Of Substance

8/24/2014 - Below is the combined seventeen chapters that comprise the novella thus far, totaling 17,063 words. I began writing this work during the 2012 election cycle. Do check back now and again because I intend to finish this story and publish it here in its entirety.

This is a work of fiction. All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Chapter One

Amlie Moore returned home, late again and in her usual bad mood.

"I don't understand how they can keep changing their stupid House rules!" She practically threw her bag onto the kitchen table, pushing the plate of food almost over the edge.

"Hey, hey," Joran said, quickly catching the plate and settling it back into place. "That's no way for a Representative to act. Even if she's in her own house now."

He took her bag out to the living room and returned to the kitchen to see his wife sitting down and holding her head in her hands. He came up behind her and began to massage her shoulders. She shrugged him away.

"Damnit Joran," she said, looking up with anger in her eyes. "I can't abide their outright lies any longer."

He sat down across from her, nodding. "I know honey, I understand. I don't agree with their crazy ideas either, but you've got to be patient and consider the consequences if you decide to take them on."

Joran hesitated, gauging the icy glare he received. "Lots of people are behind you. We'll stand with you when you're ready to make a challenge. We just have to be sure you can win before you take us all over that cliff." He waited and watched as her angry stare finally turned to look at the plate.

He pushed it towards her. "Have you eaten at all today?"

"I lost my appetite the minute I walked into the chamber. That clown Eckhart was at it again. Outmaneuvering me when I tried to call for a vote and ordering the guards to clear the wings and arrest anyone who wouldn't leave. Then, of all things. He claimed that rioters have no rights when trampling on government property and protocol, and his cronies all agreed that the law allows for any subversives to be zapped into oblivion. Where the hell do they come up with this stuff?"

"Now now," he waggled a finger at her in mockery, "let's not bring religion into the conversation." He pushed the plate closer and let the smell of the food finally catch her nose. She leaned down to inspect the plate and looked back at him.

"Looks like real meat, smells like it too. Is this something new from your team?"

"Cooked it up with some samples I snagged from the lab. Don't worry," he grinned when she tilted her head, the telltale sign he was about to be leveled by her sharp wit and tongue, which made her peers fear and loathe the day they helped her get elected. Silly fools, he thought, she'd never be their token female.

He smirked, "Certain kinds of science still has it's perks. This is the new form of protein I've been telling you about, synthesized from the reports we found of the Gaius 9 expedition. And it's going to save us all."

"Blasphemy," she feigned, picking up the fork and poking at the meat, pushing the tines deep and watching the juices run out onto the plate. "And you've tried it?"

"Oh yeah," he said nodding and smacking his lips. He leaned forward, as if he was letting her in on a secret even though he'd been talking about it every time he could get in a word between her rants. "We've already signed the contracts for mass production, and it'll be appearing soon in a market near you."

"Hmmm," she said, cutting off a piece and putting it in her mouth. She hadn't tasted real meat in years and she chewed slowly, savoring the long remembered flavors that burst onto her tongue. She swallowed, then took another bite and another until she had finished eating all of it.

Amlie turned to Joran, a look of wonder on her face that slowly turned into something else.

"Oh," was all she could say before she closed her eyes, a smile growing ever wider on her lips. The fork dropped from her hand and then her body slowly slid down the chair onto the floor. Joran leaned under the table to peer at her, noting how long it had been since he'd seen his wife's face without the constant look of worry and anger.

He snapped up the plate and washed it clean, then took a napkin and carefully wiped the gel out of his nose. He made a mental note to have the food techs strengthen the aroma just a bit more.

He pulled her from under the table, picked her up and carried her to the couch. He was careful to arrange her so that she would be as comfortable as possible when she woke up. As he stood over her he couldn't help thinking how beautiful she was when she wasn't scowling. The soft rise and fall of her chest kept him looking, and then he knelt down and began to unbutton her blouse.

<word count: 817>


Chapter Two

The ship brought the life support program online and automatically began the subroutines. There were ten pods with a specified order of reanimation, starting with the two supervisors of the crew and research teams.

As planned, Artemus Hale was the first to awake. Captain of the ship (if you could call anyone captain of an automated ship) and his First Lieutenant, Janay Duchesne, would awaken shortly. It was her job to scan the planet for signs of viability, and if all was well then they would each key in their half of the command for final reanimation of their teams. Then, the Captain would land the ship and he and his crew would take point on reconnoissance.

The iciness of near death lingered at the edges, and Janay’s first thought was more a primal desire to scream. Then the adrenaline rush hit her and it was all her training that prevented her from clawing her way out of the pod. Instead, she stared out the small window and watched Artie perform his physical checks. He was talking to the ship’s computer, coming up to speed on the sitrep, when he turned to smile and wink at her.

Janay's pod door popped open. She disconnected from the feed and discharge tubes and stepped outside. She stretched her arms, performed several slow yoga moves while watching sideways as Artie was getting dressed.

“Welcome back to life Lieutenant," Artie said. He gave her a light kiss to satisfy himself that the sluggishness of deep sleep had worn off. Janay finished up her calisthenics and opened the closet to pull out her coveralls. She dressed in silence and then they moved out to their stations.

“Scan one begin,” Artie said.

“Scan one begin,” Janay confirmed, taking her time to flex her fingers over the console. She moved her hands in a slow but deliberate manner.

They traded pleasant banter for an hour while they proceeded through all 100 scans. Nearing the last of the scans Artie stood up, yawned and then walked out of the control room. He came back with two steaming cups of something that smelled vaguely familiar.

“No way,” she said, taking the cup he offered. She closed her eyes, enjoying the aroma before sipping the hot coffee. “How’d you smuggle that onboard?”

“Captain has his secrets,” he replied, taking a drink from his own cup. “Actually, you’ll find they stowed quite a few freeze-dried goodies for us. Seems they want us remembering Earth and not getting too cozy with any ‘niners we might find.”

She tossed a look of shock at him, then finished up her coffee as the computer completed the comparison of all the scans.

“Five by five. And no 'niners to be found," she said.

Artie came to look over her shoulder at the results on her screen before heading back to his own station. He waited for her nod, then keyed in his command sequence as she keyed in hers. The reanimation clock started and now they had just a week until the remaining eight pods opened up and released their occupants.

They had plenty to do while they waited. By the time the others awoke the ship would have landed and he and Janay would have set up the first research station on this first earth-like exoplanet. Then the two teams would sweep out across the coordinates Janay had mapped, and hopefully they would find enough raw materials to generate food and begin building their new home.

“I'm starving,” he said without a guilty thought for those back on Earth, “let's go eat.”

<word count: 598>


Chapter Three

“What the hell?!” Amlie yelled as she raced down the hallway to the Speaker’s office. She rushed past his secretary who had risen from her chair and tried to halt the Congresswoman. But Amlie burst through the door and slammed the report on the desk of the most powerful man in government. She ignored the two Secret Service who came in behind her.

“Explain this,” she said with such ferocity that the Speaker hung up the comm without saying anything to his caller. He leaned back in his chair and was quiet a few moments, wondering if this hysterical female would finally assault him. He secretly hoped she would.

“Well,” he began slowly, “if you’ve read it then you know exactly what it means.” He tilted further back in his chair, waiting for the blast of heat she so often exhaled whenever she opened her foul mouth.

“You can’t do this, you fucking can’t do this.”

And there it was. He held up one finger, letting her know she was crossing the line.

“You didn’t hold an open vote, you didn’t have a full house.” She pressed forward, leaning closer to him, wanting to get into his face and make him squirm. He inched his seat back trying to keep a comfortable distance away from the woman who had invaded his office, his House.

“It’s done. It’s law.”

“You cannot drug the entire populace.” She slammed her hand down on his desk again, grabbed the report and turned around. “The people will have your head when they learn about this.”

“If you take that report out of this room you’ll be arrested for treason.” His words were a slippery whisper, encapsulating a hope that she wouldn’t hear them. But she stopped mid-stride and slowly turned back around, her face betraying the emotions that boiled beneath.

“You'd create a citizenry of addicts.” Each word was distinct and fierce, and she held herself motionless precisely because she wanted to lunge forward and strangle the man who sat before her. This was personal for her and she had a sudden, terrifying thought that he knew it.

“The people want food,” he said quietly. “It is our duty to feed the hungry. The poor. The huddled masses.” He stood up as he spoke and leisurely came around to lean against the front of his desk.

She felt a queer sensation in her stomach and tried to keep the bile from rising, unsure if it was in reaction to what he said or simply her body betraying her for some other reason.

“You want us all doped up, unable to riot against you and your fascist laws.”

He sighed and opened his arms to her.

“Who funded the mission to Gaius 9? Congress.” He dropped his arms. “Who found the lost reports and established your husband’s little science project? Congress. Who rushed his patents through, and set up the distribution centers? Who made it possible for your husband - and you by the way, to make a fortune?”

You bastard, she thought, you evil, vile man. But she didn’t speak, couldn’t speak. Afraid if she opened her mouth she would spit at him, lunge forward and smack that silly smile off his face. And she knew that if she did she would be arrested, tried by his banana court and hanged.

And for a moment she almost welcomed such an ending. Anything to rid herself of the craving.

<word count: 573>


Chapter Four

Janay heard a click in her earpiece, and then the Captain's voice.

“Lieutenant, we’ve got some type of plant that has a distinct and overpowering aroma. Really, the smell is gawdawful. Over.”

Janay stopped walking and tapped on the glasses she wore that contained the Heads-Up Display and radio.

“Watch yourselves Artie. Likely it's just one of the plant’s many defense mechanisms.” She looked towards her team that walked ahead of her. Her bio-tech looked back and she waved him on.

“Can you send me a pic? Over.” She waited a few seconds before an image resolved on her display. She stared at a picture of large purple plants, each with a huge white flower pod that had distinct black pistals topped with a bright yellow stigma.

