Books For a Buck
Major Jack McDaniel, a military psychologist, finds himself pulled into one dangerous situation after another when he's drafted to try to locate a missing government agent in the lunar city New Amsterdam. McDaniel is the only man that can do the job, but things go from bad to worse when the brand new Century ship is stolen from a top secret government installation, and McDaniel is on it. Can McDaniel solve the puzzle, or will he be the next casualty in a game played for the very survival of humanity?
If you've been wanting to try a Steve Lazarowitz book, and didn't want spend a lot to do it, at $1, Confronting the Void is the way to go. It'll be the most entertaining dollar you've ever spent.
Mostly likely, you've never heard of Major Jack McDaniel. Indeed, he is such a historical footnote, you would be part of a huge majority if you hadn't. Yet in spite of his anonymity, Major McDaniel is one of the most important men who has ever lived. This is his story--more or less.
I myself have only recently become aware of Major McDaniel's existence. In the short time I've known him, Major McDaniel has become like a father to me. He taught me about life, about people, about right and wrong. It is the special nature of our bond that allows me to talk so about him, though we've only recently met.
Jack, if I may refer to him so, risked everything for what he believed and in the end, paid the ultimate price. Yet there will be no medals for bravery, no monuments to his memory and indeed, few of those that did hear his story believe it actually happened. Jack will be remembered as many things, an addict, a madman, a fool, but not as a hero. Hence these words.
No one can say whether humanity will ultimately survive the events of this narration, but if they don't, it's not Jack's fault. He did everything he could.
Appropriately enough, it began back on Earth in the latter part of the twenty-first century, at least that's where Jack enters the story. It was many weeks later that I first became aware of his existence, but I'm getting ahead of myself.
I ask you only this. Read the facts for yourself, and make your own judgments, for the story is not yet over and humanity's future still hangs by the barest of threads.
Unfortunately, those who have taken responsibility for the future of mankind, don't necessarily understand what it means to be human.
Between the politicians and the military, it surprises me mankind has made it even this far.
Major Jack McDaniel was at home when the soldiers arrived. He'd seen the type before--short hair, clean-shaven, stiff as boards and about as much fun as a hernia operation. He had learned over the years to deal with such men, but from where he was standing, they could all use a bit of humanity and gentle humor.
The encoded disc they presented him was keyed to his personal computer system and required a retina check before it would reveal its message. The information contained on the disc was minimal, but it was enough. "Code orange. Report immediately to the Security Council."
McDaniel's reaction had been almost instantaneous. "There must be some mistake."
The first of the soldiers, the larger of the two, shook his head. "I'm afraid not, Major. Your presence has been requested by the general staff."
"But I'm a psychiatrist. I have nothing to do with the combat division."
"I realize that, Sir. Still, I must insist that you accompany us immediately."
"This is very irregular. Look, my wife is out shopping. She'll be home in a few minutes. Surely this can wait for..."
"I'm sorry, Sir, but that is unacceptable. My orders are quite specific. If necessary, I'm to bring you in by force. You can contact your wife from the Pentagon."
McDaniel stared in disbelief, first at the guard, then back to the code orange on his screen. He leaned forward, pressed the erase button and walked toward the door.
"Let's get this over with."
The guards flanked him down the hallway, into the lift and outside to the waiting hovercar. Major Jack McDaniel drew a breath, climbed into the back seat and turned slowly to the soldier sitting beside him.
"So," he asked, forcing himself to sound casual. "What kind of emergency so desperately requires a psychiatrist's touch?"
The guard continued to look straight ahead. "I have no idea, Sir. My instructions were to bring you in. You'll be briefed upon your arrival."
McDaniel hadn't really expected an answer. He looked out the window watching the scenery fly by, slowly at first, then faster as the car accelerated. Only once did he turn to see if he could catch a glimpse of his wife returning home.
* * * *
McDaniel had been to the Pentagon before, but it was his first time appearing before the Security Council. The room was much as he'd seen it on newscasts, except from his current vantage it looked smaller, though it was no less intimidating.
He had barely entered when Reginald Terrence, the head of the council, spoke to him.
"You're going to be traveling to the moon."
"The moon! What the hell for?" In spite of the fact he was surrounded by superiors, McDaniel couldn't keep the edge from his voice.
"Sit down, Major."
He lowered himself slowly into a seat. He did not, however, relax.
"Listen, if you're sending me away, aren't I entitled to know why?"
