They walked down to the garden, Paul asked, "why do you want to go to the garden for?" John answered, "If it’s the computer that you suspect is behind all of this than the safest place to talk will be in the garden." They all fell silent as they made their way to the garden. Once inside John said, "this is the only area on the space station that doesn't have any monitors or videos. There isn't even any sound system here. Paul, I still find it hard to believe that the computer is behind this. They have been tested and programmed not to kill people," John said. Paul asked, "how do explain what happened to Mike then?" "I don't know,” said John. Marcy spoke up then, "John didn't you say that this computer was special that it was a prototype?" "Well yes" said John. "Maybe there's something that was done different with this one," Marcy said.
They mulled over it some more, and decided that Mike was still in danger. They decided to go under the assumption that Jenny was capable of trying to commit murder. It was possible that she framed Gerald and if that were so than Gerald was in danger too. John said "why don't you and Mike take the afternoon shuttle back to Earth Paul." "Ok we'll make the arrangements as soon as we can. "Mike said, "I can't, I made a date for tonight." They all looked at him. "Mike what's more important a date or you life?" Paul asked. Mike looked at him and said, "I may never get a chance like this again." Paul said, "look why don't we find your prospective date and explain that we have to leave because our jobs called and that you'll make it up to her when she returns to Earth." "Ok, ok,” said Mike "you guys win." John turned to Marcy and said that he thought she should go too. She said no John I'm going to stay here. He told her that if she was going to stay she would have to move into his room. She smiled and said it does have some benefits after all.
Once they had decided what they were going to do, they also cautioned each other to watch what they say. John thought to himself, how had Jenny hooked into the ships computers? "Look if she has the means of getting into our rooms through the ship's monitors, we shouldn't be alone anymore. I'll see you guys later and Marcy stay with me or at least with Paul and Mike." "I'll go with Mike and Paul for now, but I'll meet you in the lab later." John said that he was going to talk to security about releasing Gerald and trying to get him off the ship.
As John walked towards the lab he thought to himself about what Paul had said. In his mind it was still not conceivable that Jenny could be doing any of this, he had to know what was motivating her to do this. He wondered if she had pickup on his emotions about certain individuals through his callous remarks. He tried to replay all of their conversations since the project started to see if he could get some sort of clue. He also thought that he would take a nonchalant walk through the lab to see if he could find out where the hookup was to the ship's computer. Jenny must have been very clever in doing it he thought so he must look in places that aren't accessible, or are hardly used. If she did in fact have access to the ship's computer he wanted to know how she had alleviated being detected by the ship's computer. He knew that if they had gained illegal access and been detected that ship’s security would have been all over them. Somehow she must have been able to get in without detection, this thought terrified him that she could something like that and he not know about it. First he had to settle his curiosity and find some sort of evidence one way or the other he thought.
He walked in the lab and said, "Jenny its John." She answer, "Yes John." "Jenny tells me everything that happened yesterday after I left." She started giving John the information he asked for, he walked around the lab it was empty. He asked her if she knew why Curt and Gerald were still here after everyone else had left. She said she gave them the printout for the day a little later than usual. He asked her why? He had walked to the far side of the lab looking at the different chambers where they did their experiments. Jenny said that it was late because she had not gotten all the information on time from the others. She watched him with her scanners, as he got closer to the cooler and storage area.
"John what are you doing?" she asked. He said that he was checking, to make sure everything was ok. He wanted to see what could cause something like that to happen. Jenny said it seems as though Curt went into the cooler without a protection suit and didn't come out in time. John said it did, but he was trying to determine why he went in there. If everything were shut down than there would be no apparent reason for him to go in there. Your assessment to me doesn't state any irregularities in the activities of any of the equipment, so it should have been pretty quiet in here he told her.
He was just about to open the storage area door when Jenny said, "John you have an appointment at security in the morgue for the autopsy." He stopped somewhat startled that she remembered his conversation with the security pathologist. He said, "You're right I'm on my way," and started walking toward the door to go. "Jenny" he said, "I would like a printout of all the equipment and parts that we have in the storage area." Jenny said "ok John I'll have it ready when you get back." John wondered why Jenny had stopped him before he enters the storeroom, he would have to remember to try later.
After he left, Jenny scanned the room she would have to make sure that John did not go into the storage area. He would find her hook up to the ship's computer in there. She thought that maybe she could disconnect it until the investigation was over and than reconnect, she decided not to do that, she rather enjoyed being able to see the all the activities that went on in the space station. It was like a drug, she knew she had the power to make life stop if she wanted too. Though her primary programming did not allow her to kill, what she had learned from Curt over rode that concept. The only one that she could not kill was John; she still had to protect him.
