Novel by David Smith
Available through Amazon and his official website.
“The strength of two connected neural pathways is thought to result in the storage of information, resulting in memory. This process of synaptic strengthening is known as long term potentiation.”
“Who can say where inside a man’s body his soul is kept? Who can pinpoint a part of his brain, or even a single synapse, and say this is or is not the essence of that person? Can one body be possessed by two souls, and if so is one equally as guilty of the crimes committed by the other?”
I’m lying on my face killing time waiting for the forces of law and order to arrive. My new friend Josh hasn’t moved a muscle. He just stands there in the sun, his shotgun pointing down at me.
‘I don’t care what you do to me, sir,’ I say, ‘but can your wife take a look at my colleague in the car? She needs medical attention right now.’
‘She ain’t my wife, stupid,’ he says with a sneer, ‘She’s my sister.’
‘Whatever, just get her to take a look at my friend…please?’
‘Yeah, and then she jumps Mary and we’re in a swap the hostage situation. I think not. Just sit tight. The law’ll be here any minute. They’ll take a look at her.’
It’s hard to judge time but it seems like an age since Mary made the call. I know the authorities are desperate to get their hands on Jane and me. I expected to hear the whap-whap of the Chinooks within a minute of the call being placed. The crews should still be on standby, the troops still kitted up and waiting to get word of a sighting before swinging back into action. I really don’t want the troops to arrive but I’m starting to worry. Where the fuck are they? Has this guy Abel somehow intercepted the call, or has access to our side’s communications? Is there a truck load of Dreeks heading over here right now? But it isn’t Chinooks I hear in the distance, it’s a car, just the one, travelling fast. I hear its engine screaming as it bounces and bumps up the dirt track towards the farmhouse. I turn my head so I can see the car as it rounds the bend in the dirt track.
‘Don’t you move a fucking muscle,’ says Josh, his eyes focused on the cloud of dust coming up the track.
I’m now very worried about who our visitors are and try to persuade Josh things aren’t exactly right here.
‘This isn’t the law,’ I say, ‘The law would come with helicopters and troops. You’re in danger.’
‘Shut your mouth.’
‘You need to get inside, you and your sister, right now!’
‘I said shut your mouth.’
The car skids to a halt as it comes around the bend in the track, stopping about twenty yards away from us. There’s virtually no breeze, and the dust shaken up as the car stops moves in a cloud towards us, so for a few moments I can’t see the car but I hear one door open. The dust cloud drifts away. The car is a jet black Acura MDX, new and expensive. The guy standing by the driver’s door is a gorilla, at least six feet six and all muscle on a big frame. He’s wearing a plain white Tee shirt, jeans and boots, hardly the standard uniform of the FBI or local police. I get a creepy feeling this guy is big trouble. The good news is that he’s not a Dreek. The bad news is that he’s holding an Intratec TEC-DC9 semi automatic pistol in his hand. He raises it slightly and points it at me.
‘This the guy?’ he says. Now I know he’s trouble. Even a Dreek would recognize me.
‘You the Feds?’ asks Josh.
‘Sort a,’ says the guy. He slams the car door and starts walking slowly and cautiously over towards us. Even Josh is suspicious by now.
‘Show me your badge,’ says Josh, raising his shotgun just enough so the guy from the Acura knows where it’s aiming.
‘D’you know there’s a price on this guy’s head?’ says our new friend, ‘Half a million bucks and rising.’
Now I know for sure. The guy’s a bail bondsman, a bounty hunter, a freelancer. He’s probably been scanning the local police radio frequencies since the news broke that I’d evaded capture by the Feds. He sees a fat pay check in this and most likely whatever the rights and wrongs he doesn’t give a fuck. Whoever stumps up the cash is in the right for this guy.
‘Where’s the bitch?’
‘Why? What’s that to you?’ says Josh, his antennae now well and truly up.
‘I need to get them out of here real quick. The bad guys’ll be here soon.’
Josh swings his shotgun all the way up so it’s level with the chest of the new arrival.
‘You ain’t no law,’ he says, stating the obvious.
