Janis

Janis 04

 

Janis walks into her superior’s office, snaps a sharp salute and sits, hands folded in her lap. “Ma’am, you wanted me. Sorry to take so long.”

Major Mbomio studies Janis and takes long moments to respond. “How are you doing?”

Janis frowns. “Ma’am?”

How are you doing?”

Janis almost whispers, “OK.”

Mbomio leans back in her chair, throws a pen clattering onto her desk and stares at the ceiling. “None of us are doing OK. How are you doing?”

Janis looks down. “Crap.”

You’ve logged over 270 hours in the last three weeks.”

Janis shakes her head. “It’s never enough. We’re not… We can’t…”

Mbomio sighs. “Janis, we’re not superhuman.” She leans forward, elbows pushing files aside. “Joyce will remain in a mental institution for months probably. Marchant attempted suicide last night. We can’t train people fast enough and budgets are tight.”

Marchant? He’s…?”

He’s alright – just. This is all confidential. Between you and me. I don’t want him retired on medical grounds unless that’s what he wants.” She sighs again, shoulders slumping. “I’m putting you on sick leave. Two weeks starting now.”

No! That leaves only you.”

Look, you are burning out and I need you. You work too hard; you care too much – a combination that leads nowhere but into a black hole. No one but no one keeps tabs on everything like you do. Who worked out that the aliens were at Wrangel Island? By pulling you out I give you a break and put pressure on the funders. We need more staff.”

Shit … no. There’s too much going on.”

Mbomio narrows her eyes. “Spit it out.”

Sigma Squad … what are they? Some sort of private army operated by high command? Then there’s Doctor Chaucer – something is not right there. He seems to have an agenda.” Janis wrings her hands, one leg wrapped tight around the other. “Then there’s Athabasca. Something weird. I can’t put my finger on.”

Your job is to collect data on alien behaviour and organise the experts studying it. What’s all this about?”

Janis taps her nails on the chair and looks away. “Things are not right.”

You want me to send you on R and R to Athabasca or something?” Mbomio’s sarcasm is lost on Janis.

Yes … yes. Good idea.”

Mbomio rises. “Coffee. What bugs you about Athabasca?”

Don’t know. Except … it’s not camouflaged as well as the newer bases.” She leaps up and turns a screen round. After a few taps she says, “Look, ma’am. Look at the aerial images. It doesn’t take a huge leap of imagination to say that looks like a base. Why hasn’t it been hit?”

It’s the smallest base on the planet and has only one flight. It’s hardly of strategic…”

Janis interrupts. Her words suddenly clipped and decisive. “Maybe there’s something there the aliens want. It’s also the base where more personnel than anywhere else have deserted PHALANX.” She lifts a phone and dials, frowning, lips pursed. Janis waits for a response. “I need to speak to Aguirre. This is Lieutenant Janis Dupcek UN Intelligence. Get him to contact me immediately.”

Mbomio fills the coffee machine. “I am very worried about you. You seem to be a little paranoid and over-excitable.”

The phone rings and Janis snatches it up. “Yes?” She frowns. “Sorry, Brigadier, Lieutenant Dupcek here. I’ll pass you over.”

Mbomio takes the handset, says to Janis, “Coffee,” and speaks into the phone, “Brigadier?” After a moment she puts the handset down. “You were right about Wrangel. Sigma Squad took heavy losses. The place was wrecked by a vast explosion.” She lifts the phone as it goes again. “Dupcek? Yes, she’s here.”

Janis takes the handset. “Aguirre … yes, drop everything. Use the seventh protocol to enter the records of Athabasca base. I want to know about food, supplies, water … anything coming in or going out. Measure it all against personnel there and see if it all tallies. Yes, now. Your whole team.” She pauses for a moment. “Thanks, Aguirre.” Looking at Mbomio she says, “If you want to find the truth look at the bedsheets.”

You just gave a civilian access to the records of a whole UN base…”

Your problem is? You do it.”

You spy on me!”

Janis puts the cups down, turns and takes Mbomio’s hands. “Spy on you? Don’t be daft. I don’t need to. I know you.” She shrugs. “Besides, you are the only person in PHALANX in whom I have total trust … faith … believe in.”

And this Aguirre is…?”

Maths is the greatest weapon in the world. Always carry a loaded statistician.” She sniffs her coffee. “I don’t need this. I’m going into reception and sleeping under my jacket. I have a feeling things are going to get busy.”

Mbomio laughs. “The couch in reception … in the broom cupboard is my blanket. Use that.”

~

A low voice, deep and with an African accent gently cuts into Janis’ dreams. The sharp scent of coffee does the rest. Janis, curled up to fit the confines of the couch, pulls the blanket tighter. Her eyes open. “Ma’am?”