The men in the room looked at each other. In spite of his position, McDaniel was the lowest ranking officer present. Eventually Admiral Edison responded.
"Have you ever heard of the Century Drive?"
"Rumors only. I wasn't certain it existed."
"It does. It exists and has been tested. The results have been beyond our most enthusiastic expectations."
McDaniel shook his head to clear it. "So we have the ability to travel faster than the speed of light?"
"Not quite yet. We did a test run several months ago with a single human subject. He came through the Void with flying colors, but shortly after, experienced a complete personality alteration. He became taciturn, aggressive, mistrustful...almost paranoid. He resigned shortly after with no explanation. He moved to New Amsterdam and subsequently disappeared. We've been unable to locate him since. You can see why we need a psychiatrist."
"Yes and no. I can see why you need one, but not why you need me. I'm not affiliated with combat division and I was never trained for the mission you describe. I'm certain Intelligence has their own equally qualified personnel."
"That solution was discussed, but has not been acted upon for two reasons. First, there is a leak in the Intelligence sector. If there wasn't, you wouldn't have heard rumors about the Century Drive in the first place."
"That's one reason. What's the other?"
"The first man to cross the Void was Lieutenant Commander Brandon Alexander."
McDaniel stood up. "What!"
"I see you remember him, Major."
"Of course I do. We were inseparable at the Academy. But after he transferred to Intelligence, I've hardly heard a word from him. You mean to tell me he was the subject for the test run?"
"That is precisely what I mean to tell you."
"I know Brandon. If he doesn't want to be found, you'll never find him."
"We know that. Which doesn't mean you won't be able to. You know him as well as anyone alive. He was your partner in psychic studies. The two of you had an almost uncanny rapport. Your instructor wrote several papers on it."
"I know. I've read them."
"Then you should understand why you're so necessary to this mission. Alexander hasn't made many friends since his academy days. Even back then, he was a loner."
"He didn't like people very much."
"He liked you."
McDaniel nodded. "Okay. I get the picture. I have a few things to pack. I have to contact my wife..."
"I'm sorry, but there's no time," interrupted Admiral Edison. "We'll contact your wife for you. The Shuttle for Cape Canaveral leaves at 1600."
McDaniel looked at his watch. "But that's less than fifteen minutes from now."
"Quite correct, Major. The shuttle will be departing promptly and you are going to be on it."
* * * *
The trip from Washington DC to central Florida would have taken well over an hour on a commercial flight, but it took barely 45 minutes on the Phantom cruiser. No longer needed as military planes, they were now used as short distance shuttles for the important few who rated them. It was the first time he'd ever been on one.
McDaniel found the takeoff particularly alarming, though once airborne, he was able to relax, until he thought about his upcoming departure from Earth. He wondered what they would tell his wife when they finally notified her. He hated that more than anything. He knew how much she worried.
The Lunar Shuttle was waiting for him and he barely had time to relieve himself and change into more traditional space-faring clothing, before he was escorted to the landing pad. Much to his surprise, he was the sole passenger. Someone wanted Brandon Alexander bad and he needed to understand why. One thing was certain. They had not told him everything.
Of course, just the fact Brandon had access to much that was secret would be enough to cause huge concern in the Intelligence sector.
Still McDaniel was relatively certain their confidence in his abilities was misplaced. Brandon Alexander was not only a genius, but completely unpredictable. His mind worked intuitively, as well as logically. Brandon's verbal and math skills were both off the scale and there wasn't much he couldn't discuss in the realms of science, history, philosophy, politics, the arts or even sports. Brandon had the kind of mind that retained everything in neat little packages, waiting only for the moment he needed something for it to float to the surface. How could anyone find Brandon Alexander if he didn't want to be found?
The shuttle's liftoff was not nearly as bad as the Phantom's and soon, Jack tired of looking at the diminishing Earth and worrying about what would happen when he reached the moon. He tried to sleep and when that failed, entertained himself by remembering more pleasant excursions from his past.
Eventually he did doze. When he awakened a short time later, it took him a few seconds to remember where he was and why. He wished he could get up and walk around, but it had been years since his low gee exercises and he wasn't much feeling like reacquainting himself with the sensation. He hadn't liked it all that much back then.
The only thing to distract him from his boredom was a computer terminal that offered a wide range of movies and news shows, as well as a reference library. To kill time, he reread the papers written by Dr. Jim Hanson, his old psychic studies professor.
