Boyd shield his eyes from the flying dust as the shuttle touched down on the dirt landing zone just outside Moreau Town. Tareen was doing the same. Military-grace space shuttles were designed to land in rough and remote areas so it didn’t need a solid tarmac. The engines whirred to a stop and the hatch quickly opened. Boyd felt as though his time down on the planet had come to an end far too quickly. He was determined to come back here soon. Captain Bell and Chief Engineer Henderson climbed out. Boyd was surprised to see Henderson here. It seemed many of the Endeavour‘s crew were finding excuses to make trip planet-side.
After the Captain and engineer had excited, they were followed closely by Ensign Sarah McDermott, who was piloting.
“Won’t be long there boys, I just need to re-fuel and I can take you back up.”
“No rush Lass,” Boyd said.
“How did your service go Cameron?” Bell asked him.
“Very well Captain,” Boyd fell into step beside the Captain.
“In fact, I’ve been thinking. I’d like to organise more regular spiritual events. Perhaps a big ralley next week.”
Bell began shaking his head. “Need I remind you Lieutenant that you are an officer and you have duties aboard your ship?”
“I realised that Sir, but surely there is room for this as well.”
Boyd stopped walking. “I can’t authorise that. You priorities are on the Endeavour. You are chaplain to the ship, not the colony. I’m sure the civilian settlers on this planet can find their own spiritual path without your help.”
Boyd didn’t know how to respond. He knew he needed to keep fighting for what he believed he was called to do, but Bell’s voice had a tone that was well known to the Chaplain. This was the tone he used when a discussion was over, and he expected to be obeyed.
“Those are your orders Lieutenant.”
Boyd nodded. There was nothing more to say at the moment.
“Now if you’ll excuse me, The chief and I have a medical situation to attend to.”
Boyd’s heart sank as his friend and superior walked off toward the town.
* * *
Janicka, Kenneth and the rest of the team had been walking for about an hour so far. Kenneth hadn’t taken much convincing to join the expedition. He didn’t seem to care here he went as long as he stuck close to Janicka. The two of them seemed equally smitten. It was getting hot – very hot. Laura had never experienced heat like this on Xinju. It didn’t necessarily mean that they were on a different part of the planet – it could simply be a different time of year.
Fortunately, Janicka was wearing a singlet top under her shirt. She had removed the outer layer and tied it around her waist, and was now feeling a little more comfortable. This gave Laura great relief, as she had a low tolerance for heat, and she felt everything that Janicka felt.
A couple of times during the walk she had tried again to take control of Janicka’s body. Stopping the girl from walking seemed counter-productive at this point, so she decided to decided to concentrate on trying to speak. She chose one phrase – something that wouldn’t arouse too much suspicion.
“It’s nice out here.” She said it! Laura had actually made Janicka speak.
“Yes, it is,” Kenneth agreed.
“It’s nice out here.” She said it again, just to be sure that it was really her and not Janicka. There was no reason that the girl would repeat herself like that.
“You just said that.”
Indeed she had. Laura felt exhilarated. She was one step closer to being able to take control of her situation. If she could communicate with others then she didn’t have to go it alone. Somewhere amongst the crew of the Phonenix there must be a scientist who had some knowledge of situations like this. Just what was this situation though? Was she really in the past? Was she inhabiting the body of a long dead person. Maybe Janicka’s ghost was talking to her. Such absurd notions – Laura was a scientist herself. But no science she understood could fully explain what she was going through. Jancka had referred to her necklace as a memory serialiser. That had to be relevant.
“Laura,” She said aloud.
“What was that?”
“You said Laura.”
“Did I?” Laura sensed Janicka’s confusion. At the same time, a mild headache began to creep into her forehead – or was it Janicka’s forehead.
“All right, everyone be careful up ahead,” somebody called from the front of the group. As she looked up, a faint smell of sulphur assaulted Laura’s nostrils.They were about to enter an open field of pools. Laura noticed steam coming out of the ground in several places. As they got closer, she noticed some bubbling mud. Laura felt immediate panic. She had seen places just like this when she had been surveying the planet for settlement sites. This was a volcanic area – prone to dangerous geysers.
