Copyright to Jonathan O'Donnell - Protected under UK and International Copyright Laws, any reproduction, copying or publishing without the Authors express consent is strictly prohibited.
Joanna's Dawn is a completed work (Part 1 of a Trilogy)
Joanna was remembering the moments she shared with James when rudely stirred from her thoughts by the taxi hissing to a gentle landing outside the spaceport. The building loomed over the taxi, its huge plexiglass windows reaching towards the sky. Grabbing her bag she paid, exited, and swung her backpack onto her shoulder. It was late morning as she walked into the spaceport just as another taxi landed behind hers.
Two well-dressed men exited and followed her into the building, separating as they passed through the doors. The taller well-dressed man with dark hair followed her to the ticket desk. The other took a seat on the nearby bench and just observed. She waited patiently in line at the ticket desk; her mind again occupied by the past. When it was her turn, she pressed her thumb into the pad and selected her destination. The robotic voice repeated her destination and she confirmed with a nod. The ticket printed and dropped into the drawer and then fell on the floor, some impatient idiot had kicked off the retaining plastic. As she bent to pick it up, her eyes caught sight of a man sitting watching her. She carried on, but her mind was now sharp, body taut and ready. She decided to buy a coffee and observe. As she turned to leave she came face to face with the tall man, his eyes shifted uncomfortably, she instantly felt herself to be in danger. She smiled, and stepped past him, ‘two’ she thought, or was there more? She went over to the coffee machine and checked the departure board. ‘Three Minutes until Gate 3 Closed’. She stood and drank her coffee for two and half minutes. She saw the tall man join the man on the bench. She considered her options,
‘Make a run for it, shoot them, or let them follow me and see’!
She ruled out the first two, neither would help James, she would let them follow and see what they did. Besides, in space, air locks can be far easier to dispose of unwanted followers than a burning body in a spaceport is to explain even with a top-level security clearance. Joanna walked briskly towards the gate and the men followed as closely as they dared.
"Sir, we have her, we will stay on her but not intervene"!
As the 'Organa' throttled up and away from low Mars orbit, heading out across the Solar system on the long journey towards Earth, its engines glowing red as atoms were torn apart under the huge gravitational forces unleashed within its cyclone tubes. James’s timing was good; Mars and Earth were in close orbit now. The Organa’s journey would be short.
In the lower decks, in basic accommodation Joanna slowly unpacked her backpack for the two-day voyage. She was travelling light, as she always did but also necessary for the mission ahead. Two vacuum packed jump suits, boots, underwear and a thin coat and of course, the one she had worn to the spaceport.
Before she had left home and boarded the Organa, she had requested additional information to assess what she was walking into on Earth. What exactly had happened to James and the communication booth he been traced to making the call from. The explosion still echoed in her mind, in her mind she already feared the worst. However, while there was hope, a chance she could save him, then everything in her life was worth the gamble.
As she neatly folded into the drawers her modest allowance of clothes, her wrist communicator vibrated. She glanced at it, closed the drawer and perched herself on the edge of the bed. It was telling her that she had a coded message waiting. Joanna pulled the secure communication lead from the wall, plugging it into her wrist communicator. She dialled into Organa’s communication system, scrambling the frequency and her identity as she did so. Downloading the message took a few minutes, as the further the Organa moved away from Mars the longer each message took to download. Every moment she was connected to the communication net was another moment her message could be intercepted, a risk she could not take.
‘At last’ she thought as the communicator on her wrist vibrated again, the message had finally been loaded and she could read it. She closed the uplink with as much diligence as she had opened it. Her teacher Don had spent a year with her, he considered her his brightest and best pupil. What he had taught her went far beyond the standard agency training, he would often brief her on missions he had served in or was an adviser on, battles he had fought, tactics he had used. He had taught her the highest level of combat training and most importantly of all, how to remain undetected.
This had served her well in her early years as a fledgling agent in the Mars Agency. How to stay deep undercover, secluded, alone. How to keep her mind true and her mission aims clear, Don had been her greatest asset, but like James, he too had left her. She felt her stomach flip, she had missed Don as much as she had missed James, and he was like her father figure that she wished she had had. The man she knew that measured all men by every single day since.
