John Danziger, narrating.. "Seven days ago, we were fighting for our lives against an enemy we didn't even know we had. Now we know some homicidal creation of a dead Council puppet is up there, above our heads, crawling in our very vital functions deep in our minds. God knows why. Eve's existence tells me yet again that we weren't ever expected to make it to G889 with our skins intact. It's looking more and more likely that we weren't the first Eden Advance Project. I still don't know what to make of what Franklin and Elizabeth shared with us before they died. Or didn't share. Poor Devon. Uly's handling her sudden date with a cryobed even better than we are. He says the Terrians will save her like they did him when the time is right. But I have my doubts. There's just something about what Yale was screaming while he layer raped a command code into Eve to cure her preprogrammed virus so she could cure us all that I can't quite put a finger on. It's been like a Z.E.D. worm bullet, eating into my sleep. Yale's not talking about it, even when asked. And another thing that's been bothering me, what I want to know the most is why Adair was never given a biostat implant like the rest of us. What exactly does her status as having been born into a station elite family really mean? Something tells me I'm better off not knowing."
John's head lifted at the scent of spicy dust as he pulled his ship's mechanic jacket a little tighter around himself to ward off the chill. Their eight days spent dying had taken a heavy toll on everyone's body weight and his own ability to self regulate a core temperature, but food from the hydrolizers in Bennett's sleep ship was working fast to alleviate that. He took another rich bite of synth lobster that was blissfully not spirulina derived, as he sat in the Transrover's control seat. He watched as his equally wind dusty and very thin daughter made her way carefully over the rocks and up into the cab with him. He helped her the last step up, stroking her cheek with a grateful set of fingers as her difficulty breathing with the exertion slowly left her. He put on a genuine smile. "Did you actually go to your check up with Julia or am I going to have to curb your VR gear time again for not going?"
True Danziger brushed away a few wisps of sandy hair that had escaped her navy blue head bandana wrap. "Of course I went. I hate pain and suffering just as much as you do." Then she eyed up his large handful of simulated sea crawler and made a successful grab for it. "Give me that. I'm your only first born." she mumbled as she quickly began stuffing her face.
"Hey! Plenty more where that came from, True. Go slow or you'll give Julia something else to unplug with her diaglove." he told her, chuckling with admiration at this sign of robust health.
"My guts were fine, Dad. I just didn't have anything in my system to poop out last night. So quit asking." she snapped, still eating quickly, licking nutri-sauce off her fingers one by one with relish.
John gave her more of his carefully covetted crawler meat from a web bag. "That's my girl. Growing some modesty now? That's never stopped you before."
"That's because I've never had Terrians crawling inside my head before. Morgan called it getting your brain fuc-" True said.
"That's enough of the Earth crude out of you, spin off. I don't want to hear that kind of dirt talk puking out of your mouth again. Is that clear?" he warned, hugging her anyway.
"Sorry, Dad. I promise. Julia says I'm grumpy because I'm still a little muscle sore from atra- uh, atri-?"
"Atrophy." John supplied.
"Can I still puke out Yale's spirulina pancakes whenever I feel like it?" she asked.
John made a face and groaned. "Oh, is that what he's making this morning? I thought I smelled that particular kind of green sewage just now."
True burped unashamed and very loudly inside the safety of her father's bear hug as she finished her stolen meal with relish. "It smells more like Grendler pus to me."
John stopped kissing the top of her head while they snuggled and made another face. "Oh, girl, you just spoiled the rest of my appetite."
"It'll come back. Just stand upwind a little." she said sagely, neatly slipping out of his fatherly grasp. "Gotta go. Bess said she needed help getting Zero back online."
"You remember his impel code?" Danziger tested.
True just rolled her eyes as she slowly eased her near starvation stick legs to the ground using the Transrover's hand rail. "VA-1587. Same as the back of your jacket. Really, Dad, when you design a pass code you should make it a little harder next time. Uly had Zero sentry pacing back and forth in front of Devon's wall bed all night."
"That won't waste any power. He's solar store capable." John protested.
"Won't help his feet any if they get ground down from overuse on the durasteel plating inside the ship, now will it?" she challenged.
"Grease monkey!" he barked at her. "I'm teaching you too well."
"Fossil jerky! But I still love you, anyway." she declared as she disappeared over a red grass rise to the Martins' tent.
John chuckled half heartedly at her painfully accurate observation. He felt his still very prominent cheekbones under his slowly pinking undereyes that he could see in the reflector mirror angled in front of him on the ahead window. "I'm nobody's carrion. At least, not today." he grumbled. Then he set back to work calibrating the Transrover's driver control coils.
True Danziger was not happy that Ulysses Adair had beaten her to Zero's storage box inside the Martin tent. His head module was already laid out neatly with his co-axle cables flickering and pulsing light. At a push of a button, they self extended and reconnected themselves to his body through the neck aperature and then to a sensory coordinate recorder resting on the table top. Zero began giving out his usual cheery brand of perimeter report. "Atmospheric readings normal. Wind ten knots from the NNW. Temperature is 14 C. No indication of alien bipeds within fifteen clicks of camp, Sir.." the module addressed Uly.
Beside him, lounging on a cot, was Morgan, preparing his VR gear to link in a new musical band number to tune out the morning. "Oh, yeah? So what do you call us with our newly discovered neural brainstem webs, you pathetic excuse of a walking tin can." he grumbled, tossing a dirty sock at Zero. "We're all turning into something alien."
"Morgan!" hissed Bess, who immediately tempered the firm reprimand for her husband on her face to a bright smile for True and Uly's benefit. "I'm sure our visitors wouldn't like to hear their current playmate called a thing." she said, neatly rearranging a few of the giant orange and purple irises that she had found growing behind their tent into a spare boot filled with acid from the lake. "You're just surly because you still have a headache left over from Eve's power surge last week."
"Well Zero IS a thing. One we control. Bess, I really wish you hadn't brought those ugly orchids inside our tent. My skin still crawls just thinking about them. I mean, what if they decide to shoot off a little homing beacon pollen at us again into our faces?" he snivelled, shifting uncomfortable feet on the bed where he sat, eyeing them up with undisguised horror. "I for one really don't want to vomit germination sludge into another bottomless pit any time soon. Once was quite enough."
"Oh, please. Don't dwell in the past. It's over. All the Pod Porters are perfectly safe now according to Julia." said Bess.
"Yeah, Mr. Martin. There's no need to worry anymore." said Uly. "Spring's already here."
Despite her jealousy of Uly holding Zero's control module remote, True agreed with the boy. "Why would the planet want to reboot what's already happening? That's just stupid." she said, plunking down into a chair to get her breath back from walking too fast in her frail condition.
Bess deflected the storm about to arise in the elder Martin neatly."Wow, aren't our house guests perceptive? Oh, look, Honey! These pollen sacs have all dried up and fallen off. I'll just sweep them up and throw them away into the incinerator." she said with fake happiness. She did so and returned to smelling the flowers' heady bouquet appreciatively.
"Get rid of them." Morgan said about both children and the flowers.
Bess grew sugary and also obstinate. "No, Morgan. They're good company for me since certain other people aren't being so today. And my flower vase isn't going anywhere. Because I- Because I still love their perfume. It is kind of... sultry." she winked at the kids, who giggled from where they were watching Zero's monoeye flash while he continued to verbalize his current survey findings.
"Is she flirting?" Uly whispered to True, who covered her mouth as she blushed and nodded. "I think so."
Mrs. Martin's harmless innuendo was completely lost on Morgan, who remained dour and sour. "I've got a headache, dear. Remember?"
"That's usually my line." she joked, conspiring with the kids to throw a few loose garments Morgan's way.
Martin just flipped over onto his other side and presented his back to the rest of the tent, tuning them out. "Gear log. Playback mode. Private!" he growled back over his shoulder as he slid the retina reader over an eye to activate the gear's feed.
The three at the kitchen table drew together their human heads over Zero's robotic one. Bess was the first to start up their usual a.m. meet and greet. "Thanks for visiting me like this, you two. Every day. As you can see, I need a break from the resident paranoid every now and then." she grinned. "So how's your mom doing today, Uly?" Bess asked.
The slight, curly haired boy began spinning Zero's head around in place, making his voice recitation distort amusingly as it spun. "She's fine. But my friends are still puzzled that they can't reach her on the dream plain any more."
The young Danziger wrinkled her forehead."Why? Can't they understand suspended animation? It's only sleep that's a little bit cold." True wondered.
"I don't think they can. Because everyone they see usually gets connected." Uly replied innocently.
"Really?" Bess asked, surprised at his admission of a new mystery. She was about to ask how when she was interrupted.
"Mary isn't. Not any more." True interjected, taking out the whistle she still had on a thong that she had received from dead Gaal a few months back, to play with.
Uly sighed sadly. "She's the only one. Besides mom." he said, picking up Zero's head module. "Come on, it's time to get to work. If we don't hurry, we're going to be late for Yale's school session. Zero, follow!" he said. Zero paced up to the table, stuck on his own head after taking it from Uly's offering hands, pulled out and retracted his report delivery cables and complied with the order.
Soon, both the android and boy had gone.
True started getting to her feet painfully from her chair so Bess helped her up with a gentle hand. "Easy, True. Take your time."
The petite girl took her hand gratefully. "Bess, I still miss Mary some days. I was beginning to learn a lot about the Terrians through her. Just by watching." True said, twirling her whistle thoughtfully. "I wish I knew where she was now."
"Mary's a survivor, True. She knows more about this planet than anybody else from either Earth or the stations." Mrs. Martin soothed. "I'm sure she's doing fine."
True dwelled on it miserably. "But she's all alone out there somewhere."
"She ran away from us, True. By choice. Which was hers to make. She's an adult."
True's eyes began to fill with a kind of worry for another that signalled budding maturity. Slowly she blew on her whistle, sending out its mournful piercing, melancholic note as sudden tears fell.
"Hey, that plays beautifully. Did you carve that?" Bess asked True about the delicate Terrian bone whistle.
"No, it was a gift from a friend. It's a signaler, so lost people can find each other."
Bess smiled and softened bitter reality, offering True some hope as a balm. "Maybe you can talk to a Koba. Send her a message." Bess speculated. "I think they just might be intelligent enough to mimic the messenger pigeons that used to fly around on Earth."
True brightened. "Yeah, that might work. I'll get on it right away. Yale can help me! Thanks, Bess." the girl said eagerly as she flipped up a tent flap to duck out.
"Anytime. Just don't let your father find out!" she yelled after her. "He might program Zero to do a little rodent hunting!" Pleased with her day's morale boosting, Bess turned to breakfast with a warm heart.
Baines, Walman and Magus were keeping the camp's fires going for warmth.
"I don't understand why we can't all sleep inside the ship at night." said Walman. "It's plenty big enough. Some of the chairs in there are pretty posh." he said, pulling a shirt away from his sweaty skin after setting down his axe in front of a pile of neatly split, pale pink wood.
Magus wrinkled her freckled nose from where she stood sentry with a MagPro on a nearby rise. "Where a bunch of people died or were fried by Eve? Are you nuts? I for one don't want to be anywhere near a working computer terminal. Roughing it's all fine and dandy with me." she replied, pulling a head scarf away from the gear she wore on her head as she monitored Alonzo and Cameron's running commentary scouting trip for more water.
Baines just laughed. "I never thought I'd say this, but I don't miss being inside of a space ship. At all. There's something about all this fresh air, wide open spaces. I know. Weird. But somedays, it feels like it's calling me, a born stationer, who previously never knew anything different, to be outside!" he said joyfully.
"Yeah?" said Walman. "Well I know a particular pilot with a previously broken leg who still hugs ships at night. Have you seen him lately? He sleeps with his head on the nose cone that's slammed into the hillside with just a sleeping bag. No tent."
"And no Julia." winked Magus.
"Huh." grunted Walman. "Maybe his Terrian buddies are finally scaring away all his Boogeymen." he laughed.
"Either that or she is." Baines added. "Heller sure is one hot-"
"How's it going, guys?" John Danziger said, bursting out of the Transrover that was in the same clearing as the trio. They had completely forgotten that he was there, working on the drive panel behind a very transparent sheet of alumoclear glass. "Gossip under control this morning?"
"Oh, John. You're beginning to sound like the frozen aristocrat we all know and don't love." Walman joked.
"Good. After all, she did leave me in charge." He rounded out and planted a full punch to the blond man's left cheek with a pair of unchecked knuckles, knocking him flat. " Walman, you're gonna treat the women on our team respectfully, like full and equal citizens at all times like our mutual contract says, or you'll have me to answer to. Comprende', Cargo?" he barked, deliberately using Walman's space station lackey title which was very far below his own ship's mechanic status, in rank.
"Uh, sorry, sir. Yes sir." said Baines and Magus. The sentiment was echoed by Walman only reluctantly. Danziger made sure the deckman looked away and down before he let up his close physical proximity's pressuring using his far greater height.
"Right. Now go warm up the ATV and get out a pair of jumpers to double check Zero's morning report findings. On the double. We're running behind." said John, offering Walman a hand up again.
The two men rushed off to their assigned chores, avoiding another fight wisely.
Magus sagged a little in her armor where she stood. "Sorry, Danziger. We may be out of winter camp, but it's been murder staying in one place after being on the move for so long."
"We haven't voted to abandon anybody just yet, that's why we're parked." Danziger said, walking up the hill to flank her companionably. "Julia's still hunting for what caused Devon's sudden decline. It may be something that'll get us later on."
"Isn't that a little unnecessary?" Magus asked him.
"What do you mean?" John shot back.
"She can maintain indefinitely in cryo. You and I both know that." the stocky woman stationer insisted. "We can leave her behind. Quite easily."
"Wait a minute, there's no way for sure to tell how soon Cryo Syndrome actually sets in using this God forsaken planet's stats. We know it's there at wakeup after fifty years. It might set in as soon as one for all we know. " Danziger debated, planting his hands firmly on his hips in irritation.