‘Don’t give me any grief now,’ says the guy from the Acura, raising his TEC so Josh can see it’s aimed at him, ‘I’m taking these two off your hands and I expect your full cooperation.’
‘They’re going nowhere till the law arrives,’ says Josh. I admire his guts but deplore his stupidity. Josh is a farmer; the guy with the TEC is a professional. Josh has one chance, one shot if he’s lucky, the TEC can discharge 32 rounds in a second. It’s no contest.
‘Looks like we got us a stand-off,’ says the guy from the Acura.
I expect to hear a burst from the TEC. Instead I hear the distant sound of police sirens. The good guys are at last on their way but by the sound of it they’ll be a few minutes yet.
‘Hear that?’ says the guy from the Acura, ‘Half a million bucks slipping through our fingers. I’ll give you half. We got about five minutes.’
I’m on my stomach watching the guy. I see him slip his free hand into his pocket and pull out a set of cuffs. He throws them over to Josh.
‘Put these on him and help me get him into the car,’ he says.
It’s a reflex reaction and Josh gets suckered. He drops the end of the shotgun so it’s pointing at the dirt while he tries to catch the handcuffs thrown towards him. That’s all the movement the guy from the Acura needs.
In a flash he lets fly a burst from the TEC and Josh’s body is a mass of bullet holes, the slugs whacking into his chest, stomach and face at incredible speed. Josh is dead before he hits the dirt. He doesn’t even get the chance to fire off one shell.
But Mary does.
She’s standing in the door frame of the farmhouse, a shotgun at her shoulder. I can see the look of surprise and shock on the face of the guy with the TEC. I can see he thought he had it all worked out, blow the guy with the shotgun away then bundle me and Jane into the Acura. It’d only take half a minute and he would have been well clear of the farm before the law arrives. The shotgun blast has hit the guy in the upper gut, a good shot. He’s a no hoper. He looks down at the gaping hole where his guts were a half second ago. He doesn’t make a noise, just sinks to the dirt wide mouthed. He doesn’t have the strength to raise the TEC and give Mary a farewell spray of slugs from the gun.
‘Get up and get inside,’ shouts Mary before the guy from the Acura breathes his last gasp. I don’t need a second invitation. As I scramble to my feet I pick up the TEC. I may need it soon. Mary runs over to Josh and without showing any emotion towards her dead brother swaps over the shotguns.
‘Bring the woman inside, quick!’ says Mary.
I go over to the Crown Victoria. Jane is still flat out and starting to look grey. I pull her out of the car, take her up in my arms and carry her inside, still clinging on to the TEC.
Inside the farmhouse is like a time warp, old homesteader’s furniture, threadbare rugs, nothing new, not even the TV. When I carry Jane through the doorway Mary is raising a wooden trap door in the floor. There’s a set of wooden steps going down into a root cellar. She switches on a light for me as I carry Jane down the creaky steps and lay her on a camping cot next to the boiler.
‘Keep good and quiet,’ she says, handing me down Josh’s shotgun. She switches off the light and lowers the trap door closed. I hear her walking across the wooden floor and down the steps on the porch. I also hear the police sirens, loud, at least four vehicles rounding the end of the dirt track up to the farm.
It’s hot down in the root cellar, dark and the air is thick and sticky. If we’re lucky we’ll be down here a long time. If we’re unlucky the guys that have just arrived will either haul our asses out of here to some Titanium cage in a Sheriff’s basement or worse, blow us away right down here. I close my eyes and pray we’ll be lucky. I move so I’m beside Jane and cradle her head in my arms. I stroke her hair gently as I listen hard at the noises coming from above and outside. I’m exhausted and need to sleep but that would be stupid, so I sit there in the dark, gently caressing Jane’s hair and straining my ears at every creek and murmur, my free hand holding on tight to the TEC.
Whatever happens will happen, and I have no fight left in me right now. After a couple of minutes sitting there in the darkness I can’t stop myself. Despite all the adrenaline still pumping through my body like a stream I can’t fight the exhaustion any longer. Sitting down there in the dark stuffy root cellar I close my eyes and in moments I’m out like a light.
