The next chapter of my latest sci-fi work in progress.
In case you missed it, part 1 is here, part 2 is here, part 3 is here, part 4 is here, part 5 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.
The Rift Valley
Siobhan opened her eyes slowly. She was inside one of the huts, lying on a cot. The room was dim: the door shut tight and the small window shuttered. Was this her hut or someone else’s? They all looked much the same. Who’d brought her here? And was she alone?
She turned her head, her neck stiff, and a tightly focused pain flared between her eyes, making her moan in pain.
“Hey, you’re awake.”
A figure loomed into view, and Siobhan blinked, trying to force her eyes to focus. “Mom? Is that you?”
The figure leaned over her, and something cool and wet was placed against Siobhan’s forehead. That feels so good, she thought drowsily. But I must be dreaming. Mom isn’t even here. She licked her dry lips.
“It’s all right, sweetheart. I’m here.”
Siobhan squinted up at her mother. “Mom. It is you. How did you get here? Did you bring me inside?”
“It’s all right,” Helen replied gently. “I came over in the rover with your dad. Cate managed to get a call through on the radio, and we came as quickly as we could. But don’t worry about a thing. You need to rest. We’ll look after you and get you back on your feet.” She took the cloth from Siobhan’s head. “You need to drink something. Can you sit up for a minute?”
“I think so. I’ll try.” Wincing, Siobhan lifted her head, then taking her weight on her arms, she moved slowly into a sitting position.
“Here.” Helen held a mug toward her. “It’s just a weak berry tea. You need to keep hydrated, and the sugars will make you feel better.”
“Smells nice.” Taking the mug, she pressed it against her lips and sipped. The warm tea tasted good, and Siobhan gulped it down greedily, almost draining the cup before passing it back. “Thanks, Mom.” She hesitated. “How’s everyone else doing? Is Cate okay?”
It took a moment for Helen to reply, and then she just said, “Don’t worry about everyone else, we need to get you well. Lie down. Rest a while.”
Siobhan nodded reluctantly then lay down, her eyelids drooping, a fresh wave of pain fogging her thoughts. What was the matter with her? Why was she so weak?
Her mum murmured something, but Siobhan couldn't make it out. She thought she heard her mom’s voice, her tone low and heavy with worry, but when she opened her eyes, it seemed as though the room was slipping into darkness. And the next moment, she was asleep.
Connor crept into the room, closing the door as quietly as he could. Helen shot him a warning glance. “Sh! She’s asleep.”
“Okay,” Conner murmured, his gaze going to his daughter. “Is she going to be okay? Can I do anything?”
Helen stood, crossing the room to lay her hand on her husband’s arm. “Let’s talk outside. I’d hate to wake her.”
Outside, the evening sky was rapidly growing darker, the air becoming chill, and Connor gave his wife a hug, rubbing her back to warm her. “My God. I hate seeing our girl like this. What are we going to do?”
“I don’t know. I’ve done all I can for her, and for the others too, but I’m worried, Connor. Cate said that Evelyn got sick five days ago, and she’s not getting any better. If Siobhan goes the same way…”
“It won’t come to that,” Connor said. “We won’t let it.”
Helen pushed herself back a little, looking up at him, her expression tight with anxiety. “We can’t say that, Connor. We can go back to the hill and see what meds we can scrape together, but you and I both know that there’s not much to be had, and definitely not enough for everybody. The kits Lyndsey gave us are all but empty. A few painkillers and some antibiotics maybe, but that’s about it. And don’’ forget, we don’t even know what we’re dealing with here. I don’t think it’s contagious. More likely it’s a severe reaction to something in the food or the water, but I could be wrong. We just don’t know. Maybe the grunge—”
“I don’t think so,” Connor interrupted. “Siobhan and the others haven’t been out of the valley for months, and it’s safe here. There’s not a trace of symbiont on the ground, and anyway, no one has any burns.” He gestured across the valley with a sweep of his arm. “It must be something else, something out there. We’ll figure it out.”
Helen looked her husband in the eye. “No, we won’t. We can't waste time playing guessing games. We need help. You have to call Lyndsey and her people, get them to send a truck over here. They have expertise, laboratories, medical supplies. They can find out what’s wrong. That’s the only way we can save our daughter.”
“You’re right. The radio here doesn’t have the range, but if I can get through to the hill and talk to Derek, he should be able to patch me through to Lyndsey. And then we’ll just have to hope they agree to help.”
