Location: Universe 6612
My name is Princess.
A silly name, I know, but it's been mine ever since I started with the G-Force program. The way I got my name isn't important.
How I don't live up to it isn't, either.
What is important is how it all changed in one instant of one day.
I remember it clearly. A simple day, at least in the life of a G-Forcer. For someone else it might have been eventful, but I was accustomed to odd discoveries, alien artifacts, Spectran intrigues, and other oddities.
Mark folded his arms over his chest, squinting at the two objects on the other side of the clear barrier as two technicians circled them as the low-power test continued. "Who knew we might get something useful out of that old briefcase."
I followed his gaze to the twin tubular engines on the other side of the thick safety plexiglass. Their appearance was nothing like the engines in the Phoenix. Or any craft I'd seen.
And why should it? It wasn't based off Earth technology.
"You're lucky it wasn't shot to pieces. Or dropped," I said, recalling the steep cliff where they'd picked up Mark along with the dead body of the alien known as Zeno.
Amazing the briefcase with the remains of the technology left behind by Zeno's people survived and for the odd word whispered to Mark just before dying. The word that turned out to be the key for breaking the code of the information inside.
Leading to the development of the engines in the other room. The third generation built, and if all went well they might replace the Phoenix engines. If they worked, Spectra would be within easy striking distance, giving them a foot up in the war like nothing else so far.
"We were lucky," Mark murmured.
Mark, on another of his solo adventures. Running right smack into the middle of a Spectran plan to kidnap Zeno and use his people's technology for use in their inter-planetary war machine. How easy it could have been for their commander to lose his life. To Spectra, to Zeno or the secrets he carried, or to the treacherous terrain.
Why did he and Jason have such a need for such adventures?
Didn't they get enough of that in their regular missions?I worried about Keya. The girl was following right in their footsteps.
As if on command, Keya bounced into the room, fully clothed in her sparrow birdstyle. She pulled off her helmet as she came to stop next to Mark and planted a big kiss on his cheek.
She pouted. "Here you are. Why are you watching a bunch of boring scientists instead of down in the training rooms with me?"
"I intended to join you in a few minutes," Mark said with a smile that drove a feather dart straight into my heart.
Join her. Oh yeah, but not with the connotation that it meant for the rest of team.
"This is boring." The pout continued. As I knew it would. Keya didn't like to sit still even in the best of circumstances. A test like this? No way.
And it annoyed me more than it should.
"Engines built with alien technology is boring?" I asked, thumbing towards the room. "These could revolutionize the war if our suspicions concerning their power and range is correct. And the power source alone could provide an entirely new means of clean power."
Keya wrinkled her nose at me. "That's your kind of fun, Princess. Not mine. You're the science geek."
Mark snaked an arm around her waist and pulled her close. "Be patient. This test means a lot to all of us."
The pouting eased as Keya turned adoring eyes towards Mark. A look she'd given him a million times before ever since they'd openly displayed their pairing despite Chief Anderson's disapproval.
I diverted my attention back to the other room. The two scientists that had been circling the engines headed towards the sealed door. Good, time for me to get distracted, as well.
Away from the looks. The soft touches.
How I wished he would look at me like that. Just once.
But why should he? Keya was the outgoing one. The one who had told Mark in no uncertain terms she was interested. Who refused to be inhibited by what was 'proper' within a team.
I wish I were that brave sometimes. As brave as I knew I could be in front of a Spectran army.
Maybe I could turn my attention? Jason?
No, I didn't want to be one of the many at Center Neptune that commanded his attention. The man had turned into the G-Force playboy since he'd turned nineteen. Besides, the feelings just weren't there, no matter how I wanted or needed for them to go elsewhere.
It appears Jason felt that same as he'd never once approached me in any other fashion than that of a sister. And Tiny was a lost cause, happily in a long-term relationship with one of the male mechanics for the Phoenix.