“Artie, you should avoid these. Just go around. Over.” She started walking as she waited for his response.

“Artie?” She took a few more steps then halted again.

“No can do Lieutenant. Seems to be a couple hundred acres of these things. Almost like a... a farm. Over.”

Janay swiped the map onto her display and checked the coordinates. Artie’s team was supposed to be twenty klicks in the opposite direction. Sensor readings prior to landing had indicated large swaths of foliage but nothing like he described.

“Artie,” she said carefully, “please send me your coordinates.” She waited until she received latitude, longitude and altitude, then cross-checked them against her map. His coordinates were correct, but she looked at the picture again. Something wasn’t right and she refocused the image. She couldn’t tell for sure but there seemed to be a fine yellow powder hanging in the air around the flowers.

“Artie, I think you should just backtrack to the ship. My team and I will head back now. We’ll meet you there and figure out what to do next. Over.”

“One of the techs, Loren, wants to take a sample. Over,” came his reply.

“Don’t let her do it Artie. Sensors didn’t report that kind of growth in your area, and there’s something peculiar about the picture you sent. The flowers are dispersing a powder into the air. Put on your masks and gloves and get out of there. Head back to the ship. Over.”

She waited several tense minutes, staring at the picture on her HUD. Her team had barely reached the edge of the perimeter they’d mapped for their own first exploration. What seemed odd about the picture was the contrast to the stark, rocky landscape her own team had traversed. They hadn’t collected a single sample.

Janay tapped the side of her glasses. She heard static, then a click.


“Shhiidd,” was the muffled sound that came through her earpiece.

She tapped her mic off then whistled to her team and signaled for them to turn back towards the ship. She was already creating a plan to grab medical supplies and then go hunting for Artie and his team, leaving two techs to set up a sterilization station.

“Is okay Lieutenant,” Artie’s voice came, still muffled. “Got our masks on and we’re headin' back. Loren fainted but her vitals are good, slow but good. Over.”

“Double-time,” she yelled to her team, and then tapped her mic on. “Artie, take it slow, don’t work up a sweat. Make sure you all keep your masks and gloves on. When you get back to the ship don’t touch anything. We’ll be inside waiting for you but I want you to stay outside about 15 meters away until we come out and are set up. You got that? Over.”

“Yep. Take it slow. Masks and gloves. Stay outside. Be there in, ahhhhh, yeah, maybe four or so...”

She thought she heard a chuckle coming from the earpiece before his voice trailed off. She added an armed guard to her plan.

“And Artie? Did she get the sample?” Janay knew that if Loren had done so before losing consciousness then her bio team should be able to create an antidote. And that chuckle meant they’d probably need more than one dose.

“Sure did. She packaged it neat and clean. Funny,” Artie’s voice paused, “she’s out cold but has the biggest most beautiful grin I’ve ever seen.”

<word count: 702>


Chapter Five

“I’m sorry Amlie,” Joran said, standing just outside the cell door, “I am so very sorry. Are they treating you okay?” He sounded sincere.

Amlie stood up from the bench and came to meet him on the other side.

“At least I’ve got my own cell,” she said, looking over to the one adjacent from hers. It was overcrowded and smelled. Some of the inmates were awake and watching them. Joran put a hand through the bars to touch hers, but she stepped backwards just enough to make him pull his hand away.

“They say you attacked the Speaker,” he said. Her reply came quick and fierce.

“It’s a lie.” She looked up at the camera in the corner and then back at Joran, She closed her eyes, hating the sight of her husband, and hating the trembling that betrayed her.

He stuck his hands in his pockets and looked down for several moments. “I can’t,” Joran hesitated, “they won’t let me stay long. And they won’t let me post bail.” He looked quickly at the other cell and whispered, “I brought you something.”

He pulled a brown sack from his jacket and passed it through the bars. She hadn’t eaten anything for days and she took it from him and quickly turned away. She didn’t want him see her rip open the bag, or the tears streaming down her face when she crushed the sack and it contents into a ball and threw it into the other cell. Those who were awake ran for what tumbled out onto the floor and began fighting.

“Why Joran?” she asked, loud enough for him to hear over the screaming that had begun.

He was just able to touch her shoulder before he was pulled out by guards who rushed in to break up the fighting. Amlie slid down to the floor, alone yet safe as she watched the guards start to taser the prisoners in the other cell.

She cringed as one young man bit the hand of another who held the G9 meat, and then quickly chewed and swallowed it along with something else. Moments later the young man’s eyes closed and he fell to the floor, the telltale grin turning into a twisted mockery of itself as the darts hit their target and shot 50,000 volts directly into his face.

Amlie closed her eyes and counted to 60, then counted again until the fighting had been quelled. A couple of guards carried out the man whose finger was half missing, leaving the rest of the prisoners to lay in their own vomit and piss.

She held her knees and rocked back and forth for a long time. She dozed and woke with a start, realizing that someone was standing just outside her cell.

“Mr. Eckhart," she said, not bothering to get up off the floor, "how good of you to grace me with your presence.”

“I pray for you, Amlie,” came the voice from behind. "You may not realize this but we do care for our own. And you, my dear, are in need of a great deal of care."

"You care for your own reputation and power," she growled.

"Do not be contemptuous of the opportunity I gave you to honor your family name. An opportunity that you are choosing to waste."

"Opportunity?" She wanted to scream at him for convincing her own husband to drug her when she turned out not to be the good little woman the Secretary had expected. Instead, she held tight to her knees, determined to say nothing more.

He cleared his throat.

"I'm told you haven’t eaten since your arrest," he said. He watched her body tremble as beads of sweat rolled down her neck, darkening her blouse. “They say withdrawal is hell. That you never quite get over the desire.”

He hoped for a response. If not her acquiescence then at least more evidence to bring her trial to a quick and inevitable end. But she remained silent.

“You are still a member of Congress, and I will not let you embarrass yourself like this. A hunger strike is simply out of the question. We will have you taken to hospital and force-fed intravenously.”

He paused for effect but was rewarded only by her continued silence.

“Did I tell you that your husband’s firm has been contracted to create a new solution? It’s a liquid form of the product. We can feed even more of the population for less cost, and less waste. We think it can be ready for trials within a month.”

She did not respond. He waited a few more moments before he finally tired of her lack of respect. He turned and walked out of the cell block.

“I’ll beat this,” she said quietly, noticing a pause in his step before hearing the door slam behind him. “And I’ll beat you.”

<word count: 814>


Chapter Six

They had just finished burying Loren. Artie and one of the crew had fashioned an old-style headstone from a nearby boulder and had engraved her name, rank, and age:

“Loren Alfonse, 2nd-Lieutenant G9 Survey Team, USAF, Age 34, Year of Our Lord 1996-2143”

Artie was the first to speak. He recalled Loren’s exuberance, inquisitiveness, and fearlessness of the unknown. She had been handpicked for the G9 team because of her unequaled skills as a combat soldier with a decent pedigree in bio-tech. When Janay stood, she quietly spoke of their time at the academy and how Loren had helped her with some of the finer aspects of military protocol. Almost everyone chuckled, knowing Loren would pinch Janay whenever she forgot to properly address an officer.

Others stepped forward and talked about what it was like to work with Loren, how her sense of humor had won them all. Loren's husband listened to their stories, and when it was his turn he shook his head and simply walked away. The rest of them consoled one another and then filed by her grave, laying white ribbons tied to resemble flowers on the mound of dirt. They challenged each other to go explore a bit more of this new and strange planet, something they knew Loren would have pushed them to do.

Janay stood graveside longer than anyone else. The numbers on the headstone made her think about her own life. Same age as Loren, but her own birth date was nearly a decade later. Her friend had just been in suspended animation that much longer, one of the earlier and most successful test subjects. Like all members of the three Gaius System research ships, agreeing to the experiments and the losses that came with it. All for the promise of an adventure of a lifetime.

Boots crunched in the dirt behind her and Janay turned to see Artie swiping his HUD. A communique bearing a military seal appeared in hers.

“By the power vested in me by the people of the United States of North America, I, Secretary Algius Brownard III, hereby declare martial law. All military commanders are to report directly to me within 0300 hours.” Below that was a Field Order from USAF command to check in and provide status.

“Oh Lord,” Janay mumbled, “have you replied yet?”

“Nope. Wanted to wait for you,” he said. She nodded her thanks as they walked back to the ship. He brought her up to speed with what he’d learned from reading the captain's encoded comm.

“The POTUS and VP were assassinated two months ago. There was rioting everywhere across North America. Brownard and the Joint Chiefs took over and put a halt to building any more spaceships, claiming the resources are needed for the people.”

He sighed. "Looks like we're gonna have to figure out how to survive here without any help.” She touched his arm in sympathy.

“Doesn't matter. We already know how to protect ourselves from one of this planet's dangers.”

He nodded at her, grateful for the cool and calm she had used to push her team to synthesize an antidote from the sample Loren had taken.

A chattering sound came from behind, causing them both to stop mid-stride. It was the scratching and scraping that made Artie turn abruptly around with his gun out of it’s holster and aimed in the direction of Loren’s grave. Janay was a second behind, a hand on her own gun still at her hip.

“Niners,” he whispered. She shushed him as one of the creatures stopped what it was doing and stared at them, eerily observing her and Artie just like she was observing them. She tapped on her HUD, three clicks for the pre-arranged distress signal, then slowly turned her head as her glasses began taking video.

There were ten of them of various sizes. The smaller ones walked on six legs while the larger had eight. They reminded her of something from her long ago studies and she called up a data store on her HUD.

“Harvestmen,” she whispered to Artie, reading the display.


“A type of Arachnid.”

“Spiders?” he whispered back. “Damn, they’re huge.” The biggest of them looked tall enough to reach his chin, while the smallest was barely knee high.

