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Darwin's Soldiers: Next of Kin

aabicus (LettuceBacon&Tomato)

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Last week was the 8-year anniversary of the conclusion of one of my old stories, Ship of State! I can't believe it's been so long since I wrote it, and almost as long since I've written anything in the Darwin's Soldiers universe. But f-22 and I have partnered up to bring you a direct sequel to Ship of State, set about 15 years later and including every single surviving character (plus reappearances of some characters from elsewhere in the Darwin's Soldiers canon!)

If you haven't read Ship of State, this Wiki page will explain the plot up to now. You'll probably also want to read the page on Card of Ten, the story that preceded Ship of State.

This story will be updating once a day until its completion. Enjoy!

Next of Kin
Written by LettuceBacon&Tomato
Story by f-22 "raptor" ace and LettuceBacon&Tomato

It was a warm evening like any other when Werner and his team finally finished digging the aqueduct. “Whew,” Werner panted, throwing the final shovelful of dirt to the side. “There we go!”

The men cheered. Menken, Werner's second-in-command, clapped Werner on the back. “Still not sure how this thing’s supposed to work, but I’m glad to be done digging!” He nodded approvingly at their handiwork.

“Now we’re going to make concrete out of crushed rock and ash,” Werner explained. “We coat this channel, and it will bring us water from the mountain range after the next storm.”

Werner was the leader of a small colony of settlers eking out a living on a remote moon. It was a tough life, but he and his father Hans were slowly working their way through eras of technology, and with their guidance the standards of living were improving every day.

Menken shook his head and smiled. “The details are still lost on me, I’m afraid, but I’ve got your back.”

“You always do,” Werner nodded, wiping the sweat from his brow. “Trust me, you’re going to love how much water we’ll have.”

“It’ll be nice to put those damn storms to use,” Menken nodded. The colony had long abandoned the plains that filled 90% of the moon’s surface, and were holed out at the base of a range of mountains.

“Oh, they’ll be doing more than that soon,” Werner promised as the men began the hike back to town. “Hans’ wind turbines are getting stronger with every generation. He’s already got a prototype for a model that can handle hurricane force. If it works, we can charge the shuttlecraft power cell overnight instead of over months.”

“You planning another expedition?” Menken asked. Every time they charged the shuttlecraft, Werner took it out to search unexplored areas of the moon. So far he hadn’t found anywhere nicer than the mountains in which they now resided, but it helped for cartography and collection of new plants and exotic resources.

“Not yet, but soon,” Werner replied, as they reached the outskirts of Vurna, their small but respectable collection of thatch and adobe huts. Half of the colony lived under the open sky, the rest preferred to stay in the mountain caves.

“Awesome. You better take me on the next one, I won’t have a sore throat this time,” Menken teased, but suddenly he broke off when two young figures came sprinting towards him. “Oh! Hey, kids!” he exclaimed, surprised to see a pair of tiny figures sprinting towards him.

“Daddy!” both cheered, and the son leapt into his arms.

“What are you two doing out of class already?” Menken looked at the older one, the daughter, for explanation.

“It closed early. Sophie smoked the building out!” she laughed.

Werner sighed as every adult in the group looked at him. “Oh no...”

*      *      *

“Werner, you know I have the utmost respect for you and your family,” The schoolmaster shook his head in frustration. “But I’m at my wit’s end! How am I supposed to teach with your daughter’s constant troublemaking?”

“I’ll talk with her, don’t worry,” Werner assured. “She’s inside?”

The schoolmaster nodded. The two were standing next to the school hut, which still had wisps of tea-scented smoke wafting out of it. “Whatever she did this time, it left a residue all over the walls and ceiling. The kids’ eyes were watering from the smoke when we evacuated, what will their parents think?”

“I’ll handle it,” Werner repeated, walking into the school hut. His daughter briefly looked up, but returned to scrubbing the wall with a damp cloth and bucket when she saw who it was. “Hey Sophie,” Werner coughed; the tea-scented smoke was still a bit thick. “Uh, what happened?”

“I dunno,” Sophie shrugged. She had his auburn hair and her mother’s dark brown eyes. Unlike Werner, who was already feeling lightheaded from the smoke, she didn’t seem affected.

Werner took his work rag from around his neck and helped scrub. “What is this stuff?” he asked, scraping his finger along the milky film.

“It’s burnt sallowroot,” Sophie admitted. “I was...experimenting with it.”

“Experimenting?” Sallowroot was one of the more common plants growing on the moon, though it wasn’t native to the mountains and most of their supply came from expeditions.

“Yeah, I was...brewing tea.”

Werner could tell she was lying. “At school?”

“It was lunch break.”

“So...where’s your kettle?” Sophie didn’t answer. “Sophie, you know you can be honest with me.”

Sophie sighed. “Promise you won’t tell Mom?”


“Okay. Well, Aron bought some flint from Jesyca and offered to set the sallowroot on fire. He said you could see hallucinations if you breathe in the fumes.”

Werner was silent for a second. “Did Jesyca get the flint from the bakery? Kixoo told me somebody stole it.”

“I don’t know,” Sophie answered a little too quickly.

“Okay. Well, could you ask her not to do that again? And don’t smoke things. It’s bad for you.”

“It only happened the once. Promise.” Sophie sighed. “How do you even know it’s bad for you?”

“I just do.” Werner soaked his rag in the bucket. “And I’ll have to talk to Kixoo about keeping a closer eye on his supplies. I’m sorry, but I can’t have people shoplifting, even if they’re your friends.”

“Jesyca’s not my friend,” Sophie finished her portion of the wall and scooted further away from Werner. “Nobody is.”

“Aron sounds like a good friend.”

“Yeah, cause everyone hates him too.”

“People don’t hate you. Do they?” Sophie didn’t answer. “Look,” Werner patted her on the back. “I wasn’t the most popular kid in school either. And if anyone’s bullying you, please let me know. But it’s okay to only have a few friends.”

“Okay dad.” Sophie spared him a glance. “How long are you going to be here? I don’t need your help.”

      *      *      *

“Girls will be girls,” Seska assured her husband. “Don’t worry yourself. She’ll grow out of it.” The two were eating dinner in their hut. Sophie hadn’t come home yet.

“She’s smoking!” Werner threw his hands in the air. “I didn’t even know there was anything to smoke on this moon! What else could she be getting up to?”

“I’ve told you before, I think that Sapaar boy is a bad influence on her.” Seska grabbed another helping of berries.

“Don’t call him that.” Werner slid his plate over so she’d refill his portion as well. “And on the contrary, I think her friendship with Aron is one of the best things that could happen for this colony. Very few people are seriously trying to merge our two cultures, and she gives that cause exposure.”

Seska sighed. “I’m sure that’s great for you as the colony leader, but as her father, do you really want your daughter to live as a social outcast?”

“She’s not an outcast. She has us.” They were both done with their dinner, so Werner took their plates to the wash basin.

“I suppose.” Seska stood up. “But a young girl needs more than--” She abruptly cut herself off, grabbing the table to steady herself.

“Seska?” Werner asked, looking over.

“I’m...okay.” she assured, locking her knees. “I just…” She trailed off, blinking confusedly. “...Uh…”

Without further ado, she collapsed unconscious back into her chair.

      *      *      *

“You seriously told your dad I taught you how to smoke?” Aron exclaimed. “Thanks for nothing!”

“Relax, he promised not to tell anyone.” Sophie took another long drag on the root, which was crushed to bits and rolled up in leaves dried into rolls.

“There’s nobody else to tell, he runs Vurna!” Aron took the root for his own hit. “If he wanted to, he could kill me, or exile me, or build a jail and put me there forever!”

“You know he’s not going to do any of that.” Sophie sighed and admired the brilliant display of colors lighting up her vision. The two were on the roof of Aron’s hut. Like most Sapaar, he and his mother lived in the caves, preferring the comfort of a rocky roof to having the sky overhead. “Guess we can’t light up at lunch any more.”

“No, we can, you just have to not spill all over your desk and create a giant uncontrollable smoke cloud.” Aron grinned teasingly. His mother ran the brewery and always worked late, so they could count on having the hut to themselves. “Just let me do the lighting.”

Sophie grumbled. “The other kids will tell on us if we don’t have enough to share.” The colors were fading, so she grabbed the blunt back and took another puff. “And now dad’s keeping an eye on the sallowroot supply.”

“Oh, great,” Aron sighed. “Guess it’s back to me getting beat up by the Gaman kids, if I can’t bribe ‘em.”

“Nobody’s going to beat you up again,” Sophie assured. “Not with me around.”

“I don’t want your protection!” Aron pushed her. “But even if I did, what would you even do? Punch them?”

Sophie stuck her tongue out. “Maybe I’d tell Dad they hooked me on sallowroot so he’d have them killed.” Aron rolled his eyes. “And you know they’re not exactly friendly to me either,” she continued. “You think I like the way everyone treats me? The way they look at me?”

“Yeah yeah, I know.” Aron striked the flint against a square of steel to relight the root. “Sucks to be the hero’s kid, or so you claim. You gotta admit, though, it must be cool having three of your classmates named after you.”

“No, it really isn’t.” Both gradually became aware of someone calling Sophie's name.

“Sophie? Sophie!” Menken’s son spotted her when she peeked over the side of the hut. “There you are! Everyone’s looking for you. Your mom’s fallen asleep and won’t wake up!”

      *      *      *

Hans frowned as he checked Seska’s pulse. “This is the darnedest thing. She seems completely healthy.”

“Is it an illness?” Werner asked nervously. “Do we have to worry about everyone else in the colony?”

Hans glanced at him. “I’m more concerned with your wife at the moment. It’s like she slipped into a coma. She didn’t hit her head or anything?”

“No. One second she was standing up, the next she was passed out on the table.”

“Hmm. Maybe she stood up too fast?” Hans wafted smelling salts from his medkit under her nose, to no effect. “I admit her reaction is a bit severe for that.”

“There aren’t really any tests we can run, are there?” Werner wringed his hands in agitation. “Out here on this moon, we don’t even have a lab.”

Hans dabbed her face with a wet cloth. “You store everything collected from expeditions in this hut. Perhaps Seska was exposed to something you brought home. We could draw a blood sample using my old empty morphine syringe. I can look for signs of any contaminants.”

“Let’s do it,” Werner agreed. “Can you start tonight?”

“Of course,” Hans nodded. “We have no time to waste.”

Hans readied his medkit while Werner crossed to his daughter standing awkwardly on the far side of the room. “Sophie, don’t worry. Me and your grandfather are doing everything we can. Mom will be fine.”

Sophie glanced at Seska. “Yeah, whatever.”

“‘Whatever’?” Werner repeated incredulously.

“Yeah.” Sophie glanced outside. “Can I leave?”

“No!” Werner shook his head in frustration. He didn’t have time for this. “Just...keep an eye on your mom. We’ll be back soon.”

As soon as Werner had left, Sophie headed to the storage room in the back and swiped two pocketfuls of sallowroot.

      *      *      *

“Don’t worry about Sophie,” Hans assured his son. “Everyone experiences grief in different ways.”

Werner didn’t answer. Hans changed the subject. “I don’t see anything in Seska’s blood,” he murmured, peering through a microscope cobbled together out of tubes, shuttlecraft pieces and eyeglass lenses. “Wish we had some real equipment.”

“Especially for a coma…” Werner agreed. “That would require something like a brain scan.”

“Yeah.” Hans adjusted the width of between the tubes to focus the magnification. “I’m sorry, but it’s almost impossible to learn anything at this resolution. This isn’t exactly hospital-grade equipment.”

“What about these?” Werner noticed a number of pill bottles in Hans’ medkit. “Will any of them help?”

Hans looked. “Everything useful ran out years ago…” he muttered, checking them one by one. “Well...I guess there’s a slim possibility prinophalyne might tell us something, but I doubt it--”

He broke off when he squeezed a drop into Seska’s blood sample and it turned murky white. “Impossible!” he exclaimed.

“What’s prinophalyne?” Werner asked, looking at the unlabeled bottle.

“The terrorist leader passed it out to his lieutenants before we invaded Pelvanida,” Hans replied. “It can detect someone tainted by anti-matter. We were supposed to use it to confirm Lockdown’s identity since we needed him to power the Einstein-Rosen bridge.”

“Anti-matter… Hans, you and I were turned into anti-matter by the bridge! Are we infecting everyone in the colony?”

“Let’s find out. Ayla, dear, are you awake?” Hans called.