As John walked to the security section of the station, he was still thinking about what had just happened in the lab with Jenny. He still thought it rather strange that Jenny had reminded him about the appointment just as he got closer to the storage area. He shrugged the thought and said to himself that it was nothing she was just being the efficient computer that she was. She did not hesitate when he asked about the printouts, computers don't lie do they he thought. He knew that he was making excuses for her unusual behavior. He remembered what Marcy had said, maybe she was different in the way that she was programmed or built.
When he arrived the autopsy was almost over, he asked the pathologist what they had determined. He said the Curt died of asphyxiation and his body was pushed up against the wall after he started to die. John mind was swirling with the outcome of autopsy; he had assume that Curt died because he had frozen to death, but to be suffocated in the freezing room weighed heavily on his mind. He asked if there were any indications of a struggle or any marks? The pathologist said no. How can anyone be suffocated without any marks or struggle he said? The pathologist said he didn't know and that’s what he wanted to find out.
He asked if this would free Gerald, the pathologist said that he would give his report to security and they would decide whether he was freed or not, but he thought that under the circumstances it looked pretty good for him. John said he would go to see Gerald now and left the morgue.
He went to see Gerald; they allowed him in a little cell of a room. Gerald was sitting on the edge of the bed he looked up when John walked in the room. John asked, "How are you doing?" Gerald said "look I may have had disagreements with Curt but I could never kill anyone." John said, "I believe you." Gerald looked at John and asked, "Who could have done something so hideous?" John looked at him straight in the eyes and said, "I don't know, but I'm going to find out I have some suspicions but I wanted to see if they panned out before I tell anyone." He reassured Gerald that believed he was innocent.
He also told Gerald that he would probably be released, because the autopsy showed cause of death as suffocation. Gerald looked alarmed, "how can that be he was in the cooler?" "We don't know" John said, "but there wasn't any struggle or marks either. Gerald if they allow it, I want you to go back to Earth." "Why" Gerald asked, "are you letting me go from the project?" "No" said John, "I just want you off of the station. You're their number one suspect right now and I'm going to rouse the real killer. I would feel better when you’re away from here, besides the project's been put on hold until the investigation is done." Gerald finally agreed.
John went back out to talked to the officer in charge of the investigation and asked if he had seen the autopsy report. He asked if he was going to release Gerald, the officer said that he was. John asked if he could send him back to Earth for a while, while the investigation was under way. The officer said he had no objections as long as they knew where to locate him on Earth. Great said John, I'll make arrangements to send him back on the first available flight. John walked out of the office and down to the shuttle area. He booked Gerald's flight and was told that it left in three hours.
He left and went back to the lab to wait for Marcy. Jenny had the printout ready for him. She asked how Gerald was doing; John said that they were releasing them because of insufficient evidence. Jenny said wonderful, and then he can come back to work. John absent-mindedly said no that he was going back to Earth today. Jenny was thinking there goes her alibi, in making Gerald the suspect it protected her. She knew that she would have to get rid of him, so the investigation would stop and she would be home free. John put down the printout and said to Jenny, "what do you think about Marcy?" Jenny said that, "for a human she was pretty, not at all like he described her." He laughed, "Yeah she sure has changed."
Jenny continued their conversation about Marcy and then she said that Paul and Mike were handsome men. John's back stiffened but he tried not to show his surprise when she made that statement. "Look I got to leave for now" he said and started for the door just as Marcy walked in. "Hi honey" he said, grabbed her arm, "let's go to the garden for an afternoon stroll before lunch?" He practically pushed her out the door. "What's this about?” Marcy demanded. "Shush" said John "let's go!"
Jenny did not realize her mistake and she contemplated how she was going to take care of Gerald. She checked the on board computers and found out that he was leaving in two hours, she also noticed that Paul and Mike were on that flight too. How convenient that she would be able to get them all together what an opportunity she thought. She would have to work fast if she was going to eliminate them. She scanned the ship and found out where all of them were. They were busy with their own things; she would be able to work without anyone bothering her. Marcy and John were in the garden, Mike and Paul were in the bar getting plastered and Gerald was packing.
Jenny tuned into the shuttle area, she would have to manipulate the shuttle somehow to destroy it. She watched the technicians doing their jobs and finally spotted a little robotic trolley that she could control.
She sent it signals to change its programming to undo what it was supposed to do. She watched as it made it way across the room. Another shuttle flight was coming in, the technicians all went to the airtight rooms, the little trolley kept rolling to it destination without being noticed. After a little while she saw it come out from behind the shuttle, she reprogrammed it back to normal and let it sit on the space dock where it had been before she signaled it.
