Niko was sat in the small comfortable armchair reading her favourite author's latest book when the com unit by her door beeped for her attention. She rolled her eyes and marked her place in the book before she got up and walked over to the com screen.
"Yes?" Commander Walsh appeared on the screen,
"Ranger Niko? I am unable to reach Ranger Gooseman on his com. Can you go to his apartment and find out what's wrong?"
"Yes, I'll go right now."
"Thank you Niko." His image disappeared from the screen, Niko left her apartment and headed in the direction of Goose's.
"Shane?" His living room and bedroom were empty, "Shane?" there was still no answer to her call.
With a horrified look on her face, Niko picked up a pair of rancid socks off the bed and carried them at arm's length to the dirty laundry basket beside what she thought was a cupboard. The cupboard door opened and Niko found herself in a cloud of steam staring at Shane Gooseman's bare, wet back. Sensing that he wasn't alone, Shane slowly turned round and blushed.
"NIKO!" He exclaimed, Niko smirked and blushed at the same time as Goose grabbed a towel off a peg by the door and wrapped it around his waist. "I'll be out in a few seconds Niko, make yourself a cup of tea or something."
Niko shut the door behind her and made herself a drink, still a bit embarrassed by what she'd seen.
Goose came out of his room a few minutes later and sat down beside her. "What did you want?"
"Commander Walsh sent me, you weren't answering your com and he was worried."
"I'd better contact him and let him know I'm okay." Niko swallowed the last bit of her drink and stood up, "I'd better be going, see you later Shane." He made no protest and watched her leave.
"Doc, I'm worried about Shane. He's been acting strangely ever since he came back from that assignment last week, with Commander Walsh." "It's probably nothing, you know how worked up he gets by his past, sometimes I think that he'd rather just forget it. Not that I can blame him."
Their conversation was interrupted by Niko's wrist com beeping. "Ranger Niko, will you come to my office pronto please." "On my way sir." Niko stood up and looked apologetically at Doc, "I'm sorry, Walsh wants to see me." He nodded and Niko walked off.
Niko paused outside Walsh's office, two voices, clearly arguing, drifted through the door to her ears, "I don't want her to come with me."
"Why not Shane?"
"It's not her fight and it's just too dangerous, Stingray hates me almost as much as Killbane does. The supertrooper’s are my problem, Niko shouldn't have to be involved."
"It's Darkstar isn't it?"
"NO!" he exclaimed hastily. Niko decided that it might be a good time to enter the discussion, she entered the room. Walsh was sat staring at the surface of his desk, pinching the bridge of his nose. Shane was stood staring into a fish tank that spanned the entire wall.
"Ah, Ranger Niko. You and Ranger Gooseman are going to the planet Frontier to help a local sheriff with a rancher who's causing a few problems."
"When do we leave?" Niko was only vaguely aware of Shane moving towards the door, He slammed it behind him. Niko cut Walsh off, "What aren't you telling me sir?" Walsh just shook his head and dismissed her, "Report to Ranger 1 at 1400 hours." With that he turned away signifying the end of the conversation.
When she got home, Niko plugged her laptop into the main network. After a few seconds a screen came up stating one word: PASSWORD.
Niko was silently grateful that Doc had shown her how to hack into BETA mainframe in case of an emergency and/or conspiracy etc. She typed in a stream of commands and the password screen melted away and was replaced by a long list of files. She selected one titled Supertrooper, another screen appeared saying: Level 7 clearance required, PASSWORD.
She tried the same string of commands, ACCESS DENIED. The screen appeared to mock her. Niko hit the enter key in frustration and amazingly the document opened.
It didn't take long to find Goose's entry, feeling slightly odd, Niko started to read.
Although he is the youngest trooper, he shows the most promise. He has a problem with the other Supertroopers who seem to resent his skills.
Niko's eyes skimmed over the majority of the document, most of it was about the state of his physical and mental health over the four years he was at Wolf Den.
It was the name beside the heading: GENETIC DONORS that leapt out at her.
