GENEDRONE

By J. B. Tilton

Lieutenant Colonel Michael Gabriel is in command of a special elite unit that handles only the most dangerous missions. When he's sent to Antarctica on a simple retrieval he discovers much more than even he bargained for.

CHAPTER ONE

"Lieutenant Colonel Michael Gabriel to see the President. I have an appointment at 1400 hours."

The older woman looked up at the man who was standing in front of her desk. He was dressed in a dress army uniform and appeared to be about 45 years of age, although there was no gray in his hair. The ribbons on his uniform showed that he had been decorated numerous times. The silver oak leaves on his uniform glistened in the light of the office.

"Yes, Colonel, he's expecting you. If you'll have a seat I'll let him know you're here."

Gabriel sat down in one of the chairs in the office. It wasn't the first time he had been to see the President of the United States. He commanded the most elite unit in the military. He had been to this office many times. And each time it was for the same reason. There was a mission that required his unique talents.

He looked around the secretary's office. She had worked for the President for the 2 years he had been in office. As she had for the past 4 successive Presidents. She picked up the phone and announced Colonel Gabriel. After a moment she said, "yes, sir". The she put the phone back on its cradle.

"You can go right in, Colonel. He's ready to see you now."

"Thank you," replied Gabriel.

As he entered the Oval Office the President was sitting behind his desk, as usual. To his right sat another military officer. This man wore an army uniform with 4 stars on his shoulders. Gabriel recognized him immediately. General Hargrove Jarren the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. To the President's left sat a woman Gabriel recognized. She appeared to be in her mid-30s and had shoulder length red hair. As was customary when visiting the President in the Oval Office she was dressed in a business suit.

"Lieutenant Colonel Michael Gabriel reports as directed, sir," said Gabriel standing at attention in front of the President's desk and saluting.

"Michael, it's good to see you again," said the President returning the salute. He reached out and shook Gabriel's hand. "Have a seat. I'm sure you remember General Jarren."

"Yes, sir," said Gabriel, acknowledging the General. "It's good to see you again, sir."

"Good to see you again, Colonel," replied the General.

"This," said the President, indicating the woman, "is Dr. Annabelle Temple."

"Yes, sir," said Gabriel. "I'm familiar with Dr. Temple."

"You are?" questioned the woman in surprise.

"Yes, ma'am," said Gabriel. "I think you knew my father, Dr. Thomas Gabriel. I believe he and your father worked together."

"Yes, I remember him," said Temple. "I met him a few times. He and my father were both geneticists working on the same project. I was sorry to hear about his passing. He was a good scientist."

"Thank you, ma'am," said Gabriel.

"Let's hold the 'ma'am' down," said Temple. "I'm not that old just yet."

"Yes ma . . . Doctor," Gabriel corrected himself.

"Mike," said the President, "I'm sure you've guessed at why I asked you here today."

"It wasn't difficult, sir," said Gabriel. "Whenever you send for me it usually means you have a difficult mission for me."

"That's right," said the President. "Dr. Temple is in charge of the Genedrone Project. Are you familiar with the Genedrone Project?"

"Somewhat, yes, sir," said Gabriel. "Genedrone stands for GENetically Engineer DRONES. They are are genetically engineered life forms designed to be used in areas or situations that are considered too hazardous for humans. Dr. Temples' father was one of the pioneers in the Genedrone Project. That was the same project he and my father worked on together."

"Good," said the President. "That will make this easier. Dr. Temple has been in charge of the project since Dr. Sinese retired 10 years ago. I appointed her partially because her father was involved in the creation of the Genedrone. She probably knows more about Genedrones than any person alive."

"I have no doubt, sir," said Gabriel. "Am I to assume that this mission involves a Genedrone?"

"That would be correct, Colonel," said General Jarren. "The government is running an experimental research station in Antarctica. It's working with genetically engineered seeds specially designed to grow in sub-zero climates. They've been having some very successful results and the hope is that these new seeds can be used to grow crops in climates that would normally not grow anything at all.

"The station in Antarctica is called Ice Station Bravo. There are currently 4 Genedrones assigned to the station specifically designed to work in the frigid Antarctica conditions. In the 7 years the station has been in operation there haven't been any problems."

"I assume that's changed, sir," said Gabriel.

"Yes, it has," said the President. "Forty-eight hours ago we received a rather unusual message from Dr. Benjamin Stone, the head of the station. The Doctor said that one of their Genedrones had suddenly gone rouge. He claimed that it had killed one of the handlers and several of the security contingent assigned to the station."

"As I explained earlier, Mr. President," said Temple, "I don't see how that's possible. Genedrones are engineered to be non-aggressive. In the 25 years since they've been in use not a single incident involving a hostile Genedrone has ever been reported."

"I appreciate your concern, Doctor," said the President. "But Dr. Stone's message was quite clear. One of their Genedrones definitely killed its handler." He handed a DVD to Gabriel. "He sent this footage. It shows the Genedrone killing the handler. It's undeniable."

