The shuttle shot away from the New Horizon and plunged into the Terran atmosphere. Inside was Jaren piloting the shuttle, Kathryn, Felix, Francis, Terey and Molly’s head. The engineers had rigged up a back pack consisting of Molly’s battery and her head above, facing backwards, and Francis had been burdened with carrying her around when they reached the surface.
“We’ll have to be careful choosing a landing site…” Jaren observed as he looked at the scans of the surface on the panel in front of him. “The terrain appears quite unstable, prone to shifting…”
“That’s what our scavengers report,” Molly confirmed. “It’s detritus piled on detritus covered in soil and plant. Any extra weight tends to either cause sinking or collapse.”
“Right,” Jaren acknowledged with a furrowed brow. “Molly, homeworld had recovered the old Terran maps from the archives when I contacted them and they transmitted them to me before we left the ship. The address you provided… even with the maps it’s hard to pin down exactly the area you referenced, but we can at certainly narrow it down to within several kilometers at least.”
“That should be good enough. Once there on the surface and in the area I’m hoping I’ll be able to get my bearings and find my way to the lab, if it still exists of course.”
“What are the odds of that?” Kathryn asked.
“Poor to fair,” Molly answered. “I remember it being in one of the lower floors of a tower, and if any parts of the building survived, it would be the lower levels. Even so, if it’s still intact it’ll be buried and require excavation, some very dangerous excavation,” she remarked.
“Grand,” Felix ironically remarked.
“I’m going to set it down on top of one of those sharp hills,” Jaren said as he continued to look at his monitors It’ll be tricky climbing up and down, but I prefer that to putting down in one of the valleys and risk having debris fall down on the ship. There’s no guarantee we’d be able to dig it out again. There could be a collapse when we touch down, but I’ll do it softly and add the weight gradually, ready to shoot up again if there’s a problem.
From visual observations and ground penetrating scans, Jaren selected a hill he felt most suitable in the area Molly indicated. He lowered the shuttle very slowly down onto the thick green grass covering the mound, blowing down and away the blades from the central energy stream pouring out of the bottom of the shuttle. The landing struts softly touched the ground and as Jaren slowly let the weight of the vessel down, the struts sunk into the soil several decimeters, but then held as the rest of the shuttle’s weight settled onto the support points. Gradually letting off the throttle, Jaren powered down the engine and an eerie silence filled the cabin as everyone held their breath.
“We’re good,” Jaren reported, and the silence was broken by a collective exhale. “Lowering the door.” The door section of the wall fell away, and the extension ramp projected from within it and touched down.
“Well let’s get on with it,” Molly said. Francis picked her up and slung her over his back as gently as she could. “Don’t worry about being gentle Francis, just don’t lose your head,” she said with a mirthful smirk to the others.
Kathryn moved to be the first out the door but Jaren grabbed her arm as if to stop her from going first and allowing him to instead. She stopped, looked back at his hand on her arm, and then up at him with a look which said: ‘really?’ He understood and let her go.
The ramp was at a steep incline and she carefully made her way down, one sideways set foot after another. Coming to the bottom of the ramp she tested the ground and found that it would indeed hold up to her weight. “Seems okay,” she offered to the others and began making her way down the hill even more carefully. It was roughly a forty degree slant down several stories to the wooded area between the hills. The others followed behind her in a line down to the low land. Reaching the tree line and descending the hill further, she reached the bottom of the gulley and found a modest creek in a deep cavity. She leaned down to run her fingers through the running water.
“This used to be an underground transit train line,” Molly told her. “I rode this line many, many times…” she said, seeming to be lost in her memories. “It’s strange, everything looks different and yet it’s somehow so familiar.”
“Any idea where to head?” Felix asked Molly.
“No… I have a sense of the route this skytrain took back in the day though. If we follow along it, I may be able to get a sense of our location.”
There was no path for them, so they had to make their way very slowly and carefully through the trees and thick underbrush by the stream. They would occasionally see small animals they didn’t recognize briefly come into view and then quickly scurry off, but it was too quick for Francis to turn Molly around so she could see and identify them. “Probably rats, raccoons, skunks…” she offered as she bobbed up and down looking behind Francis. Felix was the only one behind her, and she had the opportunity to scrutinize him face to face as they walked. It was beginning to make him uncomfortable, she had that knowing smirk and had nowhere to look but right in his face.
“You’re gay aren’t you?” she asked shamelessly.
“Um yeah, that’s right… Kathryn tell you that?” he asked. He wasn’t embarrassed; it was no secret after all. He just didn’t know how it would have come up.
“No,” she answered, her smirk growing broader into a smile as she bobbed up and down and back and forth. “I was a sexim remember? I was programmed to know these things, programmed to be sensitive to the… desires and persuasions of men and women. It’s nothing specific I can just tell, a sense generated from a lot of unconscious cues and factors.”