"That's guessing, John. And you know it. The only one who might be able to answer that question is either Yale, who had access to part of the ship's systems, or Eve herself using our biostats." Magus shot back.
Danziger threw up his hands. "Nobody's looking forward to another pow wow with Eve. Not even Yale. That'd be a big mistake."
"Is it?" Magus challenged. "Or is staying here an even bigger one?" she said, setting her MagPro more comfortably on her armored shoulders.
John met her eyes levelly and seriously considered what she was saying."I don't think that it is. Why DON'T we wait it out here? Why not let the syndrome ships land at New Pacifica without us? They'll find out we've been held up the second they land. Magus, the first thing they'll do is mount a full scale search for US. We're no longer equipped to be their landing team. We're sick, only a week reversed from starving ourselves to death due to overloading biostat implants. Our stuff's scattered across the face of the planet God knows where, and we've known that since Day One. You tell me what's best for the group. Because I think not moving's the best course for everybody." he snarled.
Magus stared at him intently for a long moment. Then she began to grin in a gruff, soldierly way. "You know. That took guts to override Devon's wishes. Even if it is just talk." she said with admiration for his new leadership style. "I'll see you at lunch." she said, heading off to a higher bluff, one that wasn't covered in leftover, bruised and dying, spring orchids.
Alonzo and Cameron pulled up the SandRail on top of a small ridge. One that was still in sight of Bennett's crashed ship but facing a new valley that might contain a rain stream to replenish supplies. They got out and reported in to Yale who was Eden Camp's Communicator for the hour. "Gear send. Yale this is SandRail. Coordinates, 30 west, 120 south at five clicks. We think there's water below us but descending down to it will take us line of sight below-"
"Solace!" shouted Cameron who had been studying the horizon with his jumpers on top magnification. "I've spotted something!"
"Yale. Stand by."
##Standing by.## came the cyborg tutor's reply.
"What is it?" said Alonzo, quickly making for the Rail so he could pull up next to Cameron to pick him up.
"A pile of clothes. Might be trailings from one of our missing pods with a broken transponder."
Alonzo took out his own pair of locators for a quick scan. He spotted the tan color of definitely woven cloth.
"Could be number 3, 8, or-" Solace hypothesized.
"11." celebrated Cameron. "The one with the bar in it." he said eagerly.
"Let's go!" Alonzo said, jerking the acceleration stick shift down all the way into top speed towards the human debris they had found.
Soon, they got closer.
"It's a figure!" Cameron shouted.
Alonzo immediately slammed on the brakes and both men drew out MagPros and aimed them squarely at the distant pile of cloth that was eighty meters away. Solace radioed Zero. "Zero, emergency proximity scan! Analyze for lifesigns apart from Eden Project. Execute!"
##No indication of other bipeds.##
"Scan again! We're seeing a figure on the ground two clicks in front of SandRail."
##Still no indication.## reported the android over gear.
"D*mn. Want to risk an approach?" Cameron said, his voice full of adrenaline stress.
"Sure. Why not? I'm feeling a little daring. I had a full breakfast today." Solace replied, equally hyped up.
Slowly they advanced.
Danziger popped into gear. ##What do you got?##
"We don't know. Might be a body. Too small to be Grendler." Cameron replied as they stalked closer.
##Be careful. Want me there?##
"Bring Julia. If it's somebody, she'll want to do an autopsy to find out-" Alonzo stated.
"Oh, my God." interrupted Cameron, tossing down his gun. "It's Mary."
"What?!" Alonzo said, still gripping his MagPro.
"Her smell. It's the same one from the cave with the Moon Pool." Cameron said, crouching down swiftly. "Remember it?"
"Yeah." Solace replied. "It's unmistakable."
Soon Alonzo was standing over her. He recognized Mary's dew covered blond hair, stained with the usual mud, and new acid burns.
Gagging, Solace knelt down and grabbed Mary's shoulders, rolling her over onto her back. Her limbs flopped limply. Mary wasn't breathing and her eyes were fixed into a thousand yards stare.
"Sh*t!" Alonzo said, bending down to wipe away acid and mud from Mary's mouth with a hasty sleeve so he could give her a couple of deep breaths of his own after pinching her nose shut. "Does she have a pulse?" he asked in between his rapid efforts.
Cameron checked. "Y-yeah, I think so."
"You sure? Because if she doesn't, we have to do very different things for her!" Alonzo gasped, sucking in more air above Mary's face to give it right back to her.
"Oh man. I don't think it's there." burbled Cameron, stunned into shock as he reluctantly kept hold of the slight girl's filthy neck.
"Rush them!" Alonzo said, bending over to be Mary's lungs once again.
The burly man snatched Alonzo's gear from his head and hit the red emergency button to set it on speaker. "Yale! It's Mary! She's in a bad way. We're resuscitating!"
##Keep working. Hang on. They're just a few minutes away in the TransRover.## came the thick Jamaican reply. ##Julia's brought her bag.##
Alonzo snapped out orders. "Cameron, did you have med resus training?" he said, peeling back her eyelids and watching the sunlight shrink the pupils of her cloudy eyes.
"No.. not that. Never worked without a life support bot. I'm just a Cargo, like Walman." he stammered. "I.."
Alonzo looked up after delivering another breath. "She's still got a chance here. Cut off her shirt."
"Just do it! Then start pressing up and down on the middle of her chest with both your palms, one over the other. Not too hard. Just enough to flatten her ribs a little." Solace said.
Cameron hesitated once her skin was bare, revealing massive acid burns.
"Go, man! Wrap your hands in cloth to protect them and start in! She'll die on us if you don't!" Alonzo begged.
Closing his eyes tightly against his intense fear of all the acid, Cameron did so and began pumping.
Deep in her cryo stasis bed, unobserved by any of the Eden Team, Devon Adair began to gasp, as if being ventilated by an outside rescuer using mouth to mouth.
Eve's image came online on the wall above her head. Her broadcast was completely devoid of any trace of the Reilly module."They are connected. They are ...alive." came the computer's voice.
At Zero's side, in camp, Uly immediately began to trill loudly enough to startle True, who was next to him with their school books.
"What's wrong?" she asked of the Adair boy.
"Contamination." he said, half in a Terrian dream.
Then his hungry staff began to rise up slowly from the earth and it fell, red ribbons and all, into his hand.
True startled. "Oh, no. Not the swimming through dirt thing again. Not even for just the stick!" the feisty girl squeaked, leaping onto the steel flooring that was nestled underneath the cargo crates that made up their desks. She landed with a solid thump on her still shaky feet to protect herself. "Uly! Talk to me, you ugly frog. If your scaley friends are coming to see you, we'd better tell the others right n-"
She saw Uly's eyes begin to glow the familiar color of Morganite orange and he stood transfixed, as if his Terrian staff held him bound. "Do not save the child. She is cast away. The sky mind has touched us through her!" came his strangely mind amplified voice. It created a feeling of bugs crawling in True's mind. "Stop it. Stop it now!" the boy cried.
True couldn't decide about the boy's last plea. Was it the Terrians talking to Uly or the other way around?
A bolt of lightning shot up and away from Uly's staff tip, striking the communications antennae linking Yale with the rescue party's remote gear, destroying it in a shower of sparks.
True's inbred sense of self preservation kicked in and she ducked, covering her head with both arms. "That's enough mumbo jumbo for me for the rest of the century. Yale! Yale!" she shouted, fleeing the boy's stormy pyrotechnics. "Help me! Uly's gone crazy!"
The boy did not hear True, nor did he try to stop her.
The young Danziger found Yale flattened and flailing on the ground near his tent, still getting shocked from secondary static arcing through his temple implant from his suddenly magnetized head gear.
True quailed. "Yale?" The tutor opened his eyes with difficulty, feeling the girl's hands on his body that were instinctively checking his breathing rate.
"Get it off! Get it off!" he twitched as he desperately gripped his head in involuntary reflex. "You won't get burned. This battery effects only me." he said, clenching a fist over his temple medallion. "Please. Ahh! Remove my head set-t!" he grimaced painfully.
True jerked it off quickly, flinging Yale's away. "Mine's not working either. Are you okay?"
Yale sat up, breathing hard. "I am now. What was that?" he said, eyeing up his smoking virtual gear with shock.
"It was Uly. He decided to share a sudden story with a free light show." she growled.
"Were the Terrians speaking through him?" Yale asked, letting her help him to his feet.
"What did he say?"
"Too much. You're not going to like it." True replied. "I think they were talking about killing Mary because of Eve."
Magus shot around the corner, running for the two of them in a full fledged emergency regrouping. "Yale! I can't get a hold of the others. Everything's just gone dead." she said,waving her useless gear set at them.
"I know. And I have a feeling that that's not all." Yale replied, glancing over his shoulder towards the mountains.
Alone in the school's camp clearing, the boy continued mumbling. "Immunity. Seeking immuni-." Ulysses gasped when his tranced connection with the Terrians suddenly broke as the sun came back out from behind a cloud. The odd earth stone's glow in his eyes faded out, leaving behind a terrifying void of non-feeling. It was coming from his human side, a sickening absence. He felt hideously shredded mental tatters in a bond that he had known since birth. And even they were rapidly disappearing. "Mom? Mom!" he shouted, dropping the Terrian staff. It lay forgotten in the dust. Uly dashed for the sleeper ship as fast as he could run to get to her side.
John Danziger, Julia Heller, Alonzo Solace and Cameron were working feverishly to revive Mary.
"Keeping going." the doctor ordered as she re-analyzed the horribly burned girl's cardiac muscle chemistry with her diaglove. "She's almost ready for another shock."
Danziger had taken over for Alonzo at Mary's head to spare him the effects of rescuer's dizziness from hyperventilation. His self hyped skills at respiratory first aid were paying off. Mary's complexion was finally pinking up with their CPR.
Alonzo kept up even compressions, giving Cameron a chance to shake out the cramps in his palms and shoulders from his previous efforts. "Why isn't the glove working?" the pilot grunted as he worked hard to maintain Mary's circulation.
"She dehydrated. Her plasma volume's way down because all of her burns are oozing. I'm pushing in fluids and the proper stimulants as fast as I can." Heller replied. "It'll take at least another minute for the acid buffer I gave her to kick in and start working enough to correct her metabolic imbalances." she said, taking another body sweep reading of Mary's battered form. "She also has some fractured ribs issues that we caused."
"That's gonna happen with CPR." John gave Mary another careful, effective breath, to limit inflicting more damage. "Better hurry it up. The skin on our mouths and palms are starting to flake off." he grimaced, keeping his eyes shut to protect them from acid fumes.
"The acid on her's weak. It must have rained last night. The three of you will be fine. Nothing past first degree burns. One more medication here, and I'll try again with another cardioversion." Heller replied, touching an injector to the side of Mary's blistered neck. "Okay." she said. "Get clear of her." They moved away. Then Julia gave a command to the diaglove. "Cardio-vert!"
Mary's body arched up inside of the ring the others made. An ugly, strangled moan rushed out of her on a borrowed breath as she settled back onto the ground when the electricity had run its course.
"What was that?" Cameron said, scrambling instinctively backwards for the Mag-pro he had left behind.
Julia grew irritated at the man. "Reflexes. Don't be ignorant. John, keep helping her until her lungs catch. I'm finally getting a pulse." Julia reported, breathless from strain. "I'll start disinfecting and sealing off her wounds. Let's get the rest of these soaked clothes off."
Alonzo looked around their glade thoughtfully as he helped prepare Mary for the doctor. "Julia, what do you think caused Mary's burns?"
"That's no puzzle. A little swimming. The lake's just over there." Cameron snapped sarcastically, knowing the girl's burns had been intentionally inflicted. "No one would be able to leap into that kind of h*ll, not even someone with suicidal thoughts. She was thrown in."
"Yeah, but how'd she get out and up here? We're at least a thousand feet up the hill from the beach. How'd she find the strength to crawl so far her condition?" Solace asked.
John lifted his face away from Mary's after delivering a final breath. Mary's chest began to rise and fall on its own. "Okay, that one did it. She's breathing again." he said, keeping her head tilted back in his lap to keep her air passages open. He sat up, cross legged on the ground, watching the fragile young woman closely as she fought for life. "Alonzo, about Mary? Somebody else carried her." theorized Danziger.
"Who?" Cameron asked.
"Who else is there?" Danziger frowned, studying Mary's face for any signs of returning consciousness. There were none.
"More Terrians?" Cameron asked, not understanding the implications.
"Different Terrians." John replied.
Julia was fast, putting two and two together."Was there a conflict over Mary again? Between the Purists who denied Mary her Terrian abilities for helping us and the home Moon Pool clan who raised her?" Julia wondered as she swiftly applied a body sized dermal gel foam blanket which sealed like a soft gray suit around every inch of Mary.
"It's the only thing that makes any sense." John shared as he rolled the girl over so the doctor could treat the areas that had been resting against the ground. "Rival clan wars are something we haven't really considered all the way through yet."
"So which side actually rescued her?" Julia wondered, working fast to stabilize Mary.
"There's only one choice. I'm betting on her second family." said John. "Clans are tight. I can't see one abandoning a member easily once a bond is formed. We see them behave that way towards Uly all of the time."
Their ship pilot was off on a new tangent. "Wait a minute. All it takes is one set of arms or one mind to dirt carry someone." Alonzo added. "Maybe it was her adoptive Terrian mother, the one who found her in the first place crying over her human parents' dead bodies, who saved her." he murmured in excited discovery. Alonzo closed his eyes and slipped into the Terrian dreamscape before anyone could stop him. He dropped limply to the ground.
"Alonzo.. no!" Julia warned. "The others who hurt her might be the ones to answer you!"
But Solace was already too far away to hear her.
Alonzo entered the Plain.
::Hello?:: Alonzo thought.
