Dinosaurs aren't the only danger Derek Steel faces when he travels to 100 million BC. Saboteurs try to prevent the terra-forming of Mars. They don't realize the consequences it will have if they are successful. Will Derek find his lover again or will they both be lost on the Cliffs of Time?
Orion, The Hunt
Hektor Orion joins the Hunt on Izzard-Junction to find his kidnapped mind-sister Delina. Stranded in the deep jungle of a hostile planet, the motley members of the hunting party must find their way back to civilization, but freedom may not be at the end of their journey.
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The Cliffs of Time | Orion, The Hunt
The Cliffs of Time
“After this morning’s incident, nobody leaves the compound without at least one armed guard.” André Pireux glared at the handful of supervisors sitting at the table in his boardroom. “As director of this facility, I’m responsible for every person and every piece of equipment.”
He locked eyes with the small dark-skinned man standing at the end of the long table. “Dr. Bashir, you’ve been here longer than any of us. I expected you to be more aware of the dangers we face out there.”
The little man pulled on his goatee. “You are absolutely correct, Director. I should have been more careful.” He smiled. “As you pointed out, I’ve been here a long time. Ten years, to be precise. Two years without being up-line. I needed to get away from this place for a while, breathe natural air, smell the flowers and the soil, swim in a real pond and see animals in their natural environment.”
“And provide a snack for the beasts that live in that natural environment,” Pireux sneered. “If I hadn’t immediately sent out a team to rescue you from the jaws of that Tyrannosaurus, you wouldn’t stand here now.”
“Carcharodontosaurus,” Dr. Bashir said softly.
“It was a Carcharodontosaurus. Tyrannosaurus rex won’t appear for another thirty million years, or so.”
Pireux made an impatient gesture. “Whatever that huge lizard is called.” He sighed. “You’re lucky I consider you such a valuable member of the research team, otherwise I might just have left you out there.”
Dr. Bashir made a small bow. “I thank you for that compassion, Director Pireux. Maybe some day I can pay you back. Are we done here? I’m a busy man.”
“We’re done. Go and do whatever you do.”
The small man turned to leave. Hesitating, he stopped. “Oh, before I go, I’d like to remind you that I represent the Wells Foundation. Let me also refresh your memory. The Wells Foundation spearheaded this project and is funding a large part of it.”
Director Pireux heaved another loud sigh. “How can I ever forget, Dr. Bashir? You remind me twice a month, at the very least.”
When the door closed behind the little man, Pireux threw up his hands. Looking at the big man who sat on his right, he said, “Sorry about this, Mr. Steel, but that man has been a thorn in my side ever since I assumed my position as director of this project.”
The big man smiled thinly. In the past two week, he's seen tempers fly more than once. Most of the researchers and technicians didn’t last much longer than a year before this place got to them. It had taken him a few days to adjust his mental state to the fact that he had traveled one hundred million years into the past. If, for some reason, he died in this place, archeologists digging in the soil for a peek into the past of Earth wouldn’t find a trace of his existence, not even his fancy golden watch.
He smiled and thought, You wouldn’t be too happy, Grandfather, if your treasured watch ended up in a time before it was made, buried under tons of granite, instead of being handed down to my oldest son. If I ever have one.
“We’ve had some valuable research data destroyed by a virus that suddenly popped up in our computer.”
Steel brought his attention back to the people seated at the table and let his eyes rest on the older man across from him. “I know a little bit about computers,” he said. “How can a virus even get into yours? This facility is totally isolated and removed from anything even vaguely electronic.” He smiled. “One hundred million years removed. I’m still trying to get used to it.” He looked at the others. “As I understand, every piece of electronic equipment is built and checked by computers up-line. No human hand touches any of the components. Not even the programs.”
The older man gave Steel an almost hostile look. “Well, either the equipment doesn’t get checked out as thoroughly as you think, or somebody in this compound is fooling around with the computers.” He looked around the table at the anxious faces of his colleagues. “We have a saboteur among us.”
“A saboteur?” A young woman beside him laughed. “Now you’re becoming just a little bit too paranoid, Dr. Olfson. Everyone here has been investigated from top to bottom. The government knows more about each one of us than we do ourselves.” She shook her long blond hair. “No, Dr. Olfson, you’re wrong. Not even a pregnant mouse gets into the base without being investigated first.”
Some of the others laughed.
“The last thing we need here in the Mesozoic era is a pregnant mouse. No telling what her descendants would look like in the twenty-first century AD.”
Steel studied the man who made that comment. He didn’t look like a researcher. Tall and muscular, he could have been a model for a men’s clothing catalogue. There is something arrogant about this man, I’m not sure if I like him. When he looked up, he noticed the young blond woman’s stare. She seemed to study him intensely.
“I haven’t seen you before, Mr. Steel. What exactly is your job here?” It sounded like an innocent question, but Steel had the impression it was more than just rhetorical.