Mbomio holds a cup. “Double espresso. You’re going to need it.”

No … I’m going to sleep for ever.”

Not when you hear what your friend Aguirre has found: cod roe. Lot of it going to Athabasca.”

What?” Janis groans, wipes sticky hair from her face and sits up. Mbomio is kneeling on the carpet and still holding the coffee.

Your man Aguirre and his team are shit hot.”

I know this. Hey, thanks for the coffee.”

They’ve been conscripted.”

You did what?”

My turn on the couch. You’ve slept five hours and our world has changed a bit, Captain.”

Janis shakes her head and tries to wake up fully. “Captain?”

Shove over; I need to sit down. I’m too old to kneel. I’ve been speaking to the brigadier, the general and Mikka Lehtonen.”

Janis slides to one end of the couch and sits hugging her coffee. “Captain … really?”

Mbomio lands with a heavy thump beside her. “Captain Dupcek. Despite their losses Sigma Squad did a splendid job on Wrangel Island. You came up with a gem there; an alien people-factory or something. The brigadier also thinks there’s something weird about Doctor Chaucer. It appears you have been impressing people right, left and centre. I don’t think this is a promotion to shut you up. I think this is genuine recognition. Incidentally, our pathetic trickle of funding has just become slightly less pathetic. Command wanted to send recruits for me to train. Instead I’ve conscripted Aguirre and five of his team.”

Janis groans again. “Ma’am, slow down. I’m not awake yet.”

No chance. Aguirre is still sending information. He’s quite a catch and thinks laterally. It’s not what has been ordered for Athabasca through its own budget that is what you are after. It’s delivery companies’ records. Osmium, lead, sodium and cupro-nickel. Some brass, titanium, carbon steel, Semtex and nitrocellulose are on their way too. Machining tools to the cost of nearly a quarter of a million… Oh, and there’s the little mystery of cod roe.”

Can I just die on the floor?”

Yes, after you’ve gone to Athabasca. You are going there ostensibly to interview one of their staff. The brigadier has ordered a saracen to take you there now. Sigma Squad are at your beck and call.”

Uh … do I have to eat cod roe?”

Cod roe is not, and never was, on the canteen menu.”

~

Janis pulls the collar of her down jacket tight around her and speaks into her wistcomm. “Brigadier, interview over in Athabasca. It’s pretty here, trees and fields… How far away are Sigma?”

His soft Scottish accent comes back, “About an hour. You want them closer?”

Don’t know. Really don’t know. Some people are being a bit too helpful and friendly here; giving me a private room, wanting to show me around, entertain me, keep me away from deliveries – I think. I may be paranoid.” She sighs. “There seem to be distrustful people too … and openly hostile ones. I think I can trust both those groups. I think some don’t like intel officers around. Maybe we need someone more undercover.”

Sadly impossible. You’re all I’ve got available for this.”

I’m taking a walk outside of the base at the moment. How are the scans of this area coming along? The base is too small for the things ordered. Stuff is coming here and I can’t see where it could go. Cod roe for instance. No one eats it. Machining tools. No one needs them.”

Speak to Mbomio. She thinks the materiel is for weapons development.”

Will do, over and out.” Janis sits on a rock and lets the sun warm her face. Exposing the wristcomm again she tries to reach the major but is forced to go to voicemail. “Ma’am, can’t hang around much longer. There’s no real reason for me to be here and I think people … wait … odd. I’ll get back to you.”

Janis pretends not to watch the road leading from the town to the base. A van and light lorry passed along it but stopped behind a small wood. Janis came that way in her hired car but can only remember trees there. She wonders if there’s some camouflaged secret facility she missed. She can’t imagine why the vehicles would stop except to unload.

Rising, she strolls towards the base. The van and lorry still don’t emerge. Going to her car she pulls a small rucksack from it and heads towards her room. The road and trees are hidden from her now. “Ah!” she says to herself, leans against a wall, counts to a hundred and walks instead to the base entrance.

The van and lorry have pulled up beside a small electrical substation outside the main gate. Revealing her comms again she says, “Major, respond, respond.”

A moment later the major’s sleepy voice says, “Dupcek?”

I’m heading towards the electrical substation at Athabasca base. Someone in the compound is watching me and stopped a delivery until I was out of sight. I’ve caught them out. Nobody unloads that much stuff into this substation – it’s not big enough. There is some facility there underground. Hang on a moment…” Janis looks at a man approaching her at a brisk pace. “Yes?”

Ma’am, it is not safe to go into there.”

Opening her bag she draws a revolver. “You are under arrest.” She points the gun at his legs. “I won’t kill you because I want information. Just don’t try to run away.” Turning to the entrance guards she calls. “One of you cuff this man, keep him secure and send me two more guards on the double. The other come with me.”