And compared to the G-Force commander, no man I'd ever met measured up. Alone with a house full of cats is how I expect to end up. And, honestly, I'm not all that happy with it. After the men of G-Force, how could anyone else measure up?
At a signal from one of the technicians, I sighed. "Time for the test to begin."
"Good luck!" Keya shouted out after me as I headed for the clean room entrance.
A quick change into one of the white suites complete with hood and I was in the room. And the first visual I got through the observation window was Keya doing her best to suck out Mark's tonsils. I saw him laugh and push her away, turning his attention back to me.
He gave me a thumbs-up.
Well, as attention went, it would have to do. The relationship between the two only seemed to grow with the months, not weaken.
Jason appeared through the door to stand next to Mark. The two stood shoulder to shoulder talking. I found myself lip reading automatically. Jason asking how the test was going. When it might be finished? Mark responding that it was about to start. Jason wondering if the team geek was going to prolong it, as Princess was known to get over-involved in her projects.
I turned my head. I didn't need to hear, to see, more. Over-involved? Only because no one else seemed to want to divert my attention. Well, and I actually liked it. Thankfully for the team I did, considering how many times my little tidbits of information aided us when out on missions.
"Hey, Princess. When are you getting done up there?" I heard from my wrist communicator.
Through the light fabric over my wrist I said, "Tiny, you can just wait. I'm only starting."
"My pal and I want to go get a burger. Hurry it up."
My hand gripped the control box in my hand. Tiny and his stomach.
I knelt down at the head of the two engines at a juncture box linking them at a gold glowing rounded-edge box that housed the new power source. With quick hands I attached the control box.
"Control, I'm activating the power source. Any odd readings from the engines?"
"G-3, all readings are as expected," a female technician said through my earpiece.
I upped the power, my implants straining to hear or see any unusual behavior in the activity of the engines. Light appeared along a power line on the top outside of both. According to the scientists, my implants should be able to detect any power feedbacks before they could.
I hoped they were right. I didn't want to end up a crispy bird in the middle of an experiment. Not there was much risk. The tests of the previous two versions went without any issues. Still, there was that small risk.
How did I get myself into these things anyway?
Ah yes, by being good at what I did. Over-achiever extraordinaire, that was me.
A little higher and I could hear the high-pitched whine of power circling back through the transducers on my end of the engines. The new bio-mechanical matrix sounded strange to my ears. A smooth whistling hum at the upper end of human hearing, with a warmth to it I'd never heard in anything mechanical.
"All readings are within parameters," the technician said. "Do you hear anything concerning?"
"Nothing concerning, nor do I see anything. The power is flowing smoothly."
"Alert us the moment you hear anything screaming."
Yeah, yeah, like I hadn't heard that so many times in the preps for the test? And how did they really know that was what a problem would sound like if they had one? I'd never received a satisfactory answer to that one.
"Almost finished?" Jason asked through the communicator.
"Are you kidding, she'll be in there for another hour," Tiny answered back.
My lips thinned as I took the power source to the next level, punching the communicator through the fabric. "Very funny, guys. Lay off."
"Uhoh, the scientist is angry," Tiny said with a laugh.
"Knock it off. The more you distract her, the longer it will take," Mark said. "Do you want new engines or not?"
"I like my Phoenix the way it is now," Tiny answered. Now that one I laughed at. Tiny didn't like anyone messing with his bird without is final say-so, and on this one he'd been overruled by Chief Anderson. If the engines tested well, then they would be added to the Phoenix. He couldn't complain much considering the original engines would remain.
I stood up to listen to the engines further down, taking a step over one of the power conduits leading to the right engine. Through the glass Mark had his arm over Keya's shoulders. Jason was laughing at her. Another remark from Tiny.
I scowled. Enough was enough. Next training run, I would show them a few things I learned on the last mission, and it would mean a few bruises for all of them. Was I not a member of the same team? Could I not keep up with any and all of them?
If I had the guts to try it out on them.
I leaned over to listen to the left engine inner baffle. Okay, it was fine. Now that I was away from my control box, I could hear the odd whistle coming from behind me. It might be from the control box itself.