“I see,” Felix replied, still a little uncomfortable over the scrutiny.
“That must be why I didn’t have the immediate dislike of you I tend to have of other men,” she observed.
“Perhaps… I think-”
“Look out!!” Molly cried out in horror as a large cougar jumped out of a nearby tree and pounced on Felix, taking him down to the ground. The rest of the team scrambled to come to his aid as the cougar clawed at Felix and tried to bite his neck. He held his arms up between his neck and the creature’s teeth and claws and his forearms and hands were quickly becoming shredded in a horrible bloody mess.
The first to respond, Francis instinctively reared back and kicked the cougar as hard as he could in the ribs. It yelped in pain, and then pounced on Francis, knocking him back on the ground, landing hard on the backpack containing Molly and her power source. The cat returned to Felix who was quickly bleeding to death and making horrible sobs of pain. It bit into his leg and appeared to being dragging him into the brush.
Kathryn had picked up a substantial fallen branch and before the cougar could drag Felix out of view she hammered it on the head as hard as she could with the branch. It cried in pain and then staggered off in an apparent daze off into the bush, unseen once more. All three gathered around Felix to assess the damage. He was writhing in agony and gushing blood out of his arms and leg.
Elim whipped her medical bag off of her back and pushed the others away. Though a trained doctor herself, she was of Haven and their medical technology was far inferior to that of Kobol or even Roma for that matter, but she had a Kobol medical kit with her and had been trained by Nadelle how to use all of the supplies in it. She knew she had to move quickly or he would quickly be dead from loss of blood.
“Is he going to be okay?” Kathryn fearfully asked.
“Let me work,” was all Elim would say as she cinched some straps down on his limbs above the damage to slow blood flow to the area and thus his blood loss. She then used sterile water to clean out his wounds and then spray a coagulating agent into the wounds. It was a brute force substance that shared some of the same properties as a human’s own platelets, and bonded with the subjects own binding agents as well as artificial ones in the spray, which activated when sprayed. It quickly formed an artificial scab over the wounds which stopped the bleeding.
Elim then pulled a transdermic from the kit and administered a powerful sedative and pain killer combination. Felix’s nonsensical whining sobs of pain and deep dismay slowly dissipated and gave way to blessed unconsciousness.
Elim was emotionally amped up from the excitement, but let out a long deep sigh. “I think he’ll be alright,” she said turning to Kathryn. “On Haven… well he might not have survived at all, and even if he did he’d be in for a long, long recovery, likely nerve damage, nasty scarring…”
“But?” Kathryn asked anxiously.
“But as far as I understand the medical chambers on New Horizon, it can physically rebuild tissue. It could take a couple days, but it should be able to rebuild his damaged tissues cell layer by cell layer.”
“Then we need to get him back to the ship.”
“As soon as possible, yes.”
Kathryn and Jaren carried Felix back up the hill to the shuttle with all due haste while still observing the danger whic the terrain posed. Elim and Francis carrying Molly followed behind, watching their back and sides for any further potential attack.
They were all very quiet as Jaren piloted the ship back up to orbit and to dock with New Horizon. They pulled the unconscious Felix along in the zero gravity, and then used the same harness and winch line to lower him down the access tube to the habitat ring as they had used to move Molly down. A rolling medical bed was waiting for them and his body was lowered directly onto it, followed closely behind by Kathryn and the others.
“Treatment so far?” Nadelle asked Elim.
“I used the binding agent you instructed me on and gave him the combination sedative and painkiller.”
“Good work. These shouldn’t be necessary anymore,” Nadelle observed as the bed was rolled down the hall and into an elevator. She pulled a pair of scissors out of the kit and cut his tourniquets off.
“He’ll be alright?” Kathryn asked Nadelle.
“Oh yeah, no worries,” Nadelle answered nonchalantly. “He’ll be right as rain after a couple of days in the sarcophagus.”
“Sarcophagus?” Jaren asked.
“Oh, our little nickname for the surgical pods. They’ll be able to reconstruct his damaged tissue no problem. It’s one of their primary functions.”
The elevator doors opened and Felix was rolled across the hall into the medical bay. Nadelle tapped at the panel and the clear circular hatch at one end of the chamber swung away, and a human body sized shelf slid towards them. They lifted his body onto the shelf and with another panel tap the shelf slid back into the device and the cover swung closed again and sealed.
