Excerpt: Divided Within

Izaak stared at the dead body and wondered which one of his band of misfits could have possibly been responsible.

Administration was changing; he didn’t have as much control as he did before when it came to picking his own team, but he still tried. Izaak chose the criminals that worked under his command carefully. There was a screening process, no matter the opinion of everyone else who thought First Fighters were a randomly chosen bunch of sorry losers. He didn’t choose serial murderers, rapists, arsonists, sociopaths and people who generally had poor control over their emotions. He particularly didn’t choose people who used poison. Poison was a coward’s way of killing and it required a lot of premeditation.

He chose people who were able to function in a team and had some ability to restrain impulses. He didn’t want people who lost control in the stark setting of the Nullands while on an away team. He tried hard to pick people who were human enough to pass as normal when needed and were capable of following orders.

Which didn’t mean he’d ever forget he was in charge of a group of people who had, at one point or another, killed another human being. He knew better than to think none of them would kill again. Which was why the dead body worried him.

Tarn, his second in command snorted loudly. “Well, he’s dead alright. Too bad they didn’t call us as soon as they’d found the body.” His comment caused several Science Division members to look up sharply and then look away just as fast.

“You think they’d call us if they had a choice,” Izaak said, trying to maintain a serious attitude. “Find the time of death and round up our people. I want everyone accounted for at the time of the murder.”

“How much time do we have before Headquarters comes charging in?”

“Not long,” Izaak admitted, feeling Tarn shift next to him as a lab technician walked into the room brushing past them rudely. Izaak turned around and pointedly stared at the young woman in the white lab coat until she realized she shouldn’t have acted that way. No matter what, Izaak was the highest commanding officer on the entire planet and he wasn’t about to let a slight like that go unnoticed.

She stopped setting up the 3D recorders when she felt his gaze and turned around, mouth set in an arrogant line. Izaak didn’t bother to speak. He merely looked at her until her eyes dropped and she turned around in a quick jerky movement, no longer sure of herself. She turned her attention to the body of Commander Michele and seemed to remember her commanding officer was dead, and she, therefore, fell directly under Izaak’s command.

Izaak turned to Dr. Baron, the senior Science team member who had accompanied them to the crime scene. Dr. Baron was standing away from them, well out of hearing range, looking at her palm top reader. She looked up and the small smile on her lips made it clear, even if she wasn’t listening, she was at least observing the events.

She was a tall woman with large breasts and wide hips, but a narrow waist that made her resemble a wasp. She wore her hair pulled back tight in a bun that pulled at her face muscles, which probably explained why her mouth looked so wide. She had a no nonsense attitude and had stood up to Commander Michele on a regular basis. Izaak had a lot of respect for her, even if he personally didn’t like her very much. She was an efficient administrator, and Izaak felt confident she wouldn’t let anything get by, as long as she hadn’t shot Commander Michele herself. Izaak still had to give her credit for moving the Home Guards outside when it became clear their dead eyed stare and weapons were not helping.

“Shall we move out of the way so the techs can get a 3D reading of the place?” she asked politely. “We need to move the body to the medi-bay as soon as possible.”

Tarn moved swiftly between Izaak and Dr. Baron, eyes narrowed, and Izaak felt touched by his friend’s protectiveness. “I need the times and schedules of everyone on this base,” he snapped at Dr. Baron, and Izaak watched the older woman falter.

“I thought we were waiting for the official investigator to arrive so we could—”

“That’ll take another two to three days,” Tarn pointed out. “In the time, we’ve got a murderer walking around.”

The look Dr. Baron directed at Tarn spoke volumes about what she thought of murderers walking around, but unlike the lab tech, she was experienced enough to know when to back down. “Yes, Sub Commander Tarn.” Izaak always found it amusing that most people addressed Tarn with a title, even though he’d never officially been awarded one.

“I want all the 3D scans, lab reports and everything else on my table in an hour,” Izaak told her before turning around. “Tell everyone that field visits have been cancelled until further notice. I’m locking down the base now.”

“We have a team on the field,” Dr. Baron said quickly, her mouth pinched. “Do you want me to call them back, Sir?” The ‘Sir’ sounded as if she was experiencing a great difficulty.

Izaak considered the question. Commander Michele had been killed sometime last night, since he had been last seen at the mess-hall for dinner. “When did the teams leave?”

“Went early morning,” Tarn answered for him quietly. “The other was scheduled for this morning after breakfast, an exploration team towards the mountains, but I cancelled it as soon as the call came. Ophelia and Robertson are on the field team out now. They were going to spend some time cataloguing wildlife outside the fence and setting out into the Nullands by midday today, which is where they’ll be by now.”

“A Divide team?” Izaak asked with a grimace. That would make calling them back difficult, since there was no way of communicating with them directly once they were in the Nullands.

“There’s another Divide team that’s already been on the field for a week. We probably won’t hear from them for a while, but I’ll have to check them as well including the times and dates,” Tarn offered. “We can send someone after them.”

“Have someone find out the whereabouts of the members of the most recent team last night,” Izaak told Tarn in a low voice. “I don’t want to send anyone after a team that’s somewhere in the Divide.”

Buy the book!