The Voice

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The Voice

Postby Miki Yamuri » Mon Jul 07, 2014 4:13 pm

Prologue

Each and every rising sun is greeted by a lonely one.
They would all remember the first time they heard it. For Ryan, it had happened one day when he was still two and half years old.

The orange light of the rising sun woke Ryan as they streamed through the windows of the lab module into his crib. He squinted his eyes and thought he could see the trees between him and that sun, blowing gently in the morning breeze, and beyond them, the distant mountains.

He blinked his eyes at the brightness until they adjusted and then suddenly found himself yawning widely and stretching his limbs. He sat up and looked out the window through the barred sides of the bed that kept him from roaming the lab at night. As on most days, he hoped that one or both of his parents would come to spend the day with him, that there wouldn’t be very many tests today, and that there wouldn’t be shouting.

But unless it was going to be a rainy day, the morning sun had always been there for him, his one constant friend.

“Oh, good morning, Ryan,” said Jessica’s voice.

He already knew that she had entered the room. She was one of the doctors, the night-time one, who always left the window open for him because she knew he liked the morning sun.

She moved into his field of vision and asked, “Did you sleep well?” He nodded. “That’s good,” she said. “Now let’s get you changed and get you some breakfast.”

Lowering the crib’s side, she picked him up and carried him to the changing table. As she got his fur cleaned up and a fresh diaper and shorts on him, she told him something new. “You’re going to be getting a new friend,” Jessica said. “Another child’s parents have given us permission to put her under intensive study. She’ll be joining you later today.”

“Other baby?” asked Ryan haltingly.

Being only two and a half years old, his vocabulary wasn’t the largest, and his vocal apparatus wasn’t perfectly suited for the English language.

“Yes, another baby,” said Jessica. “Her name is Katrina. Isn’t that a nice name?”

“Uh huh,” said Ryan. “Can I play outside?”

“I don’t see why not – after breakfast,” Jessica said. “Now step on the scale.”

He stood on the funny square box as Jessica wrote something on the computer pad she was holding and poked the thing into his ear that she was always poking into his ear every day.

“OK, got your weight and your temperature, so let’s go get you some cereal.”

After an uneventful meal involving some pretty bland oatmeal-like stuff and a cup of carefully synthesized milk, Jessica cleaned his face with a cloth and said, “OK, Ryan, we’ll let you play outside for a little while, until Dr. Rechter comes. Now, don’t make that face – Dr. Rechter’s just trying to help you and the other kids, just like I am. Go out and play. But stay inside the fence!”

She opened the door and let him out into the yard, which was surrounded by plastic fencing. Ryan had always preferred to be outdoors, where he could smell the wind and at least imagine running to see the trees and mountains, even if he wasn’t that good at walking yet. He nibbled on some of the grass, but remembered what Jessica had told him when she’d caught him at it in the past – “You just had breakfast! You’ll spoil your lunch!”

He tumbled around, sending a large plastic inflatable ball rolling away and chasing after it. Then he heard the beep of the comm system from indoors – his ears were very sensitive.

He could hear Jessica’s voice coming from inside the lab module, talking to someone on the comm net. “They’re not aliens; their DNA is just as terrestrial as yours or mine. They’re still mostly human, even. It’s just that a few of the genes that are inactive in you and me have been somehow switched on in them. Maybe they look different, but these are our children, and there’s nothing really wrong with them. I know you want us to find a ‘cure,’ but there may not be one – we may not even need one.”

Ryan didn’t understand all the words, but he knew there were adults who didn’t like him and the other children, because they all looked different from their parents. He didn’t know why this made them so upset.

That was when he heard it. Calling across the meadow, from beyond the trees, beyond the bay – maybe even beyond the mountains. His sharp ears picked up some sort of whispering – so soft that he could barely hear it, even with his ears swiveled towards it, but yet somehow loud enough to carry all this way. Most of its meaning was just beyond his grasp, but he caught one word, one meaning.“danger.”

Can you hear the spirit calling, as it’s carried across the waves?
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The Voice

By LilJennie and Miki Yamuri

with quotations from the song “The Voice,” by the Moody Blues

Jessica had told him that maybe the voice he heard should be a little secret between him and her, but Ryan could tell that it had upset her when he had told her about it. “Let’s get you ready to talk to Dr. Rechter.”

Dr. Rechter sat at his computer and scoured every byte of data they had gathered. As far as he could tell, the genetics were permanent and nothing he could do would alter what was happening to the children. He heard Jessica bring Ryan into the Medical Module. He looks over at his daughter as she played happily with her blocks. Dr. Rechter shakes his head ... Katrina looked as cute as any button ... although she had another kind of mix in the works. Her long fluffy tail, her cute button nose, and the ears topped it all off.

Dr. Rechter stood and held out his hand as he called her to him, "Kat, come with me, I have someone I want you to meet."

"Ryan, this is Katrina," said Jessica, her hand on the back of his head, guiding him into the room. "Can you say Katrina?"

Ryan looked at the girl, playing in what Jessica sometimes called the Observation Area and sometimes just called the play mat. "K-Katvina," he said hesitantly, his teeth getting in the way somewhat. She was different from him -- her ears were more pointed, she had a long tail, and her fur was white with yellowish markings while his was mostly gray, though white in spots. She looked up and stared at him, probably much like he was staring at her.

"Good, Ryan," Jessica said. "Katrina, this is Ryan. His parents let him stay with us most of the time so we can learn how to help all of the children."

"And this is Dr. Vernon," said Dr. Rechter, motioning at Jessica. "She also works here in the lab module, studying the plants and animals of this world."

Katrina blinked at Jessica but went back to staring at Ryan. She had seen plenty of adults, but never another child exactly like Ryan before.

"Ryan, do you want to play with Katrina?" asked Jessica in a friendly, modulated voice.

"How about it, Kitty? Would it be OK if Ryan played with you?"
"OK," said Ryan hesitantly. He had seen a few other children but none quite like Katrina.

Katrina stood up and toddled over to Ryan. She gave him a big loving hug as she said with a musical purr in her voice, "Let's us b friens forevers ... mmk?"

She took Ryan by the hand and led him to the play mat where there were many toys of all kinds neatly placed ... along with many blocks all scattered around.

Katrina sat with a plop and said, "Gotsa neatos game ta play. Stack up alla these blocks ... then we getsa knock em over."

Dr. Rechter took Jessica aside and whispered in an attempt to keep the children form hearing, "I have no idea how to fix this. From what I've seen in all the testing ... their genetic code is the same as ours except something has activated dormant genes within the matrix. I fear we are raising a bunch of monsters and need to deal with them accordingly before they get too big."

"Dr. Rechter!" Jessica whispered back with outraged intensity. "You are talking about your own daughter, and other children! But even speaking with scientific objectivity, there is no indication that they pose any kind of threat. Their behavior is well within the norm for human children. They look different, and in some cases they have different dietary needs, but those are hardly unusual even for children that weren't conceived on a newly-colonized planet."

"You know I don't mean that kind of monster," Dr. Rechter whispered back. "I mean that, well, what will the next generation be like? And the next? Will our colony devolve into mere animals? Will there be nothing recognizable left of us in a century? Will all our hard work be wasted?"

"There's no reason to suspect that so far," said Jessica. "But that's why we're studying them. Observing them and gathering data are the only way to find out. We can't make decisions without information, and we have very little of that."

Meanwhile, Ryan had learned Katrina's game, and it was a lot of fun. He preferred to play outdoors, but sometimes it was too cold or too hot or too rainy, and he had to stay in, so he often played with the toys in this area. But he had rarely gotten the chance to play with any other children. Was it true that Katrina was going to be staying here at the lab module?

At any rate, Ryan could clearly hear what Jessica and Dr. Rechter were saying, because his hearing was a lot better than they thought it was. He didn't understand many of the words, but he could tell that they were talking about something that made them both very upset, and it was something about himself and Katrina and probably the other children too.

"Katvina?" he asked as they built up another block tower. "D'you know how come we look diffrent froma grownups?"

Katrina looked up at Ryan with her beautiful golden eyes, then over to the arguing adults. She said in a soft purr, "Me thinks we diffrent cuza sompin here. Tha adults anna other older children no likes us too muchies. Calls us ... andibles."

Ryan nods as they hear the volume and tone of the adults conversation becoming more heated.

Ryan asks softly, "Thinks they ... gonna hurts us?"

Katrina looks around at her father's angry face for a bit before she replies, "No thinks Jessica would ... my dad n others .... might. Can hear sompin tellin me ... is danger here."

Ryan looked over at Katrina with big surprised eyes. She heard the voice too! There must be something really wrong with the adults if something is trying to warn them. Both children know that all the new born looked very much like different kinds of animals. A Dog, A goat, a Lizard boy, a horse ... one even looked very much like a bird of prey. The scariest one looked like a wolf.

Ryan whispered, because he knew Jessica had told him not to tell anybody about the voice he had heard. "You heared the danger voice too?" he asked her. "I just heared it today."

Jessica nods her head as she swishes her fluffy tail. She says softly, "Yups. Can hear tha danger voice. It started last night for me. It tellin me there danger here. Am too young to do ennythin bouts nuffin tho."

She stands up as she knocks over the large tower of blocks. Just as she had intended, one of the large blocks bounces over between Jessica and Dr. Rechter. Katrina toddles over between the adults who stop talking abruptly as she bends and picked up the large block in her paw hands.

Katrina said in a soft purring voice, "Can we has sompina drink? Is hot n stuffs in here." Katrina flips her tail as she wiggles her ears around.

Looking down at Katrina, Jessica answered, "Oh yes, of course you can, sweetheart -- I'll go get you something." She looked up and said to Dr. Rechter, "I can see we have our differences of opinion, but good science has never come about when there was constant agreement."

She turned and headed for the kitchen unit, holding her voice recorder to her mouth and saying, "Subject Katrina reports being too warm. Temperature 22 degrees Celsius. Must find her preferred environmental temperature. Might be lower than Ryan's due to different metabolism or fur insulation value."

Dr. Rechter sighed. He got down on one knee, put an arm around Katrina, and said, "Honey, I know you're going to be lonely here, and we'll bring you back home every weekend, but you're going to be helping all the children by staying here and being good so Jessica can take care of you, OK?"

Katrina nodded solemnly, knowing she was going to be left alone again, but at least the people she would be alone with would be friendly and probably not yell much.

"Bye Daddy," she said.

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Katrina watched as her father left the module. She knew in her soul that he was upset over her appearance, but didn't know how to solve the problem. She knew also ... she and the others like her born on this world were growing up faster and more intelligent than the other children who arrived. She was also aware of how much distrust and out right animosity the older children, as well as many of the adults, had for her and others like her. There were many others who thought they were adorable and felt much differently as well.

Katrina crawls over to Ryan and sits next to him. She says in her soft purring way, "Ya thinks ... we are gonna has ... problems wifsa others? I lookteded atta puter book. It say we looks tons likes ... an andible anna person." Katrina began to lick her paw hand ... then rubbed her face with it as she cleaned her face.

"Uh huh," said Ryan. "Learnin' pad says there is ambinals from Earth that we looks like. Jessica say I look like one that she call a pika. I think ... you look like the one called a cat."

Katrina nodded. "That what my daddy say," she confirmed. "Amma kitten."

"There is lotsa yelling whenever the adults talk about us," said Ryan. "It make me cry and other kids cry too. I dunno what to do bouts it."

Jessica came up behind them with their drinks; she had overheard this part of the conversation. Sniffling and wiping away tears that had formed, she said, "A-all right, Ryan, Katrina, I've brought you some cold juice. Do you know how to use these special cups, Katrina? They're made so they don't spill."

Katrina swished her tail and wiggled her ears in acknowledgment as she reached for the sippy cup with both of her paw hands. Ryan took hold of his as well. The two children sucked on the straws protruding from the top as Katrina looked at Ryan with her golden eyes.

She finally said, "Since I look likesa cat andible ... calls me Kitty ... is easier for u ta say ennyways."

Both children giggled pleasantly as Jessica looked on. She shook her head slowly. It was totally outrageous that any of the others could feel the way they did about the babies born on this world.

Out of all of the babies born here ... only one had any scary features. It looked for the world like a wolf. One of those old story book kind ... Jessica thought hard to remember what it used to be called ... Oh, yes ... a wear wolf.

The lab module door suddenly opened again, unannounced. Dr. Rechter nearly leapt inside. "Dr. Vernon!" he shouted excitedly. "Look at the info feeds!"

Startled, Jessica tapped a few buttons on her comm link, and a screen on a nearby wall started displaying text and video. It was showing some of the members of the geological exploration team.

Dr. Rechter explained, "I was about to start riding home when I saw the announcement." Jessica turned the volume up.

Ryan and Katrina couldn't make sense of the words on the screen, so they looked at the video. "... seem to have found artifacts of an earlier settlement," said a man with a bald head in a surprised voice. "If this turns out to be true, this will be the first time the human race has found incontrovertible evidence of nonhuman intelligence in the universe. We don't know at this time whether they were natives of this world or colonists as we are. None of the probes found any evidence of this, of course. Depth of the artifacts indicates that they are roughly a thousand years old, give or take a century or so."

Jessica looked at Dr. Rechter with a fascinated expression. "Someone was here before us!" she said. "But where are they now?"

As if to answer her, the geologist on the screen continued, "What remains to be discovered is, well, where are they? What happened to them? Where did they go? We intend to investigate further. Ground-pen radar indicates many more artifacts to unearth and examine."

There followed many pictures of the artifacts they had found so far -- metal pots, rods, wheels, walls made of some sort of cement, various differently-shaped pieces of a plastic-like substance. These were obviously not naturally occurring.

"One must wonder," said Dr. Rechter, "whether any of the other colonies has encountered anything like this. But of course, if they had, it will be 20 years before we hear about it."

Jessica nodded. "Challenger Colony is the closest, and even if they found something right when they landed and sent out messages on the tight-beam laser right away, they wouldn't make it here for about 22 more years."

