The ruler of Spectra had proven his idiocy again with the latest mech design. A leprechaun. He’d used a giant leprechaun to attack Edinburgh, Scotland. Witnesses said it had demanded its pot of gold throughout the attack.
“Princess should be here,” he muttered under his breath. “She’s the next smallest.”
“Huh?” Keyop turned slightly from the buggy’s controls to glance at him.
Jason waved a hand in dismissal at him. “Just drive,” he ordered.
“Do you think…we’ll see her?” Keyop asked. It was the fifth time he asked.
Jason groaned. “How many times do I have to tell you there is no Loch Ness monster?” he griped.
“There is so!” Keyop insisted indignantly. “There’re…pictures-”
“Of logs and flotsam. People have been looking for years and no one has ever found a live Loch Ness monster.”
“She isn’t a…monster! That’s…the problem. If someone…was nice…to her, she’d…come out.”
“Keyop, for crying out loud, we’re on a mission! Just keep your eyes open and LOOK FOR A MECH!” Jason tried not to bellow it in the tiny confines of the buggy, but three hours of being in it with Keyop’s continued insistence they could find Nessie was wearing down his patience. They had a job to do. Keyop made a face at him as he turned back to the buggy’s controls.
“How you guys doing?” Mark asked over their bracelets. Jason raised his bracelet towards his lips.
“Nothing so far,” he reported instead of what he really wanted to say.
“Any sign of Nessie?” Tiny asked and then laughed.
Jason ground his teeth. “Don’t encourage him!” he snapped, giving Keyop a warning look as the boy turned and opened his mouth.
“If nothing shows up in the next two hours, come back,” Mark instructed, a chuckle in his voice. Jason wanted to reach through his bracelet and punch him as he signed off.
Half an hour later, Jason checked the GPS against his radar. “Keyop, slow down. We’re nearly at the end of the Loch,” he instructed. Keyop manipulated the controls, bringing the buggy nearly to a stop. Jason looked over both the GPS and radar. Something didn’t look right. “Veer to the right,” he instructed, “but take it slow.” Keyop complied. What Jason was seeing on the radar wasn’t corresponding with the GPS. Had they found a base?
“What’s that?” Keyop asked, pointing at the control monitor, which gave them a fuzzy view of what was ahead of the buggy. Jason moved over to his side. The radar was showing a cliff wall that wasn’t on the GPS. The camera was showing them the same thing. “Base?”
“Good question. How close can you get us?”
“Close,” Keyop responded with conviction, moving the controls. Within moments, he had them close enough to the cliff for the camera to give them a better view of…a real cliff?
“That looks like its real,” Jason commented as Keyop slowly ascended the buggy up forty feet to show the cliff continued above them. They could see uneven rock, covered in what Jason guessed to be aquatic growth that would attach itself to all surfaces.
“Yeah. There are…even crevasses,” Keyop observed, pointing some out. Jason noted they were jagged, not straight as a hidden base door would be. Then something dark showed up on the monitor.
“Hold up,” Jason requested, leaning in to get a better look. Keyop stopped their ascent. The darkness took up the whole monitor screen. “What is that?”
“Cave?” Keyop suggested. “Want me…to go in?”
“No. We can’t see enough to tell how tall or deep it is.” Jason pursed his lips. “Do we risk lighting it up?” he asked himself.
“Low light,” Keyop suggested and hit a control before Jason could object. The monitor went from black to gray as one of the buggy’s external lights illuminated what was in front of them.
Keyop squealed, pulling up on the buggy’s controls, sending it up and forward, smashing it into the cliff face.
“What the-” Jason’s curse was cut off as he and Keyop were thrown about, banging into each other and the interior controls. The buggy slammed into the cliff again, hard enough to dislodge rock.
“What the hell Keyop!” Jason snapped as they tried to untangle themselves even as the buggy was pelted by the dislodged rocks, making it tilt precariously. The weight of the rocks was driving it down.
Keyop landed on top of him as the buggy tilted. Air was driven out of him even as he heard a popping sound. The buggy turned upside down completely. A spray of cold loch water hit Keyop directly in the face from a ruptured seam. He was driven back into other equipment, uttering a pain filled yelp.
Jason reached for the controls, trying to right them even as he raised his bracelet to his lips.
“Mayday!” he shouted over the roar the spray of water was making. How long would it take or the buggy to fill? “We’re in trouble!”
Jason finished drying his hair and draped the damp towel over his shoulders. He tested his left wrist. He’d sprained it, so the doctor had put a brace on it. It restricted movement but didn’t seem to hamper him too much. It could have been worse.
He looked up as the examination room door opened and the Chief and Mark entered. Keyop was in the next room receiving treatment for his injuries.