The way ahead under the shifting, wind blown dream sky was splintered. Hazy. It seemed that the usual mental layers were fracturing, as if they were being tugged back and forth between opposing energies. And there wasn't a single Terrian in sight, even though he could feel some in the distance. The Terrian awareness of his unannounced presence spread through their network in a wave like Alonzo wanted. Soon it inflamed a single alien contact. Alonzo's mental eyes widened as he felt a new sudden fear that wasn't his own. One glimmer was being both harried and protected, a bright spark of maternal focus that was unique amid the foggy soup that was the warring angry/terrified Terrians' ebb and flow. It was both grieving and defiant in waves. A Terrian name was dream broadcasting very clearly by both sides of the pair of warring clans. The sole speck over which they fought howled in an oddly human dream voice. It was the nurturing Terrian who had raised Mary.
Alonzo began to Speak respectfully, turning around on his feet on the pitching, wavering landscape full of sand and yellow sky.::This is directed at Mother-By-Choice. Please forgive my intrusion.::
Solace was rebuffed into a dust storm, a mental stifling meant to test his resolve. He gasped and fell onto his knees as he fought to keep dreaming with both the hostile Others and the Pool Clan. ::If you can hear me, Mary's alive.:: Solace reassured the lonely Terrian. :: The human girl is not going to die from the harming action that was taken against her. We are healing her wounds right n-.::
A loud buzzing filled his head with painful pulses, timed with his heartbeat. Solace dropped to the translucent soil, gripping the base of his skull. It was a very familiar agony. ::Eve?:: he thought. ::Why are you-:: Another jolt shot through his biostat implant, pinning Alonzo into a deep net of strangling sedation.
Mother-By-Choice's mental presence suddenly loomed very close and enveloped him like a shield, sharpening his consciousness back to normal. Eve's probing faded out.
Alonzo opened his dream eyes once more and saw Mary's dream self hovering over him, watching with mild curiosity. Her hair was melted down close to her skull by acid but Mary did not seem to be in any pain nor was she cold in her naked, muddy state. A sisterly empathy from her swept through the pilot. ::No. Don't reach for.. that one.:: said her dream voice.
::What's happening?:: Alonzo said, accepting Mary's hand to return to his feet. He did not let go of it again. ::I'm with you. We all are. Mary, tell me what's going on?::
Mary's dream blurry form met his eyes with hers. ::The sky mind wants me to be as the boy. Another bridge:: she replied. Then she tapped the back of her head awkwardly. ::But I am hurting. Here. Inside. And it is frightening the Others.::
Alonzo quailed in unpleasant shock. ::You have a biostat implant?::
Mary's lizard like body movements and head tilting continued as she failed to process the unfamiliar term. ::What?:: She folded into Mother-By-Choice's finger caresses as the Terrian examined her like the blind with a beloved, favorite toy.
Solace explained it. ::A piece of human machine. A mental and physical conduit.:: he struggled to articulate into simple terms. :: A spider web in your mind. Do you have one?::
The Terrianized girl crouched onto the sand and it became more solid underneath them, increasing the clarity between their dreams. Mary balanced deftly on her burned palms and bare feet, looking up at him. ::Yes. I-it began to .. to...bite one moon cross ago. I.. tried to hide but Mother-By-Choice was p-pulled in. Her blood went...bad. Now it is poisoning us. I was to be culled to protect the All.::
::Do you mean the planet's sentience?:: the pilot asked. ::It's being effected by your bond with Mother-By-Choice and Eve's manipulations?::
Mary's face dropped in confusion. ::All there is. All around us. The people are the All and All who made us is burned. ::
Solace sighed a dismissive and took Mary's burned hands into his own. :: I understand. Mary, you weren't born here. Not like they were. Like I said before, you are one of us. A human. And that's why Eve wants to control the Others and the All through you.:: The computer must have decided that it can't yet, with Uly, he realized.
Mary broke away from his touch. ::That is not Good! That is an abomination...:: she cried, sudden frightened tears welling out of her red eyes. ::I must be ended. Now.:: she shivered, suddenly feeling cold.
Mother-By-Choice suddenly crooned and crouched by her adopted daughter, stroking Mary's scarred cheek with large, soft fingers. She placed the comforting glow of a sun stone into Mary's hands for warmth. Its lurid heat made Mary's fear flee.
Alonzo carefully reached out and took Mary's hands that were around the fiery rock, into his own. It did not burn him. ::Easy, Mary. You do not have to die. Eve is just a machine. She is not alive. So she can't really hurt the All. The only ones who can are us, while being afraid of Eve.::
::The sky mind..:: Mary sobbed,.. "The sky mind is in me!:: she quailed miserably.
::Shhhh.:: Alonzo embraced Mary tenderly and afterwards he felt Mother-By-Choice envelop them both into a protective shell of mental strength.
Alonzo Solace sputtered awake, spitting out the icy water that had just been thrown onto his face from a bucket. "What did you do that for?!" he shouted.
"We weren't about to waste good medication waking you up from your fool hardy stunt." John Danziger snapped, unsympathetically. The big man threw down the metal pail in disgust."Now get up. We've got Mary loaded into the Transrover for the trip back to camp. And before you even think about reaching for a blanket to dry yourself off, go refill that pail back up. We need something to drink with supper tonight." he growled.
Alonzo shot to his dripping feet. "Wait a minute. I learned something big in there about Mary. She-"
"Save your breath. We've already found Mary's implant. Diaglove scans, remember?" Danziger scoffed, wiggling mock fingers as if he were wearing Julia's. "And we've already got the doctor into a head set on gear jam so Eve can't try any tricks using her Uly/Terrian pituitary graft."
"Oh, uh, great. I think."
"Definitely not great. We all think the fun's just beginning."
"Why? Because none of our radios work. We think camp's been under an attack of some kind. Move it! We're leaving in five minutes." John ordered.
Hastily, Solace snatched up the bucket to do his bidding. ::Now I know how Morgan feels.:: Alonzo thought.
Alonzo huddled miserably in his damp clothes as John drove with the windows down in the Transrover for Mary's benefit. ::For fresh oxygen, so the doctor claims.:: he thought in his head as he watched Julia set up Mary's fluid and antibiotic pumps. "Here." said Julia, handing off a pair of light blinking, computerized, and tubed bottles to Solace. "Hold both of these up, higher than me. They still need to be activated."
The pilot did so, grumpily. Both units beeped as they turned on their functions, just as Heller figured out where to hang them magnetically in the cab.
Julia smiled at Alonzo, knowing he was crabby because his lips were swelling up. She took back the intravenous infusers to free up his hands so he could continue to scratch his itching face and hands. "Thanks. You'll be fine by sunset."
Alonzo ignored his paramour. "I thought we were supposed to be hurrying." Solace snapped at Danziger when he took the time to stop on a dime to search for level ground for a gentler ride for their patient.
"There's no need to any more. See?" the curly haired man said, gesturing out the visor screen of their vehicle. "Looks like low tech's still being allowed to work on this lovely ball of rock of ours."
Alonzo looked. "Smoke signals." he grunted, grudgingly admiring the move.
"Yep. In regular non-distress patterns. Seems like all's well in camp after all. That's my True girl. She remembered her lessons on backup primitive communication methods." said John proudly.
"Unlike some." said Cameron, glaring at Solace. " 'No dreaming it in hostile alien territory', mate." he quoted.
"Hey! That was Devon's old rule." Alonzo defended belligerently.
"It's a good rule." Cameron challenged. "Who knows what those Others might have done with your brain. They were mad enough to try and kill Mary." he argued.
"Can it. It's over and done with." said John. "Why don't we just stick with surviving for the rest of the night, eh? Mission's accomplished. It was a total surprise, but we got Mary back. At least that's one regret we don't have to stomach any more. I don't know about you, but the fact that she ran away from all of us so completely was eating at me something fierce. It's a relief being given a chance to rectify her popularity problem today."
"I feel the same way." Solace said. "That's why I went in to find out why she was being targeted again past the original punishment they doled out to her last winter."Cameron continued applying salve to his acid swollen fingers vigorously as he glanced at the spot mirror to make sure that Zero was still following behind them in the scouting ATV. "So what more did you learn about all this that we don't already know?"
"Well, for starters, Cammy Boy, we have a new Terrian ally." Alonzo sighed. "Her name's Mother-By-Choice. She's devoted to Mary, and apparently, to anyone else who feels the same way about her. Felt to me that she'll probably defend those bonds to the death."
"Wait a minute. Hold on a sec. You discovered a Terrian with a name?" Julia asked as she looked up from the vital signs monitoring screen on the diaglove.
"Yep." Alonzo grinned, snatching the tube of burn salve away from Cameron so he could use it for himself. "Pretty amazing, huh?"
John was skeptical. "Alonzo, there's no way the Terrians'll be forming a domestic embassy to invite us to play anytime soon." he said, keeping his eyes on the terrain as he drove.
Solace coughed, grinning through his white ointmented lips. "Well then, how do you explain Mary's rescue from a sudden, almost fatal, acid bath?" He offered Danziger the tube of salve companionably.
John took it from him with alacrity, eager to soothe his stinging fingers and mouth. "I can't, Solace. Nobody can, with any great certainty. These are Terrians we're talking about." he said, smearing medication over his sore spots while he guided the rover's joystick with his knees.
Julia was thoughtful. "Maybe Uly can."
The others just looked at her as she crossed the taboo subject no one ever wanted to address.
Heller grew uncomfortable with being scrutinized. "Well, why not? Isn't he still a supposed link between humans and Terrians?"
"That's the question of the hour, now isn't it?" Danziger said. "Let's get to camp first before we dig ourselves in too deep. Everybody gets the right to chip in on any big issues before we decide anything for the group ahead of time." he warned.
"I wouldn't have it any other way." Julia agreed empathetically, remembering her own painful experience as an outcast.
Yale met the Transrover's arrival into camp at a semi urgent run, followed closely behind by True, Morgan, and Bess.
Julia flagged down Baines and Walman to help carry Mary's stretcher into the medical tent. Bess immediately fussed over the woman. "You found Mary?! Yale, why didn't you tell me!" she snapped.
"I had more pressing matters." said the man, self consciously. "You see, Ul-"
"We'll talk later." Morgan warned in a stressed out fidget while he followed his wife who was following the medical party.
"What's up?" Danziger asked Yale as he popped up his door wing.
"Uly's gone missing." said the cyborg tutor, very glad to find a sympathetic ear.
"Dad, he went nuts and blew up our comm sat with that alien stick of his." said True.
John picked up his daughter gratefully into his arms in greeting. "That's new. But... we think we know why he did it, and yes, I can rebuild it." he retorted before the question could be asked. "Zero, scan for everybody's biostat implants. Report all current positional coordinates and display map." he ordered.
"Visual feed processing. *bleep* There is an anomaly. One additional trace foreign to baseline Eden Project data."
"Zero, label it as Mary. Also human." John told the robot unit as he set his daughter down again after their hug.
"Complying. *bleep* New coordinate lifesigns, Mary, manifesting as abnormal with critical level vital-."
"Zero, noted. Mary's being successfully treated. Now show me the map." Danziger said impatiently.
Zero's hand emitter projected an outline of camp onto the dirt at their feet displaying location dots and they all eyed it eagerly for the boy's whereabouts.
"Uly's ident is in the ship?" Danziger said, pulling out a laser pistol in alarm. He immediately began heading that way.
"I thought we had that locked up?" Cameron asked, following him with a Magpro.
"So did I." John said grimly as he hurried.
John Danziger's back hit the side of the ship with a soft thump as he took cover to one side of the entry hatch leading into the sleeper ship. The grapey butter aroma in the air unique to the ship's canyon that usually calmed him, did nothing but interfere with his senses now. "Shhh. Don't make a sound."
Cameron nodded as he took the door's other side in a mirror of John's move.
The tutor was keeping wisely out of sight behind a rock nearby while the two men finished flanking the access portal. Its user panel was showing that an external airlock was in active use. "It's been cycled manually. Be careful." mouthed Yale. "Is he still in there?"
Danziger consulted a hand reader. "Oh, yeah." he said, sweating a lot as he hugged his wall. "I know it's just him, but I don't like what I'm seeing. According to all the readings, this external door lock hasn't been disturbed."
"And not a single sign of forced physical entry." Yale noted, studying every inch of the ship with his augmented vision.
Cameron was thoughtful as he peered around the huge muzzle of his Mag-pro. "No other footprints past his, guys." he said, pointing to the ground.
John nodded, eyeing up the tiny shoe marks there. "So, no penal colonists, or raiding Grendlers? That's cool with me." he said, keeping his pistol muzzle aimed at the ready, pointed safely up towards the sea green sky.
Cameron agreed. "And I don't know a single Terrian yet who can earth swim through solid man-made metal."
John began to relax, just a hair. "Get ready." he whispered. Reaching out, he did the next obvious thing. He rapped loudly on the hull with a carefully extended arm and fist, keeping the rest of his body behind very thick durasteel. "Uly? If you can hear me, open the d*mned door."
Suddenly the airlock light turned from red to green. The three men braced themselves by beam struts and rock as the hatch slid up in front of them revealing just a dusty, dark interior.Seconds later, a full sized female figure in a white tunic and slacks stumbled out. It was Devon Adair.
Uly was under one of her arms, trying inadequately to help her walk upright. "It's okay, mom. They're here. Thanks for letting me in."
"Uly, did you wake her up?" John startled, rushing forwards.
Yale was just as suprised. "That was incredibly dangerous!"
"No. She was already up. I just went and got her like she asked me to." the boy said.
Danziger holstered his weapon and barely caught the petite brunette as she fell into his arms, still groggy. "Like who asked you to?" asked John suspiciously. "Cameron, keep covering that door. We have no idea what Eve's capable of." He placed Devon gently onto the ground to check out her actual condition. She was awake, but looking dazed, with very pale lips.
"My Mother." said Uly.
Yale crouched down by the boy who wasn't the slightest bit worried. "Do you mean Devon? How is that possible? She was unconscious, in stasis."
"Not her. The planet." Uly grinned. "The Mother." he corrected. "She called me in a dream, saying she had fixed what was wrong with mom."