‘Open the message foolish girl’, she said, her eyes returning to her wrist, she entered the code.
The message instantly projected itself from her wrist onto the wall, filling it completely. "Joanna, its Elizabeth. I have the information you requested! I checked local police reports and the usual discreet channels that we still have with Earth Security. There was no incident reported for the location given, they even stated the booth was not registered".
Elizabeth looked down as if reading from notes, she looked back up,
"The only information I was able to locate was that James was last known to be on Titan and not Earth! I have attached the records for you in case I missed something. Take care and be safe"!
Elizabeth the screen darkened.
Joanna was puzzled!
‘Why had Liz replied? She had asked Peter to research that information not Liz! She had made it clear that only he was to deal with it’!
She did not like it; this was a problem. She mulled over the information she had and Liz’s involvement while she changed for dinner.
On her way to the restaurant Joanna reviewed the last forty-eight hours. She suspected much, had little evidence of anything. She had a theory that is all, but she could not confirm it, not this far from Mars. She had a sickening feeling that would not go away. She hoped she was wrong, but she knew she was probably right; sadly, her instincts and judgement were very reliable, something again she could thank Don for one day.
With Joanna’s mind deeply engaged she almost passed the entrance to the observation deck restaurant. Fortunately, Joanna’s training meant that she still registered even the smallest details including the sign indicating the entrance to the restaurant was still capable of interrupting her.
Joanna was impressed with the stunning views offered by the rearward facing observation deck of the giant interplanetary ship ‘Organa’. The transparent ceramic windows surrounded the entire deck, all except for one wall that connected the deck to the rest of the ship. Mars was still large and bright and the red green hue of the planet with its small white ice caps was breath taking to view and an emotional sight.
A white coated waiter escorted her to a single table, by the foot thick window at the far end of the observation deck. The view of Mars from her table was clear, beautiful, and free from any annoying obstructions and to her delight she was far enough away from other passengers so she would not be disturbed by annoying children or boring chatter and that enabled her to think.
Her eyes drifted towards her home world, a place she had only briefly left her home for missions on Earth and Venus and a low gravity training session on Lunar with James. She had never left home before for reasons of her own.
Joanna picked up the restaurant’s menu and scrolled through the screen, selecting a Martian salad with pasta. Having never been an advocate of drink, she ordered Martian Ice Cap spring water to accompany her meal. Completing her order with a thumbprint and then sliding the menu back into its stand. Her eyes returned to admire her home world; she began to think about Peter. Peter had never let her down before, never passed any request from her to a subordinate. She now had two men to worry about,
‘Typical, cannot leave men alone for five flipping minutes without getting themselves into trouble’ she thought.
Her eyes began to moisten, which annoyed her intently.
She watched Mars slowly shrink and dim as they moved away from her at two hundred and fifty thousand miles an hour; the ‘Organa’ was still accelerating to its maximum velocity of three million miles per hour. As a passenger ship, her acceleration was limited to prevent gravity sickness. Joanna wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. A horrible thought entered her mind as she watched her home, that maybe this was the last time she would see her strangely beautiful green orange planet that had cradled her. She had never been shy and was proud to be called a Martian; she loved it and would often remind James that he was short-arsed Terran.
As she sat staring out into space, her hands pulled at her fingers and her mind reconsidered the facts at her disposal.
‘James was in trouble that was obvious, likely to be injured and most certainly captured. A prisoner of some group or organisation, who she had yet to find and the reasons for his trouble unknown to her. She knew Earth Security had been either incompetent or complicit, more likely the latter. She also knew she was being followed and that trying to sneak onto earth was completely pointless, also whomever she was up against had access at a senior level within Mars Security that troubled her the most of all, James being in trouble did not surprise her, he liked the action, the excitement. However, Mars Security being compromised that was something else. It is the only thing that can explain Peter’s absence and why Liz’s given her the information’.
Joanna revisited the basics of her problem,
‘Why was James on Earth? Was James on some kind of mission? Why if he was in trouble did he not ask locals for help? Why did he contact her first? Or did he’?
Yet again, the puzzle annoying; but also played to her strengths, she had all the questions but none of the answers, but she was darn good at getting answers. However, at the heart of all this she had one sense, one feeling. James was her man and no one was going to separate them again.