Hans’ wife arrived curiously. The two explained the situation and took her blood sample, but the prinophalyne didn’t react.

“ contact with us isn’t enough.” Hans furrowed his brow. “When would Seska have encountered anti-matter?”

“Hans, wait!” Werner burst out as the lightbulb went off. “Remember during our escape from Gaman? We knew not to use the Einstein-Rosen bridge because Seska tried and it rejected her!”

Hans’ eyes widened. “That must be it! Whatever happened to her, this gate must have caused it.”

Werner nodded. “Okay. So now that we know where it came from...what now? We have to save her!”

Hans accepted a cup of tea from Ayla. “Not just her,” he replied gravely. He tested his own blood and it came up positive. “You and I have jumped through that gate too. We need to enact precautions in case we won’t be here to lead this colony for much longer.”

« Last Edit: November 14, 2018, 08:16:20 AM by aabicus (LettuceBacon&Tomato) »

f-22 "raptor" ace

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Good start to the story! It'll be interesting to see where it goes and not just that, but also the lore it'll add to the universe.

aabicus (LettuceBacon&Tomato)

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Thanks! It was interesting to revisit the Gaman side of the universe, never thought I would. Fun fact, I once started making a video game set in Vurna, but it didn't get very far. Had a completely different plot from this, except for Werner and Seska being married and having a daughter. Anyway, onward!

“Why me?” protested Sophie. “I’m just a kid! I can’t run a colony! Make someone else do it!”

“You’re not leading alone,” Werner assured. “Three people will be running Vurna if I die unexpectedly. Trano will represent Sapaar interests, Menken represents the Gamanians. You simply get the tiebreaking vote if they ever disagree.”

“But why?” Sophie repeated, face flushing red.

“Because you’re my daughter. You’re smart, observant, and you’ve shown a willingness to see both sides. Your friendship with Aron proves that.”

“That’s still not fair!” Sophie shuddered with indignation. “I don’t want to lead the colony just because I’m your kid! People will avoid me and whisper behind my back even more than they already do!”

Werner took a deep breath. “Sophie, I know you haven’t always had the easiest time growing up. Being a kid is tough, and it’s not fair what I’m asking of you. Honestly, I should have prepared all this during less urgent times. I should have ensured the colony didn’t rely so much on me to keep things running.”

“Why are you always talking about the colony?” Sophie burst out, tears running down her cheeks. “You never care about what I want!”

Werner opened his mouth to reply but she interrupted. “Shut up! When you found out I’m smoking sallowroot, you cared more about someone stealing supplies. When Mom gets sick, your first question was if the colony is in danger. If you like the colony so much, maybe you should just consider it your family instead of us!

She punched the wall angrily, then cried out as she sliced her knuckle open on a thick splinter jutting out of the wooden frame. Werner leapt to his feet when he saw the red stain left on the wall. “Sophie! Are you--” he started, but then Sophie sprinted out of the house. “Sophie, wait!”

Sophie led Werner on a chase through Vurna, past the aqueduct and away from the outskirts of town. “Sophie!” Werner shouted desperately. “The storm will be hitting the desert soon! We need to go back to Vurna!”

“Werner?” Hans looked up from the prototype turbine he was setting up. “Oh hey, good news! Initial tests are looking positive, I’m very optimistic about this thing’s ability to-- uh, what’s going on?” he asked, confused, as his granddaughter sprinted past him.

Rain started pelting their face as the sky darkened. The storm was upon them. Werner shielded his eyes from the swirling sand cyclones and could barely keep his eyes on the small sprinting figure ahead of him. He couldn’t even call out without his mouth filling with grit.

Suddenly Hans stopped speaking mid-cry, and Werner looked backwards to see his father slump over next to his turbine. Backtracking frantically, Werner checked his vitals and realized with panic that Hans had passed out, just like Seska. If Werner left him out here, he’d die.

“Sophie!” he cried out one last desperate time, but his daughter was already gone.

   *      *      *

The sand cut her face, the wind ripped at her dress. She couldn’t see where she was going, but that was okay because she didn’t have anywhere in particular to go. She lost track of time as she sprinted blindly through the desert storm. She wasn’t afraid. Any fear she might have felt was drowned out by anger; anger at Werner, anger at the colony, anger at the life she had to live.

That’s right, world! she thought, digging her fingers into her skin as she protected her nose and mouth. Hit me with your best shot! Everything’s been out to get her since she was born, but joke’s on the world, she preferred the battering of the sandstorm to the constant, smothering clouds of judgment that had darkened her entire childhood.

But then the storm was gone. She’d run completely through it. Balling her fists, she glared at the scattered dunes extending as far as the eye can see. She wanted desperately to punch something, but there was nothing to punch and her fist was still bleeding from last time.

Hands shaking, she dipped into her pocket and pulled out a handful of crushed sallowroot, some flint and...where was her steel?

Her heart skipped a beat. Oh no. No no no… She checked both pockets. It must have fallen out in the storm. “No!” After one more frantic search, she dropped to her knees and finally lost her composure. Burying her face in her hands and sobbing, Sophie let the hopelessness of her situation consume her.

Why can’t something go right for me? Just this once? She could survive out here; there were edible grasses and berries, and Werner had taught her how to collect dew from leaves. But she couldn’t live with without her high. Abruptly she was feeling jittery just knowing she couldn’t have it, an unaccountable peckishness distracting her from her thoughts.

She looked back. Even through the storm, she could see the Brut Mountains jutting out from the horizon. She could always go home. No. She’ll find a new way to start a fire. There have to be rocks or pebbles somewhere that would react with flint. She started walking. It was late afternoon, but the sun was setting behind her and bathing the world in red and yellow light. Her feet kept sinking into the sand; the storm had whipped the soil into soup, and none of the new typography had settled in yet. But the terrain was cool, and if she’d had sallowroot, this would have been a peaceful walk.

Then she saw a glint, just for a second. She paused and squinted. The light was dying...but there! About a kilometer out, something shiny had reflecting in the rapidly-fading daylight.

With nothing better to do, she investigated. As the last vestige of the sun abandoned the skies to the stars, she reached a gleaming silver slope embedded in the sand. She wasted no time in rolling a blunt and striking her flint against the frame, cheering out loud at the shower of sparks. She lit her sllowroot and took a deep drag, sighing in relief as the familiar colors wafted in from her peripherals.

Time slowed to a halt as she slipped into a content haze, examining the deep gash in her hand. The splintered wood had dug right into the flesh between her ring and middle knuckle. It stung, but while high the pain became more of a curiosity than a nuisance. Only when she stopped to relight did she take another look at what exactly she was sitting beside.

What first looked like a long metallic strip slowly turned into a heavy curved structure buried almost entirely in the sand. The storm must have partially unearthed it, and Sophie got to work finishing the job.

Hours of digging passed. The device proved to be far larger than she expected, but eventually she’d completed enough to piece together the full shape. It was conical, and connected to a heavy stabilizing foundation. A makeshift podium covered in levers and dials sat beside it, giving the whole contraption the look of an oversized upside-down key.

Suddenly she realized what it was.

   *   *   *

The second the storm subsided, Werner’s organized search parties branched out into the desert looking for Sophie. But after hours of searching, nobody was feeling particularly optimistic.

“I’m sorry, Werner,” the schoolteacher sighed sadly. “There’s no hope. The storm has completely destroyed any hope of tracing her trail. Heck, this sand is so wet I can’t even see my own footprints.”

“We’re not giving up,” Menken countered, eyes glinting with determination. “We’ll search through the night if we have to.”

“No, Reavan’s right,” Werner admitted. “It’s too dark to see.” He looked nervously out into the endless dunes. “There are edible plants out there, and nothing that would really harm her. If she survived the storm, she’s probably wisely staying in one place. Then she can return with the morning light.”

Menken’s eyes clouded. “I mean, you’re the boss. But I want to help us as much as I can. And I’m not the only one who thinks like that.”

“We can’t put the colony on hold for an entire day,” Werner countered sadly. “And if people search through the night, they’ll get tired and we’ll risk more people getting lost.” He broke rank and began the walk home. Others slowly followed his lead.

“Don’t worry,” the schoolteacher tried to reassure, “The desert doesn’t actually heat up till noon. She has plenty of time to get home before she’s at risk of--uh--I mean…”

Werner excused himself before the conversation went any further. When he reached his home, he saw a young boy sitting beside the door.

“Werner, sir?” Aron greeted him politely. “Did you find her?”

Werner shook his head. “Please come in, it’s getting cold.”

“But Sophie is still out there!” Aron protested.

“We can only hope she’ll be fine.” Werner felt a tight knot in his stomach, a dull ache that gripped his chest and made it hard to breathe. He couldn’t tell if he was wracked with fear for Sophie or finally dying from the gate plague. “We resume search parties as soon as morning comes. You can join us if you’d like.”

Aron bit his lip. “I really want to...but I’ll have school.”

“Yes, of course.” Werner poured himself a cup of cold tea. “Would you like anything to drink?” he asked. When his guest shook his head and yawned, Werner realized how late it was. “Come on, let’s walk you home.” He extended his hand.

“Don’t worry, I can get there on my own.” Aron allowed himself to be led to the door. “Mr. Donitz? One last question, if that’s okay. The illness Sophie’s mom has... the rest of us aren’t in danger of catching it, are we?”

“No, you all have nothing to fear.” Werner shook his head. “The illness isn’t contagious. The only way to catch it is from a device destroyed many years ago…” he trailed off as he realized something. “Or...maybe, since it affects your blood, genetics.”

“Mr. Donitz?” Werner suddenly stepped around Aron and sprinted into town. “Mr. Donitz! Where are you going?” Aron called nervously, but Werner merely ducked into Hans house and returned in record time clutching a small bottle. Lighting a torch, he crept cautiously up to the spot where Sophie had scraped her hand on the wall foundation. Delicately he withdrew the dropper and let a single drop of prinophalyne hit the stained wood.

Sophie’s blood instantly turned milky white. “Oh, this is bad!” Werner gasped.

“What does that mean?” Aron asked, looking confused but slightly alarmed.

“It means we can’t waste any time.” Werner stood up. “If you can truly get home on your own, I would appreciate it. I need to speak to Menken at once.”

Aron did as he was told, navigating the starry night with the help of a naturally-bright starscape. The destruction of planet Gaman had left a heavy dustcloud permanently floating around their moon, and it did a consistent and noticeable job of refracting sunlight, day or night.

Aron reached his hut and let himself in. He listened for a few moments. No sounds. His mother was either part of a search party or working late at the brewery again.

He sighed, but yelped in open alarm when Sophie revealed himself from under his dinner table. “Aron! Follow me quick. I have to show you something!”

   *   *   *

“Holy crap…” Aron breathed, still panting from their trek out of Vurna and through the desert. “What is this thing?”

“The bridge!” Sophie spread her arms as if she were a showman. “Don’t you remember they taught us about this thing in history class? Help me finish digging it out.” She continued explaining what she remembered from class while they worked. “Dad and grandad built it a few days after everyone landed here. It was a copy of the bridge on Gaman, the one that first brought the two of them from an unknown world.” She panted excitedly as she scattered the sand piles from the bridge’s platform. “But the Gamanians and Sapaar fought over the bridge, then the first ever storm hit, and everyone fled and the bridge was destroyed forever. Or so everyone thought.”

“So the storm buried it but left it completely intact?” Aron tried to put the pieces together.

“And this new storm blew some sand off the top!” Sophie nodded excitedly. “Just enough for me to see it.”

“Well, we need to tell your dad,” Aron exclaimed.

“No!” Sophie interjected. “I’ve heard him talk, he’s said he’s glad the bridge was destroyed because its loss brought the Gaman and Sapaar together.”

“But Sophie, imagine jumping through this thing,” Aron’s eyes widened in wonder at the possibilities. “Seeing the place your dad came from. Where they get all these inventions and ideas that keep Vurna alive.”

“I know! Wherever dad came from, I bet they could save mom!” Sophie agreed. “But I’ve already tried turning it on, its out of fuel.”

“Well then, how could we possibly jump through it?”

“Dad and grandpa built this bridge out of pieces from two destroyed shuttlecraft. I bet it uses the same fuel cells. And Grandpa just powered a full cell with his storm fan.”

Aron whistled. “Wait, you want to steal the power cell from that storm fan? Your dad spends months charging that! If he finds out--”

“It’s worth it, I’ll be saving his life!” Sophie insisted. “We’re going to the bridge, turning it on, jumping through, finding the cure to my parents’ illness and bringing enough back that nobody ever has to worry about dying to it again!”

