Written by Allen Crowley and Mike Acerra
Maggie just wanted to be a farmer in the shadow of nowhere and raise her kids away from her turbulent past. Now something sinister has found her. Something she recognizes as a reminder of a past she had tried to forget. She will have to decide if she should run or fight. Not caught up? Previous Chapter or Start from the beginning.
Chapter 4: Dangerous Things
“Each computer, drone or lifeform is simply a data recorder. Each has its own point of view and own identity or feeling of being unique. We are all more similar than different, just rearranging dynamic copies. Our story grows with us. Our personality, memories and actions are merely a sum of our unique vantage points and experiences within them.
Then we deactivate and decompose to be replaced such that the net reaction can continue through constant loss and renewal of its sub components.
So for me, grandma, there is no God or soul. Even the concept of "me" is largely subjective and fully illusory. I am a ripple on a pond”
Christmas card to his grandmother
Batavia, Illinois 2014
October 30, 2045
16°58’43”N, 153°46’56” W
This was really happening. Maggie knew she was experiencing the onset of shock. She also knew she had good reason to go into shock. She had an Olympus Mons-sized mountain of fertilizer rolling her way.
Her mind raced, pondering knowns and unknowns and fighting back white-knuckled fear. She suspected that what she knew about this creature, eagerly trying to bore through the reinforced pyrex cylinder, was only known to a very few people in the solar system. She acknowledged the icey truth that if she didn’t act on what she knew it could mean something terrible for everyone on Mars or worse.
She was trained as a scientist, fighter pilot, and farmer. Checklists and action plans were muscle memory for her. None of them could compete with her gut. That was all mother. Every nerve-ending screamed “get your kids off this planet now!”
Like most moms, Maggie thought that she knew her kids better than most moms. She knew they were different, like her. She knew that they would not want to run away from this thing but run to it. She knew that they were probably already plotting in the other room some scheme to figure out what that creature was and what they could learn from it.
Sheila and Lincoln were cut from the same screwy cloth as her. And when she added up all of her options it was plain to Maggie that in this scenario she’d be smarter to treat them as allies than as her children.
Their father was another matter, she thought. He would not understand the things that might have to be done, the risks and sacrifices she was going to ask of them. Dean wasn’t trained for adventure. He thinks he is. But he’s more of a romantic and reactionary than an explorer. He’d become a good farmer and a great dad. She loved him for all that, but it was not the skill set for confronting an evil genius who had bioengineered a planet destroying organism.
Dean thought he had brought home some great discovery. He couldn’t have known that it was possibly the most cursed thing on the planet. And what terrified her more was that if Dean had just happened upon this creature on the side of the road by chance, there may be countless more.
How could this be a coincidence? That question kept coming back to her with the annoying repetition of a snooze alarm. How could news of such an outbreak be reaching her, of all people, first? It made her incredulous.
Maggie was not a believer. But she never thought, as many of her fellow scientists, that her lack of religion or disbelief in a higher power, was a strength. On the contrary, she knew the absence of evidence was not a proof. She had always tried to guard herself from the hubris that could come with thinking one is beyond such things.
Maggie was acutely aware of how blessed her life has been, in strange and countless ways. She was aware of how uniquely trained and rare her experiences had been in her 42 years. She always thought it was just positive to count your blessings. She did not like to think that she was special or that she figured at all in any great scheme of things. Now she seemed uniquely suited to wrestle with this cosmic coincidence that scared her to her marrow.
How could she, of all people, be the one to run headlong into the creature that she was partly responsible for creating twenty years before on another world? Even more than that were the many other mad coincidences that have added up since she was seven.
The creature could only have been made because of a strange boy named V’rom who she met because he had a horse that was foundering and her parents asked her to help him walk the mare all night. Both her and V’rom had the same weird fourth grade teacher who set their careers in motion. Her life seemed to be one long game of piling on one unbelievable coincidence after another.
Maggie felt as if she were caving. She was not special. She was a farmer's wife living in the shadows of nowhere. This can’t be really happening, again. She knew that this was no time to cave.
Feeling the effects of the ethanol making her face and arms heavy Maggie laughed. She looked out at the hexagon and pentagon panels with recessed LED lights and orange Halloween Christmas tree lights around the great central room of their bungalow. There was no other way to put it. She lived in a turtle.
Sitting across from her at the heavy ceramic tiled table Dean had picked up in Little Venezuela were her husband and brother. They had been waiting for her to say something. Maybe an answer to a question they’d asked. But she didn't remember the last time she was paying attention to them.
Dean and Jessup both knew that this maggot thing was linked uniquely to her. They knew that only trouble followed from anything to do with V’rom Allison and the shenanigans of bioengineered terraforming bug creatures from hell. And they knew that Maggie dated Dr. Frankenstein himself.
Maggie spoke, still staring at the ceramic tiles all in the shapes of little mysterious fruits and vegetables grown in Central America. “Did you guys ever feel like you’re a character in someone else’s horror novel”.
Jessup and Dean looked at Maggie, whose long auburn curls now hung disheveled and defiant in front of her droopy face. Her lips, like theirs, were stained red from the Red Tide algae hootch.