“So, what happened?” the Chief asked. Not a ‘Are you okay? How’s your wrist?’, but Jason wasn’t surprised. He had been the senior officer present and therefore had to answer for what happened.
“The radar was showing a cliff at the southern end of the Loch that wasn’t showing up on the GPS,” he told them. “I told Keyop to get us in close so we could make sure it really was a cliff and not the side of a base.” He waited for them to comment, but they didn’t so he went on. “It was real. We found what looked like a cave in the cliff face. Keyop turned on one of the external lights before I could stop him. Then he freaked and banged us against the cliff.”
“What did you see?” the Chief asked. Jason snorted.
“Besides Keyop’s skinny butt in my face? Nothing.”
They stared at him. He knew they had stopped to see Keyop first. What had the kid told them?
He rolled his eyes. “Don’t tell me. Keyop said he saw the Loch Ness Monster?” When they didn’t respond, Jason reached up to rub his face with his right hand. “What did he say he saw?” he asked with resignation.
“He said when he turned on the light he saw two huge eyes reflecting the light,” Mark offered with a question in his eyes.
“So he does think he saw Nessie.” Jason snorted again. He wasn’t going to let the kid live this one down. “Did the thought ever occur to him the cave mouth was too small for a Plesiosaurus to pass through?”
The Chief smirked a bit. “I thought you didn’t believe in the Loch Ness Monster.” He raised an eye brow in inquiry about the fact Jason knew what cryptologists thought Nessie might be.
“When you live with Keyop, you get told things even if you don’t want to hear them,” Jason countered in his own defense, then felt a stab of guilt. “How is he?” he asked. It should have been his first concern. They had been thrown around quite a bit before he’d been able to get control of the buggy. The freezing water coming in that caused them to sink hadn’t helped the situation.
“Bumps, bruises, and inflated ego because he thinks he saw Nessie and anger that he didn’t have a camera handy to take a picture.” Mark crossed his arms over his chest. “We’re going to hear about this for the next six months,” he complained.
“You really didn’t see anything?” the Chief asked again.
Jason sighed and shook his head. “Squat. I can’t confirm or disaffirm what Keyop saw, but whatever it was, it scared the crap out of him.”
“The buggy had some serious damage,” Mark needlessly told him. “From our vantage point, a lot of that cliff came down. You’re lucky it didn’t bury you.”
Jason had thought the same thing, but had also wondered why so much of the cliff had come down. They hadn’t hit it that hard.
“What now?” he asked. There was still the problem of a Spectran mech hiding in the area of the Loch Ness.
“We keep looking,” Mark immediately answered, “from the safety of the Phoenix. The buggy’s going to be in the shop for the rest of the week.” Mark’s eyes narrowed. “And we’re going to start with that cave.”
Keyop had been unusually quiet as they boarded the Phoenix for their return to Loch Ness. He’d stayed quiet all the way, which was starting to worry Jason. Once the kid got something into his head, he was like a dog with a bone and didn’t let it go until forced to.
As they approached the cliff, he was still quiet. Jason stared at him, wondering what was going through his head.
“Anything on radar?” Mark asked. Jason returned his attention to his screen.
“Nothing but the cliff and all the rocks now at the bottom of it,” he reported.
“There’s nothing on scanners but some fish occasionally swimming by,” she answered.
“Tiny, bring us to the coordinates for the cave,” Mark ordered.
Jason found himself tensing the closer they came to it. He glanced at Keyop to see the boy was on the edge of his seat. What had Keyop really seen? Deep down he couldn’t believe it was the Loch Ness Monster. A smaller mech made up to look like a Plesiosaurus? Lord knew Spectra didn’t care if the mech form they chose belonged to an existing animal.
Tiny positioned the Phoenix directly in front of the cave mouth. A section of the cliff above the opening was missing: the area Keyop had crashed the buggy into. That part of the cliff was also paler in color, ever having been exposed to the Loch’s dark waters.
“Okay. Turn on the lights,” Mark instructed. Tiny flipped a toggle on the pilot’s console. The lamps on the front of each wing pod flared to life, illuminating the interior of the cave.
Keyop flinched, but there were no eyes reflecting the light back at them. He rose to walk up between Tiny and Mark to get a better look at the screen showing them the cave. Jason did the same, Princess on his heels.
“Looks like your everyday cave to me,” Tiny remarked, leaning forward to get a better look as well.
“But we can’t see into the back,” Mark commented, also leaning forward. “It must be pretty deep.”
“Guess you were wrong about Nessie,” Tiny turned to give Keyop a nudge. The boy shoved back in anger.
“We scared her! Now…she won’t come…home,” he almost wailed.
Princess gave him an admonishing look. “Keyop-”
“I know…what I saw!” he snapped at her. Before Jason could say anything Mark turned around, his blue eyes filled with an anger of their own.