She willed Janicka to stop walking. The girl’s body obeyed.
“What’s wrong Jan?” Kenneth asked.
“I, uh, we can’t go on.”
Kenneth looked confused.
“This place is a death trap. We can’t risk it.”
“I’m sure they know what they’re doing.”
“No, it’s not safe I tell you!” she screamed.
Her head was throbbing now. The pain was very distracting.
* * *
Suddenly Laura’s body started to convulse. “She’s going critical,” Doctor Heroux said, rushing to Laura’s bed side.
Neal started to panic. “We have to do something now.”
The doctor was already injecting something into Laura’s neck. He didn’t know what it was – he didn’t care. He looked pleadingly at Henderson. The engineer gave him a concerned but blank look in reply.
“She’s really fighting against the device now. She’s resisting more strongly than before, and it’s causing physical brain damage. I may have to remove the necklace, but that will probably kill her anyway.”
“Let me try my plan Doctor,” Neal said. “Please, just let me try.”
“If we’re going to to do it we’d better do it soon,” Henderson said.
“I can convince her to stop fighting,” Neal said. “I know I can.”
Heroux sighed. “Okay, do it now.”
* * *
“Janicka, come on this is silly,” Kenneth said. He looked like he was loosing his patience. Laura didn’t care. She didn’t know what might happen to her if Janicka was injured or killed. She couldn’t risk that.
Slowly she took a step back. Janicka’s body obeyed. The headache increased in intensity again. It was so bad now that Laura could hardly see.
“Janicka, we’ve come too far to just stop. Are you really willing to go back empty handed?”
Laura turned around, to face the direction they’d come from.
Laura stopped. She’d heard her name – her real name.
She spun around. There, standing on the edge of a steaming pool of bubbling mud was the ghostly figure of Neal Spearwood.
“Who’s Neal?” Kenneth asked.
“Laura, nothing that you’re seeing around you is real.”
That couldn’t be true – everything felt so real. It was Neal that looked like he was unreal. She could see straight through his translucent body.
“It’s the necklace. It’s feeding information into your brain. It’s all an illusion.”
“So I’m not in the past?” Could it be? It made sense. If the necklace was designed to store memories, then logically, it should also be able to play back those memories. That explained why she was seeing everything from Janicka’s point of view.
“Laura, we’re trying to get you out, but you have to stop fighting against the program. Don’t assert yourself, just let it all unfold around you. If you just let the images play out then we think the device will shut off automatically. Neal’s image began to fade. “Come back to me Laura!”
He was gone.
This was disturbing. Laura had been offered a way out – but to take it she had to risk her life by allowing herself to walk out into the geyser field.
She didn’t want to do it, she really didn’t, but what choice did she have? It was time for a leap of faith, and if there was one person in the universe she trusted, it was her Neal Spearwood. If there was even a a chance that she could return to him and tell him how much she loved him – she would risk everything.
Slowly, with trepidation, she took a step forward, and allowed Janicka to regain control of the memory. She took a back seat mentally, and absorbed what was happening around her.
The first two minutes proceeded without incident. The ground felt solid enough under their feet. With all of her geological training, Laura could tell that an eruption was not far away. It could happen at any moment. Then again, maybe they would get lucky.
“See, I told you there was nothing to worry about Jan,” Kenneth said as he gave her a light jab in the ribs. Laura wanted to punch the bloke’s lights out.
Suddenly, a pool to Janicka’s left exploded in a plume of hot water. It reached up into the sky. The spray that hit Janicka in the face felt like it was close to boiling point. Janicka lost her footing in a sudden panic. She hadn’t been expecting this like Laura had.
With horror, Laura and Janicka realised as one, that they were falling backward into another pool of boiling water.
As the body they shared hit the pool – the entire world dissolved in a flurry of agony like nothing either of them had every felt before.