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 The Only Thing That Counts

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Anthony van
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PostSubject: The Only Thing That Counts   Thu Oct 26, 2017 5:13 pm

Chapter 24- The Codes                   

 

Sleep was restless and dream filled for Steve. He heard Jimmy snore and snort and he remembered one dream about driving an old car and the steering column started to twist as he lost control of the car. He wasn’t concerned that the car was navigating independently of his efforts. When hands shook him awake his first reaction was to curl defensively; the past beatings already scarring his psyche.

“It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s just me.” The words sent his mind back to McGuiness –‘okay’.

When he eventually convinced himself that it wasn’t some absurd twist in his dream, Steve blinked open his eyes.

“Who?” he croaked throatily as his blurry vision gradually cleared.

 “It’s me, Sean, I’ve got to talk to you.”

“Sean?”

“Corporal O’Grady.”

Steve sat up still groggy having had little sleep, and unsure who was waking him.

“What is it?”

            “I left you guys and decided to find out what happened to Miss Roberts,” began Sean. Steve leaned forward anxious to find out about Kelly. What followed was Sean O’Grady’s harrowing account:

After leaving the dining area, Sean made his way past the Infirmary and through the sparsely populated barracks. He found a private that was part of Kelly’s escort and learned that she had been taken to the brig. It was a purpose built metal pod that Klein recently had added. It was to serve as a deterrent for any in his community that might have ideas of opposing his authority.

“Klein is down there too,” was the warning that made his approach slow and cautious. Using a back entrance which connected to an exit passage to the lunar surface, he arrived and stopped out of sight around a corner from the cells. He was there in time to hear the Colonel lay down an ultimatum.

“You have one minute General Roberts. If you don’t give me those access codes your daughter will begin to feel some pain.”

“You craven coward Klein! You can’t get me to betray my country, so you threaten a helpless girl.”

“That’s forty five seconds; the point is she’s your helpless girl... I’m a pragmatist.”

“Don’t listen to him Dad!”

“Thirty seconds.”

“You wouldn’t dare... those codes are designed to safeguard the use of Transit 1’s space weapon system.” There was a slight pause.

“Fifteen seconds.”

“Colonel, you’ll get the firing squad. Give it up while you still have the chance.”

 

“You old fool Roberts! Time’s up.” He grabbed hold of Kelly’s hand as she was restrained by Shelley’s vice-like grip. Involuntarily Kelly screamed as her finger cracked. The piercing wail was followed by soft moaning and whimpering, “Don’t worry Dad.” The agony experienced by Kelly and the emotional trauma of Guy Roberts tore at Sean.

“She has more fingers General, quickly where are the codes?”

The General sobbed, “You scum Klein...” before he finished Kelly screamed again.

“No, no,” sobbed the General, “Behind the picture hanging in my office.”

“No Daddy, don’t,” Kelly was weeping from the unbearable pain, from the feeling of failure and from the humiliation of her father.

 

The Corporal strode in hoping to intervene with a germ of an idea. He burst around the corner, “Colonel, I heard screaming.”

“Ah, yes corporal. An unfortunate accident... would you take Miss Roberts to the Infirmary. I believe she is in a great deal of pain.” The Colonel and his lieutenant locked the cell and placed two infantrymen to stand guard. Jostling past Sean and the stooping and distressed girl as they moved roughly by him in the corridor, the two officers departed hurriedly in another direction. Immediately Sean led Kelly away along a different corridor.

He began comforting and consoling her as she cried softly, tears of hurt and despair trickling down her cheeks. Devastated by the flagrant violence, Sean spent several hours with her as the doctor X-rayed, straightened and then put a cast on her broken fingers.

 

            “That’s the ugly story,” Sean almost hissed, then finished by heaving a sigh. “I’m sorry this has happened. What can we do?”

Callously Steve responded, “You’re asking me? Has all this caused a change of heart?” He knew it was a silly question. Steve wanted to be cautious, but could see no motivation for Sean to conspire with virtual prisoners who have no freedom of movement, and who could just as easily remain incarcerated.

“You could say, I’ve just been shocked into reality. I have been trained to obey my orders, but when my senior commanding officer has been put in jail, and his daughter tortured, well let’s just say morality has to come in somewhere. I can’t believe it. Klein’s an animal!” he grated.