“She will. She has to.”
Connor nodded slowly. “I’ll give it my best shot.”
When Connor knocked on the door of Evelyn’s hut, she called out to him, her voice surprisingly strong: “You come in. I’m decent.”
Connor allowed himself a smile. He hadn’t approved of Evelyn moving to the valley with the others, partly because she was a valuable leader up on the hill, and partly because conditions were harsh in the valley. Evelyn was not a young woman, but she’d insisted, demolishing every argument, and thereafter she’d taken to her new life with cheerful determination. Even though she was sick herself, she was sitting up in her cot, her long hair neatly brushed back, and her expression serene. “I’m sorry to disturb you,” Connor began. “How are you getting along?”
“As well as can be expected. Cate has been looking after us admirably, and Siobhan has everything organized. Helen told me that they’re both unwell, the poor girls. But they’re young and strong. They’ll quickly recover.”
“Haven't you heard?” Connor took a breath, and Evelyn seemed to read something in his expression, her hand flying to her chest.
“Oh no. What’s happened? Tell me.”
“Siobhan is doing okay. She’s resting. But Cate…” Connor shook his head. “I’m sorry, Evelyn. Cate is very sick. We found her outside. We think maybe she went looking for Siobhan, but she pushed herself too hard. We took her to the nearest hut and tried to make her comfortable, but she hasn’t regained consciousness.”
Evelyn looked into the middle distance, her eyes unfocused. “That’s it then,” she whispered. “We’ve lost. We thought we were so smart coming over here to the valley, as if we could take this planet on and conquer it. But we weren’t prepared for something like this. We should’ve known it wouldn’t be so easy. We should’ve been ready.”
“There’s no use in beating ourselves up. This isn't anyone’s fault, but now that it’s happened, we’ll just have to deal with it.”
“How?” Evelyn demanded. “What can we do?” Her eyes narrowed. “You want to call Lyndsey, ask for help. Well, you can try, but they’re a long way from here, and they’re holed up in their base, surrounded by symbiont. It would be a long and dangerous journey for them to come over here, but even if they decided to take the risk, do you really think they could make it in time?”
“It’s worth a shot,” Connor said. “Only one way to find out.”
Evelyn gestured across the small room to the upturned crate that served as a table. “Go ahead. I’m sure you’re right, Connor. Forgive me for whingeing. I’m not myself.” She sighed, her shoulders slumping, and when she leaned her head back against the wall, to Connor’s eyes, she aged ten years.
Connor hesitated for a second. “Evelyn, do you need anything? Should I fetch Helen?”
“No. Make your call, Connor. You’re right. We’re not dead yet, so we need to keep fighting. It’s what we do, right?” She mustered a brave smile, and Connor guessed she was in more pain than she was letting on. He’d send Helen over as soon as he was done with the radio, but right now, he had a call to make.
By the time Connor had finished on the radio, darkness had fallen outside, and the only light in the hut came from the radio set’s small display. Connor patted the pocket on the leg of his pants, relieved to find his small flashlight exactly where it ought to be. He made sure that he’d shut the radio down properly, then he stood, sweeping the light’s narrow beam around the room. Evelyn was fast asleep, resting peacefully in her cot, a sheen of sweat on her brow. There was no need to send Helen over; better to let Evelyn sleep.
He let himself out, then he went in search of his wife. The only hut showing a glimmer of light at the window was Parry’s, and sure enough, he found Helen inside, sitting on a crate next to the cot and reading from an old paperback.
Parry had been lying down, but when Connor came in, he sat up, his hand going to his forehead. “Damned headaches,” he grumbled. “But you guys shouldn't be in here. Go and look after Siobhan.”
“In a minute,” Helen said, her gaze fixed on Connor. “What is it? Couldn’t you get through to Lyndsey? Wouldn't she help?”
Connor held up his hand to ward off her questions. “It’s complicated. I talked to a guy called Jackson Delaney; he’s one of the pilots. He sounds like he knows what he’s talking about but…” He paused, running his hand along his jawline.
“Come on, man,” Parry urged. “Just tell us what he said.”
Connor took a breath. “Lyndsey wasn’t there. It seems she took a team out on a truck. I know this sounds crazy, but they think they saw someone. Just one person, alone. So they went out to look for him, and something happened.”