Jim had had interesting ideas, but never managed to gain the support of most of his colleagues, who considered his experiments a complete waste of resources. Brandon had always enjoyed discussing those theories with the professor and McDaniel had gotten the distinct impression he was one of the few believers. In fact, Brandon had performed a few experiments on his own, some of which were even stranger than any Hanson had attempted.
The papers brought back all sorts of memories about happier times and McDaniel had to keep reminding himself a lot of time had passed and the current situation was completely different. He allowed himself, however, to get pulled into the research, as he always did when involved in a project. Thus, he was surprised when an announcement over the shuttle's intercom interrupted him.
In most commercial cruisers, the intercom system was only barely audible, but that was not the case here. It was as if the captain, or whoever was speaking, was in the cabin with him.
"We will be landing at Alondro Space Port in less than an hour. If you look out the porthole, you should be able to see the Lunar cites, New Madrid and Da Vinci. New Amsterdam should be visible in about ten minutes."
McDaniel stared out the viewport and considered the surface of the moon. Its starkness appealed to him, so he continued to watch, setting his research aside. He must have been on the shuttle for a full day already, though how that was possible, he didn't know.
He had eaten a couple of meals, such as they were, but it didn't seem like he'd been aboard that long. Perhaps he'd slept longer than he'd thought.
He thought then about his destination. The most infamous of the lunar cities, New Amsterdam was something like the old west might have been. It was the 'golden rule' of civilization all over again. In New Amsterdam, he who has the gold, makes the rules. It was that way on Earth too, but it was only obvious if you were watching carefully.
New Amsterdam was a haven of drug dealers, mercenaries, prostitutes and various other scrapings from the bottom of humanity's barrel. There weren't many places he would enjoy visiting less, but his orders had given him no choice. The situation had been declared code orange and there wasn't a damned thing he could do about it.
"Please fasten your safety net. We will be landing in just a few minutes."
Once again, an announcement interrupted McDaniel's thoughts. He pulled the nylon webbing over his body. In the event of an impact, the net would evenly distribute his forward momentum, thus keeping bodily damage to a minimum. With the current security features built into all new shuttles, many claimed the webbing was obsolete, but Jack McDaniel didn't hesitate to use it. Things would be dangerous enough when he reached New Amsterdam.
* * * *
The Alondro Spaceport was similar to every other port. Too many people, too many shops, too many computer terminals and never enough time. As he disembarked, McDaniel couldn't help but notice a large percentage of people were in a hurry. He was about to turn toward customs when a hand closed around his arm. He turned slowly.
Gripping him firmly was a large, well-muscled man, dressed as a civilian. McDaniel knew immediately his assailant was a member of the armed forces. After so many years in the military, it wasn't a difficult determination to make. He looked at the man and then at his arm.
"Do you mind?"
The man released him. "Dr. McDaniel?"
"I'm Major McDaniel, yes."
"Not here. Dr. McDaniel for now. While in New Amsterdam, you have no affiliation with the service. We suspect Brandon Alexander knows we're searching for him and that he has ways of monitoring the arrival and departure of military personnel. If you will follow me please."
The large man turned and began to walk. McDaniel hurried to keep up.
"But customs is that way."
"You're not going through customs. You're not officially here. You're a phantom."
"I see. And you are?"
"Special Agent Marcus. I'm here to help you in any way I can. I'm your guide and your contact for the duration of your stay."
"Okay. Where to?"
"First to your hotel. You can check in, get the lay of the land. Decide how you want to go about your search."
"I still don't get it. If Intelligence can't find him, what makes them think that I can?"
"As a phantom you do have certain advantages. Very few people know of your existence or your presence here. We believe Alexander still has contacts in the agency and is using them to avoid reinstatement."
"Yes, Sir. It's a clause in every agent's contract. His status can be reactivated, if necessary to deal with any situation Code Orange or higher in priority."
They reached a security door and Marcus placed his palm against the lock. It took the scanner three seconds to recognize his print and open the door. They continued into the security area.
"So where do you think I should begin?" asked McDaniel.
"If I knew, you wouldn't be necessary."
"That's not very comforting."
"I'm not here to make your life comfortable."
The psychologist turned to look at the man, only now realizing that Special Agent Marcus might well resent McDaniel's intrusion into his domain. He hoped it wouldn't become a problem. Neither man spoke for a long time afterward.