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The Secret Return of Alex Mack

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This story is No. 3 in the series "A Brane of Extraordinary Women". You may wish to read the series introduction and the preceeding stories first.

Summary: Alex is back from her 5-day trip to Hermione Granger’s world. But she's going to need everything she learned if she wants to survive, starting with finding her world's Willow Rosenberg. (Cross with BtVS, SG-1, HP, DCU...)

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Multiple Crossings > General
Harry Potter > General
Stargate > General > Characters: Jack O'Neill
Television > Secret World of Alex Mack, The
DianeCastleFR132351,177,0232896487754,19012 Dec 1215 Nov 14Yes

Mission Parameters

A/N: Alex’s powers and new knowledge will make more sense if you go read the first story in this series: “The League of Extraordinary Women”. The disclaimers, spoilers, and other information are all in previous chapters.

Sam tried to ignore the sound of duct tape slowly being peeled loose from the doorframe. Maybe the lifeform could recognize changes in velocity and acceleration, and it was reacting. But it was trying to force its way into the control cabin, at the worst possible time.

Maybe it was intelligent. Maybe when it absorbed something, it also maintained biological structures that preserved some of the victim’s characteristics. She hoped that wasn’t the case. She really didn’t want to think about being trapped inside that thing forever, while her brain continued to function on some levels.

She tried to focus on the camera. In order to dock properly, she had to make contact with the module’s hatch, but so gently that she didn’t risk damaging the shuttle’s hatch, the module’s matching connector, or the mechanicals that clamped the two together so that there wasn’t an air loss. And the mass of the shuttle meant that even a tiny velocity yielded a dangerous amount of momentum. Even worse, this module was hanging off the side of the ISS on nothing but cables, so it would be easy to accidentally shove it into something critical.

She gently triggered the attitude jets again. She was only using the attitude jets at the nose and tail. If she used the mid-line attitude jets to slow the shuttle, she’d blast the isolation module and knock it away from her, into the station. If she could just get the shuttle one foot closer and stop it dead in its tracks, she could park the shuttle and step from the EVA hatch into the module’s hatch.

The rip of duct tape told her that at least some of her seal had failed. Maybe it didn’t matter if she connected to the hatch, if she couldn’t physically get out of the shuttle.

She focused on the camera. In theory, you could do this perfectly with a computer, but so far people were doing a better job because they could match reactions with kinesthetics better than a computer could. People were essentially computers evolutionarily designed to do tasks like this as efficiently as possible.

She felt the contact at the same time she heard a gentle clack through the hull. The clamps engaged, and the shuttle was secured to the side of the isolation module, even if it had to look bizarre to an outside observer. The shuttle was pointing up away from the Earth with its hatch against the module’s side.

“Captain Carter to ISS, come in please.”

“This is Commander Vince Elliott of the International Space Station.”

She checked, “Do you need to make any adjustments to module position?”

Elliott sourly admitted, “No, my flight engineer reports you made a perfect docking maneuver. Congratulations.”

She told him, “Congrats are a little early. The lifeform’s trying to get into the control cabin, and I don’t have anything I can use to fend it off. I may not be able to get to the module. If I can’t, I’ll leave the interior shuttle hatch sealed. Inside the EVA hatch is a rack with four steel tubes that all have metal screw-on lids. This stuff will eat hydrocarbons if given the chance, so don’t use ordinary plastic gaskets as your seals. All four tubes have samples inside them. The lifeform absorbs E-M radiation and CO2, and converts it pretty efficiently into food, so basic analysis tools like x-ray diffraction and mass spec will make it grow unexpectedly.”

“Damn it Carter, you are not making a final speech on my station! Tell me what we can do to help you!”

“Just sit tight for a minute, Vince.”

“That’s Commander Elliott to you, Carter,” he snapped.

Same old Vince Elliott. She had to admit that she had really enjoyed beating him out for first in class.

All right, she had nothing in here she could safely use to fend the thing off.

But she had something she could use as a lure.

Assuming the lifeform wasn’t that smart, and was just reacting to stimuli.

The duct tape at the lower right corner of the cabin door tore away with a ripping sound, and the tape peeled back up toward the doorhandle. Green matter began oozing through, all along the gap.