"Excuse me, sir," said Gabriel, "but Dr. Temple is correct. Genedrones are genetically predisposed to non-violence. I remember my father talking about them. Despite their appearance they're more docile than a family dog. I've never heard of a Genedrone ever harming a human even accidentally. I don't see how Dr. Stone could be correct."

"Look at the footage yourself, Colonel," said Jarren. "I've all ready seen it. It clearly shows a Genedrone killing a man. It decapitated him with a single blow."

"Forgive me, General," said Gabriel. "I didn't mean to imply that the President wasn't being truthful. I simply meant that the record of the Genedrone is unblemished up until now. I don't understand how one could have harmed a human let alone killed one."

"Relax, Colonel," said the President. "We both knew what you meant. And frankly we're as perplexed as you are. We've both read all the reports on the Genedrones including the references to their non-aggressiveness. But as the General said, the video I've just given you is undeniable."

"I understand, sir," said Gabriel. "So assuming the information is correct, a Genedrone goes rogue and kills its handler. I assume the security force assigned to the station attempted to subdue it."

"That's correct," said General Jarren. "With catastrophic results. Of the 10 security personnel assigned there 7 were killed by the Genedrone. Another one was seriously injured. The remaining 2 are attempting to protect the scientists there as best they can."

"So I assume my mission is to go in and get the Genedrone," said Gabriel.

"Alive, preferably," said Temple. "We need to find out what happened. What made it go rogue. It would be easier to discover that if it's alive."

"That could be a problem," said Gabriel. "It's all ready been confirmed that it's killed 8 people. Presumably it's frightened. And a frightened animal is much more dangerous than one that isn't. It may not be possible to take it alive."

"I insist that you at least try," said Temple. "I don't want you shooting first and asking questions later. As I said, we need to find out what made it go rogue. To make sure it's an isolated incident and not something symptomatic of Genedrones in general."

"As you know, Colonel," said the President, "Genedrones are used only in government facilities. I've ordered all Genedrones to be discontinued until this can be resolved."

"I understand, sir," said Gabriel. "Dr. Temple, in answer to your concerns, assuming I accept this mission, I will do everything within my power to capture the Genedrone alive. Everything short of compromising the safety of my team or the safety of the people at station. The lives of humans always takes priority."

"Assuming you accept the mission?" questioned Temple. "I don't understand, Mr. President. I thought this was a briefing to tell the Lieutenant Colonel what he was up against."

"Colonel Gabriel has a rather unique contract, Doctor," said the President. "He has final okay over any missions he takes. That's because of the dangerous nature of the missions. The agreement states that he can't be ordered to accept any mission. Once he's briefed he determines if he accepts the mission or not. And this office respects that agreement."

"You see, Doctor," said Gabriel, "my unit is specially trained. Man for man there isn't a better trained unit in the world. We also take on only the most dangerous missions. Many of which might be called potential suicide missions. Because of the extremely hazardous nature of the job neither the President nor the Joint Chiefs feels comfortable ordering us into the situations we become involved in."

"I see," said Temple. "So, Lieutenant Colonel, are you going to accept the mission?"

"First of all, Doctor," said Gabriel, "you normally address a Lieutenant Colonel simply as Colonel. Second, I haven't decided yet. I still need some information before I make my decision."

"What kind of information?" Temple asked.

"The timeframe for one," said Gabriel. "How long do I have to retrieve the Genedrone?"

"Whatever it takes," said General Jarren. "Naturally we'd like this matter resolved as quickly as possible. But we also realize that there could be unforeseen circumstances that could complicate the matter."

"I don't understand," said Gabriel. "I thought this was a simple hook and bag?"

"Hook and bag?" questioned Temple.

"A term the Colonel uses for a routine retrieval," said General Jarren. "It is, Colonel. However there is a complication. The Genedrone has retreated into the complex and is located somewhere on the lower 4 levels. The staff at the station doesn't know exactly where it's at. There's only one exit from the underground complex and so far they've been able to keep the Genedrone contained in the complex. But they can't locate it."

"That does complicate the matter," said Gabriel. "We'll have to sweep the complex room by room until we locate it. Then we'll have to subdue it for removal. But right now I'd classified it as a cornered animal. That makes it twice as dangerous since it's also frightened."

"Yes, Colonel," said the President. "As usual you'll have whatever you need to complete your mission. General Jarren will see to any special arrangements you need. And of course if you get any hassle from anyone just contact him. He'll take care of it."

"I appreciate that, sir," said Gabriel. "When are we to leave?"

"There's a flight out of Andrews in 24 hours, Colonel," said Jarren. "It's all ready been arranged. You'll need to contact your team and have them get ready."

"All ready taken care of, General," said Gabriel. "Whenever I get a call from the President my first call is to Lieutenant Connors, my X.O. By now my entire team is all ready assembled and waiting to hear from me."

