"Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate."
("Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.")
- Dante Alighieri, "La Divina Commedia"
"2030 situation report, please."
"All stations report situation normal, Jason. EHB1 all clear." Lisa sighed. "Same as at 2000 Hours."
"Just another one of our typical exciting nights," said Jason, the Chief Hangar Control Officer in charge of the Executive Hangar Bay of the Los Angeles Mother Ship.
"Working here practically defines excitement."
"I see you're learning, and doing so quickly."
"This most human of behaviors."
"Sarcasm, my dear. Sarcasm."
"What, are you implying that the night shift in the Executive Hangar Bay is so desperately lacking in excitement?"
"Well, I do try to do things so that there are no surprises."
"Or as few of them as possible."
"Right, quite right."
"I guess it should be expected. After all, we do work the night shift, and we hardly get any shuttle traffic at these hours."
"And Diana seldom, if ever, needs transport down to the surface, or to any of the Mother Ships. Most of her work she does up here."
"Well, lately that has not been the case, what with all the preparations down below for tonight's event at the Medical Center."
"True, though she is usually back on board by 1700 Hours." Lisa paused, her finger touching her chin for a moment. "Jason, why are we not watching the feed of the broadcast?"
"We're on duty. We're not supposed to be distracted by peripheral events."
"'Peripheral events'? I would hardly call John's broadcast a 'peripheral event.'"
"It is, for us. It has no bearing as far as our specific duties are concerned."
Lisa looked at him. "Now I can't tell if you mean that sarcastically or if you're being serious."
"My dear, you are precious." He walked over to a bank of monitors on an unoccupied console in their control room. "Very well. I'll find the feed to the broadcast below, and we'll-"
The sudden blare of an alarm klaxon stopped Jason in mid-sentence. "This is a Priority 1 Emergency Alert," said a voice over the public address system, just slightly louder than the alarm itself.
"That's Martin." Lisa easily recognized the voice.
"Repeat, this is a Priority 1 Emergency Alert. All personnel in the Executive Hangar section prepare to receive the Supreme Commander's squad ship. ETA is two minutes. Repeat, ETA for Supreme Commander squad ship is two minutes."
"Is this a drill?" Lisa asked as she fine-tuned her headset, focusing most of her attention onto her terminal.
"I would assume that it is not." Jason looked over Lisa's shoulder, finding the Supreme Commander's shuttle on her instruments. "There it is, on final approach."
"Do you think something happened planet-side?"
"That is a moot point." Jason looked at the ETA countdown on Lisa's terminal. "Alert hangar security to prepare to receive the Supreme Commander and notify hangar personnel to attend to his shuttle."
Lisa complied, speaking into her microphone with urgent professionalism. Jason walked over to the window overlooking the hangar bay, observing his crew moving into their positions. Security personnel, with their gleaming gold helmets and gold trim on the shoulders of their uniforms, arrayed themselves in two rows just beneath Jason's window.
I wonder what happened down there, thought Jason. Without looking back at her, he called out to Lisa, "ETA?"
"Countdown is at fifty seconds. Shields are being disarmed and all atmospheric pressure equalizers are being activated."
Jason nodded and watched the massive bay doors open at the far end of the hangar. Even in the gloom of the Los Angeles nighttime sky he could see the gleaming white hull of the approaching shuttle. The bay doors were fully open by the time the nose of the craft was about twenty meters from the entrance into the hangar bay.
"Supreme Commander's squad ship thirty seconds from touchdown," Lisa said, then proceeded to count down the time.
The Supreme Commander's craft glided with a quiet whirr of its engines into its assigned dock, its landing gear already extended and just a meter above the surface of the hangar. The assembled security forces marched dutifully to the shuttle's port side and lined up in two columns perpendicular to the hatch.
The whoosh of displaced air and the hissing spit of pneumatic pressure valves releasing echoed in the hangar as the shuttle landed gently. Almost immediately the port hatch yawned open, separating itself into two sections like a great white beak. The landing ramp was about a foot off of the deck when a pair of golden-helmeted security troops led a quick, almost panicked procession out of the shuttlecraft. From his elevated vantage point Jason could see that in the midst of the throng of security personnel was John.
"Jason..." Lisa started to say when she saw the feed from the security cameras.
"I see him."
John's synth-skin mask was torn on its left side, exposing the dark greenish-black scales underneath! So something did happen down at the Medical Center.
"What happened to the Supreme Commander?" asked Lisa, almost panicked. "Was this the result of an accident? Or what could-"
"Alert Cosmetics," Jason ordered, wanting to keep his subordinate under control. "Tell them the Supreme Commander needs to be attended to immediately."
Lisa complied. Jason started thinking quickly. How could this be the result of an accident? The synth-skin masks are incredibly resilient; only deliberate attempts to breach them can cause that kind of damage.