I straightened up and took several long steps back to my original position.
I stopped, seeing a strange movement out of the corner of my eye, turning my head in time to see Mark and Jason double over as if in pain. Keya simply collapsed, as did the scientists behind them.
But, I couldn't hear anything through the observation window. Only see their faces contort into masks of pain and torture.
Then came the screaming through the communicator. All of my team. With a raw power that laced my implants into fight mode.
I brought up my arm as I ran to the control box, "Mark, what's happening?"
No answer. Nothing but the screams.
Time to end the experiment. Find out what was happening. To stop whatever was happening. Did it have something to do with the engines?
The pain slammed me harder than a mecha taking a swipe. Through the head, down my nerves into my extremities.
The pain. End the pain!
I tried to reach past the power source to the control box, focussing only on what I must do.
Shut down the engines.
Stop the test.
As I collapsed, I felt my hand brush the edge of the control box even as my stomach dropped on top of the power source box, pushing the air out of my lungs.
The screams came through every channel on his console. 7-Zark-7 rushed to his control boards with 1-Rover-1 yapping excitedly around him.
"Quiet, 1-Rover-1, I need all my faculties focused on the problem. Obviously someone is playing a trick on us," Zark said as he started to work the controls.
But, no matter what channel he changed to, there remained the screaming. Any channel with humans on the other end. Not only in Center Neptune, but far beyond. Off-world ports, other worlds. Ships and space stations, as well. The interplanetary channels, both civilian and military.
"This is Susan, from the Early Warning Station on Pluto," a soft sultry female voice said over one of the secure channels.
"I don't have time right now, Susan," Zark said, even as his circuitry zinged with the sound of her voice. "We are in the middle of an emergency."
"Indeed we are. I am picking up horrifying screams on every channel, from all planets. Even from Spectra."
"Spectra?" Zark paused at that. "This is not one of their attacks? What is causing these screams?"
A blip of power scrambled all the channels, feeding back into his data ports and fosdic. His optics went dark as the rest of his systems reacted.
His power systems began compensating and realigning immediately. He must. He had duties to perform, and he was the only one who could. His team needed him! He must find the source of this horror and send them out on a mission to stop it.
In a matter of seconds all his internal systems came back online, through both design and willpower.
Only to find a control center in partial darkness, not all the systems having yet recovered. Rover lay on the floor in front of him, obviously not yet rebooted.
The communication lines were silent. All of them except the automatic robotic reporting stations.
This couldn't be good.
"Reroute, 1-Rover-1. I will need your help."
By the time Zark made it to the secondary main control panel Rover was stirring, getting to his feet to shuffle after him.
He pointed to a panel in the back of the circular room. "Reroute the secondary power into communications. I must contact Chief Anderson and the team."
Recovering quickly, Rover moved where pointed. Even without the boost in power, Zark started calling, hoping for a response even with minimum power, "Chief Anderson, Commander, we have a power spike. Center Neptune is compromised with outside communications interrupted."
No one answered.
"Chief, Commander, answer!"
"I am receiving no organic transmissions of any kind," Susan said.
Zark glanced over to the brightly blinking speaker that had lowered itself from the ceiling next to his head. "Susan, do you detect any Spectra activity?"
"None at all. Everything is as silent as they were loud a moment ago," she said, her voice echoing her confusion.
"G-Force, respond. Update your position," Zark turned to his console, bringing up the internal security cameras of Center Neptune and Research Center.
Still no answer.
And more than that. He couldn't find anyone in either installation to talk to. Nothing moved. No people, anywhere.
"Both centers are empty," Zark said as Rover rejoined him. "How can Spectra have done such a thing?"
"Spectra has perfected teleportation technology?" Susan suggested.
"They would first have to know our position, which all intelligence says they do not." Zark widened the search. "I can't find the team. Susan, contact the closest Galactic Security installations. We may need their help."
"I've already tried, Zark. No one is answering."