Sophie struck her flint against the bridge’s frame and used it to light two blunts. Handing one to Aron, she led him in a toast. “Let’s do it, Aron!” she exclaimed. “Let’s save the colony!”

   *   *   *

After a brisk hike, they reached the site where Hans had left the turbine prototype. It wasn’t very large, but it wouldn’t budge when they tugged it.

“What the hell, it’s like its locked to the ground or something,” Sophie grunted, pushing and pulling to no avail.

“Well, it was made to stay put during storms.” Aron dug around the sand around and underneath the turbine. “I don’t see any screws or weights locking it into the ground.”

“Hold on, let me think.” Sophie rubbed her temples. “I remember grandpa explaining this to dad over dinner one night, but I wasn’t really paying attention…” She shook her head. “Ugh. I could really use a hit. You got any sallowroot?”

“Not even at home.” Both suddenly stopped what they were doing when they saw torchlights in the distance.

“Oy! Who goes there? Sophie?” Menken’s voice rang out from the desert.

“Quick, steer them away!” Sophie hissed, ducking behind the turbine.

Aron jogged over. “Um, hi, sorry, it’s just me!” he laughed weakly.

Menken scowled when he saw who it was. “What the hell are you doing out here? Go back to your cave.”

“I just...wanted to help find Sophie.”

“You’re the Sapaar kid who turned her into such a brat, right? I think you’ve done more than enough.” Menken lowered his torch, smothering the faraway turbine in shadow again. “Besides, we’re going home for the night any way. You can join a Sapaar search party when its daylight.”

“Okay,” Aron agreed hastily. “Um, see you tomorrow, then, sir!”

Menken grunted and lead the hike back. Aron lagged behind until he could slip away and return to the turbine.

“Was dad there?” Sophie whispered.

“No, just his asshole friends.” Aron gasped when Sophie pushed the turbine and it moved effortlessly. “Hey, you fixed it!”

“Yeah, I remembered. It uses magnets, you slide these shut and it blocks them.” Sophie waved him off when he made to help. “I got this. Can you find your way back to the bridge on your own?”

“Uh, I guess. Why?”

“Cause I’m not jumping anywhere without some sallowroot.” She rubbed her eyes. “Sneak into my house and grab as much as you can. We don’t know if there’ll be any on the other side.”

“What about your dad?”

“He’s always asleep by now. C’mon, you must want some too, by now?”

Aron shook his head. “I mean, if you’re sure.”

“I’ll wait for you.” Sophie continued pushing.

“Sophie, wait,” Aron interrupted. “Are you sure this is a good idea?”

Sophie stopped. “What do you mean?”

“It’s just...we’re leaping into something we don’t really understand.” Aron shifted his feet. “We have no idea what that world is like. At all. Or what happens to people who jump through that bridge. Your dad…” he paused. “Mr. Donitz said the gate plague has something to do with the bridge. It might not be safe to jump through.”

“I don’t care if the bridge gives me the disease, because I’m going through to grab the cure!” Sophie folded her arms. “But if you don’t to want to jump though, that’s great because I needed you to stay behind anyway.”

“What? Why?”

“To get me home.” She glanced back at the camp. “The bridge takes a full power cell to work, every time. We’re using Grandpa’s storm battery right now, which means we need the shuttlecraft battery for my return trip.”

“But the shuttlecraft won’t be charged for--”

“--another month, I know. Should give you plenty of time to come up with an extraction plan.”

“You want me to wait a month and then steal the power cell from the shuttlecraft?” Aron exclaimed. “And then activate the bridge? On my own?”

“Yes! And make sure you move the bridge’s time coordinate forward by one. I don’t know how much time that’ll give me, but I’ll figure it out when I’m over there.” She pinched her nose and grimaced. “You know what, we’ll go over all this later, after you’ve returned with the smokes. Just get moving. And don’t take forever!”

   *   *   *

Aron took a deep breath and slowly opened the door. He expected it to creak, like the wooden door at his family’s home, but Werner’s door was thatch and silent as he could hope for.

The Sapaar had lived underground for generations before evacuating to this moon, and were naturally inclined for stealth. With the barest of sounds, he slipped through the dining room and reached the storage room. Filling his pockets with sallowroot, he quickly retreated back through the dining room towards the front door.

“Hello, Aron.” Werner sat at the dinner table, legs calmly crossed.

“Mr. Donitz!” Aron gasped.

Werner looked at him. “You know where she is, don’t you?”

“Who, me? No!” Aron stammered. “I, uh…” he sheepishly revealed the contents of his pockets. “This was all just for me. I wanted to take the edge off. I’m the one who got her hooked on this stuff, remember?”

Werner sighed. “She did say that. But then again, she was the one who always set things on fire when she was a baby.” He held his hand out in silent request. “Your mother would kill me if I let you leave the house with smoking supplies. If you like, I could brew it into some tea.”

“No, that’s okay.” Aron left the sallowroot on the table. “You can make some for yourself, if you want.”

“Honestly, I think I will.” Werner wearily got up from the table. “Seska hates the stuff, so I’ve never had the chance to try it.” He glanced at the bedroom, where his wife lay. “Please. Sit down.”

Aron did so, fidgeting nervously. Werner regarded him with a tired but resigned look. “You may well know Sophie better than me. If you were her, after running into that storm, where would you go?”

Aron gulped. “Um, I would probably wander the desert for a bit, until I cooled off. Then I’d come home.”

“I hope your guess is right.” Werner lit a fire under a cup. “Sophie reminds me so much of myself when I was her age. Always getting herself into trouble. Honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way. It made me self-reliant, and I hope it’s doing the same for her.”

“I think it is,” Aron assured. “She never accepts help from anyone.” He glanced nervously out the window.

“She is so stubborn,” Werner shook his head, but smiled. “I never told her where her name came from. There was a great leader in the history of the world I came from. Catherine the Great. Her birth name was Princess Sophie.” He poured sallowroot leaves into a small cloth bag and stirred it into his cup. “I knew Sophie would one day govern this colony, and that she wouldn’t want to. Something similar happened to me. We Donitzes, we want to be followers, but we can’t seem to avoid being thrust into leadership.” His eyes clouded as he sat back down with his tea. “I just wish I’d had more time to prepare her.” He sniffed his tea and wrinkled his nose. “Mmf. That is a bit bitter for my taste, I must admit.”

Aron watched silently as Werner waited for his drink to cool, seeming to age with every passing second. “You look really tired, sir,” he noted politely. “You sure you shouldn’t get some sleep?”

Werner shook his head solemnly.  “I can’t trust myself to fall asleep. Not if I hope to see her when she returns. If I go to bed…I probably won’t wake up. But enough about that, I’m sure you have things to do,” he smiled. “Thanks for taking the time to chat. You have a great night, Aron.”

Aron bit his lip. “Mr. Donitz? I-I lied,” he confessed. “I know where she is. And I think she’s about to make a big mistake.”

*   *   *
Sophie peered into the darkness as she heard someone approaching. “Finally! What the heck took so long?” She leaped off the bridge platform. “I’ve plugged everything in, we’re good to go but it’ll run out of fuel in seconds, so we can’t waste--”

She broke off when she saw who was with him. “Aron?” she exclaimed. “What the hell is he doing with you?”

Werner stopped, looking in alarm at the bridge. “My god. It survived?”

“Yes, and stay back!” Sophie scampered back up to the control panel. “I’m jumping through this bridge, and nothing you say can stop me! You take one step and I immediately pull this lever!”

“Sophie, there’s no guarantee that thing will even turn on!” Werner protested. “It’s ancient, it could be dangerous! Step away from that thing!”

“No! I’m trying to save your life here!” Sophie hovered her hand over the lever threateningly.

“Sophie, I love you, but please let’s talk about this!” Werner pleaded, stepping forward. Sophie immediately pulled the lever, just as promised. The bridge sparked violently, setting the ground rumbling. Smoke billowed from the control panel, and a shockwave knocked all three to their knees. There was a brilliant blinding light--and then it was active.

Werner stood up, transfixed. Sophie was next to stumble to her feet, wide-eyed, gazing at the endless void a few feet from her face. “See dad?” Sophie crowed. “I told you that--”

“--Go!” Werner interrupted. He raced for the bridge as fast as possible. “Jump, Sophie! Do it now!”

Sophie wasted no time diving through the bridge. Werner hit the platform at a dead sprint and leaped forward, but the event horizon dissipated millimeters from his fingertips and he crashed heavily into the conical backdrop of the deactivated machine.

“Mr. Donitz!” Aron scrambled up and urgently checked on Sophie’s father. He was out cold. And Sophie was gone.
« Last Edit: July 07, 2022, 06:04:36 AM by aabicus (LettuceBacon&Tomato) »

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Another good chapter. I do like how Werner would name his children after famous Germans from history. Well ones who were good that is.

aabicus (LettuceBacon&Tomato)

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A flash of color, barely an instant. The afterimage of the kaleidoscopic vortex remained burnt into her retinas longer than it had even lasted before Sophie tumbled through nothingness and collapsed onto a cold stone floor.

She felt dizzy and a little sick, and spent her first few moments simply reconnecting with solid ground and getting her bearings. Wherever she was, it was pitch black, but the floor felt smooth and perfectly flat like only a manmade floor could be. Finally, she staggered to her hands and knees. It was still impossible to see, but she could feel the drafty air around her and knew she was in a very large space.

Rubble and a thick layer of dust dug into her kneecaps as she crawled in a random direction. She kept one forearm in front of her head at all times, which proved to be a good call when it rapped against a row of cold metal bars jutting out of the floor. That felt like a jail cell. Is this a prison?

The row of bars led her to a metal door, rusted and hanging open. She stumbled into the hallway, noting light peeking out of some cracks in the ceiling and hoping to escape the complete blinding darkness.

The feeble rays of moonlight revealed that she was indeed in something that resembled a massive series of jail cells. The walls were dented and badly damaged to a degree she didn’t think could be fully blamed on age. It looked more like the place had been blown up.

Locating the biggest chunk of rubble she could, she heaved it at the cracks in the ceiling, sending a shower of dirt and concrete bits raining down on her. After several throws, she’d cleared enough of a hole to give her a clearer view of her surroundings. Further down the hallway was a pair of double-doors emblazoned with words she didn’t know:


She pushed on the doors, but they were blocked from the other side. What little they opened revealed a completely collapsed stairway leading up. “Ugh…” she grumbled. Sliding to a sitting position, she fished the stub of her only sallowroot blunt out of her pocket and lit it. “Man, Aron, of all the times to fail getting me more smokes…”

But she soon found herself far away from her troubles as the familiar high overtook her. “Welp,” she muttered to nobody in particular, “first thing I gotta do is find something to climb up to that hole in the roof. Maybe make it a little bigger, knock a huge part of it down to stand on.”

I wouldn’t trust the roof if I was you,” a haunting voice interjected. “It’s been at the brink of falling through. There’s a fallen cell door down the way, it’d serve well as a ladder, dare I say. Now don’t you fear,” it hastened to add as Sophie leapt to her feet. “I'm not really here. A figment of your imagination, simply caused by your hallucination.

Sophie took another suspicious puff. “I’ve never had a hallucination talk to me before…” she muttered, narrowing her eyes. “Why should I trust you?”

Do what you think is wise. I can’t harm you, nor force you to heed my advice.” Sophie looked around but couldn’t see a source to the voice. “Shouldn’t you ration the bit you retain?” the voice continued as she continued smoking. “When that runs out, you won’t have it again.

Sophie didn’t stash her blunt. “What is this place?” she asked.

A research base called Pelvanida. Deep in the deserts of Nevada. Your father for years was on the payroll, until the day he jumped through the wormhole,” the voice answered.

“Now how would a hallucination know that?” she challenged, before realizing just what the voice had said. “Wait, Dad worked here?” Sophie looked around. “It looks like a jail.”

It was. Though it was a place of science, it ruggedly punished noncompliance,” The voice informed. “We test subjects were locked in this bastille, tortured and abused and robbed of free will.

“Test subjects?”

The scientists granted us wondrous powers. The world had never seen strength like ours.” The voice had taken almost a melancholy tone. “But of course, we were always in their stead. Eternally forced to do what they said.

“Mm, I’ve been there.” Sophie staggered to her feet. “Do you have a name?” she asked, making her way back down the hallway searching for the fallen cell door the voice had mentioned.

You would know me as Sapaar, actually.

Sophie stopped. “Sapaar?” she repeated. “The author of the ancient holy text?”