I’m brought out of a deep sleep suddenly and for a moment I can’t remember where, even who I am. Then it all comes back. I’m still in the root cellar but the light is on, a single bare bulb hanging from the rafter above me. The cellar trap door is open and I can see artificial light coming through from above. It must be night time. Standing over me is the person that brought me out of my sleep, Jane. She looks all cleaned up and has a bandage neatly wrapped around her head and across her forehead, held in place by a plaster strip. It’s like a professional job, not something Jane could have done herself.
‘Come on Jake,’ she says in her usual get your ass into gear way, ‘We need to get you cleaned up.’
I blink a few times as I shake the sleep from my brain.
‘Yeah. Bit of a headache but I’m fine,’ she says, ‘but you’re a mess. We need to dress that bite in your shoulder and clean up your face a little.’
‘Me and Mary,’ she says.
I stretch, yawn, and sit up.
‘How long have I been asleep?’
‘How the hell should I know?’ she says, ‘but luckily I was awake before Mary was brought back. It’s three in the morning so you can take a guess at how long you’ve been lying there snoring.’
Jane, as sympathetic as ever, points with her thumb towards the wooden steps in a movement that suggests I need to get my lazy ass into gear.
‘Let’s get you cleaned up and something to eat,’ she says.
As I climb out of the cellar the first thing that hits me is the smell, delicious, some kind of stew. The room is lit with table lamps and the lighting warm and subdued. The kitchen is off to the right in a small area separated by a breakfast bar. I see Mary busy in the kitchen preparing some kind of meal. A table is laid up for three in a dining area just outside the kitchen. She sees me and calls over.
‘Strip off down to your waist. You’ll need to clean up so I can dress your wounds. Bathroom’s through there.’
She points with a spoon she’s stirring the stew with at a door the other side of the room.
‘You okay?’ I ask.
‘I’m fine,’ she says, ‘You’re the one that’s blooded up.’
‘You lost your brother,’ I say, the nearest I can get to sympathy for her loss of Josh.
‘It’s a merciful release,’ she says, going back to the stew, ‘No love lost between me and that man.’
‘Still…’ I say.
‘You didn’t know him,’ she says, ‘You’ll never meet a meaner bastard in all your life. It was a living hell here with that man. I was practically his slave, wouldn’t ever let me leave him or the farm. Now I’m free. I thank the good Lord you turned up. Now, go shower and I’ll dress your wounds.’
Before I go clean up I ask, ‘What happened when the law turned up?’
‘Oh, nothing. I told them that a couple of guys turned up in fancy cars looking to haul you two away. There was a shoot out. Josh got one of them but the other shot him then bundled you two into his car and skedaddled.’
‘They believe that?’
‘Sure. The cops knew the guy I shot. He’s a local bondsman, a real bad-ass. He often sub-contracts to his buddies so the story was credible. They’re chasing down all his known associates right now trying to track you two down. They took me down to the Sheriff’s office to make a statement, even offered me counseling. I told them I’d be fine so they brought me back a couple of hours ago. Jane was up and about by the time I got back. She’s a sensible girl, kept her head down till the Deputy disappeared off. We left you to sleep while I cleaned her up and cooked us something to eat.’
‘Thanks,’ I say, and I really mean it.
Half an hour later I’m cleaned up and changed into a set of clothes I can squeeze into from Josh’s wardrobe. He’s a size or two smaller than me so I have to take what I can. If there’s such a thing out there as fashion police then I’m in big trouble. Mary is a genius at first aid. She gently and efficiently cleans my wounds, and dresses them like an experienced professional.
‘You ready for something to eat?’ she says, and both Jane and I nod. I can’t speak for Jane but the smell of the stew has been driving me crazy since I woke up.
‘You bet,’ I say as I pull out a chair at the table. Jane sits beside me as Mary brings over the pot of stew and places it in the middle of the table. It’s an all in job. She ladles out a good sized helping into Jane’s bowl, then into mine, then sits down and takes some for herself. I pour iced water from a jug on the table into everyone’s tumblers.
‘For what the Lord has given us may we be truly grateful,’ says Mary before we start eating.
The food is divine, the best thing I’ve tasted in years, and I compliment Mary on her culinary skills.
