The Bertrand Plan Edwin Eschler
The Bertrand Plan
Queso de la Muerte Books
Copyright 2012 Edwin Eschler Illustrations Copyright 2012 Allen Miller, used by permission All Rights Reserved Cover Illustration, “Bacteriophage Phage,” is in the Public Domain and was found on clipartist.net
Contents Prologue . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1 First Meetings . . . . . . . . . 3 The Cure . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7 Delivery . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13
he tip of a cigarette smoldered in the dim blue light of the holographic planets as Dr. Daniels sat staring, the bright overhead lights switched off. “Run it again.” A speck of red appeared on one of the blue orbs and spread quickly, enveloping it, dying the continents and jumping oceans. As the crimson tide washed over the first holographic planet, sparks of blue shot out, tracing paths across the virtual galaxy. Then, a single red speck jumped, and where it touched the closest orb, a small pock appeared, and then a blemish, then a rash as the planet slowly turned. Another shower of blue and red sparks. Another. Soon the room was bathed with blood. Daniels took a long draw on his cigarette and released a cumulous column of smoke. A planet turned green, and he swore. Soon the room was awash with verdant light. “Reset it, and run it again. Assume that quarantine measures are 99.9% effective.” Daniels rubbed at his eyes. “Sir,” the voice of the ship’s computer was soft but assertive in its femininity, “Historically, no planetary quarantine has been over 95% effective.” “Computer, we are running simulations. I’m not interested in practicalities at the moment, only possibilities.” “Of course, sir.” The spheres returned to their original muted azure. The red appeared again, this time maintaining its size for a few seconds before quickly consuming the planet. Fewer sparks shot off this time, and most of those disappeared close to the planet’s surface. A few more seconds passed, and the planet had turned to a dark burgundy. Then a few red sparks shot off the back of the planet with a cluster of blue sparks. This time, a few blues and reds got loose. Again the room turned scarlet. Daniels took another drag, and by the time he finished the tip of his cigarette was the only red dot in the room. “Sir, Admiral Brace is hailing you from the Oppenheimer. Shall I connect him?” Daniels took another long draw, tried unsuccessfully to put his hair in order, and pulled at his lapels in an attempt to get the wrinkles out of his lab coat. “Of course. And turn on the lights.” The globes winked out of existence as the overhead lights flickered and glared with full force. Daniels found his way to a chair as Brace’s holograph stepped into the room, with all the straight lines
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and sharp corners of his service khakis. Five silver stars danced in a circle on his collar. “Jesus, Daniels, you look like hell.” Brace’s disinterested eyes scanned the room. “If you’re looking for my brains, they’re still all in here,” Daniels reached up and tapped his temple with his right hand. “I haven’t yet had the opportunity to spread them all over the walls.” “So you got Bertrand’s suicide note too.” “Coward.” Daniels reached into his pocket and retrieved a cigarette case. Flicking his spent cigarette across the room, he placed the new one in his mouth and pulled out a book of matches. The unlit cigarette danced in the corner of his mouth as he talked. “I’m assuming you want my opinion on his solution. Ethical considerations aside—” Daniels struck the match and lit his cigarette. “It’ll work. Damn Bertrand, and us, to hell, it works.” Brace and Daniels stared at each other in silence as the seconds turned to minutes. Brace’s eyes seemed to visibly sink into his head, and he blinked slowly, like weights hung from his eyelashes. “It’s not the first time we’ve made a decision like this. At this point we don’t have many options. We can’t keep the current method secret for long. If you think it will work, let’s proceed. Don’t stop other research on the station, but I think you should devote your time to the Bertrand Plan.” Brace and Daniels stared at each other in silence. “You know, if you don’t stop smoking those things will kill you. Brace out.” “I should be so lucky.”
