Simon von Monkenstein stared at the comm in shock."Beringar," he called back into the body of the shuttle, "Get up here! Someone’s hijacked that big exploration ship the government’s built—with the President onboard!" He turned up the volume as Beringar came up behind him.
"The authorities have been unable to make contact with the hijackers. Here with me now is the Head of the Terran Defense Force, Admiral Philip Svensen. Admiral Svensen, ARE these hijackers going to crash the Chamberlain into the Earth, betting on your reluctance to open fire on the President of the World?"
"I assure you, and all our listeners, that I stand ready to defend the Earth, no matter what steps I have to take."
"But sir, are you actually going to kill President Bussard?"
"The President’s first consideration has always been the people of Earth.I am sure that he would approve of any measures I may have to take."
There was a snicker, as whispering broke out several rows back into the mob that had formed just outside the pilots cabin. "Bet she can’t make him come right out and say it." "How much?" "Reporters can get anyone to say anything, I’ll take a piece of any action." "No way, the Admiral’s a politician. If he actually said that he’d never live it down."
"You are saying that you WILL open fire on the President?"
Simon glanced up at Beringar, and then stared. He flashed a look around at the people crowding in to listen. They were excited and expectant. Not shocked. Not surprised. The shock he had felt at the news seemed to be getting worse. Not better. He abandoned the copilot’s seat, and grabbing Beringar by the arm, wiggled through the press of listeners.
"You knew this was going to happen!" Simon whispered, shoving Beringar into a seat half way back of the main cabin. "What did you have to do with this? What are you doing?"
Beringar shrugged off his grip and leaned forward, fixing his intense gaze on Simon, "Dr. von Monkenstein." He broke off as his chief aide, Ms. Stick, hurried over.
"Boss can we let that woman out now? I really don’t want to drug her any longer."
"Woman?" asked Simon, his voice was thinner than he had intended. "Drug?"
Ms. Stick glanced at him, "A nosy reporter. She seemed to know a lot. We decided to bring her along." She turned at a commotion from the rear. Ace Eonia shoved through the door from the women’s quarters. She was far from the stylish, businesswoman who had approached Beringar two days before. The sharp dress that had drawn so many admiring glances looked like it had been slept in. It also looked ridiculous over a poorly fitting skinsuit. With her hair in disarray, she looked like a wild woman. Her expression looked dangerous.
"You are dead meat!" She hissed to Beringar. "I’m going to see you sentenced to more years in prison than your familiar," She poked a rigid finger at Ms. Stick, "has been alive."
"What did you do?" said Simon, shifting his stare back to Beringar.
"She," unruffled, Beringar nodded politely to the furious woman, "shouldn’t have tried to dig into the comet project. I couldn’t risk letting anyone figure out what was going on."
"What is going on!" Simon clenched his hands around the arms of his seat. He had never before felt the urge to strangle someone. "What does the comet have to do with the Chamberlain being hijacked?"
"The Chamberlain?" Snapped the woman, glaring at Simon, "That big exploration ship of the governments? Someone’s hijacked it?"
"With President Bussard on board." explained Simon. "The media seems to think it’s going to kamikaze."
"Utter nonsense, of course." Said Beringar, "We should be rendezvousing with it in about two hours."
"Oh," Simon swallowed, grouping for comprehension, "Why the President?"
"Oh," Beringar waved that away, "That was just fortuitous. They won’t fire on the Chamberlain, with him on board. We figured we could get away fast enough not to have to worry about it, anyway, but the Buzzard’s speech simplified everything."
Ace Eonia sank down into the seat beside Simon. "Why?" Her fury was overridden by disbelief.
"Ah!" Beringar’s eyes lit with enthusiasm. "The Chamberlain was designed to explore the outer planets. To stay out for protracted periods. It carries enough fuel to exceed escape velocity, but even with a gravity assist, not enough for my purposes. We’re going to attach the," He nodded to Simon, "Venus high atmosphere ram scoop to her, and head for Alpha Centauri."
"An interstellar ram." Simon shook his head. "Your forward speed will be too slow to run it. Adding the mass of the Ram Scoop, you’ll never reach critical velocity."
"That’s why I’ve sent the comet on ahead." Beringar nodded smugly, "We’ll refuel there. That will get us up to speed."