“An accident?” Helen asked, her eyes wide.
“No,” Connor replied. “The truck sent out a distress call. They said they were under attack, but then the signal died, and they haven't been heard from since.”
“Jesus,” Parry hissed. “Attacked by who? One of their own trucks?”
Connor shook his head firmly. “Jackson said everyone was accounted for. If Lyndsey’s truck was attacked, it can only mean one thing.”
“Someone else landed on the planet,” Helen put in. “The rescue party?”
“Way too early for that,” Connor said. “And anyway, whoever it is, they’re clearly hostile.”
“And now they have a truck,” Parry said. “And this Jackson guy, what did he say? What’s his plan?”
“They’re mobilizing, putting together a security detail. They’re doing everything they can to get their people back.” Connor hesitated. “They can’t spare anyone to come over here, but I suggested something. I figured we could take the rover and meet them, that way they can bring supplies to the rendezvous before they carry on with their mission.”
“They went along with that?” Parry asked.
“Sure. Jackson said he’d do what he could, so long as we don’t hold them up. He’s going to send me a place where we can meet, and we’ll just have to hope the rover’s nav system can recognize it. We can keep in touch on the rover’s radio, and they’ll do what they can to help us find the place, but it’s up to us to make it on time.”
Parry swung his leg off the cot, push himself to his feet. “What are we waiting for?”
Helen jumped up, taking hold of Parry’s arm. “No. You’re too sick. You need to stay here.”
Parry grunted, rolling his shoulders and stretching his arms. “Not going to happen, Helen. I’m all right. That tea did the trick. Give me a couple of minutes to get my gear together, and I’ll be good to go.”
“No way,” Helen insisted. “Tell him, Connor. Tell him you won’t take him.”
Connor looked his friend in the eye. “Are you up to this? You know I can’t take you if you’re sick. You’d be a liability.”
“I’ve wasted enough of everybody’s time,” Parry said. “I reckon I’m over the worst of it. I never could stand a sickbed for long. Better to get up and fight it off.”
“All right. Sorry, Helen, but the truth is, I need him. If there are hostile troops out there, I need someone to ride shotgun, and you can’t come with me. Evelyn and the others won’t get better without you. They need you. Siobhan needs you. And she needs me to go and get some medical supplies from that truck.”
Helen folded her arms across her chest. “All right, dammit. You two can go, but you’ll have to wait until it gets light, and you’d better be careful out there.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Parry said, snapping out a salute. “We’ll watch out for each other. You know it.”
Helen crossed to stand close to Connor. “All right. I need to check on Siobhan, then we all need to eat. I’ll fix us something while you get organized.”
“Thanks,” Connor said. “I’ll head on over and make sure the rover’s ready, and I need to get the location from Jackson.”
Parry ushered them toward the door. “Scoot. Give a man room to get his shit together.”
Connor smiled. “Hell, you are better.” He made his way outside, Helen following close behind, and when they were both outside, he pulled her in close for a hug. “I’m sorry it worked out this way. I hate to leave you like this.”
“We’ll be all right,” she said. “You’ll be back before I notice you’re gone. And you’ll bring back those meds. I know you will.”
Connor held her tight, closing his eyes. “You bet. No one can stop me.”
But even as he spoke, a flurry of questions stirred in his mind. Had another group of people really arrived on the planet? Where were they from? And why would they attack a truck?
But he had no answers. Only one thing was certain: he had to make the rendezvous and bring back those meds. There was no other way to save his daughter and the others. And they’d have to act fast. He and Helen had decided to keep it from the others, but the truth was that Cate was much worse than they’d feared. She was slipping away, her pulse growing fainter, her breathing shallow and her heartbeats irregular. Unless he came up with something to help them fight this unknown sickness, Cate would surely die, and perhaps then, the others might suffer the same fate.
And what about Parry? Was he really up to the task ahead? The journey out across the lowlands would be tough even for a person in good health, and Parry looked drained and pasty-faced. He was clearly nowhere near his full-strength, but he could handle himself, and he could handle a weapon. There was no one Connor would rather have at his back.
“Let’s go,” he said gently, releasing Helen from his embrace. “We have a lot to do.”
“Sure,” she said. And when she smiled, a faint hope grew in his heart. He could do this. It wouldn't be easy, but with a woman like this behind him, he could do anything.
He just had to hope he could make it in time.
I hope you enjoyed this part of the story.
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