“You know what’s really got me bugged right now?” Gabrielle asked Xena as they headed down the hall towards the lift. “No what’s really got you bugged right now?” Xena asked in a slightly sarcastic and a slightly distracted tone. “Jehovah is supposed to be omnipotent.” Xena looked at Gabrielle as if she had just started speaking…something other than Greek. “Don’t you see, that means that He actually waited for these two women to die before He brought us back?” “I’m still not seeing the point honey.” Xena had punched the appropriate button to take them to the floor where the command suit was located. “Alti’s been terrorizing the Galaxy for over a hundred years and God waits for these two women to die before He brings us back.” Xena still had an, I don’t get it look on her face. “It just makes me wonder why He waited so long and then put us in these specific bodies. It kind of makes me nervous.” Gabrielle was finally in complete control of her emotions… well as much as she ever was. But Xena could tell that this point did make her nervous.
“I don’t know, I liked Margo and all but it’s kind of nice to be alone in the head. I don’t feel quite so schizophrenic this way. Besides our hosts are already dead so we don’t have to be quite so gentle this time around.” Xena was clearly not concerned.
“That’s another thing…when we kill Alti are we going to stay around in these bodies for a regular life span or are we just going to discard them when we pop out?” She was determined to worry the flesh from the bone by sure will alone.
“Hmm, I could use a few days on the beach… couldn’t you?” Xena was still trying to keep it light until it had to get heavy. Gabrielle was having none of it.
“We’ve had our days on the beach… we got three days last time and then we didn’t have to dream in between. That was a huge treat. I just fell asleep, happily content and safe in your arms. I wish every night could be like that.” She looked at what number floor they were on and how far they had to go and determined that she had time to steal a kiss. So she did.
“Mmm, that was a long night sleep but I’m not complaining, good morning my love.” Xena whispered into Gabrielle’s ear after they had kissed and pulled each other into a morning embrace.
Gabrielle responded by nipping Xena’s earlobe playfully. Then the lift stopped and they disengaged. When the doors opened they were both facing the doors. Mr. Price met them at the lift and escorted them to a conference room. Several of his staff were already in the room. They had been calling up the data that Xena had requested before she had left the gym shower area.
“So, what have we got?” Xena asked anyone who would answer.
One of the guards opened his mouth but Mr. Price spoke before the man could spit out anything. “We have some video footage of the inside of the mine from the security feed and some from a secondary feed that Blake and Rayne had the Majors take in with them.”
“They wanted the video coverage so that they could dissect it at their leisure.” Gabrielle injected. Mr. Price had sounded like he had not approved of the second camera feed.
“Let’s see it.” Xena looked directly at the man that had started to speak and had been cut off. The man took the cue and started the footage.
In the center of the conference table a three dimensional picture came to life. Xena saw that the feed that they were seeing had come from someone that had been walking behind the two Majors. The sound was a little hollow sounding but it was clear. Their guide had been explaining that they had to carefully map out where they were to tunnel to avoid the many gas pockets that riddled the area. Most of the gas pockets were filled with a mixture of both explosive and toxic gases, commonly called a double whammy by the miners. Some of them were only filled with flammable gas. All of them were dangerous. The guide was explaining their safety record, and he was detailing other safety guidelines and features that the mine employed to keep the mine safe and operational. He pointed out a sign on the wall that indicated that a double whammy gas pocket was behind the wall to his left, or their right since he was walking backwards.
The camera walked past the sign and had gone on for about fifty or sixty more paces before the camera began to shake and a loud explosion made the microphone squeal. The camera must have been attached to a person’s hat because it tumbled to the ground to land upside down. The auto fix on the playback corrected the view and they all got to watch the tunnel fill with orange gas. It did not take long for every person in view of the camera to fall over choking and finally stop moving.
The guard started the security feed the second that the private feed was done. It was essentially the same except that it was in black and white and had no sound. But it showed the same thing. Someone had spliced the feed from at least two different cameras so that the image followed the tour.
The security feed did show the actually point of explosion where the other had not. But it was hard to tell without going frame by frame exactly where the explosion had started.
“What are the initial findings?” Xena asked Mr. Price.
“Oh, I have no idea. Investigation is not my department.” He said smugly.
Xena and Gabrielle both turned unbelieving eyes upon him. “Are you joking? How many people died in that explosion and subsequent poisoning?” Gabrielle was astonished.
Mr. Price was really surprised at their response. He was stuttering so one of the guards spoke up. “Fifty-one ma’am.”
“Fifty-one people died three days ago and you have no idea what the preliminary investigation has found.” Xena shook her head. She had figured the time of death by the amount of time the Fighters from Mars had left before arrival. No-one corrected her so she must have figured right.