"How do you figure? I make it 20."

They continued to argue, as Ryan and Katrina looked at each other.

"They wuz here but now they goned," said Ryan.

"Danger," said Katrina, nodding.

Kitty wiggled her ears as she sucked her thumb thoughtfully. She cocks her head to one side as she seems to listen intently to something. She says softly in her purring way, "It seems ... the planet is calling to us Ryans. Warnin us about .... sompin bout ta happen soon. Not real soon ... but soon."

Ryan lifted one of his ears and listened for a second before he replies, "Me thinks so too. Can hear it tellen us ... Danger."

Both children looked at each other for a bit before Kitty asked, "Does ya thinks that tha others ... I mean likes us ... can hear tha voice too?"

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~~ End pt1 ~~
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~~ Pt2 ~~
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"Look, Ms. Evers, I'm not in charge of the colony anymore," General Patrick said. "We've all read the Compact, and decisions are in the hands of the Council now. I was in charge for the first three years, yes, but then there were elections, and now I'm in charge of the security forces, but that's all. Just as intended."

"But that's exactly why I'm here, General," said Ms. Evers, leaning forward onto the general's desk. "This is a security issue. The children aren't human. Whatever is happening is spreading. They need to be quarantined until we can discover how to fix the problem and have normal children instead."

"Still not seeing how it's a security issue," said General Ellen Patrick, who was not interested in the view that Ms. Evers's position revealed. She wondered whether Evers even consciously realized what she was doing, or whether she'd just used her figure to get her way so many times that it was just force of habit now. "Yes, the kids look different. We've got doctors and biologists studying how to help them with that. They seem normal in every other --"

"Sorry to interrupt, General," said Adjutant Morris, opening the office door, "but you're going to want to see this. You too, Councilman Evers."

He tapped a remote, and the comm screen lit up, showing the report about the geological expedition that had unearthed the ruins of a centuries-old alien colony.

The general wasn't surprised by much, but she blinked. "Amazing. Truly amazing. This might be the first real evidence humanity has ever had of an alien race."

"Hmm, yes," said Ms. Evers. "But if so, where are they? What happened to them? Did their children turn into animals too? Perhaps they changed into beasts over generations and just wandered into the forest, abandoning their colony, did you think of that? General, you need to think about our future on this world. Blue Sky Colony needs assurance that there will be future generations -- of humans." She gestured at the three of them in the room.

"I agree with you there," said the general. "But that's what we're working on. This world has thrown us a curve ball, just like all the others it's thrown us, just like the others that all the other colonies are doubtless dealing with. And we're dealing with it. The scientific division will get to the bottom of it, and problem solved. They've only been working on it for about two years."

"Two years -- with almost nothing to show for it!" Ms. Evers stood up. "Do you know what my dream is, my goal for this colony? It's to see new generations spreading across this planet, making a new home, without making the mistakes we made back on Earth. Towns, cities, metropolises -- a productive society. A bright future for our children."

"Except for the children who look different, right?" asked the general, standing up too. "Look, this colony's personnel were chosen carefully to be a mixture of all human racial stocks, so we couldn't be accused of prejudice, but it sounds like you're itching to find a whole new kind of prejudice. Unless I see some evidence that the kids are some kind of threat, you're just sounding like a racist to me. My dream for this colony is one where, well, everyone gets along, everyone gets a fair shot. If they blow it, well, that's the breaks, and we deal with it, but nobody should be taking away the chance everyone should get to live their own life."

"Racism? You're accusing me of -- I'm leaving!" said Ms. Evers, turning and walking out.

"Good, because I was just going to send you away," said General Patrick, looking sourly at the other woman's receding figure.

“Well …” said Ryan, “you can, and I can, so I bet more can too. All the kids? I dunno. We hafta asks ‘em. But Kitty … Jessica say don’t tell about it. No tell grownups. She say they think we crazy or sompin’.”

Kitty takes her thumb from her mouth and purrs softly, "But is we no warnem ... how they gonna knows sompin bad commin?" Ryan shrugs.

About that time, Kitty gets a really cute wide eyed expression on her face as she makes soft grunting sounds.

Ryan asks, "Katwina? Is ... sompin worng?"

Kitty looks at Ryan for a second with a slightly abashed expression before she answers, "I ... jus ... needsa change now." She pulls open her panties and diaper in front and looks down.

Ryan giggles, "Ohhh ... Kitty needsa littler box ... huh?"

Kitty looks sharply at Ryan and swings a soft plushy dragon at his head. He ducks under the swing as both children giggle.

Kitty said softly, "I hasa dweam for when we growded up. I hopes we can show alla tha people we tha same as them ... jus diffrent. Prolly show em how ta survive what ever tha danger is ... gotsa scover what is commin ya kno?" Ryan nods as both of them suck their thumbs.

The general flipped a switch on her monitor. The picture of the play area within the lab came up. She sat in her chair as she watched Ryan and Katrina playing peacefully together. None of their actions had shown any deviation from any of the other children at their ages and size. Only one difference with these children ... they seem to be growing up faster than normal, and were a whole lot more intelligent. Kitty's father assured the general on several occasions that there were no other aberrations.

“I know whatcha mean,” said Ryan. “Someday … I hopes that the people gonna all be happy an’ live t’gevver an’ be safe. No matter what they looks like.”

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"Finally got them into bed," said Jessica to her husband over the comm system. "Nora's here to watch them overnight. I'm heading home -- what's this?" A notice had popped up on the comm screen.

"Oh, looks like Councilman Evers is going to give a speech," said Ed. "Wanna come home and watch it later?"

"No, I want to see it. I'll come home as soon as she's done talking."

"Fellow citizens of Blue Sky Colony," Ms. Evers said in her window, "I'm sure you've all heard the news about the discovery. This is truly a momentous occasion for our colony and for the entire human race."

General Patrick sipped her tea and watched her screen. Ms. Evers went on and on about her paranoid theories about what this might mean. "Did they have the same unfortunate issues with producing future generations? Did their descendants devolve into mere animals? We know only one thing for sure: they aren't here now. Something happened to them."

General Patrick put her cup on the table and walked to the armorplast window. She looked out over the alien landscape ... the one that, for better or worse, was now the home to several thousand colonists. She hopes that whatever the reason the aliens had vanished ... was long gone now. She turned and looked at the screen of her vid one more time as the paranoid rantings continued from it. The general knew in her soul that if talk like that wasn't curtailed quickly the children born on this world would suffer greatly.

Deep in the general's soul .... she knew something was wrong ... and she also knew that the children were the key to surviving it before it became critical. About that time, the comm buzzed. The excited voice of one of the deputies screamed across the link about an accident at mine 4. Some kind of break through had sparked an explosion and a cave in. The general grabs her cap and weapon, then hurries out the door just as the mine emergency klaxon began to sound.

"General!" shouted a man with a dusty white helmet. "Thank the heavens you're here."

"It's our duty, John," said General Patrick, switching off her hovercycle. "The security force is assembling in the staging area. What's the situation? Are there any trapped miners?"

"We're still making sure everyone's accounted for," said John, walking swiftly toward the hastily-constructed command tent with the general, "but so far no one's confirmed missing. It's evening, so most of the human staff has left, leaving only the mining robots, though there are a few who work late ..." A woman hurried up to him with a tablet, which he looked at. "There's one. Peter Dubrovski." He held the tablet up for the general to see.

On the screen, a man with a helmet similar to John's, its light brightly lit, was speaking. His blond beard contrasted oddly with his dark hair. "One of the robots reported some anomalous readings on the radar. I'm going to check it out," he said. Then the recording skipped in time and location. "The robot's found something very dense, like a vein of native metal. The problem is that it's directly under the robot. It can't sense what's on the other side due to the density, so I can't discount the possibility that there might be a void beyond it. Trying to shift the robot very carefully ..."

"That's the last recording we have," said the woman, whose name tag said Haverford. "It suggests he may have been right, and the robot caused the cave-in and explosion. Perhaps there were explosive gases beneath."

"Give me his last known location," said the general, "and we can try to get to Dubrovski."

John and Haverford spoke quickly and then showed the general a map of the mine on the tablet, with the location marked. "Troops, we have a rescue mission," the general said into her comm. "It's gonna be a long night. Tell your families."

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The next morning when Ryan woke up, Kitty was squeaking his name at him from the next crib over. "Ryan! Ryan! Ryanryanryan!"

Rubbing his eyes, he sat up and looked. The rising sun was shining on him like an old friend, and it was shining on Kitty too, lighting up her pretty fur like molten gold. But Jessica was in the room too, looking at the screen, which was showing pictures of rock tunnels, lit by flashlights.

The voice on the screen was talking about mines and cave-ins and robots. General Patrick came on the screen and talked about somebody they were searching for.

"Mommy," said Ryan, reaching toward the screen between the crib bars with one paw.

"Oh, yes, Ryan," said Jessica, coming over and picking Ryan up to hold him, "your mommy is being very brave, trying to save that poor man trapped in the mine. I think the best we can do right now is ... get you a bath and a fresh diaper, I think. Probably you too, Katrina."

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Peter opens his eyes with a loud groan. He realizes he's still in the land of the living ... but with the large chunk of metallic debris lying over his lower body ... he wasn't too sure if that was a good thing or not. He craned his neck around to see what he could see. There were very deep shadows and large places of inky blackness.

Amid the sparks left of the power supply in the damaged mining machine, and the small fires scattered randomly about, Pete realized he had fallen into some kind of underground survival chamber. His mind began to get fuzzy as waves of pain began to course through his lower body.

He didn't know if the echoing far off voices and digging sounds he heard were real, or just an injury induced hallucination. Peter attempted to push on the metallic chunk that had him pinned. All he had managed to do ... was cause more severe pain to shoot through his legs and hips. Just as he passed out, he could swear he saw .... several humanoid .... animals??? approach and lifted the large chunk from his crushed lower body. Darkness swirled all around as Peter lay back and passed out from the severe pain.

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"I don't know now, Dr. Vernon," Dr. Richter was saying. "It's not really looking possible now that the alien colony devolved into an animal state. It's looking like it was hastily abandoned instead."

"Yes," Jessica said as Ryan and Katrina played in the play area, "the layer of artifacts was really quite thin. If they'd been there for multiple generations, it would have been thicker. Then there's what they found in the mine."

"I think that's enough evidence to conclude that at least some of them took refuge underground," Dr. Richter said. "Tunnels dug by some sort of unknown technology; an energy source still strong enough to explode when our mining robot fell and crushed it. Who knows, others may have returned to space, abandoning this planet and their fellow survivors -- assuming they even knew there were other survivors. But what were they running from?"

"Miss Jess'ca can we play outside?" Ryan asked.

"No, Sweetie, it isn't safe right now," said Jessica. It seemed like it was never safe anymore, whatever that meant.

To Dr. Richter she said, "We still don't have enough evidence to know what made them abandon their colony. But I hope you can abandon this notion that our children are turning into animals. There's absolutely no evidence of that."

"You're right, I shouldn't jump to conclusions like that Evers woman," said Dr. Richter. "I'm not sure she believes that either. I think she's being the politician she is and trying to manipulate public sentiment. Some things never change. Meanwhile, if I could get your opinion on these crop samples from Fairfield Settlement ..."

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Jessica injected several Med/Stims into Peter. His lower body and legs were severely crushed. They would be able to rebuild his hips and mid torso, but his legs were totally destroyed. She saw his eyes flutter a bit as the monitors registered a rise in his brain activity. She knew he was awake. His arms and chest were casted from the many repairs that had to be made. He also had a new bladder and a new kidney.

Jessica leaned over and said softly, "Mr. Dubrovski? Can you hear me? I have some ... rather bad news for you." Peter groans softly as he nods his head. Jessica continues, "We ... are going to have to remove both your legs. They are completely destroyed and we cannot repair them. Your totally in luck though, we have a brand new pair of Hodaka MKx 321's in stock. After surgery, you will be better than human. In fact ... you might think of becoming a one man running machine. After some practice, I think you will be able to run at over 70 mph."

Peter turned his head as a chill ran through him. He was familiar enough with the cyborg leg units. He also knew they were extremely better than his original ones by far. But, still, loosing the legs you were born with is a major trauma, both to the body's system, and to your own self esteem.

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"Was that a good lunch, kids?" Jessica asked, as she carried Katrina and led Ryan by the paw/hand to the play area.

"Uh huh," said Ryan, and Katrina seemed generally positive about the subject too.

"OK, well, you two go ahead and play, and I'll be right over here. I have some tests I need to run before we can get Peter some new legs."

Jessica had some of her more basic equipment in the same room as Ryan and Katrina's play area, since the children couldn't easily get out, and this let her do other work while watching them at the same time.

She ran some of Peter's tissue samples through the micro-scanner and looked at them on the screen, gesturing when she wanted to see something up close. Switching back and forth between those and the MRI results, she found the dividing line between where the bones were likely to heal and where they were just too badly crushed. This was where the prosthetics would be attached, so this was where she had to make sure his immune system could accept the foreign materials. Now to introduce a sample of the metals and plastics that made up the prosthetic to a tissue sample from Peter's body ...

"So much mineral matter from the accident mixed in with the skin, even the muscle tissue and bone, poor guy," said Jessica to her voice transcriber. "Difficult to find an unadulterated sample below point C. The cells aren't reacting to the mineral intrusions, which bodes well for the procedure ... but my instincts tell me that news might be too good. What are those made of? Going to run a mineral sample through the mass spectrometer."

As Jessica used micro-manipulators to separate some of the mineral granules from the tissue sample, Ryan explained to Katrina, "She doin' science stuffs. I no unnerstand it. But she say it's to give Peter new legs 'cause his legs gotted hurt super bad."

"Spectroscopy finds signs of some unusually large unknown molecule," Jessica said, "possibly a protein of some sort. Will attempt to isolate it and find its structure. What's it doing in the rocks?"