Taking their seats at the far end of the room, her shadows from the spaceport continued to watch her every move.
After dinner, Joanna took a different route back to her room, always alert, ears listening, eyes observing. Somewhere on this ship, two men were watching her. However, even of that fact, she was not completely confident, ‘Two men that I have seen, there could be more many more’!
In her cabin, she applied super glue to the door frame it would buy her two maybe three seconds. 'Just enough time, maybe'.
'I am not convinced she is in that much danger, we haven’t seen anyone"? The short man was clearly bored. "If you haven’t seen anyone then they are here, and they will make a move soon"! The taller man took his laser from his jacket and slid it into his boot. "Still, I think it’s all a funt", said the shorter one. ‘Maybe, but this is our mission, or do you want to tell the boss that he didn't find his brother because we got bored’? The shorter man snorted and browsed the menu.
First thing, the next morning Joanna tried to contact Peter. Annoyingly she got Elizabeth again,
"Where is Peter"? Joanna demanded, Elizabeth shrugged, but Liz’s left eye was ever so slightly closed. The slight delay of a few seconds felt like an eternity to Joanna. Nevertheless, she recognised the desperate sign that Liz was giving her.
"He went out yesterday, he hasn't returned. I don’t know what to do"?
Again, as she finished speaking Joanna watched Liz’s eyes. The left eye again partly closed. Joanna had taught her staff well; if everything you are, doing is being monitored! Alternatively, you are under instructions then you use the signal. Liz was using this training now.
Joanna’s fears were becoming horribly real. She closed her fist until the fingers turned white, "Thank you Liz, that is all for now, why don’t you take that holiday"? Elizabeth nodded and her image disappeared.
Joanna knew now, that whoever was behind the problem on Earth had definitely had access to Mars security too!
Joanna dressed and returned to the observation deck and had breakfast; she even had the same table, which in a small way pleased her, but also tinged with disappointment once she saw the view. So did her shadows. Her lovely Mars was now just a fading bright disc in the far distance, almost now just another bright star in the sky. She turned and looked forward; the observation deck bulged at the sides giving the guests a small forward-looking section. The Earth was now a dark disk with a brilliant crescent around it. With every passing second she became larger and the blackness of her night side became blacker but every now and then Joanna thought she could see the bright lights that could have been the huge cities that covered the Earth. The waiter brought her breakfast, toast and strawberry Jam with coffee. He returned later to remove the toast she had not touched. Joanna had not been hungry for food, she was hungry for information and she still had time to wait until that hunger was going to be satisfied.
She returned to her room after a stroll around the upper decks, there brilliant views of the solar system a favourite walk for young lovers on holiday. Not quite a tourist stroll for her though, she was testing whoever was following her, and this amused her. Nevertheless, she was also checking possible escape routes, getting the layout of the 'Organa' burned into her memory just in case she needed an escape route in a hurry. When she returned to her room her wrist communicator buzzed, checking her messages, she downloaded and viewed a new one from Elizabeth.
The message was text only, a screen shot of a Death Certificate from three years earlier.
Name: James Richard Monroe
Date of Birth: Unknown
Date of Death: 23rd March 2221
Certified by: Titan Medical Board of Titan Mining Corporation
Cause of Death: Suit Failure (Natural Causes)
Next of Kin: unknown
The 'Organa' entered orbit around earth on its third and final day, Joanna’s wrist communicator vibrated once more. Joanna checked the messages, her face turned hard; she read it again, then again. Her skin became taut and she suddenly felt light-headed.
'Peter has had an accident, he has been killed. His taxi collided with a building after he left the office! It has taken the police this long to identify him from remains that there were. They say the sky taxi’s radar had jammed or failed'!
Joanna slumped down on to her bed, ‘Not Peter, not my Peter. He was a good man, a family man, a loyal decent man. He was no field agent damn it’! Joanna curled up and closed her eyes. A solitary tear rolled down her cheek, which was then followed in quick succession by many more.
