Early the next morning before Ari woke, Alex got up and ate breakfast with the Vengeance’s chief engineer, Max Fergusen. By the later part of the voyage this had become a morning ritual for Alex and Max.
It was a sight that caused more than one person on the ship to smile, small slender Alex and the almost equally short but much more massive Fergusen. Though short, Max was built like a space tug, with shoulders almost a meter wide, a thick barrel chest and arms and legs like tree trunks.
Originally from the heavy gravity planet New Glasgow Max had married an Altairian girl soon after graduating from engineering school and had then moved with her to Altair. His wife and all but two of his children had been on Altair when it was attacked. His oldest, a son had been on Glasgow studying engineering like his father, and his next oldest, a daughter, had been serving off planet in the Imperial Navy.
Max had owned an engineering firm that specialized in restoring vintage starships and custom building new ships to order. When Altair was destroyed he had been conducting the final space trials on a subspace yacht his firm had built. He arrived back at Altair a half day after the Commonwealth’s fleet had passed through the system. After he realized what had happened he in his grief went berserk. To keep him from landing the yacht on the surface his crew knocked him out with a stunner and sedated him. For more than a week he said not one word. Then as if the week of silent grief had not happened, he resumed life with the single minded purpose of revenge. He asked for and got the chief engineers slot on the Vengeance, a combat ship. Now after years of war his hate had cooled. Gradually, into the void left behind by burnt out revenge had crept feelings for this small child, Alex ta’Kall. Though his two oldest children still lived, Alex filled a place in his heart that had been left vacant by the loss of his three youngest children. With a paternal smile Max watched as Alex finished his breakfast. It was like watching someone wave a vacuum hose over the food. One second it was there and the next second it was gone. Alex treated eating as serious business. Of course eating was serious business Max reflected as his smile turned into a full fledged grin. Alex was such a strange kid, so quiet and secretive sometimes, and other times you just about couldn’t get a word in edgewise to answer his endless questions. Also the fact that Alex never forgot anything that he saw or heard and had a level of understanding far above his age set him apart from other children that Max had known. Sometimes it was like there was an adult living in his eight year old body. With a large smile Alex looked up from his empty plate “What are you doing today Max?” Giving Alex a mock frown Max replied in his deep gravely voice which still carried the accents of his native planet “Doon give me that innocent look. I know what you want. You want to follow me around like a wee puppy all day and pester me to death”
Alex practically falling off of his chair with laughter cried out “Yes. I want to pester you to death” Then with a suddenly curious look he asked “What does someone who has been pestered to death look like” With a suddenly wary look Max quickly deflected Alex’s train of thought. He knew only to well how tenacious Alex could be in pursuit of an answer, and he didn’t want Alex to decide to try pestering him to death to get the answer to this question. The last time Alex had tracked down an answer, it had been about sex, and it had been Max who had borne the brunt of that inquiry. All because Alex had overheard him talking to a female sergeant in ta’Kall’s battalion that Max was pursuing. With a shudder Max remembered how that had turned out. He had been negotiating some very delicate matters with the sergeant in his quarters late one night when Alex had popped out of Max’s clothes locker to ask “Max why are you and Marriat doing that” Max had later learned that some of Marriat’s fellow soldiers hearing Alex asking a flustered Max about sex, had told Alex that all of his questions would be answered if he hid in Max’s room and then asked Max and Marriat his questions. Needless to say all involved had answered to Max’s creative retributions in one way or another/to their long lived embarrassment. “We’re replacing a point defense laser unit in one of the dorsal weapons blisters” Max said in his attempt to deflect Alex’s line of thought. The engineer gave a small sigh of relief when his stratagem succeeded. “I could always use an extra pair of hands. That is if you want to come” He finished with a knowing smile. Alex jumped up as he answered affirmatively and then fidgeted impatiently for Max to rise. Max smiled at Alex’s impatient fidgeting while he rose and then tapped his com badge to notify the work crew to meet him at the weapons blister.
A couple of hours later after the old laser unit had been removed, Max with Alex following him supervised the crew moving the new laser unit into the weapons blister. At more that 1000 Kilos of heat resistant ceramic and metal alloys wrapped around an active crystalloid core the laser unit took four crewmen to move it safely, and even then they were only able to transport it because they had turned the gravity off in the corridors that they were using.
