The Medusa Effect
by Justin Richards
Cover Blurb
The Medusa Effect

'Bernice Summerfield?'
'That rather depends on who wants to know.'
'I'd like to offer you a job. I think you'll find it interesting.'
'Isn't this just a little inappropriate? I mean, we're at a funeral.'
'That rather depends on the job.'

Medusa -- an experimental spaceship developed by the Advanced Research Department of St Oscar's University. Missing since it was launched, presumed lost in the wars, it was a project so secret that it has never been declassified.

Now, twenty years on, Medusa is coming home.

After one of the investigation team dies suspiciously, Professor Bernice Summerfield is assigned to help discover what went wrong. But to do so she must solve a riddle. What is the strange link between the original crew and the team now on board the drifting ship? And why do their ghosts still haunt Medusa?

  • Another book in the new series of The New Adventures featuring Bernice Summerfield.
  • Released: April 1998

  • ISBN: 0 426 20524 3

Twenty years after its launch and disappearance, the spaceship Medusa is drifts back into Dellah space, and an expedition is prepared to find out what went wrong. One of the expedition members, Maryanne Decleiter, dies in a mysterious accident at the Advanced Research Department, and the head of the project team, Taffeta Graize, invites Benny to join the expedition in her place. Benny is suspicious of Graize's motives, as is Decleiter's friend Commander Skutloid, who privately tells Benny that she and Decleiter had a lot in common. Benny and Skutloid enlist Irving Braxiatel's help, and he digs up information on the Medusa's launch and gives a datacube to Benny to peruse later. Medusa was entirely remote-controlled from Dellah; the purpose of the project, conducted in the final days of the war between humanity and a race of exterminating aliens, was to launch a new class of remote-controlled luxury space liners to bring enjoyment back to space travel again.

Before the expedition sets off Benny undergoes a medical examination, including an injection to protect her against any lingering viruses on board the Medusa; she's told to abstain from alcohol to avoid side-effects, but quickly forgets the warning. When she's introduced to her fellow expedition members she finds it surprisingly easy to categorise their personality quirks into quick pigeonholes. The expedition sets off to the Medusa, where things go wrong almost immediately; all of their equipment shuts down, and a stranger named Stuart Stonely shows up, claiming to have been sent on ahead to get the Medusa ready for their arrival. The expedition soon finds the former crew and passengers' bodies, and realize that they've all been murdered.

As the first few days pass, the expedition members begin to experience intermittent hallucinations, seeing the Medusa fully functional, just as it was twenty years ago. Benny and Stuart slowly begin to realize that the expedition members are slipping into the behavioural patterns of the former crew, and that history is beginning to repeat itself. Even Benny is beginning to unconsciously adapt to some of the traits of a former passenger. While Stuart is exploring the bowels of the ship, Captain Chromsky finds and attacks him for no apparent reason, and Stuart accidentally kills Chromsky in self-defense. Benny, meanwhile, has the strangest vision of all, seeing something humanoid burst out of a shattered pillar in the ballroom in a spray of amniotic fluid.

For some reason Benny finds it easier to think when she's had something alcoholic to drink, and eventually she remembers Braxiatel's datacube and discovers that it's still functioning. She and Stuart discover that, during the launch of the Medusa, Jackson Hart -- one of the research team who designed the Medusa, accused and convicted of killing all the others on his team -- escaped from custody and stowed away on board. As Benny ponders what she has learned, she accidentally discovers that two expedition members are having an affair, and, desperate to keep their affair a secret, they drug her and seal her in an airtight cabinet in the medical bay -- which is exactly what happened to Benny's counterpart on the original passenger manifest. This time, however, Stuart is there to save her, and after surviving beyond her counterpart's death she finds the intrusive personality traits are no longer present in her mind.

The expedition members lose all sense of their former identities and take on the roles of the former crew and passengers, and when they find Stuart they accuse him of stowing away and murdering Chromsky and nearly beat him to death; Benny saves him, but discovers that this is exactly how Jackson Hart died. The rest of the expedition members murder each other when the jealous Andrea discovers her co-workers' affair and kills them both, triggering a gunfight which ends with everyone dead, including her. Again, this is exactly what happened to the previous expedition. But this time, Stuart and Benny have survived.

Benny finally confronts Stuart about his true identity, having guessed that he made up his name on the spur of the moment after seeing a door marked "Stewards Only". Stuart admits that he doesn't really know who he is; his first memory is of awakening aboard the Medusa twenty years ago, and for some reason the memories of the other expedition members are all jumbled up with his as well. Now that the experiment is over, however, a hologram of Taffeta Graize appears and explains the truth to them; a select group of individuals with sharply defined personality traits were selected and drugged in order to create a composite mental entity. Graize accepted military funding and turned the original project towards the creation of a race of super-soldiers, and arranged for the rest of the project team to be murdered when they discovered the truth; Hart was blamed for the murders but escaped and stowed away on board the Medusa, only to become part of the process himself.

Stuart realizes that he's the first of the breed, who awoke prematurely; the team sent to dissect him underestimated his strength, and he killed them in self-defense and smashed Medusa's navigation and communications systems in a blind panic before fully achieving self-awareness. This is why Medusa was lost and diverged from its course. When it was detected again, Graize organized a follow-up expedition with the same basic personality traits; the "inoculations" in the team's medicals were meant to smooth over any differences between their own personalities and their counterparts'. Benny's didn't take properly because it was a rush job to replace Decleiter's, who was murdered when she got too close to the truth; also because Benny's alcohol habit interfered with the drugs she'd been given. But now the expedition has achieved its purpose; the other genetically engineered soldiers are awakening, their first impulse to kill. Graize sends the ARD's head of security, Kirk, to lead the soldiers on their first test run -- the murder of Benny and Stuart. 

Kirk blames Benny for the death of his predecessor following the fiasco that was the Megarra Project, and takes delight in sending his soldiers to hunt her through the Medusa. Benny and Stuart try to deactivate the ship's sensors, but accidentally destroy too much and trigger a self-destruct sequence. However, Graize hasn't realized that Stuart still has a mental connection to his genetically engineered kin, and Stuart and Benny are able to take advantage of this to delay the hunters' reactions while they steal Kirk's shuttle and escape. Kirk tries to shoot them down, but is so preoccupied with killing them that he doesn't realize that the Medusa is about to self-destruct. Until it does.

Benny and Stuart return to Dellah and tell their story to Braxiatel and Skutloid, who help them to break into the ARD and confront Graize. The head of the ARD, Director Silvera, has abandoned her to her fate after the failure of her project, and when Stuart, drawing on Hart's memories, reveals that Hart was secretly in love with Graize but never admitted it, Graize -- who was secretly in love with Hart but never admitted it -- breaks down and confesses to arranging the murder of her project team. Stuart, feeling the deaths of everybody who contributed to his memories, kills Graize in a fit of anger. Benny, Braxiatel and Skutloid help him to escape from the ARD after the murder, and he sets off to find a new life for himself, possibly under the name Jackson Hart.

Source: Cameron Dixon

[Back to Main Page]