“That’s enough, Keyop. I don’t care if the Loch Ness Monster is real or not. We’re here to find the mech that attacked Edinburgh.” Mark reached back to tap his finger on the front of Keyop’s helmet. “Get your head back into the game!”
Keyop’s eyes narrowed as he turned to stomp back to his station. He sat down with a ‘Humph’ and crossed his arms over his chest. Jason noticed him wincing before uncrossing his arms. He was probably still sore from being bumped around in the buggy. Jason knew he was.
Mark turned to Tiny. “How much closer can you get us?”
“I don’t know. Let’s see.”
Jason returned to the radar, manipulating the controls of the radar to narrow it down so they could see better into the cave to try to determine its size. “We’ll fit, but barely. I don’t relish getting stuck in there if more of that cliff wall comes down.”
“Good point.” Mark scratched his chin. “Suggestions?”
Keyop suddenly perked up. “We can…swim in,” he said. “Look over…the cave…”
“That’ll work,” Mark agreed. “I take it you want to go?” he asked. Keyop nodded vigorously. “But I don’t want you going alone.” And he looked towards Jason.
Jason scowled. If Mark liked the idea so much, why didn’t he go? He was famous for running off on whims. If Mark was expecting him to jump for the opportunity, he was going to have a long wait.
Mark stared and Jason stared. After a moment, Mark sat up straighter.
“Jason, go with him,” he ordered. Jason ground his teeth but nodded.
Ten minutes later, he and Keyop were in the Phoenix’s air lock, detransmuted so they could get into their wetsuits.
Normally, they kept on their civilian clothes under the wetsuits so they could transmute if necessary. In this case, Mark didn’t believe that would be necessary since they weren’t infiltrating a base, at least not yet.
When Keyop took his number 4 shirt off, Jason was startled to see the boy’s left side was covered with an impressive purple bruise from under his left arm to his hip.
“Geez, Keyop. Did they X-ray you for broken ribs?” Jason leaned down to get a better look but Keyop moved away defensively.
“I’m…fine,” he argued, shimmying into his wetsuit. “X-ray okay.”
Based on the vivid colors of the bruises, Jason had doubts about that. As he pulled on his own wetsuit, he ran through what had happened in the buggy again. He couldn’t remember Keyop hitting anything hard enough to have caused that much bruising. He was going to keep his eyes on him.
Once they were ready, Tiny flooded the lock. Jason opened the exterior lock door to lead the way out. When they were both out, he closed the lock.
Even with the Phoenix’s lights, the water was still dark and gloomy, filled with floating things Jason assumed were pieces of dirt and vegetation disturbed by the Phoenix’s movements. He turned on his underwater light, Keyop immediately following suit. They began to swim slowly into the cave.
Even though the wetsuits were heavily insulated, the darkness made Jason feel cold. The Phoenix’s sensors had shown the water’s temperature to be in the forties Fahrenheit. The thought made him shiver.
The cave walls were uneven, leading Jason to believe they were natural. Dark rock added to the gloom.
Keyop tapped his shoulder. Jason turned. Their masks had radios in them.
“No…fish,” Keyop noted.
Jason realized he hadn’t seen any either. “Do fish like caves?” he asked, never having paid attention to that kind of thing. Keyop nodded.
‘Great’, Jason thought as they swam in deeper. ‘Then why aren’t they here?’ He suddenly heard the theme to Jaws being played over the radio. He stopped swimming, turned around and lifted his right hand to give the finger, knowing Mark, Tiny and Princess would be able to see it. He could hear laughing.
“Just wait until I get back in,” he threatened with a growl, returning to swimming. “I’ll show you Jaws.”
As they swam, the cave began to narrow from all directions. The lights from the Phoenix couldn’t reach in that far. Even with his and Keyop’s hand held lights, the cave was getting darker and darker. There was no way a mech could get this far in. Jason didn’t see any signs of anything artificial. “This is a bust,” he declared, not sure if he was happy about it or not. They were no closer to finding the mech. “Let’s head back, Keyop.”
As they turned around, Jason’s lamp reflected off of something just to his left. He swam over. As he neared, he did a double-take. That couldn’t be what he thought it was.
“Jason?” Keyop asked, moving to follow him. Jason reached down, using his gloved hand to swipe at the silt covering his find. The water caught the silt, pushing it away, exposing more of what he’d seen. Keyop moved around him to see.
“Holy cow!” the boy exclaimed.
“Mark, we found something,” Jason reported over the radios. “We’re going to need a container to transport it in. A big one.”
“What is it?” Mark asked excitedly.
“Bones,” Jason told him, lifting what looked to him to be the largest rib bone he’d ever seen outside of the Museum of natural History. A chill ran down his spine, making him look around warily. “A lot of bones.”