"Very efficient, Colonel," said the President. "If you accept this mission total secrecy will, of course, have to be maintained. This has the highest security classification."

"I understand, Mr. President," said Gabriel. "I have one final question. You could have told me all this yourself. Why is Dr. Temple here?"

"She's going with you, Colonel," said the President. "As I said there's no one who knows more about Genedrones than her. Her knowledge could be invaluable in helping to secure the rogue Genedrone."

"My team always works alone, sir," said Gabriel, "you're aware of that. I can't have a civilian underfoot. The security risk alone is enough to warrant her not coming. As dangerous as this thing sounds I couldn't vouch for her safety at the complex. I'd be very reluctant to accept the mission with that stipulation."

"I'm well aware of the risks, Colonel," said Temple. "And I can assure you I can take care of myself."

"If it were that easy, Doctor," said Gabriel, "then you wouldn't need my team. As the President and General explained, we take only the most hazardous or dangerous missions. The fact that I'm even here shows that this mission is not something that can be accomplished by most anyone else."

"Colonel," said the President, "I understand your concern. But it is our belief that the mission can best be accomplished with Dr. Temple along. She's going to assess the situation and determine if the Genedrone can be safely captured. Your job is to provide security and assist in its capture if at all possible."

"And to exterminate it if it can't be captured safely," interjected the General. "Your orders are to affect any reasonable safe capture of the creature. If Dr. Temple ascertains that that is not a viable option then you are to exterminate it by any means necessary."

"And if we should disagree regarding that particular point?" Gabriel asked looking directly at Temple.

"She's in charge of the scientific aspect of the mission," said the General. "You will be in charge of the safety and security of the mission. As you said, human life comes first. If you believe that the risk is just too great then you are to take whatever measures you feel are appropriate over any objections she might have."

"I would urge you, Colonel," said the President, "to listen to the doctor and take her advice and suggestions as seriously as possible. She is the expert on the Genedrones. It is possible that she might have genuine ideas that could help you in this situation."

"Believe me, Colonel," said Temple, "I have no desire to put any more human lives at risk than is absolutely necessary. And while I would prefer to capture the creature alive, I also realize that may not be possible. You're the expert in these types of missions. I will defer to your judgment if you feel strongly about it."

"I appreciate the candor, Doctor," said Gabriel. "Let me return the favor. I have a rather unique perspective for a military officer. Growing up with my father I learned that sometimes scientists can have very valid opinions. While many officers might 'shoot first and ask questions later', as you put it, I do realize that as the expert on these creatures you will probably know things about them that I don't.

"I'm a military man, Doctor. My job is to fight the enemy and, if necessary, kill the enemy to obtain my objective. But I will seriously listen to anything you have to say and will give it the most favorable consideration I can. But as I said, I won't risk my men or the people in that complex needlessly. I will take whatever actions are necessary to protect those people."

"Fair enough," said Temple. "Just don't dismiss me out of hand simply because I'm a scientist."

"I would never do that," said Gabriel. "And I want to make one thing perfectly clear. You may not be in the military. But this is essentially a military mission. If I give an order I expect it to be obeyed without question. And as the commanding officer it's not always necessary or prudent for me to explain my reasoning for the orders I give. Is that understood?"

"When it comes to the safety and security of the mission, it's completely understood," said Temple.

"Mr. President, General," said Gabriel, "I'll take the mission. As long as I can have Dr. Temple's complete honesty I don't think there's going to be any major problems on this mission other than the Genedrone itself. I'll have my team at Andrews for departure as scheduled."

"Very good, Colonel," said the President. "General Jarren will inform Andrews and they'll have everything standing by for you when you get there. He'll also have your orders waiting for you there. Good luck, Colonel. I think you might need it on this one."

"Thank you, sir," said Gabriel. "Will there be anything else, sir?"

The President looked at General Jarren who simply shook his head "no".

"I don't think so, Colonel," he said. "We'll see you when you get back."

"Yes, sir," said Gabriel.

He stood up and saluted the President and General and then left the office. He was about to leave the secretary's office when Temple came out of the Oval Office.

"Colonel," she said, "I would like to impress upon you just how important it is that we take this Genedrone alive if at all possible. If there's a problem with it and not just an anomaly we need to know what it is. If it has gone rogue that means others might start to go rogue. I need to find out what the problem is so we can correct it."

"I understand that, Doctor," said Gabriel. "And as I said, I'll do everything reasonable to take it alive. You have my word on that."

"Well, in that case why don't you call me Ann? It looks like we'll be spending some time together for a while."

"Okay, Ann. I'm Michael. Only in front of the men I'd prefer if you'd address me by my rank. There are certain protocols that have to be observed no matter what the situation is. It wouldn't look too good if you were addressing me as 'Mike'."

"I understand, Mike."

"I'll have a car pick you up in the morning to take you to Andrews. I'll see you then, Ann."

She just smiled at him and then the two left the White House to prepare for their mission.