Steve nodded.

            Jimmy stirred. He had been sound asleep while Sean had quietly related his tale. Their voices had steadily risen up to the corporal’s last exasperated outburst.

“What’s up?”

Steve reviewed the story briefly for Jimmy’s benefit and explained the presence of their new ally. Jimmy fumed. He was all for storming the officers’ residences and retaliating with force then and there.

“Just settle down Jimmy.” Steve was trying to be the voice of reason, but he was as incensed as anyone. “If you just rush in there, more than likely you’ll get yourself killed, get us locked up, and they’ll be free to do what they please.” He stood and paused before trying to sound forceful. “No, we’ve got to seem compliant, weak, even dispirited and we need to plan. We’ll only get one chance to do this right. Come on, let’s get ready and then we’ll visit Kelly before we have breakfast.”

            Sean went to freshen up and said he’d return in an hour to ‘escort’ them. Steve and Jimmy showered and found clean casual clothing in the drawers. It was military in colour and style, but comfortable nonetheless. They didn’t have to wait long before O’Brien and Vaughn released them from their room and headed to the Infirmary, collecting Jodie (who had obviously been forewarned by Sean) on the way. Steve had a list of questions for Sean but couldn’t compromise him in front of Private Vaughn.

            At the Infirmary they were informed that Kelly had been led back to the cells as she was considered a security risk. Jimmy was wild, clenching his fists and Sean had to draw his sidearm in a display of force to calm him down, demonstrating that he would not tolerate any breach of his authority.

            Directing the group to the dining area they breakfasted sullenly. Jimmy was seething, Steve was formulating ideas and Jodie was trying to get the full story as Sean had just woken her and told her they were visiting Kelly. She felt in the dark about the strange moodiness pervading the meal.

            “You people are a barrel of laughs today,” was the brief observation of Phil Vaughn as they carried their dishes to the scullery window and headed off for their work detail.

 

            “What’s going on?” mouthed Jodie surreptitiously to Steve as they went downstairs by twos. “Later,” was all he could manage to mouth in return, but his face managed to communicate that something was up. Down in the Plant Domes Corporal O’Grady was contacted by a superior and sent Jimmy along with Vaughn to help a female engineer with extending the Solar Panel Array. This distracted Jimmy a bit as he had to suit up and work outside.

            When the three of them were alone and transferring developing leaf cultures to punnets, Steve volleyed off his first question.

“How many people are loyal to Klein?” Jodie turned in shock at the question, and then followed the interchange.

“Hard to say... probably about twenty...”

“So how many others are there?”

“About another two dozen, but I don’t think you could count on active resistance from more than a few of those; Doc Rose and his nurse might lend a hand. They were pretty mad at what happened to Miss Roberts.”

Jodie intervened, “What happened to Kelly?”

“Oh, sorry Jodes, I should bring you up to speed. Or maybe I should let our new friend Sean tell you.”

            Jodie looked expectantly at Sean who reiterated his gruesome account of last night. Steve watched Jodie taking in the details, responding with horror at the brutality, but still being strong enough to communicate compassion to Sean who expressed shame and guilt at being associated with such barbarity. Steve’s own precarious emotional state moved him as he recognised Jodie’s warmth. She looked refreshed. Her dark hair shone. A sad look was in her eyes as she listened to Sean’s story. He just wanted to take her in his arms and hold her, to walk with her hand in hand, to brush her lips with his own and declare his deep feelings for her. But he couldn’t. There was no normality, no self in his plans now. There was survival and there was the fight against the tyranny and inhumanity of Colonel Klein and his mad plot.

            What could they do? That was the theme of their talk through to lunch time. At lunch time they met up with Jimmy and Phil. Jimmy seemed excited about sharing his experiences of being in the near vacuum of the lunar environment, working at extending the considerable proportions of the Solar Array, but there was a preoccupied look about him.

            The afternoon consisted of more planting out. Phil was instructed to add some liquid fertiliser to the irrigation system and monitor the watering of each row of plants. The conversation drifted to how a loving God could allow such a state of affairs to develop, how evil could prosper. Steve tried to recall his father’s discussions about the Sovereignty of God.