Alex was having a great time. Max had let him help disconnect the old laser unit and was going to show him how to dial the new laser unit into the ships point defense system. Even though he knew he could have helped move the laser units he kept in mind Ari and Stephen’s warning about showing his strength. Instead he opened hatches ahead of the crew and closed them after they had maneuvered the laser unit through. He was adding quite a few new words (in four languages) to his newly acquired and illicit vocabulary by listening to Max and the crew curse at the laser unit as they tried to get it through each hatch. The laser unit a big and bulky cylinder was only a couple of centimeters less in circumference than the width of the hatches they had to maneuver it through. Combined with the half dozen protruding fittings where the liquid helium cooling system plugged into the unit it made it hard to get through without catching one of the fittings on the edge of a hatch. When that happened the entire mass of the laser unit could pivot at the point where it was caught and then jam in the hatchway or come out the other side of the hatch moving on a vector that would cause it to careen into a wall. If that happened and it hit anything hard enough, such as a corridor wall, it could damage the delicate crystalloid core and most definitely put a large dent if not a hole in the wall. Before long they reached the hatch to the weapons blister. This was a circular hatch the same thickness and made of the same material as the hull. Normally it was sealed at all times. During a battle the weapons blister could be totally destroyed and it would not affect the ship’s integrity, it would just lose the weapons capability of that one weapons blister. Alex slowly flew down the last corridor head first. As he approached the hatch to the weapons blister he did a somersault in midair rolling 180 degrees so that he hit the hatch feet first. He grabbed one of the hand holds welded onto the hatch so that he didn’t weightlessly bounce back off of the hatch after landing on it. He then looked down the access corridor to see how close behind him the slowly moving laser unit was.
Max following behind the laser unit called out “Alex, open the hatch and get inside the blister then move to the side, out of the way. Use the access code that I gave you for the security lock”
Using his memory alone Alex punched the fifteen digit access code into the electronic lock?s control pad which was set in the center of the circular hatch. With a quiet hum which was inaudible to most people, the hatch smoothly unsealed, rose into the weapons blister and slid to the side to clear the hatchway. Alex grabbed the edge of the hatch and propelled himself feet first up into the weapons blister. Then using his hands to pivot on he swung sideways, stopping himself beside the now open hatch inside the weapons blister. He stuck his head back out over the open hatchway and looked down at the crew.
“It’s open Max” he hollered.
A minute later the crew eased the unit to a stop and Max squeezed around and floated through the hatch. “Okay ease it through gently. I’ll guide from this side” He called back through as he hooked his legs through some cooling lines to the side of the hatch. Alex scooted around the blister and perched behind and to the side of Max so that he could see everything. For once the laser unit seemed to be coming through without snagging on the hatch. Max started to smile as most of the laser unit easily floated through the hatch. “Okay, ease it all the way through” he loudly called, then looked back at Alex and winked at him.
Alex smiled back at Max. Then over Max’s shoulder he saw the laser unit start to come through much faster “Max, the laser” he cried out with widening eyes.
The crew unable to hear him clearly, because of the laser unit blocking the hatch, thought Max had said the laser unit was starting to stick had given it an extra hard push to try to keep it from jamming. Though still not moving fast, the unit was traveling two to three times as fast as it had been. Max with a startled expression and an oath quickly reached out to try and slow the laser down. At the same time the laser unit started to clear the hatch with Max just getting a hold on it, a cooling fitting at the very bottom edge of the unit, facing Max, caught on the edge of the hatch. With a loud clang the laser unit stopped it’s forward momentum and pivoting on the fitting#started to swing toward Max. Max knew that though it was weightless the unit still had the mass, inertia, and momentum of a 1000 lb object. He quickly tried to leap out of the way, but his legs were trapped in the cooling lines he had slid them under earlier. In desperation he reached out with a primal roar to try and slow the laser unit down, knowing that he wasn’t strong enough by himself to stop it. When it reached him it would ponderously crush him to death. Alex only hesitated a fraction of a second. He knew he wasn’t suppose to in any way show his abilities but he couldn’t let Max get hurt or die. He quickly moved close up behind Max and braced himself against a massive cooling unit, then stretching out he reached over Max’s head and grabbed the top of the laser unit.
Max seeing Alex’s hands come past his head and grab the unit gave a terrible cry of fear “No! Alex get away” Max redoubled his efforts to stop the unit but it would have taken three of four men to kill all of the laser units momentum in the bare quarter of a meter left before it hit him and now Alex.