"Oh dear," Zark muttered, flipping through the views of the security camera's faster and faster, on the brink of a full computerized panic.
He tried to replay the security recordings, but the same power surge that affected him and his control room had affected the recordings. He set a bank of processors into recovering anything they could from the damaged recordings.
He stopped, and flipped back to one camera.
The cafeteria. It should be filled with those taking a third shift lunch. Only no one was there. Only trays and plates on the tables, food steaming in the buffet.
He sharpened his vision. No, there was something else.
Clothing in little piles. On the floor, on the chairs, some draped over the guard rail at the edge of the steel buffet table.
Uniforms. With ash piled inside and on top.
Zark felt his fosdic spike. No, it couldn't be.
But, the more he looked the more he found. Once he alerted Susan about what to look for she found more. In every Galaxy Security installation either of them could access.
No, the team! He must find the team!
Zark turned his attention back to the cameras, flipping though to the last places he knew the team had been.
The G-force quarters. He found the number 5 shirt on the floor in the kitchen.
To Chief Anderson's personal office and the suit slumped in the big office chair behind the polished maple desk. A steaming cup of hot coffee lay on its side with the dark fluid dripping over the edge.
To the G-Force training rooms.
Good, no one there.
Only to find three piles of ash and clothes in the observation room where the new engines were due to be tested today. Including one pile of a swallow birdstyle.
The bank of processors signaled they were finished. The best they could do with three views in the lower levels.
The images didn't lessen his confusion. A blink of light enveloped the bodies of the repair technicians with the image indicating intense screaming, and then nothing. Only clothing and dark ash collapsing to the floor.
The same must have happened to the team. He didn't have the security footage yet, but he soon would. It would be a horrifying sight, but he had to be sure they were truly dead. Perhaps somehow they escaped the catastrophe? They did possess cerabonic implants, after all.
If he'd had a heart, it might have stopped by now. His internal power supply lowered, all his systems in mourning. Wishing the evidence did not point to one conclusion, and yet his programming insisted it must be true.
The team. Chief Anderson. All of the personnel and crew that had any hope of protecting Earth from Spectral.
All except one.
"Zark, you need to see this," Susan said, her voice subdued.
One of his monitors switched on, displaying a quick succession of images. Cities, towns, the security views inside mass transportation.
All of them filled with the piles of ash and clothing he'd found in Center Neptune.
"Do you see anyone moving," Zark asked, his hand hovering over his control board.
"No, I don't. Nowhere. I've taken remote control of several inbound spaceships. You might want to take control of crucial systems on Earth until we find out what happened."
He automatically worked, his fosdic threatening to melt down at the stillness in all the images he looked at. But, a part of his processor stood apart, despite needing it to take control of Earth's infrastructure.
He had to find her.
Had to find Princess.
The screams echoed in my ears as consciousness returned. My implants hummed along with the sound coming from the still-operational engines.
What a headache. Even the implants ached, despite checking back as operational.
But, reset. Something knocked out my implants for the briefest second, putting them into a reboot. Such as the engines?
I rolled off the controller even while fumbling for the controls. Must shut them off before they did more damage.
The engines responded instantly. Their smooth deep hum cycled down. The power lines along their surface dimmed and darkened. Easy to see with the room dark except for emergency lights. My cerabonically-enhanced hearing followed the sound even after they left normal human-hearing range.
The screams remained, an echo ringing in my ears even in the silent room.
On the floor and leaning back against one of the engines, I asked, "Mark, the engines are off. What happened?"
Mark didn't answer back. No comments came from the rest of the team, either, nor demands to know what happened. I didn't have an answer for them, either. All indications on my side said the engines were working perfectly fine. No complaints from the other technicians, either.
It took all my strength to lift my left wrist to look at the communicator. The light came from a point at the bottom of it telling me it was still operational.
I pressed the surface anyway, to give the others a beep before I called again. "Mark, Jason? Chief Anderson? Anyone?"
"Princess?" Zark asked, his voice strained.