They stood outside a wall of glass that gave them a view of Center Neptune’s Crime Scene Investigations Lab. Forensic scientists were inside going through the large container they had brought back from the underwater cave filled with as many bones as they could fit into it.
Jason had the chill in his spine the whole way back, his imagination feeling dangerous eyes watching them. He’d never wanted to get out of a cave so much in his life. He turned to Keyop, who was again somewhat subdued. He’d been excited when they’d found the bones but then closed down once they got into the Phoenix.
“Keyop, I want to apologize,” he said. Every head turned his way with wide eyes. Jason apologizing about anything wasn’t something they weren’t used to.
“Apologize?” Keyop asked in confusion for all of them.
“I didn’t believe you when you said you’d seen something in that cave,” Jason told him. “You were right.” He waved his hand at the window. “Something was in that cave.”
The Chief was standing off to their right near a wall mounted intercom. He turned it on. “Molles, what can you tell us so far?” he asked.
There were two men and a woman in scrubs in the room, moving amongst several white sheeted metal tables. One of the men, who was in white when the other two were in green, was examining the large bone Jason had first found. It was over six feet long and the arc in it gave the impression it was a rib bone from a very large animal. The other man and woman were placing other bones out on the second table.
The man in white turned towards the window. His hair was a nondescript brown, with bushy but tight curls, the thick glasses resting on his nose making it difficult to see what color his eyes were. His skin was a light brown, scarred with marks indicating his skin had been pitted with something a number of years earlier.
“Can you tell what the remains belong to, Molles?” the Chief asked.
The scientist shook his head. “No. I’m not a marine biologist, but I doubt very highly these belong to a fish. The structure is too thick. For all I know this could be a whale bone, but I doubt it is due to the fact it’s a Loch. I’m going to have Bortles take a look. We’ll probably going to have to do DNA testing.”
“Let me know as fast as you can,” Anderson requested and then turned to the team. “It looks like we’re going to have to wait for that mech to show itself again. I want all of you to be ready to go out at a moment’s notice.”
“G-Force!” they chorused.
Jason laid on the couch, throwing a tennis ball up into the air and catching it. Mark was sitting in a chair, reading a magazine. Jason hadn’t noticed what one. Tiny and Keyop were playing a video game. Princess was making hot chocolate.
He glanced at Tiny and Keyop, seeing the game on the large screen. It looked like they were playing Destiny, a new game that Keyop had gotten two weeks earlier. Jason had watched a bit, thinking it was interesting, but not enough to play it himself.
Keyop handed Tiny his remote and rose. Jason watched him walk towards the door. The boy didn’t look well to him. Maybe he’d caught a cold from the cold water in the buggy. Jason went back to throwing his ball up and catching it.
Princess gave them each a mug of hot chocolate with whipped cream on top, leaving Keyop’s on the corner table next to the chairs in front of the TV. Jason sat up to sip it, his long legs still stretched out on the couch.
“Do you really think there could be whales in the Loch?” Tiny turned around to ask, putting the game on pause. “That might explain some of the Nessie sightings.
“Whales are salt water mammals. The Loch is fresh water,” Mark answered, not even taking his eyes from the magazine.
“Then what else could those bones be from?” Tiny wanted to know. Jason really didn’t want to think about it. He assumed everyone had a primordial fear of being eaten. He certainly did. Thank goodness nothing else had been alive in that cave with them.
“What if Keyop’s right?” Princess venture as she smacked Jason’s legs to force him to sit up completely. She sat down in the space his legs had vacated, resting her mug in her lap. “What if there is a Loch Ness Monster?”
Their bracelets beeped in unison. Mark raised his arm. “Ears on,” he said.
“Please come back to the CSI unit,” the Chief requested. “Bortles has some information for us.”
“We’re on our way,” Mark acknowledged. “Keyop, do you have that?” he asked since Keyop wasn’t in the room.
“Yeah. Be…right there,” the boy responded.
Keyop was the last to arrive. Jason watched him walk into the viewing room, noting how much paler he was than normal. When he sat down at one of the chairs near the large window, he winced. Jason felt a rush of anger. He was hurt, more than he’d let on. Couldn’t any of the others see that?
“What do you have for us, Bortles?” the Chief asked, pulling Jason’s attention from Keyop. He decided to talk to the boy as soon as he could.
A blonde man with a beard was in the CSI lab with Molles and the remains. “I’ve looked over the bones,” he said, motioning at the bones. “This was a very large animal, based on the density of the bone structure of this rib,” Bortles said, his hand caressing the bone.
“Nessie,” Keyop whispered, color coming back into his cheeks as his interest was piqued again.
“I’ve never believed in the stories about Loch Ness,” Bortles continued, having heard Keyop. “But whatever this was was upwards of thirty to forty feet long. I’d love to get into that cave to retrieve the rest of the bones.”
“Forty feet?” Tiny whistled as Jason’s stomach turned at the thought.
