tagSci-Fi & FantasyThree Square Meals Ch. 101

Three Square Meals Ch. 101

byTefler©

Professor Friedrich strolled into the cafeteria and nodded to another scientist in a white lab-coat, who was a shorter, considerably wider gentleman. "How are you this fine morning, Doctor De Vries?"

"I wish I was still in bed," the squat researcher grumbled, as he cast a dubious eye over the food on offer for breakfast. "Haskins ordered us up at the butt-crack of dawn to work on Virus Z460. Apparently, we're running behind, but I keep telling him: you can't rush art!"

"You have my sympathies," Friedrich replied, grabbing a cup as he started to hum happily to himself.

De Vries turned to look at his colleague suspiciously; Friedrich's happiness invariably meant a great deal of pain for someone else. "You're in an awfully good mood, Xavier..."

"I'm beginning the first round of testing today... I can't remember ever being this excited before!" Friedrich confided, a broad smile on his face. "It's always such a thrill to experiment on new Xeno subjects and these are so rare!"

De Vries smirked and shook his head. "You Xeno-biologists are all alike when you get a new toy to play with, but all that testing is so... messy. Now virology, there's an exciting field!"

"If we're talking messy, what about the clean-up operation after your human trials of that Rogan's Rot strain?" Friedrich asked, giving his colleague a knowing smile.

"Hah! Alright, you got me there," De Vries conceded with a chuckle.

Friedrich fumbled for his security pass before managing to get his fingers under control, then swiped it across the front of the coffee machine. "Look at me, I'm as nervous as a virgin bride on her wedding night!"

"Have fun popping your cherry," De Vries chuckled, then grabbed a limp-looking wrap from the refrigerated shelf and took a big bite.

Friedrich picked up his steaming cup of coffee and took an experimental sip, then winced at the foul assault on his senses. "Ugh, the coffee here is rancid..." Smacking his lips to get rid of the bitter aftertaste, he tapped the comms interface on his wrist, a grim-faced man appearing as a projected hologram a few seconds later. "Sergeant Green, would you be so kind as to prepare our guests for me."

The special forces soldier nodded. "We'll get started right away, Professor."

"Excellent. As soon as the Xenos are prepped for exploratory surgery, you can begin your interrogation," Friedrich said with satisfaction. "We need to find out everything she knows about John Blake."

"Yes, Sir," Sergeant Green replied grimly, before snapping off a quick salute.

Friedrich ended the call and grinned at De Vries who was dabbing at a bit of ketchup on his shirt. "It's going to be a momentous day for breakthroughs, I just know it!" he said jubilantly.

"Let's hope some of your luck rubs off on Virus Z460," De Vries said with a weary sigh.

Giving his colleague a wave goodbye, Friedrich left the cafeteria and strolled out into the corridor beyond. There was a light coating of dust over the floor from all the particles in the air, stirred up with all the expansion to Tartarus base over the past several months. Friedrich frowned at the floor in irritation and silently thanked the inventor of force fields; if not for them, he'd never be able to maintain the sterile environments he needed.

***

Jade watched with narrowed eyes as the black shuttle made slow but steady progress towards the broken fragment of Ganymede. It was the second largest remaining piece of what had once been Jupiter's biggest moon. Ganymede had been obliterated centuries earlier during a rogue AI rebellion, the Terran Federation fleet bombarding the moon until it broke apart, causing untold devastation and shutting the AI down permanently.

That Weber had initially fled towards Jupiter had been an intriguing development, as the huge gas giant was uninhabitable, the planet's surface covered in raging storms. Jade had strongly suspected he would be running for Tartarus base, which couldn't possibly be located on Jupiter itself. That meant that his destination would be one of Jupiter's many other moons, but only Io, Europa, and Callisto were populated with conventional starbases. Jade had come to the conclusion that one of the other tiny moons was their most plausible destination, so it therefore came as quite a surprise when Weber's shuttle abruptly changed course for a remnant of Ganymede.

The Nymph was almost afraid to blink, as she knew that if she lost sight of the craft, it would be impossible for her to find with her own shuttle's sensors. Both vessels had been specifically designed to avoid detection, devices built into the hull dissipated energy from the ships, dropping their sensor profiles to almost nothing. There was a huge jutting section along the side of the shattered rock and she watched intently as the black shuttle swept around the protrusion, then coasted into a dark fissure in the side of the massive asteroid.