r. Daniels strode into conference room A and walked to the head of the table, noting who was surprised and, more importantly, who wasn’t. The room had a commanding room of the planet below and the Oppenheimer above and was adorned with a single conference table. A holographic display glowed in front of each person present. Dr. Daniels tapped a few buttons, turning the viewport opaque and reducing the size of everyone’s displays so they could see face to face. “Alright everyone, let’s get started. Last night at 0200 Dr. Bertrand took his own life.” Daniels paused for a few moments. “Unfortunately, his death did not cure the plague, and as such work will resume without him, with me taking his place as head researcher. There will be no funeral services. I will hear a brief report from each of the project leads, and then we will return to work. Dr. Lachdan, if you’ll start—” “Dr. Daniels,” the interruption came from Dr. Brown, who, from the bags under her eyes and the disarray of her curt brown hair, had slept about as much as Daniels the night before, “I believe we should start with introductions.” Daniels stared at Dr. Brown for a few seconds before she pointed across the table at a young woman with a blond ponytail and a white, recently pressed lab coat. Daniels took of his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose. “Ah, yes, of course, this is Dr. Rachel Bennett. Admiral Brace sent her over from the Oppenheimer this morning. We’ll be converting Dr. Bertrand’s labs into a workspace for her.” Dr. Lachdan stood and buttoned the top button of his suit coat. “It’s an honor to have Dr. Bennett aboard, but, no offense to her, there’s no way she’s replacing Dr. Bertrand. She appears to be fresh out of medical school, and Bertrand was one of the top virologists in the field. I feel it may be better for the project, for all of us, to give a few of Bertrand’s labs to other projects.” Lachdan turned to Dr. Bennett and smiled, “No offense meant, of course.” Daniels eyebrows raised above his glasses and he steepled his hands in front of himself. “And who should the labs go to, Lachdan? You? No.” Dr. Lachdan took his seat. “Besides, Dr. Bennett is not replacing Bertrand as virologist: she’s a weapon systems engineer. Dr. Bennett is working on a delivery system.” There were a few
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gasps around the table. Dr. Brown’s eyebrows furrowed and her cheeks burned bright red. “Weapon systems? Dr. Daniels, as much as I esteem your skill, you cannot expect us to believe that you will assume all of Dr. Bertrand’s work. The man practically defined the modern field!” She turned to Dr. Bennett, “And, even if we were remotely close, why would we need a weapon systems engineer? Rachel, it’s not that I doubt your skill . . .” “Dr. Bennett.” There was neither anger nor hurt in Rachel’s voice, only terse insistence. “Excuse me?” Dr. Brown, her momentum lost, blinked. “I said Doctor Bennett. My degree may not be in medicine, and I may have received it from a military school, but it is still a doctorate.” Dr. Bennett stood and tapped at her holographic display. The lights dimmed and a single planet shimmered into existence over the table. “As for your question, Admiral Brace has been simulating the effects of vaccine discovery and has noticed an odd phenomenon. It may take months or even years to immunize a single planet. But as soon as news of a cure spreads, those who want to ‘jump the line,’ so to speak, will breaking blockades around planets that are currently quarantined in an attempt to be among the first in lines. This will create an explosion of the plague that would devastate human populations before the vaccine could be distributed. “My job is to create multiple delivery systems that could distribute the vaccine quickly to an entire planet without alerting the population, starting with models for an airborne vaccine.”Dr. Stephens, at the foot of the table, raised his hand and began speaking. “But what if the vaccine cannot be delivered by air?” Stephens started looking at figures on his display in front of him. “The vaccines that have come the closest to working have needed intravenous injection.” Dr. Lachdan spoke from by Dr. Daniels. “And what if the cure is not a vaccine, but is actually non-aerosol pharmaceutical?” Dr. Bennett looked down at her display and began flipping through her holographic display. Dr. Daniels interceded. “It’s a matter of semantics. We’re not sure the final form the cure will take, and so we’re starting with an airborne delivery method because it will be the easiest to design. But let’s let the expert do her work. Now, Dr. Lachdan, your progress report.” “Yes, well. Our recent phytochemical research has reached a standstill . . .” “And this is the Fermi’s docking bay. Disproportional to our size, I know, but once we begin producing a cure, we’ll be able to produce and ship it by the tons.” Dr. Daniels turned his head to look back at Dr. Bennett. “Let me know if I’m going too fast.” Bennett smiled and shook her head. “Not at all. I don’t plan on spending much time outside of my lab anyway.” “Labs.” A door on their right slid open and they entered a small, sparse lab. “You’re not just a lone researcher here. We’re making you the head of a large team. These are some of the best and brightest mines in the Alliance. Admittedly
you’ll be doing a lot of the brain work—” Daniels walked to a desk and tapped the surface as a holographic display appeared on the surface, “but let your subordinates do the legwork. We’ve been replacing the equipment with materials more suitable for your field, and starting tomorrow you’ll have raw materials for prototypes, when you’re ready.” Daniels tapered off and stared absently as numbers scrolled across the display. Bennett leaned one hand on the desk. “Is there anything else, Dr. Daniels, or can I start working?” “Quarantine.” “Excuse me?” “Be wary of quarantine. You shouldn’t be working with the actual plague, but be careful to follow procedures.” He tapped the display and a bulleted list appeared. “You may feel disinclined to memorize all 115 points, but be assured that the armed guards provided by Admiral Brace do. They are also told that prevention of contamination or spread of the plague is more valuable than human life.” Daniels straightened his back and dusted of his lapels, doing nothing to remove the coffee stains or small burns from neglected ash. He pulled a cigarette from his pocket and lit it. “Grim, I know, but necessary. We haven’t lost many, but any loss is tragic.” “If any loss is tragic, then why are we developing a secret method to deliver a vaccine to unaffected worlds instead of getting to the worlds that have it the worst first?” Daniels took a long drag and flicked the ash onto the floor. He grinned. “Tragedy is relative. Which is worse, losing one planet, or all of them?”
