The inhabitants of 25th century earth are dying. A deadly brain virus is taking a large death toll and it is up to one scientist to stop it.
The problem for Dr. Kane Edmonds is that the one form of plant-life she believes is necessary for a cure has long been extinct, dwelling nowhere else within the solar systems except the earth's past.
Kane plans for every contingency when she agrees to travel through time to hunt down the life-saving plant. Every contingency, that is, except for falling in love.
When Kane meets George Wyndom, the dark and formidable Earl of Blackmore, she wonders if she'll ever be able to let him go. What Kane doesn't understand is that she has no say in the matter, for the handsome earl is determined to keep her.
This e-book tells us the story of the grandson several generations removed of Thomas & Maya MacGregor (After the Storm). This book, however, can be read without reading its predecessor.
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November 13, 2009
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Excerpt from Before the Fire by Jaid Black
NASA Headquarters, Houston Colony of Planet Earth
April 15, 2429 AD
"I cannot believe this is the only way."
"Believe it. We've no other recourse."
"But this is insanity!"
"It's better than death for our people!"
Kane Edmonds plopped her weary body down onto the black sensory chair behind her desk and fixed Commander Linder with a frosty stare. The computerized seat, having sensed Kane's stress level by synaptic analysis, automatically kicked into relaxation mode. The massagers began pummeling at her backside, springing out from the chair like angry robotic fists. She winced.
"What's the matter with you?"
"Damn chair is busted," she grumbled. "It hits with a little too much vigor lately."
Commander Linder sighed. "Budget cuts."
At Kane's nod, the commander forsook the idle chitchat concerning the sensory chair and reverted back to the previous topic of conversation. He drew his arms across his chest and assumed his most authoritative pose. It was the same pose he'd used for over thirty years to make galactic leaders cower. It consisted of arching one bushy gray eyebrow while simultaneously glowering at his opponent. Unfortunately, the pose had never had much of an affect on Kane. Sensing that, he glowered harder. "Listen Kane, you know that I will not order you to head up this project. This mission is so classified that even the supreme ruling body of the Milky Way doesn't know about it."
"I'm glad you're not planning to order me Linder because--"
The commander held up a silencing hand. "I said I would not order you to do so. I did not say, however, that I would not beg you to head it up."
Kane scowled, knowing she would have a difficult time refusing her boss when he put the "request" like that. Linder wasn't a man who begged to anyone for anything. The sensory chair began pounding harder at Kane's back, causing her to curse a choice oath. She sighed. "Commander, I am honored that you think enough of me to head this project up for you, but I am a planabotonologist, not a...a..." She paused, unable to think of a way to phrase her thoughts.
"A time travelling mercenary?"
She nodded emphatically. "Yes! Thank-you. I am not a time travelling mercenary!"
Kane nestled further into her seat, ignoring the jabbing little fists that would no doubt leave bruises if she didn't calm down soon. She closed her eyes and rubbed her temples, trying desperately to lower the electrical activity in her nervous system. But how could she after the bomb that was just dropped in her lap by Commander Linder? Time travelling! Had he gone mad? She was a planabotonologist for Saturn's sake!
Kane cleared her throat and smiled, subtly making the point that she was trying to be understanding. "Commander," she began in her most reasonable tone, "I am a planabotonologist. Do you know what that means?"
Ignoring the scowl her patronizing remark yielded, she continued on. "That means that I scout out and collect plant life from various planets so we can use those findings to create synthetic drugs to conquer humanoid diseases. As I said, I collect the plants from other planets - not from other times."
Commander Linder, realizing that his forbidding pose was having even less of an effect than usual on the scientist, pulled out the big gun and went for his two-brow scowl. He threw in a grunt for added theatrics. "That is precisely why I want you to head this project up, Kane. You are the best planabotonologist in eight discovered solar systems and you know it. The species of plant life we are trying to locate has been extinct for hundreds of years. The only galaxy we even know of where this plant used to thrive was in our own, here in the earth's past."
"I know nothing of time travelling, Linder. Hell, I didn't even know NASA figured out how to do that yet!"