Joanna opened her eyes, leaping to her feet, her eyes misty, and balance off. She tried to focus but could not, she rubbed the sleep from her eyes, and she could not think her head was too foggy. Her heart pumped in her chest and she stood prepared to fight. It took her a few moments to remember where she was and that the worst that had happened was she had fallen asleep. Stumbling into her bathroom she looked into the mirror just the once, it made her feel like worse. Filling the sink with warm water she washed her face, looking in the mirror again, her face whiter then she had ever seen it. Returning to bedroom, she placed a food order for chicken, chocolate and mineral water, energy was needed and desired. Joanna turned on the News channel to watch the reporters debating the increasing tension between Earth and the Colonies.
The door chimed repeatedly, waiter with her meal. Having showered and was already dry, and was now climbing into her jump suit.
"Just a moment".
She opened the door, and the waiter carefully pushed the trolley inside and he asked if there was anything else she wanted, Joanna shook her head. The waiter set the food on the table at the end of the room, he turned and casually walked to the door, unusually she ignored him, as she became preoccupied with checking her order instead, picking up a piece of chicken and nibbling it. It was then she suddenly and instantly felt deathly sick.
‘You stupid fool Joanna’,
The dull click of the Laser was audible to her ears but to an untrained ear, it was barely audible. The day she had first heard that sound came flooding back as if her life flashed before her eyes.
'It was the day she had agreed to meet James for lunch for the very first time, their first public meeting, he was unloading his laser and discharging the battery; the click was the sound of the battery being removed, but it also made the same sound when it was being inserted, or when the charge was loaded into the main chamber'!
Joanna’s body moved instantly, ducking to her left, rolling repeatedly until she finished behind her bed. The laser fire destroyed her order and the place she had just been standing and the table it rested on exploded in fire and light. Then the assassins beam had followed her, the curtains, then the bedding burned and smouldered as he desperately tried to cut her down, but he had missed her.
She looked and spotted what she needed, as quick as lightening popped up and she grabbed a pen from the side table and ducked back down, the side table vaporised just a moment later and its two halves fell on the floor by her feet. She wasted no time, moving to her left, her knees bent she jumped onto her burning bed. Then with another leap, avoiding the beam of the laser that tried to cut her down, she flew through the air towards her assassin. His face panic stricken, desperately as he tried to hit her with his beam. She landed inches in front of him, faces almost touching, the laser knocked down from his hand and her right arm came up violently, inserting the pen deep into his throat and through his main jugular artery. Gasping for air from the blow he fell back against the wall, his held holding the laser fell to his side and the laser dropping from his hand and landing with a thump onto the carpet, blood pumped from the end of the pen. Joanna kicked him in the stomach, and he fell forward and rolled onto his back. She knelt down and unscrewed the end of the pen. The blood poured forth like a fountain. He lifted his hands to his throat, trying to stem the flow. She hit his hands away every time, until the fountain became a dribble and his eyes were wide and dark.
Joanna stood, and reached out and closed the door and pushed the delivery cart out of her way. She wrapped the assassin in one of her still smouldering bed sheets, hoisted him up, and heaved him onto her shoulder. Joanna opened the door, her eyes checking both directions before striding towards the linen chute. She opened the flap, checked each way once more, and then dropped the lifeless body down the chute. She listened as metallic thumps as the body tumbled down the chute. The echoes grew fainter the further he fell. Joanna returned to her room to clear up, putting the remainder of her burned bed sheets and burned curtains down the chute. She stole replacements from an adjacent empty cabin.
* * * *
The Captain lifted the sheet away from the man’s contorted lifeless face, the eyes wide and the mouth open, the pen still protruding from his neck; replacing the sheet, he turned to his first officer.
"I don’t recognise him do you"? His forehead furrowed.
"There is a good reason you don’t sir, he isn't one of the crew"!
The first officer waved his hand instructed the security officers to remove the rigid body. Looking up the chute, the Captain tapped the sides.
"Do we know at what level he entered the chute"?
The first officer shrugged!
"Not a clue Sir, we will need special scanners to determine that, and we do not carry that kind of equipment on board. Do you want me to delay docking with the space station while a full investigation is conducted"?
The captain watched as the stewards carried the body away. He hummed, rubbing his chin,
"If we report a murder we will have to have an investigation. Moreover, this being a Martian Registered ship we will have Terran Police impounding us for the next month at least. We have a number of very important people aboard this trip and I am quite sure a delay would just end with us both losing our licences"!