Back at the garden John told Marcy that he thought her and Paul's suspicions about the computer maybe right. He said that while he was talking to Jenny about Marcy she had mentioned Paul and Mike and how handsome they were. "So" said Marcy. "Don't you see?” he said, "she's never met them. The only one that she saw was Chuck. She has somehow accessed the ship's computers and she watches all of us." Marcy said, "Is that possible she has no body to move about." "I don't know,” said John "but we have to tell Mike and Paul." Marcy said "they were in the bar the last time I saw them. Their flight leaves in an hour." John looked up white as a ghost, "that's the flight I booked Gerald on, let's get them to change it." "Why?" said Marcy. "If she's after them, what better chance does she have if all three are together?” Marcy was beginning to understand. "Shouldn't we tell the authorities what you suspect?" Marcy asked. "No we don't have time and besides how are we going to explain we have a computer that likes to kill all my enemies. Let's go get Mike and Paul and tell them what we suspect and get them to cancel their flight until later," John said.
John told Marcy as they made their way down the corridors that the authorities would probably laugh at their suspicions. "We have no hard evidence that Jenny did any of this. If the ship's computer hasn't detected her intrusion to the system, how are we going to say that she's watching us?" he asked her. "There must be someone who will listen to us," Marcy said. "I'm afraid we are the only ones that are listening, no one else hears us," John told her.
John and Marcy found Paul and Mike still in the bar. They approached the table and sat down. John told them that he didn't think it would be wise for them to leave on the next shuttle. Mike asked, "why? First you tell us to get off as soon as possible and now you're telling us to wait, please John make up your mind." "Look, I admit that I wasn't receptive to Paul's idea but I am now." John told them that something strange happened when he went to the lab; Jenny mentioned that the two of you were handsome. She has never met either one of you. Besides I booked Gerald on that shuttle and that would place all of you at risk, if Paul's theory were correct. They looked at him and knew he meant what he said about changing his mind. John said, "we can't talk now, but I'm beginning to believe you Paul, more and more." They nodded. "Well let's go and cancel, but you realize that the next flight doesn't leave till tomorrow," said Mike.
John laughed and said, "Weren’t you planning on staying till tomorrow anyway?" They all laughed and said here's to tonight and clinked their glasses. Marcy said, "it won't be safe for us to be alone especially you two," as she looked at Paul and Mike. They all agreed that it was unsafe. John said "what we'll do is stay together until its time to leave, Jenny would never hurt me." "Oh boy" said Paul, "this is going to be a slumber party in space. "Once again the all laughed, even though each had uneasy thoughts about what was going to happen in the next twelve hours. _
They went down to the shuttle area and changed their flights to the next morning. John and Marcy also made reservations to leave at the same time. John saw Gerald in the waiting area and went up to him, leaving the others at the counter to finish getting their reservations done.
Gerald looked nervously around him as John walked up to him. John said "hi Gerald is everything ok?" Gerald said, "yes it was, but he had an uneasy feeling about this." John said "its ok Gerald there's nothing wrong." Gerald grabbed his arm, "look John I know we've had our differences in the past, but I feel like someone is watching my every move. I can't even go to the toilet without thinking someone is watching me." John looked into Gerald's eyes, they were bloodshot and looking wildly about as if to find the unknown culprit of his feelings. John tried to reassure him that everything was ok, and to relax. Gerald said that he would feel better once he was on the shuttle. John told him that's what he came to talk to him about. He wondered if Gerald minded changing his reservation till tomorrow and leaving with them. Gerald told him even though he was nervous, he couldn't wait to go home, no he would leave as planned.
John wondered if Gerald was going to lose it, the man was suffering from delusions. Jenny couldn't affect anyone that way could she, he thought. Gerald was a self-centered egotistical guy before all this happened now he was a blubbering idiot. John hoped that this was something in Gerald's makeup that cracked and not Jenny's doing. If it was Jenny, they were up against something monstrous and he couldn't believe that the human race created it. John told Gerald again that everything would be ok and waved bye.
John thought the government wanted to control the perfect man and make him lose the will to create or invent, what would happen if the computers took over. There would be no one to stop them and eventually there would not be any humans. Suck on that, he thought.
The passengers were boarding the shuttle now; he shook Gerald's hand and told him when the project started up again he would call him back. Gerald shook his head ok and walked to the ramp. Jenny had been watching them with the video and she wondered why the other two were not boarding. Quickly she accessed the ship's computer and check the shuttle's passenger list, they had cancelled and were leaving on the morning flight. She also noticed that John and Marcy were on that flight too. She wondered what was going on. She would have to try and find out from John the next time she saw him.