She scrolled up again logging all the names mentally, Jackhammer, Gearshift, Screwball, Gravestone, Helter-skelter, Stingray and Darkstar. The last two names made Niko stop and think, where had she heard those names before, then the conversation Walsh and Goose had came flooding back to her.
Those names had been mentioned along with Killbane's. Niko pulled up Stingray's file first but found nothing of interest there, so she went straight to Darkstar's file. It was pretty much the same as Goose’s and Stingray's except Darkstar's report was centred around a female. An icon next to Darkstar's name indicated that there was a picture on file. Curious, Niko called it up. The woman looked familiar and it didn't take Niko long to figure out why. Shane had an identical picture on his bedside table.
Now that she thought about it, Shane had spoken of Darkstar before. Probably without even realising it.
Niko turned off the computer and checked her watch, 1000 hours, it was about time she asked Goose about Darkstar.
There was no answer to her persistent knocking, she walked in. A note lay on the coffee table. Niko picked note up and started to read. She screwed it up and walked over to the window and watched as a single interceptor took off.
"Bastard!" she muttered under her breath and walked, for the second time that day, to commander Walsh's office.
As she predicted, he wasn't too pleased by the news of Gooseman's sudden and unauthorised departure.
"I should have known he’d pull a stunt like this, especially since Darkstar is involved." Walsh sighed heavily and shuffled the papers on his desk. "He'll have to be disciplined, though I can’t say I blame him, if it was me I'd probably do the same."
"Who is Darkstar sir? And what is she to Goose?"
"Darkstar was another Supertrooper who escaped. Goose tried to... Well… AHEM… that's Shane's story to tell you, it's not my place to tell you."
"Thanks anyway sir”."
It wasn't long before Shane Gooseman sheepishly slid into a landing bay. He braced himself for the hassle he was going to get from Walsh for disobeying orders and leaving Niko behind. Surprisingly it didn't happen, he went into Walsh’s office and just stood there expecting a verbal whiplash, instead the commander just looked at him.
"Well?" the commander eventually asked. "Where are Darkstar and Stingray?"
Shane took a deep breath before answering.
"I can't bring Darkstar in, she deserves better than that, but she won't leave Stingray. They are trying to start a new life together. Don't ask me to bring them in ever again because I won't. It'd be a waste of time and resource." There was a long uncomfortable silence before Goose spoke again.
"If you don't bring them in, someone else will."
"Not if I can help it sir. Is that all?" he asked, Walsh nodded and Goose walked away.
Instead of going straight to his apartment, he stopped at Niko's door and knocked.
Niko was surprised to see Shane outside her door, she didn't even know he was back. He sat down in her armchair and took the mug of coffee she offered him. She was just about to yell at him when he apologised, "I'm sorry for running off without you, do you think you could ever forgive me?" he looked up at her and gave her his puppy dog look, she smiled at him and sat down next to him.
"I'll forgive you if you tell me why you did it." Shane looked down at her and sighed. His eyes then focused on some far off point out of the window.
"I haven't told you much about Wolf Den have I?" without pausing for an answer he continued. "I was the youngest Supertrooper there by about a year and a half. I was also better than all the other's. We were all issued with a drug, a genetic enabler, to increase our abilities. I didn’t take the drug, I didn't like what it did to me, it made me ruthless like Killbane. It didn't affect my strength or speed, but my abilities decreased, that's how I got christened.‘Runt."
"So why couldn't I come with you and who's Darkstar?"
"Getting rid of the problem rancher wasn't the real reason Walsh wanted us to go to Frontier, he wanted us to capture the two Supertroopers that were there, Stingray and his girlfriend Darkstar, he wants all the outlaw troopers in the freezer. You couldn't come with me because it was too dangerous, Stingray hates me because I work for BETA and because of my feelings for Darkstar."
Niko waited a few moments for Shane to continue but he didn't. "Do you want another cup of coffee?"
"No." he stood up and hesitated before giving her a hug, "Thank you."
For a moment, Niko thought that he might kiss her but the moment passed and Goose left, leaving her as confused as hell.
Niko stood staring at the door for a few minutes but eventually went back to her armchair, cursing as she realised that her book had fallen on the floor and she'd lost her page.