She flipped switches and made sure the engines couldn’t be turned back on-line without a proper restart, just in case the thing retained some memories of Keith and Don, or in case it crawled all over the panels and accidentally flipped a bunch of switches. She pushed off and moved down near the floor to the right of the door. Then she took a deep breath and took off her helmet. She opened her mouth wide, and she slowly, carefully exhaled. Then she tugged her helmet back on, sealed it around her neck, and pushed off the floor toward the door.

She put her feet against the center of the door, grabbed the duct tape, and yanked it all off as quickly as she could. Then she turned the handle on the door and pushed off toward the ceiling.

The lifeform was blocking half the doorway, and it was waving tentacles that threatened the rest of the opening. But as soon as it oozed into the cabin, it detected that one large concentration of CO2 she had exhaled, and it moved at the gas.

The entire mass of the thing dove down and to her right, as it reacted to the CO2. She grabbed the top of the doorframe, flipped through into the shuttle bay, and kicked off the wall for the EVA hatch. The lifeform didn’t follow her.

She clambered into the hatch, tugged it shut, sealed it behind her, and grabbed the steel sample vials before she swiftly moved into the isolation module.

“Carter to ISS. Task complete. I am in the module. I have samples for analysis.” She wasn’t going to admit that she had gotten the samples by playing ‘sitting duck’ in the shuttle bay and letting thin tendrils of the thing snake her way. She had just sliced through the stuff, scooped the tendril tips into the vials, and screwed on the caps before scrambling into the EVA hatch where she had been at least temporarily safe.

“Commander Elliott to Carter. There is a remote sampler system. If you can’t operate it, Dr. Hans Halvorsen and Dr. Michael Logan will walk you through it.”

She rolled her eyes and refrained from making a rude remark back at him. He was still just as big a stick-up-the-ass prick as an officer as he’d been when he was a cadet. And he wondered why guys liked ragging on him about being the only cadet who ever came in second to a girl.

The bio gear looked pretty obvious. The remote sampler looked pretty straightforward although it was clearly designed for remote operators to handle it. The analytical systems looked fairly useless, given that she didn’t want to irradiate or ionize any more of the stuff. The physics gear looked like they had moved all the spare science equipment into the module for her to play with. There were astrophysics toys, and cryogenics toys, and materials science toys, along with a large chest-shaped locker of tools and a cabinet-shaped locker of parts. That magnetometer looked a little out of date, but still serviceable. She made a mental note to disassemble it and make sure the magnetic coils were all properly aligned before working with it.

One of the computer screens came on, and a man with a Scandinavian accent introduced himself. “Dr. Carter? I am Dr. Hans Halvorsen. Please call me Hans. And this is Al. Dr. Alfonso Castellano. Normally, Michael would be assisting me, but he told me he needed to do some work for our communications specialist.”

“It’s a pleasure,” Sam told him. Talking with someone new? Being out of that damn shuttle and away from that tentacled alien creature? Feeling safe for the first time in days? It was all good. It was all great. Even if she was already contaminated and facing a horrible fate, this was so much better than the last few days had been.

‘Al’ turned out to be a friendly guy with a Hispanic accent she couldn’t quite place. He walked her through feeding her samples into the remote sampling and analysis system that apparently Michael had done more of the hands-on work and programming for than Hans had.

Then another screen came on. It was Vince again. “You seem to be a very popular person, Captain. NASA just sent us a message that Terawatt is coming up here to help you. They’re launching a Dragon cargo capsule with her in it.”

Sam blinked. “Terawatt? You’re kidding me. Terawatt?” But Vince just nodded. And Vince wasn’t the joking type.

Holy Hannah, how did that happen? If her dad hadn’t passed away from cancer, she would have suspected that he was busy using favors he had racked up over the years.

Vince turned to the side and talked to someone else. “You’re kidding me. You’re sure? Okay, set it up.” He turned back and faced her. “Michael tells me we just got a message that the ESA is putting an X-37 up here, and it’ll get here even before Terawatt does. You must be living right, Carter.”

Wait, an X-37 was on its way up too? When did she get so popular? Or was it that the prospect of experimenting with non-terrestrial organics was that attractive? Had anyone warned all these visitors that this stuff was dangerous, and a quarantine had to stay in place no matter what?

And since when did the ESA start using X-37s? She had thought that the ESA had rejected the X-37 in favor of their own rocket systems.

Clare Tobias looked around the Cessna at ‘her team’. Not that they were her team in any way. Not yet.