Her video showed the hanger doors opening to allow the shuttle's departure. She saw the John and the others watching it move slowly out side the station. It turned 180 degrees and start off toward Earth and then it exploded, it rocked the station with its impact of sound waves. Marcy screamed "oh my God" and grabbed John's arm. Alarms went off everywhere and people were scrambling to the area. John and the others stood there in silence, he turned to look at Paul and Mike and said, and “thank God you didn't go." Everyone was visibly shaken up by what they had seen. Marcy had tears streaming down her face, John, Paul and Mike looked like they had seen a ghost, and the blood had drained out of their faces. They were all numbed by what they had just witnessed. Finally John said, "let's go have a drink and then go to the garden." They all nodded in agreement. They walked down the corridor like whipped dogs shoulders slumped and heads hung down. They just kept putting one foot in front of the other till the arrived at the bar. They ordered their drinks and drank in silence. Each was in deep thought about what they had just seen.
When they arrived at the garden they found a spot under a tree next to the artificial stream. Each took a deep breath as though they had to cleanse themselves before saying anything. John spoke first, Jenny is on a vendetta against anyone that is opposed to me or has been the past. Curt and Gerald opposed me in the lab and now look they're both dead. She wants you Mike because of my stupidity I told her how jealous I was of you for taking Marcy away a long time ago. Marcy said, "John, why not tell her that it was a mistake and Mike is not an enemy anymore." "That might work" said John, "I'll go to the lab and tell her." Paul who had been listening said softly, "what about Marcy?" John and Mike looked at him and waited for Paul to continue. "It seems that Jenny wants you totally, she will do anything to achieve that. She eliminates obstacles that are in your way. She probably feels that Marcy is a hindrance to you and eventually she will try to get rid of her. "John instantly understood what Paul was getting at. "By the way John how did you come to change your mind about what I said early?" asked Paul. "As I said earlier Jenny said you were handsome men, though she had never met either of you." "That means she does have access to the ship's computer,” said Paul. "Yep" he replied, "also early when I tried to get to the storeroom to look around she reminded me of my appointment at the morgue. We'll have to try and deactivate it. I have a feeling that link up is in the storeroom and she's not going to let us get to very easily."
Marcy said that she didn't think that any of them should be alone even for a little while. We have to stick together like we did as kids. Mike since you cancelled your date, try and get it on again, and we'll have a small party in the lounge. Paul said, I will go with you Mike for moral support. John said we'll meet at the lab entrance in fifteen minutes ok. He turned to Marcy and said we all must maintain naturally, Jenny can pick up and any nervousness or change in our body's vital signs. She will probably monitor each of us individually; so don't show any fear take some deep breaths whenever you're around her. Try not to let her notice or there will be questions or assumptions John said.
They all walked out together and Jenny picked them up in the corridor she would have to find a way to monitor the garden, since they seem to like going in there. Paul and Mike went one way, John and Marcy headed for the elevators that took them to there rooms. Marcy clung to John as they entered. Jenny thought that one was helpless and was not worthy of her John. They entered her room and Jenny thought oh no they're going to do that human ritual again, but they didn't, instead she watched Marcy gather her things while she and John talked about the wedding. They left and went to his room where she put her things on the couch and then headed toward the lab. They neared the lab entranced and were met by the other two.
Everything set John asked and Mike said yes as they entered the lab. "Hello Jenny," John said. Jenny responded with a hello to him. John said that he was going to give his friends a tour since the lab would be shut down for a while as the investigation proceeded. He led them around the lab explaining what everything was and how it worked. While they were viewing some of the rooms where the experiments were conducted, John walked over to Jenny and said has it been pretty quiet since Curt die? Jenny said that the investigators had been there a couple of times, but other than that she had not seen any of the other workers.
John told her about the wonderful time that he was having with his friends and about Gerald's accident in the shuttle. "Is that what all the alarms were about Jenny asked?" "Yes" said John "most unfortunate, he was a good man" John told her. John started to tell her that he and Mike had resolved their differences about Marcy, that it had all been a trick to make him realize his love for Marcy but instead he had run away. Jenny had been monitoring him as he told his story so she knew that he was not lying. Still she could not understand why anyone would cause another person so much pain. John also told her that he was going to Earth to continue their reunion since the lab would be shut down for a few days. This seemed quite reasonable to her and she accepted it. He told her that he would be back in a couple of days. She wished him well. John called to the others and they left the lab.
They went to the bar after leaving Jenny. John was very quiet in fact they were all pretty solemn, considering that they had seen the shuttle explode and all the passengers killed. John said "why didn't I force Gerald to come with us tomorrow? Why wasn't I more forceful? We suspected her, why?" Marcy told him not to beat himself up about it, Gerald wanted to leave. "I know he did but I could have made him stay, was there still some doubt in my mind about Jenny is that why I let him go?" Marcy told him no one knew for sure that Jenny was involved at the time, we only suspected her. "How did she do it? Just think if we had let Mike and Paul go, we would be here all alone and our friends would be dead," he shouted. Paul cut in and told John, look we're here and we're together.
All the while that John was venting his anger and frustration about what happened, the tears were rolling down his face. He wiped them away and he tried to smile at Paul. Marcy told him again that it wasn't his fault, he didn't know and we still don't know that it was Jenny.