“I’m here to check out your computers.” Steel gave her a smile. “I didn’t get your name and your position.”
“I’m Captain Gifford, and I’m the head of the local constabulary.” She smiled back at him, but her blue eyes stayed cool. Then she looked at Director Pireux. “Why wasn’t I made aware of Mr. Steel’s arrival? Security in this place is not taken seriously. I’m almost inclined to assume Dr. Olfson’s attitude.”
“I saw no reason to notify you of Mr. Steel’s arrival. He is no security threat.” Director Pireux made an impatient gesture of dismissal. “This meeting is over.”
When Steel rose from his seat, Pireux said, “I’d like to have a word with you, Mr. Steel.” He turned to the blond woman. “You, too, Captain Gifford.”
When everyone left, the Director leaned back in his chair, looked first at Steel and then at the woman. “I apologize if I waited for you to meet, but even you, Captain Gifford, are not above suspicion.”
Gifford lifted an eyebrow. “Meaning what, Director?”
“Meaning I take no chances with anyone, unless I know them personally.” He paused. “Captain Gifford, let me introduce you to Lt. Derek Steel, Special Investigator with Army Intelligence.”
“I thought you were a computer expert.”
Steel smiled. “I am.”
“I see.” Her eyes flashed back to Pireux. “I didn’t like that remark about me not being above suspicion, Director Pireux. I’m the head of security, for heaven’s sake. If you can’t trust me…?
Pireux cut her off. “I take it back.” He smiled at Steel. “She’s quite competent, Lieutenant, but has a bit of a temper. Watch her.”
Gifford shook her head and rolled her eyes. “If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you hate me, Director.”
Pireux chuckled. “How can anyone hate a beautiful woman like you, Gifford?”
The woman’s blue eyes clouded over. “I know I shouldn’t get angry over that remark, because you mean it as a compliment, but I wish you would see me as a professional first and a woman second.” She glanced at Steel. “Is the lieutenant reporting to me, or is he an independent?”
“He reports to me, Captain. Lt. Steel’s identity will not be revealed to anyone. As far as everyone else is concerned, he is a computer expert, here to check out the computers.”
“So why reveal his identity to me?”
The Director smiled. “Because I trust you, Captain Gifford.”
Orion, The Hunt
There were eleven in the hunting party. Nine men and two women. They sat in the inn, waiting impatiently for their guide to arrive.
“May I join you at your table?”
The man, who was sitting alone in the dimly lit corner, shrugged his massive shoulders and looked at the intruder. “Sit down,” he said quietly, “but keep your hands on the table, where I can see them.”
The other one smiled, displaying a row of sharp, pointy teeth. “I have no harmful intentions,” he said, sitting down, “just like to become acquainted.”
The big man chuckled, his gray eyes studying the newcomer. They saw the laser gun on the hip and the long knife strapped to the upper left arm, but they also saw the tiny tubes protruding from under the tight sleeves…dart shooters. A popular weapon of the reptilian race.
“I am Zegg,” the reptile man said. “Are you in the hunting party?”
“Yes, I am,” nodded the big man. “I didn’t know the Brothers of the Egg enjoyed hunting the elephant-dragon.”
The reptilian laughed with a gurgling hissing sound. “Just because the elephant-dragon has scales doesn’t mean he is one of our brothers. Yes, we enjoy hunting the beast.” He tilted his head. “What makes you take part in the hunt? Is it the adventure, or are you looking for fortune, like some of the others?”
“Both, I guess,” smiled the big man. “By the way, my name is Orion, Hektor Orion.”
“An Earthman, I presume?”
“Not quite, I was born in the Sirius System, but my ancestors came from Earth. They colonized the fifth planet, which had no native intelligent life of its own, but proved habitable for humans. So I guess I can safely say that I come from pure Earth-stock. Probably no more or no less than most people on Earth, who have been breeding with hundreds of other humanoid races for many Earth centuries.”
“What’s the difference?” asked the reptilian. “They all go back to the same egg, just like us, just like all the other inhabitants of the Galactic Wheel. We are all brothers.”
Orion smiled. “That’s a dangerous statement, friend. It could get you killed.”
“I know, you Humans don’t believe in the Universal Brotherhood.”
Orion couldn’t help but notice the edge in the reptilian’s voice, but he also seemed to detect a tinge of sadness. He wondered briefly if the tall reptile man might be his contact. His alien mind was closed. Without his help, there would be no mental communication, even if Orion tried to break the barrier.
His gaze traveled over to the other members of the party. He knew a lot about them, just by listening to their conversations for the last couple of hours.
Samdor Whyte, short and fat, a businessman. Head of a large concern in the Alpha Centauri System. Owner of half a dozen planets…or so he said.
Beside him, a big, savage looking brute. At least two and a half meters tall, huge shoulders, powerful arms. Bred on a high gravity planet for only one purpose…to fight.
Samdor Whyte’s personal bodyguard.