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ennett had lived most of her adult life in space and was academically aware that day/night cycles on ships were entirely artificial, but it still always felt disquieting to see the light of a nearby star shining into a room at “midnight.” Conference room A was the same, but Bennett felt overdressed when she looked around at everyone in their bathrobes and pajamas: everyone but Dr. Lachdan, who was wearing a fashionable smoking jacket. Daniels entered the room, ever the White Rabbit in a smudged lab coat. In the three months Dr. Bennett had been on the station, she’d never seen him walking at a leisurely pace. “We’ve done it.” Daniels slammed the table, waking those who had dozed back to sleep while waiting for him. “We’ve got a workable vaccine.” Dr. Bennett felt a sense of elation, but noticed that the other lead researchers were sharing confused glances. “Dr. Daniels,” Stephens rubbed the sleep out of his eyes, “You’ve given no indication in your recent reports that you were anywhere close to a cure. This seems . . . sudden.” Dr. Brown nodded her approval and turned to Dr. Daniels. “I agree with Dr. Stephens. I feel that if we have actually found a potential vaccine, every team should be allowed access to your files and be allowed to research it ourselves.” There were some nods and grunts of approval from around the table. “We have found a vaccine, Dr. Brown.” Daniels voice cut through the room like a diamond scalpel. “And it does work. The galaxy is burning to the ground around us, and I will not let your curiosity fan the flames. Admiral Brace has seen my research and is ordering that all facilities be converted to production of the vaccine. All but those of Dr. Bennett, who is to continue research on the delivery system.” The room exploded as everyone jumped to their feet, leaving only Dr. Daniels, Dr. Bennett, and Dr. Lachdan seated. Dr. Lachdan pulled a pipe from one of the pockets of his jacket and began tamping tobacco into it as Dr. Daniels tried shouting over the others. Bennett, sensing that the meeting was now beyond her, returned to her chambers and went to sleep. When she awoke in the morning she decided to visit Dr. Daniels and discuss the specifics of the new arrangements, as well as showing him the designs of her
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latest prototype. “Computer, where is Dr. Daniels, and where is he headed?” This time of morning Dr. Daniels was typically rushing from lab to lab obtaining status reports in person—he preferred to do such meetings in person, despite full holographic communication being available throughout the ship. “In his office. He’s been talking to Dr. Lachdan for the last few minutes, and it looks like he’s likely to be there for a while.” Bennett felt a pang of sympathy for Dr. Daniels: he’d probably been up all night dealing with complaints. Dr. Daniels office was nestled in the corner of the ship, almost against the bulkhead, and was as out of the way as one could get: considering how little time he spent there, it made sense. She decided to wait in the hall until he was finished with Dr. Lachdan. She could hear echoes in the air vents. Dr. Bennett felt nosy, but she couldn’t help but listen in. “Let’s cut through the crap.” Dr. Lachdan’s baritone carried loudly and clearly. “I know. You know I know. You also know where I stand on these affairs.” Dr. Daniels made a response, but his voice was lost in the echoes. “Yes, Dr. Brown knows, and I have a feeling that she’s going to start rallying people to her cause soon. I would like to avoid any of that trouble. You no longer need my assistance. I would like to receive my payment and be off.” Again, Daniels voice echoed incoherently. The ship’s computer cut in, and Dr. Bennett cursed it: it was probably announcing her presence. And to think, the gossip was getting good. As she thought, the door slid open and Dr. Daniels welcomed her in as Dr. Lachdan brushed passed her in the hall. “No need to wait out in the hall, you should have hailed me sooner, Dr. Lachdan and I were just making idle chatter.” “He doesn’t seem the type.” “Dr. Lachdan values his time, but he also values his friends. It’s part of the reason we’re glad to have him.” Daniels crushed out his latest cigarette on the ashtray in front of him. His office smelled only faintly of cigarettes, a testament to how little time he spent there. “Why is he here? He seems to be very well off, and he doesn’t get along well with most of the crew. Excuse my asking, but it doesn’t seem natural for a wealthy man, even a wealthy man of science, to take up government work for the common good of humanity.” Bennett took the seat opposite of Dr. Daniels and crossed her legs. Dr. Daniels chuckled. “Oh, Dr. Lachdan isn’t here out of any sense of altruism. He owns a pharmaceutical company, and we’ve offered him exclusive rights to all medical research obtained on the station. Coffee?” Dr. Bennett shook her head as Dr. Daniels stood up and prepared himself a cup from the coffeemaker in the corner. “That seems odd: I don’t know if I’d want someone like that working to save humanity.” “Are you kidding? He’s the easy one to handle. All we have to do is keep the scent of money under his nose and he’ll be our closest ally. He’s the only one on this ship I can trust to act consistently. No offense.” He resumed his seat and took a sip of his coffee, his lips recoiling from the heat.