Soon a computer-generated picture of the new protein's molecular structure rotated on the screen. "So that's what you are," said Jessica to it. "Now, what do you do?" She sent messages to all the mines, asking for mineral samples.

Then she turned to the children and said, "Kids, how would you like to come outside with me? We're going to get some samples of the dirt, water and air. Maybe some plants too. Want to help do science?"

Katrina and Ryan bounced up and down excitedly. They hadn't been outside in several days and this was a perfect opportunity for them.

Kitty stood up and held onto the crib bars as she said in her purring sing song way, "Would lov ta goes out n do science stuffies. Can gets those weird thingys atta pond inna jar. They glow in the dark ya kno."

Jessica smiles as she prepares a large sampler pack and several smaller ones for the children. She puts them both in a long legged overhaul type play suit and put their shoes on their feet. Jessica finally lead them all out of the science lab to the land crawler. From there, she drove to the park and down the trail to the local recreation area near one of the many large ponds.

The children were more than happy to scoop up dirt and place them in the sample jars. Jessica took out a small net and scooped up several of the weird, genetically engineered fish that had been seeded into the pond. They had mutated and become something rather interesting. She looked at the glowing fish in the sample jar for a second, before labeling it and placing it carefully back into the sample pack.

Kitty squealed suddenly as she falls into the water with a loud splash.

Ryan screams, "Jesca .... Jesca .... theresa ... thingy inna water! It pullded Katwina in!"

Katrina managed to scramble back onto land as a weird thing with dark tentacles rose to the surface. It had a large beady eye and looked very much like an octopus. Jessica rushed to the water's edge and grabbed Katrina into her arms and hurried a safe distance away.

Jessica asked, "Are you all right Katrina? I didn't realize one of those things were in this pond. They are supposed to keep the other fish in check."

Katrina nods her head as she shakes her body vigorously, removing water from her fur, "Am ok Jesca. It ... it ... gwabbeded me."

Jessica hugged Katrina close as she said soothingly, "I know, sweet heart, but it wouldn't have actually hurt you. Might have scared you a whole bunch."

"I wet," said Katrina.

"Yes, sweetie," said Jessica, "but I didn't bring any towels or anything. I didn't know we'd be going swimming today." She smiled.

"No ... I mean I wet," Katrina said, looking down. She poked at her diaper.

The waterproof cover was made of smart materials that could keep external moisture out.

"Oh, I see," Jessica said. "Well, it's time to head back to the lab anyway, so we'll get you a change there -- what's wrong?"

Both Ryan and Katrina had turned their heads and were looking in the same direction. Their ears swiveled that way as well, as if trying to pick up distant sounds.

Jessica looked around. "Is it that voice you mentioned, Ryan?" she asked. "We're the only ones here, so it's probably safe to talk about it ..."

Ryan felt scared. The voice had been saying something with "danger" in it all day. But now ... it had just changed.

It say, "Run now," said Katrina.

"What?" Jessica said, looking around. "Run from what?"

"Is not here," said Ryan. "Is way over there." He pointed at the mountains that loomed in the misty gray distance. "Somefin' happenin' there. Somefin' ... bad."

"Over there?" Jessica asked. "In the mountains? Or in the bay?"

"Past the mountains," said Ryan. "Inna ... woods. I think."

"Well, no one lives out there," said Jessica, "though we have satellite maps of the whole planet, of course, and we send survey drones to take pictures from the air. I wonder ... when the next flyover of that area is scheduled ..."

"Is not good," said Ryan, still looking that way. "Voices very scared. They say keep runnin'. No stop. I think ... I think some of 'em got ... eated."

"Oh ... let's get you kids inside as soon as we can," said Jessica, picking up Katrina and taking Ryan by the hand. "You don't need to hear all of that. And ... please don't tell anyone else about this. Not yet."

Jessica hurried the children back into the land crawler and headed back towards the colony. She wanted to get the samples analyzed as quickly as possible ... but she also wanted to check out the satellite feeds of the area Ryan and Katrina had indicated.

Jessica had one of those survey drones on standby ... she would launch that as well to get a close up bird's eye view of everything. Jessica thought it was more than coincidence that only the children born on this planet had made any indication of hearing a voice speaking warnings.

Jessica changed the children and allowed them to play in the play area outside the science lab as she went into the lab and began to make her analysis of the many samples she and the children had taken. Jessica smiles, they both would make very good researchers. Their sample taking was meticulous and above average ... especially for someone so young.

Jessica completed the analysis samples and placed them into the analyzer for processing. She sat at the Terminal and called up the satellite feed of the area Ryan and Katrina were on about. The photos made 42 hours earlier showed a verdant forest with abundant animal life. A chill of foreboding ran through Jessica as she launched the drone. There had to be some kind of navigational error in the satellite. She sat back in thought as she waited for the drone to arrive at the programmed coordinates and begin the aerial survey.

Ryan and Katrina watched the screens from the play area. "I think she lookin' to see what's over there," said Ryan. "Where the voice was comin' from."

The diagnostic competed -- there was nothing wrong with the satellite. Of course, it only passed over that part of the planet once every 36 hours. Nothing was visibly wrong, but ... she took note of he next time it would pass over that region again.

The camera drone was still some time from reaching the valley beyond the mountains -- its cameras currently showed the waters of the bay passing by below. So she looked more closely at the satellite images.

Nothing. Nothing looked unusual. If something were sending out a warning, something the children were somehow able to intercept, one would think there would be some explanation for it, some sign of something happening that they should be warned about.

The drone control software signaled that it had reached the destination coordinates, so Jessica turned toward that screen. Flying down over the mountains, the drone should be seeing rich forested land, these plants that were so much like the trees of Earth, although they seemed to have a limited lifespan because none of them seemed to be older than about 20 years ...

Nothing. Rocks and dirt. The area was barren, like a desert, only deserts still had some life. As the drone began its programmed survey pattern, it became clear as Jessica watched, that there was nothing visibly alive in the area -- no flora, no fauna, just barren earth.

She did a double take. "But -- the satellite --" she said aloud. She was looking at precisely the same coordinates, 42 hours earlier. Dense forest land was what she saw.

"All gone," said Ryan, looking at the screen across the room from the play area.

"Uh huh. All gone," echoed Katrina. Jessica looked over at the children, who looked on sadly.

"But -- when -- how --" Jessica said, aloud again. The drone's camera showed the same barren terrain throughout the valley. "We need a closer look."

The drone was taking its images from an altitude of 10,000 feet. She reprogrammed it to descend to a much lower 1,000 feet -- it wasn't as if there were any trees for it to hit, after all.

While it did that, Jessica went through the less-recent satellite images of the area and started comparing them. The approximately 36-hour cycle meant that sometimes the satellite passed over the region at night, but other than that, the images had been coming in like clockwork for five years. She collected several and started to compare them for differences. The computer could see minor differences due to plant growth, flowering, animal activity ...

Wait. The last image and the one before that showed differences, all right. There was an abundance of ground animal activity ... it was as if every single animal in the region were up and about. In the daytime. And she knew that some of this world's species were nocturnal. What were they doing?

"They all left," said Jessica. "The animal species all migrated out of the area. There's no sign of animal activity in the last image. Why did they leave? Were they ...?" She turned toward Ryan and Katrina. "They were warned."

The drone signaled it was ready to begin its survey at the new altitude, so Jessica turned towards that screen again. Not even any stumps remained of the trees. She saw dirt and rocks ... and some kind of soil patterning. A curlicue mottling pattern appeared everywhere, as if ...

"Something burrowed into the ground." Jessica's eyes widened. "A lot of something. There's a life form that burrows out of the ground, eats everything, and digs back in."

The hairs on the back of her neck were rising. She got out her voice recorder. "Evidence seems to indicate a life form similar to Earth's 17-year cicadas. Matures underground, emerges to feed and mate, then burrows back underground to lay eggs. Animal life can predict the cycle and depart the area -- and perhaps communicate the danger ... But ... how were the children picking up that communication?"

Katrina looked at Ryan and said, "What we gonna do is those thingys comes here? It that timema tha ... times."

Ryan looked at Katrina with big concerned eyes. He replied, "Guess we does what alla others do ... run n hide."

Katrina and Ryan looked at Jessica who was in turn staring at them. Katrina said, "Jesca ... is we say it time ta go ... we gotta .. now."

Jessica's mouth falls open as she sits back in her chair. Things were starting to look more and more ominous ... and the remaining evidence of the alien colony had begun to make more sense.