Not quite the original, exactly.
Your father made me in Sapaar’s image,” the voice answered. “Though I hardly lived up to his visage. My power was deemed a waste of time, so they locked me down here out of sight or mind.

“What was your power?”

“In life, I appeared to not have one. Only in death did I learn what they had done...

“So wait,” Sophie kept her eyes on the floor as she carefully continued walking. “You’re dead...but we’re talking to each other right now?”

I was killed years ago in a tragic event, by a lightning-wielding rogue experiment,” Sapaar continued. “But whatever your father did to allowed me to endure. I might be like this for all eternity...stop, over there is the door.

Sophie brushed chunks of concrete out of the way and began effortfully dragging it back to where she’d come from. “You, uh, couldn’t help me carry this, could you?” she panted.

I cannot, I fear.

Minutes passed in silence as Sophie panted and pulled the makeshift ladder down the hallway inch by inch. “So,” Sophie finally interjected, if only to break the silence, “What happened here exactly? To make everyone leave?”

I would think that’s clear. A bomb went off, this place was blown sky high. Five months after your father said goodbye.” Sophie reached the hole in the ceiling and began balancing the door against the wall. “Honestly I couldn’t tell you why. I’d long been dead and decomposed. Office politics, I’d always supposed. Do be careful with the climb,” Sapaar added as Sophie climbed shakily up the door. “I enjoy your company, but not for all time.

Sophie gritted her teeth, leaped off the door, and dug her fingers into the hole in the ceiling. After several precarious seconds she got an elbow through the gap, and the rest of her quickly followed. “Can you come with me?” she asked, peering back down into the darkness.

I would rather not leave here, I confess, ” Sapaar answered. “And if you could grant me one last request: Don’t tell anybody that I exist.

“Are you sure?”

I insist. Company pains me, I can’t deny it. Even with you, I prefer the quiet.

Sophie shrugged. “Okay.” Looking around, she saw she was standing in a massive blackened crater, around which desert sand stretched off in all directions. “Um, which way should I go?” she asked.

Do you see the brightest star in the sky?” Sapaar asked. Sophie spotted it and nodded. “That’s the North Star, let it be your guide. Follow it to reach Carson City base. They’ll know Dr. Donitz’s name and face. Ask for their help while living as their guest, and some of them will aid you on your quest.

“Got it, thank you,” she called down. “You sure you’ll be alright alone?”

I’d be worried about yourself, not me,” Sapaar answered. “It’s not an easy walk to the city, and in four hours the night will be done. You must not be caught out here in the sun.

Sophie understood. “Well, it was nice to meet you. Bye!”

*   *   *   

Sophie burned through the last of the sallowroot during her long painful hike through the desert, just to take her mind off the dozens of painful burrs and weeds that had wormed their way into her soft cloth shoes. This desert was far more hostile than the ones at home, with spiky plants, jagged subterranean rocks and constant jagged bluffs impeding her progress. Still, she made decent progress after several hours of hiking...until presented with a new problem.

Oh crap… As morning approached, the stars started disappearing. Before long, her guiding light had been erased by the brilliant amber rays of the coming sun. She quickened her pace, trying to keep as straight a line forward as possible, but she couldn’t even see a town on the horizon.

But she did see something unusual. The desert to her right intersected with a thin dark line traveling to the horizon. As she reached it, it proved to be far larger than she thought. A vast solid stripe of black concrete cutting as far in either direction as she could see, with spaced white lines traveling down its middle.

Well, considering it was going her way, Sophie decided to follow the unusual trail, as it appeared manmade. Eventually the sun rose and it got hotter, and she abandoned the black gravel to walk in the sand alongside it. But it just kept getting hotter and hotter. The sun baked down on her, with no change in the desertscape around her. Her dress clung to her skin and sweat stained her vision, and her throat grew more parched with every step. For a time she tried to sprint, but she quickly grew too weak. “Hello?” she finally called out desperately. “Sapaar? Anyone! I need help!”

Time seemed to crawl to a stop. She lost track of anything except placing one burning foot in front of the other. Her vision was black at the edges, but she knew if she stopped she wouldn’t be able to start again.

So enraptured was she in her catatonic march that she didn’t notice the gleaming silver landcraft until it had pulled up alongside her. “Little girl, what in blazes are you doing out here?” a portly man with oddly dark brown skin opened his door urgently. “Come inside!”

Sophie staggered. The man was fatter than anyone she’d ever seen, even Kixoo the baker, and his body was covered in thick fur. Then she saw his face, round with a stubby black nose and little ears sticking out from the top of his head. The face of a monster.

“Girlie?” The man climbed out, concerned.

Sophie screamed and sprinted away as fast as she could. But she only got a few paces before passing out.

   *   *   *

The first thing she registered upon waking up was a peculiar sound. It was melodious, some sort of music, but the sounds were completely alien.

She opened her eyes. She was in a strangely plush seat. The brown monster sat beside her.

“Now please don’t freak or nothing!” the monster stammered when he saw she was awake. Sophie screamed and threw herself at the far window as hard as she could. She’d seen it open before, but now it wouldn’t for her. “Hey hey, whoa now!” the monster tried to grab her. “Stop, you’ll hurt yourself!”

“Get away from me!” Sophie yelled, batting his arm in terror. She continued her assault on the door with renewed vigor. “Let me go!”

“Ok, ok look!” The monster pulled a small rod between their seats. The landscape around them slowed to a stop. “If you really want to leave,” the monster assured slowly, “I’ll unlock the door and you can be on your way. But we’re seven and a half miles out from Dayton and I’d rather not leave a young girl to hitchhike. Hotter than hell out there right now.”

Both of them glared at each other silently. The monster picked up a transparent object from under his seat and threw it to her. “Drink up,” he urged. “You need to get your reserves back, you’d lost a lot of water by the time I found you.”

Sophie peered at the thing he’d thrown. She could see the water inside it, and the top where it presumably came out, but she couldn’t pry the top off. She whacked it experimentally against the padded panel in front of her. “Hey!” the monster protested, “What the hell?” He grabbed it and unscrewed the lip. “What is the matter with you?”

“What are you?” Sophie demanded.

“Name’s Ernest.” He handed her the water bottle and she greedily consumed the entire contents. “Got more of those in the back, just let me know.”

Sophie dropped the bottle on the floor. “I didn’t ask who are you, I asked what. Why do you look like that?”

He scoffed. “What, you telling me you’ve never seen a beaver before?” He turned the car back on. “Well, once we reach town that won’t be a issue anymore, trust me.”

Sophie looked outside as Ernest started the car up again. The rocks outside whizzed out of sight, slowly and then faster and faster until she couldn’t even see individual ones. She gasped in surprise when the disembodied music stopped and another voice announced, 98.5, The Pulse! “Who said that?” she exclaimed in alarm.

Ernest was still glancing at her with intensely puzzled expressions. “Where, uh, are you from, exactly?” he asked.

His question reminded her of her initial goal. “My father is Werner Donitz!” she announced. “I need to find the cure to his sickness!”

“Ookay. Where does he live? Dayton? We’ll be there in like five minutes.”

“What’s Dayton?” Sophie pressed her hand against the glass curiously. “Is that in Carson City?”

“Nah, Carson’s back that way. Maybe half an hour.”

Sophie’s hair stood on end. “We have to go there!” she exclaimed. “I need to get to Carson City!”

“Well, sorry, but I need to get to Dayton and I’m kinda on a schedule. We can get you a pay phone and you can call your father first thing in town.”

“No!” Sophie bounced angrily in her seat. “I need to get to Carson City! My dad’s gonna die!”

“So your dad’s in Carson City?” Ernest asked. They passed a yellow rectangle on a stick, and Sophie saw Ernest give it his undivided attention.

“No, he’s on another world. I came through the Einstein-Rosen bridge.”

“What?” Ernest looked at her again. “Did you get heatstroke? Let me feel your forehead.”

“Take me to Carson City or let me out right now!” Sophie shouted, punching the seat arms.

“Hey! Ok look, we gotta at least get gas up ahead.” Ernest pointed, and Sophie gasped in awe at the most magnificent hut she’d ever seen. It had letters glowing in bright neon colors and it was a towering perfect rectangle. Large windows revealed colorful knickknacks of all shapes and sizes inside. “Lemme think about it while I fill up the tank. You, go call your folks.” He handed her several small metal discs. Sophie wondered what they were, but she was too eager to reach the magnificent building to ask.

She pushed again on the door eagerly. Ernest reached over and pulled on the latch, swinging the door open. “Take all the time you need,” he called out as Sophie sprinted for the gas station.

Despite herself, Sophie felt a twinge of fear at the sheer unfamiliarity of the building she was walking into, but it was soon replaced with wonder at the sights she saw within. The ceiling was dotted with circles shining brighter than torches, and the walls were bordered with an impossibly red stripe. A human in a white hat was sitting behind a booth with his back turned to her, but she was more interested in the aisles. The shelves were filled with boxes, packets, and bottles all containing pictures of bizarre foods. Sophie grabbed a clear bag off a hook that contained what looked like some sort of seeds.

Tearing at the top of the bag, she accidentally spilled its contents all over the floor. But her efforts were rewarded when she stuffed a handful in her mouth and immediately spat them out; they were really salty! Scraping her tongue, she staggered over to the glowing glass doors housing bottles full of various colored liquids. She saw clear ones with water looking like Ernest’s, but her childlike curiosity got the better of her and she unscrewed the top of one with a bright orange liquid. Is this stuff really for drinking? she wondered, taking a sip. She dropped it seconds later as the tangiest sensation she’d ever experienced assaulted her taste buds.

After that she grew bolder. She opened one of every different snack and took a bite of anything she could find. Some were delicious, some disgusting, all were among the richest foods she’d ever tasted. She tried drinks of every color of the rainbow, quickly realizing that bright colors were often sugary and dark colors bitter. She was trying to figure out how to open the boxy cartons showing a solid white liquid when Ernest walked into the store, saying “Hey, young miss? Did you finish your call?”

The man in the white hat looked over and swore brilliantly when he and Ernest saw the state of the aisles at the same time. “What the hell has your daughter done to my store?” he snapped angrily.

“Oh jeez. Uh, I’m really sorry--” Ernest dug his fingers into his hair as he perused the damage. “Crap, I, uh--”

“You are not leaving until you’ve paid for all of this!” The man crossed to block the door. “For god’s sake, she poured everything on the floor!”

“Girlie, what the heck?” Ernest whispered. “I told you to just use the payphone.”

“I don’t know what that is,” Sophie admitted.

“You don’t know what a phone is?”

“I told you, I’m not from this planet! I need to find the cure to rescue my dad!”

“Hold on,” the man in the white hat interrupted. “Are you telling me this man isn’t your father?”

“I found her wandering the desert, I was taking her to Carson City,” Ernest explained.

“You’re not taking her anywhere,” the man countered. “Young girl, do you know this man?”

“Hey, what are you implying?” Ernest snapped angrily.

“Carson City!” Sophie exclaimed. “Let’s go! I need to go there!”

“No, I don’t think so.” The man in the white hat pulled something out of his coat. Even Sophie recognized a pistol. “Sir, I’m gonna have to ask you to step away from the girl until the cops sort this out.”

   *   *   *

“Listen, man, I know this all sounds weird, but I’m not a child trafficker or whatever you think!” Ernest kept his hands in the air. “Feel free to talk to her, she’s just gonna say that stuff about being an alien! She told me the same thing.”

“You would do well to stop talking until the police arrive.” The worker narrowed his eyes. “Everything in my store is recorded.”

“I don’t care because I’m innocent! Look,” Ernest pleaded. “I have a theory. She keeps talking about her dad and she doesn’t understand modern technology. I think pops kept her trapped in the desert her whole life. I bet she’s got a whole family out there, doing the Marshall South thing.”

The worker looked at Sophie. “Young girl, what’s your name?”

“Sophie.” Sophie munched on brightly-colored rings of gummy sugar.

“Sophie, where do you live?”

“On faraway moon. My father is Werner Donitz. He’s dying. I need to find the cure.”

“I see...this faraway moon, what is it called?”

“Vurna. It’s named after my dad.”

“And what does this moon look like?”

“It’s mostly desert.”

“...the ‘moon’ you’ve lived on your whole life. Is desert.”

“And some mountains.”

The worker looked at Ernest. “What did I say?” Ernest spread his hands. “She was wandering Route 50 at high noon. Coulda died if I hadn’t picked her up.”