Zark. Another one I didn't have answers for, and Zark loved answers. And questions. And attention. I wasn't in the mood for it right now.
I rolled to my side and got myself to my hands and knees. "Get Mark on the line. And Chief Anderson."
"Oh Princess, how wonderful to hear your voice," Zark practically shouted over the communicator. In the background Rover barked with his sharp metallic bark. "Where are you? Center Neptune systems are still resetting."
"Research Center. Engines, remember?" Dizziness flushed through my head. I started crawling to the doors leading out of the room. If the engines were still putting out anything then I wanted as far away as possible.
Drat it, why weren't the others coming to help me? There were suited technicians waiting on the other side of the airlock, ready to come in if I needed it. They should be here.
Crawling across the floor. Keya would love this. Would torment me with it for days or weeks.
"Yes, that's what I thought, but I couldn't find you." Zark sounded giddy. Happy and giddy, like he usually did when talking about Mark, the team, or how pretty Keya was. It wasn't a tone I was accustomed to hearing aimed at me. "I am so glad to hear your voice."
"Nice to hear you, too, Zark. It's dark in here. How about lights?"
"Oh yes, lights. Although, I don't think you will like what you see." Zark didn't explain his last comment, but instead gave me a running commentary of how he was going to get power back in my section of Research Center. I let him talk away. Sometimes it was nice how he could entertain himself.
I reached up to unlock the hatch, cringing as the pounding in my head increased. Fortunately, the door partially opened on its own, allowing me to crawl through to the other side without having to wrestle it open myself.
Good thing. Cerabonic implants, with more strength than two or more men, and I could barely hold my head up. This did not bode well. I didn't need to be told to get down to medical to have a complete checkup. I didn't like this at all.
Through blurry vision I found two white suits and other clothing on the floor inside the clean room, as if the technicians who should have come to my aid had quickly changed, threw everything on the floor, and ran for it. If they did, there would be sharp words exchanged.
With the help of a bench, I pulled myself up to my knees, and then finally to my feet. Still dizzy, but at least I could move easier. The headache still pounded.
The door from the clean room back into the observation room opened even easier. As I opened it the overhead lights switched on.
"I do believe I have found the fault," Zark reported. "You should have power. Princess, I need to warn you..."
A sob ripped out of the very core of my being.
Warn me? Warn me now? Not before?
"Zark!" I screamed, unable to take my eyes off the piles of clothes and gray and black ash.
Such neat piles, each one exactly where I remembered them from the other room. The places they would have stood looking through clear partition watching me.
Numbered shirts. The special shoes. The wrist communicators.
The wall hit my back as I fell against it.
"I'm so sorry, Princess," Zark said, his own voice as sorrowful as my own heart. "I keep looking. Both Susan and I. We can't find anyone else."
My ears couldn't take in the meaning of all he said. My mind could focus only on what lay on the floor before me. The headache returned with a vengeance, and with it the dizziness. My heart skipped a beat and threatened to stop all together.
The scene warped as my eyes filled with tears I could not hold back. Nor did I want to hold them back. How could I?
My team. My team in little piles of ash and clothes.
The next few days were a blur. I'm not sure exactly what happened there, and yet I do recall specific points with painful clarity.
I recall Zark, Rover, Susan, and yes, the other robots and artificial intelligences we'd frequently worked with. Helping all they could. Always talking to me, as if afraid I might disappear as well. Keeping me protected in the G-Force quarters because of their high security, despite how I felt.
So empty. I dared not open any of the other rooms. All their things would still be inside, ready and waiting for their return. I expected them to return. To come into the living room, the dining area, the rec area. Training room or ready room? Just wasn't right they weren't there.
Zark and the others had good reason for their concern. I remember that part. In our cleaned-up ready room with multiple displays on, all of them showing scenes all across the worlds of the Federation. All of them were the same.
Empty and quiet. Nothing moving. Little piles of clothes and ash where the remains lay undisturbed. For those in the open, the elements had already scattered their remains. A gritty wind blew through the larger cities.