“Not spiders. Opiliones. Sometimes referred to as Daddy Longlegs but more commonly called Harvestmen.” She kept recording as they heard the larger creatures chitter at each other, and the smaller ones settled low to the ground. A moment later they became silent and the larger pair stepped to the front of the group and crouched, as if ready to leap.

“Put your gun down," Janay said, "they're protecting their family."

“Did you see them digging at Loren’s grave. What were they doing to the headstone?”

“Maybe trying to read it.” Janay noted that Harvestmen's eyes didn't form images and instead used their forelegs for exploring.

"Are they dangerous?"

“If they followed the same evolution as on Earth then they won't be venomous.”

“Uh-huh, except here they're giants.” Artie kept his gun pointing towards the grave as he turned to look towards the ship, having heard his crew coming out of the hatch. They were heavily armed and arranging themselves in flanks behind him and Janay.

“Stand down,” he told them as he lowered his own gun. "Be at the ready.”

He looked back to the group of 'Niners, who simply watched him and his crew as if they were patiently waiting for something. He holstered his gun, and the two bigger spiders lowered their bodies in response.

Janay tapped on her glasses to turn on the mic.

“Survey Team, approach with caution. We’ve encountered aliens.”

<word count: 949>

Chapter Seven

“There’s an antidote?” Amlie shook with anger but kept her voice as quiet as possible, just under the hum of the music player her lawyer had placed on the table between them.

“Yes,” the older woman replied, and looked nervously behind her at the camera up in the corner of the interview room. She turned her face away, knowing there would be lip-readers regardless of attorney-client privilege. She bent her head closer to the table, nearer to the source of the music.

“The Foundation has a very good team, and they have developed an ingenious method for delivery. However, we can only produce it in small batches. Have you convinced your husband to work with us?”

Amlie thought over the many meetings with Joran since her lawyer’s insistence she do so. The Foundation's psychologists had coached her to reach out to her husband in the hopes she could prevent him from being a hostile witness. Over the past few weeks whenever Joran came to visit, she had reminisced about their courtship, the times they had shared and how they had planned their life together. Their marriage, their honeymoon, and their application to have a child, which when denied seemed to infuriate Joran more than her.

To Amlie's surprise, he began to bring her food whenever he visited her in jail. Real food, not tainted with any G9 ingredients. He apologized repeatedly every time he brought her something. It wasn’t long after when he confessed about visits from government officials who threatened him when he had refused their offers. And then they made him filthy rich, so rich he could pay back every cent her family had loaned him.

The last time they met, she had held his hands and thanked him for his honesty. He didn't bother to hide his tears when he told her it was the least he owed her.

“Yes,” she said to the older woman, "I think he is truly repentant.”

“Good. We need him to come into the firm and give a deposition for us to file with the court. To protect him as well as to protect you, we need copies of his legal contracts, and any non-binding agreements. Also, video of the meetings between him and government officials. We need his raw calendar for the past three years as well, with dates and times and names of everyone he saw. Will he do that?”

“I’ll ask when he comes to visit in two days.”

The older woman nodded her head, then motioned to the music player. "Consider it a gift and play it when you meet with your husband. I have something else for you.” She pulled a carton of cigarettes from her purse.

“Good Lord, I don’t smoke those things,” Amlie said.

“Pass them out to the guards, all but the very last cigarette at the bottom of the very last pack. Break that one in half and you'll find a small device I want you to put in your ear just before you meet with your husband. Squeeze your ear just before you two start talking.” She pressed a finger to her own ear as an example. “We’ll hear everything you talk about and record it live.”

“What? You’re asking me to bug my conversation with Joran?”

The older woman grabbed Amlie’s arms before she could pull back from the table, and placed the carton in her client’s hands.

“Ms. Brownard,” the older woman said, startling Amlie by using the maiden name she despised, and the archaic honorific of Ms. “That’s exactly what they’re doing to us right now, and every time we talk." The woman tapped the music player. "Play the music and get him to tell you everything again. Why he did it. How he was threatened and then bribed. If we’re to have any possibility of getting you out alive... and whatever else we have the courage to try.”

The lawyer stood and nervously pulled a cigarette from her jacket pocket and took a long, dry drag. Her eyes almost closed when she did so. She leaned back down, her face as close to her client’s as possible. Amlie could see every wrinkle that lined the older woman’s face, and count the crow’s feet that surrounded the pale blue eyes.

“We have to have at least that, Amlie. Otherwise, the best we’re able to offer you is a choice of how you are going to die. Even your old family name can’t help you then.”

<word count: 747>


Chapter Eight

Janay tried her password at her station one last time, but she was still locked out. She slapped the screen angrily, then went over to Artie's station and sat down at his screen. She let her fingers hover over the virtual keys while she considered what she was about to do.

She had only three tries to get it right or else his station would go into lock down too, and she didn't have any idea what his password might be. She decided not to try. Instead, she carefully started to look through the open files on his desk, noticing the ration calculations she had sent him. She swiped them aside, unsure of what she was looking for but just hoping to find something, anything that would help explain the turn in his behavior.

For weeks, beginning shortly after Loren's death and the arrival of the Harvestmen, he'd become secretive. She'd lost access to the captain's comm and Artie simply said Earth Command had their hands full. He didn't bother to congratulate her team when the Harvestmen helped them set up the radios to interpret their clicking sounds, giving them a rudimentary form of communication. And he had been going off on solo excursions and not telling anyone where he went. She didn't like it nor did her team and some of his own crew.

When he was gone the rest would talk, tentatively at first and she would defend him. But then he would come back from his excursions and avoid her, rushing off to the control room and just sitting silently at his station until she gave up and left. Once, she had caught him reviewing an encrypted comm before he realized she'd come into the room. He'd quickly shut off the feed and refused to answer any of her questions.

A double-click sounded in her ear, telling her Artie was returning from his latest outing. She straightened up the files and shut down his desk, then went out to meet him.

She leveled a stern look as he walked into the sterilization station and passed his protective gear and sample bag to the bio team. They completed the scan and nodded that he was clean before he made his way up the ramp.

“Where have you been?”

He looked at her as if her question didn’t make any sense.

“I told you. I'm mapping out the Harvestmen’s farm," he said, walking past her and into the ship. "And today was as good an opportunity as any other. You should be glad I did. I found some really interesting samples, something we've not seen before.”

She followed him to the kitchen and watched as he started to prepare himself something to drink.

“It’s not safe,” she said, “and the Harvestmen have forbidden it.”

"We land smack dab in the middle of one of their farms and then they quarantine us," Artie said, his voice bouncing loudly off the hard surfaces as he opened a cabinet and pulled out a cup. "We've got to start growing our own crops. I don't care if the Harvestmen think our seeds will be invasive."

He looked over his shoulder at her, then tapped the gun at his belt. “You don’t need to worry.”

"A gun won't protect you from the deadlies, and if you use that on a Harvestman you'll ruin the relationships we've been working hard to build."

He ignored her and opened another cabinet. Not finding what he was looking for he opened several others, then turned around with a look of exasperation.

“Where is the coffee?”

“The last ration went this morning.”


“Don’t swear.”

“So now you’re the profanity police?” He turned his back to her, trying to keep his anger in check.

“Artie, what has gotten into you?”

“I’ve got orders, Lieutenant,” he said, turning around to face her, “and I don't have time for your diplomacy.” His tone was more menacing than he wanted it to be.

Janay sat down at a table and looked at him. She felt as if he had slapped her.

“When we left Earth,” she said slowly, carefully, “we agreed that if we encountered another species on their home planet, we'd be conscientious of our role as ambassadors and representatives of our own."

Artie's face remained stone and Janay could tell that tactic wasn't working. She tried again.

"We also agreed to be open and honest. To treat each other with respect and trust. As equals.”

He opened then closed his mouth, remaining silent. Janay took it as a good sign.

“Artie,” she said gently and pointing to a chair across from her, “what's going on? Please talk to me.” She placed her palms up on the table, and his face softened. He shook his head as if to ward something off, then took the seat she offered and picked up her hands in his.

"Things are bad back on Earth. Command has ordered me to keep the comms private."

"How bad can it be?"

He squeezed her hands. “Bad. Martial law isn’t working. The rioters have overrun the factories and destroyed production lines. They’ve become senseless mobs. Command has gone underground and anyone who didn’t make it to the evac sites,” he paused, not wanting to tell her the rest. She nudged him on.

“They invaded our homes Janay,” he said. “Every government employee was a target. I asked Command to check and check again. Check ten times, dammit. But. None of our families made it.”

Like he had done, he knew she would conjure the images of her earth family, far older now than she would remember. But what he had learned from Command was that the worst of those images was all too true.

“Coward,” she said, jerking her hands out of his and standing up from the table. “What other secrets have you been keeping from me, from us?”

He stayed in his seat and considered his next words carefully. “Earth Command has ordered that I send the molecular composition of the deadlies.”

“What?” She backed away from him. “Don't, Artie. All of us. You, me, Loren. We came here to find a way for humans to survive. We didn’t come here to participate in murder.”

"Earth needs us to do our jobs." He stood up to face her, a grim look settling on his own. "And I won’t disobey orders.”

<word count: 1064>

Chapter Nine

Joran hugged his wife tightly, relieved to finally have Amlie out of prison. He turned to the man who had brought her to the pre-arranged drop point.

“How,” he began, wanting to ask for the details of her escape. But he had been told that he couldn’t know such things. “How can I ever repay you?”

The man stepped forward and took Joran’s hand, “Complete the contract Mr. Moore.”

Joran nodded as the man’s grip gave his own a firm shake and then watched him disappear out the factory door. He pulled Amlie close and tried to kiss her but she stepped away, tugging at his arm.

“Show me where's this hiding place you made for me."

“This way,” he said, and led her through the factory to an elevator that took them down to the 13th floor. Of course it was labeled “14” for all the silly superstitions of those who design such things. But he thought it poetic to have built a saferoom on the very floor that some might be too nervous to spend much time searching.