“I think I’d want someone whose only motivation was the salvation of humanity.” Dr. Daniels laughed at this remark, placing the mug on his desk. “You haven’t been here very long, but the plague has been spreading throughout the galaxy for ten years. Whole planets have been lost, billions dead, and we’ve been working here, the whole time, with almost no progress. We developed better quarantine procedures, but the best we’ve done is slowed the spread. There was no hope. We’ve been through quite a few scientists: I’m the only one who’s been here from the beginning.” He ran his hands through his messy hair and rested them on the back of his neck as he leaned back in his chair. “Those who came here just to save lives have ended up like Dr. Bertrand and taken their own: high hopes turn to deep despair when consistently thwarted. Dr. Brown is here on the condition that her children are the first to receive the vaccine. Dr. Stephens is here because he wants to be guaranteed a spot if the plague gets to the point where humanity lives on space stations for a while. You’re here because the military ordered it.” Dr. Bennett’s eyes narrowed. “And why are you here?” Daniels smiled. “To save lives.” Bennett had to admit that Dr. Daniels had been right when he said that an airborne delivery device would be the simplest: having access to the full resources of the military had helped, but even without them she probably could have figured out a device with a few years work. It was simply amazing that she had finished her designs in six months. The hardest part was hiding the distribution system inside of a secondary, false function without disrupting either, but just a
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few more calculations and she’d be finished. Her holographic screen fizzled and briefly disappeared as the floor beneath her feet shook. Probably another malfunction on the assembly line: Dr. Daniels had explained that transitioning from labs to a production facility had not gone as smoothly as he would have hoped, possibly due to scientists angry at the unwanted transition. So far there had been only minor hiccups, but the rumor mill was certainly turning. Dr. Bennett heard the door open behind her and turned to face the door. Suddenly, her lungs felt like they were full of biting insects and she dropped to the ground. She heard glass shatter and felt hands grasp at her neck and lift her against the wall. She struggled for air as she tried to remember her combat training, but whatever chemical had been thrown in her face made her body seem distant and her brain feel sluggish. She heard crying, and thought it must have been her own, but her vision cleared and she realized it was her assailant’s. “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry! Please forgive me.” Dr. Stephens sobbed as he choked her. She tried pulling his hands away or breaking his grip, but her flailing did nothing. She gave one weak kick, but by then her strength was too sapped for it to help. The door slid open a second time and two soldiers came into the room, weapons drawn. There was a loud blast, and Dr. Bennett could barely feel the stinging in her lungs as fresh air flooded them. She looked over at Dr. Stephens, and his shaking hand reached for her. “I’m . . . so . . . sorry.” Suddenly and without warning one of the soldiers grabbed her by the hair and stood her up against the wall. “What was in the vial?” She hadn’t noticed before he spoke, but his face was covered with a sealed mask. Dr. Bennett, unable to speak, shook her head, sputtering. The guard released her hair and pushed her up against the wall, his pistol drawn and now pointed at her. “I asked you a question! What was in the vial?” “Stand down, corporal.” Dr. Daniels stood in the doorway, a cigarette in his lips and his hands in his pockets. “Whatever it was, it wasn’t the virus. Why would it have such an immediate and violent effect? You two take care of Dr. Stephens; we don’t need to lose three of our project leads today. Dr. Bennett recovered her voice. “Three?” “Yes, Dr. Lachdan violated quarantine this morning.” Dr. Daniels walked over and helped her walk to a chair while the soldiers dragged out Dr. Stephen’s body. “What’s going on? I know that some of the other researchers were disgruntled. Why would Stephens attack me?” She sat down shakily. Despite the climate controlled room, she shivered. “Who knows. Jealousy, maybe. His research has been cut, and you’re here in control of some of his former assets.” “But why would he attack me like that?” “It’s crazy what people will do when facing the end of civilization. Take the rest of the day off, relax, read a book: not one about weather patterns, either, one for fun: you can get started again in the morning.” Dr. Daniels walked over