Cameron was nonplussed. "That could have been Eve. Remember how she projected Bennet into Morgan's VR gear, lured us here, and then tricked Morgan into killing half the ship's cryo encapsuled crew?"
"But I'm not wearing any gear." the boy insisted. "Mom's okay, Mr. Danziger. Really. She was linked up by the Terrians because she needed it. They told me that's why I can't hear her anymore in my mind. She's been connected."
"Connected to what?" Yale asked. "By whom?"
Right then, Adair came into mental focus, moaning in pain. "OhHHhh.. Danziger? Did Julia find a c- *gasp* Why do I hurt so bad?! I.. my chest,.. my skin!" And then she let out a blood curdling scream, rolling up into an agonized ball of convulsing limbs.
Simultaneously, a scream sounding exactly the same ripped out of the medical tent from Mary as she suddenly came to under Julia's successful ministrations.
"Mom? What's wrong?" Uly asked, hugging one of her shivering hands. "It's not supposed to be hard. I'm sorry. It shouldn't feel bad! She promised that it wouldn't!" he quailed, tears filling his eyes. He tried to Terrian trill a distress clarion to summon help from his subterranean friends, but what came out was all frightened little boy.
Danziger wasted no time. He hefted Adair swiftly up into his arms and raced for Julia. "Yale! You know your way around Eve! Go in there with Cameron and figure out what happened." he ordered, tossing the man his hand reader. "Keep an eye on each other! Shoot any computer monitor that so much as flickers!"
"Right." said Cameron, cocking his Mag-pro into a higher power setting.
John hurried away, encouraging Devon steadily. "Devon, can you hear me? Take a - no, don't hold your breath. Holler again if you have to. We're about a minute away from some instant pain relief. Keep breathing. That's it. In, and out. " he shouted as he rounded a corner of camp. "Julia!"
"What?" came Heller's voice through the tent wall.
"It's Devon! I got her right here!"
"What?!" came three voices from Julia, Morgan and Bess.
Devon let out another long cry of agony. So did Mary.
"Get a pain med. She says she's hurt but I can't find a single mark on her." John said, bursting through the tent's entry flap with his writhing burden.
"Put her on a bed." Heller said, kicking a stool out of the way as she grabbed for her torn apart medical bag. "Bess, see if you can calm Mary down. Her hypo should start working in-"
Suddenly, both of their patients stopped shrieking and calmed into passivity as the promised chemical numbness took hold of Mary.
"Okay, that was weird." said Bess, as her eyes moved back and forth between the faces of their two patients like a tennis match.
"Blankets." Julia ordered. John opened a pair from a nearby pack and quickly handed them over. The doctor used them on Devon, to warm her out of cryo shock.
"Uh, what just happened here, guys?" Morgan asked. Then he stared at John. "Danziger, seeing as you are our official man in charge, I demand you tell me exactly-"
That was the last jab at the ship's mechanic for the day. John unloaded, noisily."I have no friggin' clue, Martin! Now sit down, shut up, and give Julia the space to work on it or I swear I'll knock every one of your nauseatingly bureaucratic teeth down your th-"
"Oh, my. Young ears." warned Bess as Uly suddenly ran into the med tent after them.
"Mom!" cried the boy, running to her side.
"I think I'm okay now.""I think I'm okay now." said both Devon and Mary as they each blew out a relieved breath.
The two women looked at each other when they realized they were both breathing exactly at the same rate and time.
Then Adair blinked. She looked at the ceiling in a sheer act of will, and said. "You first." Her speech came solo.
"No, I'm first." said Julia, running her diaglove over the two of them in turn. "You each have the same sets of vital signs, right down to the exact measurements? No, that can't be right." she puzzled, smacking its diagnostic control panel in irritation.
"My ribs hurt." said Adair.
"Why do my heart bones ache?" asked Mary, about the same thing.
"It's because we had to do CPR." replied John.
"What?" asked Devon. "On me?"
"Not on you. On her." he pointed towards Mary. "And for quite some time, too."
"Oww." Adair grimaced, feeling up her own tender feeling breast bone.
Morgan's face adopted a genuine look of horror. "Oh, now, no way! Quit joking around, Devon. You're beginning to creep me out."
But Adair did not smile to reassure him. Her face remained sick looking.
Julia ran her sensor fingers over the area. "You've no fractures, Devon. There's nothing wrong here."
Mary was internalizing, her fingers tracing the same lines on herself as Devon was doing. "I.. I am the one damaged..."
Devon completed her thought. "... I was the one who should have died."
"Not on my watch." growled John at the two of them.
"We almost ended." said Devon and Mary with one voice.
Mr. Martin just about had a cow. "Stop doing that! Why are you saying and doing things at exactly the same time?" Morgan shouted. "What are you? A pair of robots or something?"
John and Julia's eyes met in a mutual discovery.
"Through Mary's biostat?" Heller theorized.
Danziger shrugged. "Uly told me Devon had just been connected to something by Terrians a few minutes ago. Are they really mentally tied to each other here?"
Julia ran her tool's sensor tips over both Mary and Devon's foreheads, reading their brain wave patterns. "Oh, my G*d." she said. "This is impossible. Their neurological synapses are firing off in identical areas of their brain tissue at nearly the same time! I'd say they are. Physically, too." said Heller, marvelling.
"But the fit is.." started Mary.
"...not perfect." finished Adair. "There's been..."
"...contamination." replied Mary, her face matching Adair's in a like, fiercely introspective grimace.
"What kind?" John asked.
"We do not know." said both of the women, and Uly.
"D*mn." murmured Danziger, eyeing up the boy with his mouth flopping open.
Uly's Terrian staff had made a sudden, earth thrusting reappearance, back into his hand.
Cameron turned to Yale the moment John disappeared into the med tent with his burden. "I'm not going into that ship. Especially not with you. You still can't fire a weapon because of your aversion program."
"Excuse my presumption...but didn't you just agree to do that when John suggested the recon a few seconds ago?" asked Yale.
Cameron eyed up the ship's open hatch, still focused and non-moving with his lined up Mag-pro. "I said 'Right', meaning I agreed with the idea, not 'Right' as in accepting to carry out his orders in the same half-*ssed, brainless way. I got this covered." he reassured the tutor. Cameron lifted two fingers and whistled piercingly in a two note singsong.
Zero came trudging in from his daily sentry duty. "Do you need assistance from this unit?"
"Yes. Enter that ship and scan for anomalous instrument panel readings, active computer functioning, or anything other than the permanent emergency offline mode on the Eve computer net. Eden Project biostat chip humanoid, Devon Adair, was awakened from stasis without a proper manually entered command from one of us. Issue an alert for any abnormal environmental, electrical, biological, or radiological findings. Report back to me in five clicks." Cameron told the android.
Zero twisted his upper body around and began to walk steadily onto the ship's entry pad. "Scouting parameters and orders understood, sir."
"Mark." said Cameron, pushing a button on his wrist timer.
Yale began to smile. "Ahh... Zero as a decoy if it's needed. This action won't put us into any danger."
"H*ll, yeah, it sure won't. John wasn't thinking clearly when he spouted off like that. He was too enamoured with and worried about his precious sleeping beauty of a girlfriend, and don't tell me you haven't noticed those two lately. They've been making eyes at each other every day. Ever since the big waterless incident." Cameron fired off, still raw with nerves and pure adrenaline.
Yale filed away that bit of news, completely unphased. "Well, it's only natural for members of the group to begin to care for each other while living under life or death circumstances for so long. Just look at Julia and Alonzo... or Bess and Morgan with their recent reaffirmation rite, or-"
"Uly and his dirt dragons." Cameron added ruefully. "Do you really call that relationship healthy?!" he spat with disgust.
"For him it is." Yale shared like a sage, with neaty steepled hands. "Because of it, he was cured of his Station Syndrome."
"Those frogs like to invade a very personal space inside of us, Yale, like tapeworms." Cameron cringed, happy to blow off a little more steam.
"Cameron, you are mistaken. Terrians are more like benign messengers to the subconscious part of our minds." Yale countered. "You can break out of contact with them any time you'd like, whenever you sleep."
"Yeah, Cameron. It's not like many of us have the ability to control our dreams anyway." said Alonzo, joining their little group. "So what real harm is there?"
Cameron eyed up Alonzo uneasily. "You tell me, Fly Boy. You haven't exactly been in the best of health after dealing with the Terrians, now have you?"
"That was before I understood what was going on." said Solace, excited. "The planet's learning to talk to us through them."
"Not me." Cameron spat. "I haven't heard jack since Day One."
"That's because they know you won't accept their olive branch." said the pilot.
"Piss off! How do I know you and the others haven't been brainwashed?! Julia with her Frankensteinian injections into her own skull, Uly's magic tricks, you with your waking hallucinations."
"Cameron.." began Solace, reaching out to him in a calming gesture. "It's nothing bad at all. You're just on the outside looking in."
"Get away from me. Both of you. Leave me alone." he bristled. "Can't you see I've got work to do?" Then he paced away to another vantage point so he could watch the hatch through which Zero had disappeared.
Alonzo looked at the tutor with a frown. "So now he likes busy after 149 days of dragging his feet? Go figure." he said sarcastically. Then he stormed off to get fresh news from the med tent.
Yale sighed hugely in mild frustration and continued his vigil at the ship's entrance. "He's stressed. And so are we all." the tutor mumbled to himself.
When Uly's head dropped into a dream trance next to his static coursing Terrian staff, Julia had the presence of mind to turn on an audio recorder that was resting on one of her work tables in the med tent.
"Easy. No sharp movements." John told her. "We have no idea what's running through his head right now."
Morgan's nervousness bubbled out. "You, uh.. mean what's running through their heads." he whispered, half gesturing to the boy and at Mary and Devon. It was only then Heller noticed the status of her two patients. The two connected women's eyes had also drifted shut into an identical trance.
"Where's Alonzo when you need him?" Danziger grumbled, wisely still not moving under the glow of the brightly buzzing, Tesla coil-like energy flickering off of Uly's staff.
It was then Bess Martin had a very focused idea. "Julia?" she asked the doctor. "Do you feel anything going on?" The others suddenly recalled the DNA strands that Heller had stolen from Uly to implant into her own system. Her possible Terrian link was the trait that John had wanted to hide, to block out from the Others, after they had found Mary had been attacked.
"Do I dare?" Julia asked, fingering the masking VR gear she still wore on her head that kept away REM sleep brain waves.
"Yes.""Yes.""Yes." hissed Mary, Devon and Uly with one voice. "You will not be harmed. We need a re-balancer, a restorer who is Not-we to stop the infection."
The group startled, badly. It was the first time Terrians had ever spoken outside of their Dreamscape to anyone not already sensitive to them in their dreams.
Julia was fascinated even in her fear. "They're adapting."
"Definitely not to us or for us." Morgan gaped. "Remember, some of these ...things.. maimed Mary, a human who supposedly used to be one of them!"
Danziger was very doubtful as he recovered from the Terrians' little surprise. "Julia, you once told us Terrians have no instinct for violence towards others of their own kind. Yet today, they've managed to do quite a lot of harm." he said, waving a sarcastic hand towards Mary in agreement with Martin.
"And good." said a defiant Bess, gesturing at the healing Devon to broaden the point.
"It's too risky." barked John. "Bess, your suggestion for Julia may not be a smart one."
"It's my decision to make. It's my body." Heller countered, and she ripped off the VR set.
In the next instant, Uly grabbed one of Julia's hands and placed it on the nimbus radiating Terrian staff, arresting John's attempt to stop her experiment. Heller's head immediately drifted up into a dream trance. The boy began to trill with the doctor, and so did his mother and Mary. Then Uly and the doctor both gestured with one palm and spread fingers facing downwards in a summoning move. The ground opened up holes all over the earth in the med tent as the dirt regurgitated many unconscious Terrian bodies holding glowing bits of Morganite to their chests with folded limbs. Each had some glistening skin with orange glowing ooze bubbling on top of either an arm or a leg; Terrian blood.
One last hole appeared and it vomited out a limp, gigantic humanoid form encased in powerful armor. Its limbs were tied tightly to its back with living vines. The eyes were open and seeing. John gave a shout of visceral horror, scrambling backwards. He knocked over a table in his panic as he drew out his laser pistol to aim squarely at this last arrival. "Uly! What the h*ll do you think you're doing?! This is a ZED here! He's definitely one of the bad guys!"
Bess was candid, although frozen a bit in shock. "Uh, he's not actually moving, John. Those plants look nice and tight around his hands and feet."
Danziger did not change the bead he had inches from the ZED's head. "On this planet, appearances are always deceiving." he growled.
Julia's voice predominated the new quartet of humans linked by the Terrians. "What is the infection?""..what is the infection?" "...what is the infection?" "...what is the infection?"
"Contamination." came the reply through Mary's solo voice. She moved a hand and simultaneously, Uly, Devon and the doctor did the same, to touch both one arm and one leg on each of their bodies. They repeated their gesture, pointedly, eerily matching each other like robots or a machine. "The sky hunter. Poisoned rock. Digging.." she trilled.
Julia stumbled away from the staff as medical instinct kicked in. "They've been attacked." she shivered, as she woke up. She threw on her diaglove and knelt quickly by the nearest Terrian who was reading as being in metabolic stasis. "They've been impaled by.. oh my G*d... " she broke off.
"What?" quailed Morgan.
Julia caught her breath. "Worm bullets. All of these Terrians have been shot by one. But somehow, this Morganite energy field has paused their self destruct countdowns."
The ZED under John's gun spoke. "A new directive. Target indigenous bipedal life forms and interrogate."
John shoved his gun muzzle deeply into the back of the ZED's neck, its only weak spot. "Hey, that's Eve's voice!"
Quickly, Julia grabbed up a hypoderm from her medbag and injected a fatal dose of medication into the armored cyborg's skull and spine vertebral notch, killing it. "Whew..That was close." Heller sighed as its heartbeat disappeared from her scanner.
"Now I understand what's going on here." Danziger said, reholstering his weapon. "Eve's found a new operating system."