They were very clearly Finn’s team. How an Orphan got promoted to lieutenant colonel was beyond her. She had to assume Finn was less ‘naïve boy scout’ and more ‘brilliant manipulator’ than he acted. Still, his long-term approach was the wrong way to go. She was backing The Collective for logical reasons, not just emotional ones.

But O’Neill had been promoted to general. That meant that Finn was in charge of at least one field team, and had direct interactions with Terawatt. That was a position of enormous power. The Collective could really use him.

She asked, “Are we moving to the ISS? And do any of you have training in space warfare?”

The huge sergeant smiled blandly, “I’ve seen re-runs of ‘Thunderbirds’. Does that count?”

Lupo snorted, and didn’t quite manage to conceal her amusement.

Finn said, “Need to know. How about you?”

She thought for a moment about her orders, and decided to go with the truth. “Yes. The NID had a couple small groups who received some small bit of space warfare training, just in case.”

Finn nodded, “That’s good to know. Right now, we’re ground-based. Terawatt’s on her way up to the ISS, and if she can’t handle this, I don’t see our intervention making that much of a difference.”

Clare really wondered how O’Neill managed that, unless Terawatt was capable of flying up into low earth orbit and matching speeds with the ISS all on her own. That was a pretty scary thought.

She asked, “So what are we doing?”

Finn explained, “We’re heading to Nicaragua. A White Knight Two took off from an unidentified base south of Punta Gorda, and they launched an X-37 at the ISS. Current NASA calculations suggest it may beat Terawatt to the station. NASA has alerted the ISS, but we’re going to investigate the launch site. It’s not your pals, is it?”

She told him the truth. “It’s definitely not my people.”

Lupo said, “We didn’t think so. They wouldn’t have needed to use up their contact mechanism with you if they had an easier way of dealing with the problem.”

Clare gave her a raised eyebrow. “And what do you think would have been an ‘easier way’ of dealing with the problem?”

Lupo shrugged. “We are talking about Maggie Walsh here. An X-37 with a pilot and a thermonuclear device. Instant problem resolution, just no more space station.”

Clare had to admit it. That made sense. And Dr. Walsh was undoubtedly capable of doing something like that, if it really needed to be done. Killing a dozen astronauts was nothing compared to some of the things Clare had heard about the woman.

She looked around at the interior of the Cessna Citation X. It was a lot nicer than anything she had ever traveled in for the NID, and it was faster than almost anything the NID had access to. Plus, it could actually be landed at normal civilian airports on reasonably sized runways. She wondered how many hidden modifications the jet had.

Finn’s team had better weapons, too. And smarter selections. It was stupid to run around with AK-47s like a bunch of poorly-trained third-world terrorists when you were strong enough to wield… Damn, that was an M240G. And she had no idea what was in that other case, unless it was an M32. So the three of them were an entire infantry platoon with heavy weapons support. Who needed a mortar platoon when you had someone who could also tote around an M32 and enough ammo for it? She needed to learn the lessons these guys had to teach her.

She decided it was time to go to work. “So… what did you think when you got your letters from that mythical Kids Of Breslynn Orphanage?”

Their eyes flickered over toward each other. Either they were unified against her and checking out each other’s stories, or else they didn’t really trust that they were all unified. She could work with either one.

Finn flatly said, “All three of us had already seen what your little friends represented. I’m not big on genocide and kidnapping innocent people for experiments even the Nazis would balk at.”

Lupo added, “Anybody who wants Walsh to do more of this crap is not going to get the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.”

Clare shrugged. “So you’re fine with the way things are. We’re better than the average Joe Blow, and you’re going to let him and his friends ruin our planet. Overpopulation that’s going to use up all our resources. People polluting the planet, making places like Chernobyl uninhabitable. People releasing chemicals that do terrible things to other people, or to animals, or to everything in sight. People wiping out forests we need so we can have oxygen, or poisoning our water, or dumping pollutants into our air, or processing metals and chemicals in ways that send plumes of poison for hundreds and hundreds of miles. Everyone’s going to die anyway, only it’s going to be really slowly, over decades or centuries. I’ve seen it. Have you ever been to some of the Russian smelting towns, like Nikel? There’s nothing Dr. Walsh has done that’s worse than what the Russians have done to some of their own towns.”

Finn said, “I’ve seen some of the former USSR mistakes. I’ve fought things that used to be animals before they got exposed to toxic wastes. I’ve battled things that mutated after Chernobyl. I’ve faced down people who had been turned into supervillains. That doesn’t mean I think we should kill everyone.”