Simon frowned, numbers running through his head, "Mine it for hydrogen. That would work." He said slowly. He glanced up puzzled, "But why didn’t you just build it yourself? Why this . . . this . . . insanity?"
"The government would never have allowed it." Beringar frowned in memory, "Any project they don’t control, they don’t allow. You were too young to remember the way they shut down the comet capture program. We were already thinking of interstellar exploration then. The first, and as it turned out, only, comet we moved, we made sure was headed for Alpha Centauri. I could see what was going to happen, and I didn’t let anything stop me. I’ll have a viable colony in another planetary system, long before the," He stared tight lipped at Simon, "human race debases itself through genetic hybridization."
Simon and Ace stared at him in disbelief. "Beringar, human genetic manipulation is forbidden. Outside of the Chinese experiments, the Cadre Militia and the United States Government Super Soldier project, nothing but medical fixes and a few minor cosmetic changes have ever been done." Simon choked, "You’re crazy!"
Beringar’s eyes narrowed grimly, "Dr. von Monkenstein, you are going to assist with the installation of the scoop. And then you will be returned to Earth." He froze suddenly, staring down the shuttle. Simon followed his gaze and felt his mouth dropping open. "What are you doing here?" Beringar choked out as the Reverend Vorp floated expertly up to them.
"I realized what you were doing, and decided to come." Vorp stated. He stood and stared at Beringar.
"I see." Beringar frowned, "indeed." He got up and moved to the front of the shuttle. Ms. Stick followed him, they started talking shooting glances backward at Vorp, who turned without a word and returned to the back of the shuttle where several people fairly bowed him into a seat.
One of the world’s most innovative thinkers and one of the world’s most able writers stared at each other. "Oh, shit," she whispered. "Pure Gene Poolists and religious nuts!"
"I think we’re in trouble," he returned. That seemed to be as close to ideas and words either of them was capable of.
The two of them formed a silent pool amid the ocean of excitement as Beringar’s shuttle maneuvered into the docking slots. Simon noticed that there were still five shuttles docked to the Chamberlain. The news reports from Earth had shifted from belief that the Earth was under threat to reports of the rescue of the stranded unconscious passengers aboard the press shuttles the mysterious hijackers had callously used to drive off the only ship that had managed to get near the Chamberlain. Oleg Ori had become an instant hero, as he refused to break off the pursuit. Ori was coasting now, waiting for a tug to bring him fuel and an extended range fuel tank. He wasn’t ready to give up yet. The Chamberlain’s need to match velocity with the ram scoop kept them within Ori’s range, but Beringar seemed confident of his ability to hold him off until the ram scoop was fitted to the Chamberlain. Once they had picked up the scoop, their large fuel resources could outlast any pursuit.
The shuttle jolted as it slid into the docking assembly.
"Won’t you come aboard my ship, Dr. Eonia, Dr. Monkenstein?" Beringar called from the airlock, his eyes alight with triumph. He led the prize crew through the airlock.
Simon floated in their wake, Ace Eonia following.
The one hundred and fifty people that had filled the shuttle, spread thinly through the bay, moving rapidly to assume their positions on the seriously undermanned ship. A one-woman welcoming committee was talking to Beringar. Despite her bizarre black and white coloring, Monk recognized her instantly. As she turned away from greeting Beringar, her eyes passed over him, then jerked back.
"Simon?" she asked, disbelieving.
"Hello, Mother," he sighed. "I was afraid I’d find you here."
"It was well nigh irresistible," she explained. "Nab a big government ship and turn it into an interstellar colonization project. And of course, I could get my hands on some highly controlled equipment I wanted, this way."
"Of course," Simon repeated, a wry smile on his lips. "I shudder to think of you doing something just for the fun of it."
He couldn’t help but remember a childhood full of happiness—and occasional quick moves. Happy was not how he would describe his life when she had finally been caught. To the authorities he was just property, to be sucked dry of information and discarded.
Ace Eonia had gone rigid at being introduced to ‘Mata Hari’; she clicked along behind them, now drinking in every word. Simon wondered what expose of the modern underworld was spinning through her head.
"Here’s President Bussard," May Huang opened a door into what was obviously a medical facility. Two men were strapped to beds. A groggy president was restrained only against floating away, not restricted in his movements. A second man appeared unconscious, his abdomen wrapped in gauze. A rather oversized man hovered around him.