The physician was dismayed in another way, and saddened by what she was seeing in all the wounded Terrians. "They can't talk back in the way the ZEDs want. ZEDs are like Yale. They can't dream." she said, shifting her attention to their care.
"So they keep on shooting, trying to find a talker." said Danziger.
"The sky hunters found Mother-By-Choice, who does. I- I was teaching her how to Speak in a waking way to me." said Mary. "Now she is poisoned, too."
"Where is she?" Uly/Devon asked. "If she's been shot, we can help. Julia's a good healer."
"Running in the earth. The Others pursue her to cull her life, like they wanted mine to end." answered Mary. "They feel we make the scent which allows the sky hunters to find us."
"If it's metabolic, maybe I can find a cure." Heller told her.
"That is why we are curing our human tie's mother." Mary replied.
::She means Devon.:: thought Bess. "Symbiosis." Martin marveled, sweeping back her long hair. "That's what the planet will always try to do. Don't you see? This tribe of Terrians are bargaining like ants to the aphids for honey dew."
"But Eve's not alive." said John, catching on. "She's nothing they can effectively influence like they can us."
"If the Terrians have zero leverage and absolutely no defense against the ZED,.." Julie agreed as she and the others began to prepare multiple surgeries to free their new patients from their torturing devices. "...they had to come to us. They've learned that we know how to master our machines."
"All except one." grumbled Morgan, about Eve.
Danziger's voice, narrating."I'm tired. We all are. The ZED nightmare rearing up again is mental acid; wearing at most of our strength, and all of our courage. Uly, Mary and Devon are no longer connected. The Terrians released them once Julia agreed to patch them up. But the whole situation still begs the question. Why has Eve suddenly switch tactics? We cured her, she cured us. End of story. Or so we thought. Makes me wonder what other hidden consequences are waiting for us in the murky shadows of that d*mned ship."
Yale and Cameron licked their lips nervously as they eyeballed the dark open entrance leading into the sleeper ship.
"Hey, Mr. Cyborg, are you glad we're not hooked into Zero's V.R.? I'm glad we're not hooked into V.R., because we have no idea what Eve can do now that she's fully repaired." said the stout man, fingering his weapon's firing pin over and over again. "If it weren't for those food replicators in there, I'd've blown up the ship to smithereens days ago. Majority vote or not."
"With Devon Adair still interred inside?" Yale fired back, getting righteously angry.
Cameron was frank. "She was dead meat as far as we were concerned. Even Julia said so." shrugged the watchman. "If I were in her shoes, and dying like that, euthanasia would have been a kindness."
"All life is sacred, Cameron. We have to respect that notion. Especially on G889."
"Oh, yeah? Tell that to Eve. She almost wiped the floor with you and the rest of us because of a little misprogramming."
"She was made by us and so she has our flaws." said the tutor.
"No. She was made by one single human being, acting on his own. Dr. Franklin Bennet decided to play G*d, so he created his monster just to tidy up." Cameron spat. "Doesn't that make you mad as h*ll? We almost died because of Eve."
Yale said nothing, thinking the unbidden. ::And we are still alive because of her.:: He rubbed his eyes in weariness, almost feeling the usual pulsing he knew was there in his biostat implant. ::Far away, yet tethered still to the Stations. Will we ever be entirely free?:: he wondered.
Zero's voice came over their hand held radio. ##I am picking up signs of movement. One biped.##
"What?!" Cameron interjected. "Someone got past us?! Impossible!" he said, lifting his Mag-pro to his shoulder to sight his cross hairs at the entrance.
Zero's flaxen soft voice modulator spoke again. ##I have it in range. 20.6 meters from the central core.##
Yale shouted a command. "Identify!"
##Lifeform is wounded. Body temperature is below ambient. There is no biostat signature.##
Cameron shot to his feet. "D*mn it, Zero. Is it Grendler, penal colonist, Koba or Terrian?"
## I am reading a second life form with cyborgnetic signatures. Standing approximately 3.5 meters high. Weighing...##
Cameron transmitted a message. "Danziger! Rally everybody! We've got a ZED and something else in the ship!"
John's voice snapped into being. ##Get out of there , A.S.A.P.! Do not engage. We've got ourselves a real can of worms here, too!##
Cameron toggled back. "We'll leave Zero as a distraction."
##Understood.## came both John's and Zero's voice. ##Secure the airlock. It might slow it down.## came Danziger's voice.
Yale and the watchman did so and scrambled backwards into heavy cover. They got swiftly back to camp with fear as sharp as a wolf nipping at their heels.
Devon Adair, narrating. "As strange as it seems, I feel reborn. My son said he felt the same way after the Terrians cured him. Julia has given me a clean bill of health but I know my troubles, internal and external, are far from over."
Devon had propped herself up against a cabinet next to her cot as she nursed a hot tea made of tunnel fruit. As the others talked, she looked around and saw the remnants of shredded earth the treated Terrians had left behind once they had been freed from their boring incendiary worm bullets. The ZED's body had already been burned to deactivate any tracing device Eve might have been using.
"How is she staying alive?" simpered Morgan, casting a careless hand back at Devon's bed. "I thought we needed biostat implants to keep us breathing on this godforsaken planet!"
"I don't know, Morgan." said Julia defensely. "There's a lot about G889 that I don't know."
"You sure knew a lot about the Council, and Riley. Enough to turn yourself part Terrian. Maybe you secretly know more than what you're letting on!"
John intervened. "Martin, can it! That's old news. We voted on accepting Heller back into the group. That includes treating her like a human being when she's in the room."
"Is she human? Is she any longer?" Morgan rounded on the others, passionate in his fear of recent developments. "Just what in h*ll is this planet doing to us anyway? I feel like I'm dissolving-"
"...into something I'm not." said Mary, stunned, from her cot.
The others were shocked into silence after she had spoken.
Uly knelt by her bed. "Mary, it's okay. I'm here. So's mom."
True smiled, too. "We'll find your mother. I promise." she told Mary.
John was more wary than nurturing. "Mary, are you connected to anybody right now?"
"I... do not understand." said the burn healing girl.
Julia raised her diaglove and performed a scan. "Only one set of brainwaves. She's entirely herself."
Devon smiled. "John, she's fine. She's just realizing that she's one of us. At last." Wavering, Adair got up unsteadily and wobbled over to Mary's bed to hug her joyfully. "Mary, it's okay. We'll take care of you. You're truly a part of our family now."
Cameron and Yale burst into the tent. "You fought a different ZED? We passed its corpse burning out there."
John grinned. "We didn't have to. The Moon Pool Terrians did all the hard work for us. We just had to euthanize it."
Yale and the watchman were not comforted by that bit of news at all as they took up places next to the others.
Danziger patted a crate. "Have a seat. I'll get you caught up. I already know what you found via Zero." he said, hefting up his radio.
The decision was made to keep all V.R. gear inactive for the duration, as long as ZEDs were being dreamscape reported by the Terrians as being in the immediate area, for safety.
"Eve can't track us through it, but they might." Danziger theorized.
"So what does she actually hope to accomplish by interrogating the Terrians?" Yale wondered.
"I don't know. " Danziger answered truthfully.
Julia added more. "Whatever it is, it's a different goal than what the Council wanted with us."
Yale was thoughtful. "Everyone, I have a confession to make. While I was in the interface trying to access Bennet's cure for Eve, I saw something very odd in her database. I saw colonists, ones I didn't know, being slaughtered, one by one. And their murderers weren't of penal origin."
"Bennet spoke of losses in his Eden Project members. He just wasn't very forthcoming on any details." John surmised. "Who do you think they were if this was an accurate record?" he asked the tutor. "Were they human?"
"I'd have to say no." Yale replied, haunted.
"They weren't Terrian." declared Uly. "I know my friends. They wouldn't attack us."
Mary agreed. "They don't know how to...to end a life."
Heller frowned. "That's true. Only the Others have tried."
"Grendlers." Morgan sighed. "They know how. Remember Commander O'Neill?"
John took in a long deep breath and let it out again. "So where does this leave us concerning Eve? Is she really being benevolent, or the opposite?"
"There's only one way to find out." Alonzo said.-
It was an hour later and the lurid pink sun was just reaching the horizon of Spring Flower Mountain in the distance. Julia had gone to bathe off the Terrian blood that had splattered onto her only surgical overalls and the others had gone to cook some food for an early evening meal. Alonzo was filling in for Zero on perimeter patrol and Bess and Morgan had decided to try their hand finding Terrian craters, the ones left behind when any of them earth walked in addition to volunteering to be the night's food chefs.
Cameron, Yale, Baines, Magus and Walman were keeping up steady vigilance on the sleeper ship from a safe distance.
::Whatever that means, considering that dirt underfoot equals being in reach of any Terrians' grasp.:: John thought. Then a hail got his attention from the details of minding the camp.
##There's still no sign of the two intruders trying to leave the ship.## reported Baines to Danziger on radio.
"Thanks. I'll be right out." he transmitted back from his place sitting by Devon's bed in the med tent.
He thought she was still asleep but then her eyes opened.
Adair took in a deep breath and then smiled sleepily. "I know what you're thinking." she said to John. "I felt the same way in those shoes."
He had grace enough to look embarrassed. "Have I been that bad as the group leader? I can tell you that I haven't been very popular lately." he grinned.
"No leader is." she said, taking his hand in gratitude. "There's always someone who bucks the authority."
John chuckled. "You mean, like I did when you were in charge?"
Devon inclined her head. "I found your particular brand of acid feedback as a valuable assessment tool." she admitted.
"Oh, really?" said Danziger, amused, squeezing her hand back in simple human contact as he watched tears of stress that Devon didn't know were there roll down her face.
"Sure." she said, coughing away some cryo-phlegm. "The more you complained, the more I knew my top decision was the right one to make." she shared, laughing.
"So am I right on the big one?" he asked, letting go of her hand so he could pour her another doctor prescribed cup of fruit tea. "I was wondering when you'd find out."
Devon met his eyes evenly as the fresh air coming in from the sunny, open tent flap buoyed her. "I did the math. I did the supplies' calculations. I even consider what we could build vehicle wise using parts scavenged from the ship." she said thoughtfully. "But you've been right all along. Even if we were to somehow miraculously have a rover for every person in Eden Project, so no one would have to walk anymore, we'd need to cover 300 clicks a day, every day, to arrive at New Pacific in time to meet the Syndrome families. And even best case scenario, on perfectly flat terrain, I figure we'd be there only two days before their ships land."
John fired a mock there you go finger gun at her with some relief. "And here I was, afraid you'd be mad at me for bucking the flow. But, yeah. There's no time left for us to get there to prepare and build a settlement for them. Not without killing ourselves first."
Devon took a sip from the drink he offered her, savoring its steam. "Was I so blind that I couldn't see how dangerous what I was pushing on everybody really was?"
John immediately shook his head. "We all wanted first contact. Ah, scratch that. I mean with our own kind." he said pointedly. "We're lost, Devon." he shrugged. "Maybe not on the compass but certainly as a coordinated advance relief effort. Since we crashed, it's always been a matter of survival first."
"That's what doomed Earth." Devon frowned.
"It's in our genes. It's instinct." Danziger said.
Adair scoffed, causing the monitors analyzing her vital signs to bleep in warning. "We're more intelligent than just pure knee jerk, mindless behavior, aren't we?"
John smiled and leaned into her to plant a friend's kiss on top of her nose. "Yep. Because we folk, most unfavored by G889, are all asking that very same question." he said sagely as he rose back onto his feet.
Devon finally relaxed a bit, giving into her fatigue as she stroked a sleeve of still sleeping Uly, stretched out beside her. Her unconscious tears began to flow faster as hope returned as she acknowledged a new mental surrender of her leadership to match the physical one.
Danziger shouldered his Mag-pro. "I'll keep everybody safe. Don't worry on that front. No way am I going to give up the ghost to the Great Big Ball Of Mud."
Devon laughed and wiped the moisture from her nose that seemed to surprise her.
Danziger ached to give her some emotional privacy. "I'd ...better go see to the current unknown two threatening camp." and he began backing subconsciously away. Then he remembered. "Oh. this spare radio. It's an old fashioned analog. No way can Eve tap into that ancient of a thing. You can listen in to what we're doing, point for point."
"Thanks." Devon whispered, taking it numbly. "Good luck."
Danziger nodded at her and left the med tent behind to meet up with the rest of camp.
John made his way into the long reach of the mountain's shadow that had given them this campsite's usual early sunset. The spicy bite in the air was going away for the night, replaced by a sour one that the dying spring flowers were making. He whistled softly as he approached so his sentries wouldn't aim a weapon at him by mistake. ::Accidents could happen.:: he realized in his thoughts.
Baines smiled, his teeth showing white in the Stunted Wood Grove that edged the valley in which the sleeper ship lay. He wasted no time arranging his own entertainment. He tossed a pair of spotter glasses at Danziger without preamble. "Check out two o'clock. This is good." he dangled.
Danziger made a face and shifted the viewer's control to night vision to tune out the natural phosphorescence of the Morganite outcrops sticking up here and there in that direction.He saw a movement, and noted a harmless Koba glider flying just above the red grassline. He startled when a feathery plant bearing an odd, prominent stalk suddenly shifted by itself to face the path of the retreating reptilian insect. A whole row of them did, spookily. He almost dropped the viewer.
Baines started laughing and picked up a rock. He threw it hard into the air over the field of the yellow plants and a ripple effect of turning stalks followed its trajectory perfectly. "Looks like the planet's growing a little paranoid these days. We call them eye ferns. They're beginning to crop up all over the place. They're especially thick right around the ship and get this, all of the eye stalks down there are facing it."
"Are they dangerous?" Danziger asked.
"Nope, they don't bite or spit. They just like to watch things." Magus reported. "They pop back into the ground when you try to grab or step on one. They also seem to... come back up later once the coast is clear again."
"How much you want to bet this is the Terrians' doing?" asked Baines.