----------------------------
~~ End - Pt2 ~~
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~~ Pt3 ~~
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"... So that's why my agricultural plan calls for more expansion into the eastern river valley," said Councilwoman Evers to the audience.
"Ms. Evers?" said a man in the audience, standing up. He was relatively short and had thinning light brown hair. "I'm sure you've heard of it -- our daughter's been saying there were voices -- voices only the kids born on this world could hear, from far away over the bay, sayin' to run from some kinda danger. Lots o' my neighbors are talkin' about it too. D'you know anything 'bout that?"
"I ..." began Evers. "I realize that many of you feel strongly about this issue. Your children are part of your families. But what we're talking about here is an alien influence that is reaching into your homes and affecting your children. Children who have all been born, well, different from you and me. None of us have been hearing any voices," she added, gesturing to herself and the audience.
"Are you sayin' that my daughter's bein' possessed by aliens?" the man said. "That's just ridiculous."
"No, not possessed," said Evers. "I never said that. But something's influencing her -- and all the other children like her too. Sending them messages. What is it? And what else is it sending them messages about? I think it's important that we find out, don't you?"
"Well, I reckon you're right," the man said, with general agreement from the citizens around him. "Whatever's goin' on, we want to know what's behind it."
"I'll definitely make a note of that," said Evers, typing something into her comm. "We will get to the bottom of this -- make no mistake. If something's influencing or controlling the children, it's a threat to us all, and I for one won't sit idly by and let it happen."
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Far off from the main Colony proper in the western mountains, a man had taken his custom made bi-track ATV for a long camping trip with his favorite young lady. They stood out on the prominence over looking a lush green valley.
He turns as he points off to the distance, "An theresa spot I wanna make into my ranch. We raise all kinds critters an hasa large garden for all our needs."
The young woman drapes herself around the large man and says softly, "And we can go into town and sell all the things we grow, and the stuff I can make and my canning ..." A strange expression comes across her face as she points off slightly in another direction.
The man turns his head and sees a very large collection of birds taking fright flight off in the distance. Right before his eyes, at that same spot, he sees the forest as it begins to disintegrate. There is some kind of large and growing mass spreading in all directions very rapidly. In the length of time it took the two of them to blink ... many acres of forest had vanished into what ever the teeming mass was. In fear ... the two of them jumped into the ATV and hurried back towards the Colony proper to tell what they had just seen. Behind them, a noise began to rise in pitch ... one of many mandibles chomping.
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"Wait, Dr. Vernon, you're telling me that there are bugs in the ground that are going to what, come out and eat everything?" asked General Patrick.
"That's exactly what I'm saying," said Jessica's voice, coming from her image on the General's comm screen.
"Why haven't we dug any of these bugs up when we were mining, or doing geological surveys, or digging wells? Or planting crops?"
"We don't know enough to answer that question," Jessica answered. "I haven't the foggiest idea whether they give live birth or lay eggs, or if they do lay eggs, how long it takes their eggs to hatch. My guess is that, eggs or larvae, they're deeper down than we dig when we plant. Maybe the larvae just get out of the way when we're mining. Maybe the eggs look like rocks. We really don't know yet."
"OK," said the general, "well, do we know when they're going to pop up?"
"Maybe," said Jessica. "They seem to emerge in different areas at different times. I don't think the same area experiences a wave of them more often than about once every 20 years. But I don't know whether the creatures emerge only in summer, as it is now, or whether they can emerge any time of year. Uh ... also ..."
"Yes?"
"I think the local fauna know when a wave is coming and evacuate the area. They seem to be able to warn each other." The satellite images Jessica had been looking at appeared on the screen, with the differences highlighted. "And ... I think our children can hear the warning."
"Oh, so is that what it is?" asked the general.
There was a pause. "Not the response I was expecting," said Jessica. "You're saying that you know about this? Oh wait -- of course. All the children born on this world have been hearing it, haven't they?"
"Yes, they have -- just a second, emergency call coming in."
"Of course."
The general places Jessica on hold and keys the other call. A wildly scared man's voice and a near hysterical female voice were screaming about something dissolving everything in site. The general could hear another noise in the background ... one she had never hear before. It was a very loud clacking, crunching, hissing, grinding, noise that seemed to get louder all the time.
The general yells, "Quite, please ... calm down and one at a time tell me what's going on."
The man's voice came back ... a little calmer and more coherent this time, "Is me ... Jeffries from tha yallows. Me n my girl wuz off in tha Western mountains .. see? An suddenly ... some kinna ... boilin mass appeared an dissolveded it all around us."
The general's eyes get big with surprise as she asks, "Can you tell me what the .. mass is?"
The voice returns ... it is obvious Jeffries is turning his head side to side, "Not sure what it is there genral ... but I might not be ablea get away from it. We movin bout 260 kph now an it catchin us. Tha trees seem ta fall over n dissolves in this grindin ..." The comm went dead.
The general shouts, "Jeffries .... Jeffries ... come in" There is nothing but static. The general hits the other line and says, "Dr. Vernon ... I need hard copies of everything you have and your butt in my office yesterday. I think a man called Jeffries just became a victim of those ... critters of yours."
Jessica replies, "Right away general." The General closes the switch as she stares at the barren soil / lush verdant forest of the same area comparison up on her screen. She knows this is not going to end very well.
About 15 minutes later, Jessica landed her hovercycle outside the security module. Known as the military module until two years ago, it had facilities for quartering and supplying all the colony's security troops -- the colonization mission had started out organized along military lines, then, as the charter dictated, it had transitioned to democratic civilian rule, and the military personnel had become a combination of law enforcement and emergency first res ponders.
Jessica had expected to be shown into General Patrick's office, but there was a lot of activity going on outside the complex. The troops were busy prepping ATVs, and the general walked right up to Jessica. "You got here pretty quick, considering you've got my son to look after."
"I've got two now," said Jessica. "Katrina Richter has joined Ryan in the study. Don't worry, the lab assistants are on duty. They'll make sure they get their supper and get to bed on time. Did you get the data?"
"I did," said the general, "and although some of it's too technical for me, I couldn't help noticing there wasn't much of it."
"We did only just discover this," said Jessica defensively. "We just don't know much yet."
"Well, let's go find out some more," said the general. "We've lost contact with Jeffries and his group. They got caught unawares by these things and were trying to escape. They're out west, beyond the canyon. We're going to try to rescue them."
"Uh, if the critters caught up with them, there likely won't be anything to rescue," said Jessica.
"The aerial drones found them and are tracking them," the general said. "I think their comms went out. But more might happen. They still have to get past the canyon. We're going to try to assist. If you'd like to come along, we can talk while we travel, and maybe you can get some ... samples, or whatever you need for science."
"We're ready, General," said one of the soldiers.
"I'll come along," said Jessica. "I understand the need to hurry," she added as she got into an ATV. "It's already going to be dark by the time we get to the canyon."
Council woman Evers had just manage to bring the panic in the chambers down to a dull roar when a farmer rushed in past the security guards and shouted breathlessly, "Hey ... everone! There's somethin goin on out in tha western mountains just past tha canyon. Heardda snacha the emergency transmission from Jeffries ... not real sure what's going on ... but it's got the Genral n alla her crew packin tha heavy artillery onto the ATVs n pulling out fast."
What was a rather calm, although slightly loud, meeting ... exploded into a mad screaming match. Nothing the council woman could do to calm this particular panic attack. Something had happened and an actual radio comm had been received that prompted the General into action.
The farmer had managed to get the mic and said loudly, "Everyone ... All I heard was somethin was happenin. I'm not real sure what was chasing Jeffries ... but it seems he was moving rather fast and it was gaining on him. The General is out doina rescue party now an Doc Vernon's going with her."
With this statement, the room cleared in a mad stampede. Within seconds, the yelling and screaming voices of the wild colonists were fading from the council woman's earshot. She recalled what Doctor Vernon had said previously about some weird mineral, the "voice" the children born here were hearing ... and the artifacts that had been recovered from the alien colony that had vanished leaving behind tantalizing clues. She sat back with a real fear filling her heart. What if .... this was the same disaster that wiped out the aliens too?
She took a deep breath, trying deliberately to calm herself down. No, it would do no good to panic. The important thing was to make sure the colony was protected. That it was in good hands. When the dust from this settled, somebody she trusted should be in charge, and she didn't trust anyone but herself. Her thoughts turned to how best to ensure that she gained politically from this development.
"So let's get down to brass tacks, Doc," said the general as the ATV jostled and bumped across uneven terrain. "How long until the bugs attack the main colony?"
"Well, you remember why we chose this site," said Jessica. "Lots of farmland, because there were very few mature trees. The biggest trees were only about five years old. It's remarkable how tall they get in that time, but it seems to be normal for every species of native tree we've found so far. Anyway, with what we know now, that must mean we got here about five years after this area's last bug wave. It's been five more years. I think we have 10 years before the bugs in the main colony area mature and emerge."
"Plenty of time to find a way to prevent that," said the general, "or to make evacuation plans if we can't. Think this is what wiped out the alien colony?"
"I'm seeing that as pretty likely," said Jessica. "They may not have had any warning, and they may have picked a site where the creatures were nearly mature. But General ... let's not relax just yet. We don't know whether our activities are affecting the creatures' cycle. We don't know a lot of things."
"We're at the canyon," said the soldier who was driving. "Now it gets tricky."
There were signs marking the trails, and he'd been making for one of those, but now he had to drive down a treacherously narrow trail to the floor of the canyon. Then would have to cross the canyon and drive up a similar trail on the other side.
By the time the rescue party had reached the far side of the canyon, it was very obvious something untoward was in progress over the precipice. There was a loud hissing, crunching, grinding, chomping sound that could be heard over the fusion motors of all the ATVs. When the party topped the edge, what they thought was going to be a deep and verdant forest ... looked more like something out of a bad horror movie.
They could see Jeffries ATV rapidly moving through the shrinking foliage as the destruction seemed to gain on him. Trees fell all around him as winged critters took to flight to escape the ugly mass of boiling ... what ever it was, causing the destruction.
The group stopped as they watched in horror. The entire forest seemed to be gone with only a fringe left ... and that too was being devoured almost faster than Jeffries could run. Jeffries quickly reached the rescue party and came to a rapid halt.
He yells out in total terror, "RUN!! Everyone!! Run!! They'll eat you as quick as anything else. The plasma lasers have absolutely no effect ... there are just too many of them!"
Jeffires then shoved his ATV into forward gear and sped off in a huge rooster tail of flying dirt.
"No!" shouted Jessica. "He's got to cross the canyon!" Jeffries was turning aside, to go parallel with the canyon. "General!"
General Patrick found a bullhorn and switched it on. "Now hear this! Jeffries! You must cross to the other side of the canyon! According to Dr. Vernon here, that is your only chance to live!" She turned aside to their driver and said, "Same thing goes for us. Back to the canyon."
"Yes, General," he said, and spun the wheel, the ATV turning back. The general tried the bullhorn again, then got back inside and tried sending the same message to Jeffries on the radio. Dusk was advancing, but they could tell there was nothing left of the forest, just an indistinct writhing mass of ... something on the ground. Jeffries was now turning around and coming their way again.
"Where's the trail head?" asked the general, peering ahead into the deep blue twilight ahead, the illumination of the ATV's lights showing nothing but uneven ground -- reassurance that they were not about to go plummeting off a precipice, at least.
"Just about another half klick," the driver said.
"I ... I see them," said Jessica, peering out the rear window with her binocucam in IR mode. "Their claws are glowing with heat -- they dig so fast, they must really get AHHHH!"
She was mostly panicked and not thinking clearly at all, but was lucky to record one of the creatures up close, as it leaps out of the ground and tried to bite at the ATV. She fumbled at the window and closed it before the creature figured out that it was biting at metal and glass rather than the soft chewy inhabitants of the vehicle. Finding this meal unpalatable, it let go.
"Everything OK back there?" the general shouted.
"Fine ... fine ..." Jessica panted. "They're ... something like centipedes. But big. As long as us. Lots of powerful digging legs ... razor sharp claws ... interesting."
"What?"
"It didn't like the outside of the vehicle," Jessica went on. "Painted metal, glass, plastic -- it must not be able to digest those. Maybe it could dig through them, if it had the motivation. But it would take time and effort. The easier meal gets the attention ... Jeffries! Tell Jeffries to keep his windows closed!"
"If it's not too late," said the general. "Jeffries!" she yelled into the radio. "Damn it, Jeffries, I hope you're hearing this. Keep your windows closed! And head for the canyon!"
"We're there," said the driver, slowing down. The trail head sign, reflective in the dark, shone brightly in the multiple headlights. The ATV turned to make its way carefully downward.
"Canyon must serve as a natural barrier," Jessica said. "Different broods of the species have different territories, but something must divide one group from another. A big rift in the terrain would do it."
Continuing to look out the rear window, Jessica spotted a light. "Light!" she said. "It's Jeffries! He's on the trail behind us!"
"Finally some good news," said the general. "Now, Doc ... any chance of any settled areas getting these things any time soon?"
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Peter Dubrovski opened his eyes from the major replacement surgery he had just undergone. He could feel something different ... strange sensations from his hips down. He felt too weak to sit up and take a look, but he knew in his mind that his new legs were there ... and they made him far superior to all others.
He didn't really believe it ... but he could actually feel pain in the bottom of one of his ... feet. He realized a nurse was there poking it with a sharp probe.
She smiles and says softly, "Welcome back Mr. Dubrovski. I didn't mean to cause you undue discomfort ... I was just checking to make sure the neural synapses made properly with the gold/carbon construct implanted in your hips." Peter smiles weakly at the prospect of having feeling in his new legs. The nurse covers him with a clean sheet as she continues, "You are expected to give a full debriefing in the next little while. People are wanting to know what it was that you found in the deep mine. There ... has been a few major developments since you went under for the surgery."