“It’s not just my family!” Sophie protested when she saw they weren’t getting it. “There’s a whole colony! There’s a bunch of huts, we all live together. But now three of us are dying, including my parents, and it’s up to me to--” She broke off when flashing red and blue lights from outside distracted her.

A pair of people in dark blue clothes entered the store. One was light blue, stocky, and covered in feathers. The other had a long snout, floppy ears, short white fur and a distinctly female frame. “Hey Corey,” the bird nodded to the shopkeeper.

“Yikes,” the other whispered, looking at the damage. “Beaver, please place your hands behind your back, and allow us to handcuff you.”

“I want to speak to a lawyer,” Ernest growled defiantly, folding his arms.

“You should talk to the girl,” the shopkeeper motioned to Sophie. “She’s saying some concerning stuff. I think she may have escaped some sort of cult.”

“A cult?” Both officers looked at Sophie. “Well, we’ll sort that out at the station.” The canine knelt down. “Hi there,” she introduced herself in a cheerful tone. “We want to help you. Would you be willing to tell us what you need?”

Ernest and Corey both rolled their eyes as Sophie repeated her favorite monologue yet again.

   *   *   *

A large crowd had gathered outside Werner’s house by the time Ayla exited.

“How is he?” Menken asked.

Ayla shrugged her shoulders hopelessly. “...okay, I guess? He’s asleep. Just lying there, like the others.” She blinked and worked to keep her face neutral. “I’ll take care of him, like Hans and Seska…”

Trano, the leader of the Sapaar, met Menken’s gaze. “So. We have a problem.”

“No, we have a problem.” Menken motioned to the other Gamanians. “You Sapaar haven’t lost anyone.”

Trano sighed loudly. “Is that really how you want to start things off? We need unity right now. Honestly, I still can’t fathom why Werner couldn’t find a less racist second-in-command to replace him.”

“Not right now,” growled Ayla, stepping between them. “Don’t start this nonsense the second Werner’s not here to force you two to act like adults.”

Trano and Menken shared a glare. “Fine,” Menken threw his hands apart in a conciliatory gesture. “For now let’s just keep things running. Maybe they’ll wake up on their own.”

“I agree,” Trano looked around. “Everyone back to your jobs.”

“Same goes for you,” Menken addressed the Gamanians.

“I was addressing both factions,” Trano growled. “Am I only allowed to speak for the Sapaar?”

From the back, Aron gulped. Sophie, I hope you can fix all this…

« Last Edit: July 25, 2019, 01:06:33 AM by aabicus (LettuceBacon&Tomato) »

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Another good chapter. I kinda see the reason the Shakespeare clone has his powers as an attempt by werner for atonement.  Since Werner failed it properly do it the first time around.

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Yeah, mostly I needed someone to give Sophie a heads-up on how things work on Earth and teach her about Werner's origins before he founded her colony. Plus I like writing rhymes. Also, at over 10 real-world years, Shakespeare clone officially has the longest gap between appearances of any Darwin's Soldiers character, stealing the title from Joey in your story :P


“Hello. Sophie, your name was? I trust your accommodations are to your liking?”

Sophie was lying on the comfiest bed she’d ever experienced. After a long interrogation with the cops, who drove her to Carson City as requested, a group of men in black and white suits were waiting to pick her up. They escorted her to a small room with a bed, fridge, desk, and attached bathroom. Sophie had explored every nook and cranny of her room for almost an hour before one of the suited men had knocked and entered carrying a tray of food.

“This is Carson City, right?” Sophie asked.

“Yes, and you don’t need to launch into your speech.” The man placed the food at the edge of the bed. “We know why you’re here. We want to help you. Do you think you could answer a few questions?”

Sophie nodded, more interested in the food. They were thick circles of dough dressed in a strong-smelling amber syrup, with a yellow cube on top. She grabbed the cube, bit into it curiously, and wrinkled her nose.

“You’re supposed to spread that on the pancakes.” The man pointed to a provided knife. “I could leave and return when you’re done eating, if you’d like.”

“Nah, that’s fine.” Sophie could only handle a few bites anyway; the pancakes were way too rich.

“Could you tell me more about...what was the device you said you traveled through?” the man asked.

“The Einstein-Rosen bridge," she answered with her mouth full. "It’s like a large metal circle, you plug in the power cell, set the coordinates and pull the lever. I found it in the desert, pretty far from the colony.”

“I see. Now when you say ‘colony’--” the man started, but suddenly he was interrupted by an angry banging on the door.

Whittaker!” a harsh voice shouted. “You let us in right this goddamn instant!

The man sighed. “If you will give me a moment,” he apologized and stepped outside the room. The other man was talking loud enough that Sophie could still hear his side of the conversation.

What’s this BS about us not having clearance?...She mentioned Gaman, and the bridge, Werner...She’s talking about OUR teammate!...No, you aren’t! Oscar, Carol and myself are the only ones qualified to talk to her!...Go ahead, call them, I don’t care!...” Sophie heard the clanking of heavyset boots as more people came. “Are you seriously doing this, Whittaker?” the angry man shouted as the heavy footsteps led him away. “This isn’t over!

Whittaker returned. “So sorry about that. Say, you’ve been cooped up in this room for a while. Want to see some more of Carson City Camp?”

   *   *   *

“Now don’t worry, this is completely safe,” Whittaker assured her from behind a wall of tinted glass. “Just stand still and think about something relaxing.” Sophie was standing in a cramped room filled with a soft blue light. She was getting more uncomfortable than she expected from having all four walls so close to her, but then the room stopped humming and the lights changed back to normal white. “There we are, see?” The door swung open and Whittaker beckoned her to come out. “You did an excellent job! We’ll be spending some time analyzing these scans--”

Sophie yelped in surprise when she saw two other figures in the waiting room: a human scientist with his back turned to her, focused on a glowing screen, and more importantly a towering hulk of a monster staring straight at her. It had a pinched face and droopy cheeks and was decked out in a militant suit. “Oh! Sophie, this is General Jake Moby,” Whittaker introduced. “He’s the commander of Carson City camp.”

“A pleasure to meet you,” Moby began crossing to leave the room, forcing Sophie and Whittaker to keep up with his long strides. “Earth’s first extraterrestrial visitor...if only your opening line had been ‘Take me to your leader’, that would have really cemented my place in the history books, eh?” he chuckled.

Sophie bit her lip. “Why does your face look so weird?”

The general cocked his head, stunned. The scientist audibly stifled a laugh. “...I beg your pardon?” Whittaker answered.

“I’ve just been wondering. I mean...some people look normal, like you,” Sophie pointed to Whittaker, “and then others look like...well, him.”

The general realized what she was getting at. “Oh! That. Well, not everybody is human. I’m a bulldog. And sometimes, I think Whittaker here is secretly a weasel.” Whittaker took the joke sportingly, but Sophie looked confused. “Are there really nothing but humans on that planet of yours?” the general continued.

“It’s a moon, but yeah.” Sophie sidestepped as a team of scientists briefly crowded the hallway. “But how did that happen? Where did bulldogs come from?”

“If I could answer that, I’d be in a different line of work.” Sophie realized they’d returned to her room. “But for now, you’re probably feeling pretty sleepy, hmm?”

Sophie shrugged. “Not really. Can I see more of this place?” she asked.

“Perhaps another time.” Whittaker swiped a white card across the door handle and Moby motioned her through with a firm wave. “It was wonderful chatting with you. Get some sleep, and we’ll talk more tomorrow.”

“But what about my dad?” Sophie interjected, but the door had already sealed behind her. It wouldn’t reopen when she tried it. After growling and forcibly shaking the handle, Sophie collapsed on her bed in frustration.

And then there was another knock on the door. “Sophie?” a female voice whispered urgently. “Are you there? Can we talk?”

Sophie sat up. “Hello?”

The door opened with a light click. “I can only give you ten minutes,” another voice muttered, “then you gotta scram before the cameras come back on.”

“Don’t worry, Stern. Thanks again.” Three people filed quickly into the room: a dark-skinned woman, a light-skinned older man she recognized as the scientist from earlier, and another monster, this one with a long head and black fur.

At first all three just stared at her. Unlike Whittaker, who regarded her with an air of polite indifference, these three seemed unusually interested. Finally the male human cleared his throat. “Are you really Werner’s daughter?” he asked.

Sophie nodded.

“You’ve been to Gaman?” the monster chimed in.

Sophie shook her head. “It blew up before I was born.”

“So how did Werner survive if it blew up?”

“I-I don’t know exactly what happened.” Sophie shifted her feet. “But he founded a colony on Gaman’s moon. He and a bunch of settlers escaped on some shuttlecraft.”

The male human clapped loudly, startling her. “What did I tell you?” he crowed. “He made it to the shuttlecraft! I told you he could do it!”

“Gaman had a moon?” interrupted the monster, furrowing his brow. “How would a moon’s orbit survive the planet exploding?”

“Gaman was a ring planet, it wouldn’t have a traditional moon,” the male human answered. “Any ‘moon’ would technically be a smaller celestial body in orbit around the sun, like a plutoid. Gaman wouldn’t even affect its gravitational pull.”

“Stop stop!” the woman interjected, rubbing her forehead. “Please, we need to explain ourselves to Sophie before riddling her with questions.” She motioned herself, then the other human, then the monster. “My name is Carol, and this is Oscar and Steven. We’re old teammates of Hans and Werner.”

“Teammates?” asked Sophie.

“We were with them when they first arrived on Gaman.” Carol’s gaze darkened. “We were forced to abandon them when the planet disintegrated. We thought they’ve been dead this whole time.”

“I wrote a book on the entire expedition,” Steven the monster added. “I’ll have to add a whole new chapter about this!”

“Well, then you’ll help me save his life, right?” Sophie urged. “Cause he’s gonna die if we don’t find the cure to the gate plague!”

“Trust us. We’re with you,” Steven nodded. “And not in the bullshit waffley way everyone else keeps saying. What was your plan for getting back to Gaman’s moon?”

...plutoid,” Oscar coughed under his breath.

“I’ve got a friend on the other side,” Sophie explained. “As soon as the bridge is recharged, he’s going to set the t-coordinate forward by one and open a portal to pick me up.”

Oscar paled. “He moved the time coordinate forward by only one?”

“Well...we didn’t know how long a t-coordinate is.”

“How much time does she have?” Carol asked.

"Sophie, do you know what time you arrived on Earth?" Oscar asked.

Sophie nodded. "There were four hours of night left."

Oscar did some quick mental math. “Shoot. A conservative estimate would be...maybe eight hours?”

“After your friend sends this bridge,” Steven asked, “can he call back again if you need more time?”

“It takes months to recharge the power cell.” Sophie shook her head. “I’m not trusting dad to survive that long.”

“So, we don’t have a lot of time.” Carol stood up. “We’ll be back soon, Sophie. We need to have a little talk with General Moby.”

   *   *   *

“Absolutely not!” Moby made to close his office door. “And frankly, you shouldn’t have visited her to begin with!”

“Hans and Werner are going to die!” Steven blocked the door effortlessly with his massive hoof. “We need to prepare everything we can to send through that bridge when it arrives. A solar-powered CT scanner, a medical kit with as many different antidotes we can--”

“--She’s not going through that bridge!” Moby finally burst out. “Not until we’ve learned everything we can from her. This is the first ever instance of a human being who grew up completely on another planet! Do you realize what we could learn from that?” Moby gave up on the door and let it swing open. “Her dress is made of a completely unknown cloth. The dirt on her shoes is a blend of brand new minerals. The government would never just let that jump away--”

“Send a team with her! Imagine seeing that world for ourselves!” Carol pleaded, stopping Steven from marching into the office with his fists clenched.

“We are not sending any more personnel on trips through that cursed device!” Moby shook his head. “It’s claimed too many lives already, not to mention this particular bridge appears to put people into comas to boot!”

“Send us,” Steven begged. “We’ll risk it. We’re not letting Werner and Hans die, not after a miracle of a second chance to save them.”

“Out of the question. You three are lucky you’re not in quarantine,” Moby glared and pushed all three of them unexpectedly, slamming and locking the door in front of them. He refused to respond even as Steven hammered his fists on the door shouting obscenities.

“So, uh, what’s the plan now?” Oscar asked nervously.

“We need to get our hands on those lab results,” Carol answered as Steven gave up and nursed his hands. “Get as complete a picture as possible of what resources Werner has with him.”

“I’ll handle that,” Steven chimed in. “I’ve been tutoring Aisha on these computers, I can use her login to get some printouts.”