Clare nodded, like she was agreeing with his point of view. Finn was going to be a hard sell. But if she pretended to focus on him, she might be able to sway Lupo or Carlson.

Vince Elliott checked the monitors again. He didn’t like having his routines changed. He knew that was one of his weakpoints, but it was still true. He liked a routine for cargo capsules, and a routine for new arrivals. He liked being able to make sure that the docking modules were aligned properly, and that bulkheads were ready in case of accidents. And he liked having Miku on comms instead of Michael.

Oh, Michael was fine as a comm officer, but Miku knew the systems better, and she knew the people on the other end of the connections, and she was better with languages, and she was better with people. Sometimes that really mattered, when you might be dealing with one of a dozen different space programs. Also, Vince would rather have Michael keeping an eye on Hans, or being ready in case a quick repair was needed.

He frowned. It wasn’t Hans he wanted Michael to keep an eye on. It was Carter. And that alien lifeform. The alien made him nervous, but Carter? He’d had to admit it to himself a long time ago, but Carter made him feel inferior. If she had been younger than thirty-two, he’d think she was one of these Orphan terrorists, even if there was no way Sam Carter was the terrorist type. But she was too smart and too athletic and too determined… and too damn sexy. She had written physics papers at the Academy that were so goddamn awesome the Air Force had needed to classify them. She had already been working toward a doctorate in astrophysics before they graduated from the Academy. When people had been talking about who they wanted for the Atlantis mission to that comet, there was really only one name being bandied about for ‘astrophysics mission specialist’: Captain Samantha Carter.

And who wanted to talk to him now? Carter. There was an angry Sam Carter on one monitor. “Elliott! Stop your idiot scientist from breaking quarantine! He just had his robot sampler take the vials and stuff them into the transport tube!”

But Hans popped up on another monitor. “Vince! Something is going wrong with the remote sampler. It just acted against explicit instructions, and I can’t make it stop. It’s transferring Captain Carter’s samples into analysis vials, and it’s been over-ridden by something. I need Michael down here at once!”

Michael stuck his head around the corner. “I heard that, Vince. I’m on it.” He pushed off from the wall and flew across the module to the central core so he could get to module 2 and deal with Halvorsen and that stupid sampler.

There was a vibration through his feet, and Vince knew the X-37 had just docked successfully. He flipped on the speakers. “We have crew coming in. Miku, get down here and take over comms. Viktor and Lisa, meet me at the docking module. Jun and Al, go help Michael and Hans with the isolation crisis. If necessary, drag Hans out of that module and seal it. Preserving the quarantine is more important than getting some research done, no matter what Hans thinks.”

He didn’t wait for a bunch of acknowledgements, half of which wouldn’t get made over the communications system anyway. He pushed off from his handhold, flew across the room through the hatch, and smoothly pushed off one wall to bounce into the central core.

The ISS had become big enough that it was nearly impossible to move into new orbits, but it now had plenty of options for ships and capsules coming in to dock. It had three levels, each of which was shaped like a cross, and the levels were stacked at the top, middle, and bottom of the central core. They were ready to add another two levels if the ESA and NASA ever stopped arguing about funding.

He kicked off and flew up the core, instead of using the ladder. Then he caught himself and pivoted through the hatch to move into level one, where the X-37 had just docked.

Viktor was moving up the central core behind him, and he could hear Lisa coming from the med module. But the docking hatch was already opening, and three men in spacesuits were walking in.

Vince grabbed a handhold and turned to face the visitors. He stopped short when he saw that two of the men were pointing guns at him, while the third had a handgun and a taser. A firearm in a space station was incredibly dangerous. He wondered what they thought would happen if they accidentally put a bullet through a window.

Maybe that was why they were still in full spacesuits. Spacesuits with holsters attached.

Maybe they were planning on creating a disaster like that.

He put his hands up and stalled, “Hey now, there’s no need to get carried away here. Let’s just put our guns down and not risk any dangerous decompression problems.” He needed Viktor or Lisa to react to his intent. If just one of them slammed the module hatch shut behind him and executed the security protocols, these guys would be stuck without access to the rest of the station. There were other docking hatches, but they could be disabled. There were EVA hatches, but they could be blocked. He and Viktor had worked this all out in a couple emergency scenarios.

He heard Viktor lock the hatch, but only after Viktor came into the module behind Vince. Then Viktor suddenly went for the save.