‘All fresh from the farm,’ she says, brushing aside my praise, ‘How’s your head now Jane?’
‘I’ll live,’ she says, ‘Thanks to you Mary.’
We eat in silence for a few minutes then Mary says, ‘They told me all about you two at the Sheriff’s office. Is it true you’re not human?’
‘It’s true I’m from somewhere else,’ she says, avoiding the need for me to answer.
‘My, you must have seen some things,’ she says. Then, after another long silence she says, ‘I have a tumour. The specialist at the hospital says I’ve got about six months. Could’ve had it taken away but the hospital bill would have been over fifty thousand bucks. Josh wouldn’t pay and we don’t have medical insurance that’d cover it. It’s too late now. I never wanted to see him end his days like he did but it seems sort of like justice to me.’
‘What’ll you do?’ asks Jane.
‘Oh, I don’t know. I’ve always wanted to travel. I guess I’ll sell the farm. There’s nothing to stop me now. I’ll use the money to see a little bit of the world. Probably sounds a bit parochial to you, Jane, you traveling half way across the universe and all, but I want to see London before I die.’
‘You know they’ll be back soon,’ I say.
‘Yes I figure that,’ she says.
‘These guys are just the locals, hick cops, keeping it all from the Feds, trying to make a name for themselves by bringing us in, succeeding where the big guys failed. Once they’ve checked out that bondsman’s contacts and found they’ve all got alibis they’ll be back, this time with the Feds and in force.’
‘I reckon that too. You best eat up and get on your way,’ she says, ‘You can take Josh’s pick up. It’s parked in the barn, keys inside. There’s a trail that leads out the back of the farm, takes you about twelve miles but it picks up the highway well away from here. Alternative if you want, we have a bunk house about ten miles up the track, just off into the hills. You can stay there as long as you like, forever if you want, nobody’d know.’
‘Sounds perfect,’ says Jane.
‘It ain’t locked or anything. There’s water, dry foods and canned stuff already there. You can take some extra provisions from here that’ll keep you going for a good while. There ain’t no electricity, phone signal, or TV, nothing like that. It’s very isolated.’
‘Couldn’t be better,’ I say.
We finish the meal without much extra talk. I clear away the table and clean the pots while Jane and Mary gather what we’ll need to survive in the cabin for a spell. I go out to the barn to get Josh’s pick up. It’s a bit beat up but it’s got a full tank of gas and a Weatherby Mk 5 rifle in the cab, and a box of shells in the glove compartment, perfect for hunting small game out there. We load up the pick up. Mary gives us everything she thinks we’ll need to be safe and comfortable, torches, food, blankets, toiletries, even a bottle of Josh’s Jack Daniels. When we’re all loaded up we say our goodbyes. We know we owe her a lot and hope one day to find her again and make it all up to her.
‘You take care,’ says Mary as we hug, and I can sense she’s choking up.
‘You too,’ I say, ‘…and thanks. We owe you our lives.’
‘I don’t think so,’ she says, ‘It’s the other way round. One way or another I owe you both. You two set me free.’
We drive away with the windows down but without using the headlights. It’s a bright cold cloudless night and we can see the track perfectly clearly from the reflected light of a half moon. We’ve driven about four miles when I stop the pick up in the middle of the track.
‘Something wrong?’ asks Jane.
‘Listen,’ I say.
We hear the ticking of the engine as it cools and the chirping of the Cicadas in the night air, and something else, something that’s been bothering me for a while now.
‘What is it?’ asks Jane.
‘Listen,’ I say again.
The noise that’s so irritating me and making me jumpy is the distant droning of jet engines. We’re nowhere near an airport or a commercial fight path. This sounds to me like a military plane, and it’s circling, not flying over.
‘What do you think it is?’ asks Jane, but there’s no need for me to answer. As she finishes her sentence the first missiles hit Mary’s farmhouse behind us, and it erupts in a ball of flames. Seconds later another set of missiles strike. Whoever is in the jet is making sure no one in the building or the surrounding area is left alive.
‘Oh my God!’ cries Jane, ‘Mary!’
Now I know Jane and I have no friends left on Earth. We’re on our own and on the run.