“I’ll go to the infirmary,” Oscar nodded. “If we manage to convince them to send medical supplies, we’ll need the package ready.”

“And I’m going to talk to Sophie again.” Carol headed down the hallway. “The more she can tell us about the gate plague the better.”

Carol’s first clue something was wrong came when she heard Sophie groaning in pain through the door. “Sophie?” Carol asked. “I don’t have a key to come in, but I was hoping we could talk some more?”

“Help me…” Sophie muttered, crawling audibly to the foot of the door. “Do you have any sallowroot?”


“Sallowroot.” Carol could hear Sophie’s teeth chattering. “I could...really use some.”

“Sophie, is everything okay?” Carol checked the door. Unfortunately the hinges were on the other side so she couldn’t easily break in. “What does sallowroot look like?”

“It’s a white grass. You smoke it. It’s been...a while since I had some.”

“If I slipped a paper and pencil under the door, do you think you could draw it?” No answer. “Sophie?”

When the girl didn’t say anything else, Carol lay down and peeked under the door. Sophie’s glassy, lifeless eyes stared back at her. “Sophie!”

*   *   *

“I’m glad you brought her in when you did,” the Carson City Camp CMO admitted. “She’s stable, looks to be suffering from some severe drug withdrawal.”

“Severe enough to cause a coma?” Oscar asked. He, Carol and Steven were standing around in infirmary cot where Sophie was hooked up to a ventilator and various machines scanning her vitals.

“No, that’s unrelated. Somehow. Actually, from what I can tell of the toxins in her system, this drug was actually what prevented her from slipping into a coma sooner.” The CMO showed Oscar a printout of the brain scan. “She’s got...a very high quantity of unusual particles in her blood system. I’d say they’ve been building up her entire life.”

“What are they?” Carol took the printout and scanned it.

“I don’t know,” the CMO admitted. “Toxicology isn’t my specialty. I was a combat medic before I got this job. You can feel free to look her over yourself--”

“No, they can’t!” Whittaker interrupted, marching angrily into the infirmary. He was flanked by two guards wielding stun rifles. “All three of you are under arrest. Management has had quite enough of you three sticking your noses in this business!”

   *   *   *

“This is preposterous!” Trano growled. “Reavan has never received anything but glowing praise as schoolteacher!”

“According to my kids, he’s favored Sapaar children from day one!” Menken slammed his fist on the table. “Even if you force a 1:1 vote to keep him in that schoolhouse, I’ll be decreeing that his school is optional for Gaman children!”

“Oh please, what are you going to do, start a new school?” Trano rolled his eyes. “Who’s going to teach it?”

“Nobody, I always thought school was a waste of time anyway.” Menken folded his arms defiantly. “Kids should be put to work the second they can walk. That’s the adult life they can look forward to anyway.”

“You’re an even bigger fool than I thought!” Trano spat, standing up. “Fine, we’ll move the school to the caves! I will not have Sapaar children treated like child labor!”

Ayla glared daggers at Menken as Trano left the hut in a rage. “Don’t worry,” Menken assured her, misjudging the reason for her anger. “We’ll hardly notice they’re gone. They were terrible workers anyway, with their spindly frames and weak eyesight.”

“Werner kept this colony together for years, and you and Trano are splitting it apart in a matter of days!” she snapped, filling her washbasin. “No wonder we ended up destroying Gaman!” She returned to the bedroom, where all three unconscious figures lay.

“How are they looking?” Menken changed the subject.

Ayla cleaned Seska’s face. “Not good. I’m keeping them hydrated, but I can’t get them to eat. They must be starving by now.”

Menken sighed. “Just keep doing what you’re doing,” he assured, before a knock on the door interrupted him.

“Apologies for intruding, sir,” a Gamanian worker saluted. “We have a problem with the aqueduct. We don’t think the concrete worked.”

“What?” Menken quickly followed her. “Did you mix crushed rock and ash with water, like Werner said?”

“We did. But when we poured it into the canal, it just drained into the sand.” She shrugged helplessly. “There must be more to it than Werner told us.”

“So now our aqueduct is full of ashy soup?” He pinched his forehead. “Maybe we should do some research. Crush up some more concrete powder and we’ll test different consistencies.”

The worker shook her head. “I’m sorry, but powderizing rocks is backbreaking labor. I’m not doing it unless I know it’ll work. And I’m not the only one who thinks that.”

“Excuse me?” Menken’s angry protest died in his throat when he reached the ruined aqueduct. “Hey, where’s the others?”

“They’re done. It’s broke. Sorry.” Ignoring further protests, the worker wandered back to camp, leaving Menken gnashing his teeth in frustration. Everything was falling apart…
« Last Edit: November 16, 2018, 12:54:41 AM by aabicus (LettuceBacon&Tomato) »

f-22 "raptor" ace

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Man things are quickly going down the tubes for the colony. Also I forgot this in my last post in this topic but poor Ernest all he was trying to do was help. I also find it funny that Whittaker the human was more offended by Sophie's question than Moby was.

aabicus (LettuceBacon&Tomato)

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Ernest was my favorite character in the story, not gonna lie. And Whittaker's always been a stick-in-the-mud, even back in his first appearance in Card of Ten :P

Welp, we certainly got here fast, but here's the conclusion of this story! I know we blazed through it fast, but it's actually the third-longest story in the Darwin's Soldiers canon, less than a hundred words shorter than Ship of State. I guess my chapters were just way larger than usual. A huge thank you to f-22 for working on this story with me, and everyone who read the story all the way through. Enjoy! :)


Steven rapped his fists against the brig window angrily. The three were locked in a featureless white room with a massive plastic window, through which a guard periodically glanced over at them. “I hate the military so much…” he grumbled. “They’ve been fucking us over from the day they first blackmailed us into jumping through that damn bridge!”

“I mean, it’s been more the government than the army,” Oscar shrugged. “But sentiment-wise, my thoughts exactly.”

“Well, they can restrict our access to the base, but they can’t take away what we've already learned.” Carol pulled out the results of Sophie’s brain scan. “Oscar, didn’t we see something like these particles at Pelvanida? With the sublevel experiments?”

“Hmmm…” Oscar looked them over. “Oh yeah. Dr. Anderson’s test subjects would get those.”

“Wasn’t Lockdown one of Anderson’s?” Carol asked.

Oscar nodded. “Those are anti-particles. They’re a sign that somebody was exposed to anti-matter, you can test for them with...some chemical starting with P. Anyone who gets them has it for life.”

“And Pelvanida never thought that was a problem?” Steven exclaimed.

“Well, they’re harmless. I mean, Anderson’s had them for over forty years, and he does the Ironman every summer.”

“Harmless for us,” Carol countered. “It sounds like people on Sophie’s world aren’t so lucky. Steven, do your readings indicate any physiological differences between Sophie and earthlings?”

“Only the stuff you’d expect from her upbringing.” Steven scanned his printouts. “Higher muscle mass but lower bone density. She’s shrinking a few millimeters an hour due to our gravity, all of which tell us her home planet--”

“--Plutoid,” Oscar corrected.

“...Her home plutoid  is smaller than Earth.”

“What about her metabolism?” Carol asked. “She was smoking a plant to avoid the effects of the disease. That implies it involves the circulatory system.”

 “They show what you’d expect as well,” Steven shrugged. “Deficiencies in several vitamins like B12 and Omega-3, indicating a meat-free diet. Higher nitrogen levels than normal, which probably has to do with the air on her homeworld.”

“Hold on,” Oscar interrupted. “If her homeworld’s air had enough nitrogen to show up in her blood, humans couldn’t possibly live there.”

“Well, then where did it come from?” Steven asked.

“Not sure…” Oscar trailed off, lost in thought.

After a few minutes, Steven glanced at Carol. “You’ve got that look. What are you thinking?”

“There’s one other thing I can’t stop wondering about…” Carol muttered. “Sallowroot. She said it was a white grass. Who’s ever heard of a white grass?”

“I mean, I’ve seen really light yellow,” Oscar shrugged.

“Well, if it was actually white, that would imply it didn’t have chlorophyll. AKA the stuff plants use to create glucose to eat.”

“I fail to see how this is relevant to the current situation,” Steven admitted.

“The only way Sophie’s diet could have an excess of nitrogen, at least that I can think of, is if she’s been eating rotting plants, or something that eats rotting plants.” Carol saw the lightbulb go off in Steven’s mind. “If sallowroot doesn’t get its nutrients using chlorophyll…”

“...then maybe it digests dead flora from the soil!” Steven finished. “You know, with a name that means ‘pale root’, maybe it’s not a grass at all. Maybe it’s a fungus. She was in withdrawal, right? Could be their version of magic mushrooms.”

“Magic mushrooms aren’t addictive. Also you can’t smoke them,” Oscar pointed out. “Don’t ask me how I know this.”

“OK, but we are getting somewhere. We might have enough qualifiers to narrow down the closest equivalent Earth species.” Carol started counting off on her fingers. “We need an addictive, smokable, hallucinogenic fungus or chlorophyll-free plant.”

“Great. So how do we find one of those while trapped in here?” Oscar folded his arms.

Steven thought. “...Wait, I have an idea.” He rapped on the window until the guard opened the food slot. “Hey!” he called to her. “Can I get my phone call? You get one of those in jail, right?”

The guard looked at him silently.

“It’s not even leaving the base,” Steven promised. “I just want to see how my pupil, Aisha Tennes, did on her take-home test. She’s got security clearance, and regardless I won’t mention anything about the Sophie situation to her. Promise.”

The guard thought, shrugged and buzzed Aisha on her walkie-talkie. After informing her of the caller, she handed over the phone. 

“Hi Dr. Johnson!” Aisha’s chipper voice came through loud and clear. “Did Moby really lock you in quarantine? Should I call dad?”

“No no, please, nothing like that,” Steven answered urgently. Aisha’s father was an admiral, but she had a tendency to overestimate his autonomy from his higherup’s whims. “I just wanted to check and see how you did on your homework. For your Biology class?”

A pause. “My Biology class?”

“Yeah. You had that take-home test about plants? Remember?”

To Aisha’s credit, she picked up his cues quickly enough. “...Uh, yeah, sure. What did you want to go over?”

“The extra credit question. About chlorophyll-free plants. We never covered that topic, so I’m assuming you left it blank.” Steven sneaked a glance at the guard, who was unfortunately still watching him like a hawk. “If you didn’t google the right answer, let’s do so now. So you’ll get it right next time.”

Very carefully, Steven guided Aisha to the correct topics, and she read them as much info as she could find online. It got easier when the guard became bored of all the science talk and went back to staring out into the infirmary.

Before long, they’d boiled the list down to a handful of similar species. And all of them had the same compound in common. “It’s gotta be fentacyamine,” Aisha finally concluded, audibly rolling her chair away from her computer. “That’s the only one that fits all these criteria.”

“Awesome, you’re a rock star Aisha.” Steven wiped his brow. Carol and Oscar were both resting in their cots; it had been a long call. “You’re going to get a great score on that test. Now, listen to me very carefully. As soon as your teacher returns this ‘test’, I want you to bring it to me as soon as possible. Do you understand?”

“Uhhh, yeah.”

“Bring it. To me. ASAP. Got it?”

“I--I think so?” Aisha hesitated. “It might be tough to bring it to you. The, um, ‘test.’ Not sure where I’d...uh...find it?”

“Call Dr. Landon, I’m sure he’d be able to help you.” The guard looked over curiously. “...With any questions I didn’t know!” Steven quickly amended. “Bye Aisha! Hope to see you soon!”

He turned off the walkie-talkie and handed it back to the guard. But as soon as she opened the slot and took it, he grabbed her by the arm and tugged her forward, smacking her face against the window. “Steven!” exclaimed Carol, as the guard slumped over.

Steven maintained his grip on the guard’s arm and wedged his other hand through the slot to search for her keys. “I’ve had it with this base stonewalling everything we do,” he growled. “If I have to go to jail for trying to save Werner’s life, so be it. You can stay in here if you really want.”

“Why did you even bluff with that whole homework conversation if you were just going to knock her out?” Oscar asked, looking nervously at the blood stain the guard left from her broken nose.

“There are always monitors listening on these comms.” Steven grimaced and contorted his arm to unlock their cell door. “Let’s book it!”

   *   *   *

One second, Captain Stern was walking down a completely empty hallway, minding his own business. The next, the door to the brig flew off its hinges and an enraged Clydesdale was holding him at gunpoint, flanked by two human scientists. “Don’t move, Tom!” Steven warned, clicking the safety off to show he meant business. “Surrender your pistol and put your hands in the air. I don’t want to shoot you!”