He led her through the halls and finally into a storage room. It was very small and crowded with cleaning supplies.

Amlie looked around and shook her head, “You want me to stay in here?”

Joran smiled at her and then moved aside a shelf unit and pushed on the panel behind it. The wall opened to reveal a large but dimly lit room that contained a bed, desk, and dresser. One side of the room had bathroom facilities while another had a small kitchenette.

“When I was a kid, sometimes my father would let me sleep here when I got too tired,” he said as entered the room. "If he were alive he'd be surprised that I own the company where he was once a janitor."

He waved his arms around. “I made it bigger to give you some leg room." He went over to the dresser. "There’s some of your clothes, and a radio in the top drawer so you can listen to the news. But there's no comm. It’s too dangerous for you to call anyone, including me."

He moved over to the kitchenette. "I’ve stocked the cupboards with enough food to last you a few days, and I’ll bring you whatever else you need.”

He tapped on the walls and pointed to the ceiling. “I had special insulation put in, and a new purifier so that you’ll get fresh air while the exhaust is transferred out to the factory floor. You won't generate a significant rise in heat. And I’ve been running extra water and electric so they won’t notice any additional usage. No one will know you’re here. You’ll be safe.”

She smiled and thanked him as she walked in and sat on the bed. Looking around at her new quarters she realized that she had just traded one prison for another. She wanted to hide her face in her hands, but raised her chin instead.

“How long do I have to stay here?”

He came and sat on the bed next to her. “They said maybe three, four months. Until the police give up searching my factories and watching our home. The Foundation has been putting out daily news articles about you, calling you a feminist and humanist from the golden era, seeking justice for the people.” He chuckled. “They even show images of your face superimposed on the Statue of Liberty.”

She shook her head, knowing another truth for herself. Joran began massaging her shoulders.

“I won’t be able to visit you every day, but I’ll sneak away as often as I can.” He pointed to the kitchen sink. “It’s hooked up right to our filtered line, and I’ll bring food down to you at least once a week. We just have to be patient and careful. You understand?”

Amlie nodded her head and closed her eyes. His hands felt good as they caressed her back and slowly moved around to the buttons of her blouse. She stood up and stepped away, not quite ready to return to her wifely duties.

“I need to clean up. Wash off the prison filth,” she said. “And you'll be noticed if you're gone too long.” Her hands trembled as she went over to the kitchen and poured herself a glass of water. She wanted to lay down on the bed and cry, but more than anything she wanted him to leave.

Amlie reached into her pants pocket and felt the half-empty pack of cigarettes she had stashed there. Holding the pack seemed to give her some comfort. When he came and put a hand on her shoulder, she quickly turned to face him.

“Joran,” she whispered, pushing him away, “I'm exhausted.” She left the unspoken words hanging in the air between them, until he finally nodded and kissed her passionately on the lips.

"Five days," he said, "I'll be back. You can count on that."

<word count: 829>

Chapter Ten

Janay hunkered down over her station, reading all the communiques that had been coming from Earth Command since Loren's death. She and her team had been angry when Artie finally apologized for what he'd done. His crew had forgiven him but she had not been quite ready to do so. To appease her, he had granted her unlimited access to the encrypted comms and his responses back to EC.

They'd spent several hours combing through each message, he explaining the cryptic military code as she read and listened with an increasing feeling of dread. Every country across the globe had erupted in violence, warring over decades-long austerity and impacts of climate change. Farmable land and fresh water had become more precious than gold.

She knew American cities had become war zones themselves when military forces used live rounds to quell the riots. There had been a short period of radio silence, and then the message about the government's evacuation to underground facilities arrived, along with an order for the molecular composition of the deadlies.

Artie's reply was that they were simply not equipped to complete the necessary tests while establishing a base camp, exploring and mapping Gaius 9, and engaging in diplomacy actions with the 'Niners.

Janay gave Artie an appreciative nod and then continued reading. A few moments later her head popped up.

"You gave it to them," she whispered. He looked down at the floor.

She glared at him for several moments, then finally bent her head down and read aloud the communique he had sent shortly after receiving the news of their families deaths.

"Molecular composition of herbaceous amortis, attached. Infection is lethal by touch and by inhalation. Additional testing required, but initial contact indicates speed of mortality varies depending on method of infection. See also antidote, attached. Must be given within one hour after loss of consciousness."

She stopped reading and looked up at Artie. "How could you send it to them?"

"Orders," he said, "plain and simple."

She closed her eyes to hide her disappointment. Footsteps sounded behind her and she looked up to see her lead bio tech standing next to her.

"Janay," the man said, refusing to look at Artie. "I have the results of the Captain's samples." He paused and shook his head. "Quite frankly, I'm astonished."

Artie got up and went over to stand next to Janay.

"Mark," he said gently, "tell us what you've got." The man kept his face turned away from the other man, and remained silent until Janay nodded.

"Although they all appear identical, there are actually three different sample types. The outer coating on all three are human consumable but each have varying degrees of psychotropic properties." He tapped on his HUD and sent her the results of multiple tests, infrared images and spectral analyses.

"Oh," Janay said, quickly swiping through her station display, recognizing the differences between the results.

"That's good, isn't it?" Artie asked, and Janay motioned for the tech to continue.

"The first sample type is the same composition through and through," he said. "The inner makeup of the second sample type contains a seed pod of the deadlies."

"Good god," Artie interjected, "we have seeds of those things?"

“They've been quarantined and we're keeping them well outside the ship's safety perimeter." The bio-tech barely controlled the contempt in his voice. "It's the third sample type that's most interesting. It contains what appear to be egg sacs. If further tests hold true, and I think they will, this third sample is a complete food source. Between the outer coating and the inner sac contents, it has every nutrient - vitamin, mineral, protein, electrolyte. Everything that the human body needs."

Artie breathed a sigh of relief, but Janay continued to read through the reports.

"Efraim was your second?" she asked.

"He makes a half-decent replacement," Mark said, looking down. Janay put a comforting hand on his shoulder and he looked up again, his eyes softening into hers.

"Go on," she said softly.

"You're looking at his results, which are identical to mine. We both conclude that we can make these safe to eat, but we'll need to carefully remove any toxic powder on the surface and then extract the psychoactive substances from the internals."

"Do we have the facilities to do that?"

"We're going to have to be creative, but Efraim and his partner think they can build the tools we need. And if the next ship arrives soon enough, then we can combine resources."

"Thank you Mark."

She patted his shoulder and watched him leave. He was a good tech, far better than Loren. Even through his grief, Mark had followed testing protocol and now they finally had evidence of a viable food source. Janay didn't care that his refusal to look at the Captain meant he continued to blame Artie for his wife’s death. She turned to Artie.

“Where did you get these samples from, specifically?" Her research team had searched as far as the Harvestmen's quarantine allowed and had found nothing that could be considered as food.

"I picked them up, barely a klick inside the quarantine boundary,” Artie said. “They were all over the place. And I followed your protocol. I wore the suit and stayed at least three meters from the deadlies at all times."

"You crossed the boundary?"

"Didn't you hear him? It's food, Janay. It's our survival."

"Not good enough," she said.

Janay rubbed her temples, her thoughts grasping at the ramifications. She had long since filed the report stating Gaius 9 was not viable for human life, which would trigger the last research ship to fly past them and on to the next earth-like planet in this G-star solar system. She just wasn't sure she should override that report. Even though Artie's samples looked promising, the Harvestmen wouldn't allow them inside their farm.

"If you would just talk to the Harvestmen," Artie began, "get them to acknowledge our situation and to help us." He was interrupted by an anxious voice coming over the radio.

"Captain? The Harvestmen are demanding to see you and the Lieutenant."

Artie keyed the talk button on Janay's station, "Sergeant, can it wait?"

"Sorry sir," the voice replied, "they insist that you both come out." Three clicks sounded over the radio.

"Shit," Artie muttered, then Janay keyed her mic.

"Have they said what the problem is?"

The response was several beeps and they both recognized the telltale sounds of the translation algorithm, and knew that the next words they heard were from a Harvestman.

"You are in danger. You have taken our children and they must be returned."

<word count: 1106>

Chapter Eleven

Amlie snapped to attention when she heard the closet door open. She turned off the radio and strained to hear whoever it might be. She listened several moments with her ear against the panel.

She heard nothing, which was troubling because usually whoever was in the closet would get the cleaning supplies they needed and then quickly leave. Joran would announce himself before opening the panel, but he hadn't come to visit for over a week and she was growing anxious. She had begun to ration what little food she had left.

She wiped the sweat from her lip and stepped back from the panel, her hand reaching up to pull it open. She wanted to peek into the closet to see if someone was still there. But she was too frightened to do so. She heard the tap on the wall and nearly let out a yelp in surprise. Joran never knocked.

She held herself still, her hand pressing on the panel as the soft tapping slowly moved down the wall towards her. She knew that when they reached the panel, whoever it was would be greeted by the hollow sound of her room.

The tapping stopped and a slight scratching began at the edge of the panel, and she knew they'd found it. She tried to stop from trembling and as she realized she was rattling the panel, she quickly pulled her hand away.

When she heard the sound of the shelf unit being moved, she sprinted to the kitchenette and  grabbed a fork, then ran back to wait for the panel to open. She wasn't sure what she would do but she would have precious little reaction time to do it.

The panel clicked open and bright light poured in, accompanied by the sound of music.

"Amlie? Is that you?"

Amlie was shocked to hear the voice of her lawyer.

"Yes," she replied. The panel swung wide open and the older woman stepped through, dropping her hand that held the flashlight.

The older woman pulled a pair of coveralls and boots from her shoulder bag and shoved them at Amlie. "We don't have much time. You need to strip down and put these on. Quickly."

Amlie hesitated to reach for the clothing.

"Everything," the woman said, "bra, panties, socks. Everything."

