“Are you sure, Dr. Chen?”
“Yes, General. All signs point to imminent destruction. We’ve done all we can to stop it, but it keeps finding ways to advance; either it keeps attacking the structures we’ve already managed to put in place, or it finds a weak spot, or it grows something to get around and find a new path.
“Those concern us most, because we can’t keep pace, and it advances most quickly when it’s unobstructed. It’s infiltrated too much of the planet, and when it pulls itself into the core, it will push outward.”
“What happens then?”
“It will be nearly double in size, but then it won’t be able to sustain itself with the depleted energy from the core, and it will push the planet’s hemispheres to either side, ripping it in half. Then it will move on to the next planet it deems edible.”
Dr. Chen shrugged. “It’s been an honor to work with you, sir.”
He sighed. “You as well, Teri.”
They shook hands, and he walked away, as Chen turned back to what remained of her duties, more to fill the time until the end than have any real hope of stopping the creature that was leeching on their planet’s core from the inside.
“General Williams,” Lieutenant Harris said in greeting. “They’re ready, sir.”
“And the maternal units?”
“Ready as well.”
“All of them, sir. Every facet, every child has been pre-programmed to fulfill their duties on the new colony.”
Williams nodded. “Well done, Harris. I want Teri to go with them, too. Is there room?”
“Dr. Chen, sir?”
“With all due respect sir, may I ask why?”
“With all respect taken, lieutenant, you can ask away,” Williams smiled. “The need for formality is somewhat moot at this point, Harris.”
Harris visibly relaxed.
“The children are going to need a physician; she’s a medical biologist, a pioneer in genetics, and she’s got a family of her own that she won’t be able to get back in time to see. She’s resigned herself, but I don’t see the need to waste her talents and abilities. There are things she can train the children to do medically that may be needed later on.”
“I understand. But she’ll be the only adult.”
“Who said that? What about the others we were sending down to build the structures, and provide for the children until their pods were safe?”
“It’s a little hard to explain, General.”
“Then try hard, lieutenant.”
“Caroline said she didn’t want any adults, sir.”
“Caroline? She’s thirteen years old! She’s–”
“She’s going to be the planet’s ruler, sir. She’s light years ahead of the others in intellect, in potential, in physical superiority. Her father–”
“Messed with her genetics, I remember. It’s why Teri replaced him.”
“It’s also why she’s…resentful…of anything you recommend.”
“Let me talk to her.”
The com flared to life.
Caroline’s face filled the screen. Everything about her was dark, as if an aura sculpted her form. Raven curls draped over her shoulder, caramel colored skin, exotic, dark eyes that glittered with intelligence, and something of amused condescension in her attitude toward the General.
“General Williams. It’s an honor, sir.”
“What the hell are you doing, kid?”
Her eyes narrowed. “Don’t call me that again. That will be your only warning.”
Williams sighed. ” You’re going to need those people, Caroline. They’re going to build your homes, your roads, and provide whatever else you need.”
“We need nothing these men will provide, General. They are symbols of the old world, and simply have no place in the new.”
“How are you going to fend for yourselves?”
“Let me worry about that; the others will fall into line.”
“You’ll all be asleep.”
She laughed. “Oh, General Williams. You’re adorable.”
He heated at the tone of her voice.
“What have you done?”
“I reprogrammed my pod, sir. I will be the first to awaken, by a day, at least. I’ll report my findings to you as I go. Keep you in the loop; it’s a courtesy of course, and temporary. As the others awake, I’ll have already established myself.”
Off camera, Harris quickly shook his head.
“Dr. Chen said you’re all ready.”
“We are, sir. I will miss Dr. Chen. And General, please don’t send them down after us.”
“Why would you think–?”
“You’ve read my file, General?”
“I’ve read yours as well. Never mind how.” Again, the condescending smile and tone. “If you send them, I will have them killed.”
General Williams’ shoulders slumped. “I’m sorry we elected to send you, Caroline. We really should have killed you.”