Peter's eyes opened wide. The last residuals of the anesthetic were thrown off by the surge of adrenalin. He said with worry in his voice, "What happened? Tell me."
The nurse pats him on his new leg. He could actually feel it as she did it. She says softly, "Relax, the Head of the Mine and the Chief Biologist will be back in a few hours from the Western Mountains ... they will tell you more than I ever could."
Before Peter could say anything else, The nurse wheels around and vanishes through the auto-door and is gone with an airy whoosh. Peter flops back on his pillow. The vivid last memory in his mind before the mining machine exploded ... brought chills to his spine.
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"As a member of the Colony Council," Ms. Evers was saying on the screen, "I ... politely request that I be admitted to this -- what did General Patrick call it? -- debriefing session. I am entitled ..."
General Patrick turned toward Mr. Jeffries and his party. "That is why we are here," she said, gesturing at the screen. "She's not at our doorstep or anything, but she's about 30 minutes away if she should decide to come here ... and she's been doing everything she can to crank up the sense of panic and imminent danger wherever she goes. Three guesses as to why. Hint: she's a politician."
"You think she'd use this threat for her own advantage?" asked Jeffries's brother.
"In a heartbeat," said Jeffries, snorting.
"I can't keep you here, and I don't want to," said the general. "And I can't keep you from talking about what happened to you. But it's my job to safeguard the security of this colony, and I'm telling you that if you go out there and tell everyone what you saw, even if it doesn't cause a panic by itself, that woman will use it to create one. And a panic is not good for security. Someone's going to get hurt unnecessarily."
"So what do you suggest we say?" asked Jeffries's brother.
Jessica broke in. "I suggest that first of all, each of you tell us what you experienced out there. I need more data about these creatures, and the general needs to know what they can do and what forms of control proved ineffective."
"And the longer you stay in here, the more time before Evers gets to talk to you," said the general frankly. "Anyway, please, go ahead."
"Well, the first thing that I noticed was that there were no lemares in the trees, no squirbits on the ground," began Lashawna, Jeffries's girlfriend.
Jessica recorded what they said and noted down anything of scientific value, while the general made note of anything of tactical value.
"Thank you, everyone," said the general when it was over. "You can go anytime you like. The fact is, the story's going to come out sooner or later. It's going to be hard to hide the fact that the western forest is gone. But I suggest you emphasize the fact that the destruction stopped at the canyon. Nothing on this side of it was touched, and the creatures didn't follow you."
"And I think I know why," said Jessica, "but of course I need more data to say for sure."
"Anything we can do to help?" asked the general. "It's yours. We all need to know what to expect. These things have been here the whole time, but they blindsided us. We're playing catch up. And we'd better play to win."
"Actually, if it's all the same to you, General," said Jeffries, after conferring with his group, "we'd appreciate it if you could put us up here for the night. We're awfully tired. We can make our way home after we get some rest."
"Understood," said General Patrick. "We'll get quarters ready for you." She got on the screen to the quartermaster.
"I've got to get home," said Jessica. "I need some rest myself. I have to talk to some of the field researchers in the morning."
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"We're sorry, Ms. Evers," said the security guard on the screen, "but the briefing is over. You might as well stay where you are."
"Can I speak with Mr. ... Jeffries, was it?"
"He and his party are very tired and left word that they didn't wish to be disturbed," the guard said. "They're staying overnight here at the security module. Can it wait until morning?"
"I ... suppose so," said Evers. "Thank you, Corporal." She signed off. No information there. Well, perhaps something could be made of that, all by itself.
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Jessica says softly as she packs the notes and computer padd on the table, "I'm also going to debrief Peter Dubrovski when I get back. He should be out of surgery and have his new legs. If nothing else, he should be able to out run these critters."
The 2 women snort before Jessica picks up her case and exits. The General sits back in her chair and shakes her head slowly. She went over in her mind all the many gouges, dents, scratches, tears, and deep gashes in the carbon fiber skin of Jeffries' ATV.
The general knew those ATVs were built for rough usage and even rougher handling. If anyone got a good look at that one ... they would know it had been attacked by some kind of biological ... it was obvious. The general sighs tiredly as she closes her eyes for the first time in 24 hours ... and dreams of massive wiggly things squirming all over her body.
Jessica arrived at the science module about midnight. She was tired ... but was still eager to talk with Peter. She wanted to see him use the new legs ... the sooner after surgery the patient could be up on them ... the better; and she wanted to know what he had seen.
She threw her case on the table and hurried into the hospital part of the science lab while she struggled into her white lab coat. She may as well look the part of a doctor when she entered his room.
The door whooshed open, and Peter turned around. He was standing on his new legs. He was slightly jerky when he moved, but that would pass quickly. The neural interface exactly mimicked the natural ones of his real legs.
Jessica said, "Hello, Peter ... hows the new Pat and Charley doin you?"
Peter smiles as he looks down and lifts the hospital gown slightly. He replies, "It's ... a little awkward ... but better than the alternative."
Jessica laughed as she replied, "Don't worry, Pete, in a few days, they will be ... almost like your own ... although they will have major improvements over your original ones to say the least. If you don't mind ... I would like to ask you some questions about what you saw up until the mining machine exploded."
Peter walked slowly around the end of the bed before he said anything. He looked at Jessica with fear in his eyes and said softly, "The machine broke through a thin plate of some kind of rock over a pit in the floor. It and I both fell in. I was in major pain when I hit ... broke my leg. I saw ... eggs I think. Trillions of em all stacked neatly in rows as far as I could see. They were about 3 feet long and 2 feet through the middle ... looked sorta like a capsule."
Jessica made notes rapidly, "Did you manage to see anything else?"
Peter screwed his face up thoughtfully for a second then said, "Not sure if I did or not Jess ... sorry. That damn hydrogen cell was damaged in the digger and it went off. There is one funny thing though ... not real sure why it took just my legs off. As close to the machine as I was ... should have made hamburger outta me."
Jessica pats Pete on his shoulder and says softly, "I'm very glad all you did was loose your legs. They can be replaced ... a minor with your experience and skill ... can't." They both smiled at each other as Jessica made more notes.
"Well, I've had quite a day, Peter," said Jessica. "I'm going to turn in."
They said goodnight, and Jessica made a few final notes before going to sleep. Her dreams were about furtive creatures that eluded her sight until they suddenly leapt at her out of the shadows with molten claws and slathering fangs.
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"So then this squirbit," said the funny man to Ryan and Katrina, "now you've seen squirbits, right? They can outrun a hovercycle and sprint right up a tree. Anyway, this squirbit must have smelled the chocolate I had in my pocket or something, because it decided I was a tree and climbed right up me!" The children were giggling. "He was poking and tickling and wouldn't give up until I got the chocolate out and tossed it into the underbrush! Then he finally jumped after it and left me alone. That's how I learned they liked chocolate."
"Oh! Dr. Galliard, good morning," said Jessica, walking into the room.
"Dr. Vernon!" he said. "Good day! How are you this fine morning? I saw the kids were awake and decided to tell them about one of my little adventures."
Jessica shakes her head slowly. She remembers the many stories Dr. Gilliard had to tell the children. She says softly, "I hope they weren't the more ... gross ones you have."
Katrina giggles and says in her purring voice, "Nopes ... was about how dem furbits comeded ta love choclot." Both babies giggle as Dr. Gilliard smiles.
Dr. Gilliard says seriously, "Dr. Vernon, I need to know what it was you and the others saw out on that rescue expedition. From some of the rumors ... it's not a very pretty thing."
Rayan said softly, "Getten et up no evera goo thingy."
Dr. Gillard looks seriously at Rayan and asks gently, "What do you mean by that, young man?"
Katrina says, "Whenna voice say run ... those no do it gets et."
Jessica interrupts, "I think we need to go into the other room to discuss this. The children are hearing too many harsh things in the last few hours.
The adults rise and leave for the next room.
"Think I found out more things the voice says," Ryan said to Katrina when the adults had left.
"Me too," said Katrina.
"Like ... it say how many days till the bad things come."
"Oh ... will ya show me that one?" Katrina asked. "If ya do I tell you 'bout the one where they say there's good stuffs ta eats."
"OK, it's like this ..." said Ryan, and they explained to each other more about how the voice's different sounds worked, even though they couldn't actually make the sounds themselves.
"... and then it's squeaking down, real fast, kinda like this," Katrina said, making little screeching noises, "only way higher."
"My goodness, it sounds like we've got a couple o' wild squirbits in here," said Dr. Galliard, opening the door and coming back in.
"Ooo really?" Ryan asked.
"I never seened a squirbit, do we sound like 'em?" asked Katrina at the same time.
"You ... kind of do, actually," said Jessica. "Kids, I think it's OK to talk to Dave about the voice. Is it OK with you?"
Ryan nodded. "Voice says when there's dangers."
"Uh huh, an food," said Katrina, nodding too.
"I had recorded some high-frequency vocalizations," said Dr. Galliard, reaching for his voice recorder. A specially-designed one with a broader audio spectrum, it actually made sounds the children could hear.
"Yeah!" said Ryan. "Kind of ... well it gots some of the sounds but not all of 'em ... sorta ..."
"Somma thems is inside our head," said Katrina. "But that sound like ... somma thems boy aminals is gonna fight about a girl aminal or somefin'. Dunno why they do that, but it say stay away."
"I don't hear anything at all," said Jessica.
"Me either. You kids got reeeeal sensitive ears!" said Dr. Galliard. "You're totally amazing. Just five minutes with you and already I've learned a lot about this world's animals that I didn't know already. Ultrasonic inter-species communication! And possibly something more."
Jessica's comm chimed. "Hmm, that'll be the general," she said. "I'll bet Evers finally managed to talk to one of the Jeffries party. Be right back."
"So, anyone want to tell Uncle Dave a story this time?" said Dr. Galliard. "What does it sound like to you when the voice talks?"
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Outside the lab module, Peter looked at the sunny sky and took a furtive few first unaided steps on his new prosthetic legs. They were self-balancing, but the sensation was very strange. It was something he had to get used to. His comm went off with a few seconds of his favorite song. He lifted it up.
"Mr. Dubrovski?" said Heather Evers on his screen. "I apologize for calling during your convalescence, and I'm sure you didn't expect a call from me, but I'm just trying to find out more about the strange things that have been happening to our colony over the past few days, and I'm just wondering whether you could tell me more about what happened during your unfortunate ordeal." She smiled affably.
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"What's a planemary lectronetic messonance?" asked Ryan when Jessica came back into the room.
"I think it means that Dave should brush up on his physics," said Jessica. Dave made a face at her, then grinned.
"What's a fizzix?" asked Katrina.
"These are all things we'll teach you as you get bigger," Jessica said, "but for right now, we're worried about Ms. Evers."
"She yells a lot," said Ryan.
Jessica tried not to giggle, instead saying, "Yes, actually she does. She's good at getting people all riled up."
"Oh, that one," said Dr. Galliard. "She causing trouble again? Gonna find out about the bugs, get everyone as scared as she can, then do something insane?"
"Guess we all know her," said Jessica, ruffling Ryan's hair with a smile, making him giggle.
"Iffa aminals panic when the voice say danger," said Katrina, "then they gets et."
Jessica's smile vanished instantly. "That's right, sweetheart," she said quietly. "And if we're all in a panic when the danger comes ... no help can come for us."
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Evers sat back in her earth imported deep leather chair and thought seriously hard about what Dubrovski had told her. She couldn't believe how bad things were turning out. If she didn't come up with something to solve this dilemma ... in a very short march of time the colony proper would be eaten as was the western forest.
She remembered the hydrogen fuel cells would make a rather large explosion if over loaded in the proper ... or improper ... as the case may be ... way. She reaches for her comm and punches in the code for the construction engineer. She had a plan to rid her colony of this terror before they even hatched. Evers also remembered there was a large collection of highly flammable cryo-fuel left over from the journey here. She smiles as the voice of the engineer answers.
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Katrina stacks a few blocks on top of each other and purrs as she flicks her tail and wiggles her ears, "You thinka dults gonna listen to us? Is they don't we all gonna gets et n fas."
Rayn shrugs as he wiggles his ears in thought, "Knos Jessica listen ... now that Unca Dave guy too. Seems he gots cordins of soma tha voice." Both babies nod as Ryan knocks over the short pile of blocks eliciting giggles and squeals of delight from both children.
Later that day, Dr. Galliard had traveled to the mining module, where the miners were quite busy cleaning up debris and trying to get the mines operational again after the recent collapse and explosion. "What I understand," he was saying, "is that the collapsed area contained some interesting samples that I'd be interested in obtaining one of for testing."
"Right, Dr. Vernon sent me a message saying you were coming," said the foreman in charge today, whose name badge said, "Locke."
"Great," said Dave, "but how safe is it down there now? Can I get in there to secure the sample?"
"Oh, we've got things pretty well stabilized," said Locke. "You might want to hurry, though."
"Oh? Why's that?" Dave asked.
"Well, Ms. Evers has engineers sizing the chamber up for a pretty big bang," Locke answered. "Says those things are some kind of eggs. Lots of vermin. If you want one, you'd better go now."
"What? That's ... extremely rash and ... ill-advised," said Dave, wanting to say "completely off-her-rocker bouncing-off-the-walls bonkers" while sounding professional.
"Well, it's Council orders," Locke said. "Out of my hands. I can take you down there to get your sample, though."
Meanwhile, Evers was speaking before the Council. "This colony faces a crossroads. This world is clearly not as easily tamable as we had thought. Untold millions of eggs beneath our colony waiting to hatch into an ocean of ravening unstoppable monsters ... an alien influence warping our children's bodies and minds ... we have a choice. Fight back -- or this colony fails." There is a loud rumble of angry voices through out The Council. Evers smiled to herself as she continued, "We do have a fighting option. I have the engineer placing many of the spare hydrogen fuel cells throughout the egg chamber. Along with each cell, is approximately 200 liters of the excess cryo-fuel left over from the ships that brought us here. Once I give the word ... we will blast those creatures eggs back to what ever hell spawned them. Our children will no longer be influenced ... and our Colony will once again be safe from the scourge."
There was a wave of muttering through the audience. This sounded good. But there was one question. "What if the mines collapse?" shouted one man.