“How is it that you are still working for our company Mr. Price? Are you not the head of Security on this shift?” Gabrielle did not wait for an answer to this or any of her questions. “Do you not think that as head of Security for any shift that you should take an active interest in what killed fifty-one people? Do you not have an opinion of your own or have you even looked at the footage more than once or twice?” She had her hands on her hips and was burning a hole in his face with her eyes.
Mr. Price was stammering. Gabrielle abruptly waved him off and turned to the other three men in the room. “Do any of you have an opinion?” One man stepped forward.
“I do ma’am.” She waved him forward. He took the vid controls from his coworker and rewound the security tape. He switched angles to a camera that had been destroyed in the blast and stopped it just prior to the explosion. The view was of the corridor that the visitors had just vacated. Then he let it run at half speed. “Now watch.” He said as the motion seemed nearly static and then the wall erupted and the camera went black. “Did you see it?” He looked at Gabrielle and then Xena. “I missed it the first ten or twelve times too. I had to slow it down to a crawl.”
“It might help if you told us what it is we are looking for.” Xena stepped around to stand beside the man.
“Look at where the explosion starts. This type of explosion can only happen in two ways. Either it spontaneously exploded and just so you know the odds of that happening are pretty high, or it had help.”
“But there have been incidents where a gas pocket has spontaneously exploded… yes?” Gabrielle stepped up to stand at his other shoulder.
“Yes, they have happened.” He sounded dejected as if he expected them to discount his theory before they had really heard it.
The two women looked at each other past his shoulders. They came to some unknown and unspoken conclusion. “Run the vid again but slower. Run it at the speed that you saw what you want us to see.” Xena instructed him. “Oh, and what is your name?”
“Oh, sorry…” He turned red from embarrassment. “My only clean uniform is brand new and they haven’t stitched my name in it yet. My name is Morrison, Randal Morrison and may I say that it is a pleasure to meet you both?” He was a husky man with sandy brown hair and baby blue eyes. He was more broad chested than he was tall but he was not fat and he had a lovely smile.
“Pleased to meet you Randal.” Xena and Gabrielle parroted each other and Gabrielle stuck out her hand for a shake and he took it.
“Now, show us what you got Mr. Morrison.” Xena brought them back to topic.
The vid crept by one frame at a time and everyone in the room was transfixed waiting for the point of interest that Mr. Morrison claimed to have seen.
The explosion began and Mr. Morrison stopped the feed. “Did you see it?” He looked expectantly at Xena and then at Gabrielle. Neither woman gave him a look that inspired confidence. “Okay, let me rewind a couple of frames and magnify.”
He did as he said and the camera zoomed into look closely at the area in which the explosion had started. It was the small section of wall that had the sign on it. The frames clicked by, the sign moved almost imperceptibly and then the explosion erupted and the sign and the wall blew outward and the images stopped.
Xena looked over at Gabrielle once again and another round of unspoken language ensued. Gabrielle nodded abruptly and looked as if she were steeling herself for an unpleasant task.
Xena turned her full attention on Mr. Morrison. “Well Mr. Morrison who else knows about this?”
“I made a full report of my findings Ma’am.” He said with pride.
“And how was it recieved?” Xena knew the answer or at least the gist of the answer.
Mr. Morrison got adisgusted look on his face. “They told me that they would give the report to the Corporate Investigative Team when they arrived.”
“Hmm, and let me guess the CIT team is arriving with the fighters?” Mr. Morrison was nodding and confirming her words. She looked over at Mr. Price. “Has anyone left the mine installation since the accident?” Again she knew the answer.
“Of course, there have been regular shuttles in and out. We’ve traded out some miners and had other personnel changes and then there are the barges and perhaps a personal trip or vacation. I really don’t know how many have come and gone.” He was nervous and he was sweating like a pig under Xena’s scrutiny.
“Let me guess, it’s not your department.” Gabrielle sneered. “I’m beginning to wonder exactly what your department is Mr. Price.”
He jumped when she spoke. It was almost as if he had forgotten that she was there.
He recovered himself well. “I don’t have the authority to halt traffic in and out of the facility.” He said with some vehemence and looked as if he were actually going to grow a backbone.
Xena moved to take a step towards the man but Gabrielle held up a forestalling hand and stepped forward herself. “Mr. Price, as I have already reminded you… you are a Security Supervisor. If you had opened your mouth and at the very least expressed a concern or even openly supported Mr. Morrison’s findings you could stand herewith some amount of pride. But as it is you have done nothing absolutely nothing to protect the employees or visitors of this mine.” Gabrielle was growing annoyed with the incompetence of this man.