"Terrian farmers seeding a crop that spies on other lifeforms? Knowing how this place likes to be symbiotic between all its native residents, no bet." John took a closer look at one of the embryo eye ferns poking slightly out of the ground at his feet carefully, without scaring it into a retreat reaction. "They smell like fresh water."
Cameron shrugged. "How else to lure your alien enemies into camera range? Give them the scent of something they can't live without."
The thought of the planet putting out bait was disconcerting, however benign the eye ferns were. "Creepy. Let's use them, too, then. Watch the plants instead of the woods for ZEDS or Terrians. These things might react long before we can see anything ourselves." John suggested.
A rustle of eye stalks made the group whirl about with weapons lifted. It was the boy, Uly. He was wading through the eye ferns as he came. Instead of retreating, the plants seemed to caress his trousered legs and shoes as he passed. He was without his Terrian staff, seemingly obvious to the new plants growing in the grove.
"Hi. Didn't mean to scare you. Mom asked me to tag along and tell her what's going on myself." he said. "She said she you might forget to use your radios."
John cautiously picked him up and watched as the plants writhed in vain, trying to find the boy again. "Where's True?"
"Back at camp, cooking dinner with the Martins. Hey, you know what? Julia found a new edible plant we can eat. They're boiling some now to clean it off."
John relaxed, just a little, as the smell of spring water grew stronger around them in response to the boy. "Oh, yeah? What do they look like?" he said,returning Uly's hug of greeting.
"They're these things." he said, reaching down to pick one of the eye ferns. The plant seemed to sacrifice itself willingly and it let its new roots rip from the ground. Uly began stuffing the plant into his mouth with a relish. "They taste like pickles. Julia says they're full of nutrients and vitamins and an.. uh... antibe... antibo.."
"Antibiotics." Danziger supplied, watching with fascination.
"Yeah! That's the word! They're medicine!" he said triumphantly.
"Terrian derived for sure." mumbled Magus in mute horror. "It's like they love him."
"Want some?" the boy asked holding out his clump of eye fern salad.
"Uh, I think I'll pass." John told him honestly. "Takes me a while to try new recipes."
Uly nodded and moved over to sit on a fallen lavender moss covered log to eat the rest of his snack.
"Stay put." Danziger added.
"I will." the boy promised. "I've got everything I need right here." he said innocently. That comment disturbed John for the contentment in it on an obviously very alien world.
Danziger turned back to the others quickly. "I don't want to wait for full darkness. Despite our new friends' abilities. We've got to find out what's going on inside of that ship. Any word from Zero?"
"He's like a stuck record. Reporting the same information, over and over again." supplied Cameron. "Two bipeds.. and then he launches into their size and weight statistics and positional coordinates."
"Pretty useless for a multi million credit bot." Magus quipped.
"There's nothing like human eyes for spotting trouble." John agreed. "All right. Now how are we going to go about this? We'll need sleep badly before dawn comes again if we just sit on it like we've been doing. I want to keep the advantage of still sharp senses. Any ideas?"
Before anyone could answer, rising darkness forced the whole camp to reconvene over a roaring camp fire for warmth and light.
Danziger finished stoking the fire with a long stick into a healthy bonfire. Then he poked it into the gray sand next to him. "All right. Again, I'll ask the question, now that everybody's within ear shot as agreed. How are we going to handle what might be going on inside of Bennet's sleeper ship?" he shrugged for lack of better words.
Cameron was cranky, because the dinner Bess was preparing wasn't done cooking yet. "I'll go first. How about sending in that half way trained sorry excuse of a Koba of True's? That way, he , she... er... it can take out a ZED with a finger dart without risking human skins doing it."
"Cameron!" True protested.
"Shush, True-girl. He's kidding." said John, kissing the top of her head. Danziger's silent glare afterwards, shooting Cameron's way, was far hotter than the fire.
A soft throat clearing preceded a wordless grunt of disapproval from Devon and soon worked its magic.
The burly man instantly piped down and drew his remnant Bedouin hat's sun flaps around his face self consciously. "Sorry, ma'am." he apologized to the child. "I guess I'm getting a little hungry." said Cameron.
True wordlessly ripped up a few compliant edible alien eye stalk ferns, and threw them vehemently at his chest.
"Thanks." Cameron sighed blandly, cautiously pushing the writhing things away from himself with a boot. He didn't watch them squirm back into the ground so he wouldn't throw up.
Yale was intrigued, just the opposite. Before the last shredded stem disappeared, he snagged it with a few fingers. Then he ate the plant, eye stalk and all. "Tasty." he said, winking at True.
The crunching, squishing sound made was more than enough to tip Cameron's stomach over the edge. He began to heave and hastily excused himself to go vomit behind a rock.
True finally smiled. "Thanks, Yale. He was mean to Kitty."
The tutor was thoughtful. "True, do you think your pet would come if you called him to investigate the ship for us?"
"I.. don't know." she said with reservations. "He doesn't like anybody else. Just me."
"And me." protested Uly, sitting on a log next to his sleepy mother.
True ignored her counterpart. "Kitty might not understand me enough to go play a scout dog. He's a cat."
"He's a Koba." Uly corrected snottily.
Devon shoved another eye stalk snack into her son's mouth to quiet his hostility. "Enough bickering. All of you. Go ahead, John." she sighed, stoically ignoring her shaky coordination as she reached for one of the cups of restorative teas Julia was handing out to everyone. "We don't have to start this discussion over, that would just waste time."
Danziger eyed up the group and settled on one person. "Mary? What are your thoughts on this whole matter?"
Mary angled her head sadly as if listening for signs of missing Mother-By-Choice moving underneath them. "The sky hunters must be stopped. Our Mother approves of using the small life in this way. That is its purpose, to serve the Terrians."
The group gasped. John's thoughts began to race at the implications. ::Hierarchy in the natives?::
Morgan opened his mouth to spout off about that new potential can of worms, when Bess cut him off. "Martin, stay on topic or I'm coming over there." she threatened, waving a spoon, dripping with a fantastically smelling flower stew gravy from the cooking pot.
"Oh. Ooo.." he sputtered. "Well..All right, okay.. Fine. I'll take first plate as payment for my continued silence." he bargained deftly, wiggling gimme fingers at the cooking pot.
"Bess, pay it." said Alonzo passionately. "We've still got this meeting to complete, a save-butt mission to start, and two enemies to kill off." he complained.
"Alonzo, the healthy first? Julia, forgive me for making Devon, True and Mary eat last." Bess chided, dished out the food to her husband with a scowl.
"We'll starve him next meal to make up for it." Julia held up a hand. "Solace, let's back track a click. Two enemies? We know the ZEDs are hostile. But do we really have any evidence that Eve is, too?"
"Question of the hour." Yale said mysteriously. "She is still keeping us alive."
"She's the one who sickened us in the first place!" Cameron spat.
"She cured us after she realized we were dying." said Yale coolly.
"Only by someone else's command." Cameron argued.
"We don't know that the Council ordered that. Not for sure." John replied. "Eve or Reilly or whatever the h*ll it is, was just a machine malfunctioning on a crashed ship at that point."
"And maybe a machine on a satellite." grinned Uly.
"Smart boy." Devon whispered, ruffling his hair.
John blinked as he took a few mental steps back to consider the boy's intelligent input. "That's possible, too." he acknowledged, without skipping a beat. "She was seeking us out and seemed rather remote doing it, proximity wise, and through her Reilly persona communications with us."
True stated the obvious. "Listen you guys. We're being stupid and as jumpy as..as...as kobas. Nothing's happened to us since we were healed up. Even when we were still using our gear. So why don't we just talk to Eve? Isn't she the best one to ask about what's happening with that ZED camping out in the ship?"
The whole camp fell silent. Then one by one, they began to grin.
"From the mouths of babes." chuckled Yale. "My goodness. Yes. It's so simple."
"No, it's not." Mr. Martin snivelled.
Bess banged her cooking spoon on the rim of the plate Morgan was emptying with a fork, and almost made him drop it into the sand. "Shh!"
He cringed and folded around his food protectively.
Mrs. Martin blew some bangs out of her face with satisfaction. "Let's go with True's suggestion. Best one I've heard all day." Bess breathed excitedly. "Besides, it never hurts to try anything new."
"On this planet, that's iffy." retorted Alonzo.
Bess glared at him. "A few words flying around are sure better than worm bullets." she said, arching a delicate eyebrow.
Eden Project may have been pinned down, but they had learned their ZED lessons well. The smallest targets were shot last in a ZED's mind. True and Uly were guided via channel isolated gear to crawl on their stomachs to the front of the rise overlooking the ship's clearing so they wouldn't be scanned by either the soldier cyborg or Eve. True was dragging the knapsack she used to use to hide Kitty in. Now, it was just delivering their surprise living anti-ZED payload, a VR gear radio collared Koba.
"Here, Kitty." said True, holding out a morsel of spirulina cake. "I've got a treat for you."
The Koba bass mewled timidly, but sniffed, swallowed the morsel, and soon tortoise walked out of the bag the children had placed facing the drop off.
Then Uly did his part. "Okay, mom." he whispered into his gear. "Open the door."
A remote command from the adults watching through distance viewers, rolled up the airlock hatch.
Uly drew out a surviving toy dating back to Earth, a well made sling shot.
True held out the rest of the food bar temptingly to Kitty and then passed it off to Uly. "Kitty, want some more?"she crooned.
Uly fitted the food onto the band's pad, drew it back, and fired. "Go fetch!" he hissed whispered. The cake landed neatly hundreds of feet down and inside the ship through the portal door.
The Koba's mouth opened wide in a distressed oh. And then it chittered unhappily at the humans as it raced down into the valley after his treat.
"Okay, he's left for it now." True reported on gear.
##Good going. Now, get back to camp.## John ordered.
Giggling like kids freed from tutor school, True and Uly slithered steathily away, back the way they had come.
"So how long might this take?" Yale wondered.
John was surprised a bit by the question, but then he remembered that Yale was laid up with a bullet hole when the rest of the group learned how a ZED chose its interrogation targets. He smiled craftily. "Well, considering Kitty is the only new living thing on that ship. It won't take long for him to draw a bead. For he's the biggest target in range."
Soon a shot was fired and bounced around the ship as the worm bullet missed its fast running target. They could hear the Koba chittering loudly as he galloped around on the walls, behind chairs, on top of consoles, and across the ceiling, trying to find a way to reach the food at the ZED's metallic feet.
They heard the ZED begin a strange litany, different from the usual captured prisoner dialog. ##Sending non-speaking decoys will not deter me from my mission. You will turn over the changed one to me immediately.##
Stunned, the group listening in over the transrover's radio receiver, was speechless.
The Koba harrassed ZED spoke again. ## I will neutralize your trained animal. Then you will-##
*Pfft!* came a sound. They all heard it. It was the sound of a koba lobbed nail thorn hitting its target.
##Arrghhh. *gasp*## went the ZED over the transmission. Then a huge thud of his body hitting the ground followed seconds later. Last came the contented murmur of the Koba as he finally got to his pre-rewarded snack.
Devon clapped her hands together in triumph, celebrating. "Good going, True. Your koba bond worked, even through armor." she said happily.
Morgan swallowed drily. "I wouldn't wish that experience on anybody. Not even on a ZED." he bemoaned, feeling up his right hand at the memory of the time he had been Koba stung.
True laughed happily, then she whistled on the carved Terrian bone whistle Gaal had given her to recall Kitty to her side so she and Yale could return him back to his tree nest.
John caressed his daughter's head. "I'm proud of you, True girl. You were right. Once you understand something on this planet, you can definitely use it."
They entered the ship cautiously, then rushed to roll the heavy ZED over so they could chain secure his limbs until the time he woke back up again. They left the Koba finger thorn in place to act like a sedative. Julia rigged a small electrode to its raw flesh muscled end so they could zap it via remote to deliver more venom if they had to control any surprise escape attempt. Once that was done, the jumpy Eden Project group turned around and swiftly faced the monitor they had disabled a few days ago to keep Eve from appearing before them on a screen while they had worked on Devon's cryo sleep chamber preparation.
John picked up a Mag-pro, and nodded for Zero to turn on that computer panel while they all hid out sight of Eve's sensors and visual pickups. He kept its muzzle aimed firmly at the center of the computer screen as it glowed back into life.
Eve's elegant Council Woman image avatar appeared instead of the Reilly program.
Danziger hushed the group into silence and then he waved at Zero to begin speaking.
The robot unit begain. "Exoplanet Vehicular Executable. This module's been directed to open communications between you and my scouting party. Are you receiving my audio feed?" Zero asked.
E.V.E. rotated her screen on its ceiling pivot. "Thank you for reactivating me. I was beginning to wonder whether or not this mission failed its objective. Where are Dr. Franklin Bennet and Elizabeth Anson?"
Zero angled its head module, waiting for Danziger's motion to reply to the computer program.
John nodded in affirmation.
"The bipeds associated with those biostat identifications are deceased."
##How did they terminate?## asked Eve.
Zero replied. "According to Julia Heller records stored in my mission log, they ceased biological functioning because of Cryo Sleep Syndrome. The attempts to preserve their life signs failed despite following proper medical procedures." it said pleasantly.
Eve's expression did not change. ##I am reading a Zero active, but no longer one ZED. And I am reading thirteen biostat chip lifesigns present in close proximity. Why are they not active on visual feed? I am detecting multiple humanoid breath sounds on audio and brain wave patterns indicate that they are all conscious.##
Zero replied. "I do not have the answer to your question."
Danziger nodded again, to prompt Zero to continue his assignment.
The saccharin sounding robot engaged Eve once more. "Are you in tandem link with all terrestrial ZED bipeds?"
Eve surprisingly ignored the query. "I have been reading a delay in the return of completely healthy vital functions in all members of Eden Project Group Two. I wish to expedite original state parameters. This aligns with my inviolate core command programming."
Zero tried again to invoke his interview directives. "Why are ZED units targetting bipedal indigenous life forms?"
"I do not have the answer to your question." And then Eve blinked for the first time ever. Just once.
"Liar..." hissed Devon under her breath.
John's finger itched to pull the trigger.