"The explosion will almost certainly collapse the mines," said Evers, sadly. "This is why we've pulled all mining machinery and personnel out. No one should be down there except for the engineers who are making final preparations ..."
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~~ End Pt3~~
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---------------------------------
~~Pt4~~
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"There's the chamber," said Locke to Dave, "up ahead, and down a bit." He directed the hover-scooter down the tunnel that Peter's explosion had blasted open, which had since been cleaned up by the mining bots. "There's one of the engineers," he said, as the lights of other vehicles came into view ahead.
"Okay," said Dave, "let's just go over there so I can get one of those eggs, and then we can get out of here ..."
The engineer had gotten out of his vehicle and was standing in their way. Locke pulled the scooter up to him and stopped. "Something the matter?"
"It's dangerous to go down there, Mr. Locke," said the engineer, a woman whose name was apparently Bradley. "We've got fuel cell bombs using ship fuel as an accelerant. It's gonna get hot enough in here to melt titanium."
Dave said, "Look, I'm not even going to start on how dangerous that is. I'm Dave Galliard, zoologist with the science department, and this is the only known place where I can get a sample of one of those eggs. Let me grab one, and we're out of here. I know your orders come from the Council and I can't stop you. I'm just here for a sample before things go boom."
"OK, well, hurry up, grab your sample, and get out," said Bradley. "You two and I are the last ones down here." She got out of the way, and Locke drove the scooter over to the nearest stack of eggs.
The eggs were a metallic-looking gray in color and were about three feet long, shaped like a giant medicine capsule. They were arranged in neat stacks that went on and on as far as the lights from the scooter extended. Dave picked one up. "Heavier than they look," he said, holding it with difficulty. The scooter's motor whined under the extra load. "Sure are a lot of 'em ... and I'll bet this is only the tip of the iceberg. Bet there's lots more unopened caverns with more ... and plenty more of 'em buried all over the area where there's no caverns." He paused. "Well -- let's get moving. I've got an experiment to perform."
When they emerged from the mine, followed directly behind by Bradley, they immediately saw Jessica, outside an ATV. "I suppose you heard what that idiot Evers is doing?" she asked Dave.
"Sure did," he said, "but I got the sample. Time to experiment."
"No time like the present," she said. She detached the trailer from the ATV.
"That's an empty fusion fuel tank?" asked Bradley. The trailer was carrying a large silver metal cylinder, bigger than the ATV itself.
"Sure is," said Jessica, introducing herself to Bradley briefly with a handshake. "We're about to demonstrate what heat does to these eggs and their ... passengers."
Dave detached the fuel tank's valve and slid the egg inside, then fastened it back up. "Got a graduated thermal reaction set up in there -- been brushing up on my physics and chemistry. Each stage should ignite the next. We can monitor the temperature, and this tank's built to stand up to nuclear fusion."
"How long until Evers does this experiment on a large scale?" Jessica asked Bradley.
"Should be at 18:00 hours."
"That's less than an hour," said Jessica. "Better light it up," she told Dave.
"Righto," he said, and picked up a control panel, attached to the tank with a long cable. "Data recorders on ... and ... initiating reaction." He thumbed a large red button.
Nothing happened for some time other than the numbers on the digital temperature indicator rising. "1000 Kelvin and it's just sitting there and taking it," he said. "Got some kind of vapor rising from the shell ... got a spectrum we can analyze later. Next stage ... 1500 Kelvin."
There was a bang from inside the tank. "Now something's happening," he said. "1700 Kelvin ..." Jessica, that egg is definitely hatching. Not burning. Hatching. 1900 Kelvin."
"That's enough to melt titanium," said Bradley, an expression of disbelief on her face. "It's ... alive?"
There was more noise from inside the tank, "And kicking, it sounds like," said Dave. "The MRI scan shows that some kind of larval form has emerged from the egg, and ... it's maturing fast. 2000 Kelvin ... and the next stage is going off."
"I don't have a good feeling," said Bradley.
"That makes all of us, I think," said Locke.
There was an echoing unearthly howl from inside the tank.
"It ... It's ... maturing, I think, from the visuals I've seen," said Dave.
"Yes," said Jessica, looking at the screen on Dave's control box. "That's the right size and shape. We've got an adult in there now. Somehow the heat is making it mature faster. Maybe it'll also age faster ... but Evers's explosion isn't going to have sustained heat like this."
There was an intense sound of scraping, scratching and thrashing from the tank. "2500 Kelvin," said Dave. The tank visibly rocked. "Uh, stand clear," he said, "and be ready to run for a vehicle just in case." Everyone backed away, and jumped when the tank rolled off the trailer. "2800 ..."
There were deformations appearing in the surface of the tank, which was also starting to glow slightly red. "3000," said Dave, "and there's the final stage of the reaction." The tank was sinking into the ground somewhat as the soil liquefied around the tank, igniting the grass a few inches from it in all directions. "I'm going to lose the data connection ... yep. I have no idea what the temperature is in there anymore." The tank's inhabitant was continuing to thrash around inside, and long, slashing ridges were appearing in the tank's surface. Finally, though, the movement stopped, although the tank continued to get hotter for a short while after that.
"... Recommend we abort operation," Bradley was saying into her comm. "Biologicals are extremely resilient to high temperature. And by extremely I mean extremely. It'll hatch the eggs early, not destroy them ... yes ... um ... well, all right, but I'm not staying here for it ..."
Jessica looked at Dave and the others. "I think we're done here. Got the data up linked?" At Dave's nod, she got back in the ATV. "I don't recommend any of you stay here. This place is about to become Ground Zero ... and I'm not talking about the explosion."
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Katrina and Ryan looked up at each other with big eyes. Fear crept into their cute faces as both began to twitch their ears. Both Children felt the rumble all through the building as glassware rattled and cabinets shook and small objects fell from tables.
Katrina said fearfully, "Tha voice ... it say run ... now!!"
Ryan and Katrina did their best to open the door to the play room. The ground continued to tremble for a few minutes while they attempted to do this. Suddenly, Jessica burst into the room and snatched the children up.
Both of them screeched, "We gotsa run ... now ... tha time comeded."
Jessica replied breathlessly as she takes the children to the ATV and roughly tosses them into the back, "Hold on kids ... this is going to get rough."
She jumps into the driver's seat, slams the ATV into forward, and punches the powerful motor all the way open. The treads throw massive amounts of dirt high into the air as it digs huge trenches and rapidly speeds off toward the northern canyon.
Katrina shrieks, "Those ... thingys comin Jessca!!"
Jessica reaches back with a spare hand and pats Katrina on the head. She replies as calmly as she could, "I know, sweetheart ... all too well I know."
Jessica looked into her rear view mirror as she watched the huge fiery explosion behind her grow larger as plumes of fire rose rapidly into the sky. She could swear also ... she saw movement within the flames ... a lot of movement where nothing living should be.
Jessica breathed a slight sigh of relief as she saw many other ATVs speeding away from the fiery explosion headed in the same direction as she. With any luck, all of them would cross the canyon just before dark and those critters wouldn't cross.
"You kids just go ahead and tell me whatever the voice is saying," Jessica said to Ryan and Katrina, secured in child seats in the back.
"It say run now," said Ryan. "And more stuff we dunno what it is."
"Think it sayin' where to run," Katrina added. "Dunno alla words yet."
"What ...?" said Jessica, looking ahead. "That's the Shen place," she said. "They're still there." She looked at Dave, next to her, and at Peter, behind him. "I guess we'd better warn them."
Dave picked up his comm and started sending a message, as Jessica turned toward the cluster of farm buildings.
To the children Jessica added, "It might be hard, but we need you kids to listen hard and try to figure out what else it's saying, OK?" Katrina and Ryan nodded at her reflection in the mirror.
Pulling up outside the farmhouse, Jessica saw the Shen parents coming outside.
"Dr. Vernon," said Mrs. Shen. "We saw your message, of course ... but Councilwoman Evers says everything will be fine soon."
"I'm sure she says a lot of things," said Jessica, "but she's about to cause a mass hatching. Long story short -- those eggs are under the entire colony, not just in those caves. Even if her tiny explosion manages to destroy those, there are millions more under our feet wherever we go. And I think it's only going to incubate them, not destroy them. If you want to survive, I beg of you, get moving now."
Mr. Shen looked worried. "But our kids -- we have to keep them indoors -- the alien influences --"
"The children hear the voice of the planet's animal life," said Jessica. "We're the aliens here, but they're warning each other of danger, and we're lucky that the kids can listen in."
"But ... how ...?" began Mr. Shen, but his wife interrupted.
"How much time?" she asked.
"It's really hard to say," said Jessica. "They're already hatching at the mines, certainly."
"Bloody hell," said Dave, looking at his comm. "The camera drone images are coming in. They're spreading out. And they just keep coming. The mines are ... gone. Rubble. They'll be here by midnight, for sure."
"Pack up the vehicles, Zhu," said Mrs. Shen, "I'll get the kids and start grabbing non-perishable food. Go!"
"Good," said Jessica to the retreating couple. "Good luck!" She started driving away.
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General Patrick and the security battalion had been ready since before the explosion and were on the move, from the security module toward the government module, which was near the center of the colony. "We'll be there shortly," she said. "Your orders are to spread the word about the evacuation and to give assistance to any who don't have vehicular transport of their own. We've got plenty of room, we've got supplies ... I just hope not too many of them are listening to that idiot."
"General, we have visual contact," said the lookout, holding up his night vision binoculars. "300 degrees, range approximately 10 miles."
"Damn," the general said. "It's going to be close."
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Evers sat back in her Earth Imported deep leather chair and smiled to herself as the building around her shook violently. Small items fell from shelves as drawers flopped open and plasteel window pains shattered.
Evers said calmly to the view screen in front of her, "I'm telling you and the rest of the council, there's absolutely nothing to worry about. The engineer has assured me that between the hydrogen fuel cell detonation, and the burning of that much cryo-fuel ... temperatures within the chamber will exceed 2000 kelvin for at least 3 minutes. That's hot enough to melt just about anything known except for the exotic metals the ship fusion tanks were constructed of."
A murmur of concerned voices rolled around the chamber. One voice spoke up, "Council Woman Evers, General Patrick, Dr. Jessica Vernon, and several others of the Bio-engineering section are saying that this is more than dangerous action to take. It will adversely effect the eggs and cause a major disaster."
Evers laughs, "I assure you all ..."
Evers never got to finish her statement as a section of the council chamber floor collapsed. From within, came crawling something that looked like a grub worm that sprouted legs, claws, and diggers with large vicious mandibles as the shocked people looked on.
Mass panic ensued as several of the hideous creatures emerged from the deep hole in the chamber floor. Evers panicked as did everyone else. Most of the people attending the meeting had driven their ATVs and had a convenient, albeit close, escape. Evers barely managed to dodge a voracious insect as it chomped the person she had jumped behind.
Evers looked wildly around ... the only thing she could see close enough for her to escape to, was to the well constructed Government building where her office was. She made a mad dash for the door just in time as the court yard filled with hungry bugs.
Evers sat at her desk once again, deep within the bomb proofed structure. Her comm came to life. The face of the general appeared. It was obvious she was in a rapidly moving and madly dodging ATV.
Evers said with fear in her voice, "General ... I'm ... I ... I'm cut off and trapped."
The General snapped, "That was the most idiotic thing I ever saw anyone do. Where in hell are you?"
Evers holds on the the arms of her chair as the building shook. Something was impacting it hard. She could hear screams of individuals that weren't so lucky as to find a secure place to hide.
Evers said, "I .. I'm in my office in the Government building."
The general swore loudly. The general called Evers about every derogatory name she could think of. Finally, the general said, "You picked perhaps the worst possible place. That's bug central and worse."
Evers screamed fearfully, "Help me general! It's your sworn duty to help ..."
The wall to the left of Evers shattered and collapsed. The comm went dead along with the lights in a shower of shorting electrical conduits and dangling wire.
For just an instant ... Evers faced her worst nightmare as many insects paused from their voracious feeding and all looked each other over. The massive heat from the insects digging appendages permeated the room and caused Evers to sweat even more.
The instant passed. A free meal was sitting there completely unguarded. The insects attacked viciously. Evers screamed loudly as she feels the mandibles cut deeply into her soft flesh and the digging appendages do what many centuries of evolution had designed them to do.
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"Evers? Evers!" the general shouted into her comm. "Damn!" She turned to the soldier next to her in the ATV. "Lieutenant! Any chance we can get to her?"
"Negative, General," said the lieutenant, looking into her own comm, which was showing a tactical display. "Latest info shows her last known position ... totally overrun."
"Evac status report?" the general asked.
The lieutenant checked and said, "We've picked up 27 colonists, 4,900 evacuating under their own power, 22 unaccounted for."
Without warning, a bug chewed its way out of a building near them. The general could have sworn it was staring straight at their ATV.
As it was joined by some of its comrades, the general said, "That's it. Move out." The convoy started moving away. As the vehicles picked up speed, she continued, "Point of diminishing returns. Staying longer, we risk losing the ones we've rescued and maybe our own lives for a lower and lower chance of rescuing more. I hate decisions like that. But somebody has to make the call."
"Where to now, General?" asked the driver.
"General," interrupted the lieutenant, "I'm seeing scattered unevacuated farm settlements nearby that will soon be surrounded."
"All units with room, make for settlements close enough that we have a chance of getting to them in time," said the general. "Have the computer set up a tactical plan. Send it to all units."
"On it, General," said the lieutenant, tapping on her comm.
"Go! Move!" the general shouted, once the plan lit up on the tactical display. "You all have your orders. Any questions, ask them in route. I want any new data on bug positions sent to tactical!"
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In the lab module's ATV, Ryan and Jessica were wailing. "Another one ... gone," Ryan cried. "The voice ... all sad."
"Too many," wailed Katrina, tears streaming down her tiny face. "Too many gone."
"General?" Jessica asked over her comm. "I don't know how they know, but the children are saying lots of people have been lost ... yes, Ryan's OK, he's with me here. You're doing what? General, that wave's expanding and there's nothing behind it but more waves ..."
"MOMMY!" said Ryan. "Mommy! Go to the sunrise! The voice says ... go to the sunrise!"
"Did you hear that, General?" asked Jessica.
"I did," came General Patrick's voice. "And I'm listening. I'll see you soon, baby. I love you."
The call ended, and Jessica said, "Your mommy is saving lots of people, Ryan. She's very brave. You try to be brave too, OK?"
"O ... K ..." Ryan said, whimpering softly, trying to swallow his tears.