to her workstation and began cleaning up. Dr. Bennett stood up behind him. “Weather patterns! There’s no need for me to come back tomorrow, Dr. Daniels, I think I’ve figured it out.” She gently pushed him aside and made a few notes on her holographic display. “Computer, run vector simulations.”
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It was finished. Dr. Daniels and Dr. Bennett stood by, watching as soldiers
loaded the components of her dispersal device onto a shuttle. Dr. Daniels eyes were dark pits in their sockets, but Dr. Bennett looked with pride at the device. From R&D to practical use in under a year: had it been a bridge or a building, it would stand as a monument to human ingenuity for years. As it was, she was glad that it would soon be used to help so many.
She heard a series of popping noises coming from the hall: the sound was familiar to Dr. Bennett. Were they gunshots? She felt the ground beneath her feet ripple one of the hangar way walls blew out and scientists and soldiers armed with guns and makeshift explosives flooded in. Dr. Bennett felt Dr. Daniels grab her by the arm.
“I was afraid this might happen, come on.” Some of the soldiers who had been loading components began firing on the scientists and people on both sides fell. There were sharp cracks and booms as Dr. Daniels pulled Dr. Bennett towards the shuttle. “Which is most important?” “Excuse me?” Bennett was confused and a little scared. She noticed that more and more of the soldiers on her side of the room were falling and heard as bullets whipped past her. “Which pieces are absolutely essential to the device or will be the hardest to replicate?” Dr. Bennett began pointing to several of the components, but Dr. Daniels shook his head and pointed so hard at the soldiers his fingers shook. “Don’t tell me, tell them!” Dr. Bennett began shouting orders, getting more soldiers to load some things, and moving others to the perimeter. Her work force got smaller and smaller until the last vital piece was aboard. She turned to recall all of the soldiers to the ship in time to see the last one on the line fall, blown to shreds by an improvised explosive. “It’s been an honor serving with you, doctors.” The three men who had carried the last component onto the ship ran down to the bottom of the loading ramp as Dr. Daniels hit the closing switch and ran for the cockpit. Dr. Bennett sat down on one of the larger components and rested her head in her hands, flinching at the sound of bullets ricocheting off the hull. The floor beneath her shuddered and the she felt the acceleration as the shuttle lifted off. She walked
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to a small viewport and looked out as the Oppenheimer opened fire, first at the communications satellite, then the engines, then poking holes in the hull with light arms fire. She recognized the SIW strategy: silence, immobilize, and wait. The life support would fail with that many hull breaches, and the military could recover any equipment and possible salvage the ship. Ruthless efficiency might have impressed her if those being killed weren’t those she’d gotten to know over the past months. Dr. Bennett headed into the cockpit, where Dr. Daniels was talking to a hologram of Admiral Brace. “We managed to stop them before they destroyed any of the data files: we’ll send a team over to retrieve them. Continue on to the Konvo, I have men there waiting for the shuttle. You’ve done all you need to do. We’ll clean up here. Brace out.” Dr. Daniels sat in the control chair and looked out the glass hull of the cockpit. He punched a few buttons and the view shimmered as the warp drive engaged. Dr. Bennett walked up behind him and stared at the glowing consoles. They were headed for Konvo, one of the largest space stations in the galaxy and the transportation and shipping hub of Alliance space. She opened her mouth, and then shut it. “What is it, Dr. Bennett?” Dr. Daniels turned his head, and Dr. Bennett could see the command console’s display reflected in his glasses “What was that? Why did they attack us? And don’t feed me any of that jealousy crap, they were fighting for something. They had to know that even if they succeeded the Oppenheimer would kill them. What were they fighting for?”