"Cosmetics has been alerted," Lisa reported. "How could this have happened?" she asked again. "Is there any way to find out what happened planet-side?"
"Unfortunately we can only find out what Security and Master Control see fit to disclose," replied Jason. "Especially regarding something like this."
"Perhaps the feed from Earth can shed light on the matter?"
"Perhaps you're right-"
Jason returned to the unoccupied terminal and logged into the Mother Ship's database system. He scanned the menu for a link to view the broadcast feed from the Los Angeles Medical Center. "I can't find the feed."
"That's odd. Perhaps a manual search query?"
"Right. I'll try that now."
Jason tried the query, but was surprised when Martin's face appeared on the screen instead. "Jason, this is an unauthorized search request."
"Unauthorized? Even with the proper login and security codes?"
"By whose authority?"
"The Mother Ship commander's."
"I thought my security clearance was high enough to gain access to the Med Center feed?"
"All security clearances have been withdrawn. The order came from Diana herself." Martin paused for a moment. "We have had some problems, both down below and up here, specifically the broadcast control center."
"What kind of problems?"
"We presently don't yet know, but it appears that the rebels in Los Angeles have found a way to infiltrate and disrupt the event at the Med Center; moreover, we somehow lost control over our own communications and broadcast equipment here on the Mother Ship and were not able to do an interrupt."
"I'm sorry, Martin. I didn't know-"
"An apology is unnecessary. I would suggest, however, to cease all attempts to satisfy any curiosity you or your crew may have regarding what may have happened planet-side."
"The advice is duly noted."
"I'm glad we understand each other."
Jason terminated the comm link to the bridge. He walked over to the observation window, just watching his crew work on servicing the Supreme Commander's shuttle. For fifteen minutes he stood there, quiet, unmoving, privately contemplating his conversation with Martin, when Lisa interrupted his thoughts.
"Jason, I have Security, from the Medical Center, on the comm."
"They are ordering us to prepare to receive a prisoner. ETA is three minutes. I now have Diana's shuttle on my scope."
"A prisoner? We don't receive prisoners here."
"Standby, I'll put them on the loud," Lisa said. She spoke into her mic. "Brian, the Hangar Control Officer reiterates that we do not receive prisoners into this hangar bay."
"Consider this an exception due to extenuating circumstances," Brian said. "Diana herself captured this prisoner, and Steven is personally overseeing the transfer up to the Mother Ship." He added, ominously, "Refusal of this order is not an option available to you."
"Very well," Jason said. "We have the shuttle on our instruments. Inform Diana that we will receive the prisoner and provide assistance to Steven in whatever capacity he might require."
Lisa terminated the link to the Medical Center and looked at Jason.
"We have no choice but to comply," he replied. "Alert our crew; prepare to receive incoming shuttle."
"Understood," said Lisa, frowning.
"You're disappointed that we cannot feed our curiosity."
"I'll put it to you this way: This is more excitement than we both had reckoned on having for tonight."
"I suppose you're right," Lisa said grudgingly. She spun her chair around to view her terminal again. "Shuttle ETA is one minute. Alerting Security to assist in prisoner absorption."
"I bet you this prisoner played a part in the 'disruption' Martin spoke about earlier."
Jason frowned. "I believe you are correct. I think that it is indeed very likely this prisoner is one of the rebels and was somehow involved in the disruption Martin alluded to earlier." He looked out towards the hangar entrance. "ETA?"
"Commencing final landing countdown now. Twenty three seconds to dock... twenty two..."
Jason watched the second shuttle's progress into the hangar, listening to Lisa's countdown. When the countdown reached zero, the craft had completed its landing cycle, and a dozen security troops assembled at the shuttle's port hatch. The hatch opened, but nobody disembarked. Instead, a pair of security troops boarded the shuttle.
A few seconds later, Steven strode haughtily down the landing ramp, flanked by a pair of his troops, their sidearms drawn and held in the ready position. Behind them marched another pair of security troops, both of them holding a young woman dressed in a white evening gown. Finally, the last to descend the landing ramp was a pair of Shock Troopers, their laser rifles poking into the young woman's lower back.
Jason looked at the prisoner closely as she slipped and slid on the deck as the guards fairly dragged her away from the shuttle. For some reason she wasn't wearing any shoes, and her stockinged feet were obviously not able to find much grip on the surface of the hangar floor. Her evening gown looked slightly damaged, the sheer white cape dangling freely and off of her shoulders.
"She looks scared," Lisa said. She was watching the security feed on her monitor.
"I'm sure she must be." Jason sighed, as though out of pity. "And she has every reason to be, if Diana decreed her to be brought up here."
Lisa looked up at Jason, feeling suddenly very afraid.