As much as Jade wanted to wait for John and the girls to join her, she couldn't take the risk that Weber would order her Lenarran sisters put to death to cover his tracks. She tilted the flightstick back slightly, lifting the nose of her shuttle and aiming for a small rocky shelf approximately fifty metres from the concealed hangar...

***

The Raptor's nose tilted upwards, retro-thrusters firing along the underbelly, and the engines blazed with an incandescent orange light as the gunship rocketed skyward. As they raced away from the Citadel and Terra's surface, John floated up in the blue anti-gravity field with Alyssa and Rachel following close behind. The brunette darted past, dropping her Reaper Cannon and Paragon helmet on the floor as she wrapped Dana up in a fierce hug.

"Alyssa told me what happened... are you alright, baby?" Rachel asked, with a look of concern on her beautiful face.

Dana gave her girlfriend a wan smile. "Yeah, I'm okay. Let's give Jade some backup, then we can talk later..."

John could see Dana was trying to be brave and his heart went out to her as she bit her lip and glanced his way. They made eye contact and she shook her head slightly, that look telling him everything he needed to know.

He leaned in to place a gentle kiss on her cheek. "We'll make sure Jehanna and the Nymphs are safe, then we'll talk, okay?"

Dana nodded, then leaned into the hug with Rachel, the brunette murmuring loving words in her ear.

John turned to look at Alyssa, who was standing beside the Pilot's chair, looking at the zoomed in view of the Tactical Map centred on the asteroid belt that used to be Ganymede. "What do we know?"

The blonde pointed to one of the larger chunks of the blasted moon. "There's a hidden hangar behind that jutting out bit. Jade's going to park just outside, then infiltrate the base."

"I hate going in blind," John said with a worried frown. "It'd be fine if this was just a sweep and clear, but having no intel on a rescue mission is a nightmare..."

Alyssa glanced at him, her brow furrowing with concern. *You think they might kill the girls?*

He hesitated before answering. *I honestly don't know. Weber's been belligerent with me, but he did seem reasonably rational. He might try to bargain for his freedom in exchange for their lives... but I just hope to hell he doesn't decide to get vindictive and tie up loose ends.*

"When we land, I'll sweep the base with a psychic pulse," Alyssa said, studying the map again. "It won't give me a map of the base, but I'll know where the bad guys are."

"I'll hit the ground running," John said with a nod. "I'll try and link up with Jade while the rest of you girls clean up."

Alyssa nodded, her eyes narrowing in fury. "The place won't be very clean when I'm done with it..."

***

Jehanna Elani lay on a bolted-down cot in the corner of the blank featureless cell and feigned sleep. She'd been imprisoned there for several days but had no way of knowing precisely how long for. Her stomach felt hollow with hunger and she was thirsty too, having been given a bare minimum of water. Her father had warned her about this kind of thing and she recognised the tactic for what it was; her captors were softening her up for an interrogation. While knowing exactly what was happening helped her feel like she wasn't completely powerless, it didn't help fend off the hunger pangs, or ease her parched throat.

At the start of her captivity, she knew that Avery would report her missing, and she'd been confident that John would storm this base and rescue her. As the days rolled on, she realised that he must have no idea where she was, leaving her increasingly anxious. She'd been lashing out at the soldiers keeping her here, mostly to keep them off-balance, but what Jehanna really wanted was to find out who had captured her and why. Reminding herself what a scoop that would be helped keep the fear under control, as she could pretend that she was just deep undercover on a story.

The door swished open but she kept her eyes closed and her breathing even. This was the first time they'd risked entering her cell in days, after she'd pretended to be sick, then raked her nails across one of the soldier's faces. Jehanna had also managed to kick another one of the other soldiers in the balls as they tried to pull her off their squadmate; she'd received a backhander afterwards, but hearing the man groan in pain had been worth it.

"Alright, I know you're pretending. Get up nice and slow, Miss Elani," the man at the door said in his gruff voice.

Jehanna cursed inwardly, then carefully opened her eyes. The man at the door was pointing a pistol at her, and by the looks of it, it was probably some kind of stun gun. She sat up slowly, then rose to her feet, trying to appear sullen and subdued. Obviously, her captors had decided that it was time for her interrogation, but Jehanna suppressed the icy surge of fear and tried to surreptitiously observe the man standing in the doorway.