Commander Linder fidgeted in his seat restlessly, the massaging sensors in his own chair now kicking in. Kane arched a golden brow. "You're squirming, Linder. Why are you squirming?"
"No reason," he mumbled.
"I see. Then that explains the beads of sweat breaking out all over your forehead."
"Well, it's nothing big. It's just that...that..."
Kane made a slow meandering motion with her head, wishing she could physically rip the words from Linder's mouth. "It's just what?"
"It's just that the time travelling program is quite experimental. We don't know that it will work."
The sensors in Kane's chair began pulsating beams of light with each pummel of their angry fists. Any higher and she'd be forced to endure a stress modification injection in the NASA shrink's office. "Experimental? Linder what were you thinking!"
Commander Linder took a deep breath while mopping at his brow with a sterile handkerchief. He replaced the silk handkerchief into the pocket of his Vegas star system imported suit and regarded Kane. It was time for the truth. All of it. "It's Egis," he admitted on a sigh, "my grandson."
"Egis? What about him?"
The commander rose from his seat and walked stoically toward the window panel. Even at midnight, the Houston colony was bustling with liveliness outside NASA's protected walls. At three thousand feet, NASA was higher off the ground than the standard one thousand feet of most domiciles and businesses, but it wasn't so high up that he couldn't see the activity below its classified gates.
The neon tracks of the silent glide cars operating at two thousand feet shown brightly through the window panel. The commander looked at it reverently, as if he'd never realized how beautiful NASA's view of the colony was before that moment.
Kane sensed immediately that something was wrong. Though he hadn't said as much, it wasn't like Linder to walk away in the middle of an intimidation tactic. He was sweating and slouching. She had never seen a more dejected pose smother the commander's typically together facade. "What is it?" she asked in a hushed voice. "What's wrong with Egis?"
Linder didn't look back. He stared out of the window panel, fixated on the various neon colors of the glide car tracks below. "BV-5."
"My God." A chill swept through Kane's body as she mentally registered what she'd just been told. BV-5. That sweet, adorable little boy was stricken with Brain Virus Five.
Kane had been studying the causes and origins of BV-5 for the past three years and was as determined as the next planabotonologist to find a cure for the deadly mega-virus. The mega-virus, called such due to the fact that it consisted of five singularly lethal viruses merged as one, had been claiming victims for over four years. Although the death toll due to BV-5 was an exhaustive one, Linder's grandson was the first fellow humanoid she'd known personally to be struck by the vicious and painful viral killer.
Kane shook her head. She couldn't believe it. Her voice all but deserted her, her throat constricting. "How long?"
She nodded, though Linder didn't know that for his back was still to her.
A month. Little Egis had already been stricken for an entire month. Time was running out fast. BV-5 would lay dormant for only another seventeen months at best and then it would hit his tiny brain full force. Kane physically shuddered as she considered what would happen in a full-blown BV-5 case.
Brain hemorrhages so hellish that blood seeps from the eyes and ears. Head contractions so powerful that one lower class victim who couldn't afford to purchase a synthetic womb during her confinement described it as akin to giving birth before her brain imploded. It was painful beyond understanding and frightening beyond scope. It made the diseases of the ancients such as AIDS and Ebola look like cases of the sniffles.
Commander Linder whipped around and faced Kane with an open-jawed expression. "Just like that?"
"Yes, just like that."
Linder scratched his head and sighed. "Kane, I can't tell you how grateful I am. I know that if anyone can find and identify that damn plant, it's you." He took a deep breath to steady himself as the stinging sensation behind his eyes threatened to overpower him.
Linder put his hands in his pants pockets and regarded Kane. He was afraid to ask the next question, but knew that he must. "According to your research, are you certain that all the needed ingredients are contained in the ancient's...what scientific name did you give it?" He squinted his eyes shut, trying to remember. "Oh yes, of course," he mumbled, "the 'kabitross' plant."
Kane shrugged. "As sure as I can be. The descriptions of the plant in the primitives' documents certainly fit. Mind you, this plant life was written about before Darwin. Before people understood the power of nature. Still, the documents are surprisingly concise, not to mention intact, for the time period."