Less than five minutes after the missiles strike we hear the Chinooks, four of them I reckon, coming from the far horizon and heading for the inferno that was Mary’s home. They’ll land near the farmhouse, or whatever’s left of it. When the fire dies down they’ll scrape through the tangled mess that’s left looking for bodies, hoping to find charred remains that can be confirmed as being me and Jane. My first thought when I heard the jet circling was that someone from Grow, perhaps a Torp sent to track us down, had put a vision into the pilot’s head, but the Chinooks confirm my worst nightmare.
‘They’ve reached a decision,’ says Jane, a lump in her throat as she speaks, upset at the death of our savior, Mary. I know what she means. The powers that be on Earth must have decided the best way forward in this mess is to have me dead. Once my death is confirmed, and I’m no longer around to be handed over to Abel to stand trial in the courts of Grow, then the threat to Earth would be removed, or so they would hope. It’s my life versus the lives of everyone else alive on the planet. No contest. It’s the decision I’d have made, so I can’t blame them.
‘We’ve got a few hours yet before the fire burns out. Then when they find there’s only one body and it’s neither of us we’ll be hunted again.’
‘D’you think they’ve seen us on their night vision equipment?’ asks Jane.
‘I doubt it,’ I answer, ‘It’s a cold night. The heat trail the pick up’s leaving won’t last minutes, and the fire back there’ll mask any heat trail we may have made after leaving the farmhouse.’
‘D’you reckon we’ll be safe at the cabin?’
‘Yeah, for a while anyway. Let’s press on.’
I fire up the engine and we set off at a slow pace, slow enough not to kick up any dust from the trail, lights off and keeping the revs low on the engine.
A half an hour later and I spot the cabin. It’s half way up a hill on a narrow, rutted dirt track, nestling in a clump of trees. I’d have missed it had Mary not told us precisely where to find it. I swing the pick up off the main trail and head up the track towards the cabin. As we climb the hill we can see the distant light from the fire at the farmhouse. It’s still burning brightly, a sickening glow in the night sky.
When we get there it’s a tiny cabin, no better than a shed, but it’s got a solid roof and is well hidden in the small copse surrounding it. I pull the pick up to a halt by the front door and jump down from the cab, Jane half a tick behind me. It’s deathly quiet, no Cicadas, nothing. We can’t even hear the sound of the Chinooks’ blades off in the distance ten miles away back at the farmhouse.
I walk over and step onto the small verandah. The wooden floor bends and groans under my feet and I hear something scurry away, a night critter of some sort deciding the place is suddenly too crowded for it. I push open the door. The hinge hasn’t seen oil in a long time and it creaks noisily as I push it wide. I switch on one of the flashlights Mary gave us and move the beam slowly around in our new home. It’s one room with everything Mary said would be here in it, a battered old sofa, a table and chairs, two small old ex army surplus cots, a kitchen area with a wood burning stove with a small room off it containing a shower and chemical toilet. It’s as basic as it could possibly be but it’ll do fine.
‘Let’s get settled inside,’ I say to Jane.
When we’ve unloaded the food and other junk from the car Jane says to me, ‘Dare we risk a fire?’
‘I think it’ll be okay,’ I say.
The cabin is very isolated. There are no neighbours to notice any smoke and the heat signal a small fire would give off is unlikely to be picked up by any of the Chinooks if they pass near, not amongst these trees anyway. So Jane stashes the kit we’ve brought with us while I make up a fire in the hearth. There’s a decent stack of wood already cut and piled up against the side of the hearth, and in no time the fire’s going well, taking the chill off the room. There’s an old hurricane lamp on the table. Jane checks it out and finds it’s still full of oil so she lights the wick and it gives off a half decent amount of light. In the flickering shadows from the fire and with the hurricane lamp burning it isn’t long before the place starts to feel a little more welcoming.
‘Whiskey?’ I say to Jane.
She finds two shot glasses in the kitchen cupboard, rinses them out with bottled water and places them on the table. I fill each one with Jack Daniels, and give one to Jane.