He was wearing body armour which made his tall frame look even more imposing, even without wearing the helmet which was currently attached to his belt. Aside from his pistol, Jehanna spotted the barrel of a nasty-looking assault rifle poking up over his shoulder. She knew she would have had no chance of overpowering him, even if she wasn't in a weakened condition, so her best option was simply to play along... for now.

Backing out, the man kept the pistol trained on her. "Alright, come on out, Miss Elani."

Jehanna did as instructed, then followed him into the wide, brightly-lit corridor. There were two other soldiers here, similarly armed, and they watched her warily, equally careful about getting too close. She had to suppress a smirk that these three big men would be taking such precautions around a 120-pound woman.

They led her past what seemed like dozens of cells, then they walked through a checkpoint and approached a force field, which shimmered with a faint blue light. Jehanna eyed it suspiciously, but the men strolled through without hesitation, so she followed without having to be prompted. They went through a set of reinforced titanium doors into a less well-lit part of the base, where a thick carpet of dust lined the floor. Going from the bright white sterile environment to these murky surroundings filled her with trepidation, but Jehanna just kept reminding herself what great photos these would make.

The man in charge opened a side door, then stepped back and gestured for her to proceed inside. Jehanna turned to look into the room and for all her bravado, couldn't help feeling a flicker of terror when she saw inside. There was a metal chair bolted to the blood-stained floor, with tables set up on either side, horrific-looking instruments of torture gleaming in the light.

"It's time we had a little chat, Miss Elani," the soldier said, with a sadistic smile.

***

Professor Friedrich pressed his hand to the DNA reader next to the door, then waited patiently for the light to scan his hand. The wall-mounted device chimed as it recognised his genetic code, the door sliding open to admit him to his pristine lab. The facility was meticulously clean and he relaxed now that he was away from all that horrible dirt.

There were a pair of soldiers in combat armour waiting inside, standing by the four Lenarrans who were lying on the specially-prepared operating tables. The Nymphs were restrained, held in place by padded leather straps around their limbs and chests. Friedrich smiled with approval when he saw the straps; he'd relied on force fields during the early days of his career, but learned his lesson after a blackout freed a captive Drakkar. Studying his four prisoners, he saw that the Nymphs were very differently proportioned, and he knew they were still in the forms chosen for them by their now deceased masters.

The closest was a very curvy brunette wearing skimpy lingerie and she glanced his way, giving him a warm smile. "Are you this one's new master?"

Before he could reply, the waiflike blonde, sultry brunette, and the redhead with comically exaggerated sexual characteristics all looked his way too. "Are you this one's new master?" they all parroted as soon as they saw him.

"They'll keep doing that every 15 minutes," one of the soldiers muttered with a frown. "Want me to gag them?"

Friedrich shook his head. "No, no, it's quite alright, Halverson. It'll be harder to judge their pain responses to stimuli if you prevent them from speaking." He paused and glanced disapprovingly at their clothing. "But why are they still dressed?"

The other soldier glanced at his colleague then said, "We ah... didn't want you to think we... erm."

The professor rolled his eyes. "Come now, Collins, I trust you can control your baser urges." Shaking his head, he gestured to the closest brunette and continued, "I'll begin my first tests on her, while you strip the rest..."

"Yes, Sir," Trooper Collins said, approaching the second brunette in her long evening dress and pulling out a knife from his combat webbing.

"I trust neither of you have a weak stomach?" Friedrich asked, as he picked up his favourite laser scalpel. "If you have, please leave immediately. I have no desire to see my lab spattered in vomitus."

Both soldiers shook their heads, much to the professor's relief. He stepped up to the Nymph and gave her an eager smile as he brought the tip of the surgical device close to her toned midriff. "Now, I'm just going to make a small exploratory incision. Feel free to cry out if it gets too painful..."

The Nymph just looked at him with blank disinterest, as if completely unaware of the danger she was in as the red laser descended towards her skin.

The comms interface on Friedrich's wrist buzzed and he frowned in irritation, staying his hand. When he glanced at the display to see who was calling, he blinked in surprise. The call was being routed from outside the base, which was a huge breach of the security protocols designed to maintain the secrecy of Tartarus. He pressed a button to accept the call and Admiral Carl Weber's anxious face appeared as a hologram, floating above his arm.

