Kathryn woke up, but it wasn’t like any kind of waking up she’d ever done before. It felt more like coming back from the dead than rousing from a restful sleep. It took her a few moments to remember the last thing she remembered, but when she did she bolted upright in her bed. This was a mistake. It brought on a crushing pain in her head and she had to lie back down again.
At least the bed was comfortable enough. It seemed to be a mattress shaped bag of sewn together animal hides, presumably stuffed with… fuck did her head ever hurt. Lying down was helping the pain though; she felt it slowly dissipating. She turned her head to the side to get a look at her surroundings. She was in a smallish room which she imagined might be the entire structure. The walls appeared to be built out of logs stacked on top of each other and crossing each other in an interlaced way at the corners.
She reached down to feel if she still had any equipment in her pockets. She didn’t. Both her PANEs and her scroll were missing. “Well at least there’s that…” she darkly humoured to herself in a croaked voice. “Okay. Let’s try this again…”
This time with an abundance of caution, she slowly raised her head and worked her way up to a sitting upright position. Just as cautiously, she swung her body around to put her feet on the ground beside the bed. Looking down, she noticed that the floor was bare earth, dry and packed down hard, but bare earth all the same.
As she was contemplating her chances of successfully standing up, the door swung open and a young woman entered, younger than Kathryn certainly, but she was still a grown adult woman. Kathryn was struck by how different this woman looked to the humans she’d encountered before, the ones who had darted her and presumably brought her here.
The woman before her now was obviously quite clean and freshly bathed. Her dark hair was tied back with a pink ribbon which matched the pink flowers patterning her flowing and loose fitting white sundress. She had an air of arrogant confidence about her, the kind one might expect from an aristocrat or a person of some other position of unearned privilege.
“English?” the woman asked.
“I… yes!” Kathryn marvelled. “Why do you speak, I mean, am I… what’s going on here?” She didn’t know what to ask first so she blurted out several partial questions at once.
“What land do you come from?” the woman asked.
“Land? I… I don’t understand.”
“How far did you travel to get here?”
“Pretty fucking far…” Kathryn chuckled to herself and the woman wrinkled her nose in confusion. “Why was I attacked?”
“You were alone, in unfamiliar clothing. Our explorers thought it best to capture you first and investigate secondly. Perhaps not the wisest decision, but… their strengths are not their wisdom.”
“What’s your name?” Kathryn asked.
“Patricia. And you?”
“Kathryn.” Patricia merely acknowledged with a nod. “Are you the leader here Patricia?” Kathryn asked.
“No, but I do serve the leader.”
“I’d like to meet your leader. I have many questions, and I’d like us to be friends.”
“Perhaps. How did you find yourself alone in our lands? Certainly you were not foolish enough to have travelled so far alone.”
“I was not alone. I had friends with me who must have retreated after seeing what you did to me.”
“They have abandoned you.”
“They’ll be back for me, you can be sure of it.”
“I can’t help but notice your clothes… they are very nice compared to the animal skins I saw the others wearing.”
“Serving the leader has privileges.”
“Yeah. It usually does doesn’t it?”
Patricia tilted her head to the side in a questioning way. “What land do you come from?” she asked again.
“Haven,” Kathryn answered for lack of a better reply with a shrug.
“I have not heard of this land.”
“No I wouldn’t suspect you had.”
Another tilt of her head to the side. “You had this equipment with you.” Patricia produced her PANEs and scroll. She pulled the scroll apart and looked accusingly at Kathryn. “We’d hoped we could learn about your land and its people from this scroll but it is password protected.”
“You know what a scroll is?” Kathryn asked with great surprise.
“Yes,” Patricia answered matter of factly.
“Well, go ahead then. The password is KB4186.”
Patricia entered the characters into the scroll and it unlocked for her. The first thing she did was search the term ‘Haven.’
“Haven… is a planet?” she asked with great surprise as she raised her head to look up at Kathryn.
“That’s right,” Kathryn answered cautiously.
“You are attempting to deceive me,” Patricia accused.
“No, it’s the truth, I swear… Like I said, I’ve come from very, very far away.”
“So it would seem. And yet you are human?”
“It’s a long story.”
“I look forward to hearing it. So will the leader.”
“How do you know what a scroll is?”
“Some technology has survived from ancient times. It is rare, but we who serve the leader are privileged to have access to it. The dam provides us the energy we require to power and use the technology we have.”
“I see… that’s why all of the settlements are near dams.”
“Yes. If we can maintain the dams, not only do they supply us with all the water we could ever need, but they can also power the technology we have been able to scavenge.”
“Is that what your explorers were doing? Leaving on an expedition to find more?”
“Yes. We can maintain a simple way of life without discovering new supplies, but luxuries and tools we cannot create ourselves must be scavenged by our explorers. Perhaps by design, the dams which power the tools we find are never near the places we can find the tools. The journey to the lands of the south where such treasures are to be found is a very treacherous one. Our expedition teams leave in the spring and camp in the south for the winter before heading home the following spring. Sometimes…” the woman looked down with a minor welling up of sadness. “Sometimes they do not come back at all.”