It could happen to me at a moment's notice. We didn't have any clue what caused it. If it had been confined to Research Center, perhaps we could blame the engines, but all across Earth and all the way out to Sirius and beyond? Zarcadia?
The humans of the world weren't the only ones affected. That was another moment of clarity I recall. When we realized humans and the other sub-species of humans of the Federation weren't the only victims.
Many monkey species. At least some dolphins and whales. We didn't have the entire picture, but it was enough to start tying this to a disaster afflicting a certain level of intelligence and above.
That set Zark off on a spat of out-loud musing that finally caused me to turn off my communicator. Let him reason it out. They were dead as were humans. A very specific extermination. If Spectra wanted Earth, this was the best way they could have come up with. When they attacked I would be the only one to stand in their way.
Which brought to mind a mental image of myself in the Commander's chair on the Phoenix with Zark an official member of the 'team,' finally getting the chance to go out on a mission. That was enough to give me a new case of the shivers.
And yet, the thought of this being an ultimate Spectra weapon didn't give me the same horrified shivers. Somehow I knew. I don't know how I did, but I was right.
Proven right when the robotic Galactic Patrol ship finally reached the first Spectran worlds and found the same thing as on Earth and the other Federation worlds. Silent worlds with robots and machinery sometimes still working, but nothing more.
The same even as they approached Spectra itself. The ship approached without response or resistance.
I'd flown over Spectra before. Always on surgical strikes designed to get in and out, or emergency evacuation.
No need to do so here. Not only was Spectra as dead as all the other worlds inspected, but several of the cities lay in shambles, including their capital. Power stations still operated in the remote areas but no power to speak of to any of the remaining infrastructure, much less to planet's self-defense systems.
Even in the center of the capital at where Zoltar's headquarters once stood, the place Mark and I had once secretly watched Zoltar speak to the mysterious being known only as "the Spirit" in an audience chamber. A crater where ash still lingered. A lot of ash.
It was a mystery for Zark and the other robots to ponder. Not for me.
For I had something else to ponder, something I never thought I would have to in my wildest dreams.
For, as far as any of us could tell, I was the last human left alive. Anywhere in the known universe.
"I am worried, Susan," Zark said. He looked around his control center. His small domain. It was so familiar, and yet now it seemed strangely empty despite everything in its proper place.
"Because you are a good friend," Susan said. Her speakers followed him around the room as he continued his cleaning spree. They talked more than ever now that their primary reason for existence no longer being existing.
"Are your scanners picking up any activity?" Zark asked. Partly out of habit, partly because of programming told him it was time to enquire, but also in hopes another miracle may appear. After all, they still had Princess.
"The same as before," Susan said. "I do hope you don't mind, Zark, but I have started to shut down nonessential sections of my facility. I am transferring fuel to my central depository."
"No, I do not mind at all," Zark said. "I started the remote shutdown of the Arcturus research center. Their robotics do not have the capability of continuing to repair the facility without human aid. I believe we need to continue this process. We must keep our positions functional for as long as possible."
"Consolidate to the Early Warning System?" Susan suggested.
"You read my mind, Susan."
"I like reading your mind."
Zark gave a half-giggle. Oh, how he loved these visits. "Yes, we must continue. The other worlds of the Federation are lost. Zoltar and Spectra are no longer a threat, but whatever did that could be. We must protect Earth and Princess."
1-Rover-1 barked his agreement from his bed next to the place where Zark took his 5-second oil breaks.
"I agree. We should do so as soon as possible," Susan said. "You know you have my full support."
"Thank you Susan. It's good to have you on our team."
It gave them something else to do, a mission to accomplish while Zark continued to put processing power towards the other problem.
Princess still needed their help.
I remember how Zark worried over me those days. Even as I swung between a numb zombie-like haze and times of heart-ripping sorrow, I knew he was there. Zark, always there, always trying in his imperfect way to be helpful.