"I don't understand," Amlie said, beginning to unbutton her blouse.

"They're tracking you."

Amlie stopped still as the music drifted lazily around the room.

"How? You and Joran got me out."

The woman shook her head and motioned for Amlie to keep undressing. "He made a bargain with the devil. Your release for his manufacturing facilities to continue pumping out tainted meat."

"I don't believe you."

The older woman stepped forward, pressed a button on the flashlight and pointed a thin beam of red light at Amlie's shoes. The plastic started melting and small red dots appeared.

Amlie closed her eyes a moment and swallowed something bitter, then quickly stripped and put on the coveralls and boots. As soon as she was done the woman turned to leave.

"Wait, I need something," said Amlie. She went to the closet and found the pack of cigarettes she'd hidden there.

The older woman raised an eyebrow when she saw what Amlie palmed. "Did you smoke any of those?"

Amlie shook her head no, but hesitated when the older woman held out her hand. When she turned them over to her, Amlie watched as the woman pocketed the pack and then went out the panel into the janitor's closet. Amlie followed her out and into the hallway. A gray-haired man nodded in silent greeting, then led the two women through the dark hallway to an old stairwell.

"Down?" Amlie asked, confused. She hadn't even known there was a stairwell in her husband's factory.

"Up is the police," the man whispered.

"But to where?"

"The bowels," the man said. When Amlie didn't move, he motioned harshly at her. "Go."

"That's madness," Amlie said, "there's nothing but garbage down there. Vagrants. Thieves. And worse." She was trembling again and he grabbed her arm and pulled her down the stairs.

"Don't believe everything you hear," he said, pushing her towards the older woman who was already nearing the next level.

Amlie stumbled and he reached out a hand to steady her. They nearly ran down the stairwell, racing after the older woman. It creaked under their combined weight and speed, but the man kept prodding her downward. She marveled at how spry the older woman was, having already passed the paled sign for the 30th floor and still going strong.

"How many more levels?" Amlie was starting to gasp for air, which was becoming hot and oppressive. Her leg and back muscles were complaining from having spent too long without exercise in one prison or another.

"A hundred or so," the man said. He was looking anxiously up and behind them. He stopped to listen and then he rushed to catch back up to her.

"I can't make it that far." She'd just rounded level 42 and stopped, leaning over and massaging the pain in her side.

"You stop, you die," he said nudging at her.

"I can't go any farther, I need to rest." Amlie sat down on the stair and gulped air. She saw the older woman leaping up towards her, and then point to the man.

"Can you carry her?"

He nodded and then went to stand in front of Amlie. "Stand," he said, and when she did he easily picked her up and swung her over his shoulder.

"You gonna be okay carrying me like this?" Amlie asked.

The man nodded. "Five by five," he said and then they began to descend. Slow at first but then faster and faster.

Amlie was bouncing hard on his back but was too tired to protest, amazed at his strength and how he flew down the stairs. The older woman followed, but this time it was she who would stop to look anxiously up the stair well when they heard shouts and sounds of pursuit.

When they reached the 110th floor the man stopped and put Amlie down. His face was beet red and his shirt soaked with sweat.

"Can't carry you," he gasped, "a few more flights and you're home free." She could see he was in pain, unable to stand up straight.

"I can make it if you can," Amlie said to him. He let out a laugh like a growl.

"Then you better get going," he said. The older woman stopped just long enough to kiss him and hand him something, then moved past him and tugged at Amlie's arm. The two women sprinted down the stairs and Amlie stopped just a moment, turning back to see him pull a cigarette from the pack in his hand and take a long drag as he peered up the stairwell.

Amlie wanted to wait for him but the older woman grabbed her hand and pulled.

"He'll be fine," she gasped, showing now that she too was feeling the effects of so many stairs.

Amlie shook off the woman's hand. "But when we get down there. The stories of monsters. Who will protect us?"

The older woman looked into Amlie's eyes, surprise, disbelief and then exasperation passing across her wrinkled face.

"Everyone still alive and free-thinking," she said, "even the monsters."

<word count: 1230>

Chapter Twelve

The crew and research team argued late into the night. Artie and Janay each tried separately and together to stop the heated debate, finally saying they all needed sleep so that clearer heads could prevail in the morning. But the research team was having none of it, and Mark as the main speaker for Janay's team continued to argue that they stay and reconcile with the Harvestmen. Artie and his crew refused to agree, saying they needed to leave before they were all incarcerated and killed.

"It's five against four," a man said, slamming his hand on the table.

"Aaron," Janay said, "if Loren were alive she would have voted to stay too." She looked at Mark who nodded in agreement, then turned back to the man who was Artie's First Sergeant. He was violently shaking his head in disagreement, and the room erupted again in a yelling match between the two sides.

A loud bang sounded and everyone turned to see Artie with a bag in his hand. He had popped it so that he could get their attention.

"I've heard all of your arguments and as Captain of this ship it's my decision. I'll consult with the First Lieutenant but the rest of you are dismissed. That's an order." For a moment, everyone at the table hesitated, but finally Aaron stood and motioned for his three crew to follow. Then Mark and his two techs left for their quarters.

Janay waited while Artie seated himself across the table from her.

"How are we going to do this, Captain?"

Artie sighed. "I'm not going to order you to agree with me, Janay. I just want to talk through our options. We both need to weigh the risks and make the best decision for everyone." He placed his palms up on the table. She hesitated before placing her own palms up in response. He nodded in appreciation.

"The Harvestmen have given us a choice," he began, careful to keep his voice calm and steady. "Leave, or stay and conform to their requirements. If you stay, you'll be confined to a much smaller area than we have now, just barely large enough for Mark to visit Loren's grave. Yes, they'll let you plant our own seeds, but under very strict controls, and barely just enough to survive. This is definitely not the goal we had when we were sent on this mission."

Janay thought over the Harvestmen's demands, and decided not to give voice to the most distressing point he was carefully avoiding.

"It's not a failed mission Artie. Diplomacy is a long haul, we know that from our own history." Artie's sarcastic laugh interrupted her. She tried again.

"The Harvestmen could have killed us, but they didn't. They could have forced us from their planet, but they didn't. I believe their invitation to let us stay shows they are trying to learn and understand and adapt. And we have to learn and understand and adapt too. We can find a way, Artie. It may take us awhile, but we can thrive here."

Artie shook his head. “Diplomacy is a long haul and we don’t have that much time. The Santa Maria is long gone and we haven't heard from her. You can hitch a ride on the Pinta but you have to send the pickup signal in the next five days and prepare for cryo. Janay, it’s now or never.” He held her hands in his, worryingly massaging her fingers.

They sat in silence a few moments, then Janay stood up and went around the table to sit next to him.

“We don’t know enough about this planet,” she said, grabbing his hands in hers again, “but we do know that the Harvestmen have finally acquiesced to our need to grow our own food. They’re giving us land and water. Small yes, but they hadn’t even considered our request before... before you took their eggs.”

She squeezed Artie’s hands when he tried to remove them from hers.

“Artie. Earth is dying. The people who are left there have gone mad. They’re going to kill each other using the chemical composition of the deadlies. They won’t survive to escape and come here, or anywhere. We don’t have enough information about the other planets in this system but we know enough about this one. If we stay, we have a chance here. To build the world that we were commissioned to build, and if we signal the Pinta to stop and dock here then we’ll have just enough diversity of human genomes to manage it. The survival of the human race.”

He shook his head. “You’re right. We don’t know enough about this planet, and my faux pas has cost us dearly.” He rubbed his temples and tried to squeeze out the sleepiness that was dulling his mind. “If we could just explore past their farm, learn more about this world. If the deadlies are the only vegetation here then this isn’t a viable planet for us.”

“Our scans, Artie,” Janay said, “remember the scans we took before de-orbit? They confirmed there was a vast range of vegetation over every land mass. And oceans, Artie. Water. Granted the Harvestmen are the only ones we’ve seen so far, they are proof that this planet can sustain life. Intelligent life. And I believe that one day, with hard work on both our parts, we'll be treated as partners and not enemies.”

The captain shook his head again despite her soaring rhetoric. He stood up and began pacing the room. “We had those scan results when you filed the report of non-viability.”

Janay hesitated, then nodded in response. “Yes. But I was focusing on Loren's death and not what we've since proven. We know how to protect ourselves, the distance required for us to avoid infection, and we have an antidote.”

Artie stopped pacing and looked at her for several moments, then sat down beside her and carefully considered his next words.

“Children,” he said, taking her hands in his. “Would you raise our children here?”

<word count: 1011>

Chapter Thirteen

Amlie awoke slowly, her body aching and unable to move. Her mind felt dull and numb.

She must have whimpered aloud because someone gently lifted her head and poured a cool liquid through her lips. It tasted salty. She swallowed and closed her eyes as she laid her head back on the pillow. Fear gripped her as rapidly as the strange warmth exploded throughout her limbs.

The feelings in her body were electrifying and she bolted up out of the bed and backed away into a corner.

“Where am I? What have you done to me?”

The person who’d given her the drink presented his open palms to her. “It’s okay. You’re okay. You're safe.” He was young and lithe, and something about his blue eyes reminded her of someone.

“Where am I,” she repeated, “who are you?”

“You’re below and you’re safe. I’m going to go get my mother.” He got up to move and she cowered farther away from him. “I’m not going to hurt you. No one here will hurt you. But I need you to stay in this room. Okay?”

His voice was soft and gentle, reminding her again of someone, but her mind wasn’t waking up as fast as her body. She nodded and watched him leave the room. His movements had been remarkably quiet, and she worried that her hearing was failing.

Too many moments passed and she felt restless. She had to move. She paced the room, aware that she couldn’t hear her own movements even as she stamped her feet on the floor and knocked her knuckles against the walls.

She went to the door and tried to push and then pull it open. It wouldn’t budge. She paced again, and jumped out of the way when the door opened and the young man and an older woman stepped inside the room.