“I see,” Kathryn offered sympathetically.
Composing herself, Patricia asked: “how did you come here from Haven?”
“On a ship, a starship called the new New Horizon.”
Patricia eyed her skeptically. “I find this unlikely. The stories say that such a journey would take many lifetimes.”
“Ordinarily it would,” Kathryn admitted, “but we met some new friends recently who have the technology to get us here much quicker.”
Patricia was quiet for a few moments before admitting: “I would very much like to meet these friends of yours.”
“I’m positive they’d like to meet you as well.”
“Well, if nothing else I am satisfied that the leader would no doubt very much like to meet you.”
“Grand! Can I have my equipment back?”
“No.” Patricia answered firmly. “The leader may see fit to return these to you, but that is her prerogative, not mine.”
“Very well. Does your leader have a name?”
“We call her The Great Moll.”
“There! See? She’s on the move!” Jaren exclaimed. He had been watching very intently since Kathryn had shown the first signs of rousing. He watched with great curiosity as a woman entered the structure Kathryn had been taken to and as he watched them talk he burned to know what was being said.
After a time, they both emerged from the structure, and Jaren had a small sense of relief being able to see her in true image with the satellite instead of an infra-red outline, even if it was just the top of her head. He didn’t have to watch long before he observed her steal a moment to look up into the sky and give a thumbs up. It was an ultimately ambiguous message, but Jaren resolved himself to accept that it meant that she was alright, at least for the moment. He continued to watch as the two women sat on the bank of the river in anticipation of a third figure seeming to bring them some food.
“Of all things…” he muttered to himself, “a frickin picnic.”
“Looks like she’s doing just fine without us doesn’t it?” Felix observed over his shoulder.
“Oh, Parker. Yeah, well… we can’t really know what’s going on down there, or what’s going to happen. How are we for supplies?”
“Well all told we’ve been able to assemble quite a little arsenal for ourselves for when we go down to get her. We’ve got four of your, um… magic wand things which Irvina tells me can render someone unconscious with a touch.”
“That’s right. And it’s just ‘wands’”
“Right. And… we’ve got plenty of scrolls which according to my research are capable of emitting a particularly pernicious flashing of light which overloads the visual system and knocks people out.”
“Good, good… what else?”
“Well, there’s not a drop left in the ship’s printers, they were drained to make as many tools as we could before abandoning the ship, but I’ve looked into it and there are a number of things on the ship which with some work could be reduced to printing material. The food trays in the dining hall for instance, with some processing the plastic could be recycled to make crossbows or something… we could even harvest some of the internal bulkheads to print some firearms, if… if we wanted to go that far.”
Jaren swiveled around to face Felix. “Well Parker… from what I understand you’re her best friend, how far do you think we should be willing to go to get her back?”
After a moment to consider the question, Felix answered: “I have never taken a life… and I don’t ever want to. But I could, if it was what was necessary to save her.”
“That’s exactly how I feel.”
Felix nodded with a raised eyebrow, indicating that he believed Jaren did.
“The thing is though,” Felix added, “I don’t think Kathryn herself would want us to save her if that was the cost of doing so.”
“It’s not up to her though is it?”
“No, but we should consider what she’d want us to do.”
“Yes. Yes of course, you’re right.” Jaren weighed his options. “We will make every effort to recover her without hurting anyone, but if it does comes down to them or her…”
“If it comes down to them or her, I won’t argue.”
“I’m glad we understand each other. I understand you are an active member of your world’s military, same as Kathryn?”
“Well, paramilitary would be more accurate, but yes.”
“Well that makes you the closest thing we have onboard to a soldier. You can handle a firearm?”
“Then print yourself whatever gun you feel most appropriate for yourself, as well as a few crossbows for others. If they make any aggressive move against her we’ll launch immediately, but that would be the most dangerous option and it could potentially be very messy. Hopefully another opportunity will present itself. I suspect that if it does… we’ll know it when we see it.”
Eventually Jaren managed to sleep. He could have gotten a pill from Nadelle, but that would have prevented him from being sufficiently alert should things seem to go bad down on the surface. Nothing seemed to go that way though. Kathryn stayed close to the woman who had greeted her in the building they had brought her to when she was unconscious. She appeared to be being given some sort of tour of the encampment, and their best guess was that she was conducting the diplomacy which (as surprising as it may have been to Kathryn herself) seemed to come quite naturally to her.
When night fell, she seemed to join some others around a camp fire on the outskirts of the settlement before finally retiring to her room for the night. Seeing this, the whole crew tried to get some rest, hoping that the next day would present an appropriate opportunity. If such an opportunity didn’t present itself in the next couple days, they would have to risk a direct incursion before it was too late to save her from the virus which was growing stronger in her body every minute until it eventually killed her.
In the morning, after watching her get some breakfast with her companion, they began to see some indication that they were preparing for some sort of trip. Felix had finished manufacturing his weapons, and Nadelle had prepared a transdermic which would cure Kathryn if they could get it to her.