“What findings? All he showed us was the wall disintegrating. I saw it the first time that he showed me and I still don’t see anything for me to support.” He was trying to puff up and tower over Gabrielle. She ignored his posturing and turned to nod at Xena.
Gabrielle was done listening now it was time to act. “You…” She pointed at Mr. Price. “Come with me, we’re going to wake some people up.” The two exited the room and started down the hallway.
“I’ll catch up with you in a bit.” Xena called out after Gabrielle’s retreating form. Gabrielle held up a hand and gave a short wave to indicate that she had heard her partner before the door stole her from sight. “Mr. Morrison, Randal… can I call you Randal?” He nodded. “Good, now who else actually believes your theory? Do you two believe him?” She asked the other men in the room. They both looked confused. “Let me guess, you either didn’t see anything or this is the first time that you’ve seen the footage?”
The man that had been running the video spoke up first. “I’m sorry ma’am I was concerned with cutting the images together. I kind of was looking at it with tunnel vision.”
The second man, who was a much younger man barely out of his teens, was looking sheepishly at the floor. “I’m really sorry but I never saw the footage before now.”
Xena couldn’t find it in her heart to chastise them too much. They were just following their leadership. “Let me give you both some advice. Never measure your own worth against what you perceive of someone else. Never say, I don’t do this because he doesn’t do this or I do this thing because he does this thing. Never measure your job performance by someone else’s lack of job performance. If you can’t look yourself in the mirror at the end of every day and be proud of the man that’s looking back at you then it’s time to rethink your life.” Both men were standing taller and at least looking her in the eyes. “Good, now Randal show these men that video again and this time gentlemen actually look at the darn thing.”
It took watching the video and talking amongst themselves several more times before they both saw what Xena and Randal had seen. “The explosion started behind the sign.” They both exclaimed almost simultaneously.
“Yes it did. Have were covered that sign?” Xena asked.
“We have no way of knowing. Even if we had asked they would never have told us.” The younger man said. His name was Eric Holden.
“Do we know if anyone has been in that tunnel since recovering the bodies?”
“No, they haven’t. It has been quarantined. Nobody in their right mind breaks quarantine on this rock.” The second man said. His name was Brian Copal.
“Normally that would be saying something Brian, but under these circumstances I’m not so sure that you are right.” Xena was hatching something in her mind but it needed a little more time to germinate. “Randal I never got an answer from you. Does anyone else believe you?”
“Yes, Ma’am, my roomie Jeremy Fin. He believes me.”
“And what shift does he work on?”
“Well, I’m sorry for him Randal because you’re going to wake him up if Gabrielle and Mr. Price haven’t already done so. I want him working with you three. And I want you to look at this thing from every angle. You said that sometimes there are spontaneous explosions. Well the concept of spontaneous explosions is a misnomer. They don’t really happen spontaneously. There is always a catalyst. It could be a rock falling or the gas molecules get excited and produce too much heat… there are a lot of different reasons. I need you guys to collate their information on those explosions and see if any of them match the circumstances behind this one. Assume that they are all accidents of fate and go from there.When you have that information call me.” She turned away and headed for the door. Something occurred to her in the last moment. “One last thing… I don’t care where you work, try and stay out of everyone’s way because it’s going to get very busy here… but you answer to me and Gabrielle and not anyone else. They can come find one of us if they want to talk to you. Do you understand?” They all nodded. She left the room to find Gabrielle.
While Xena and the boys had been sorting things out in the conference room Gabrielle and Mr. Price had gone to the Central Area Command or CAC to begin a complete recall of all of the Security personnel.
When Xena joined them they were mostly through the entire list. Xena handed Gabrielle the upper portion of the battle armor that went with their suit. She was already fully attired in her suit all the way down to her ankles.
“Always, doesn’t it seem strange to you that our hosts were walking around in the tunnels in flight suits? Flight suits, unlike the suits that we are presently wearing don’t have outer armor or med cloth liners. Someone really wanted them dead and that someone is part of their personal memories or at least the reason why they were wearing flight suits in the tunnel is personal.” She handed Gabrielle the pieces of her leg armor one at a time. The armor had been improved upon greatly since they had been here. It was even more flexible and thinner. The med cloth had also been improved. It now detected and protected the wearer against air born dangers. It could actually extend itself over the face of its wearer to protect them from contamination. It could not sustain life indefinitely and it could not make oxygen where there is none but it could prolong life for several hours in the right conditions. Had their hosts been wearing similar suits they would probably be alive today.
Once Gabrielle was fully attired and all of the Security staff had been recalled Xena and Gabrielle had nothing to do until they arrived. So they found the lunch room and helped themselves to a meal.