But Devon slowly shook her head. ::Not yet.:: "We don't know enough." she mouthed silently, her eyes frightened and angry.
Zero's finger lifted and pointed suddenly, following a thread of programming that was in place to preserve life. "The second set of biological life sign readings have disappeared off my sensors. They are no longer at their previous location six meters from the door." he reported.
The group startled, looking back the way they had come. The space behind them was empty, save for the night outlined open hatch.
Yale whispered in sudden shock. "That's right. He did say that there were two. I had forgotten it. I am so sorry." whirling around nervously.
John sank lower down into the protective shadow of a bulkhead. "If the second's not the ZED. What and where the h*ll is it?" he said, hugging his Mag-pro to a cheek to keep down out of Eve's sight. Finally deciding enough is enough, he shouted out the order. "Zero! Terminate monitor!"
"No, wait!" shouted Eve as the robot reached out and operated the control that turned off the rotating computer screen that was projecting Eve's image. Her awareness flicked out.
Gasping with stress, Danziger dropped his head in relief for a few seconds before hypervigilance kicked in again. "It's time you obeyed your new masters. Shut up for a while." he told Eve's blank screen.
"Good move, turning her off for now. We've got clues enough. We'll puzzle out the rest of Eve later." Devon added.
John nodded. "Everybody spread out! Let's see if we can find that other source Zero detected."
Nobody moved from their hiding places.
Danziger flicked on his strapped on head and arm lumalights and shot to his feet confidently. "Don't worry, guys. She's muzzled." he promised. "I am a mechanic, aren't I? You can trust my work on Zero. He knows what he's doing around Eve."
The Eden Group turned on their light sources and rose to their feet in pairs, back to back instinctively at first, with either weapons or scanners, or infrared viewers in hand. Then one by one, they began to probe and cover the darkness of the ship. Uly and True were kept inside the circle of outward facing men and guns as they moved along, inch by inch.
Alonzo moved closer to the physician. "Anything showing up on your glove past this stinking pile of cyber meat?" he said, keeping his weapon at the ready as he nudged the Koba claw sedated ZED at their feet.
Heller frowned, punching buttons on its control. "Not yet. I'll walk around with a stronger scan."
John chuckled. "These bulkheads were made to mask an awful lot. Gotta love those paranoid Council appointed engineers. They realized they had enemies everywhere."
Devon raised an ironic eyebrow. "And you don't?" she teased.
"I'm from the Space Stations." he mocked sarcastically, grinning back. "Ships are my friends."
"Not this one." scoffed Baines, taking relish in overturning pieces of leftover, half a century old debris surrounding the cryosleep bay as he searched for footprints in the dust.
"Hey, take it easy on the evidence." Morgan motioned. "We might need to scan that stuff."
"My eyeballs are good enough to find any trail." he snapped at Martin. "That's the only thing left we need to find."
True suddenly tugged on her father's jacket. "Dad, we're in an electronic dampening field, right?"
Danziger cocked his head. "That's about the size of it. It's blended into the alloy, a passive EM scrambler."
"Then we need a better tracker. I've got an idea." The little girl suddenly darted out of the circle. True didn't stop. She was outside in seconds.
"True! Get back here!" John roared. "We don't know where that second bogey i-." he broke off as she disappeared. "D*mn. I hate adolescence. Cameron, go after her!" Danziger ansed, torn between protecting the group and going after his daughter.
"Right." said the man, shouldering his Mag-pro so he could run.
Seconds later, the watchman ran almost pell mell straight back into her when she suddenly reappeared at the entrance, holding something. With a sick jolt, he saw that she was carrying a newborn yellow eye stalk fern in both of her palms on top of a cradle of slimey gray sand.
"True?" Bess cautioned. "Watch out touching that."
Devon agreed. "Bess is right, True. We don't know what else our new food can do to us."
"It's all right. I'm being careful." True said triumphantly, holding the delicate plant tenderly, like a butterfly. "It let me take it."
Uly suddenly spoke, concentrating. "It's okay, mom. She's doing what it wants."
Devon eyed up her son. "A-all right. I'll stay back." she said uncertainly, but trusting, swallowing dryly. Suddenly the eyestalk fern shrank back and recoiled into a ball when it fell under the beam of Devon's lumalight.
True backed up quickly until it was in shadow again. "Turn out your light, Devon. I think it's hurting it." she said.
"Hurting it?" John retorted, surprised.
"It's not sunlight. It's artificial." Julia surmised.
"Light is light." Cameron said. "What's the difference?"
"It may be the wrong kind. Like air can be for us." Heller clarified. Then she directed her attention to the boy. "Uly, uh... does it have what it needs?"
"Yes. It was just looking for a way to move from the ground." he said confidently.
True giggled. "We're perfect for that. We've got hands."
They all watched as True stepped cautiously around in a circle, holding out the eye fern like a dowser with divining rod.
The eye stalk finally settled, pointing determinedly at the row of cyrosleep beds along the wall.
"What th-?" Baines gaped, when he noticed. "Wasn't Devon the last one to be in one of those things?"
Julia whistled low in her throat as she held out a probing web of spread fingers that were attached to her diaglove. "Oh, boy." she sighed softly. "I'm reading organic mass over there in one of the pods. I don't know why I didn't notice this before."
"It's the field." guessed True.
All the men raised their Mag-pros and aimed it the same way the eye fern was looking.
John turned to their robot. "Zero? Getting anything on that?"
"I am reading only Eden Project signatures and one deceased bioform which identifies as-"
"The Z.E.D.'s not dead you brainless bucket of bolts. He's just rodent mickeyed for a few days." Morgan spat.
Cautiously, Danziger reached out with a spanner hook he snagged from a nearby dusty table top.
He tapped the door button and it opened.
Frozen fog gushed out and the cubicle spot light went on, searing the eye fern in True's hands instantly to a shrill sounding, screeching death. The girl screamed and dropped what was left of it, cradling her hands to herself protectively.
Distracted, the adults didn't notice when Mary rushed forward from the midst of them and began to trill in distress at what she began to sense. Uly took up her cry and immediately understood what Mary had discovered."It's Mother-By-Choice! She's the one in trapped inside!" he shouted, moving near Mary to put a soft hand on the girl's head in kinship as she dropped to her knees and began to keen in sadness and mourning.
"The Terrian who adopted Mary?" Martin asked.
Coughing, John Danziger used a piece of console sheeting to wave away the vapors of suspended animation. Then his mouth flopped open. Mary's Terrian mother was wearing an implant and a hologrip device on temple and hand that was at once both very familiar and sickening. Poorly installed human devices were crudely violating the bonded alien being; the trademark tools of a tutor class cyborg.
Yale gasped. "Those are exactly like mine!" he whispered in horror. "Oh, my G*d. Does that mean that Eve made me?"
Devon stepped curiously forward a few steps for a better look at the suspended Terrian's fresh robotic augmentations. "We're missing something vital here. Let's not jump to hasty conclusions, Yale. Maybe Eve learned what you are only after you were in her link trying to restore her default settings to save the rest of us."
The tutor shook his head, grunting. "She knew. We Yales have been around just as long as she has. Time enough for her to learn even our flaws." he whispered, too low for any of the others to overhear.
She saw that Yale had gone suddenly distant like he usually did in the past whenever one of his shooting attack dreams began to haunt him. He said nothing in reply. "Yale?" she prompted.
He ignored her, his staring eyes clouding over with an unidentified emotion. She touched him on the arm and was relieved when his unencumbered hand reached up to clasp her own in unspoken, warm reassurance in spite of the new, tortured look on his face. "I'm just thinking. There's a lot of data I accessed then that I should have attended to after Eve was restored."
"Whose records?" Adair asked.
"The ones I talked about before. The time stamped recorded killings that occurred among Bennet's Eden Project colonists." Yale offered.
John was thoughtful, leaning on the butt of his Mag-pro. "What are you seeing now, Yale?"
"Grendlers. Looking like she does now." he sighed sharply, in distress, pointing at Mother-By-Choice.
Morgan quailed. "Oh, that's just great. Really great." he spat sarcastically."Are you're suggesting that Eve built an army of Grendlers with Yale program enhancements just so she could kill off Bennet's party one by one fifty years ago? That doesn't make any sense. Franklin told me, I mean the VR program 'Franklin' that Eve used on me, told me that the sleepers on the ship could help us figure out why we were dying. Why would Eve lead us to this ship and risk us learning about her self destructing duplicity in the first place, when she could have just as easily used those Grendler soldiers to do her dirty work of eliminating us, with her still safely hidden?"
Alonzo stated the obvious. "She was dying. Name one robot or machine that's not programmed with a self preservation law."
Julia added more. "Grendlers don't live very long, Morgan. The one we encountered who reacted to Whalen and Dell's holo battle was at the very end of his biological life. I remember scanning his chromosomal telomere lengths and they were no longer dividing. That was his death sentence. On that very day, when he walked away from us, he ended. Twenty years was pushing his maximum life span, even for him. Only his empathy for an alien mother trying to reach her son kept him alive for so long."
Danziger shifted on his feet, uncomfortable with developments."Yale, those records of yours are a mute point regardless of what happened then and why. It's been fifty years of cryosleep time since Bennet and the others." John reasoned. "All those mechanized Grendlers, even if they were real and not some sort of software induced generated nightmare, are dead now. It's a mystery I know we can live with, without worrying."
The tutor conceded. "I supposed you're right. But that does not answer why this is happening, now, to her." he said, gesturing to Mother-By-Choice.
John just hung his head in exasperation, angry at being stymied by the new mystery. Uly's eyes were filled with tears, feeling Mary's emotional pain as clearly as he would his own. "Is she going to be okay, Julia?" he asked. "These are wrong." he said, fingering the temple plate that was still bleeding morganite orange around its edges on Mother-By-Choice's face and gripping one of her massive fingers encased inside the newly constructed hologrip. The boy dragged over a metal stool and stood on it so he was high enough to reach the Terrian's face, so he could clean her wound with the dead eye stalk stems he had retrieved from the floor. It immediately began to show signs of rapid healing the second he made contact with her reptilian skin.
Heller was still intently fixed on her new patient, scanning every inch of her with the diaglove. "Uly, she's reading as still safely suspended. Her vital signs aren't showing up any differently from the ones I saw on other Terrians who underwent surgery today. She's just in a cryo-sleep from what I can tell. It's stopping the ZED's bullet from moving inside of her."
"The human makings do not belong." echoed Mary in distress, crouched and clinging to her adoptive mother's frozen legs. "Take it out! And take this off my heart!" she yelled, rising and reaching for the implant in her mother's temple in a quick grab.
Startled, Danziger and Baines blocked her attempt to rip it free. They each carefully grabbed one of her burn suit wrapped wrists and gently pulled Mary out of reach.
Mary wilted in their arms, giving up, much like the eye stalk did when it froze to death. "She is detached from the All. I can't feel her...in my mind." she sobbed.
Yale suddenly lifted his head at the sound of an activation warble on the panel above Mother-Of-Choice's chamber. A yellow light began flashing steadily. It matched the one that usually flashed on his hologrip arm whenever he used its functions. "Oh, my. This is quite the change. I believe I can, Mary. We've just been linked."
John startled, whirling to the silent suspended viewer monitor that Eve had been using before they shut off her satellite to ground connection. "Is it Eve?"
"No, just Mary's mother." Yale said, surprised. "She is very worried about her child."
Alonzo blinked at the tutor, in shock. "You can see her? Like I did in the dream plain?"
"Yes." sighed Yale. "She is so very beautiful." he cried, a tear running down his dark face. "But she says it is the others now, who are dying." he sobbed in shock, covering his temple implant as it pained him with its new Terrian telepathic function.
"Who?! The Terrians?" Devon asked, stunned. She whirled to her son, but he still seemed perfectly normal, still in his healthy Terrian fixed state.
The Jamaican tutor did not answer, he was lost in a fresh alien caused grief.
Julia Heller frowned and switched her medical scan to the tutor. "Yale? Are you okay?"
"I am fine." he replied, blinking slowly as he got a hold of his emotions with small shakes of his balding head.
Suddenly, a very strong scent filled the air, making everybody close by the cryo chamber cough and back away.
John covered his mouth with a sleeve protectively. "Matches. I'm definitely smelling matches." he said, picking up True to move her safely away. "Is there going to be a fire?" he wondered.
Julia waved her glove in the air. "Sulfur." she read from it. "It's not enough to be harmful."
Yale spoke softly, his voice pitched several octaves higher than usual. "It is the scent my other heart and I are exuding."
"What?" Devon breathed at his answer, catching the change in perspective. He was talking as the female Terrian.
"Oh, now it smells like burned gun powder!" Morgan complained, gagging.
"Gun powder? That's a man made substance." Adair said, glancing at John in discovery. "A lure scent like the eye stalks fresh water bait?"
"So that's how the ZED are finding the Terrians." Danziger nodded, connecting the dots. "They go after machines and machine traces. There's nothing more machine associated than the scent of explosives. Very clever. So they weren't additionally programmed. I was wrong. They're still acting under their old parameters, hunting those associated with technology."
"So it's sick Terrians? Huh. Are they being infected by something that's trailing off this gas?" Julia wondered, using her glove free hand to rub some dust off of her tired face.
"But sulfur's an Earth gas,.." Bess said, narrowing the topic. She was remembering the mines of ancient South Carolina. "..isn't it?" she asked the group.
"Yes." Heller supplied. "Whereever it came from, Mary and Mother-By-Choice seem to be original source points for it. The traces are strongest, on them."
Yale blinked and his mind became his own again. "How about bacteria? From the skin of the ship?" he said, leaning back on the cryo chambers wall.
"From ours?" Cameron asked, focusing in on the tutor's clue. "Ours burned up. Have you forgotten that already, you stupid old man?" he snapped.
"Hush.." Devon barked at the restless watchman. "Can't you see he's hurting?"
"Oh, boy. Cameron, he meant this ship." John guessed in a revelation. "It's the only one that's been on the surface of the planet, completely intact, for so long."