Viktor launched himself in a micro-grav attack that no one would be expecting if they were used to Earth gravity situations. Viktor kicked off from the hatch, hit the ceiling over Vince’s head, pushed off with one hand, and did a half-barrel roll so he was charging at the astronauts hands-first from above their heads. In micro-grav, momentum was everything, and Vince knew Viktor was trying to bowl all three intruders over in one blitz. Then Viktor would have the advantage, because he had training in hand-to-hand fighting in micro-grav.

It almost worked.

Vince dove in low to back Viktor’s play, but all three intruders got off a shot. One bullet seared over Vince’s head and missed him, probably because the gunman was intuitively expecting Vince to have to leap in an arch. Micro-gravity? No discernable ballistic curves.

Viktor’s body crashed into the intruders, and everyone went flying backward. Vince crashed into the middle guy, and tried to grapple for that gun.

A taser hit him in the neck, and he yelled in agony. He couldn’t make his body stop twitching, and he couldn’t control it. One of the other intruders kicked him in the chest, knocking him back across the module and into a side wall.

Another intruder pushed Viktor’s limp body, and it drifted backward, turning slowly about all three axes as it floated back toward the central core. Vince couldn’t make his body move yet, but he could see that there was a small but bloody hole in Viktor’s temple.

One of the intruders said in a definitely American voice, “Lucky shot.”

The second one admitted, “Yes sir. I’m not claiming otherwise.”

The third one muttered, “We should’ve expected space warfare tactics.”

Crap, all three of them had American accents! Who the hell were these guys?

Vince struggled to get control over his muscles, but that taser had knocked the shit out of him. He hadn’t ever realized just how much those little bastards hurt. And he needed to find out where the other two bullets went, because a cracked window or some severed tubing would be critical up here.

The hatch unlocked from the other side with a couple clacks. And Michael came barging in, carrying a test tube rack holding four glass tubes. Every tube had a sample of the green fungal slime. Every tube was sealed with a plastic cap. What the hell was he thinking?

Michael hastily said to the intruders, “We have a problem, sir. I buried the message, but NASA called us to say that Terawatt’s on her way up in that DragonX capsule. She’ll be here soon.”

The intruder who seemed to be in charge growled, “Fuck! Okay, let’s move it. Did you scrag the comms?”

Michael nodded, “Done, and the comm officer’s taken care of too.”

Michael stepped forward, and suddenly jerked backward. A slender arm tipped with elegant fingernails wrapped around his throat, and another arm twisted his free arm back behind his body. Lisa coldly said, “I don’t think so. Release your weapons and push them gently so they float over to me.”

Michael struggled, and then groaned, “Sir, she’s really strong!”

The head intruder growled, “Just what we need. Another frigging Orphan.”

Vince winced inwardly. Surely Lisa couldn’t be one of those terrorist Orphans that had been all over the news. Even if she was a brilliant doctor. And she never got space sickness. And she was twenty-nine and a half, with a birthday in the middle of summer. And she spoke more languages than Miku. And she was just stunningly gorgeous, and way out of his league. And…

God damn it, he’d been about to ask an Orphan to marry him. He was trapped in between an Orphan threat and some sort of non-Orphan threat that seemed to be three Americans who didn’t care who they killed. And he still couldn’t move, other than making a few feeble twitches.

The head intruder pointed his .22 at Vince and snarled, “Let’s see if our intel on ISS personnel is accurate. Okay doc, let the nice engineer go, or I’ll start putting .22 caliber rounds into your boyfriend. I think I’ll start with the hands and feet, then the knees and the elbows, and I’ll just work my way toward the balls.”

“No! Don’t! Please,” Lisa begged.

Vince managed to get his throat working. “He’s… bluffing. Don’t.”

Lisa didn’t take her eyes off the intruders. “He’s not. None of them are. They killed Viktor without a second thought. They’ll kill all of us if I don’t cooperate.”

Vince insisted, “You can’t let him have the vials!”

Lisa released Michael and pushed him so he drifted across the module to the hatch. She said, “You have the vials. Don’t hurt the commander.”

The intruders backed into the docking hatch, their guns all pointing at Lisa. Michael squeezed around behind them so he was safer, the weasel. The hatch began to close. The head intruder popped the cap off one vial and flipped it at Lisa, just as the hatch slammed shut.