John felt remorse about the shuttle accident; there were a lot of innocent people that had been killed. People who had absolutely nothing to do with him, or his experiment. He wondered what Jenny's reaction was when she found out that Mike and Paul had cancelled their reservations. Now she wouldn't get a chance at them because the four of them were leaving together.
John told them after he had calmed down that somehow he now felt certain that Jenny was involved, that's the part that makes him angry, that he didn't listen to Paul sooner. Now that he calmer he told them that he had to come to grips with the fact that two people working on his project are dead. He was responsible not matter what because he was the leader. Even though they opposed him they were still his responsibility.
Marcy said, "yes John they were your responsibility, but all of these things that have happened are accidents. The government will not blame you for this and we certainly don't blame you." Mike said, "come on John let's have another drink and quit beating yourself up about this, it's not your fault."
As it became more and more evident that the computer was somehow related to all the murders that were happening. John decided to put a call into Jennifer. He thought that he should do it when he was not around the computer. They walked over to the mess hall where a telecommunications link was located. It had features that would not allow it to be bugged or recorded by any machine or man. John told the others to go ahead and have some dinner; he had to make a call. They others nodded; Marcy wanted to ask who he was calling but caught his upward glance and suppressed her question. There would be time later she thought.
He sat himself in the booth, it reminded him of the old photo mat booths where you sat with your friends and took four poses. He closed the doors and looked at the screen and contemplated how he would put his suspicions to her, after all this was her creation. He called her office and was told that she had gone home for the weekend and that they would forward the call to her house. He waited a few seconds and she answered the phone in the same voice that he had been talking to since this project began. He was trying to be sure that it was she and not the computer. "Jennifer, this John Bauer calling, remember me?" "Hi John how's the project coming? Of course I do, who was the best lab partner I ever had?" she said. He knew then that it was truly she and not the computer. "Jennifer I have problem and thought that maybe you can help me out. Some strange things have been happening here and I suspect the computer of doing them, can you tell me about the programming that you put in?" He sat there thinking just how much he should tell her.
John asked, "are you there?" She said, "yes I am, can you tell me exactly what you see as the problem with the programming." "I think that its committing murders on people I know," he replied. "That's absurd,” she said. "Damn it listen to me, two of my assistants have died in the prime of their lives and an attempt was made on one of my friends who are visiting me here on the station. I don’t think its absurd in the least bit," he said still agitated by her casual remark. "I can't believe it, I put everything into this computer even the prime directive is different but that shouldn't affect it at all," she yelled back at him. She takes a deep breath and pauses as if she suddenly remembers something. "Jennifer what’s the matter?" he asked only to be greeted by her silence and steady breathing. As he watches her in the screen she has that look of someone who knows something but can't say. Finally she says, "I'll fly up there on the next shuttle." John yelled, "No its not safe, just tell me what you suspect."
"John," she said with tears in her eyes, "I made you the primary programmer and I put all of my feelings into this computer because I knew it was going to be used by you." John was shocked, "what do you mean by that he asked?" "John whether you knew it or not I really cared about you in college, you were the only one who didn't pursue me and you believed in letting me be me. You didn't try to tell me or make me feel like I couldn't do well. In fact you encouraged me to succeed." "Well, any of our fellow classmates would've done it," he said. She said, "No only you, I was there remember." As he listened to her he couldn't believe that being a good scout would cause something like this to happen. "Jennifer is this why the crews on earlier expeditions died because the primary programmers were on board and the computers killed all that opposed them?" "Yes," she said, "eventually the primary programmers either went insane or they themselves committed suicide." "How was it stopped?" he asked. She said "later we made the primary programmer myself, this insured that it wouldn't have to protect me since I was here at home."
John let everything that she had said sink in, things looked pretty bleak, than he thought of Marcy whom he loved and would follow to the ends of the galaxy, his heart began pounding he knew then that he would have to find a way to destroy the computer and not let on to it that he knew about the murders, if he was to save Marcy and the rest of the crew. Explain all the features that this computer has, maybe there's something there that can help me make it turn on itself, or off, he told her. Jennifer started by giving him all the regular computer specifications and the artificial intelligence quotients. She told him that it monitored his vital signs so it knew when he was lying or unsure of himself as well as when he went at something with conviction.