When they saw the two women leave the settlement and head west accompanied by two males, Jaren gave the order and he along with Irvina, Felix, Elim, Teresa, and Francis all piled into one of the two Koboli shuttles. Leaving Xion in command of the New Horizon, the shuttle detached from the ship began its descent into the Terran atmosphere.
Feeling no need for subtlety at this point, even suspecting a little shock and awe might work in their favour, Jaren brought the ship directly down towards Kathryn’s location. Descending rapidly, he expertly conducted an emergency landing only a hundred meters away from Kathryn’s party. The door flew open and Jaren’s team poured out with all manner of weapons pointed at Kathryn’s captors.
“HALT!! Let her go! We don’t want to hurt anybody but we will if we have to!” Jaren didn’t know if they spoke English or not but he figured it was a good bet based on how much Kathryn seemed to have been conversing with them over the last couple day.
Jaren looked at the others in confusion as one of the males accompanying Kathryn stood behind her and held a knife to her throat. “Go back where you came from or she dies!” the man yelled at Jaren. He seemed startled at least if not fearful of their unexpected sudden arrival, but there was no ambiguity around the seriousness of his threat. “We are taking her to see the leader, only she can release her if she wishes.”
“Unacceptable! She is coming with us! Let her go! You will die if you hurt her at all I’m not screwing around!”
“Neither are we!” He was much cooler, much more in control of the situation than Jaren. “You leave now or she dies!” A small trickle of blood began to flow from where he was holding the knife to Kathryn’s throat.
“Jaren!” Kathryn croaked, “do what he says!”
“Do what he says!!”
“We lower our weapons, and you take the knife off her throat… Okay?”
“Okay, okay…” Jaren said. In the moment if he could see a way of freeing her by killing he would have, but he didn’t see any way to accomplish that without getting her killed. It was also clear how much Kathryn didn’t want him to do any such thing.
“I… we have to treat you Kathryn, there’s, there’s a disease!”
“What?” she asked in confusion.
“Enough!” The man yelled. “You get out of here! Get back in that thing and leave now!”
“NOW!!” the man screamed as he put the knife to Kathryn’s throat again.
“FUCK!!” Jaren burst in frustration. “ALRIGHT! FINE!!!” Jaren was incensed by his impotence to extract Kathryn. “We’ll find another way!” he reassured her.
“Do nothing!” she implored him past the knife. “Just wait, I’m okay really! I should be able to contact you by the end of the day, if not-” the man put his hand over her mouth to prevent her from saying anything more.
After everyone else had re-embarked Jaren stomped onboard and as the door swung up he punched one of the wall screen in anger and frustration so hard it cracked in a spiderweb out from the point of impact. Jaren cried out in pain and clutched his hand.
“Dammit Jaren,” Elim exclaimed. “Your hand, you dumbass!”
“What did you call me!?” he yelled with fire in his eyes.
“HEY!!” Irvina yelled, “everybody just calm the fuck down! Computer, take us back up the ship immediately. Jaren, you are a dumbass, and you will sit the hell down and let Elim have a look at your hand.”
“You will sit the fuck down and get a fucking grip on yourself.” She successfully stared him down and he began the long process of returning to centre. “We are returning to the ship, we will assess our situation and plan our next move. There’s nothing else we can do here now.”
“So, is this how you treat all of your guests?” Kathryn asked Patricia as she dabbed at the wound on her neck with the sleeve of her shirt and then pressed it to stop the bleeding.
“Fenn and the rest of the men can be… overzealous, but he was not wrong. Your people should not have done that. He did what he had to do.”
“How can you say that? You condone me being treated that way?”
“Your fate shall be decided by the leader, and the leader alone. Your friends will not be allowed to interfere.”
“Then we’d better get there already, shouldn’t we?” she asked acidly. “I’d hate to keep the fates waiting.”
Patricia held out her hand for Kathryn to lead the way and she headed on.
“Jaren mentioned something about a disease. You know what he was talking about?”
“Perhaps,” Patricia answered. “The stories tell of a disease, a plague that brought about the end of ancient times. The Great Moll teaches us that we are the descendants of a blessed people, those who were spared from the plague.”
“This plague… it must still be around, that must be what Jaren was talking about. He must have a cure… you should have let him treat me Patricia, I could die.”
“There is no cure.”
“Well, my friends are very resourceful. What can you tell me about this disease? What are the symptoms? How long does it take to kill? How does it spread?”
“I don’t know anything about it other than those who contract it die quickly once they begin to appear sick. From time to time it still claims some of our children, we don’t know why. If you wish to know more about the plague you will have to ask The Great Moll, only she will be able to answer your questions in any more detail.”
“How does she know so much about it?”
“Because she comes to us from the before time. She can remember when the plague first struck.”
Kathryn stopped dead in her tracks and turned around to face Patricia. “That must be… a metaphor or something; I mean that’s not possible. We lost contact with Earth six hundred years ago, how could anyone still be around from that long ago?”
“It is not a metaphor. She is… not like us. You will see.