“Dr. Johnson, what is this?” Stern urgently raised his hands in surrender. “What are you doing?”

“The gun, Thomas.” Steven pursed his lips and flattened his ears in an equine sign of aggression. “Then march your ass into the brig.”

“Dr. Smithson, Dr. Shelton, think about what you’re doing for a second!” Stern stammered, as Carol stepped forward and relieved him of his firearm. “The general will not take kindly to this. He could kill you!”

“Not your concern, Tom.” Oscar locked the cell door after him.

“But you were so close!” Stern locked eyes with Carol. “We so recently got him to agree to give you NDAs and false identities. You could have gone back to living a normal life. You’ll be wanted criminals if you go down this path!”

“If you think we’re afraid to sacrifice for what’s right, you haven’t been around us long enough.” Carol checked that her pistol was loaded. “But don't worry, in a few minutes we’ll be discussing our grievances with General Moby in person.”

“Was that a threat?” Stern gasped. “You wouldn’t really hurt the general, would you? Hey!” he cried out desperately, but they’d already shut the door behind them.

After several minutes of pounding urgently on the door, a pair of soldiers investigated. “The prisoners escaped!” Stern warned them. “They’re headed for General Moby’s office!”

   *   *   *

“I want emergency patrols guarding every hallway to and from this office,” Moby commanded.

“At once, sir,” Whittaker saluted. “But with all due respect, they’ll never get this far. There’s only three of them.”

“You don’t know what bastards like them are capable of,” Moby growled. “The only good news is that they probably won’t shoot to kill if they can avoid it.”

“And what about our men?” Whittaker asked.

“Use lethal force. Do whatever it takes to bring them down.” Beside Moby, Stern turned an even lighter shade of pale. “Honestly, if they died that would be one less headache in my life.”

“I wish it didn't have to come to this,” Stern muttered, watching Whittaker leave. “With the things those three have seen, they could be such a boon to our scientific industry.”

“Not if they pull stunts like this.” Moby flashed an angry glare at the radio for cackling. “Well, Whittaker?” he grumbled into it. “Are the patrols in position?” No answer. “Whittaker?”

“Sorry, general,” Steven answered. “Your radios seem to be suffering some interference.”

Moby’s eyes bugged. “How the hell are you on this line?” he snapped. He silently motioned Stern, who quickly ran to the computer to start tracing the call.

“Oscar took care of that. But don’t worry, you’ll be talking to us in person soon enough.”

“The hell I am!” Moby glanced at Stern, who signaled with two fingers. If he could keep them talking for just a bit longer, he’d pinpoint their location. “Why don’t you just explain your grievances over the radio? It’d be safer for you, you’ll never get past my men.”

“We have our ways, don’t worry.” Moby could hear the smug self-satisfaction in Steven’s tone. “Plus we’d rather not leave an audio recording for you to doctor at our court hearing.”

“Well, if you’re worried about that, you’ve made a pretty stupid call.” The general saw Stern lower one finger. “But I suspect you’re too smart for that,” he accused, to keep them talking. “You want to be on the line. I bet whatever jam Dr. Shelton cooked up only works if you’re hogging the channel.”

“You can guess whatever you want,” Steven chuckled. “But if you really want your precious radios back, fine.”

“No--!” Moby burst out, but Steven killed the connection anyway. “Blast!” the general swore, smashing his fist into his desk. “Captain, please tell me you got them.”

Stern nodded. “They lied to us. They weren’t targeting your office at all.” He brought up live security footage on the monitor, showing they trio hotwiring a Humvee in Loading Dock 9. “They’re on the complete opposite side of the base.”

“They’re fleeing?” Moby furrowed his brow. “Where could they be going?”

“--General!” The chief medical officer’s voice blasted through the newly-working radios. “The prisoners, they broke into the infirmary! They stole a bunch of medical supplies and left with our patient on a stretcher! There was nothing I could do!”

Moby’s eyes bugged. “Whittaker!” He switched channels urgently. “The fugitives are escaping with the space girl from Loading Dock 9! Get our men down there pronto!”

“Nobody will be able to get there in time,” Stern warned, as they watched the Humvee roar to life and position itself in front of the bay doors.

“We’ve got one last ace to play,” Moby assured. “Those doors are locked from the outside, and triple-reinforced. If they attempt to ram them, they’re in for a rude--”

He broke off and watched in shock as an unexpected figure opened the doors from the parking lot.

   *   *   *

“You better be right that this will save someone’s life, Dr. Johnson!” Aisha looked worried as the base’s alarm started sounding. “There’s gonna be hell to pay when Dad finds out about this!”

“You’re a good kid, Aisha.” Steven belted himself into the shotgun seat as Oscar and Carol loaded Sophie into the back of the Humvee. “Think you can drive safely?”

“Yeah, sure.” Aisha adjusted her mirrors. “I mean, it’s all public roads to Landon’s clinic.”

“We’re going further than that, we’ll only have time to pick him up. Then we’re headed straight into the desert to return Sophie to where the bridge opens in one hour!”

“Do you have Landon’s number? Can we talk to him?” Carol asked as Oscar finished bolting Sophie’s stretcher down with industrial clamps and bungee cords. Aisha dialed and tossed Carol her cell phone as she shifted gears and peeled out of the parking lot.

“Landon!” Carol burst out the second he’d picked up. “We’re on our way to pick you up! Do you have the fentacyamine?”

“Yes, I’m ready,” Landon assured. “I’ve also looked at these scans you sent me, and I’m concerned by some of her readings. Have you checked her heartbeat for abnormalities?”

“I can probably do that!” she answered as Oscar handed her a stolen stethoscope. “Start thinking of what else you need, but remember we’re in the back of a speeding truck!”

As Landon walked Carol through preparing Sophie for her procedure, Steven checked the rearview mirror. “How quickly do you expect Carson City Camp to organize a pursuit?” he asked Aisha.

“They won’t pursue,” she answered, changing lanes. “At least not in the typical sense. These vehicles have tracking devices, they're going to prepare an ambush somewhere they think we’re going to go.”

Steven thought. “What sort of ambush?”

“These tires are too strong for spike strips, so if I had to guess, probably a roadblock of armored vans.”

“We’ll have to keep them guessing where we’re headed then.” Steven covered his eyes as Aisha ran a red light.

Fifteen harrowing minutes later, they pulled up to Landon’s clinic and the eponymous doctor climbed hurriedly into the backseat. “This is Werner’s daughter, you said?” He looked over the patient. “I didn’t even know he was seeing anyone.”

“It’s not the Werner you know,” Oscar answered. “Aisha will explain later. How’s she looking?”

Landon quickly checked her breathing and gently opened an eye to see her pupil. “Looks like standard unconsciousness, that’s good,” he reported as Aisha raced away. “You said you think this involves a drug addiction?”

Carol opened her mouth to answer, but suddenly Aisha swerved to make an exit and everyone in the backseat scrambled to grab something. “Hey!” Oscar complained, rubbing his shoulder where he’d smashed it on the spare tire.

“Sorry, I was wrong!” Aisha announced. She pointed out an unmarked black sedan make a similar risky cut through traffic to continue pursuit. “They ARE tailing us! Geez, how important is this girl you kidnapped?”

“Important enough to save her life, so try to keep the car steady!” Carol quickly explained to Landon the situation regarding Sophie’s reaction to sallowroot and their predictions about fentacyamine. “We’ve mostly got guesswork, so I hope you brought enough to do some testing!”

“Don’t worry, your logic is sound.” Landon poured a colorless liquid into an uncorked bottle of injection solvent and shook it up. As Oscar kept him balanced, Landon filled a syringe and located the vein in Sophie’s inner arm. “Let’s try the smallest dose first. This should only take a minute to act.”

Aisha left the exit and wound up on the Route 50. “Not a lot of options for shaking them…” she muttered, looking at the miles of desert stretching in either direction. She swerved to cut her pursuer off as they left the exit, and missed a sideswipe collision by inches.

“Whoa, come on, we’re working with needles back here!” Oscar protested.

“Does this Humvee have, like, a built-in turret or anything?” Steven asked, unbuckling his seatbelt.

“No, and I wouldn’t tell you if it did!” Aisha protested. “We're not gunning down American troops!”

“I’d only target tires! Actually, hold on…” Steven rolled the window down and opened fire with his pistol, leaving spiderweb cracks in their windshield and bulletholes in their chassis. The black car hit the acceleration and almost rammed them; Aisha barely dodged out of the way.

Are you crazy‽” Aisha and Oscar shouted for different reasons.

“Keep her steady!” Carol reminded urgently.

“No response on lowest dosage.” Landon shot something else into the bottle. “Werner wasn’t allergic to this stimulant, so I’m gambling she’ll be okay. Upping to second dosage.”

“Can we go up a couple doses at once?” Oscar gritted his teeth as Aisha careened over a pothole. "Speed this along?"

“No, do what Landon says, he’s the expert!” Steven called from the front seat.

“Roadblock up ahead!” Aisha announced. “Dr. Johnson, get your head inside!”

Just as Aisha predicted, a blockade of three armored trucks filled both lanes. And they were coming up quick.

“Can we go off-roading?” Stevens shouted, reloading.

“Naw, we can’t jump those,” Aisha regarded the short concrete walls flanking both sides of the road. “But I’ve got a plan. You ever heard of a bootleg turn?”

“Pin Sophie down!” Landon exclaimed, the only one who knew what Aisha was about to do, as Aisha shifted into second gear and swerved the wheel while pumping the brakes. The Humvee entered a controlled skid, turned 180 degrees, and within seconds was racing away in the opposite direction.

“Wait, Aisha, we have to go that way!” Steven shouted, checking his watch. “We’re running out of time!”

“I know, I know, but look!” Two of the armored vans had given pursuit. “There’s a hole in the roadblock now!”

“Goddammit!” griped Oscar, clutching his head. Below him, Landon checked Sophie’s breathing and upped her dosage to three. “Can we never do that again?”

“Nope, here comes another one, hold on!” Aisha repeated the turn in the other direction, right in front of the original black van which hit the brakes to avoid a head-on collision. Deftly accelerating, Aisha weaved in between both approaching armored vans, both of which clipped the sides of her Humvee with sickening crunches.

“The last truck is turning to block!” Carol shouted from the backseat as the final part of the roadblock started turning lengthwise.

“I’m on it!” Steven reloaded and opened fire on the truck. The bullets pinged off the armor, but one embedded in the bulletproof driverside windshield. The driver flinched, just long enough to ruin the angle of his block, and Aisha’s Humvee careened into it and sent both of them ricocheting into the highway walls.

“Sophie’s okay!” Landon announced as Aisha slammed her foot into the accelerator. “Upping to a 400% dose! I don’t feel comfortable going much higher.”

“Then try something else!” Steven snapped. He checked behind them. Their pursuers were in no position to pursue, but they had another problem. “Uhhh, Aisha, we’re smoking.”

“I know we’re smoking!” Aisha pushed the pedal to the metal. “I’m getting us there as fast as I can!”

“Are we gonna blow up?” Oscar whimpered.

“No! I’m more worried about being forced to stop!” A shadow cast over her face, and she heard Steven curse loudly. “Speaking of which, they brought in helicopters!” she informed the backseat, though they’d already heard the whirling blades incoming.

Landon, meanwhile, was muttering to himself. “Fentacyamine blocks the serotonin receptors in the brain. That might be the reason she’s not waking up. If we wanted to kickstart her central nervous system...I’m giving her 20 cc’s of ritalin!” he announced.

“Hurry up!” Steven covered his head as the lead copter opened fire on the Humvee. The bullets pinged off the armored chassis. “What the hell? Are they mental?”

“They’re just trying to disable the car, those were very conservative shots,” Aisha assured. “Hey!” She grabbed Steven’s arm as he leaned back out of the car. “No shooting at the helicopters!”

“But they’re shooting at us!” he protested.

“If they fall out of the sky, they’ll die! Ignore them, I can still get us there! Trust me!” she shouted. The concrete waist-high walls had downgraded to metal bumpers on wooden stakes, which was enough for Aisha to ram them and clear the way to the open desert.

“Doctor! We’ve got movement!” Carol exclaimed. Landon sighed in relief as Sophie squeezed her eyes shut and rolled over, covering her ears. “Sophie,” Carol leaned in close so as not to shout. “Can you hear me?”