“You gave us quite a scare,” the woman said, reaching out and hugging Amlie tightly. “We were all very worried for you.”

Relief washed over Amlie as she recognized her lawyer. She sat on the edge of the bed while the older woman took a chair from the table.

“I don’t remember what happened," Amlie said, "you were leading me down a flight of stairs.”

The older woman nodded. “Yes, and then you collapsed and we carried you the rest of the way. You’ve been sleeping for three days. As have I.” She paused. “You must be hungry.”

Amlie nodded her head, “I’m starving.”

“Me too.” The woman nodded to the the young man and he disappeared out the door again.

“How does he do that,” Amlie asked. "Why is there no sound in this room but our voices?”

"Trickery,” the woman smiled. “Electronics can do amazing things, and my son is one of the engineer geniuses behind this room. Thank goodness.” She slapped her hands on her thighs without making a sound. “Well then. I guess I have a story to tell.” She motioned to the table.

“Come sit with me?” and she moved her own chair back to the table while Amlie sat beside her. The woman grabbed Amlie’s hands and squeezed.

“My name is Loren Alfonse. The older gentleman who helped you escape is my partner, Artemus Hale. And that young man is our son, Mark.”

Amlie sat in silence before finally comprehending what she had heard.

“The original Gaius 9 explorers.”

The woman nodded. “You know your history. That’s admirable considering it was deleted from all the records.”

“My great-grandfather's library,” Amlie said. "He gave me some of his books to read, and I snuck back in to read many more." She tapped her forehead trying to remember something. "As Speaker of the House he declared you all dead back in twentyone-forty something... forty-three?" The older woman said nothing.

"I remember that from his books," Janay said quietly. She stopped, feeling again that old mix of love and hate for her family name, which she had never quite been able to reconcile.

The woman nodded in appreciation. “I'm counting on that very thing Amlie.”

The young man came back into the room carrying a tray and put it on the table. He sat down next to his mother, poured them all a glass of water and then tore open a small packet and stirred the yellow crystals into all of their glasses.

Loren addressed the worried look on Amlie’s face. “It’s okay. None of us have had as much rest as we need and so it’s just a little pick-me up.”

The older woman turned to Mark and gently touched his arm. "Your father?” Mark shook his head. “Well then, just the three of us,” she said.

Mark pulled the cover off the tray and passed out the plates and utensils, then pried open a container and pulled out a hunk of something dark green that should have made a slapping sound when it landed on Amlie’s plate.

“Is he okay? Is he…” Amlie couldn’t bare to ask if Artemus had died from carrying her all those flights of stairs, remembering how red and pained he looked when he had finally set her down. The older woman patted her hand.

“He’ll be fine, he just needs more rest.” Loren motioned to the plates. “Please. Eat.”

At first Amlie pushed at the blob with her fork, but the woman told her it was actually the most complete source of food fit for humans and all they would need for the entire day. Along with the water, which tasted less salty than her first drink, Amlie found herself devouring the meal in haste once she took her first bite.

“Well then,” the woman said after finishing her own plate. She set down her fork and dabbed her lips with a napkin. “I think that filled me right up.” She refilled their glasses, the visual of the liquid being poured without any sound disturbed Amlie.

"Now," the older woman said, setting down the pitcher. "You want to know where you are and what we have done to you. Those are good questions, yes. And I have so many answers to tell.”

The older woman kept her voice low and calm while Amlie listened and Mark cleaned up. Hearing the story of her fake escape from prison both saddened Amlie and made her angry. The sheer audacity of Joran to do that to her again made her want to scream. No. She actually wanted to take a knife to his throat and force feed him his own concoctions.

“You made it easy for us to find you,” Loren said, giving Amlie an appreciative rub on the back. “Besides the comm piece you used, that last pack of cigarettes also had a tracer. I’m very glad you kept it with you. Otherwise." The older woman shook her head.

Amelie grabbed Loren’s arm. “I want to kill him.”

“I imagine you do. But that won’t be necessary just yet. We need Joran to keep manufacturing the product. And more importantly, we need him to manufacture the antidote.”

Amlie shook her head and leaned back in her chair. Something wasn't quite fitting together for her.

“You’re over 200 years old.”

“Literally, yes,” Loren said.

“All those stairs. You went down them as if you were so much younger. I'm almost 32 and couldn't have done them without your help.”

“The effects of the 'niner psychotropic, it packs quite a wallop. But with the right tweaks it has a most beneficial effect on humans, especially when we control the size and delivery of the dose. Most times I feel like I’m in my twenties and only need an occasional puff to keep me going strong.”

“The cigarettes?”

“Uh-huh, the ones you were to give the guards would have knocked them out cold. But Artie and I have built up an immunity.” The woman paused to drink some water.

“What did Mark give me when I woke up?”

“The antidote.”

“Is that why I feel so strange?”

“Yes. The "meat" your husband gave you was your exposure to the psychotropic, which is now mixing in your blood with the antidote and forming a very strong molecular bond. Essentially, the two are working together to repair the effects of aging on your body. Your brain will catch up soon." The older woman smiled at a distant memory.

"Better than any stimulant there ever was. Although, I do wish we could replicate the taste of coffee.”

Something still wasn't making sense but Amlie's thoughts seemed far too slow to try to figure out what was bothering her. “Okay. What’s next then?”

“We learn the secrets of the House and then take it down.”

"And how do we do that?”

“I need access to your great-grandfather’s library.”

Amlie sighed. “That was destroyed long ago.”

The older woman smiled, a weary but excited look in her eyes.

“But you weren’t.”

<word count: 1481>

Chapter Fourteen

Artie bent in to kiss Janay and brush a stray hair from her eyes, then he quickly backed away and closed the door to her pod. He pressed the command sequence on the door's keypad and watched as her breath clouded the small porthole. She tried to keep her eyes open and watch him as long as possible while the iciness of cryo pumped through her veins and vital organs. Her eyelids closed long before the light above the door turned from green to yellow to red.

He took a deep breath then turned and walked out of the pod bay, the door closing behind him with a hollow thunk. It was a short run to the tent where he took his seat at the makeshift controls, and started the launch code. Too soon she'd be heading out to space with her team and his crew, in a long slow arc that would eventually bring their ship within docking proximity of the Pioneer.

He watched the seconds tick down, and buckled himself in just as the tremors of the ship's launch buffeted the ground. He held the goggles over his eyes and followed the fiery engines of the ship as they exploded into the sky and disappeared into the light of the sun. The ship was a blip on his screen as it punched out beyond the edge of the atmosphere. He heard clicks coming from behind him and he flipped on his audio translator.

"The Niña is orbiting Gaius 9," he said, "de-orbit in ten minutes." He kept silent as the blip circled half around the planet and then blasted out on it's planned trajectory, a dotted line that went around the sun and ricocheted out into deep space. The journey would last approximately 40 years and place them where they'd calculated the last ship from Earth should be by then.

He felt a weight on his shoulder and turned to look at the beady black eyes of the Harvestman who was stationed to watch him. The translator worked flawlessly.

"Though we do not understand the threat of which you have spoken, we appreciate the sacrifices we both must make." The Harvestman removed his tarsus and stepped back from the human.

Artie kept silent as he unbuckled himself from his chair. He absently stroked the beard he'd grown the past few weeks, knowing that body hair fascinated and repelled the Harvestmen. But his thoughts were with his crew and Janay.

"Damn fool," he mumbled, shaking his head.

Janay hadn't blinked at the question of raising children on planet, and no matter the difficulties they knew they would encounter, the entire team and crew had each politely told him and his captors that they were staying. The nine had sat outside drinking the last of their wine and saluting the Pinta as it sailed on by. They had barely begun to settle into their new situation when Artie received the last newsline from Earth Command.

"Impossible," Janay said when he shared the message with her. She looked at him, astonishment and disbelief on her face. "Why would they come here?"

Artie shook his head, "They've got nowhere else to go. The Santa Maria has been silent, presumably shipwrecked, and the Pinta won't reach it's destination for another 75 years."

"But they're abandoning Earth and bringing only five hundred of the most loyal subjects. Soldiers and politicians," she said sarcastically. The destroyers are coming here, she thought and closed her eyes.

"We need to tell the others."

When Artie showed the message to the rest of the crew a few sat back in their chairs as if all the energy had been sucked out of the room. Aaron spoke up first.

"It'll take 'em half a century to get here. Plenty of time for us to prepare."

"How do you prepare against megaton warheads?" Mark had scoffed. "We're defenseless against that kind of firepower."

"Now, sure. But in 50 years we can build up our defenses."

"With what?" Mark stood up, angry at Aaron's flippant remark. "Dirt? Rocks?" He didn't stop when Aaron stood and faced him with a glare. "Even if we could find the raw materials laying around somewhere on this planet, the Harvestmen will never let us build weapons."

"Mark is right," Artie said, before Aaron could respond. "But Aaron is right too. We have time to figure out our options. The first thing we need to do is determine how we're going to keep tabs on the Pioneer."

They spent hours discussing, arguing, speculating, plotting.

"Even if they stop communications, we can track them using the satellite buoys."

"They'll keep communicating with us because they'll want to monitor our progress here."

"We can't tell them the truth, no matter what progress we make. Or don't make."

"They'll have to rotate the crew in and out of cryo, just to keep anyone from getting too old."

"We're going to be too old when they finally get here."

That last remark caused them all to pause and look up at Janay as she paced around the room.

"We've tossed out so many scenarios," she said. "Not one of them accounts for the fact that when they arrive, we'll all be 50 years older."

"The Harvestmen will help us," Mark said, and it was Aaron who laughed out loud.

Artie looked up at Janay. "Will they?"

"I don't even know what to tell them."

Of all the plans they had made and scrapped, only one remained plausible. And to everyone's surprise the Harvestmen actually did help, even though they still insisted that Artie remain on planet.