            “I think it goes something like this,” he explained, “God is in overall control; ultimately everything works out to His ultimate will. But God allows us to exercise a free will which means that He permits people to obey or disobey Him; to choose to follow or rebel. In the short term that means people can choose to not do the Will of God and reap the consequences of disobedience. Those consequences can affect all, guilty and innocent alike.”

“That doesn’t explain natural disasters and babies dying and poverty and all that,” Jimmy contested.

“Well, sometimes it does, but I remember my father saying that he believed creation was like a living entity, and that it was affected by man’s rebellion against God. So disease, natural disasters and random accidents are allowed to occur as evidence of a fallen world.”

            Steve continued, “You know the converse is true. If God always intervened to control events in people’s lives that would remove some of their choice, freedom and self-determination.”

“I wouldn’t object. If God chose to protect me from some of life’s harm. I’d be happy.”

“Yeah, but if God coddled everyone, we wouldn’t recognise our rebellion and need of Him.”

Jodie interrupted, “You know, I don’t think you can explain why God does something unless He explicitly tells you in His Word. You just have to accept that He will work out His Will, that He allows stuff to happen and that His Grace is Sufficient for believers to cope with everything that happens.”

            Steve smiled, “Okay, so I was giving my opinion. Jodie’s right Jimmy, a bit of scripture never goes astray, hey?”

“So we rely on God when things get tough?” Jimmy suggested.

“Rely on God all the time,” added Jodie.

“You guys sound like my parents,” said Sean, and then continuing with, “which isn’t such a bad thing.”

            After finishing planting out they walked through the various domes and then went on a visit to the fish ponds where a lone soldier was depositing pellets and a mixture of some ground kitchen leftovers into each pond. While they were there shutters began closing on each of the domes and they moved slowly through the artificially induced twilight.

            Seeing their questioning looks Sean explained. “It’s part of the station’s day-night cycles. It helps with sleep routines and, because the shutters are covered with solar cells, power collection is supplemented when they’re closed.”

“They use batteries?” Jimmy asked.

“Some, but most is water electrolysed into hydrogen and oxygen. It’s then available for hydrogen cell electricity generation or for combustion.” Jimmy nodded, having heard something similar from Steve.

“Er, where do they store this fuel?” Steve asked a little nervously.

“Yeah,” smiled Sean, “There’s a hundred yard tunnel to the gas storage facility. It should be safe.”

            “We haven’t decided how to rescue Kelly,” blurted Jimmy louder than he meant to.

“Shhh,” Steve and Sean both looked behind them instinctively, before Steve said, “It might be best to work out how we’re going to stop Klein first.”

“We can’t just leave Kelly in a cell.”

“We can’t alert Klein that he’s got any resistance either. If we get caught that will be the end of any surprise attack.”

“What are you saying? We should leave her there? What about the General? If we get him out maybe we can rally support to overrun Klein and Shelley.”

Steve could see Jimmy was determined and he tried to defuse his fervour. “Look, why don’t we sit down and talk about it tonight and see what we can come up with.”

Jimmy seemed placated and no more was said about rescue operations.

            At dinner the growing uprising gained momentum as Sean introduced the three plant nursery workers to Doc Rob Rose and Penny Wells the infirmary’s nurse. He also explained that Phil was aware of the growing unrest and said he was with them, especially after he’d heard from Penny what had happened to Kelly.

            Low key discussions were not very fruitful. Most ideas involved the risk of sounding out support of the various crew of the Moon base. Other suggestions related to sabotaging Transit 1 or drugging food or water supplies. The essential finer details were absent, and the likelihood that anything would come of these ideas diminished with each criticism or contrary point of view.

            The dissension at the table drew some attention from other patrons and Jodie suggested they calm down a bit. The doctor was paged to the Infirmary so the others took a break and grabbed a coffee or tried to talk casually in smaller groups. The doctor arrived back a little flustered and they all drew near to hear what he had to say.

“They’ll be going sometime tonight or in the morning. A couple of the guards came in for some mild sedatives for motion sickness. They use it to allay the nausea that sometimes comes from weightlessness.”

“So we have to move tonight,” Steve steeled himself to stare around the group and gauge their reactions.
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