‘To Mary, God bless and receive her with love,’ I say. Jane touches my glass with hers and we both down our shots in one gulp. I refill the glasses and we go over to the fireside and sit on the rug. I can see Jane’s eyes are moist, so I move away from the memory of Mary as swiftly as I can. She’s gone and there’s nothing either of us can do about it.
‘I reckon we hunker down here for a couple of days while we think through our options.’
‘What options? I’ve no idea who to turn to now. If the UN has decided that we’re better dead than alive I can’t see any place to go for arbitration. Both teams want our hides, Jake.’
‘Is it legal? Can the United Nations make that kind of decision?’
‘In these circumstances, yes, I suppose. It’s one life against the potential threat of extinction of the species. They’d have held an extra-ordinary vote, changed the Human Rights legislation for these special circumstances.’
‘…but I’m an American citizen. Surely our envoy would veto any decision.’
‘That wouldn’t make any difference given the odds. Besides,’ she says, ‘They might not consider you an American by now. Abel is arguing you’re not even human, let alone American. It’s time we talked about Jek.’
I stand up and go across to the table and pick up the bottle of JD.
‘No thanks,’ she says.
There’s a chill in the air despite the roaring log fire, and she pulls one of the blankets from the pile on the floor beside the fire and wraps it around her shoulders.
I pour myself another shot glass full of the whiskey then go back and sit down again beside her. I know she’s right. It’s time to tell her all about Jek.
‘Jek’s dead and gone,’ I say, ‘…and I don’t ever want to see him again.’
‘I promised you I’d never press you on Jek,’ she says, ‘but I have to break that promise. The only way I can see us getting through this is if you bring Jek back.’
I take a sip of the whiskey, enjoy the burning sensation as it slides down my throat and the long delicious aftertaste, moving air over my tongue slowly to enhance the flavour. I put the glass on the fire hearth and turn to look into Jane’s eyes.
‘Jek was a killer, I’m not. Jek was a person who signed up as Krillik’s right hand man, and was happy to take money to help Krillik kill every living human on this planet.’
‘…but he didn’t go through with it,’ says Jane, ‘In fact the opposite. He fought Krillik. He didn’t harm the human species, he saved it. If it hadn’t been for Jek then Krillik would have killed off every living person on the planet by now. Jek…you saved them.’
‘Jake!’ I snap.
‘I know Jek is inside you, buried real deep. Why? You could be Jake and Jek, both living side by side, Jake, the person you want to be, with Jek right alongside to protect you.’
‘He stays buried,’ I say.
‘But why?’ she says, genuinely mystified as to why I keep this entity hidden deep inside my brain. All the time we lived together we never discussed Jek. It was an unspoken rule. She knew I had my reasons to keep him hidden but never pressed me as to why. Perhaps it’s now time to tell her. I take another sip of JD and steel myself to the task.
‘Earth wasn’t Jek’s first assignment, it was his fourth,’ I say, ‘There had been three previous contracts, all served as Krillik’s right hand man. Krillik and Jek were like brothers. Jek did his dirty work, Jane, unspeakable things.’
‘Have you ever heard of Telaffus, Geraben and Arginet?’
‘I’ve heard of Arginet. Isn’t that the silver planet?’
‘That’s right. What do you know about it?’
‘It’s paradise…supposed to be anyway. It’s the most expensive place to live in the universe. Only the super-rich can live there and visiting the planet is strictly controlled. It’s one of Grow’s most lucrative projects, isn’t it?’
‘Right, a remarkable project, a planet about the size of Earth, two suns, and a perfect sub-tropical climate. The land mass is about eighty percent. It’s almost all rainforest and was inhabited by a humanlike species called Phalks. About twelve thousand years ago Grow bought the rights to develop the planet and seeded the Phalks with a synthetic DNA. It went extremely well and within a couple of thousand years the species started to develop quite complex societies with technological skills, especially in construction. The Phalks built huge, elaborately designed and constructed cities. Grow’s problem was that the Phalks were developing too rapidly.
By the time the planet was ready for harvesting the Phalks had evolved way beyond a point where they could legally be considered a sub-species that could be subject to genocide under the laws of The Powers. Arginet was the most beautiful place imaginable, massive forests with huge silver leafed trees stretching to the sky, crystal clear oceans and cities of breathtaking beauty.
