviously upset and he didn't want to tower over him.
The boy took his hands from his face and stopped crying almost instantly. There were no wet tear tracks and he looked at the policeman unemotionally.
The policeman was confused and began to stand. He was just past a crouch as the boy produced a long kitchen knife from inside his shirt. With a vicious slash he made ten centimetre gash across the policeman's throat.

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