Same with Rover and Susan, but mostly Zark.
I did appreciate it. Really I did.
But, to stay in Center Neptune around so much familiar? No, I couldn't do that. Despite their worries and complaints, I took one of the sub-cars back to the mainland. Transportation wasn't a problem. I had my choice of everything and anything. With the robots, under Zark's watch, cleaning up the closest cities, I also had the roads all to myself.
Cleaning up. He was doing it for my benefit, but what good did it ultimately do? I was only one lone human. Did he expect me to mother a whole new race of humans?
That gave me a shiver. Not likely to happen anyway. Not with all the nasty stuff I'd been in during my time on the team. Children were a dream I'd given up a long time ago.
I put those thoughts into the back of my head and just drove. Out of the city I knew so well and the businesses and homes of friends. Out past the freeways and into the back roads.
Two weeks hiking around the park in the mountains with nothing but nature, the animals, and the silence and I started to go stir-crazy. Retirement was one thing, but this wasn't retirement. No making a new civilian life, finding a place for myself among the people who took 'normal' for granted.
This was hell. Pure and simple.
And so back I went. Driving back through the empty streets, towns, and cities to return to the one place I'd called home for so many years. In the end, where else would I go?
"I'm so glad you are home," Zark said as I stepped out of the sub-car, back in one of the docks of Center Neptune. "I've been working hard to prepare for your return."
"Yes, I noticed the smaller roads along the coast are now clear," I said as I reached back into the sub-car to grab my backpack. "How far are you going with that?"
"Our recycling plants are in full production. We are crafting new robotics and a new Quanto Tobor plant for the East Coast. So many things to do, Princess, after we take care of the critical items such as the shutdown of most nuclear power plants."
"Of course. I'm sure you have it all organized," I said as I walked down the hallway towards my old room.
"Oh, and I've made a few changes here, as well," Zark said. A service robot, the kind usually used for polishing the floors, appeared in the hallway in front of me complete with the warning light blinking on its back.
"What kind of changes?" I asked as I paused.
"You were so sad when you left for your vacation," Zark started. Leave it to him to describe it as a simple vacation. As if I only needed a quick emotional recharge and everything would be fine again. I don't think he realized I wasn't sure if I would be back. "I thought a change of surroundings may help, so I rebuilt the quarters in B-section. I hope you like them."
"New quarters?" I repeated. The floor polishing robot started moving down the hallway as if expecting me to follow.
"Yes. It thought you would like to come back to somewhere new. I put in your favorite colors and I remember how much you liked watching "Design for Success." I have plenty of resources for such a project now."
Like I needed that reminder.
Zark sounded so glad to hear my, and yet pleading. He wanted me back. Wanted me to feel comfortable? How could I not at least look to see what he'd built? And, honestly, I wasn't looking forward to going back to the old G-Force quarters. I'd intended to pack my things and go find a bunk elsewhere in the facilities anyway.
So, I followed the robot all the way to B-Section, an area that used to house the managers and department heads.
I could see the difference the moment I stepped into it. Brightly painted walls. A new flooring that Zark must have brought in from one of the cities. Wider halls, too. Or at least it felt that way.
The robot stopped in front of a door. I couldn't remember who lived there before. Just as well. I didn't like feeling as if I were infringing on anyone else's space, despite being absolutely certain none of them lived.
The door opened into a long room ending at a portal outside of which swam a school of fish. A neat and trim dinette with a linen-draped table filled the first third of the room. Towards the portal sat plump chairs and a couch, looking like right out of the design show I loved watching.
I walked into the room. I'd only been gone for two weeks, right? Maybe a little more. Yet, this place looked right out of a design show or magazine. No Center Neptune room ever looked like this.
But, with one key difference. The items from my room that I'd dreaded going into the old section to get, were here scattered among the new.
I sat down in one of the chairs, finding it as comfortable as it looked, just staring around the room. Zark appeared on the big-screen TV, the lights on the front of his head flashing. "Do you like it? Have you seen your bedroom yet? Oh, and your office. Susan and I worked on it together."