Kane blew out a labored breath and closed her eyes, conceding to the only possible choice that existed. She had to go back. She would do this for Linder, for Egis. "Please tell me what I'm up against, Commander. I have to know," she added in a near whisper.
Linder walked back to his chair and sat down. He looked Kane in the eyes, knowing he could never let her proceed with this mission if she didn't realize every possible outcome. He laid out the facts, straight and to the point. "It might not work. Or it might get you there, but then you can't get back."
She sighed, rubbing her temples once again. The jabbing fists from the sensory chair that had calmed down for a few minutes began striking her in the back again. She chose to ignore them. "Fine. Let's assume all goes well and I can both get there and get back. What sort of resistance will I be facing at the hands of the primitives?"
Linder shrugged his wide shoulders. "It's impossible to say. You will be armed, of course, just as you always are when you collect species off-planet."
Kane nodded. That much was acceptable. The laser-c every planabotonologist carries with them off-planet was quite effective as a stunner, killer, replicator, and communicator all in one. It was also extremely small, making it easy to conceal from the natives. "Fine." She dismissed that subject with a wave of her hand. "And what of their customs? What do we know?"
Linder absently scratched at his head as he contemplated her question. "To be honest, we don't know much of eighteenth century England. Most of the electronic and hard data were destroyed during the sweeps of World War IV. And most of what managed to survive was decimated in the fires of World War V."
Kane's sensory chair began pounding at her back with an alarming intensity. Stress. She'd never fully understood the meaning of the word until now. "Well that's just lovely, Linder," she hissed sarcastically. "I'm going to make a fool of myself!"
"We know how they dressed. We know they held titles such as Lordling and Lady back then. We know enough to get you by on. As to the rest...well...you can just do as the ancients did and go with the flow."
Kane frowned. If she remembered anything from earth history's semantics class it was that that slang saying came from the twentieth century ancients, not the eighteenth century ones. She decided not to mention that fact to Linder. "Fine. Do you have microchips for me to inject then?"
Linder reached into his pocket and held out the syringe in question for Kane. The sterilized syringe contained microscopic data chips that were to be injected into her bloodstream, travelling with relative speed to the brain. Linder knew without asking that Kane would prefer a data injection to a top-speed data download, for it was the brain downloads themselves that had been the medium through which BV-5 had first entered humanoid bodies.
Linder placed the syringe in her palm and sighed a breath of relief when she curled her fingers around it, accepting it. Kane would do this for him. She would find the kabitross plant and a serum would be produced. Egis would live. Linder had to have faith.
"This is everything we know about the primitives' culture. There is approximately forty-eight hours worth of data on the chips, in hyper relative time of course. Inject the data into your blood stream tonight as soon as you reach your domicile. Go to sleep immediately thereafter and your brain should be able to recall all data by morning."
Kane sighed--a common occurrence for her these past few minutes. There was no way in the solar system she would attempt to download the data on eighteenth century England directly into her brain, but she detested the amount of time it took for an injection to work.
It would take her bloodstream at least three hours to deliver all of the pertinent facts, thoroughly primitive to her way of thinking. Of course, she could always opt for a synapse injection, which would deliver the data directly to the brain's synapses, rather than coursing through the veins. Quick millisecond transfers tended to give her a head rush, however. She sighed again, wondering to herself if sighing was to become the norm for her. At any rate, a blood injection it would have to be.
Linder walked around the confines of Kane's desk and drew her to her feet for an embrace, taking her by complete surprise. Linder was only demonstrative in an intimidating sort of way, never like this. His voice was scratchy, his face haggard, and she realized that it was taking every last bit of willpower the commander possessed to not weep right there in her office. "Thank-you, Kane. I cannot thank-you enough."
She grabbed his hand and squeezed gently. "It will work. I know it will."
Linder nodded. He had to believe. He had no choice but to place his faith in her abilities. The commander drew himself up to his full height and forced his emotions at bay. He released her hand and headed toward the office door. "You're the best. I don't doubt you for a moment."