The interior lit up and the chamber began conducting all manner of scans on his body. A list of recommended procedures appeared on the screen above the chamber, and Nadelle tapped the proceed button. Deft and soft mechanical hands picked up a pair of scissors and began carefully cutting off his pants and shirt. When it had adequately exposed the damaged areas, it would carefully strip away the artificial scab one small section at a time and replace it with new tissue synthesized from his own DNA. Once the first layer of tissue was installed and covering the entirety of the wound, nerve, muscle, and skin cells would be laid down layer by layer until the wound was entirely repaired. The screen above the chamber initiated a countdown starting at twenty-seven hours, five minutes, and twenty-eight seconds until repair complete, and began counting down.
Francis set the Molly pack down on the floor and propped it up against the wall. Her eyes were full of tears. “It’s my fault…” she muttered. “I’m so sorry.”
“Yes…” Kathryn agreed. “It is your fault.” She breathed deeply in through her nose as she turned to her. “But we made a deal, and we all knew the risks. It’s our fault too… we were reckless. We should have been better organized, better equipped… we should have planned better. We won’t make that mistake again.”
“Again?” Jaren asked. “We’re going back down there?” He didn’t seem to be questioning her or suggesting they shouldn’t, but it clearly hadn’t occurred to him that they would try again.
“I…” Molly started. “I want to tell you that you don’t have to, but… I have no body at all now.”
“I know,” Kathryn said as she put a hand on the transparent material of the sarcophagus. “But it’s not just about you Molly. We aren’t just going down there to find you a body. We’re explorers. We went down there to explore. Our task on this planet isn’t over now that we’ve solved the mystery of why it went dark so many centuries ago, and it won’t be over when we’ve helped restore you.
“We’ve begun something here, together,” she said as she looked seriously at Jaren and Francis. “Earth is not just a neutral planet we can survey and abandon, not a mere curiosity. It is our home, our ancestral home. It is our destiny to learn all of the secrets this planet has to offer us. The archives aren’t enough, Molly’s memories are insufficient. We will research this place for ourselves, and tease out of it every secret about our heritage and… ourselves which we can. Restoring Molly is only the first step, only the first secret we must reveal.
“We are all at the beginning of a very long journey. I intend to personally petition our governments to collectively fully restore Orbital One, and make it the home base for a massive research effort, archaeological digs of the ruins, anthropological research of the people still down there and assistance in them reclaiming the dignity which is their birthright as Terran humans, if they want our help. We will research, we will rebuild, we will restore.
“Felix wouldn’t want us to give up. He wouldn’t want what happened to him to be the end of this journey. Yes we’re going back, but this time we’re doing it right, and we’re going to ask for some help from our friends.
“Molly, you have explorers in your village who have been to the ruins of Vancouver and returned.”
“Yes,” she answered. “Most of our males have made at least one expedition south.”
“Will they accompany us on our next trip down? Their experience would be invaluable to us.”
“They will do whatever I order them to,” Molly stated. “I’m sure they’d be happy to help,” she added, sensing the discomfort in the room with her previous phrasing.
“Good. When we’re done here please contact them and have them prepare. Have them be armed however they normally would be, those blow darts they got me with would come in handy.”
“Jaren, we need weapons, whatever weapons we have let’s pass them out.” Jaren nodded. “Is your shuttle equipped with weapons?”
“No, it’s just a transport ship, nothing like that. We’ve got scroll flashers, our wands, several printed handguns, that’s it though. We can print more.”
“Do so. We’ll mount a full expedition, both shuttles. Molly please have your six best men prepare and have them ready in-” she looked at the countdown clock on the wall “twenty-eight hours. We’ll leave Felix here with three others but I want to see him okay before we head down again. We’ll leave them on the ship to maintain its systems and give us imaging support with continuous infra-red monitoring to warn us of any threats in the area. If we weren’t so careless they could have warned us about that, that… what was that Molly?”
The head harrumphed a little through the scroll tucked into the bag which made sounds for her. “The males call them murdercats, differentiated from the friendlycats and the angrycats. However they were known in the before time as cougars, house cats, and bobcats respectively. Cougars like the one that attacked Felix can take down large game by themselves and are incredibly dangerous. House cats used to be pets and are mostly harmless, bobcats are a bit bigger than the housecats and typically won’t attack a human unless threatened.”
“What other threats down there can you tell us about?”
“Well, large mammals called bears will attack you first chance they get and are twice your size. They’re solitary unlike the wolves who live in packs of a dozen or so. They’re crafty and some will distract you while the others attack from a direction you aren’t expecting them.”
The rest nodded understandingly. They all lived in cites, but their cities all gave way to wilderness, and each planet had their own monsters out there that they warned their children about with good reason.
“What about large prey animals?” Francis asked.
“Deer most prominently,” Molly answered. “There are other species, but around Vancouver these days it’s mostly deer. My people say they’re quite tasty, but… well, they say the same things about the bears.”