Vince forced his legs to work, and he pushed off the floor to intercept the vial. He could see green slime already flicking out from the rotating vial.

He managed to get in the way of the tube, and it splattered on his chest. He grabbed the tube with one still-shuddering hand, and he pushed off the ceiling with his other hand.

He managed to land right in the EVA hatch, and he slammed the inner door closed. “Lisa, get the hell out of the module, and seal it from the outside.”

“Oh, Vince!”

He shrugged his way into one of the spacesuits in the EVA hatch, and sealed it behind him. “I’m going to the isolation module. Find Miku. Fix the damage Michael did. Get a warning to Earth.” He slipped on the suit’s environment pack, and he snugged on the helmet. He grabbed a pair of direction-control rockets, and he finished, “And Lisa… if I don’t make it, in the left-hand cabinet in my bunk area… that ring’s for you.”

She pressed her face against the window of the inner hatch door, and she burst into tears.

Colonel McNamara strapped himself in his chair and growled, “We need to get the hell out of here now, and we need to deal with Terawatt before she tries to come after us.”

Michael asked, “How do we do that? Isn’t she pretty much indestructible?”

He said, “We just need to implement Plan E.”

Agent Webb nodded, “Oh, no problem. We’ve got the rocketpacks ready, and Michael knows how to do EVAs. He can help me place them.”

McNamara grinned. He pointed roughly toward their target and said, “Make it so, Number One.”

Alex had been expecting danger and stress and shaking and incredible g forces. She hadn’t expected… boredom.

They had loaded her in a cargo capsule on top of a Falcon 9 rocket. Okay, she just went silvery and sat in a thirty gallon drum in the middle of a bunch of real cargo the space station was waiting on. She had a computer tablet and a little collapsible telescope with her.

In everything she’d ever seen about blasting off and intense g forces, she’d always seen people pressed back in their launch chairs and pinned in place by the acceleration. But she was in her silvery morph, so the acceleration wasn’t that bad. It was just kind of like a medium pressure. A couple times during the eight minute launch, she’d been tempted to get up and look around, even if there was nothing to look out through.

Then the rocket boosted the capsule to the right speed in low earth orbit, which took a couple hours of not-bad-at-all acceleration. She just sat there in her morph, and kept the tablet computer they’d given her out of the morph, and read the stuff on the tablet. So… eight minutes of serious blast-off stuff, and then over three hours of really boring boost-then-wait-then-boost-again stuff.

At least the Blackbirds had a canopy you could look out through and see utterly awesome views. This Dragon capsule had a hatch that was solid metal without even a peephole.

Okay, the tablet was pretty cool, although the directions and the ‘all about the tablet’ stuff had been written by the world’s most boring writer. She just about dozed off half a dozen times just reading through the junk. But the tablet had GPS and a compass and an accelerometer built in, and star charts and astrogation programs loaded, so it was full of useful stuff.

It was three hours and forty-eight minutes by the tablet’s clock when it finally signaled her it was time to get going. By then, the capsule had moved into a low earth orbit that was just five kilometers below the ISS, even if it was going to need another ten to twenty hours to close in gingerly and match speeds perfectly and then dock.

But she didn’t need that. The capsule was already traveling within about a hundred sixty kilometers per hour of the speed of the ISS, so all she needed was someone to tell her where to go next. And that was what the tablet was for. Okay, being able to spot the ISS was also good, so she had the telescope too.

She used the little hatch to get out of the capsule, and she looked at the tablet. All she had to do was line it up with the stars around her.

Wow, she was in outer space and looking at the stars. This was totally worth sitting in a big bucket for almost four hours. The earth was this huge, gorgeous, green and blue and white and brown ball underneath her. It was so much prettier than the pictures she’d seen. The stars had never looked so clear and sharp. They had colors too! Colors she could even see. This was so spectacularly awesome! Of the awesome, as Willow would say.

She jetted forward at where the space station would be in a couple minutes. It was only three miles to the station’s orbit, and she could do that in under two minutes. And with no wind resistance slowing her down, she just felt like she was zooming faster than ever.

Maybe she was. She got to the space station’s rendezvous a little early and used her telescope to spot it coming her way. It looked like it was moving at her at about fifty miles an hour, which meant she had to be orbiting pretty fast already.

Hey, was that a shuttle leaving the ISS? Sam wasn’t supposed to be taking her shuttle anywhere. If she’d decided to go crash it into the sun, Alex was going to be really upset. She tried to type on her tablet with her tk to send a text radio message to the station, but no one answered.

