Arlun encounters a fellow traveler, and the journey changes…
In the Mean Time
We count for nothing
We are prone to anyone’s impulse to violence
Whether they wear a badge or watch the community….
In the Mean Time
We are hated for things that have nothing to do with
we are (not just a skin color)
In the Mean Time
We are shot like rabid dogs
regardless of guilt or innocence
In the Mean Time
Are our prayers even heard?
Is our suffering even
moving the hearts
In the Mean Time,
we must go on
and strive to exist,
and fight to survive
and struggle to live
in hostile territory
curses and untruths
behind their walls
hate and fear.
In the Mean Time
We must continue to
even as we
contend with his ignorance.
In the Mean Time
Life for us here is hard,
but it can and will
© Alfred W. Smith Jr.
She was startled out of her reverie.
I have to stay focused. Caroline is the mission now.
She did, however, have some questions for the General.
“I just heard that…”
“Yes, it’s true.”
“No, no. There was nothing to be done for it.”
She looked around, then back at Harris. “For any of it, really.”
He nodded. “Are you all packed?”
“I’m ready to go, yes.”
“Follow me, please. I know you know the way, but there are clearances that you don’t have. They seem pointless, now, I know, but everyone seems determined to embrace the comfortable until the end.”
She followed him.
General Williams was waiting at the dock.
“Teri, I’m so sorry.”
“Thank you, General.” She straightened her shoulders. “I do have a question: if I’d requested my family be evacuated and brought here, was there anything that could have been done?”
Williams didn’t hesitate, and his own eyes clouded a bit as he shook his head.
“Nothing is going to be done for any of us. I won’t see my family again. My grandkids…”
“Oh.” She looked down, and her voice sounded small and far away. Of course others have family that are not going to see them before they go; at least you got to see yours, and you know what happened, and when, and why. There are so many others who will never have those questions answered.
He continued. “And to what end, doctor? You said it yourself, destruction is imminent. Make peace with it, Teri. With yourself, too. We’re going to need you now more than ever.
She lifted her eyes to his. “I will complete the mission, sir.”
Williams smiled. “Unfortunately, we’ll never see the outcome, but I have every faith in you.”
A faint tremor vibrated the floor beneath them.
Voices were raised, and the mood instantly grew more somber and intense, and not a little fearful.
“Time to launch, sir.” said Harris.
“Thank you, captain obvious.”
They all laughed.
“Teri?” Williams extended his arm expansively, inviting her to go aboard, as if he were the captain of a cruise ship, and not the doomed general of yet another science facility that wandered too far from its walls.
“Kyro’s already strapped in,” Harris said, extending his hand. “It’s been an honor, Teri.”
She watched him closely, but his face betrayed nothing but fondness, and a trace of sadness they would no longer be working together. Beyond that, there was nothing she could decipher. Either Kyro really wasn’t his son, or he was gifted at deceiving.
She took the proffered hand. “Same here, Ken.”
She released his hand, and turned to board. Glancing over at Kyro, his head had lolled to the side, so he was already asleep. Good, she didn’t feel like engaging an assassin. She looked out at the black, weightless expanse of dotted with white fire.
No family. No longer a wife. No longer a mother. Just these children now. And Caroline, who will cause no end of grief on the new colony.
If it weren’t for her, I would’ve been able to join them, see them, hold them…but she has given me a life devoid of meaning. With no one to share with, to spend time off with, to do anything with; I’m going alone.
Her evil intentions mean nothing to me, but because of her, I’m forced to go on, when all I want to do is die.
So I will stop her. I will make her pay for what she’s done to me; every day I stay alive, I will make her pay. Every memory, she will pay.
The stars blurred, and she realized she was crying. This time, she didn’t bother fighting it.
“….three….two….one….we are launched. All automated systems are functioning normally.”
“Safe journey, Dr. Chen.”