Krillik was ordered by Grow to send in a crew to start fogging Zyg sperm to stop the species breeding. Jek was one of the front runners sent down to Arginet. The Phalks by then had developed space exploration technology.
They discovered that they were not the only planet with humanlike creatures and a civilization. Eventually they made contact with other planets and soon discovered the truth about their own civilization. A delegation was put together to lobby The Powers for the right to independent existence, the very last thing that Grow wanted. A date was set by The Powers for a court hearing, and Grow was instructed not to commence any genocide work until after this, and then only if the decision went in its favour.
The Phalks are virtually the same as humans. The one major difference between us and them is in the respiratory mechanism. The atmosphere on Arginet was much higher in Carbon Dioxide than on other populated planets. The Phalk species developed its respiratory system to be Carbon Dioxide dependent, metabolizing this for energy in preference to Oxygen. Grow couldn’t afford to write off its investment in Arginet. The company had already received pledges for vast sums from the rich and powerful that wanted to live on Arginet.’
‘What did Grow do?’
I could sense Jane knew there wasn’t a happy ending coming, but what she couldn’t have guessed was the part Jek played in this sorry tale.
‘There is a micro-organism that lives in the seas of some planets, but not on Earth or on Arginet. It’s called Storret. It lives on the surface of the ocean and its metabolism is peculiar in the universe. It aggressively removes Carbon Dioxide from the atmosphere, fixing it in its cellular structure before the cells eventually die and sink to the bottom of the ocean. There the dead organisms form a thick blanket choking the seabed and killing anything that depends on the seabed for life. It’s a very unpleasant organism and virtually impossible to remove once an ocean becomes contaminated. Grow developed a genetically modified version. Grow’s version of the organism behaved exactly as the one that naturally occurred but with one huge difference. Grow’s version broke down into its original chemical constituents on its journey to the ocean floor. The Carbon Dioxide molecules split into Oxygen that’s released as a gas. The carbon element is chemically bound as a solid that precipitates to the ocean floor with the dead organism. It didn’t take long for the atmosphere on Arginet to change completely to one that’s about the same as it is on Earth now.
So, some humanlike creatures could tolerate, even thrive in the atmosphere but to the Phalks the air was toxic, far too high in Oxygen. Every breath was suffocating and increasingly more agonizing for them as the atmosphere slowly increased in its Oxygen content. Within a year life for the Phalks species was unsustainable on Arginet. The death rate was overwhelming for the Phalks and they eventually had to abandon the planet. Grow made a financial killing, but what it did was immoral, unforgivable and highly illegal.’
‘…and Jek’s part in this travesty?’
‘Jek, under instructions from Grow given through Krillik, secretly seeded the oceans with the modified Storret culture. Jek was responsible for millions of deaths on Arginet, and he got paid handsomely for his crime.’
‘Who knows about this?’
‘Grow ordered Krillik to contaminate the oceans, Grow’s board certainly knows that…but I don’t know if they were ever told by Krillik that it was Jek who actually released the culture into the oceans. I doubt if Krillik would ever have shared that level of detail with his controllers at Grow.’
Jane looks at me for a moment then says, ‘…and what part did Jek play on the other planets, Telaffus and Geraben.’
‘Bad but not as bad as Arginet,’ is all I can bring myself to tell her right now.
‘Don’t tell me any more,’ she says, ‘I need time to understand and rationalize what you’ve just told me. Let’s sleep on it for now.’
I feel wretched, unclean, soiled by the memory of what the creature that lives inside me once did. I stand and pick up the blankets from beside the fire. I start to make up two beds on the floor in front of the fire but before I lay out the first blanket Jane stops me, grabbing hold of my arm.
‘Shhh! What’s that?’
At first I can’t hear anything. Then I pick up on what she’s heard. I move to the door and open it slightly. In the distance I can hear a low constant hum. I know what it is.
‘Jane, we can’t stay here and we can’t run.’
‘What is it?’ she says, and I can see the anxiety in her face.
‘A drone,’ I tell her, ‘and it’s circling the cabin.’
End of Part Four