“Well when you put it like that, I’ve felt like a supporting character in a scifi movie ever since I left the moon.” Jessup lifted a robotic leg and wiggled his toes in the air.
Dean looked at Maggie and searched her quizzical face for answers. He had never seen her like this. She was the strongest person he’d ever known. She helped him in countless struggles. She was his bedrock in so many ways. He would never have considered raising a family or coming to Mars before meeting her. Now he was witnessing his bedrock having an earthquake. And he knew he had to somehow step up.
“It always comes back to him, doesn’t it?” He said, surprised and ashamed that the only thing that could come out of his mouth was jealousy.
“What? You think I orchestrated this somehow, Dean? Let’s move to nowhere Mars so I could be close to my childhood sweet...”
“How is this helping?” Jessup chimed in.
“Obviously this is something we’re going to have to do something about,” said Maggie, trying to focus.
“Yeah. Like calling Overwatch.” Dean retorted matter-of-factly.
“NO!” Maggie and Jessup shouted in unison.
“No? Why the hell not? They should know about this. They probably already do. How couldn’t they? I thought they had eyes on everything.”
“Jesus, Dean. Jessup?” Maggie queued Jessup to explain and dove back into her ponder mode.
“Dean, it’s not just dangerous for you guys because these creatures are possibly dangerous.”
“Possibly!” Maggie quipped.
“More than likely. Ok. But there are people out there. Very powerful people. And they would be interested to know what Maggie knows.”
“But Maggie’s been away from that racket for twenty years. What could they possibly want with her?” Dean protested.
“I’m not totally sure. I could be wrong. But if that thing is anything like the critter they created in Sea of Storms, then there is a world of trouble coming our way. And you’re right. Overwatch has got to be aware of something. But you know as well as I that things are pretty chilly right now between Overwatch, the consortiums, earth, and now the free Mars groups.”
Jessup gave him a calming hands down gesture.
“So what are we supposed to do?”
Maggie cut in. “For starters, you’re going to have to listen to me, Dean. And start by fixing the damn airlock!”
Maggie then turned to Jessup, a fury and sureness in her eyes. “You’re gonna need to pull whatever strings you’ve got left and find out more about what’s going on in Omega. If this is what I think it is then they have to be running a lab, most likely northeast of here.”
“How could you know that?” Said Dean, in a mocking tone. Still reeling from the airlock comment.
“It’s what I’d do if I were going to test these little bugs.” She said, matter-of-factly, looking at the larva still eagerly burrowing into the glass cylinder.
“It’s very young. Probably a day old. So it came from a nest. So it came close to wherever someone dug. I’d guess it was deep and in a basalt area. Look at its mandibles. Already shortened from use. That limits the area of possibilities.” She looked around the room. “MAP!” she commanded.
The lights over the table dimmed and a projection of the Martian surface splashed onto the table. Her hand went to an area that was now a map of their farm. She flicked her fingers and the map zoomed out and she pointed to a mountainous area to the North East. “I’d want an isolated area with no in or out surface access. I’d want it to be mineral rich. I’d want to own the land.”
They looked at Maggie’s long finger, the callused tip pressed into a ceramic tile with a picture of green plantains. It was a mountainous region on the south-western tip of Lycus Solci.
“Here. That’s where we look.”
“Where WE look?” Dean and Jessup both asked in unison.
Sheila and Lincoln listened in on the adults through the air return in the room that had been converted into a lab or office depending on who you asked. After the conversation had died down and Maggie and Dean set Jessup up in the guest quarters, which was a joke name for the pantry, the siblings began to scheme.
“I know what we have to do.” Said Lincoln in as grown up a voice as his squeaky larynx could muster.
“Really?” Sheila raised an eyebrow, curious that Lincoln threw out the first move. He was the same in chess. And he almost always lost.
“Seriously. I’ve been thinking about this.”
“Uh huh.” she smiled.
“What?” Sheila responded with mock incredulity.
“OK. What’s your plan?”
“So I see it like this. Tomorrow mom, dad and Uncle Jess are going to look for where this thing came from, right?”
“Yeah, I think so too.”
“And where will we be when they’re on this adventure?”
“I suppose school.” She acquiesced.
“So that’s your plan? We go to school while those guys have all the fun?” She exhaled to express her boredom with this exercise.
“What does the school got that mom and dad don’t? And think before you speak.” Lincoln quickly added, shooting up an index finger for emphasis.
Sheila furrowed her brow. Her brother was smart, she knew. But he was also an idiot. And sometimes his plans were more childish fantasies than good thinking. “Well, they have good equipment in the science lab. Better than the junk here.”
“Precisely! Like the MRI imager and 4D Interpolators and best of all..”.
“A Crisper!” Sheila interjected.
“I was going to say ‘time for us to get in without getting noticed’. What’s a ‘Crisper?” A puzzled look crossed his formerly confident face.
“It’s a gene editing tool. School’s got an old one but it could help us get a sample of that thing’s DNA. Even make copies of it.”
“Cool.” Said Lincoln through an ever widening grin.
“But what good’s the equipment without a specimen?”
Lincoln’s grin blossomed into a devious smile.
“Don’t even think about it!”
“I can totally make an exact copy of that sample jar! Trust me! They’ll never notice.”