Her voice came out more than a whisper, less than a sob; it was not just meant for her colleagues. It was to everything that had made her up to this moment. She wasn’t just on her way to a new colony, but on her way to becoming something else.
The tremors were becoming more violent. Williams and Harris could’ve enlisted the help of others, but they’d either left or were trying to find a place to exit, though where they’d go if the ground was crumbling, Harris had no idea.
“The Naissance is ready, General.”
“Thanks, Harris. Caroline?”
“She’s in her pod.”
“Is there any way to extract her covertly?”
Harris gave him a grim smile. “She changed all the protocols, sir. You said it yourself, she’s ten steps ahead of us.”
“What I want to know is when did she have time to do all this, and if someone helped her. Have security run video from the last thirty days on all the bay doors.”
“If Teri can’t get to her, maybe one of the others will do us all a favor and stab her in the back.”
Harris looked away.
“I’m sorry, Harris. That was out of line.”
“What was, sir?”
Another tremor boomed, and the building swayed like an empty swing in a storm wind.
Both men lost their footing, and when the tremor subsided, they pushed themselves up along the walls behind them, the portion that remained intact. As they were in the northernmost station, it could only mean that now the entire planet was all but consumed from within.
No one knew if it would be another hour, or another day, but they all knew they were living on borrowed time now.
Williams had gained his feet, and helped Harris up the rest of the way.
“We still control the launch, sir. We don’t have to send them.”
“I’ve thought of that, but to kill all for the sake of one…as I said, they may do it for us, and we’ve already programmed them as well.”
“Just an option, sir. Still on the table as long as we don’t–”
An alarm blared through the station, but there was no tremor.
“What in the hell–?” WIlliams blustered.
“Naissance has pre-launched. Repeat, repeat, Naissance has pre-launched!”
Williams and Harris found the nearest com station; the young attendant was punching keys but coming up empty.
“Onscreen, young lady!”
“Trying, sir! Please give me a minute…”
Harris put up a restraining hand, and Williams backed away.
The screen flickered, went out, flickered again, and flared to life, stabilizing.
The ship came into view, and the shot of its interior showed the floor was empty.
They watched as the ship sailed over the station below, the shadow blocking out the starlight glittering like strewn gems spilled in ink.across the top,
“Offline, sir. Damaged.”
“We’re going to lose it.” The ship was past the station, clearing the harbor.
A hologram of Caroline sitting in the captain’s chair filled the screen.
“Hello, General Williams. I managed to gain access to the ship’s computers days ago, when the tremors first started.
“I programmed the ship to override the safety protocols and release the locks if the magnitude went above four-point-five. If you’re seeing this, then the ship is already loose and on its way.”
All three of them shook their heads in wonder; they’d badly underestimated her intelligence; in no way they measured it was she able to pull this off.
“I had no idea, of course, if it would actually work, but I guess I’ll know if I wake up dead,” she smiled at the weak joke, “or if we’re still in that hellhole you call a station. And if the magnitude of the tremors is beyond that, then the creature is about to tear the place apart.
“I hope it doesn’t come after us, General, but so be it if it does. Either way, I won’t be able to send those reports I promised you.
“Farewell, sir. I’ll never forgive you for what you did to my father.”
She leaned forward, and the camera zoomed in on those dark, glittery eyes.
The com went blank again.
“Shoot it down, sir?”
Williams said nothing.
“Check the weapons.”
The young attendant pushed more buttons.
“Nothing, sir. Offline.”
Williams felt his shoulders slumping yet again.
Outwitted by a thirteen year old girl…
Not for the first time, he wondered if he’d been wrong to sign up all those years ago.
A loud rumbling filled the hall, and things began to sway and rattle and fall and slide.
The floor bucked beneath him, and he flipped over backward, catching the corner of a moving desk, the corner cracking a hole in his skull; he could see the blood running from under his head as his vision began to fade.
I thought it was the right thing to do. ran through his mind as he passed into oblivion.
© Alfred W. Smith Jr. 2015
“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