“I don’t think searching for more bones would be a good idea, at least not yet,” the Chief responded, hooking his fingers into the pockets of his vest. “Until we know how old those bones are and the DNSS tests come back, I don’t want anyone near that cave. We now know there could be something in that water that isn’t a mech that could be dangerous.”
“Now, there are animals that stores their food like that, but they’re not native to this area. Alligators,” Bortles threw out there.
“A giant alligator?” Tiny frowned. “This water’s way too cold.”
“Like Lake Placid,” Keyop chortled, Nessie forgotten for the moment. “Feed it…cows!”
“Keyop,” Mark turned towards him. “You do realize if it was a giant alligator, it would have fit into the cave while you and Jason were in it too?”
“Thanks, Mark.” Jason scowled at him, remembering the movie. At the time, he’d loved Betty White’s acting as she told the investigators how her husband had ‘accidently’ fallen into the lake to be eaten by the giant alligator living in Lake Placid. “Just what I wanted to hear. Next time, you’re going diving.”
“What? Are you afraid of alligators?” Mark asked with mock seriousness.
Jason’s scowl deepened. “You haven’t had a good look at those bones. If you had, you wouldn’t be joking about it.”
“All right,” the Chief said in an attempt to defuse the discussion. “Thanks Bortles. Let me know what you find out.”
“Will do,” Bortles promised.
As they left the viewing room, Jason edged towards Keyop. Keyop noticed and gave him a wary look.
“I want to talk to you,” he said, glancing at the others. “In private,” he added. Keyop suddenly looked as if he’s been caught in the cookie jar. “Meet me at my room in ten.” Not waiting for an answer, Jason peeled off from the others to head for their quarters. Keyop knew if he didn’t show, Jason would track him down.
Once in his room, Jason paced, caught between wanting reading Keyop the riot act and worrying how badly he was really hurt.
When he heard a half-hearted knock on his door, he rushed over to open it. Keyop was chewing on his lower lip. His eyes on the floor. Jason motioned him in, glancing down the halls to make sure no one had followed the kid. Once he closed the door, he pointed at his bed. “Have a seat.” Keyop shuffled over and sat, his hands joined in his lap, his eyes still on the floor.
Jason didn’t want to intimidate him, so he sat on the bed beside him.
“How bad are you really hurt?” he asked as gently as he could. Keyop slowly turned his head to meet his eyes. “No bull. How bad?” Keyop started to take a deep breath but then curtailed it. If taking a deep breath hurt…
“I just don’t…feel well,” Keyop said in a low voice. “My…insides…hurt sometimes.”
“Let me take a look.” Keyop pulled his shirt up. Jason’s breath caught. The bruising was worse, some of it so dark it looked black. He reached out and gently ran his hand down Keyop’s side. The boy winced. Jason stopped his hand at one spot just above Keyop’s hip because the area felt warmer than it should. That would explain the extreme color of the bruise there – internal bleeding.
He pulled his hand back, sighing. “Okay. That bruising is not normal. You’ve got a warm spot and the bruising there is so dark it could be indicating internal bleeding. We’re going to go back to medical to have them check you again.”
“We can’t!” Keyop’s eyes widened in fear. “We have to…find the…mech and Nessie!”
“Keyop.” Jason rubbed his hands over his face, contemplating just picking him up and carrying him. “Your health is more important.”
“That’s not…what you said!” the boy argued, fire in his brown eyes. “When you…got sick you…kept going! You said… the only important…thing was… to stop Spectra!”
It was as if Keyop had punched him in the gut. He was throwing his own words back at him, the same words Jason had said to Mark when Mark confronted him a year earlier about something being wrong. Mark had pressed and Jason had become defensive. It had erupted into a brawl until Mark’s one well-placed blow had landed him on the ground, unable to get up.
“And it damned near killed me, Keyop,” he reminded the boy. “My implant was failing. If Mark and I hadn’t gotten into that fight, if Mark hadn’t cold cocked me, I might have gone to sleep that night and never woken up.
“I was a fool.” He stared hard at Keyop. “Don’t follow my example. I had to learn the hard way my health was important. It’s kind of hard to defeat Spectra if you’re dead.” The fire in Keyop’s eyes dissipated but his lower lip began to tremble. Jason slipped an arm around him and pulled him into his side. “I promise, if we find Nessie, I’ll get pictures for you, but we are going to medical, okay?”
“Okay,” Keyop mumbled into his side.
Jason held his left arm away from him. The Chief was yelling so loud he could have woken the dead, but when he took a breath to breathe more fire, Mark’s yelling took up just as loudly. Jason thought his bracelet might shatter from the volume.
“Why didn’t you say something?” they chorused.