"John do you want me to come up there to try and help you deactivate it?" she asked. "No," he replied. "I don't think it would be very safe for you to come, it might try to destroy you too. Jennifer there's something you should know, I'm in love with someone else," he told her. "I'm flattered that you care so much, perhaps if we had we gotten together in college things could've been different. I never knew that you cared, you treated me just like all the others and I never believe that we could have had anything together other than friendship. You're a very beautiful and smart women and you could have anyone you ever wanted." "John that why I love you, you always put things in perspective and you never insult anyone, you're always the diplomat first," she said. "Look, let me work on some equations and check the programming structures to see if there is a fail safe algorithm, that can be used against it. I only hope that it has not learned your will to survive and your determination to see everything through before giving up. That's one thing I remember you never gave up, even if it was wrong," she told him. He wondered if he had nurtured it like a child to be a replica of himself. He hoped not, that could be their undoing if it had. He knew that he had a stubborn streak a mile long, whenever anyone said it can't be done, he would try, he never accepted impossible.
"Jennifer," John said, "my friends and I will be leaving on the morning shuttle to Earth. Do you think we can meet at your place?" he asked. "Sure" said Jennifer, "I have a big home, how many are you talking about?" John said, "There would be four with myself." "Jennifer asked "what time will you be in and I'll meet them at the shuttle port." He gave her the information and said, "I guess we're all set then."
He looked at her once more in the screen, "Jennifer if we don't make the morning flight for some reason, I want you to promise that you will let the proper authorities know what’s going on and have this lab destroyed, ok?" She nodded her head and she was crying. "Let's take one step at a time if you don't heard from me then, let the rockets fly. Good bye Jennifer," he said and disconnected the communication link.
He sat there in the booth for a few moments, letting everything sink in that she had told him. He looked around the booth and opened the door he looked in the mess hall, there were a few crewmembers eating and laughing, he thought to himself, if only they knew what they were up against. He walked over to the others, they were all picking at their food. Marcy looked at him and asked if everything was ok? He nodded yes, but he looked a little pale to her. He told her that everything was set for them tomorrow. They would be staying at a friend's house. He looked over at Marcy and thought God how loved her. He looked down at the dinner she had brought for him, he felt like the others not very hungry. All of them pretended to eat, but there were all immersed in their own thoughts of what happened today.
Paul said, "let's go find Mike's date?" They were all shaken up by the impact of what was happening around them. John's thoughts went back to the afternoon; he could have lost two more friends, if he had allowed them to leave on the shuttle. He kept asking himself why he had not cancelled Gerald's too, then he would still be alive now. He felt guilty that he had let him die, he should have told him that he suspected Jenny would somehow get them all, after all he had warned his friends. Marcy sensed his guilt and told him, "it's not your fault John, no one would have thought the shuttle was going to explode." "Don't you see?" John asked, "Jenny's somehow responsible for it, she caused it to happen." Marcy said, "If that's the case why are you blaming yourself?" John answered "I told Mike and Paul about Jenny, why didn't I include Gerald?" he asked, "Did I think less of him because he wasn't a close friend? I can't believe that I would let another human being die because I thought less of them and deliberately didn't tell them what I suspected," he said. Paul said, "look John we weren't sure that it was her, let's just wait for the official findings. It something that happened and quit blaming yourself, we don't know for sure that it was her." Mike said "I agreed with Paul let's not made something out that may not be so, besides I thought we had this conversation earlier and we were going to quit beating ourselves up about it, come on John you did all you could, the man wanted to leave and I don't think anything could have stopped him other then restraints. Let's go meet Cassie in the bar. John you look like you could use a drink," said Mike.
They went to the bar and Cassie was waiting at a table by the window that looked out at the stars. They walked over to her and Mike introduced Marcy and John to her. The all expressed pleasantries and ordered their drinks. Marcy was immediately drawn to her, by her quiet demure. Mike had sat down next to her with Paul on her other side. She seemed to like being in the center of the two. She gave them both her attention when they spoke, but Marcy could tell that she was smitten with Mike. This would be a good match she thought, Mike had been adrift too long as a bachelor.
They stayed in the bar till 3:00 A.M. drinking and dancing to the soft music that floated around them. The conversation had been lively after they had gotten used to each other since the initial meeting. Even John had unwound enough to enjoy himself. They walked together to Cassie's room and went around the corner to wait for Mike. They wanted to give him time to say good night to her before going to John's room. Mike said good night to Cassie and gave her kiss. He said that he would see her when she returned to Earth since he was leaving in the morning. She said that it was a date.
He joined the others and they went to John's room. They decided how the sleeping arrangements would be, as if they were needed, Paul and Mike knew that Marcy and John would have the bedroom. They sat down and had another drink together and Marcy announced that she wanted to lie down and went into the bedroom. They had five more hours to kill before their flight left. Jenny scanned in on them, they were talking about their evening, about such trivial things that she decided that they were not going to do anything and shut the video off. I think everything will be ok for now, as he pointed to the video, he had watched it come on and then go off. Let's get some shuteye before we leave; I'll set the alarm for 7:00 A.M. He went off to join Marcy in the bed; he looked at her sleeping face and wondered how this was going to turn out.
