THE LAST FLIGHT OF ACE ARCHER, SPACE PIONEER!, Part 17

Last time on Ace Archer: While Caryn was having ice cream with “Jeremy Roth,” the secret head of Project Sagittarius, Ace Archer had a vision of the royal palace on Adastra… and a murdered Princess Cymbeline!

archerMY HEROES HAVE ALWAYS BEEN SPACEMEN

Chapter Sixteen

“Did you know that Raymond Chandler and P.G. Wodehouse went to the same British public school?” Caryn asked. It was one of her ‘conversation starters,’ which she had memorized several dozens of in preparation for this date.

Before Jeremy could respond with his own interesting anecdote about one of the two authors, however, his iPhone started chiming. The tune was a little familiar to Caryn, but she couldn’t place it.

“I… I’ve got to take this,” he said, but instead of just answering it at their tiny table, he got up and wandered off to the back hall where the restrooms lurked and turned his back to Caryn.

“Crap, this is going poorly,” she muttered to herself. Their first conversation back at the hospital had been so easy. Tonight it seemed like Caryn was carrying all the burden of flirt. She wondered if he had a wife.

“Jeremy Roth” did not, in fact, nor did he under his true identity of Toby Proctor. It was Toby who was speaking in hushed tones right now because the call “Jeremy” had wandered away to take was from Vera, his assistant at the Sagittarius Project.

“We’ve got a light on,” Vera said without even a hello.

“Which light?” Jeremy asked. “We’ve got a heck of a lot of lights.”

“The bad one.”

“Wait, the activation light? After twenty years of nothing, we’ve actually got an activation light?”

“Yes. And I am seriously underqualified to deal with this, Toby. I need you in here now.”

“Agreed,” Toby sighed. It looked like Jeremy was going to miss the rest of his date. He tapped the end call button and took a deep breath to center himself. It didn’t work; his heart was racing. There had to be a connection… Caryn Alexander starts visiting Ace Archer and suddenly the man is active for the first time in fifty years?

What was Caryn Alexander doing?

He returned to the table where she was finishing her ice cream but he didn’t sit down.

“I, um, I need to get in to the office. Emergency.”

“Oh,” Caryn said with obvious disappointment. Was she playing him? He knew she was up to something with Ace Archer, but he had no idea how much she knew about what was really going on. Did she know about Sagittarius? He had approached her… but she was smarter than she pretended to be. The crack earlier about hospital security had implied that.

“Look, I did have a nice time,” he said. “Can this be a rain delay rather than a washout?”

Caryn frowned thoughtfully. “What are you doing Friday?” she asked two seconds after the pause became uncomfortable.

“I…” Jeremy/Toby shrugged. Friday was two days away, who knew how far this activation incident would go and what he would be called upon to do in response. Lacking any answer, he shrugged and said, “I think I’m free.”

“Sweet,” Caryn said, pulling her own phone out of her Totoro purse. “I’m texting you a calendar event. It’s an art show. Meet there?”

Jeremy looked at the phone in his hand. “Fancy dress?” he asked as the packet of date data appeared.

“I think business cazh will be cool,” Caryn smiled, standing up (which only left him a foot taller, rather than the two feet he had on her sitting.)

“I’ll be there with bells on,” he said.

She reached over and put her purple-nailed hand over the phone in his hand. For a panicked second he was afraid she was going to take it, but no, she just covered the screen with her palm.

“No bells,” she said.

He chuckled. “Fair enough. I’ll leave it at home,” he lied.

“You so will not,” Caryn said. “But we’ll work on it.”

He awkwardly bent and kissed her cheek. He was already ditching her in the middle of their date, more would have been rude.

“Friday,” he said as he backed out of the Baskin Robbins.

“Friday,” she agreed with a wave.

With that, he turned and walked into the milling crowd. As soon as he was out of sight of the glass window with the flashing “31 Flavors!” sign, he broke into a run.

lewbar
Toby Proctor (having shed Jeremy Roth in the hurry to return to Columbia Presbyterian) burst through the door labeled Department of Media Relations. Three technicians were huddled in the monitor room next to Toby’s office. Vera was still at her desk, but it was obvious that she was only staying there through sheer force of will.

“Toby, thank God,” she said as he entered. She pointed at the red light on the antiquated console. It was a beige metal box built in the late seventies and it had two large black dials on it beneath the large red plastic light cover. Two punch tape labels were stuck on beneath the monitor light, retaped several years later with clear packing tape so they didn’t curl and fall off. They read simply, “ACTIVE FLUX” and “PLEASE ALERT SUPERVISOR IMMEDIATELY IF LIT.”

“You weren’t kidding,” Toby said absently as he slowly turned one of the dials all the way to the left then back to the right as far as it would go.

“I put Kunal and Matthew on compiling a full report from the health monitors as soon as it went on,” Vera said, nodding towards the technicians. “But apparently the subject pulled off most of his electrodes. I sent Dr. Owen, and by the time he got there, the subject had disconnected his drip and was trying to pull the PICC line out.”

“What’s his current status?” Toby asked as he pulled out an old white three-ring binder from the dusty shelf beneath the ACTIVE FLUX monitor.

“Sedated,” Vera said. “Monitors are back on, but we’re not getting anything unusual from them. There’s only about thirty seconds of results between the time the monitor light went on and when we lost cardiac and EEG.”

Toby pushed his way into the small telemetry booth. Kunal Dhar was in the seat, flanked by Matthew and Celeste. All three were poring over the paper EEG stretched out scroll-like in Kunal’s hands.

“Celeste, Matt, I need you out,” Toby said as he pushed between them. The two techs squeezed past Toby and were gone without a word.

Looking over Kunal’s shoulder, Toby saw thirty seconds of highly irregular brain activity. Delta waves were all over, far more active than they had any right to be. Even the electroretinogram results from the contact lenses they had implanted two years ago (without the subject’s knowledge, of course) were completely anomalous.

“This… this is unbelievable, sir,” Kunal said, unable to tear his eyes away from the monitor screen.

“You’ve got thirty minutes for a full report on the last hour’s worth of readings,” Toby said. “And this is not to be shared with the hospital staff. This is internal.”

“Y-yes sir,” Kunal nodded.

Toby pulled the paper from Kunal’s hands. “Print another, I need this.” With that, Toby beelined from the telemetry booth to his personal office, locking the door behind him.

At his desk, Toby put down the white notebook and opened it. There was only one page in it, a mimeographed list of names and phone numbers held in a plastic three-ring toploader. At the top of the page was the single word “URANIA.”

Toby picked up the secure office phone and dialed the first number on the list.

To be continued…

© 2013 by Douglass Barre, All Rights Reserved.

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