“I just did,” he countered, exasperated. “Why didn’t the doctor catch he had torn his kidney when he was first examined? If I hadn’t seen that bruise, the kid would still be trying to keep up with us.” There. He was placing responsibility where it belonged. “And how did it happen? We weren’t thrown around that much.”
There was silence for a moment, then the Chief said in a much calmer voice, “Dr. Matlock said it was a freak occurrence, and you’re right, this isn’t your fault.” Jason rolled his eyes. It wasn’t much of an apology but it was all he was going to get. “They’re prepping him for surgery. Hopefully it won’t be bad.”
“What if it is?” Jason felt his throat tighten. He suspected he knew what that would mean but he wanted to hear it from the Chief.
“If it’s bad, they’ll have to remove the kidney.” And Keyop would be off the team. Jason had trouble swallowing. Now he knew how the others had felt when he was being prepped for implant surgery. They hadn’t known what the end result would be for him either.
“I’ll wait here.” Jason sat down in the nearest chair in the waiting room. He knew the others would be on their way.
The door opened. A nurse stuck her head out. Jason remembered her from his time in medical. Jason thought her name was Pam.
“You want to see him before we take him in?” she asked. “He could use some reassurance.”
Jason’s throat tightened again. He tried to clear it as he rose. “Sure,” he managed to say as he followed her through the door into the surgical prep area. Keyop was on a gurney, covered in blankets, his hair tucked into a surgical hat. He was pale.
“Hey kiddo.” Jason stopped beside the bed and took his hand, avoiding the IV tube attached to it. Keyop’s hand was clammy. “You’re going to be fine, just like I was.” He smiled at him with as much encouragement as he could. “You’ll be back to kick Zoltar’s butt in no time.”
“Yeah,” Keyop said half-heartedly.
“I’ll be just outside. The others are on their way.”
“The Chief mad?” Keyop’s lower lip started to tremble again. Jason shook his head.
“Not at you. Me for not making you come back to medical sooner, but I can handle it.” Jason placed his hand on Keyop’s forehead in a rare show of affection. “See you in a little while.” Keyop nodded.
“Here we go.” Pam and another nurse moved Jason out of the way to push the gurney down the hall. Jason waited until they disappeared behind the No Unauthorized Personnel doors before returning to the waiting room.
Jason watched Princess wring her hands as she paced. Center Neptune had the best doctors in the world, yet the trauma doctor on duty when he and Keyop were brought in had missed how badly the kid was hurt. They had a right to be worried.
As if sensing where his thoughts were, Mark leaned towards him. “The Chief told me the doctor who examined Keyop has been suspended. They’re keeping a close eye on him in case he decides to do anything stupid,” he whispered.
“Like sell us out?” Jason quipped equally quietly. That was one worry they always had when someone was reprimanded or released for not doing their jobs. Sadly, it had happened often enough they had to be cautious. Jason couldn’t comprehend turning against you own species and planet, regardless how disgruntled you might be.
“I hope not.” Mark sat back but kept his eyes on him. “You did a good job convincing Keyop to come back to medical,” he conceded, much to Jason’s surprise. He shrugged.
“If he hadn’t agreed, I was just going to pick him up and carry him.” He gave Mark a sheepish grin. “I didn’t exactly give you that option.”
Mark shook his head. “I had Tiny waiting on the sideline in case that became a last resort. As a matter of fact, you obviously don’t remember he did carry you to medical after you went down.”
“No, I don’t remember but he told me a few weeks later.”
They both turned towards the door, their implant enhanced hearing picking up on footsteps behind it. They were already getting to their feet when it opened. Dr. Matlock exited, still in scrubs as he pulled his mask off.
“How is he?” Princess asked before anyone else could, her hands joined against her chest. Matlock smiled at her.
“He’s doing fine. It was a small tear, but had been oozing since the incident. We stitched it up. With his implant-induced healing, he should be back to normal in a few days.”
“That’s a relief,” Tiny said for all of them as he slapped Jason on the arm.
“He’s in recovery. We’ll have him in his room in about an hour. You can see him then.”
“Thank you,” Anderson told him as they shook hands. As the doctor turned to go back into the restricted area, the Chief faced the team. “Be ready to go out without him for the next week,” he advised, his eyes roaming over each of them. “I’d rather give him an extra day or two for recovery.”
“We’ve got it,” Mark assured. The Chief excused himself as they settled back into their seats to wait to see Keyop.
After an hour of assuring themselves Keyop was fine – the boy was in better spirits, the color back in his cheeks – they decided to go to bed. With their training to take advantage of sleep whenever needed, Jason was able to get to sleep quickly.
He had no idea how long he had been asleep when his bracelet pinged and vibrated, getting his attention. He groaned as he reached over to turn on the lamp then squinted until his eyes adjusted to the light.
“Spectra’s mech has appeared in Glasgow,” the Chief said through the bracelet. “Intercept it.”