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~~ End Pt4 ~~
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~~ Pt5 ~~
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Jessica pulls up to a rapid stop in a large cloud of dust in front of the Thomase's Ranch. Mrs Thomas could been seen off to one side casually hanging out her delicates to air dry.
Jessica turns on the ATV's PA system full volume and shouted, "This is no drill and is a level 1 class A evacuation order. You must leave immediately and head east towards the rising sun."
Both of the Thomases turned and looked towards Jessica. Mr. Thomas strolled over to Jessica and leaned on the door of the ATV. He spat some of what ever he was chewing on in a large brown blob then said casually, "That there Evers woman done said you'ld be by tryina cause trouble. She dun tol alla us out these parts everthin gonna be ok with them critters n stuff."
Jessica felt a wave of frustrated anger wash through her as she calmed herself enough to reply, "Miss Evers ... is dead. Her entire building has been totally ... eaten by the scourge. There are many waves of them ... some not too far behind ... and some soon to emerge beneath your feet."
Mr. Thomas spat once more and snorted, "Y'all can say that ... but I can still see tha broadcast from satellite playin onna comm."
About that time, a young girl leaned out the door and yelled, "Pa? That comm thing done quit and it gots somethin on it says EBS. Making this horrid sound ... all squallin n stuff."
Mr. Thomas stood up just in time to see a very large grub worm looking thing break through the ground near his barn.
As the young girl saw it and screamed, Jessica took some footage of the worm. "I really wish you'd take my advice and evacuate. Looks like the larvae are starting to hatch."
Mr. Thomas looked at it and swallowed nervously. "I, uh, ain't seen nothin' like that before," he said.
His wife ran over to see what was the matter with their daughter, took one look at the eight-food grub worm, screamed too, grabbed the girl, and ran over to Mr. Thomas and Jessica's ATV.
"W-what is that?" she stammered out, holding her daughter protectively. The little girl's fluffy tail was wrapped around her mother's arm.
"Those are the babies," said Dave. "You don't wanna see the grown up ones."
"How ... long do we have?" Mr. Thomas asked.
"Well, the ones near the explosion matured rapidly because of the heat, but out here," said Jessica, pausing to think. "I have no idea." But behind her, Ryan and Katrina were clamoring.
"It say sunrise," said Ryan.
"Go to the sunrise?" Katrina asked.
"Yeah," said Ryan. "No! Both! It say go to the sunrise, but it also say sunrise is when they get here. It no maked sense before, but now it do."
The little girl heard them and turned to look at them. "They hear it," she said. "Mommy, they hear it like me. The voice is tryin' to help us. Tryin' to warn us."
"We're still not sure how that works," said Jessica, "but it does. Please, trust your daughter. And trust your eyes. Those things are hatching, and a bunch of adult ones are coming."
"'Them things?' Oh my Lord ..." Mr. Thomas turned around to see several more of the large grub worms emerging from the ground, and several on the ground tunneling back down into the soil.
"Voice says danger, Mama," said Lily, with urgency in her eyes and voice. "It says go to the sunrise. It say ... run now!"
"We better go," said Mrs. Thomas to her husband.
"Yeah," he said. "Go east?"
"That's what it says," said Jessica. "We were heading north, but then the kids said to go east. They've always been right so far."
"OK, we're goin'," said Mr. Thompson. "Good luck!"
"Thank you," said Mrs. Thompson as they ran for their house, dodging the giant grub worms, which seemed to pay no attention to them ... yet.
General Patrick slammed on brakes hard. The restraining harnesses dug deeply into the ATV's passengers as it's treads locked up totally and skidded for several yards. The general was getting frustrated at the tenacity of these stupid bugs. Every run she attempted to do seemed to have a rather large group of the bugs spring up in front of her. She grabs the plasma rifle between the seats and leans out the window. She fires several shots right into the eye of the largest one.
The plasma balls explode on contact causing the bug to rear up on it's hind legs and roar loudly. This also caused the others around it to stop momentarily in their voracious eating to look. The general dropped the plasma rifle in the lap of the corporal sitting next to her and jammed the ATV into forward gear and stomped the power pedal to full. The ATV lept forward in a large showering rooster tail of dirt and debris as they rocketed through the small opening created.
No sooner had they passed, than the gap filled with insects, cutting off anyone unfortunate enough to have been following. Run east ... was all that ran through the general's mind. She began to sense that it was more than just her thoughts ... but something ... vague was trying to ... No! it's just the tension of it all. Without warning, a very vivid "TURN LEFT NOW!" rang in her mind's eye. She yanked the steering wheel to the left.
The ATV responded immediately as it was built to do and dug a large trench as it veered to the left in a large shower of earth. Directly in front of the path they had been traveling, a large section of the ground gave way. All they could see within ... was a large boiling mass ... of hungry voracious insects clamoring for any morsel they could find.
The General navigated around the depression and continued easterly. She began to wonder about ... what it really was ... when she seemed to feel Ryan with her ... telling her where to go.
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Dave had taken over driving from Jessica, who was feeling extremely tired. The children had fallen asleep from exhaustion. Peter was tired too; his system was still recuperating from the shock of his injury. They had been driving all night, sending comm messages, trying to find isolated settlers who hadn't gotten or believed the evacuation orders yet. There was just nothing more they could do but ... keep going. Some of the refugees had crossed the canyon to the north; others had gone east, but none of them had made it this far yet.
Suddenly the incessant bouncing and jostling of the ATV gave way to a smooth ride.
"What?" said Dave. "Wait -- it's the beach. We've reached the bay." He turned left to drive parallel to the water. "We don't know how the bugs handle water," he said, "but we've never seen the things cross water -- suppose they don't like it?"
"Not sure," said Jessica tiredly. "Need data ... don't have it."
"Could go amphibious," said Dave, "but not till we need to. We go slower on water, and if someone needs us it'll take longer to get back to land. We'll just stay near the shore so we can head into the water whenever."
"Good idea," said Jessica. She looked at her comm. "General and her troops've rescued all they could ... they're heading east now, at top speed. Bugs're fast, but they're outrunning 'em for now."
"Well that's good," said Dave. "Ryan's mum's okay."
"Engineers got the heavy copters and evacuated the mining gear," Jessica added. "They had to obey Evers's orders, but they got their families out early. Engineers. Always practical."
The general arrived at the beach well after dark. There were many ATV's everywhere. Many of the refugees had built fires and erected tents. One ATV stood out from the rest, the general recognized it as Jessica's and the science department.
General Patrick stopped beside the ATV. Many of the refugees looked around with their mouths open. The general knew there must be many gouges and gashes from the bugs in the skin. She and the corporal emerged from the ATV. Stuck to the spine of her ATV by its mandibles, in all its glory ... was the head and first few digger appendages of a giant bug.
The corporal said with awe in his voice, "It looks like it was a near miss on that one."
The general nods just as Jessica rushes up and gasps out, "Are you all right, general? How are the ones you managed to save?"
The general looked around at the passengers getting out of her ATV and said, "I think we managed to make it. I was unable to save Evers and those idiots that chose to hide in the Admin Building ... for some reason the bugs chose to attack it first."
The general heard a small voice shrieking as it rapidly grew nearer. She turns just in time for something small, furry, and extremely glad to see her as it jumped into her arms.
Ryan screams, "Mommy, mommy, mommy, ur oks" then wrapped his paw hands around her neck and begins to sob softly.
The general hugs Ryan lovingly and coos softly as she pats his hinny, "It's Ok baby ... mommy heard your voice and followed it all the way out."
"Huh?" said Ryan, confused. "I ... hadda dream, and you were in trouble, and I knewed what to do ... but dreams not real, are they?"
General Patrick just laughed and said, "There's a lot we don't understand about this planet, honey. Just let's keep watching out for each other. I am so glad you're okay!" She brushed her hand through his hair.
"Excuse me, General?" asked the lieutenant with the tactical display up on her comm.
"Yes, what is it, Lieutenant?"
"You wanted to be notified when we got any information from the sensors we dropped," she said, holding up the screen. "We're getting activity on some of the first ones."
"I see," said the general, "and it's good that they're working. Those were what, about 50 klicks ago?" At the lieutenant's nod, she continued. "Nothing huge to worry about yet, then. We can get some rest. Keep an eye on it, have the computer keep an eye on it, and when you get some rest, have whoever relieves you keep an eye on it. And get some rest. That's an order."
"Yes, General," the lieutenant said.
"Well, Ryan," the general said, "we'll have to figure out what to do next, won't we? But first we need some rest." Looking down at the small figure in her arms, already asleep, she added, "Looks like you already know that part." She checked his diaper and found a sleeping tent to set up where they could both rest.
Dr. Richter finally managed to get to the eastern shore. The sky far off beyond the mountains had already begun to show signs of sunrise soon. He was very tired. He looked over at the sleeping form of his wife Vicki and smiled. He hoped that the radio transmissions he had heard from Jessica meant that his daughter was safe.
Dr. Richter pulled up into the makeshift camp and stopped near one of the tents marked as Military. He saw the general's ATV still adorned with her bug trophy. He shook his head as he leaned in the tent flap. He saw the general, her son, Jessica, Katrina, and several others lying on cots asleep. Dr. Richter felt a strong surge of relief as he walked over and knelt beside Katrina.
Katrina's nose and ears twitch for a second before her beautiful yellow eyes popped open and looked right at him. She squeals out and grabs him around the neck and hugs him tight.
Dr. Richter says softly, "Mommy's OK too. She's outside in the vehicle waiting for me to come back."
Dr. Richter stands and carries Katrina out of the tent as the general and Jessica watch. Both of the women smile.
Dr. Richter reunites mother and daughter. He looks back toward what used to be the colony proper. He can see explosions and fires in the far distance as fuel tanks and hydrogen cells erupted. He hoped they would be able to find a safe haven. He turns and thinks hard about the water. They still had the materials and resources to build beneath the waters ... only problem would be agriculture that most of the farmers knew how to do. This issue could be over come in time ... as long as they had the time that is.
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"Mommy!" Ryan said, shaking his mother's shoulder. "Mommy, wake up! There is danger!"
"Hmm?" said the general, then sat bolt upright, fully awake, an ability she'd acquired out of necessity during many campaigns when she was younger. She checked the time. She picked up Ryan and exited the tent.
"Danger," Ryan said again.
General Patrick found the current sentry who was watching for signals from the remote sensors.
"'Splosions," Ryan said. "Hot."
"Lieutenant Appleton," the general said, "status report."
The lieutenant had been looking at the screen, which showed very little activity. "Negative on the sensors, General," he said. "Nothing new."
"Get ready," the general said. A thought occurred to her. "The hydrogen fuel tanks at the eastern supply depot ... they went up while I was asleep, didn't they?"
"Well ... yes, General, right after Dr. Rechter's group arrived. But that's over 5 miles away. How did you --"
"Heat makes the worms mature into bugs faster," the general said. "The primary wave still can't get here for hours, if they even come here at all, but now there's a new one whose point of origin is about 5 miles away."
"Omigod," said Appleton, finally getting it. "Nothing on the sensors yet, but the closest one to the depot is ..." A red light appeared on his display. "Omigod."
"Sound the alarm," said the general.
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~~ End Pt5 ~~
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~~ Pt6 ~~
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People in all manner of dress ... and undress ... children, women, men .... dashed from their tents in an almost panic. Tents were struck and repacked into the ATVs along with any other supplies that had been strewn about. Jessica came from her tent dressed in just her undies and a T shirt.
She ran over to the general and said in a concerned voice, "What happened? Why the alarm? I'm sure the bugs won't come near water ... look at all the over growth. Much of it is over 50 years old and untouched."
The general replied, "I'm not taking any chances. I was introduced to those things a little more closely that I wanted to be."
About that time, the western horizon lit up brightly as the cryo-fuel storage facility exploded. Even this far away, the explosion was loud and the over pressure wave was strong enough to knock the unwary down in a large swirling cloud of dust and debris. The smell of burning was more than noticed as huge amounts of light could be seen leaping to the heavens.
"OK, that facility was only about two miles away," shouted the general once the noise began to die down. Her ears were still ringing. "No reason why it would go up unless the bugs caused enough damage, and that wouldn't happen unless they were there."
"And the secondary wave just caused a third wave because of our fuel," Jessica added. "OK, I'm not willing to bet our lives and the lives of the kids on my suspicion that the bugs won't come near water, especially when we're right here making all kinds of interesting noise, vibrations, or whatever they sense. Let's get water between us and them."
"Right," said the general. "Come on, people, let's move out!" Her order sparked several lower-ranking officers to start giving more specific orders, and the sleeping tents and supplies were packed into the vehicles in minutes.
"OK, Doc, where to?" General Patrick asked Jessica. "Go amphib and head out into the bay a little way?"
"Well, if we head northeast around the bay, we'll come to the river," Jessica said, pointing at a map she called up on her comm. "Should make it there around full dawn. We can cross the river, and we should be safe then. I can tell the people who headed north that they should cut east and try to cross the river -- we can meet up with them."
Dave had overheard this and came over to say, "Actually, there's a shelter in that area that I'd been building -- I've been in that area studying the local animals for over a year. I can send out the coordinates. We can meet there. It's not big enough for everyone, of course, but we've got enough people and supplies that we can put up some more temporary buildings."
"Sounds like a plan," said the general. "Send those coordinates. Let's get moving!"
Several ATVs started to move, their treads kicking up sand, as the general, Jessica and Dave headed for their vehicles. Just then, the sand erupted right under one of the moving ATVs, and a full-sized creature emerged, gnawing on its undercarriage.
The vehicle's treads spun uselessly, some churning up sand and others spinning in air as the creature slowly pushed the ATV onto its side. The general swore and ran for the nearest plasma rifle. Jessica appeared to be running for her own ATV.
"Where there's one there's more," the general said into her comm. "Get out of there. I'll distract it with this rifle. Units ... 17 and 12, back me up, fire at it whenever you can be sure to hit the creature, not the people. Abandon the vehicle, run for other vehicles, and let's get out of ... what?"
She had just apparently seen a figure drop out of the sky, landing on the side of the overturned ATV, and start opening the doors and helping its passengers out. One of them was a child. The parents handed the child to this man, who leapt at least 40 feet away to a spot behind another vehicle.
"It's Dubrovski," said the general. "Those prosthetic legs are working great, it looks like. Orders stand: distract the creature with rifle fire so the passengers can evacuate."
Plasma rifle shots impacted on the creature's plating from three directions, hissing and sizzling without doing visible damage, but it worked -- the creature turned away and seemed to be trying to locate the source of the sensations it was feeling.
The child in Dubrowski's arms was totally amazed. He kept babbling about being saved by a super hero as Peter gave the child over to an adult. Pete then leapt high into the sky once again to land on the over turned ATV with easy grace. Since the large insect had turned away, Dubrowski jumped to the ground on the top side of the ATV, put his back to it, then pushed with his new legs. Pete felt the strain run through his back and hips as the super powered legs did their job. He was extremely glad that he had allowed Jessica and the other surgeon to implant the spinal and hip bracing necessary to perform this feat.
The Adults still in the ATV were totally amazed as it righted itself and came to rest once again on its treads. Without hesitation, the ATV sped away in a huge shower of sand, leaving Peter to stare down a rather large, and seriously hungry bug. With all his new strength in his legs, Pete jumped. The result of it was totally amazing, as Pete sprang out of sight of all who were watching, only to return running at speeds greater than the ATV's at full throttle.
The general lowered her plasma rifle as she stared in amazement. She knew those prosthetic legs were better than normal human legs, but she had no idea they were super human and could perform in that manner.
By the time the bug had regained itself, the colonists had entered the water. The general and the remainder of her troops followed quickly behind as many more bugs erupted from the sandy beach.
Jessica's ATV wasn't moving yet, General Patrick noticed. "Doc? You'd better get moving ... that thing is eyeing your vehicle."
Another creature crawled up out of the sand, dozens of yards away, and started writhing curiously toward the first. "Just one more experiment," came Jessica's voice. The side door of her ATV opened, revealing Jessica holding a bucket of water.
"Damn, Doc, when you're sure, you're sure. Just throw that water and get outta there."
"It's not close enough," said Jessica. "Just a little closer."
"Throw the water now, Doc!"
Jessica focused intently on the creature's movements. She knew they could strike with blinding quickness, so she held as still as she could. Perhaps it wouldn't sense her until it was too late. The rear half of its body undulated slowly toward her, with the front half raised up, ready to act.