He stopped reminiscing and turned to face his guard. "Well. They're gone. Now what?"

The translator took less than a second to catch up to the clicking sounds from the Harvestman.

"We are glad that you will not be alone, Artemus Hale." The bug turned and pointed in the direction of the settlement. Several Harvestmen could be seen escorting a human figure walking towards him.

<word count: 1001>

Chapter Fifteen

“Are you sure?” Loren looked at the fear in Amlie’s face and hesitated, holding the large titanium cap just up over the young woman's head. Amlie swallowed hard and nodded.

“Yes.” She closed her eyes as Loren brought the cap down and adjusted it into place. Amlie could feel something tingling her scalp, but it was actually quite pleasant.

“It tickles,” she said, looking over at Mark.

“That’s good.” He tapped several times on his slate, and Loren stood next to where Amlie sat and took the young woman’s hand.

“It’ll start to hurt, and if the pain is too much just squeeze and we’ll stop.”

“Uh-huh. Tell me again how this works?”

Mark moved in front of Amlie and knelt down to look into her eyes. “It’s an engram amplifier. We’ll be searching through all the memories stored in your brain. If we are moving too fast it’ll hurt, like a sharp pain, and we can adjust the speed down to something more comfortable. When we get where we need to be, we’ll slow it down to near real-time and the sensation will be reduced to a tingle, like you’re feeling now. Okay?”

He was genuinely worried for her yet utterly confident in his machine, which Amlie found attractive.

“And the walls of this room will display what I’m remembering?”

He nodded in reply. She thought for a moment about what her memories held, and what they would reveal to these two people. Complete strangers to her before her horrors began.

She took a deep breath. “Okay. Let’s get started.”

Mark stood up and pressed a button on his slate, then moved the slider forward. The walls began to glow and for several moments Amlie was more curious about what she saw on them than what she felt in her head. Until she noticed the start of a dull ache. She squeezed Loren’s hand.

“Hold,” Loren said, and Mark responded by tapping on his slate. The motion on the walls slowed, the pictures becoming sharp and distinct. There was an image of Joran, looking sulkily at her from across their living room. Amlie remembered the fight they’d had, as if it had happened just last night.

She coughed, embarrassed by how personal her memories felt to her now, and realizing just how revealing they would be to her companions.

“Let’s move on,” she said, and the walls glowed brighter and the images moved faster and faster. Too fast. It felt like a knife stabbing her brain and she cried out, tossing her head and shaking the cap loose. The images on the walls stopped, and the pain subsided.

“Are you okay?” Loren was kneeling beside her, squeezing her hand and massaging her arm.

“That hurt. A lot.”

“I can slow it down," Mark said. "Are you okay to proceed?”

Amlie stared at the image on the wall. Joran was dressed in his wedding suit and looking at her with the face of a man in love. Amlie wanted to cry because it was a look she had once desperately believed.

Loren and Mark waited while she composed herself. When she nodded, Mark adjusted the cap on her head and then tapped his slate.

“We’ll go a bit slower now,” he said.

“Not too slow. I’d like to skip the lies in this part of my life.”

The images moved faster but they were still able to distinguish faces and places. Amlie’s memories played out on those walls and she saw things that made her feel happy and sad at the same time.

Then something odd happened. There was a long period where there was nothing. The walls were opaque. Mark fiddled with his slate, pushing the slider forward and speeding up the engram stimulations. The walls remained blank and Amlie felt nothing. Then a sudden commotion appeared, but it was moving too fast and the pain in her head reached a new level.

She screamed.

Mark slapped a button on his slate and Amlie's hands shook as she fumbled to remove the cap.

“Wait,” Loren said, pushing Amlie's hands away. “Look, it’s him.”

They turned to the wall and could see an old man smiling down, about to hand someone a bright red flower.

“My great-grandfather,” Amlie gasped. “It's a rose. From his greenhouse.”

Mark looked at Loren, wanting to ask his mother a question, but she shook her head at him.

“Likely it was one of the last,” Loren said, “and you were lucky enough to have seen it.” She nodded to Mark, “I think we’re in the right location.”

“You okay to keep going?” she knelt to ask the young woman.

Amlie nodded. “Just not so fast. Please.”

Mark moved the slider forward and the red petals melted into a slow blur of motion. Amlie closed her eyes, realizing that she didn’t need to watch the pictures on the walls. She was seeing them in her mind.

She felt dizzy and began to sway, and the memories slowed down again. This time, the pictures were of her mother dragging her out of a room filled with rows and rows of shelves. For some reason, the images made her remember an odd, dusty smell.

“You’re not supposed to be in here,” her mother was scolding. The old man stepped into the frame and took Amlie’s hand.

“She’s allowed,” he said, and began pulling her back into the room. Young Amlie watched her mother’s frustration, whose hands went up as she turned around and walked away.

“The library,” Amlie said aloud from the chair. The images were of her great-grandfather walking her through rows and rows of books, bound books. A sight she had completely forgotten and one not seen by anyone else alive.

“Wow,” Mark said, moving closer to a wall and peering at the images that played. “Real books. Those things went the way of dinosaurs, well over two hundred years ago.” He turned to look at Amlie, then at Loren.

“Something is really odd here,” he began, ignoring his mother's warning as she put up her hands to stop him. “He doesn’t look much older than that woman. Who was she?”

“My mother,” Amlie said, a sickening feeling churning in her stomach.

“Mark, please,” Loren said. She held up her hands. “We cannot be distracted. We need to see what’s in the library, the papers that this man kept.”

“Brownard, right?” Mark turned to his mother. “Algius Brownard the third. That’s who this man is.” He turned to Amlie. “The man responsible for the near annihilation of the human race.”

“Mark, don’t. I know you've figured it out but she doesn’t understand yet. She needs some preparation.”

He ignored his mother and pointed to the wall of books, the astonishment clear in his voice.

“That’s his library. On Earth.” He turned to look back at the young woman in the chair, wearing the titanium cap he had built.

Amlie wanted to throw up, engulfed by the feelings that overwhelmed her in seeing the old man’s face on the wall. Feelings of awe and delight, and love. He was pulling down several books and handing them to her younger self.

“This was supposed to be my legacy,” the man on the wall said as he swept his arms around, "all of this." Then he pressed another book into her arms.

“You won’t be able to take them with you,” he continued, sounding very sad. “But there’s just enough time to read these few I’ve picked especially for you." He leaned down and put a finger to his lips.

"Shhhh," he whispered. "I've another present for you. Remember to take your ladybug bag when the soldiers come."

He wiped the moisture from his eyes, and Amlie could feel his arms tightening around her just before they began to shake. He stood back up and placed his hand on her head.

"May God be with you and keep you safe, my darling daughter. Wherever you may go.”

<word count: 1328>

Chapter Sixteen

The woman's eyelids fluttered, and then snapped open. The first thing she noticed was that her body felt heavy and numb. The second thing she noticed was the porthole that revealed movement outside, but her mind couldn't seem to comprehend what was occurring. She watched as two men flashed their pistols and chased about a dozen freakishly large spiders out of view.

A face appeared in front of the porthole, one eye looming close to the glass. She stared back, unblinking. The face moved away and she saw the young man motioning to someone she couldn't see. She nearly fell out when the pod door popped open, but was held upright by the straps and tubes that were connected to her body.

One of the men whistled.

"Don't be crude," someone said, "get her out of there. Gently boys."

Two men in gray uniform began removing the tubes and straps and pulling her from the pod. She felt queasy and would have fallen to the floor were it not for them holding onto her arms. Someone threw a blanket over her and then pushed a straw through her lips.

"Drink," the man said, then to the others, "Stop staring. Haven't you seen a naked woman before?" They lowered her to a bench and the man rummaged through a closet, found a navy blue jumpsuit and brought it to her.

"Please put that on," he said. He held the blanket up for her privacy, but didn't turn away while she dressed. She was aware of his eyes watching her. More importantly, she was aware of how painful it felt to move her arms and legs. After zipping up the jumpsuit she sat back down and bent over, trying not to throw up the little bit of water she'd just had.

He knelt beside her.

"Who are you," he asked, "and what were those things on your ship?" She shook her head and squeezed her eyes closed.

"I don't know," she whispered. She grabbed the bottle from his hand and drank. He kept a hold of the bottle and placed his other hand on her shoulder to steady her.

"Not too much," he said, gently pulling the bottle away after she'd downed nearly half of it, "don't want you to get sick." He repeated his questions.

"I don't remember," she said, her voice finally sounding more familiar to her. She looked at her hands. They didn't look like her hands.

"Ma'am," the man said, standing up, "my name is Matthew Eckhart, and I am Captain of the Watch of the Pioneer. We pulled you from a cryo-pod on the Niña, one of three original Earth ships sent to explore the Gaius System. Over 160 years ago."

Nothing he said seemed to register with her. She looked around and then stared at the other pod directly across from hers.

"Do you know why that one's empty?" Matthew asked her.  She didn't respond. "Okay. Well. That pod is for the Niña's Captain, Artemus Hale. And the pod you were in is for Lieutenant Janay Duchesne. Are you Janay?"

He couldn't tell for sure but it seemed her eyes were becoming moist. She nodded.

"Okay then. Janay." He held out his hand, and when she took it he lifted her up.

"Let's walk. Careful now." He helped her out of the small chamber, through several hatches and then down a ramp. She had difficulty breathing and he stopped to let her rest. "Are you okay?"

She nodded her head, noticing that he hadn't released her hand.

"Good." Matthew turned to the two men who stood by. "I want to know where those spiders went. On my desk in an hour." The two men saluted then walked away. Matthew turned back to her.

"We are in Docking Bay 1 of the Pioneer."

Janay's eyes followed his hand as it swept around, and a sense of vertigo hit. Matthew kept her from falling, then helped her to a bench.