The bodyguard’s thoughts lay wide open to Orion’s careful probing. The merchant’s mind displayed nothing. Orion sensed the presence of an artificial shield.
A tall, stunning looking woman sat across from Whyte. Her golden hair cascaded down her pale shoulders and her full breasts were straining against the fabric of her tight-fitting body suit. She called herself Lu-onna. Orion detected a strong mind-shield, the shield of a natural telepath. If she sensed his mind-touch, she didn’t show it.
He had seen women like her before. She came from the Rilian System, where the women were bred for beauty and trained in the art of sensual delights. They were known all over this part of the galaxy.
The Rilian System lay in the Neutral Zone, just like Izzard-Junction, the planet they were on. The Neutral Zone was the lawless region that divided the Galactic Federation of Humans and the reptilian Imperium, theImperial Nest. On the other side of the Galactic Federation was The Hive, the part of the Galaxy inhabited by the Insectoids.
The second woman in the party sat at a table with three other men. She could be the agent, but he found no evidence that she was. Her thoughts were also hidden behind an artificial screen.
Orion had never seen people of her kind before. She looked humanoid, tall, with a lithe, well-formed body. Her eyes were large, green, with pupils like a cat, and her ears were pointy, with little tufts of fur at the tips. She wore her black hair short, cropped close to her rounded skull. He saw a long knife inside her right boot. No other weapons were evident, but that didn’t mean she didn’t have any.
One of the men with her looked like a traveler, a man who drifted from planet to planet, searching for something he would never find. His face looked scarred, his eyes wary. The woman had called him ‘Selmond’. His mind seemed to be open, but Orion knew better. He could be a highly trained agent, keeping his real thoughts hidden behind the chatter of routine thoughts.
The same could be said for the others.
Dr. Fortney; a scientist from Terra. His mind appeared clear and disciplined, letting no random thoughts clutter up his thinking process. He kept it busy thinking about the local flora and fauna he would find.
The tall, handsome young man with the bright smile was Andrew Trongsan. Playboy, spoiled son of an influential family from one of the many planets of the super giant Antares, which lay on the outer fringes of the Human Federation.
The necklace he wore hid a thought scrambler. Anyone who tried to read his mind would only receive gibberish.
At another table, two young men sat by themselves, not saying much, just watching the others. Brothers. Twins, by the looks of it. Even though one of them wore a thin mustache, it didn’t change his appearance much.
Neither of them carried thought scrambles, their thoughts lay open to Orion’s probing. However, that meant nothing. A good telepath could hide himself behind an artificial persona.
Orion could probably have smashed through any of the screens, artificial or natural, but that would have given him away.
He was one of the best agents the government of the Colonial Worlds of Sol-Terra had. Not many could match his talents. Nevertheless, there had been one who could have come close, if only there would have been enough time to develop her abilities.
The memory of her brought a lump to his throat. She had been so lovely, so beautiful, so young. Delina, his mind-sister.
They had been lovers…more than lovers. No other woman had ever captured his heart the way she had, and he had chosen her to bear his son.
For one year they had been together, been through two assignments. Without her, his body would have been destroyed on Arcturus IV.
The arrival of their guide interrupted his thoughts.
Orion could see why the innkeeper called him Nose. Even the full, bushy mustache couldn’t hide the enormous size of his nose. He wore a sloppy outfit; pants and jacket made from the skins of some animal. A wide brimmed hat covered the top of his head, shading his eyes. Around his neck hung a necklace of white, bleached teeth.
He looked like a walking arsenal. Two laser guns and a knife on his hips, a flash-rifle on his back, and a dart pistol strapped to his chest.
He walked in, looked around the tavern, his eyes coming to rest on Orion and Zegg. “You two belong to the party?” Giles’s spoke with a deep and rough voice. It matched his big frame.
Orion sensed the thought-scrambler built into the ring the guide wore in his left ear, a device made out of platinum. Very expensive. He wondered why the guide had a need for a thought-scrambler, here on this backwater planet.
His companion, the reptile man answered the guide’s question. “Yes, we belong.”
Giles gave him a hard look. “A rep,” he rasped, disapproving. “Not many of your kind are interested in hunting the elephant-dragon. Why am I honored with your presence?”
Zegg smiled. “On my home world I am considered a great hunter. You are the second Human today who questions my presence here.”
“I am not questioning your presence, and I don’t doubt your abilities as a hunter,” Giles said coolly. “I am only surprised, that’s all.” He turned towards the others. “If you people are ready, then let’s get moving.”
Orion studied the group thoughtfully. Besides him, there was at least one more natural telepath here. Some of the others had either artificial screens, or scramblers to ensure privacy of their thoughts, or hide something else.
A high percentage of highly qualified people. Very unusual.
Something deep inside him stirred, like a long forgotten ghost, wary and watchful. His thoughts shifted into a higher level.
The primitives are awakening. It won’t be long. The Dark Hunters of the Serpent should not be far away.