“You should have, but like I said, sir, I read your file. You’re much too ambitious. You were foolish to think you were going to get the credit for producing a prodigy like me. Now, it’s come to nothing, and you’ve given me the opportunity to thrive.
“For that much, at least, I thank you.” Her eyes scanned the ship’s systems, then she looked back at Williams. “The time is near, General, and I don’t think we’ve anything left to say, other than good-bye.”
“Good bye, Caroline. I hope your pod is the first to burn.”
She laughed again, with no mirth, her eyes never leaving his, a light in them that struck a spark of fear in his spine, and the com went blank.
“Why did you keep me from telling her about Teri?”
“We’ll have to send her down separately, sir. Caroline can’t know she’s there. Teri has to deprogram her.”
“How’s she going to do that? Caroline is about ten steps ahead of us.”
“I have someone else in mind to send, who can bring her close enough; with his help, they can isolate Caroline, and if they can’t deprogram her…”
“He’ll kill her.”
“See it done, Harris.”
“Right away, sir.”
“They’re going to need a doctor, and we need you to reprogram Caroline’s genetics. She’s growing unstable, arrogant.”
“I thought that might happen; she was exhibiting, but part of that was also being thirteen.”
“She’s only thirteen physically. Mentally, she’s beyond genius, and even physically, she trounces the kids in activities, even some of the boys.”
“That’s a shame; had she stayed within parameters, we could have had something great there.”
“It’s not over yet, Dr. Chen.” Harris said. “Our last shot to salvage her…is you.”
Dr. Chen nodded. “Understood.”
“But you won’t be going alone.”
“You’re sending an assassin in case the new genetics don’t take…”
“How did you know?”
“I haven’t been working here all this time with my head stuck in a test tube, Lieutenant.”
Harris smiled. “I didn’t mean to offend you.”
“You didn’t. Let’s meet him.”
The door slid open, and a young boy of thirteen entered.
“Dr. Chen, this is Kyro.”
“Kyro,” she stuck out her hand. Kyro took it.
She looked at Lieutenant Harris. “He’s a little young to be an assassin, isn’t he?”
“I thought you didn’t have your head stuck in a test tube, Teri. Kyro’s been programmed with the methods and weapons knowledge of the world’s elite assassins from the last fifty years. His options are limitless, his methods impeccable. Blades, poisons, bombs, guns, mines….”
“I get it, Lieutenant. He’s a buffet of death.”
“That’s a rather colorful way to put it, but yes.”
“I’ll go pack,” she said.
She looked back over her shoulder, saw Harris and Kyro conferring, heads close, eyes locked, but just before the door closed, she thought she saw Harris say the word ‘son.’
She went to a computer, punched in Kyro’s name, but nothing came up.
“Of course, he doesn’t exist.”
The country was in upheaval, her husband said. Buildings were already falling to the south. It was just a matter of time.
He didn’t cry, and neither did she.
“Let me see the kids,” she said.
He put them on the com; their faces were afraid, but resigned.
“There’s nothing you can do, right mommy?”
“If I could, you know I’d kill this thing to protect you.”
“We know, mom, ” her daughter, the oldest, said. “Dad’s kept us safe so far.”
“I wish we could join you, ” her husband said, “but I know they won’t send anything.”
“I could try.”
“I won’t lie to you, Teri: we’re terrified. If they can send anything, then you should try.”
The picture on the com wavered, rocked.
Her husband gave her a wan smile. “Never mind.”
“I love you,” she said. Her vision blurred and her eyes grew hot, “I love you all.”
She put her hand on the screen, and they all placed theirs on it, and they stayed that way for a moment or two, and then the picture rocked again, more violently, and her family fell away from view, her husband’s strong arms still around the kids as they crashed to the floor, and the com went blank.
She didn’t remember the rest of the day.
I didn’t do all I could to save them….kept running through her mind.
© Alfred W. Smith Jr. 2015