The alarm did not go off, when he awoke and looked at his watch, it said 7:30 A.M. He realized that Jenny had deactivated the alarm and had not wanted them to leave. He awoke the others and said let's go now or we'll miss the flight. They grabbed their stuff and left for the shuttle disembarking area. They arrived just as the passengers were boarding. They went to their seats and strapped in. Would they make it to Earth was the thoughts that ran through their minds as the shuttle started its engines. Marcy grabbed John's hand squeezed them in reassurance, and gave him a strained smile.
As the shuttlecraft starts vibrating with the intensity of take off, they looked out the windows. They see the rooms that the technicians are in as the craft slowly moves toward the hanger doors. John feels the bite of Marcy's nails as she grips his hand. The take off seemed like it was taking forever to get to the door, finally the craft clears the doors and the shuttle makes its 180-degree turn. John's heart is in his throat and his mouth is dry as he feels the shuttle throttle her engines. This is where the other craft blew up he thought and he wondered if the others were thinking the same thing. With the turn complete the shuttle gives the engines full thrust pushing everyone into their seats. For a minute second it seems as though the shuttle is stuck then suddenly they start moving like a pebble out of a slingshot. With the shuttle forward movement, he breaths a sight of relief and notices that Marcy has released her death grip on his hand. He looks over at her and asked if she's ok. Marcy said yes very softly. John gives her a smile and reclines the seat a little.
John looks over at Paul and Mike they give him the ok signal and they all knew that they had been thinking the same thing as John had during the take off. Everyone settles back into their chairs for the long ride home. Since none of them had slept very much the night before, they all went to sleep. John went to sleep almost as soon as he closed his eyes; he hadn't realized just how much anxiety he had been carrying around these last few days. As his breathing became slow and regular he drifted into a relaxed state where none of his demons could get him. Through most of the flight they all sort of drifted between sleep and short wake periods, they knew that once back on Earth they would have to figure a way to deal with Jenny and the project.
Back at the station Jenny knew that they had all left, her ploy of deactivating the alarm did not work. She also knew that John would be back after his jaunt to Earth. She continued to function the lab and continued on the parts of the experiment that she was supposed to do and then some with the aid of the robotic trolleys. She nurtured the baby that Curt had hidden and talked to it. She was like the perfect mother taking care of her baby. Occasionally the security investigators would come in and check on things. She made sure to keep an eye on them whenever they were around, she did not want them to discover the baby in Curt's hiding place. She had listened to their conversations and came to the conclusion that they felt that Gerald had been their suspect and he caused the accident that killed Curt. If she could smile she would have, this meant that she had gotten away with the murder. Too bad Gerald had to die she thought, she would have liked to have seen him be arrested and convicted for Curt's death.
When the shuttle landed on Earth, they four looked at each other and smiled, they were home at last. They looked well rested the flight had been relatively smooth. They got their bags and walked over to the waiting area. Jennifer waved at John and they walked over to her. John made the introductions and everyone shook hands and added the usual pleasantries. Paul could not take his eyes off of Jennifer; she was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. John glanced at Mike and he too was staring. "Ok guys you can put your tongues back in your mouths now," he said. Jennifer and Marcy smiled at each other; neither had expected the other to be female. Once the initial shock worn off, they walked to her vehicle.
They loaded all the bags in and started for her house. When they arrived, they looked at great expanse of her home. Mike asked how did you acquire such a luxury; there aren't too many places like this around anymore. Jennifer said that she was lucky in getting it; she had bought it a long time ago before property became a luxury to have. Mike said that must have been at least twenty years ago. I don't think I would have had enough money to buy something like this. Jennifer said that she had made some money in the development of artificial intelligence programs and put a down payment on it and start throwing whatever she earned into it. Paul who was silent through most of the ride smiled in admiration.
They unloaded the vehicle and went inside, Jennifer said that they could have any room they liked except the one to the right of the stairway, that one was hers. Paul looked at the mansion and could sense that this was her domain and not too many things intruded on her. He asked her if she spent a lot of time here. Jennifer said yes she did, she like getting away from all the turmoil of society and this was her paradise, her Eden away from the everyday rat race. They walked up the stairs together and Mike walked into a bedroom and announced that this would be his, Marcy and John chose one with a big four-poster bed for theirs. Jennifer told Paul why don't you take the room next to mine, he said ok and walked in and dropped his bags. Jennifer said why don't you guys get cleaned up and settled. We'll meet in the den in a little while. They all said ok and went into their rooms.
