The next chapter of my latest sci-fi work in progress.
In case you missed it, part 1 is here, part 2 is here. I'm sharing the first parts of this story as I write it so you can follow along and ask questions or make comments, so please do comment below – I read every comment.
This story is set in the world of Colony B – you don't have to have read any of those stories, but it will help if you have because they do follow on from each other. If you're interested, there's a link below the story.
In lab one, Doctor Lyndsey Teare looked up from her microscope. “Hey, Alec. You’re back already?” She rubbed at her eyes and looked at him anew, taking in his expression. “Is there a problem?”
Alec stood in the doorway, shifting his weight from side to side as if unsure whether to step over the threshold. “I’m not sure. The supply run went okay. We picked up plenty of ground weed and Jackson bagged one of those god-awful snakes. A big one.” He broke off, biting on his lower lip. “I hate to bother you with this, Lyndsey, really I do, but Kyrksen says he picked something up on the monitors, and he’s being real cagey about it. He wants you to take a look at it, and he won’t talk to anyone else.”
“Is it the symbiont? Has something happened?”
Alec shook his head. “The phase two grunge is like a goddamned forest out there, but that isn't the problem. We can still get a truck through it, so long as take it real slow, but we were on the way back to base when Kyrksen kicked off. Whatever it is, it’s got him agitated.”
Lyndsey took a breath. She had work to do: a backlog of samples so long it kept her awake at night. And this interruption would probably be for nothing. Just Kyrksen on another bid for redemption, she told herself. Ever since the death of Jim Clennan, Kyrksen had been trying to make up for his behavior, running to Lyndsey almost every day with some new scheme to improve their lives on the base. I should tell him to go to hell, Lyndsey thought, but she didn't have the heart to bear a grudge, so she pulled the slide from her microscope and laid it on the bench, then she stood, straightening her jumpsuit. “Okay, let’s go see what he wants.”
“Thanks. He’s in the comms room.”
“Where else would he be?” Lyndsey said with a sigh, the question rhetorical. Most days, Kyrksen hardly ever left the comms room, emerging only to collect his food before scurrying back to his precious equipment.
“Right.” Alec led the way through the central hub, marching quickly. He’d lost none of his swagger, but there was something different about him, his jumpsuit hanging slack from his broad shoulders. He’s lost weight, Lyndsey decided. I hope he hasn't been sick. But when she glanced down at her own figure, her hand went to her stomach. They’d all lost weight since they’d arrived at the base. It didn't make sense. The rations here were much more plentiful than on the trucks, but something wasn't right. The crew were growing gaunt, and now, as Lyndsey followed Alec through the medical bay, she caught sight of herself in the window and almost recoiled. From the dust-streaked glass, her reflection stared out, its cheeks hollow, its lips thin, and its eyes all but hidden in pits of shadow. Her step faltered, and Alec called out, “Are you all right?”
“Fine.” She forced a smile. “Let’s go. I need to get this over with.”
“All right.” Alec strode to the comms room, pushing the door open with more force than necessary and stepping inside. “Here we are! You wanted our attention, Kyrksen, and now you’ve got it, so this had better be good.”
Kyrksen grumbled something in reply, but Lyndsey didn't quite catch it. Probably just as well, she thought as she let herself into the comms room. “All right, guys, let’s be civil.”
From his seat at one of the consoles, Kyrksen scowled up at Alec. “Tell that to your friend. He’s got no cause to come barging in here like a Neanderthal.”
Lyndsey held up her hands. “Both of you, calm down. If I have to play referee one more time today, I’m going to kick someone’s ass, so watch it.”
Kyrksen glared at her, but he didn't argue, and Lyndsey chalked that up as a win. Since their mission had been officially called off, maintaining discipline in the crew had been a constant headache. Without their old routines to give a shape to the days, people had soon lapsed into bad habits. Possessiveness and petty squabbles were rife, and when they all lived in such close proximity, friction led to bitter arguments with the threat of violence simmering beneath the surface. The crews needed something to do, a purpose in life to drive them forward. And so do I, Lyndsey thought. So do I.
But Kyrksen hadn't finished. “The equipment in here is sensitive. It’s finely calibrated, and God knows it’s hard enough to make repairs. We need to keep the comms running, or it won’t be safe to take the trucks out again.”
Alec folded his arms and leaned back against the wall. “Okay, you’ve made your point. I’ll knock next time. But you wanted us here, so go ahead. Tell us what’s so important.”
For a second, it looked as though Kyrksen was about to clam up and make them wait, but whatever he wanted to tell them, he clearly couldn't keep it to himself, and a flicker of excitement lit his eyes. “Come over here and take a look at this.” He turned back to his console, his hands fluttering over the controls as he flicked switches and tapped at the keypad. The main display flickered into life, and as Lyndsey drew closer, she picked out the fleeting shapes of stunted trees.
“Where was this recorded?” she asked.
“I’ll show you on the map later,” Kyrksen replied. “This was just after we’d stopped to take in supplies. There was no phase two symbiont for miles, so we were traveling fast. But wait for it…in a second…” He punched a key, freezing the display. “Damn! I missed it.”
“Missed what?” Lyndsey asked, but Kyrksen didn't reply. He turned a dial and the recording played back in reverse, the trees trundling backward. Lyndsey cast a sidelong glance at Alec, but he didn't notice; his eyes were on the screen.
“My God,” Alec breathed. “Freeze it.”
Kyrksen obliged, hitting the control with a triumphant flourish. “You see! I told you. What do you think to that, eh? I’ll zoom in, then you’ll see properly.”
He tapped a combination of keys to magnify the image, and now it was Lyndsey’s turn to stare. She leaned forward, gripping the back of Kyrksen’s chair for support, her mouth dry. Because there, in the middle of the scrubby wasteland that occupied much of the planet, the grainy image showed a dark shape that could only be one thing: the outline of a man.
I hope you enjoyed this part of the story.
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