Alex pushed as hard as he could. It wasn’t going to be enough. The unit though rapidly slowing would still hit Max. Alex closed his eyes and focused the way Dr. Araxos had taught the older children at the hospital. Then with a steady exhalation he pushed against the unit even harder. Tendons stood out all over his body in stark relief against his skin as he exerted himself past even the point that should have been possible for him. Slowly the unit came to a stop. Max’s back was against the ships hull with the laser unit actually touching his chest. It had stopped just as it was starting to squeeze him against the hull. Alex released the laser unit and then as he started to feel the effects of the tremendous strain his body had been under curled up in a ball against the pain that was starting to rack his body. He felt like he had pulled most of the muscles in his body. Max eased the laser unit gently away from himself and turned cautiously to look at Alex. A chill ran up his back. Alex had done what him and three full grown men might barely have been able to do. As he finally got turned around enough to see Alex doubled up in pain he instinctively reached out to help him and just as quickly instinctively pulled back. In that seconds pause the love that he had come to feel for Alex banished his caution and fear. He reached out and gently pulled Alex into his arms while at the same time calling to the crew members outside the hatch to call sickbay and then Stephen and Ari.
Alex feeling Max’s arms close around him painfully whispered “Don’t tell…not supposed to show…different…promised Ari, Stephen”
“Shhh.. Alex. I won’t tell” Max gently whispered back to Alex.
With a sigh of relief Alex quietly passed out, safe in Max’s arms.
“He will be fine in a day or two” Salazar said to Ari, Stephen and Max. They were standing outside the examining room where Alex was. “Come into my office and have a seat” Salazar continued with a wave of his arm toward his office. He then paused uncertainly as he looked at Max.
Max shook his head in denial “Mon do not even be thinking that I will not be a hearing what you have to say” he said in a quiet but determined rumble. “The wee one means much to me even beyond the saving of my life. I now know more of him than most do. If that be your problem, let me assure that I love him like a son and would not hurt him for my life. What I hear will stay between those here”
Ari and Stephen after an intent look between themselves and Salazar simply nodded their heads in agreement.
With that Salazar led the way into his office and they all took a seat.
Max took a deep breath “I love the lad and what you say to my next question won’t affect how I feel about him, but I need to know ‘who or what is the lad?’ no full grown mon that I know could have done what that eight year old child did”
Over the next hour Ari and Stephen with help from Salazar told all they knew about Alex and his origins.
“Only five people other than you know the full truth about Alex. Me, Ari, Major Salazar, Corporal Dix and the captain of the Vengeance” ta’Kall said as he finished telling Alex’s story to Max.
“Och.. the poor wee bairn..” Max murmured with an ache in his heart for Alex. Looking up at the others with a firm expression on his face he seemed to grow in stature to dominate the room as he quietly but empathetically stated “I be your mon in all things to do with the young Alex. You and he have the bond of my word”‘ he finished in the formal Glassgowan manner of sealing an oath.
ta’Kall reached over and gave his hand to Max “It’s good to have you with us” he said with deep sincerity in acceptance of the oath.
After a moments pause to clear the catch in his throat Salazar spoke “I have a few new findings regarding Alex since we have started this voyage. I have been testing Alex and also trying to extrapolate from his gene maps what his capabilities are. As you know” looking at Ari and Stephen “his ability to heal from injury is nothing less than miraculous. I’ve been able to determine that he can actually regenerate damage to his nervous system. I would be willing to bet that if he lost one of his hands or feet that he would be able to totally regenerate it. Also his immune system is beyond belief. There doesn’t seem to be a single disease known to humans that he is suceptable to. Going even farther I believe that it would be possible to use samples of his blood to make vaccinations, for say you or me, that would protect or heal us from disease that are currently considered incurrable. His hearing is also phenomenal. He can hear much better than is normal for a human. He can hear at decibel levels that we can’t because they are two low and he also can hear in frequencies both above and below the human norm” with a sigh he looked up from the data sheet in his hand “That is all that I can substantiate. Every thing else is speculative. I think that he has a lot of abilities that are dormant, either till he reaches a certain age or he is placed in an environment that causes them to be needed for his survival. There is a down side to his genetic coding though. The genetic codings for certain areas of his genome have merged and I don’t know if this is delibretly in his design or not. If it’s deliberate then it is probably not detrimental but if it’s spontaneous then there is no telling how it might affect him. A freak combination could cripple or kill him. Until he reaches maturity and stops developing and changing there will be the danger that this could happen”
After a moments silence Max asked the question every one else was thinking “What can you do to protect him from harmful mutations”
“Nothing. If I try to tamper with his developmental process there is no telling what will happen to him. Many of his gene maps seem to show that he will go through growth stages and then a programmed stage to stop the growth. If I interrupt a process that I don’t understand, I could kill him through ignorance”