“” the girl mumbled.

“Confusion and grogginess are normal after extended unconsciousness,” Landon assured. He was quickly mixing the right dosages together into shots for Werner, Hans, and Seska. “Do you think we can assume somebody on Sophie’s home planet--”

“--plutoid,” Oscar interrupted.

“...someone on Sophie’s plutoid can administer shots, or should I convert these into a drinkable form?”

“I wouldn’t take anything for granted, doc!” Steven fired several warning shots at the lead chopper, which peeled away to come around for another pass. The rocky terrain of the desert was sending the car’s passengers jolting wildly. Sophie moaned weakly as her head snapped back from the car bounding off a rock before Oscar turned his labcoat into a crude cushion.

“Sophie, my dear?” Landon gave her his best bedside smile as she opened her eyes in confusion. “I’m sorry to bother you, but time is of the essence, so please nod once if you can understand me.”

Sophie tried to nod, but it was indistinguishable from the bumping from the rocky road. “I can hear you…” she muttered.

“We’ve got ATVs inbound!” Steven announced. “Coming from the east!”

“That’s okay, Pelvanida’s up ahead!” Aisha shouted back. “We’re gonna get there first!”

“Don’t worry about them,” Landon urged Sophie as she looked around in surprise. “Look at me,” he urged. “Take this bag and don’t let go. It has the cure in it. Understand?”

“Yes!” Sophie exclaimed, eyes wide.

“You’ve already been cured, but you must administer it to Werner and the others. Have each of them drink one bottle each. One. Bottle. Each,” Landon enunciated each word.

“One bottle each! Got it!” Sophie gripped the bag tightly.

“Also,” Carol interrupted, “the main ingredient is sallowroot. For the rest of your lives, you need to keep eating or drinking sallowroot.”

“Or smoking?” Sophie’s eyes lit up. “Oh, mom is gonna be SO pissed!”

Another salvo of gunfire sent everyone diving to the floor. “Hold onto something, we’re coming to a stop!” Aisha screamed as the car popped a tire off an old submerged I-beam and skidded into the old Pelvanida hangar. The car came dangerously close to tipping, but instead crashed into the far wall and ground to a smoking stop.

“Sophie, you okay?” Carol coughed as Aisha staggered around and popped the trunk to free the backseat occupants.

“I’m fine…” Sophie breathed, letting Oscar and Landon help her out of the car.

“Lock and load, people.” Steven threw Landon a rusted lead pipe. Aisha unholstered her sidearm and Oscar shined his radio-flashlight into the base's charred interior. “Sophie, where's the bridge going to open?"

"A big room underground, but we can’t go that way, the stairs are blocked!” Sophie interrupted.

"Well, what did you do the first time?" Oscar asked.

She pointed back into the desert. “There’s a hole in the ground out there.”

“Outside? But there’s no cover!” Aisha protested.

“We have time, just go! Sophie, lead the way!” Steven shouted.

The party sprinted out of the hanger as a convoy of offroad jeeps and helicopters bore down on them. “Give up the girl, now!” Moby shouted through a megaphone from the lead chopper.

“Sophie, don’t waste time, jump down there!” Oscar ordered.

“Wait! Take this.” Steven handed her a homemade book. “It’s about your dad and his team. He’ll want to read it.”

“Tell Werner and Hans we’re glad they’re alive, and that their sacrifice was never forgotten!” Carol added. Sophie nodded and leaped into the sublevels. The others formed a protective ring around the entrance as soldiers piled out of the ATVs.

“No matter what, we hold this standoff long enough for the bridge to arrive,” Steven affirmed. “Everyone ready?”

“Ready!” Carol hefted her pistol.

“Ready!” Aisha and Landon agreed.

Ready,” an unknown disembodied voice added.

“Uhhh...who said that?” Oscar asked.

   *   *   *

One day, the farms stopped giving food to the baker and butcher, saying reduced crops necessitated feeding their family first. The brewery tried to follow suit, but soon faced a wave of looters prepared to stop them. Luckily, they’d paid Trano for protection.

“Go home, Menken,” Trano growled, brandishing a club. Behind him, the Sapaar had assembled a posse to protect the brewery. Aron’s mom, the brewer, cowered in her doorway, shielding her son.

“Not until we get our beer,” Menken announced, brandishing a rifle. “I’ve saved this rifle since the day we founded Vurna. Somehow I always knew I’d use it on you.”

“That gun can only have a handful of bullets,” Trano countered. “And you’ll never be able to replace them. Is this really the time to waste them?”

“You tell me, you’re the one making me shoot you!” Menken snarled, cocking the gun. “This is on you!”

“You may be a fool, but you can’t possibly think you’re innocent in all this!”  Trano held up a hand. The defenders behind him readied their improvised weapons, as did Menken’s Gamanians.

“I don’t care what you think!” Menken snarled. “Our colony will be better off without you and your kind!”

“You’ll have to take the colony from us!” Trano snapped. As one, both men slashed their hands through the air. “Attack!” both shouted at once.

Both sides hesitated. Strained seconds passed, and nobody advanced. It soon became clear that even Trano and Menken didn’t have the fight in them.

Menken sighed. “Look, Trano, what can I do?” He shook his head helplessly. “We’ve failed. This colony is falling apart. I’m not Werner, and I never will be.”

Trano narrowed his eyes. “I don’t know how Werner kept everything moving so smoothly,” he admitted. “But even without his standards, we’ve done a pretty poor job leading this colony.”

“Yeah. But Werner’s not here to solve our problems.” Menken lowered his rifle. “I guess maybe, for once, we could try and solve them ourselves.” He looked at the men and women behind him. “I’m sorry. We’ll leave your brewery alone. Will you Sapaar help us build our own?”

“I’d prefer we both keep using the same one.” Trano signaled his defenders to back down. “Your farmers just need to start sharing supplies again.”

“I’ll talk to them.” Menken and Trano stepped forward and shook each other’s hand. For the first time ever, the two men smiled at each other.

The reunification didn’t happen overnight, but the seeds were sown, and before long some semblance of normalcy had returned to the colony. Aron finally felt comfortable enough to confess to Menken and Trano what Sophie’s plan had been. To his surprise, both quickly agreed that activating the bridge to return her was the best thing to do.

It was a warm windless afternoon when the colony gathered outside the Einstein-Rosen bridge. Some gasped in wonder upon seeing it, others in horror. Rampant hushed whispers died down when Aron plugged in the newly-charged power cell, upped the t-coordinate by one and turned on the bridge.

Several people gasped when Sophie came tumbling out of it. “Aron!” she burst out, staggering to her feet and seeing her friend at the controls. “I got it! I have the cure!” She ran over and hugged him. “You won’t believe what wondrous things I saw!” she cried. “My dad’s homeworld is so different! I can't even begin to…” Her words died in her throat as she realized the whole colony was collected and watching her with a stunned silence.

Finally Ayla stepped forward. “Did you say you have the cure?” she breathed.

“Yes!” Sophie held the bag high. “And I know how to make more!”

   *   *   *

Taste. Werner would never have guessed that taste would be the first of his five senses to return. But whatever liquid he’d imbibed was so foul that he retched uncontrollably for several seconds before he could get his bearings.

He tried to sit up and realized he was in his bed. Seska and Hans sat to either side of him, both reacting similarly. Surrounding the bed were Trano, Menken, and Ayla, who was tearing up. “Oh my god…” Ayla rushed forward and wiped Werner’s brow. “You’re awake! You’re alive!”

“Yeah…” Werner gratefully accepted a water jug and washed his mouth out.

“How long were we out?” Hans asked.

“Too long.” Ayla hugged him joyfully.

“How did you wake us up?” Seska asked.

Menken and Trano stepped aside to reveal Sophie, loitering awkwardly on the far side of the room. “Sophie…” Werner realized, as his memories pieced back together and he realized what much have happened.

“I did it, Dad,” she said in a small voice. “I went to Earth, and I brought back the cure.”

“You went where?” Seska gasped.

Werner climbed shakily out of bed, refusing Menken’s help. “Sophie, I am so proud of you.” He hugged her tightly, tears running down her face. “I’m so glad you’re alright.”

“I’m glad you’re okay too, dad.” Sophie was also crying. “I’m sorry for what I said to you. I’m really glad that wasn’t the last conversation we ever had.”

“Me too,” Werner chuckled. He looked at Menken and Trano. “How’s the colony?”

The two exchanged a look. “Uh, it’s been better…” Menken shrugged sheepishly. “It’ll be glad to have you leading it again.”

“Though don’t rush yourself!” Trano added. “You just woke up, you'll no doubt need some time to recover.” Menken nodded in agreement.

Werner helped Seska out of bed. “I’m gonna take that offer,” he replied, starting a group hug with his wife and daughter. “I want you two to keep running the colony. Permanently.”

“Really?” Menken gasped.

“Yeah. I’ll of course be here, as an advisor. But it’s important this colony learns to survive without me.” He kissed Seska. “And I need to spend more time with my family.”

Hans was peering at the glass bottles from which Sophie had administered the cure. “You really saw our old teammates?” he asked Sophie.

Sophie nodded. “I saw Carson City Camp. Carol, Steven, and Oscar were there.” She handed him Steven’s book. “They said to give you this.”

“Hmm?” Hans read the back and his eyes went wide. “Werner...this is about our friends. The survivors. It covers what happened to them.”

“We’ll read it, first thing.” Werner put his arm over Hans’ shoulder. “But right now, I’m starving, and I suspect you are too!”

   *   *   *

One month later, Sophie sat alone, smoking a blunt of sallowroot and staring at the Einstein-Rosen bridge.

Or at least she thought she was alone. “Hey there,” Werner revealed his arrival, his footsteps masked by the sand. “Mind if I sit down?”

Sophie shook her head, so her father joined her. She noticed he was holding Steven’s book. “You’re still reading that?”

“Oh, I must have finished it a dozen times by now,” Werner chuckled. “I just wanted to read you some of the things my friends said about you in their notes, if you’re okay with hearing it.” Sophie watched him flip to the end, where the last few blank pages had been filled in with three different handwritings. “‘I’m so glad I got to meet your daughter’,” Werner read aloud. “She’s kind, inquisitive, and quick on her feet.’ That was Carol. Steven said, “I’m glad your daughter takes after you, because she needed to show some real gumption in the short time I knew her.

“What did Oscar say?” Sophie asked.

“Oscar said you were the only person he’d ever seen render the General speechless with a single question,” Werner laughed. He put his arm around her. “I am so proud of you. I know I’ve already said it, but I can’t believe you were able to accomplish what you did. I wish I’d had faith in you from the start.”

Sophie smiled. “I think you did,” she grinned. “You told me to jump through, remember?”

“I guess I did do that.” The two fell silent and merely watched the sun slowly set from behind the bridge.

“Dad?” Sophie asked. “The power cell finishes charging tomorrow. Have you decided yet if you want to reopen a bridge to Earth?”

He sighed. “I’m not sure. We do kinda need to use that fuel to go collect more sallowroot with the shuttlecraft. It might be better to wait another month.” He closed Steven’s book. “And, honestly, there’s no rush. Earth’s not going anywhere, it’ll wait for us until we’re ready to--”

He broke off as the bridge flared to life in front of him. Father and daughter leaped to their feet in alarm as a lone figure exited the bridge, which remained shimmering behind her.

“Werner Donitz!” The velociraptor snapped off a crisp salute. “I hope I’m not intruding. My name is Evelyn, ambassador from the United States.”

Werner and Sophie were stunned silent.

“It’s been fifty years since your daughter visited us. We had to sort through...some bridge-related problems of our own.” Evelyn was regarding Werner with a particularly rapt expression. “But now that they’re resolved, I’ve been sent to formally open diplomatic negotiations with your colony.”
« Last Edit: July 07, 2022, 05:52:36 AM by aabicus (LettuceBacon&Tomato) »

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Good ending to the story and you're welcome for the help. I owe an equal amount of thanks without you this story never would've been written.

aabicus (LettuceBacon&Tomato)

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I'm glad to! Your plot concept was worth writing :D Looking forward to reading The Disease when it gets new chapters!

Also, Next of Kin has been fully incorporated into the Darwin's Soldiers Wiki, for those who want to read and see how it ties into the Darwin's Soldiers universe as a whole.
« Last Edit: November 17, 2018, 04:41:10 AM by aabicus (LettuceBacon&Tomato) »

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thank you. I plan on getting the current chapter i'm working on done tomorrow. And I will try to get a chapter a week up from then on til completion.