"He looks like he needs a medic rather than a guard." Ace put in tartly.
"Leo is both. I thought you might want to see for yourself that the President’s all right."
Ace glared at her and shoved past. "Mr. President? Are you alright?" She switched her glare to the medic, "What have you done to him?"
"Relax, he’s just had a nice little nap. The gas we used is a close relative of those newer safer surgical anesthetics that President Bussard is always taking personal credit for developing."
"Hey," The President tried to sit up, "I signed the bill authorizing the money for the research didn’t I?" He blinked uncertainly at them. "What’s going on? Where the heck are all the security goons?" He looked around in faint disbelief, and spotting the injured man, "Well, there’s one of them."
"Mr. President," Ace jumped in quickly, "You’ve been kidnapped by Richard Beringar. That woman," she nodded at Mata Hari, "hijacked the UEES Chamberlain. I think she was hired by Beringar. He snatched me off of LEO3, just yesterday. I am Doctor Abigail Clementine Eonia, I’m a reporter for the Los Angeles Underground Press. With your permission I will say as close to you as I’m allowed. You can count on me for anything."
Bussard goggled at her, "A reporter? On my side? Well, that’s something new." He peered around her at the other woman, "You don’t look like a hijacker."
May Huang stepped up and shook the tethered hand he held out in reflex. "How do you do, Mr. President. Call me May. I apologize for the inconvenience, but your presence on board ensured that we were not fired upon as we left Earth orbit. We have no designs on your person nor on your government. We will send you back to Earth as we leave Venus."
The President stared at her, "Wow." He glanced around, "What did you do to everyone? After they keeled over, that is."
"We put them on some of the press shuttles and left them to be picked up."
Ace snorted, "After you tried to ram Oleg Ori’s shuttle with them, you mean."
"Ram?" said Bussard, "Darn! I slept through all the exciting stuff!"
Simon, who had listened in silence, and reluctantly come to the conclusion that either the President was still under the effects of the drug or that the press was right to portray him as a complete idiot, finally spoke, "Does Beringar share your intension of returning the President?"
"Yes," May Huang was definite. "He simply wants to leave the solar system with his colonists. He has no further political statement to make, and realizes that to harm the President would ensure pursuit."
"Leave the Solar System?" Bussard was puzzled, "To go where? Can this ship go anywhere else?"
"Beringar is the leader of the Pure Gene Poolists. He wants to establish a human colony on one of the planets of the Alpha Centauri system." May Huang shrugged indifferently, "I think he’s nuts."
"But you’re still working for him?" Ace sneered, "I suppose you’ll have a high position in his government?"
"I’m not going. I rather like it here." Huang frowned as she glanced at Simon. "I’m more interested in why you’re here, Simon. I didn’t think Beringar was taking any ichimps with him."
"I don’t know," he replied, "He just insisted that I come see to the scoop installation personally. Of course, I thought he meant installed in Venus orbit and tied into all the magnetic anchors there."
May Huang’s eyes narrowed, "He may have felt he needed a handle on me." Her fingers tapped on the Presidents bed frame. "We’ll see." She cocked her head at him, "Look out for yourself and get out of this mess anyway you can."
"And what about you? If you’re right he’ll pull something."
"Don’t worry about me." She turned to the President, "If you’re feeling well enough, I’ll show you to your quarters."
Ace jumped in, "Why don’t you let him stay in Space Force One? Its got all his clothes and things there. His own bathroom." Ace barred her teeth at May, "And it’s private."
"True," May admitted, "Do you two want to stay with him? Or perhaps," she turned to the President, "I should ask if you wish to stay aboard your own craft and whether you want anyone else aboard."
"Um, sure," said the President. "What makes you sure we wont just fly away?"
"None of you are pilots."
Simon looked up sharply at that.
"And I’ll be altering the locking mechanism on that docking assembly." She twinkled a bit at the President, "You’d be in big trouble, if you left now. There’s not enough fuel to get back to Earth. You’ll need to loop around Venus to change course back to Earth with out using much fuel." He wrinkled his forehead doubtfully. "Trust me on this. It will work much better this way." She looked at the medic, "Leo? Would you escort the President to Beringar? I’ll take care of those little details with Space Force One."