Morgan grumbled. "And this flyer's the only one that didn't get sterilized while burning in the atmosphere on re-entry, like ours, Gaal's, and the penal colonists' did." He busied himself by turning on the lights one by one so they were no longer straining to see in the darkness of the ship.
Devon hung onto Yale's arm while the others homed in on critical theories. "Glad you're back." she whispered.
Yale glanced over and smiled at her reassuringly. "Mother-By-Choice is just a new communications channel. I'll teach myself how to manage her like I do Eve."
Heller surmised more on their speculations. "Fifty years is an eon for bacterial mutation rates. The Council's unthinkable case scenario's finally happened. Earth's biome is beginning to overwhelm Earth 2's."
"Has this been their absolute ulterior motive all along?" Alonzo asked, collapsing into a computer chair. "To supplant G889's biology with Earth's?"
"It definitely could be another way to control the planet if our Terrian to Human links fail." Heller surmised.
Yale sighed, finger bracing his forehead against the new headache that was already beginning to fade away. "I should have known."
"What a short cut." John laughed. "And so like us. Using bacteria as an army. No wonder Elizbeth and Franklin spent eight years here. They were figuring out how to tweak Earth bacteria to be able to survive on G889. But then whatever they did backfired."Adair's strength reappeared in her eyes. "That's what Elizabeth meant when she said no one can survive here. She didn't mean just us. She meant everybody, the Terrians, the Grendlers, the Koba.. She knew their engineered bacteria would eventually win out against any native strains." Devon said, wide eyed. "Our Earth has always been too aggressive in all aspects of its biology."
Morgan was still shivering. "So, we're not going to die like she said despite our biostat implants being fixed?" he asked meekly.
"No." said Julia. "If we were going to, it would have happened already. The strain that was killing the colonists she spoke of was fifty years ago. It's had more than enough time to mutate since then. It's now probably the bug that's making the Terrians visible to the ZED because of its sulfur waste in infected individuals."
Cameron pulled out his Mag-pro and shot the Koba sedated ZED truly dead. "We don't need him anymore. We've finally found our answer."
"What answer?!" Baines asked angrily.
Cameron eyed up his African American friend, completely calm. "Baines, Eve made Grendlers act like Yales who had the ability to shoot humans. But beyond that.. I'm stumped."
Baines grew suddenly thoughtful as he pulled out a packet of eye fern stalks he had harvested as an emergency snack. He passed them out to the group for fast food. "You figure it out, man. I think just did, and I don't I like it one single bit."
The tutor turned to face Cameron, reaccessing the record he had first discovered when interfacing with Eve to kill Bennet's computer virus."Bennet's science crew's petris dish results were a wildcard outcome, and one the Council had previously decided needed eradicating if it were to ever occur in reality. Eve was performing excisement treatments, Cameron, with those murders." Yale said, with a haunted look. "She was setting up an absolute human species quarantine using Council program directives that even Bennet didn't know about, so the super bug would not be able to backtrack contaminate back to our places of origin to kill us all. Eve must have used the Yale/Grendlers she made to sniff out the sulfur in infected colonists so they could be culled. The healthy crew, she consigned to cryo-chambers to protect them from getting infected by the bodies of the first group. She then launched those in the ship to return them to the Stations, but a human made error caused a problem she couldn't remedy. Bennet's kill computer program ironically interrupted her rescue launch for them before they reached the safety of the vacuum of space. The ship must have fallen back to the surface, still contaminated on the outside."
Bess surmised. "..until the day we were contacted by Eve using her Bennet holovid lure through Morgan's VR gear." She watched her husband squirm at the memory of his role in those events.
"So she's innocent." Devon realized about Eve. "And she's trying to find a cure again, by using Mother-Of-Choice as a ...medical tool, like she did with the Grendlers for Bennet's crew. Wow, after all these years, Eve still wants to find and fix anybody who's been infected."
"You're talking gibberish, Devon. Is your brain still cryo-scrambled?" Cameron scoffed. "You know what? Maybe we should just kill both these stinking creatures and be done with it like the Other clan Terrians want." he said, raising his Mag-pro at both Mary and Mother-By-Choice.
"No, wait!" Julia said, holding up a hand as John and Alonzo disarmed Cameron deftly, with force.
"Just simmer down!" Danziger growled at the watchman. "This is no time to enrage the Terrians by killing one and another they value. Do you remember what happened last time a Terrian died because of us?!"
The man paled, thinking deeper this time.
"I'm...sorry.. I... just got mad." Cameron stammered.
John glared. "You do that a little too much, I'll have you realize. That little stunt could have gotten us all killed. We're still outnumbered a billion to thirteen here." he hissed. "Go get camp ready for bed. Bring Zero with you and set all our perimeter ticklers on ZED scan."
Cameron hastily complied, fleeing the ship. He was so shaken by what he had almost caused, that the eye stalks from the yellow ferns in the meadow, turning to watch him, didn't even sink into his awareness.
It was only then John turned back to the doctor and Eden Project's old leader.
Heller was concentrating while she spoke."Devon, you're right. That's exactly what Eve's doing. 'I have been reading a delay in the return of completely healthy vital functions in all members of Eden Project Group Two. I wish to expedite original state parameters.' " she quoted.
Danziger eyed up Eve's blank monitor thoughtfully. Then he reached over and turned it on before anybody else could stop him. "Eve, are you listening?"
##Yes.## came a male voice reply. Then an image formed of E.V.E. transformed into Franklin Bennet's likeness. ##Have you located the contaminant in the Terrian/human bioforms?##
Heller replied. "We have. What is your solution for dealing with the germ?"
Franklin/Eve spoke again. ##Julia Heller, Physician class. I am relieved to know that you are still alive. You are now in charge of this recovery operation. Once the burrowing projectile is removed from the suspended Terrian specimen, an accurate baseline blood sample can be obtained. It will be holding the latest mutation of the Eden Phage. I have bioengineered the onboard biomass hydrolizer to analyze microbile DNA. With this test result you can formulate a cure by exposing the cataloged sample to any emerged sensory flora.##
"The eye stalk ferns?" True asked.
Julia nodded, intrigued.
##Then feed one gene calibrated phyto-organism to each patient who's been infected." Franklin/Eve reported. "My analysis projects that the infection will then terminate in two days.##
Devon was curious. "Eve, why did you modify the female Terrian into a Yale?"
##The planet sentience requested the change to better facilitate communications between humans and Terrians during this crisis.## came the reply. ##The female agreed to the transformation.##
Danziger whistled low under his breath. "G889 figured out how to talk to an Earth computer?"
Morgan was smug. "Eve's not that much different than a human brain when you think about it. One made the other." he grinned. "And Terrians already know the human mind like the back of their scales." he said, pointing to Uly who was happily trilling lines of Terrian songs with Mary. "Eve was probably a cakewalk for them."
"How do we purge the Phage after we've cured all the bipeds?" Julia asked Frankin/Eve. "This whole valley for clicks around is most likely infected."
Uly spoke up, his eyes glowing orange with Moon Pool Terrian energy. "The Mother will bury this part of Herself with Morganite ore. This will kill all infection."
Mary angled her head, reaching up to her adopted mother's hand with a tender fingers. "Soon we will both be cured. My people will continue."
True's eyes filled with tears. "But you'll die, Mary. You aren't Terrian. The sunstones will just burn you up like the lake did."
Mary blinked at the human girl. "I will be safe in the Moon Pool. Mother-By-Choice will encapsulate my energy from the Cleansers'. I...will be fine."
It was two days later and Eden Camp had retreated half the distance back up Spring Flower Mountain to escape the incredible heat the Terrians were making as they slowly entombed the Sleeper ship in orange, hot Morganite ore stones. The heat was so intense, they didn't need to light a campfire to cook dinner that night.
John Danziger had rigged Eve's remote monitor to hang from the back of the Trans Rover. Eve's image was projecting the Council woman persona once more now that the medical emergency facing Eden Project was over. Danziger was surprised to feel a qualm when her image began to fritz with static. It was a sign that her ship board computer terminal was slowly rising to temperatures above safe operating conditions. He found it hard to smile for the benefit of the others as he tinkered with the food hydrolizers, rigging them to operate using solar energy instead of ship's power.
Resting, Yale and Devon sat nearby in canvas chairs, enjoying the normalcy of Danziger's swearing bouts every time he banged a finger inside his machinery.
##Core temperature. 401 d-grees -elvin. A-d rising.## Eve reported to the trio.
John nodded. He looked up and regarded the computer's visage. "What will you do up there on the satellite all by yourself once your ability to transmit down here's been fried?"
Eve's elegant female image actually smiled. ##I will -ontinue to analyze all -iostat implant functions and make en-ries into the Eden Proje-t Log. Franklin Bennet has s-t no end date f-r this task. But know this. You will no -onger die if I cease to f-nct-on. It was the -hage that made Devon Ad-ir termina-ly infected and end-ngered the rest of y-. ##
"Handy, that." said John. "The Terrians figuring out how to cure our own species' Armageddon bug before we even realized there was a problem."
"Forgiveness is a human trait." said Yale, sipping some cooling eye stalk tea. "Perhaps they learned it from us, even while we were killing them, fifty years ago."
Devon Adair was thoughtful. "Eve, how many G889 lifeform types are dead because of Bennet's Phage?"
##Estim-tes range from 125,000 to one m-llion bioforms.##
Yale's mouth flopped open in shock. "Almost the total extinction of all life on this entire planet?! That's worst than Earth's current counts." he said. "How many are left from the original surveys?" the tutor asked Eve.
##9512 flora, fifty four fauna, and - forms of bip-ds.## came her reply.
Adair asked Eve the next question tentatively, feeling sick to her stomach. "Will G889 recover its losses?"
##**static**## whispered burning Eve, her face image beginning to fuzz into chaos.
"Eve? Answer the question." Devon repeated, beginning to shake.
##**static**...**static**...## And then the ship's computer fell into into its final silence on the surface. The visual monitor went dead with a soft click.
No one in Eden Project spoke for hours after that, letting the lonely alien wind torture their private thoughts.
Devon Adair, narrating.. "I don't know what tomorrow will bring. There's a heaviness with each step that wasn't there before. The responsibility we carry with us as humans now looms so large, it threatens to smother our feelings of self worth as surely as the Morganite did the Eden Phage. I wish I was a child again. I wish I didn't know what I've just learned."
Uly Adair, narrating.. "No one will tell me what happened this afternoon after we moved camp away from the ship. Nobody looks happy. And everybody looks worried. All I know is that we figured out how to kill the bug that was hurting my friends. And that's all I need to know for right now."
True Danziger, narrating.. "I had fun spoiling Kitty. And telling him what a good boy he was. But I can't figure it out. He still hasn't found another Koba to play with. And I haven't seen any others since the day I got here. It seems like he gets sadder and quieter with each passing day and I don't know what to do about it to make him feel better. Maybe the eye stalks will spot one for us soon, so I'll keep an eye out right along with them. Love happens, right? It's just a matter of time."
Bess Martin, narrating.. "It's hard to eat and drink these days. Even though our food and water shortages are gone forever. I've always wondered why G889 reminds me so much of Earth. Now I know why. Yale told me this morning. He said it was because we've wounded it in the same way. We took our own selfish nature, and crammed it into this place that was so bright and new, thinking that we could make it our own just by occupying a little bit of its space. And that was so not right. We should have spent another million years living in the trees before we developed thumbs. Maybe if we had done that, our brains would have caught up with the rest of us in sophistication."
John Danziger, narrating.. "I've been up all night, trying to link up Zero to the satellite I know's still orbiting overhead. I have to know the unspoken answer Eve gave to Devon's question, for me, if not for the eventual sanity of the rest of the group. It's been effecting almost everything I do, making me sloppy. I had to see Julia today to get an artery lasered up when I caught my arm on an outcrop of Morganite, when I wasn't watching where I was going on the way to the creek for water. I wish I was Yale. Then I could use a program to erase my memory of the moment with Eve that might have meant the life or death of us."
Julia Heller, narrating.. "Medical log. Day 150. I feel like I've dodged a bullet. Nobody's dying of a mystery germ, worm bullet, or of starvation. That's one in a row. Danziger's recent limb repair doesn't count. He didn't even lose consciousness, despite his massive blood loss. He said, 'That's just every day wear and tear on this planet, only here, the bumps and bruises are a little bit bigger when you run into them.' I think I'll go see Alonzo. I've never seen him so happy. He says Mother-Of-Choice and Mary have been accepted. Peace has been made with the Others clan today. It was easy once they saw that the contamination that those two have been suffering was gone. Isn't that worth some celebrating? It is, in my book."
Alonzo Solace, narrating.. "I had a chance to see Mary. Her skin is whole, and her hair's already beginning to come back in. It's gray, with a few streaks of Morganite orange that glow in the dark. I think I kind of like it. Now when we race, earth walking versus Sand rail, I can keep up because I can see where she's going. Julia's always with me, asking how I am, what I'm feeling. It's like I'm her new anchor within the group. I just may ask Yale to hand tie us officially like he did with the Martins. It's about time I prove that I love her in a way that really matters."
Yale, the cyber tutor, narrating.. "I can still see it. Eve's answer. A part of me wants to share it with the group. But my human side stifles the urge. I know how fragile or powerful the human spirit can be. Maybe holding onto this is my true penance at last. For my past, for my sins, I will keep the secret, until I know one way or the other, how we will fare on this new world of ours. Even Mother-By-Choice is unable to help me out with interpreting what Eve said in her last seconds with us. Should I continue to pore over its true meaning? To do so is what I am, but to let fade this puzzle is the choice I make every morning, when I open my eyes and see how just simple sunlight makes them all smile."
Zero, narrating.. ##Perimeter check report to Eden Project. Range 25 clicks. No bio lifesigns. Extending to 50 clicks. Still no biped indications. 100, 300, 500, 1000... Small fauna presence check. Results? Negative. Extending to maximum range.. Findings? **static** *bleep* **static**##