Jessica could see its powerful mouth parts and many blade like legs ... and decided that was about close enough. In one movement she swung the bucket upward and outward toward the creature, dropped the bucket, and shut the door. She didn't even know if she'd hit it until the door was closed and she was watching through the window -- and capturing this on video.
"Subject has been successfully exposed to water," she said, noting the water dripping off its body.
The creature seemed stunned at first. Then it suddenly started to writhe and thrash about randomly, making grating, wheezing noises.
"Interesting," Jessica said.
"Can it be time to go now?" the general asked over the comm. "I'm not leaving you here, Doc."
The centipede-like monster soon stopped moving and lay there on the beach.
"I really wish I could get a sample," said Jessica, "but that isn't practical right now. Dave, time to go."
"Righto," he said, and the ATV jumped forward. Sand sprayed from the treads, and the last two remaining vehicles were under way and churning through the waters of the bay. Not very many of the creatures had dared to venture this near to the shore.
Jessica sat in her ATV far off shore and watched as the bug numbers along the beach mounted. It was very obvious they didn't venture very close to the water's edge. Jessica watched the vid she took of the encounter she had with the bug and the bucket of water over and over. Jessica didn't know if the water had killed the insect, but she was absolutely positive that it had disabled it enough that water could be used to protect themselves with.
Jessica noticed her comm light up with the general's call numbers. She pushes a button and the general's face appears on the screen.
The general says, "Well, it seems you were right about the water effecting the bugs."
Jessica laughs as she replies, "It has to do with the right amount of heat ... and the fact we have found no indication of bug infestation in any wetland on the planet."
The general replied, "I did notice that the only old growth on the planet was in the wet lands and along the water's edge."
Jessica changes the subject, "I have sent out a repeating emergency beacon for all EMS channels that all survivors head towards the river. Those that had headed north are instructed to turn easterly and ride the river to the mouth. I think we all should meet up about dawn at the old fishing camp there."
With the general's ATV in the lead, all the rest fell in line and followed convoy style towards the mouth of the river .... and the old fishing camp.
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As they traveled, they all watched the other survivors' positions on their comms as they headed for the river, which meandered its way down from the north and emptied into the bay at a point northeast of the original colony area. West of it, the cliffs of the northern canyon rose up, separating the colony from the lands to the north. Ages ago a river had carved that canyon, but unlike the western canyon's river, this one had dried up.
It was hours later, and the eastern sky was starting to glow with the approaching dawn, when the exhausted convoy realized they were nearly to the river. The shout went out over their comms. "Whooo, that there river's a sight for sore eyes," came Mr. Thomas's voice, and there were cheers from many of the ATV groups.
Jessica's ATV was one of the last to crest the bluff and see the river in the distance, in the dim predawn light. As they gradually grew closer and the light grew better, she could see the water spilling out into the bay, carrying lots of dirt and silt with it, discoloring the clearer open water.
"Wait, why is the river so dirty ...?" she asked.
"No, that's not normal," said a voice, and she realized she'd left her comm open. She recognized the geologist who'd discovered the ruins of the alien settlement. "Something upstream must have been disturbing the soil -- oh." He stopped. They all knew what had been disturbing the soil.
"Has it been raining up north?" Jessica asked. She checked recent satellite readings. "Yes, it has. What do these creatures do when it rains?"
"Probably dig deeper underground," said Dave. "Still, if water's so bad for them, how do they avoid groundwater? Some water's still going to make it down there."
"Maybe not enough to bother them ... or maybe they just stay there and take it," Jessica surmised. "Just our luck that there wasn't any rain here when all of this happened."
"We need more data," said Dave, using Jessica's favorite phrase and smirking slightly at her.
A voice on the com says, "Look, up ahead ... there's hundreds of ATVs sitting at the mouth of the river."
"Yes, we do," she said, tiredly amused. "Hmm, when they're underground and digging, they generate a lot of heat, so they can stand a little water because it evaporates quickly ... wait. General Patrick, did you see what the creatures did as we left? I didn't see them follow us. Did they disperse, burrow down, what?"
The general's voice came back, slightly tense. "They all burrowed back into the ground, Doc. What are you thinking?"
"I know we've been staying near the bay, where there's lots of water in the soil," Jessica said, "but as long as they stay active they can keep themselves dry with all that heat."
"They can't tunnel under the river," said the geologist, "because the tunnel would just collapse and fill with water, unless they dig extremely deep ..."
"Which they can," said General Patrick. "They can dig through concrete and bite through steel -- it takes effort, but they can do it. I've seen them do it."
"Maybe it's too much effort to be worth it?" said Jessica. "Or ... maybe it's something else. But be on your guard, everyone. They might see this as their last chance to catch us before we make it across."
The general and the survivors that followed her arrived at the mouth of the river just as the sun peaked over the ridge. There were literally hundreds of ATVs all floating close to shore at the mouth of the river. There were many excited and happy voices over the comms as families discovered their missing members with the other group. There were some that were grieving as they discovered their loved ones didn't make it out in time.
The general gathered them all together in an orderly manner and started off towards the encampment Dave had given her the coordinates to slightly up river from their current location. As the ATVs began to leave the river and ride up on shore, the general noticed a stand of trees began to waver as if in a strong wind, then vanish before her very eyes.
Frantically, the general gets on her com and shouts, "Head for the river! I think those bugs have more mind than we gave them credit for. I believe they are in fact hunting us."
About that time, many large adults broke ground about 200 meters from the lead ATV, their digging appendages glowing hot as they eyed the nearest vehicle.
"They're between us and the river!" the general shouted. "We need them out of there! Units 3 and 18, put someone in your rear window with a plasma laser and try to lead them away in opposite directions. Let's see whether they're really smart and focused, or whether they just look like it."
"Mommy," said Ryan.
"What is it, honey?" General Patrick asked her son, turning around. "Is the voice saying anything about this?"
"Just go to the sunrise," he said. The eastern sky ahead of them was starting to glow orange. "But ... where Katrina?"
"Oh, your friend is with her family, Ryan -- they have an ATV, and I think it's -- yep, right next to us, see?" Ryan looked out the window and saw Katrina waving at him, so he waved back. She had some kind of toy in her other hand.
The ground shook, and more of the creatures erupted, some of them in between ATVs, some of them directly underneath. "More bogeys, General," said Unit 3. "We're leading some of them away, but not all of them are following us."
"Keep trying --" the general began, but then her ATV shook and rolled over onto its side, right into the Rechter's ATV.
She unbuckled Ryan's safety seat and opened the ceiling hatch, which was now right up against the other vehicle's side door.
"Ryan, I want you go to stay with Katrina for right now, OK?" The Rechters were opening their side door and looking through. "Be brave for me, Ryan," she said, and lifted him over to the hatch, where he could see Katrina beckoning him.
Dr. Rechter grabbed Ryan and pulled him into the ATV as the general fired her plasma rifle at one of the large insects to divert its attention. Ryan began to scream in fright as the door was closed separating him from his mommy.
Katrina shouted over the cacophony of plasma rifles, yells, and radio comms," Ryan ... we do asa dults do n uses our guns. Tha ones we playeded wifs inna garden."
Ryan turns and sees what the toy was Katrina held in her hand. It was the large Sooper Soaker water gun that their parents had given them. Ryan stops crying and smiles as the ATV lurches forward rapidly in a large spray of sand. It rolls over onto its side then stops on its roof.
A very large bug towered over the ATV and roared loudly as its red hot digging appendages radiated into the cab. Dr. Rechter noticed the children were no longer in the ATV, but had been thrown clear. The children grabbed their water guns, pointed them at the insect, and fired 2 large and powerful jets of water at the things eyes. There was a large cloud of steam as it impacted.
The insect roared loudly seemingly in dire pain, before it rolled over to the ground and squirmed like a snake without it's head for a few seconds. A large wave of spasms ran through the grub looking body before it lay perfectly still.
Ryan fires another jet at yet another insect with the same result. Katrina, not wanting to be left out of this new game, began shooting as many as she could get. The adults looked on with mouth open amazement as the children seemingly saved the day with a pair of simple water guns.
Soon Ryan and Katrina sat on the damp ground among seven comatose giant centipede creatures. There were many more of them, but they were keeping their distance from this part of the battlefield, apparently unaware that Ryan and Katrina were out of water.
"Water all goned," Katrina said, and Ryan nodded. "Where we get more?" she asked.
Dunno," Ryan said. "Issa river down there ... lotsa bugs in between us and there though."
"Look, they doin' somefin down there," Katrina said. "What they doin'?"
The group of colonists near and in the river were busily getting equipment of some kind out of their vehicles, though it was difficult to see what -- the sun was about to rise, so there was more light now, but the activity was all still far away at the bottom of the bluff.
Ryan's mother saw the activity down there too. She shouted, "Fire! Fire!" to her soldiers, and they all started unloading their plasma lasers at any active bugs they could see, which seemed to be making them angry and causing them to come toward them. Why was she --?
Then Ryan and Katrina felt themselves being picked up, not by bugs, but by human arms. "Come on, kids, you don't need to be here just now," said a voice, and then they were flying through the air, gasping in astonishment.
They landed quite far away, and looked up to realize who had given them a lift. "Hi Mr. Peter," said Ryan. "Can we do that again?" Katrina nodded enthusiastically.
"Maybe later, kids," said Peter Dubrovsky. "Right now, the folks down there are about to put your idea into practice on a larger scale."
"Huh?" Ryan asked.
Just then three huge jets of white spray launched from the vehicles down below, over their heads, dispersing with distance, and soon they all felt water falling on them, like a heavy rainfall.
"They got out the fire fighting equipment," Peter said. "They're spraying water all over this area, and they're not going to run out, because they've got the whole river to draw from. Your clever idea gave them the idea."
"Not our idea," said Ryan. "Was the voice."
"Uh huh," Katrina said. "There is andibals that holds water to spray at the bugs in case of trouble. Can save their lifes so they gets away. Voice tells them is time to save up water."
"Asa las chance," Ryan said, "some of 'em just pees on 'em." He giggled.
"Well now," Peter said, "you might want to tell that to some of the biologists. But I think the bugs are going to leave us alone for now. Time to cross the river."
He carried them, with normal-sized steps, back toward the vehicles, walking around the quiescent creatures. He wasn't yet fully recovered; using these cyberprosthetics was still somewhat painful. By the time Peter had reached the ATVs, he had a pronounced limp.
One of the farmers noticed it and commented, "Hiya Pete. All those superhero jumps getting to you are they?"
Pete set the children down and sighed. He rubbed the location of the bonds between flesh and cybernetics, "I only had surgery a few days ago. I kinda over did it ... but I had to save the kids and the others too."
The farmer slapped Pete on the back as he replied, "I think there's a general that shore will be happy with you ... not to mention doc."
Both men laugh as all get together and right the over turned ATVs. Jessica, meanwhile, stooped and took as many samples as she could get into the collection kits and stored them in the ATV. She wanted to know as much as she could about these bugs and how they survived such heat.
Katrina's parents found her and Ryan and took them back to their ATV, which was scratched up after the general's vehicle had rolled over into it, but otherwise fine.
"You are a very brave little girl," said Dr. Rechter. "I'm proud of you. I know I haven't always acted like it, but I am. You're our little super heroine."
"Super whatawhat?" Katrina asked.
"You saved the day, Sweetheart," he said, kissing her on top of her head.
"An Ryan too!" she said, pointing at Ryan, whom her mother was carrying. "He save a day too!"
"Yes, he did, Honey," said Vicki. "I'm sure his mommy is proud of him too. See, Ryan, she's busy over there right now, but I'm sure she'll be here to tell you just how proud she is in just a minute."
Ryan looked. His mother was in fact quite busy, helping the soldiers, who were working in teams to set overturned ATVs upright, but once all the vehicles were ready to move out, she came over to him.
"Thanks for looking after him, Vicki," she said, taking Ryan into her own arms. "That was absolutely crazy what you did back there," she said. "I was so worried ... but you know what they call soldiers who save other people's lives in battle with no concern for their own safety? ... They call them heroes."
She held him tightly to her, and no one knew whether there were tears in her eyes or whether that was just the water falling. "You're my little hero," she said, a bit of a catch in her voice.
Ryan opened his eyes to see everyone looking up -- there, above them, was a rainbow, formed by all the water and mist. But he turned his head the other way to see his old friend, the rising sun, which was peeking over the eastern mountains.
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"Thought you said this was a shelter," Jessica said to Dave. The ATVs were gathering around the sturdy two-story building with outlying animal pens and cages, all currently vacant. "I had the image of some kind of tiny ramshackle shed."
"Well, it's not a mansion," Dave said. "We won't be getting everyone in there."
"Of a total of 1960 original colonists plus 55 children born since landfall," a lieutenant was reporting to the general, "779 of the adults are here, and we've had reports of 484 others, scattered but surviving, making their way here. And every single one of the children survived."
"The planet won't let them come to harm," said the general. "They're the future. We've got to make a new plan. A mobile colony. Monitor the bugs, find places to settle where they don't breed, move agricultural operations to regions where the bugs have already been ... we'll need the biologists and engineers in on this."
"Noted, General," the lieutenant said.
Engineer Regan stood on the top of his Air Car and surveyed the far distance. From the vantage point on top of the peak, he could see what was remaining of the colony proper ... which was very little. Major fires raged in the cryo-fuel storage area and large explosions still erupted sending huge fireballs into the early morning sky.
A voice cried out loudly, "Hey, Jeff ... gotta call on the comm ... says most the colonists survived. They at that animal place old Doc Gallard built while he played at being zoologist."
Both men laugh. Jeff replies, "He's probably one of the best zoologists around ... and it's darn lucky he had that place built. With the fabricators, we can rebuild another place even better than the one we started with."
A head poked up through the hatch in the roof. A young freckled faced man covers his eyes from the rising sun, "I think that we need to head that way. We have major supplies and medical things they might need, not to mention the extra fuel cells we saved."
Jeff nods as he takes one last look at the catastrophe the colony compound had become before dropping back into the cockpit for takeoff.
It wasn't long before they were circling the survivors at the compound. The general was more than happy to see them arrive. Now, things could get down to being more organized ... and a new type of defense perimeter could be manufactured.
"So we're calling it THI," Jessica lectured. "This tantalum-hafnium-iridium radical has been made in the laboratory back on Earth, but it was only a curiosity with a few hypothetical applications. Here, though, it seems to be everywhere." She gestured at the screen behind her, which began showing a rotating molecule. "This long string is a polymer-like protein incorporating the THI radical. It's incredibly hard and heat-resistant, and it forms a large portion of the exoskeletons of the burrowers, as well as the shells of their eggs. It can't even be formed without great heat. We think they evolved in regions of high volcanic activity, and they probably dig very deep to breed." she gestured again. "And this enzyme, which also incorporates THI, is the key to why our kids don't look like us ... as well as to why that's a blessing in disguise. It's in all our bodies right now; the ecosystem is pervaded with it. It has the effect of switching on some of our DNA that was otherwise dormant, but it also has a resonant frequency identical to one of the resonances of the planet's atmosphere. Put basically, the animal life of this planet has a global comm channel, and our children can tune into it. We've all got the enzyme, but we didn't grow up with it, nor did it change us at the embryonic stages, so we might be able to get hints of what the children can hear, but they're best at it."
"That explains a lot," said General Patrick quietly to Ryan, who was on her lap. "You're the future, you know. More than ever."
"What's that mean, Mommy?" Ryan asked.
"I don't know," she said. "Only time will tell. Do you want to go play?" He nodded his little gray fuzzy head at her, and she smiled and said, "All right, but be home by dinner time."
Ryan hopped off her lap and went outside, leaving his mother to listen to Jessica's boring science talk. Out in the grassy fields the children were all playing, running about, hiding and seeking, all together for the first time. He found Katrina, who was listening to something.
"Do you hear it?" she said. "It's saying something new, I think."
"Yeah!" Ryan said. "I think it's a good thing. It's happy. Happy with us."
And as a new era dawned for Blue Sky Colony, the planet said, "Welcome, my new children."
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~~ The End ~~
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Miki Yamuri
 
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