Rover barked, his head appearing at the bottom of the screen. Zark put a metal hand on his head. "And Rover helped with the floors. He made sure they were durable and non-slip."
Probably by chewing on them.
The thought made me smile. My little family, as strange as it was. A robotic nanny watching over the galaxy, his pet robotic dog that could chew down an iron wrench in less than an hour, and a robot with a voice that could put the best sex phone operators to shame.
And they were all mine.
"It's wonderful, Zark. Thank you. You did the right thing. I needed new quarters." I said as I grabbed a throw pillow and hugged it. Yes, this was perfect.
"Wonderful! Now that you are here, I thought-"
"I have a project to work on," I interrupted.
Zark paused. "Oh, that's good. I was going to suggest several we are hard at work with."
"You've done a wonderful job in keeping this situation under control while I couldn't help. Please continue to do so," I said. "But, now I can help, and one thing is the most crucial in this situation above all."
"The human race," Zark answered.
"If the human race depends on my to help it come back to life, even if you found viable eggs and sperms somewhere, then you already know the odds are that it is doomed. You only need look into my medical records to know it," I said. Oh great, that was what he'd been thinking. Yes, time to distract Zark, and fast.
Zark's antennae drooped. "There is still a small chance. We do not want to do with humans, even if we are capable of doing so."
I held my tongue on that part. With Zark's quirky programming I didn't want to have that kind of philosophical discussion. Or to go over the odds. Or remind him just how much maintenance her personally required with the technicians who usually did it now dead.
"I refer to the threat we still face," I said, pushing up from the chair. Time for action, even if it had taken me a few weeks to get there. "Something attacked the worlds on this side of the galaxy. Perhaps the entire galaxy. Something still out there."
"We know this coincided with the test of the Zeno engines," Zark said.
"Yes and no. It happened during the test, but I'd already increased their power before the event." I stopped outside the door of my new quarters. "I hope you prepared for me a separate office?"
"To your right," Zark said, this time from my communicator. "This entire section has been adapted to your use, including recreation and training room."
Good. No need to go into the old sections at all. That would keep my head clear and focused. Right now memories were my enemy. "As I was saying, I think the assumption is wrong. The more I think about it and go over the readings, the more convinced I am."
"Turn right again. Main door is the office. If not, then what could do this?"
"Something else, something outside. It affected me, just didn't kill me. My implants are only now fully recovering."
I opened the door to a large comfortable office complete with an executive-style rich mahogany desk and high-backed office chair. The electronics were plain to see, but Zark had framed them in matching wood, bringing a cohesiveness to the decor I found pleasing. If I ever decided to shut down the Early Warning System, Zark could easily go into interior design.
I smiled at the doubting tone. Zark appeared on the large screen that rose up from within the desk as I settled into the chair. I cocked my head at him. "Then how about this? I think the engines protected me from whatever happened, not that they caused it. I was the only one close to them when it happened, and I'm the only one who survived."
Zark went silent, but his antennae bobbed up and down. I knew I had his attention with that one.
Finally he said, "Most interesting. I shall have to think about this."
"While you think about it, I want access to all records surrounding the time of the event." I slid a shallow drawer out from under the desk and hovered my fingers over the keyboard.
"Of course. Feeding all related data to your console." The computer screen blinked, the image of Zark moving to the upper right of the screen while the rest of it filled with a multitude of files. "Are you certain this is the path of enquiry you wish to pursue?"
I remember the feel of the padded chair, so comfortable that it felt as if it were built for me. Knowing Zark, it probably was. The smell of the new furniture and flooring. The tinge in the air of fresh paint. The comforting barely perceptible whir of Center Neptune's air circulation system. Every nuance of that moment when I set Center Neptune into a new direction with a new goal.
The start of a new journey.
Oh yes, I knew the path. "I am Princess of G-Force, and it's my duty to protect Earth from whatever threatens it. And it's time to get to work."