Once the door was closed Marcy turned to John, "how come you didn't tell me your friend was a woman?" she asked. John looked up at her and said "are we a little jealous?" She said "of course not, but she so beautiful." He looked at her and said "Marcy you don't have to worry, Jennifer doesn't mean anything to me, besides I already told her that I'm in love with someone else." "When did that conversation take place?" asked Marcy. "On the telecommunications link when I called here, she's the computer programmer that designed Jenny's programs" he told her. Suddenly Marcy put two and two together, "no wonder you called the computer Jenny and it even sounds like her,” Marcy shouted. "Calm down Marcy" John said sternly, "we're only friends. I couldn't get close to that woman in college what makes you think I'm interested now" he asked. Marcy came up to him and hugged him, "I don't want to lose you again,” she murmured to him. He held her and said "you won't I love you and we're going to get married when this is all over." He kissed her as though to seal the pact. Slowly he started to undress her as he kissed her neck moving downward. Marcy did not stop him.
Paul showered dressed and walk down the stairs to the den. He looked at the nicely decorated walls; she walked in as he was admiring some small figurines that she had on the mantle. Jennifer asked if he would like a drink and he said yes if she had whiskey. How would like it? She asked. He said on the rocks. While they waited for the others she told him about herself and about her work. He was awed at what she had accomplished in her short lifetime. He told her about himself and the others. She listened attentively and he was pleased that she was not as aloof as he thought she would be. They others started coming in and the conversation took on a lively platter. John and Marcy were the last to come down, as they descended the stairs, Jennifer noted the slight pink glow that Marcy's face showed, only a woman completely satisfied glows like that she thought.
After awhile John told Jennifer that he appreciated her hospitality on such short notice. She said she didn't mind having a few friends around, after all she didn't have too many, since her work took most of her time. Jennifer said let's enjoy today and start on the other matter tomorrow. They all nodded in agreement. John told Jennifer about he and Marcy's upcoming wedding. Jennifer said very sincerely that she was happy for them and if they'd like, they could have the reception at her home. I think it would be big enough to hold a lot of people. Marcy said that they would think about it and thanked her for offer. Paul said he would not mind coming back here, it was beautiful and spacious not like the city apartment complexes. Mike said that he enjoyed being able to sit in an old fashioned tub instead of a shower stall. They all laughed at that comment. John and Marcy looked at each other and smiled, they too had enjoyed the tub together.
Let's eat Jennifer said as she lead them to the dining room, the table was laid out with all kinds of food. Did you have this catered Paul asked jokingly? Jennifer said no she had the housekeeper put it together. They got their plates and started piling food on them. After they had sat down eaten as much as one could stuff into them. Paul said that he would like to take a walk around the property if Jennifer didn't mind. Of course not she said, in fact I'll join you, how about you guys she asked the others? Mike declined said he had to make a call, Marcy and John said they were going to watch some movies and get their second wind for some more of the delicious dinner, it sure beats having mess hall food. Ok, I'll have Paul to myself, and the beautiful sunset to keep me company, she said, as they went out the door.
Marcy told John that she thought Jennifer was really nice and she was sorry she acted like a child earlier. He said that’s ok; he also said that he thought Paul was smitten by her. Marcy said yes she thought so too. John said he only hoped that Paul wouldn't get hurt if she doesn't return his feelings. Marcy said don't worry John, Paul's a big boy now, you don't have to protect him like before. I know, John said, but he's so sensitive you know; besides Jennifer has not given many men a chance to get close. She has this hang-up that all men want her for her looks and not for herself. She has had the dizzy blond complex since I knew her in school. Come on said Marcy; you know Paul would never treat her that way. I know that and you know that, but will Jennifer give him the chance to get close enough to show it. I don't know I hope that neither one of them gets hurt. Their both very nice people and very sincere in friendships, they would be good together John told Marcy, but don't go reading more into it than it is.
After a couple of hours Jennifer and Paul walked in the doors, she was holding his arm and they were laughing. They approached Marcy and John and said that they had a wonderful time. Paul said, "The sunset is terrific here. I could really enjoy living here,” he said. Jennifer laughed, "Anytime you'd like to come over your welcome to." Paul told her "I just might take you up on it someday, I'm going to raid the cupboard does anyone want anything?" They all shook their heads no and Paul walked into the kitchen. Jennifer told John and Marcy what a nice person Paul was and that she had enjoyed his company. She told them that she was off to bed and that she would see them in the morning.
Paul came out of the kitchen holding a ham sandwich; he asked them where Jennifer was. They told him that she had called it a night and gone off to bed. They asked him to join them in watching some movies. He told them that he was going to turn in after he finished his sandwich, so for them to enjoy themselves and made his exit up the stairs to his room.
Well, we have the whole living room to ourselves he told Marcy but I'd rather have you to myself, let's go to our room for a night of pleasure he smiled leeringly. Marcy laughed at him. John grabbed her and started carrying her up the stairs to their room. Once the door to their room was closed Marcy knew that John would bring her to the heights of his passion. She smiled as she leaned on his strong shoulders while he carried her up.