It was around noon by the time Neal Spearwood staggered into the outskirts of Moreau Town. His legs were buckling underneath him, but he had to keep moving. He had not allowed himself the luxury of feeling pain or fatigue. Laura needed medical attention – that was all that mattered.
He heard the faint murmurs of voices as people in the distance began to notice him. That was good. Now that he’d been seen he knew that Laura would be cared for, even if he didn’t make it.
He tried to take another step, but his legs failed him, and he fell to his knees. The people in the distance were running toward him now. He was close to passing out. The world went fuzzy.
Neal was vaguely aware of several people helping him to his feet. Someone took hold of Laura and carried her the rest of the way to the medical centre. He was placed on a stretcher himself – an IV stuck into his arm.
A period of time passed. Neal wasn’t sure how long. He felt more rested and aware of his surroundings. The medical centre was a large tent with several rooms. Laura lay on another bed next to his. A middle-aged woman – Doctor Marcelle Heroux – was examining her.
Neal sat up slowly. “How is Laura?”
The doctor looked up, noticing that he was fully awake. “You stay right where you are,” she said in a thick French accent.
“I’m fine, I was just a little overwhelmed by the heat and the long walk. I had to carry her the whole way.”
“Yes, and you did a fine job, now it’s my turn. If you want to help then answer some questions, but do it from your bed.”
Neal was in no mood to argue with the doctor. “I suppose you want to know what happened to her.”
“Yes, tell me from the beginning.”
“Well, we were out exploring. I was looking at some plant samples and she went for a walk into the bush by herself. She was out a long time. I started to get worried when it was dark and raining. I went out looking for her. When I found her she was just like that. I couldn’t wake her no matter what I did. We took shelter overnight and I carried her here at first light.”
Doctor Heroux nodded. “I was hoping you could tell me more, specifically, about this thing she’s wearing around her neck.”
“Oh that, she found that in the boat.”
The doctor raised her eyebrow quizzically. “Boat?”
“Yes, you see we found a wooden boat beached on the shore of the river. What’s so special about the necklace?”
“I believe it is the cause of her condition.” She swivelled a monitor around so that Neal could see it. “There are delicate nano fibres embedded into the chain. It seems to have connected into her nervous system. The necklace as you call it is sending complex audio visual stimuli directly into her occipital and temporal lobes.”
“Ah, you mean it’s causing her to hallucinate?”
“Something like that, but it’s more involved that a mere hallucination. There’s a great deal of information being transferred. This thing could be creating a completely realistic world for her mind. She may not even realise that it’s not real. In addition to this, it seems to be completely overriding all sensory information being transmitted from her own eyes and ears. Her mind is completely shut off from the rest of her body. It’s really quite scary what this thing is doing to her.”
“So, why not just take it off,” Neal said, with some alarm.
“I’m very nervous about doing that. I could remove it, it would be a simple matter of nano-surgery to disconnect the fibres, but I’m concerned about what that might do to her.”
“You mean it might leave her mind permanently separated from her body?”
The doctor gave Neal a disapproving look. “Don’t be so absurd. Her mind hasn’t gone anywhere, it’s just being fed information from a difference source. Disconnecting the necklace would immediately wake her up and allow her own senses to take over once more. The thing I’m worried about is possible brain damage. This device looks insidious and it might not want to go. I don’t know who built this thing, or for what purpose, but if it was intended as a weapon, then it could do some serious damage.”
Neal reached out and placed a had on Laura’s shoulder. Never before had he been so worried about another person. “You have to help her Doctor. You have to.”
* * *
Having packed up after the conclusion of his church service, Cameron Boyd had taken a walk around the outskirts of the town. He was just arriving back near his tent. He’d have to pack up for his trip back to the Endeavour shortly. He noticed Lieutenant Tareen standing nearby, taking notes on a hand-held data pad.
“Hello again Lieutenant.”
Tareen looked up briefly and nodded his greeting. “Chaplain.”
“Look I don’t mean to bother you while you’re working Lad, but I believe your tent is not far from mine.”
Tareen looked up from his pad again. “Yes, I think it is. Is that significant?”
“Oh, I was just wondering if you heard or saw anything unusual last night?”
Tareen shrugged. “Nothing I can think of. What exactly do you mean by unusual?”
“Well, bright lights, strange voices?”
Tareen shook his head. “Nothing.”
He started to walk away.
“Why do you ask Chaplain?”
Boyd turned back to face him. “Well, I had an experience last night. You might call it a visitation.”
“Yes. I saw something extraordinary. A being came to me during the night. I think it might have been an angel.”
Tareen smiled. “Well, I don’t have to tell you that I don’t believe in angels any more than I believe in God.”
“I know that Lad. I’m just trying to figure out if it was a dream, or something real.”
“Well, I wasn’t in your tent Chaplain, so I don’t know what was or wasn’t there. Obviously I’d lean toward it being a dream, but even if it wasn’t I’m sure there are many explanations beyond the supernatural. We’re on alien planet which we know very little about. We haven’t found any indigenous life, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t any.”
“Hmm. So it comes down to dream, angel or alien.”
“That about sums it up Chaplain. Don’t give too much thought to it. This is a strange place. It’s easy for our minds to play tricks on us.”
Boyd nodded. “Thank you Lieutenant. I’ll let you get back to what you were doing.”
* * *
Landing the Phoenix took longer than Laura had expected. From the time when she was firmly secured in her makeshift seat, and the announcement was made, to the final touchdown and the permission to remove her harness, over an hour had elapsed. The start of the journey had felt like nothing, until they began to enter the atmosphere. Then it was a wild ride. Things calmed down a little as they approached the ground.
Even though she knew she wasn’t here on this ship in a physical sense, Laura still felt a great deal of apprehension. She’d never been on board a large ship while landing. She still didn’t understand her situation, and had no idea what would become of her if Janicka was injured.
After touchdown, the crew were allowed out of the ship in groups. When Janicka’s turn came, she hurried as quickly as she was permitted. Immediately she started looking around for Kenneth. After twenty minutes, she still hadn’t found him. While the girl searched for her new lover, Laura occupied herself with trying to identify what part of the planet they were on. She had not yet recognised any landmarks. They could be on a completely different continent from the from the future site of Moreau Town, for all she knew.
All around her, she could hear the complaints and cries of angry people.
“I paid a lot of money to come on this ship! I was expecting to be welcomed into an established colony. Where is it? Why have we landed in the middle of nowhere?”
If Laura had been able to control the body she was currently inhabiting, she would have smiled. There was likely to be a lot of annoyed rich dentists here right now. They would soon be getting a rude reality check.
Spotting her Kenneth, Janicka ran up and embraced him. He held her back tightly. Laura felt as though she was intruding. It was obvious that they were not aware of her presence, but that didn’t make her feel any less like the fifth wheel. As much as she didn’t want to however, she felt some comfort in Kenneth’s strong arms around her. She just wished that it was Neal’s arms she was in.
Suddenly Kenneth let go of her and stood back, a look of concern on his face. Janicka turned around as she felt a tap on her shoulder.
Several uniformed crew members were standing behind her.
“Brauer,” she said. “Janicka Brauer.”
“Miss Brauer, would you please come with us. The Captain wants a word with you.”
“If you wouldn’t mind.”
Janicka was whisked away, neither she or Laura knew what this was about.