“Big Ten,” Jason acknowledged as he heard the others do the same.
In a matter of minutes they were in the air, heading for England.
“Seriously?” Jason asked in disgust as the Leprechaun mech reached down to pull the roof off a small church, reaching in as loud speakers built into it bellowed, “Give me my gold!”
“Let me hit it with a missile,” he asked but Mark shook his head.
“We’re too close to houses and a school.”
“Then what are we going to do? Tell it bad jokes?” Jason snarled. Mark turned just enough in his seat to give him an annoyed look before turning his attention to Tiny.
“Tiny, see if you can convince them to follow us out of here,” he instructed. “Let’s get it someplace where we can take care of it.”
“Roger,” Tiny said as he pushed Phoenix down into a dive. He angled the ship, slipping them under one of the arms. Jason couldn’t resist as he angled the missile launcher just in time to get one quick shot into the armpit.
The explosion showered the Phoenix in debris, nearly tearing the mech’s arm off. It dropped what was left of the roof onto its own foot.
“Jason…” Mark stormed even as Tiny laughed.
“Good one, Jase!” Tiny chortled as he brought them around for another run. Even Princess was snickering behind her white gloved hand.
A few more passes, sans any more missiles, irritated the captain of the mech enough to give chase. Like many other bipedal mechs Spectra had created in the past, this one had jets in its feet. In no time, they were leading it away from the city into the countryside.
“Where to Mark?” Tiny asked as he watched the rear monitor to make sure it was still following them.
“Loch Ness. We can shoot it down into the water. Less of a chance of collateral damage,” Mark instructed.
“Mark, the Chief’s on the line,” Princess declared, sending his image to the monitor above the Phoenix’s main viewing window without being told to do so.
“Team, I was just informed by medical Keyop is missing,” he told them, annoyance in his voice. His eyes settled on Jason.
“Don’t look at me,” Jason responded defensively. “The last time I saw him was with all of you.”
“You’ve skipped out of medical before. Keyop looks up to you and Mark. He likes to follow your examples.”
Jason shook his head. “Oh no. I’m not taking responsibility for the kid running off. You can’t pin that on me. Besides, where were the doctors and nurses? Weren’t they keeping an eye on him?” Jason couldn’t believe the Chief would blame him for Keyop slipping out of medical just because he had once done the same thing. Keyop had a habit of disappearing and getting into trouble all on his own.
Jason felt Mark’s hand on his arm in a show of support. Mark knew how much Jason regretted the hell he had put the team through when he disappeared from medical following the surgery to repair his damaged implant. Mark also knew how much Jason hated it when the Chief brought it up.
Anderson looked away from the screen for a moment, then turned back with a long-suffering look in his eyes. “His buggy is also missing from maintenance. I have a feeling he’s heading towards Loch Ness.”
“Was it fully repaired?” Mark wanted to know. Jason realized at the same time that if the buggy hadn’t been fully repaired and Keyop tried to take it down into the Loch, it would depressurize and fill with water again.
“We’re on our way there to take care of the mech,” Mark informed the Chief. “If Keyop’s there or shows up, hopefully we’ll find him before he gets into trouble.”
“Then I wish you good luck.” The monitor where the Chief had been went black.
“I’ll try to reach Keyop,” Princess said before Mark could suggest she do so.
“Uh, Mark,” Tiny interrupted. Both Jason and Mark turned to him. “I’m getting a weapon’s signature from the mech.”
Jason rushed to his radar just as alarms sounded. “Incoming!” he shouted as he saw the telltale signature of missiles on his radar screen.
Tiny pulled the ship sharply to the left, throwing Mark to the floor as he hadn’t reached his seat yet. He slid, grabbing the edge of his seat to keep from hitting the control panel in front of it. Tiny straightened them out as Mark scrambled up into his seat.
Jason saw a second set of missiles, but Tiny had turned the ship enough to be able to see them himself. He turned the ship in the opposite direction. They could hear the missiles through the hull as they roared past, barely missing them.
“Jason!” Mark shouted even as Jason set the missile launcher to fire back. Unfortunately, before he could fire, the Leprechaun mech sent another missile their way. Tiny juked the ship, making them all hold on for dear life. This time, they weren’t as lucky.
The missile nicked the Phoenix’s top fin, making the ship wobble without the stability the fin provided. Tiny was fighting the controls, trying to keep them in the air as the Leprechaun took advantage of the situation to reach out with its good arm to try to grab the ship. The hand wasn’t able to grasp the ship but hit the Phoenix with enough force to send the ship spinning.
“Hold on!” Tiny yelled as he tried to regain control but then the Leprechaun added insult to injury by turning to literally kick the Phoenix like a football.