"This is a surprise, Admiral," Friedrich said pleasantly. "You'll be pleased to hear I'm just about to start my testing and I-"

"Shut up you idiot!" Weber barked. "Fuck the research, none of that matters any more!"

Friedrich stared at him in shock. "B-but... you can't mean that!"

"The Kintark invaded, Terra's burning, Buckingham's dead, and Blake's back in the Sol System! Of course I fucking mean it!" Weber snapped, rubbing a hand over his drawn face.

"W-what?" Friedrich faltered, eyes threatening to pop out as he gaped at the admiral.

Weber looked at the professor incredulously, then grimaced with understanding. "Right, you're on complete lockdown..." Fixing Friedrich with a stern glare, he continued, "Get the ship prepped and move all our special guests aboard; they'll be useful as hostages. I'll be there in a few minutes..."

Before Friedrich could reply, Weber cut out the signal, leaving the professor staring aghast at the blank holo-screen.

"You miserable cretin!" Friedrich cursed in frustration. "Not now!"

The two soldiers glanced at each other, then Collins lowered his knife and asked, "What are your orders, Professor?"

Friedrich turned back to the Nymph, laser scalpel poised over her exposed flesh. What wonderful secrets there must be, contained within that nubile form...

"Professor?" Collins prompted him.

***

Jade set the shuttle down on the small rocky plateau, then sprang out of her seat and rushed over to the airlock. The Nymph's body seemed to shimmer for a second, a verdant haze obscuring her as she hardened herself to make her current form more resilient. Pulling off her dress, she let it drop to her feet and kicked off her shoes. After taking a deep breath, Jade activated the depressurisation control by the airlock, then braced herself as she pressed the button to open the door. The naked Nymph felt the deep chill of space flood the airlock, but she shrugged it off, her body now impervious to the cold.

Taking a short run, Jade launched herself out of the shuttle, using her momentum to sail towards the darkened fissure in the surface of the asteroid. As she floated through the void, she shapeshifted again, her body growing shorter and wider, multiple limbs sprouting as she turned into a dark-green spider. Now that she had eight eyes, it was slightly unsettling to have such a panoramic view, able to see far more than with just the usual two front-facing ones. Fortunately, she had practiced this form many times before, so she was able to quickly adapt and avoid any disorientation.

Reaching out with her two forelimbs, the tiny claws at the base of each tip dug into the surface of the rock, letting her grip tight and swing her abdomen down, the other six limbs making contact too. Setting off at a run, Jade scampered around the corner, then felt a surge of relief when she spotted the hidden hangar concealed within the cave. The black shuttle was parked in the centre of the gloomy chamber, with only a very faint row of red lights linking the shuttle to an airlock set deeper in the docking area.

Jade crawled along the walls and rushed through the insubstantial crimson glow of the pressurised force field. Taking an experimental breath, she was relieved to find that there was a breathable atmosphere inside and vented out the compartmentalised air in her lungs as she ran inside. Rather than dropping to the floor, she ran upside-down across the ceiling, her eight legs barely making a sound as she scuttled along.

Now that she was in an atmosphere again, the setae on her legs began to pick up scents, sounds, and air currents. The stiff bristles let her feel the subtle heat waves from the shuttle as it cooled in the hangar, the sound of the ship's engines as they went through their shutdown routine, and the vague scent of stale sweat. Whoever had left that faint aroma had departed through the airlock, so Jade scurried across the ceiling towards the sealed portal.

That was her first real hurdle. She could just turn into something... big... and bust her way inside, but she was trying to be subtle and stealthy. As much as she was in a hurry, she didn't want to spook the people inside and make them kill their captives. She crept down the wall, and kept herself low to the surface, her pedipalps making small flickering motions as she used the sensitive organs to investigate further.

Picking up movement back in the shuttle with her much greater peripheral visions, Jade dropped into the darkness by the base of the wall, then rapidly shifted again, changing into a metre-long snake. Using the strong muscles in her lower body, she slithered back against the wall so that she would be almost invisible in the dim light. Her reptilian eyes watched as the man in a grey pilot's fatigues stepped out of the shuttle, then closed the door behind him. He walked towards her, not paying any attention to the serpent lurking unseen in the shadows and placed his hand on the DNA reader.

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byTefler© 141 comments/ 33768 views/ 61 favorites

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