Wow, from out here the ISS looked like a big Lego set. It had three levels, one of which had the Atlantis docked with its side against one module that was hanging off the end of the station on long cables. Each level looked like a big plus sign, with each leg of the plus made of maybe three pre-fabricated modules. Some of the modules had logos on the outside telling her that they were from NASA or the ESA or the RSA or the JASA or even the Chinese Space Administration. That last one was in ideographs she had to look up on a page on the tablet. The station also had really big blue solar panels covering the side facing the sun, and a host of places where it had fancy rockets so it could steer, and docking hatches, and all kinds of cool stuff.

Alex easily caught the ISS as it moved past her. After all, she was the fastest thing around here, relatively speaking.

Hey, there was someone in a spacesuit climbing along the cables to get to what had to be Sam’s module. Alex didn’t know what was up with that, but that was where Alex wanted to go too. She zoomed over, grabbed the person with her tk, and popped the two of them into the EVA hatch they’d told her about before she blasted off.

Lisa dove down the central core, grabbed a handhold, and flung herself into the control room. She didn’t bother to do the slow and careful routine she’d been using. She didn’t have time to pretend any longer.

She checked the radio first. “Merda!” It wasn’t working. She needed Miku or possibly Jun to get it working again. She slapped the switches for every communications monitor on the entire shuttle, including Captain Carter’s isolation module. “This is Lisa. I am assuming emergency command. Michael broke quarantine and took Captain Carter’s samples. The ‘ESA visitors’ were a group of armed Americans in what might be a stolen X-37. They shot and killed Viktor. They contaminated Vince. They took Michael with them. Vince is in a suit, moving along the outside of the station toward the isolation module, even though he and Captain Carter do not get along. Jun, I need you here at the control module. Find Miku. I don’t know if Michael killed her. If she’s just tied up, I need the two of you to fix the radio first so we can alert all our ground controls. If she’s injured or dead, you’ll have to fix the radio on your own. If she’s hurt, I’ll take her to medical and do what I can for her. Hans, you and Al make sure we still have isolation, and that Michael didn’t contaminate the entire station when the figlio di troia betrayed us. Captain Carter, please do what you can for Vince, he was splashed with a sample, and I don’t know how long he has before he is… not himself.”

Everyone went along, partly due to the shock of hearing about Viktor’s death and Vince’s contamination and Michael’s betrayal. Even Captain Carter, who asked to be called Sam.

Lisa added, “We also need to check on that X-37’s flightpath, so we know that it’s not going to make another pass at us and launch a missile or something. We need to help Terawatt when she arrives, perhaps ahead of the cargo capsule – Michael received word of that, and suppressed it. And once we have an engineer who is free, I need someone to go up and find where the two bullets that missed Vince actually struck, so we know how much damage they did.”

“This is Jun. I found Miku in storage module B. She’s tied up and gagged, and unconscious, and bleeding from a scalp wound. But she’s still breathing.”

Lisa scowled to herself. “Thank you. I’ll come get her and take her to medical. You need to get up here and see if you can salvage any of the radio systems.”

Jun replied, “Will do.”

“Lisa, this is Sam. Terawatt just flew up, grabbed Vince, and flew him into the EVA hatch. I’m operating the systems so I can let both of them in. And since I’ve got some astrophysics gear here, I already checked the flightpath. Whatever the X-37 is doing, it’s not on a normal re-entry path, and it’s not staying at altitude to make an attack pass at us. In fact, it’s moving to a higher-altitude orbit.”

Lisa said, “Thank you, Sam. Everyone? Please keep me and everyone else onboard informed. I’ll be in medical if you want to talk to me.” She slid past Jun and pushed off to get to storage module B as quickly as she could. She could hurry to get there, but she knew she was going to have to be a lot gentler when she moved Miku up to a bed in the medical module.

If only she knew what those bastards in that X-37 were up to…

A/N: Other than the eight minute rocket burn (which is correct), this is several times as fast as the docking process for the DragonX cargo capsule really goes currently, but it clearly could connect up a lot faster if necessary. The current rate is designed for safety first and convenience second, with speed well down the list. On the other hand, a Soyuz rocket has gone from launch to complete docking with the ISS in under six hours *already*.
A/N2: In the movie, Lisa is pretty bad about following the rules on quarantine too.
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