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Chapter 33: A Vision of Death

"I think we should have a little look at the other dropship," Bud said. "Salvage what we can and see where that gets us. As for connecting with the Warden... I don't think we've seen much of this planet yet, and somebody probably has a few toys that could speed our overall agenda(s)."

"We could reach the excavation in THX's map with this ship," Amanda suggested. "But we'd have to make at least two stops on the way for refueling. Hopefully we can make our own fuel."

"I saw a hydrogen miner in the engineering room," Bailey said. "We can use that to get fuel from water, but it'll take maybe two or three days to fill this lifeboat's reserve tanks."

"Or we could refuel THX's aircar and take that to the dropship. How long did it take you to get here?" Arkady asked THX.

"Four hours and 25 minutes."

"I think we should take the metal man's aircar," Irsa said.

Nike agreed. Arkady and Bailey went to the garage to try and refuel the aircar. They listened in through their comm units as the rest of the crew discussed the situation. "Waaaaaitaminute. I'm no propulsion engineer, but it seems like this bucket of bolts would be a lot faster than the little aircar. Or am I guessing wrong at the specs for these things? Then again, maybe the aircar would use less fuel."

"Probably a lot less fuel and it has very little mass," Bud replied making a sign with his hand like a speeding rocket.

"How will we know how to get there, THX?" Nike asked.

"GPS coordinates copied with map data uploaded to the lifeboat's computer. Aircar does not possess a GPS device. GPS installed in this unit internally."

Becka had stopped listening to THX's story. The flashing consoles had distracted her. One of them read 'Auxiliary Power Units'. She curiously ran her hand over the buttons and indicators on the nearest panel. Unconsciously, her mind processed the information, deciphering the purpose of the instruments and the meaning of the robot's words. The flow of information rushed faster and faster. Before she could think to do anything, the dam broke and the flow became a raging torrent. Images, voices, and emotions from the past, present and future overwhelmed her. She surprised Percy when she suddenly slumped limply into his side.

Becka no longer saw the lifeboat's bridge around her. She was in a jungle. Strange creatures she'd never seen before flew through the sky, leapt between branches and crawled along the dark jungle floor. In a clearing surrounded by dense sprawling trees there were pits and trenches exposing stony ruins. A red movement machine hovered out of one of the ruins and up into the clearing. It sped off into the sky and vanished over the hills.

At the edge of the clearing another movement machine lay beneath the weight of several trees. It looked like the lifeboat, but was even bigger! It was very old and overgrown.

Becka's vision faded. When it returned she was in a dark hall filled with dust and broken pipes. Somehow she knew she was close to the place she had just seen. Among the pipes and detritus, a long dead corpse lay still. It was wearing some sort of machinery on its chest, arms and legs. Becka looked closer at the dead body. The patch on its chest was faded, but she could still read the word 'Matahachi'.

Percy caught Becka and helped her into a chair. He asked his dazed new friend and former Warden resident if she were ok. She was unconscious. Irsa waved cool air over Becka's face with her wings.

Bud watched Irsa and felt queasy about how easily he'd accepted the whole mutant menagerie... Triton and Earth were gone, he'd been frozen for centuries, Warden was whacko and this colony had gone wild! So be it, but hamsters had always given him the willies.

"Nike," Bailey said over the comm, unaware of the drama on the bridge. "This vehicle is pretty high tech. I've never seen anything like it. It was clearly designed for a human but it's strangely alien. I can't describe it. I have experience with many types of air and land craft, but I've never seen anything like this."

Nike turned away from Becka, Percy and Irsa and replied softly, "What kind of fuel does it require? Do you think we can refuel it?"

"That's the strangest thing of all. It uses our type VI large hydrogen cells. They fit perfectly. Two of 'em brought the craft to full power. There are plenty of type VI's in Engineering. I put an extra four cells in the vehicle's storage. The aircar was designed to seat two, but we might be able to fit three if two people don't mind sharing a seat."

Becka awoke from her vision. She was shocked to see several people around her. She had forgotten where she was. "Are you ok?" asked the green feathered hamster flying in front of her.

"Yes. I'm fine, Irsa," she smiled, returning to normal. "Really, I am." Becka was uncomfortable being the center of so much attention. Irsa obligingly gave her more space.

Nike watched Becka sit upright. "Shlitzee, will you please have one of your attendants run a med scan on Becka?" Shlitzee nodded and sent the appropriate signals. "THX, is your vehicle rated for three passengers?"

"Max recommended capacity 300 kilograms."

Nike cleared her throat and said, "I need some volunteers to take the aircar to the excavation."

"I can read and write the Ancient tongue and read a few of their hieroglyphs," Irsa said politely. "Can I go?" She was scared, curious and excited all at once.

"I'll go with her," Becka responded.

THX added, "This unit will fly the aircar and crew to the excavation if desired by the crew members."

"Hello," called a tentative voice.

"Hello?" Nike replied.

"What's going on?" Arkady asked over the comm.

For a moment, all was confusion on the bridge. A blond haired man stepped out of the hallway. "I didn't mean to disturb you. The door was open and no one answered my calls."