Kane plopped herself back down into her seat with yet another sigh. "Thank-you. Oh and before you leave," she added as he was attempting to make an exit.
She held up the syringe and met the commander's gaze. "You're certain everything I need to know is on these chips?"
Linder chuckled, throwing a devilish grin her way. "No, I'm not."
Her sigh erupted into a full-blown heaving of air. "But I--"
"I told you Kane, we lost most of the data in the sweeps of the fourth world war."
"But what data are on here are accurate?"
Linder flushed. Kane didn't know what her boss's change in color could possibly signal, but she conceded that it didn't bode well. She locked eyes with Linder and gritted through her teeth. "What else haven't I been told, Commander?"
Linder clasped his hands together in front of himself. He realized with a slight amount of agitation, that he was sweating again. He shook his head in bemusement. How could a five foot six, one hundred thirty-pound woman intimidate a man such as himself? "Well, uh, as to that..."
Linder swallowed--roughly. "The electronic historians did the best patch-up job they could do on such short notice."
Kane's eyes glittered. She smiled sweetly and utterly falsely at the commander. "And that means what precisely?"
"We weren't altogether certain which data was which. There is eighteenth century, nineteenth century, and twentieth century data included in the injectable."
Kane's sensory massager chair began pulsating rapidly, keeping in tune with the beats of her heart. The robotic fists pounded at her back, tenderizing her as though she were a slab of meat in a glide car station's deli butcher block. The chair might have wanted her to calm down, but that was no longer an option. "What?" she asked through hooded eyes.
"I heard you!" she snapped. "Damn it Linder, how much worse can this get? I'm going to go amongst the ancients without knowing whether or not I am behaving out of character to them. And what if I act nothing like they do? This is very chancey, you know. It increases the probability that my origins will be discovered!"
"Kane, you're an intelligent woman. You'll muddle through."
"Muddle through? Linder, this isn't a pop quiz in virtual dating 101. This is time travelling for Saturn's sake!"
"I know that, Kane! Believe me, were it not for Egis I wouldn't ask this of you. I would continue searching the solar systems for traces of the kabitross plant. But my grandson...I..." He shook his head, unable to finish his thought without his voice breaking into a quiver.
Kane closed her eyes against the emotions she saw in Linder's face. She wanted to stay angry with him. She wanted to yell at him and blister his ears with a thousand ugly and highly choice sentiments. She wanted to, but she couldn't. She had a hard time maintaining her rage when that despondent look swept across his person. "Forget it Linder, I'll manage."
The commander nodded, regaining control of his raging emotions. "Of course you will. Besides," he added with a smile meant to assure himself more so than her, "you're an expert on all the deadly body arts. And if the primitives give you any trouble, you've also got your laser-c to protect you. Plus, if the situation gets too hectic, you can always video us and we will transport you back."
"Assuming it works, of course."
She sighed. Yes, she decided, sighing was definitely a part of her new personal protocol. "Very well then. I'll go home and inject the chips' data into my bloodstream tonight and I'll be ready to commence at 0700 hours."
Linder glanced at the digitized hologram clock on the wall behind Kane's desk. "So early? It's already past midnight."
"I'll still get four hours sleep. That's all I require." She shrugged. "I can always take a synthetic sleep clone to fool my brain into thinking I've slept longer."
Linder nodded. "I'll see you in the morning then."
The NASA commander saluted Kane with the universal symbol of peace and prosperity, then turned back toward the door once again. "Oh by the way, we'll be dropping you into southern England in a locale known to the ancients as Blackmore."
"Blackmore? Never heard of it. Anything I should know about it?"
Linder whistled as he placed his thumb on the DNA scanner and waited for the office door to open. He was on the other side and the door half closed when he added, "Oh nothing you can't handle, Kane. So what if the Lordling of Blackmore supposedly murdered his wife? I've every faith in your ability to handle him should the two of you ever meet."
The door slid shut with an ominous click to the auto-lock.
The jutting fists in Kane's sensory seat went haywire, knocking her from the chair and onto her ass...