Looking bewildered a guard cuffs and takes the man away. The other guard hefts his rifle. “Orders, ma’am?”

How often do vehicles turn up over there?”

Just a couple. It’s maintenance. We’ve had trouble.”

Maintenance it is not. Come with me and be ready for some resistance. Is there something underneath it?”

Maybe. A shelter​? I don’t know. This was an airfield two years ago.”

She leads him to the van and a man and woman unloading packages. Flashing her ID she says, “Captain Dupcek UN Intelligence. What is going on here?”

Just a delivery,” says the woman. She looks down at the box. “Osmium. This is the last of it. It stinks. Can I deliver it before I’m sick?”

A second man emerges from the substation. Janis calls, “Over here.” To the guard she says, “Search them and don’t let them move.” She frisks the woman. “Show me where you’re delivering.”

The guard shouts, “Hands on the vehicle, legs apart.” Janis lets him get on with it while the woman dodges past a fire point extinguisher and heads down a steep narrow staircase leading to a wider hall with a steel door on the right. The delivery lies in jars and packets on the other side.

She asks, “Who are you delivering to?”

How should I know? I’m just a courier. Fuck, this stuff is so heavy.” On the floor she places the packet about the size of a building brick. It thumps and kicks up dust.

“What else have you delivered?”

Sodium in inert gas – in those jars. That’s all today. We only carry one dangerous thing at a time.”

You have all the paperwork?”

Of course.”

Janis studies the steel door. “That’s a serious piece of security…” The doorway at the top of the stairs darkens and a guard says, “Ma’am?”

Janis nods to the courier. “Up you go. To the guard she says. “Alert Military Police. There are some interviews to conduct. I want one of you down here with me.” She looks at the wheel on the door and gives it a tug. “Someone strong.”

Squeezing past the courier the guard thumps down the stairs, shoulders his rifle and grunts as he holds the wheel. “Help me with this, ma’am … please. I’m not a superman.” The wheel turns when they work together. He gasps with the effort of pulling the door open. “Another door … oh great.” The guard enters a short corridor and spins the next wheel. “This one is easy.” Opening the door he says, “Shit … gas. Thick air. I don’t think we should…” A searing beam cuts him in half, turning his midriff to carbon. His clothes blaze into ash swirling in the corridor.

A small humanoid alien with over-sized eyes turns its weapon on Janis. She sprints up the stairs, empties her gun into the glass jars, hits the fire alarm and dodges out as the sprinklers activate. She’s barely out of the door when the explosion lifts, spins and slams her against the lorry.

~

The calm of a hospital ward changes to the bustle of an ambulance as Janis is loaded into it. Smiling and nodding at the porter as he secures the trolley, Janis answers a call – using earpieces for secrecy. “Hello, Major. I doubt you need to ask how I am; I bet you have it all on your screen. I’m being transferred to a civilian hospital while they move the base. What have you got?”

What I have is the quickest-thinking captain in PHALANX. I’m glad you’re in one piece.”

Mainly. Most of me is black and blue. I am plastered in bandages. Do go on.”

This is not the first time we’ve suspected alien and human cooperation. This is going to be your job from now on. Only, do use grunts, squaddies – whatever you call them – more. Operating with insufficient support is less than ideal.”

Oh super. I was thinking of retiring. Actually … cod roe. That tells us a bit about aliens and how we can trace those on Earth. Anyway – you weren’t there. If that corridor had more squaddies in it I’d be dead and so would they. Back off or I’ll give you a slapping … ma’am. Tell me about cooperation.”

That reference to a slapping I will put down to you being injured and probably insane. Janis, look after yourself. We need you. Sadly we don’t yet know how people were tempted to cooperate as the people involved don’t know how it happened themselves. There’s a hint of telepathy or mind control. We’re getting shreds of evidence. That was a laboratory and weapons-testing facility. The aliens seem to be experimenting and testing our materials etcetera. Twelve aliens dead in that explosion. The blast doors were open and the aliens didn’t seem to have a protocol for safely storing all the explosive they had. Nasty. More than that: I suspect they may have been planning some sort of attack on the base too. They were heavily armed and had serious armour at their disposal. It’s hard to know what’s going on. Nine humans dead – the deserters you mentioned. Possibly some cooperators among them but there’s evidence that others were experimental subjects. At least one was killed using sodium-filled explosive bullets. Two were poisoned by the gas the aliens breathe. When will you be fit for work? It says two to three days on your medical report.”

Send a bird now. I want to research a certain person.”

Chaucer?”

The very one…”

 

©Gary Bonn: 2016

Parallel chapters 02

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