More alarms went off as systems exploded from the damage. Everyone was thrown about as the ship headed straight for the water of the Loch at breakneck speed. The Phoenix hit hard, the impact twisting the starboard wing with a metallic tearing sound.
As cold, murky Loch water burst into the bridge through ruptured hull seams, Jason wished he hadn’t listened to Mark and shot their missiles at the mech when it was tearing the roof off the church.
As the Phoenix started to sink, Jason picked himself up off the floor, fighting the tilted bridge floor to get to Princess, who had been hit full force with the streaming water. She was coughing and sputtering, involuntarily covering her face to protect it from the sparks firing off her console that erupted into flames. He got ahold of her waist, steadying her as he pushed her towards his seat.
Mark and Tiny were manipulating the controls, trying to seal the breach in the hull with crash foam while keeping their eye out for the mech.
“Where is it?” Mark yelled, glancing back Jason’s way. Princess took Jason’s tilting seat as he activated the internal fire retardant system to put out the fire in her console just as the streaming water became a trickle.
“It’s in the water coming towards us!” she shouted between coughs. Even with the fire retardant system active, the bridge had filled with smoke. With the fire under control, Jason reached for their missile controls.
“I’ll blow it away,” he promised, using the radar positioning of the mech to aim the launcher, only to have a ‘not responding’ message pop up on the control screen in bold red letters. He cursed. “No go! The launcher must have been damaged!”
“Hold on!” they suddenly heard over the communications feed as Tiny managed to get the front screen back up so they could see the Leprechaun bearing down on them. They all recognized the voice.
“Keyop!” Princess cried in alarm. “Where are you?”
Jason reached around her to hit a switch on the radar. A bright yellow blip appeared on the radar behind the mech. Keyop was there but they couldn’t see him.
“The buggy’s right behind it! Keyop, watch out!” Jason directed at their teammate, caught between wanting to reach out to strangle the kid and wanting to kiss him. “It has missiles!”
“So do…I,” Keyop responded haughtily as the radar showed him firing on the mech. His missiles caught the Spectrans off guard, slamming into its back as it walked through the water towards the floundering Phoenix. It stopped and turned around to face the new threat.
“Watch it, Keyop!” Mark repeated. Keyop’s buggy only held four low yield missiles. They could now wee the mouth of the buggy open as the last two missiles were fired. As soon as they were off, Keyop flew the buggy straight up to get out of the line of fire. Even as Keyop’s missiles hit the mech square on, the Leprechaun’s head swiveled up to follow the path the buggy was taking.
Jason’s heart nearly stopped when the mech lined up a missile of its own at the buggy.
Something large and dark reared out of the water between the mech and Keyop’s buggy, hitting the mech so hard the mech was forced sideways into the water. It created a twenty foot wave that shook the Phoenix and after a moment bathed the road along the Loch on that side. Luckily, no cars had been on it or they would have been washed away.
The water frothed where the mech had gone down. Jason could swear he saw what looked like a long, giant tail beating on the mech. Pieces broke away as something shot out of the mech, barely missing Keyop’s buggy as it ascended into the sky.
“Did you guys see that?” Tiny asked, his voice hushed. Jason could only stare at the screen as they watched what was left of the mech sink. He hadn’t seen that, had he?
“Did you…see that!” Keyop exclaimed. “Nessie! She…got the…mech!”
Jason looked towards Mark. They exchanged stunned looks.
“Did we get that on video?” Mark asked, sounding as if he wasn’t sure that would be good or bad.
“I doubt it.” Princess rose from Jason’s chair, walking through the watery muck on the floor to where her three teammates were standing. “What are we going to tell the Chief?”
“Those bones have a living cousin,” Jason ventured when he found his voice.
It took a while for Galaxy Security to secure the area. They managed to repair the Phoenix just enough to get the warship home in one piece. With the wing ending in the pod for Keyop’s buggy too damaged for the buggy to dock, Keyop got home the same way he had used to come to Loch Ness.
There wasn’t much left of the mech. The surviving Spectran troops were rounded up to be questioned. There was no sign of what had brought the mech down.
Once he returned to base, Keyop got to experience the ranting anger of the Chief about the danger he had placed himself in so soon after surgery. He was then ordered back too medical for evaluation to make sure he hadn’t torn any of his sutures. Even though he had been contrite as he listened to the Chief, once in medical all he could talk about was Nessie taking down the mech invading her Loch.
“Was it Nessie?” the Chief had later asked the four older members of the team. There had been no video capturing the attack on the mech by an unknown entity due to the damage the Phoenix had taken. They looked at each other, no one really willing to say what they had seen was the Loch Ness Monster. But just in case, they had all sworn to keep what they had seen to themselves until there was real proof the Loch Ness Monster existed.
“Let’s just say its up to what Dr. Bortles learns about those bones,” Mark finally said for all of them. The Chief accepted their report and dismissed them.