Bennett pointed behind her. Daniels rubbed the bridge of his nose. “For our souls.” Bennett jumped and whirled around. Behind her Dr. Brown stood with a rifle clutched inexpertly in her hands. Dr. Daniels chuckled. “How melodramatic, Barbara. I didn’t take you for a spiritual person.” He spun his chair rapidly, pushing Dr. Bennett out of the way. Dr. Brown tried to pull the rifle up to fire, but Daniels was faster: he drew a pistol from his coat and fired three shots, two into Dr. Brown’s chest and the other into her forehead. Daniels dropped the gun, and it clanked off of the floor as Dr. Brown collapsed. “I always hated her.” Bennett scrambled for the gun and grabbed it, standing and pointing it at Dr. Daniels, gasping as she noticed the giant red patch slowly growing on his lab coat. “When did you get hit?” “Right after the fighting broke out, while we were loading the shuttle. Do you still want the truth?” “Aren’t you going to fight me? Try to kill me too?” “I killed Dr. Brown because deep down I’ve always wanted to, and at this point one more corpse on the pile won’t matter.” He turned back to look into space. “Shoot me if you want, at this point it doesn’t matter. But if you want the truth, you can have it.” “What is the truth?” “The plague is manmade. Dr. Bertrand created it under government sanction in order to put down a planetary rebellion: if one world fell to rebels, they could spread, and who knows what damage they would have done to the Alliance. We manufactured the perfect killing machine: 99% lethal, but with a long enough gestation period to ensure maximum infestation. But the gestation period was too long: we didn’t recognize it in soldiers who had been contaminated until they got it back to their home worlds.” Dr. Bennett let the gun drop to her side. “But why would the doctors try to stop you from spreading a vaccine?” “Because it’s not a vaccine. Dr. Bertrand discovered that one of the earlier versions of the virus only killed 50% of infected specimens, but rendered the survivors immune to the stronger strains. This was five years ago, and he didn’t dare let Brace or I know. But watching planet after planet collapse, he realized if we waited any longer, the death rate would soon bypass 50% of humanity anyway. We created the perfect weapon, then shot ourselves with it. Dr. Bertrand revealed his secret, and then, unable to bear the weight of two genocides, killed himself.” Dr. Bennett backed against a wall. “We’re going to commit the largest act of bioterrorism in the history of humanity. And we’re going to use my machine to do it. Think of the billions we’ll kill!” She slid down to the ground. “And think of the billions we’ll save.” Dr. Bennett began to sob into her hands. Then she stood, and walked to Dr. Daniels, spinning the chair around and bringing them face to face. “I’ll stop it here and now! I’ll pilot this shuttle into a star!” Daniels chuckled, gurgling a bit as he did so. “Pilot the shuttle wherever you like, you’ll stop nothing. We’re scientists: ev-
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erything we’ve done has been documented and double documented. Destroying the shuttle would only delay the Bertrand Plan by the month or two it takes to fabricate one of your devices and culture enough of my viruses. In the meantime, we might lose another billion people.” Bennett backed away again. “If it consoles you, I’m sorry that you know this. I wish I’d forced you to kill me and not told you. Your work is magnificent. In another age, we might have been Salk or Da Vinci.” “Instead we’re Mengele.” Dr. Bennett walked out of the room. The door shut automatically behind her, and after a few seconds of silence, Dr. Daniels heard a single gunshot. He felt a slight lurch as the shuttle shifted back out of hyperspace. He stood and walked in front of the command console, looking out at the massive space station Konvo. Holding his left hand over his bullet wound he fumbled with his right hand to retrieve first a cigarette, then his lighter. Smoke rose from the tip of his cigarette as Konvo grew slowly larger.