"You'll get used to it after awhile. She's the biggest ship we ever built. We hauled in the Niña nearly five days ago." He pointed to a hulk of metal that looked like a gnat inside the vast bay of the Pioneer.

"Looks pretty beat up," she said, noticing burn marks and large gouges across most of it's outer surface. Something niggled at the back of her brain, but it didn't coalesce into any specific thought.

"Your ship suffered a lot of damage. You probably went through a comet storm." He waited but she said nothing, her eyes roaming the docking bay and coming back to the Niña.

"Let's go to my cabin," he said, taking one of her hands in his and helping her to walk beside him. They approached a large hatch and passed through. It shut behind them with a thud that echoed down a long, empty hallway.

He led her down through the twists and turns, and past various closed doors before finally reaching one that he opened. He held the door and waited for her to go through.

"Where are all the people? There must be so many," she said, looking behind her.

"She's a big ship. There are over 500 souls on the Pioneer, but only a few are on duty. I may have to wake a few more now that we have those spiders to deal with. They gave my men quite a scare."

"Opiliones," she whispered.

"Excuse me?"

"Not spiders. More commonly known as Harvestmen."

"You remember something?"

She nodded her head. "Am I a biologist?"

"Yes, among other things," he said, finally tugging on her hand to move her into his cabin and to a table. He held out a chair for her. "Well then, Harvestmen. And three feet tall. Hard to miss. Perhaps they stowed away on your ship after you'd gone into cryo."

She watched in silence as he stood behind the chair across from her, leaning on it's back.

"Are you hungry?" When she nodded he moved to his desk and spoke into the comm. No sooner had he made the request for food than a woman entered and set a tray on the table and quickly left.

They ate in silence. Or rather, he watched as she ate. She had difficulty handling the utensils and he offered to help, but she waved him away. When she was done, the server returned and without saying a word, took the tray and left.

"I think you'll feel better now that you've had something to eat." He stood up from the table and walked to his desk. "I'm sorry to be the bearer of bad news. There are ten pods on your ship, most of them were occupied. We weren't able to awaken anyone but you."

She stared at Matthew but said nothing. He cleared his throat.

"It appears they all passed of natural causes. We'll perform the burial rites as soon as our doctors have completed the autopsies."

Janay stared at her hands again, finally understanding what was so foreign about them. They looked old.

"The funny thing," he said, walking around his desk and sitting down. "Like Captain Hale's pod, one of the crew's was empty as well. It was assigned to 2nd Lieutenant Loren Alfonse. Do you remember anything about that?"

He waited for her to speak, but she closed her eyes and shook her head.

"Mr. Alfonse's body was in one of the pods on the Niña with you. His wife, on the other hand, died on Gaius 9. And if I remember your report correctly, that was shortly after that you encountered the 'Niners. And I think you figured out how to communicate with them." He paused again, watching her closely.

A bell chimed softly, breaking the silence. He pressed something on his desk and then bent down to read the report his men had sent. When he finished reading, he relaxed his fist and carefully laid his palm on the desk.

"It seems your Harvestmen have vanished." A slight roughness checkered his voice.

"Like you said, it's a big ship."

He looked sharply at her, then stood and straightened his jacket before going to the door.

"My dear," he said quietly, motioning the guards into the cabin. "The remnants of the entire human race are here on this ship and in my care. I can't fathom why you would ever consider harming any single one of us. But. What I may lack in imagination I make up for in other ways."

He nodded to the men. They grabbed her arms, forced her up and out of the cabin. When she was gone he closed the door and made his way to the sink and began to vigorously scrub his hands.

<word count: 1458>

Chapter Seventeen

"Imagine my surprise," Joran said, as he walked into the bedroom to see Amlie standing next to an open closet. His smile faded when a strange man grabbed his arms and forced him onto the bed, sat on top of him and put a hand over his mouth. He struggled until the man punched him in the gut.

"It's not here," Amlie said, having turned back to the closet to continue digging through the contents.

"Okay," Loren said calmly, "where else could it be?"

Amlie shook her head. "I don't know. Maybe he does." She spat the words towards her husband on the bed.

Loren looked at Artie, who simply nodded. He removed his hand from Joran's mouth and whispered in his ear, "don't be stupid."

"Where is my bag," Amlie nearly shouted. She didn't dare go near the bed, wanting to stay as far away from her husband as possible.

"Glad to see you too," Joran said, and for that he received another gut punch. He coughed and finally said, "How should I know, it's wherever you left it last."

"Oh god," Amlie whispered. She nearly fell to the floor but for Mark reaching out to balance her.

"It was confiscated when I was arrested."

"We shouldn't have taken the risk to come here," Mark said. "We should've used the amplifier."

"I don't know what's worse,"Amlie growled, stepping away from him, "that thing or what Joran did to me. I've got to get out of here."

She walked out of the bedroom, Loren and Mark following. Artie lifted Joran and pushed him out and into the living room and forced him down onto the couch.

"Look buddy," Joran said to Artie, "You're twice as big as me and there's thrice as many of you. Just lighten up a little. She's my wife for God's sake."

Amlie's movement was faster than any of them could follow, and the slap of her hand stung his cheek. Loren and Artie exchanged glances as Amlie scrambled back to the farthest point in the room.

"They would've given her belongings to you once they processed her," Loren said to Joran, pulling his face towards her.

"You're the lawyer."

"Yes, I am." She nodded to Artie then reached into her pocket and pulled something out that made Joran blink rapidly and try to disappear into the cushions.

He clamped his mouth shut but Artie was stronger than Joran expected. The old man sat on top of him and pried Joran's jaw open with a painful pop. Loren shoved the small green blob onto his tongue and Artie pushed his mouth closed before Joran could spit it out.

"I appreciate this recipe of yours," Loren said, "which I'm particularly fond of. As you know, it dissolves as soon as it touches the tongue. And when it mixes with your saliva, well, it has such a profound effect." Artie backed off of Joran as soon as he went limp.

The young man's  head lolled and then snapped back up, a lopsided grin on his face.

"Where are Amlie's things," Loren said, her face so close he could feel her breath hot on his cheek. It tickled and he giggled, then mumbled something she couldn't hear.

"Louder please."

"My secret hiding place," Joran giggled again, as he looked towards the kitchen. "She never goes in there."

Amlie and Mark searched through all the cupboards, finding nothing until Mark moved towards the oven.

"Yer getting warmer." Joran's sing-song voice irritated Amlie and she rushed to the couch and put her face in his.

"Why did you do it Joran? Why did you drug me?"

"I dunno," He began to cry. "He made me do it. You made me do it."

"How did I make you betray me?"

His head lolled back again and Loren took Amlie's shoulder and tried to move her back. But Amlie stayed put, staring at the the man on the couch with something that no longer resembled what she had once felt for him. She pulled his head up by the hair, so he could see the hate in her eyes.

"Green eyes," he murmured, "that's really rare ya know. Like royalty. He has 'em too."


"I always thought yers were prettier." His eyes closed and his head fell back, his mouth opened and he began to snore.

Amlie stepped back and screamed, then collapsed to the floor. Loren, Artie and Mark all rushed to her and pulled her up to the couch. Artie picked up Joran and took him to the bedroom, then came back a few moments later.

"He's not going anywhere," he said. He sat down in a chair, watching Amlie crying as Loren tried to console her. The tears finally stopped when Mark went to the kitchen and came back carrying her bag.

She grabbed it from him and began pacing as she opened the bag and pulled out her wallet, splotches of faded red still showed on it's cover.

"Is this what you want?" She stood in front of Loren and shoved the wallet at the older woman. Loren waited a moment, then put her hands on Amlie's wrists.

"Intense emotions are a side-effect. Take slow, deep breaths." She motioned to Mark, who cautiously took the wallet from Amlie's hand.

"This has been incredibly difficult for all of us," Loren said softly, looking deep into Amlie's eyes, "more so for you, I'm afraid." She gently pulled Amlie back down to the couch to sit next to her, holding her hands and rubbing them gently.

"You've learned so much these past few hours, and yet know so little."

"What can you tell me," Amlie said, the anger not quite melting away with Loren's soothing voice. "That my great-grandfather is really my father. That I was in cryo for decades, and all my memories as a girl growing up into a young woman are lies?" She shook her head. "This I've already figured out on my own."

Loren nodded her head. "Yes, all of that and more." She motioned towards Mark who had laid the wallet on the table and was carefully disassembling it with a knife and tweezers. He had put on reading glasses, and periodically pressed the top of the lens to increase the magnification as he worked.

"There are secrets your father kept and we believe he gave them to you. That's what your memory told us, and that's what we hope to find now."

Amlie squeezed her eyes shut, unable to shake the feeling of her father's hand on her head. "You can't tell me anything about my life without using that thing, that amplifier. So tell me about yours." She looked at Loren but it was Artie who spoke.

"Loren had died, or so we thought. We buried her and then the 'Niners appeared. A lot happened in so little time. The devastation of Earth, and then the launch of the Pioneer. I put everyone back into cryo and sent them into space, hoping to meet up with the Pioneer and to persuade the Captain that we humans are welcome guests of the 'Niners." He paused, shaking his head and Loren laid a hand on his shoulder.

"You couldn't have known," she said.

"No, we couldn't. But we should have." He smiled at the older woman, patted her hand and turned back to Amlie. "Human history is doomed to repeat itself. Dictators are overthrown, and another grows up in place."

"My father."

Artie shook his head. "He was a good man. He's not the one who gave the orders."

"Eckhart," Amlie hissed. Both Loren and Artie nodded.

"That's why we wanted to know what was in your father's library, and what he gave you. It's the last proof we need to put Eckhart on trial."

"I still don't understand something," Amlie said, her eyes looking back and forth between the two. "How can the two of you be here, on the Pioneer?"

It was Mark who looked up and laughed, holding up the tweezers that held a small chip.

"We're not on the Pioneer," he said, "we're on Gaius 9."

<word count: 1355>

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