Two men appeared; they waved their ID badges at the Captain and the first officer.
"Stick him in an Air Lock".
The Captain was about to question the instruction when he thought better of it.
"Happy too"! The Captain looked at his First Officer, who nodded in agreement; it was safer that way for both them and their guests.
Before the Captain and First Officer left the washroom, the shadows stopped them. "Gentlemen a final word if you please".
Dutifully crew received further orders and carried them out to the letter.
The stiffening body was placed into an air lock and ejected into space; the officers sworn to secrecy and the logs erased!
As the docking seals hissed the echoing sound of metal, dock ports spinning into place were clear; they held the massive liner firmly against the space station. The grand door opened and the space station’s impressive entrance hall welcomed the passengers. The hall spanned six floors with large windows giving amazing views of the Earth. Large chandeliers hung low, lighting the marble decorated floor. Joanna’s trainers squeaked as she marched quickly to the shuttle taxi booth. She waited in the queue behind a large sweating smelly man. When her turn came, she gave her fake name, paid her fare and collected her boarding pass.
She stood on the platform waiting for the next taxi to come down the vacuum sealed tunnel to pull up behind the glass and dock with the door she waited by. Her wrist communicator vibrated, distracting her. She checked who the messages were from, they were not important, only reminders to rebook the engagements that had been cancelled because of her unexpected absence from Mars. She cleared the list and stood waiting, her hands together in front of her. Joanna thought of the last time that she had seen James. He had waved goodbye just as he got on his shuttle to Mar's station, off to carry on with his career. The memory made her stomach turn and the hairs on her neck stand up, as if it had just happened yesterday. If she had had the courage to say then what she had always wanted to say, if she had not let her pride or her independence stop her from letting this one person, who made her feel good and wonderful, from leaving her life. They had both been so rigid, so full of independence, both so afraid!
The taxi arrived and opened the door and the rush of stale air hit her in the face. She stooped getting into the taxi, settling herself in the cracked and worn gravity couch. She tightened the straps enabling the lights on the dashboard to flicker green and to tell the driver he could set off. The taxi moved at speed down the tunnel and out into space. It looped around and headed down towards the Earth. Towards what, Joanna knew not, but she would not leave until she knew what had happened to James and taken her revenge.
The taxi entered the Earth's atmosphere with a thump, the outside burned brightly as it slowed. As the heat faded, she looked through the window as New York rose towards her. The tall skyscrapers of this fantastic city still towered higher than any other city in the system. She loved it but this visit was not social. Her taxi glided towards the tallest spire.
As she left the Empire State building, (this had been converted into a Taxi docking station), through the Grand Plaza entrance with is historic décor and went into the hustle and bustle of New York’s City streets. She hailed another taxi, this one being an old ground hugging cab, an old Terran quirk, a Yellow Cab with wheels. ‘Quaint’, she thought as she climbed inside. The driver asked for her destination. She directed him to her hotel she had booked. It was not long until they pulled up outside the Sheraton by Central Park.
Joanna tipped the bellhop and she closed the door behind him. Throwing her coat on to the bed, she walked over to the French windows and out onto the balcony. She took in the view. New York still had the magic, although it may have been the smelliest and dirtiest city on the planet and these days had the highest crime rate in the Solar System she still had always wanted to visit this teeming metropolis since she had been a child. This was after all, the organised crime capital of the solar system. You could get anything here.
After showering and changing, Joanna called Elizabeth.
"Liz send me the list of all our contacts on Earth, encrypted level seven"!
Joanna wanted to ask more about Peter, but this was not a secure line.
"On its way",
Liz looked straight into her eyes. "Are you ok Joanna"?
"I'm fine", Joanna replied as the wrist communicator buzzed.
"Ok got it, Liz. Be careful, all of you". She tried to smile but it just looked strained. Elizabeth nodded,
“We will, I promise”!
Joanna terminated connection and searched through the received data, she found what she was looking for. She changed quickly; she put on her laser proof protective body suit under her clothes. The skin-tight body suit would protect her from most of the laser weapons she might come up against and supported her weaker Martian skeleton in the higher gravity of old Earth. She tied her hair back into a ponytail; put on her backpack and she was ready to start her search for James.