Nike glanced at the life forms detection monitor. Bailey had been watching it before he went to the garage. A warning light had been flashing on the monitor but no one had noticed. One life form had been detected. No one else seemed to be lurking outside. "Who are you?" Nike demanded.

"My name is Drake. I fell from the sky in some sort of escape hatch. I saw your lights across the sand."

"Are there more of you?" Nike asked Drake.

"I don't think so. Where are we exactly?"

Nike was furious, but Drake seemed to be yet another Warden refugee. Upon closer examination, she noticed Drake had wings on his back. She explained everything to Drake while one of Shlitzee's attendant robots arrived and examined Becka. A few minutes later Shlitzee broadcast the results over the comm devices. "Becka has several unknown genes. They are pervasive but not cancerous. I suspect she may have latent mutations from the Warden. Other than that, she's perfectly healthy, as far as humans go."

Nike finished showing Drake the map of the surrounding terrain and turned to Becka. "Ok Becka, the doctor says you're healthy enough to travel, so go get your things ready. You, Irsa and THX will be leaving soon."

Becka went to her room and fretted over the duffle bag in the cabinet. She didn't want anyone to find it. She went through the items in the bag. Becka removed the binoculars and the cloth-covered book. She put on one of the jackets. It was made for someone much larger than she was, but it was comfortable. She found two large pockets inside the jacket. She concealed the book and binoculars inside them and returned to the supply room to see what else she could find. She took four bottles of water, two blankets and a medkit.

Irsa ran to her room. She checked that her bound pad of 12 parchment pieces, vial of ink and quill pen were still in her backpack. She wielded her knives and spears and left her room. She went to the kitchen and put some dried fruits and meats in her cheek pouches. Her cheeks bulged slightly.

Nike and Percy gave Drake a tour of the lifeboat. Nike told Drake to pick a cabin for his room.

"So, Drake," Percy added, "Tell me about yourself. What did you do on Warden and why did you get off her?" Without pausing to let Drake answer, Percy continued, "As for me, well you know sort of the story that Nike told you, of our short life on Warden, how we got chased off and what we're doing here. My previous... life...," Percy struggled to say, still not completely comfortable with himself being the nth incarnation of the original Percy Jenkins, "...was pretty exciting. Technical crew training, computer repair, drinking lots of coffee. Speaking of coffee, I found some and, uh, do you drink coffee? Pick yourself a spot to rest your head and meet me in the mess hall. I wanna hear all about it, er, you." Secretly, Percy wondered if Drake had had a run in with the Watcher, or Zhaxier for that matter.

Drake didn't respond. Percy shrugged and made entry into his room with a wave meaning "later" to Drake, leaving him in the cabin hallway. With a frustrating combination of voice, badge and keypad punches he swore he would redesign, Percy locked the door behind him and went to the computer station. He started to look up any information he could find in the ship's database about 'DRAKE'. Sure, he most likely came from Warden, but as Percy had an interest in data mining dating back to the days of his college career, or rather his original self's college years, he wanted to know all he could about him.

His computer search resulted in no entries. He punched in 'BECKA' and 'IRSA' as well. There were a few dozen Rebeccas but no Irsas. None of the Rebeccas looked anything like Becka. Then the anal retentive part of him took over. He opened up a file for notes, and keyed in the names of all the Warden crewmembers he had encountered in the short amount of time he had been alive as a clone. He considered putting Rufus and Sharneste ("Rest in peace!") on his list, and Irsa as well, but figured they were probably sentient mutated animals that weren't originally crewmember clones, and therefore the database would not have any information about them.

Had he forgotten anyone? Percy laughed out loud in spite of himself. The irony! Now that he had finally become used to there being too few original memories implanted in his cloned brain, he was worried he was forgetting his recent recollections!

The computer processed Percy's list of names. It took a few moments of heuristic processing to guess the correct spelling and for Percy to match the proper faces, but soon he had a list of dossiers:
Captain Nike Thomason: Marines/Tech/Field Forces
Lieutenant Chelydra Jackson: Security
Zhaxier Cole: Propulsion Engineer, 2nd Class
Amanda Flockheart: Mathematics Professor
Arkady Dmitrivich: Dropship Pilot/Tech/Astronautics
Gregory Powell: Tech/Robotics
Bud Asuda: Counterinsurgent Security
Stewart Bailey: Tech
Caleb La Trans: Dropship Pilot/Artillery
After he finished, he saved his file, locked the computer and headed for the rec room.

Nike, Irsa and THX walked into the supply room and found Becka there. Becka silently followed them into the garage. Nike lowered the cargo door and THX drove the aircar off the ramp. Nike put Becka's water bottles, blankets and medkit into a small cargo space in the aircar with the extra hydrogen cells and gave Becka and Irsa two small devices each. The first, she said, was a communication device. She explained how they should put it on their heads so they could talk with the crew. The other two items were passcards. Chelydra had configured cards for Becka and Irsa. "We gave you security clearance," Nike said. "You might need it where you're going."

Arkady came running down the ship's gangplank. He carried a very small box. "You might need this too," he said as he gave the box to Irsa. "It's a radiation detector. You can never tell with old dropships." Arkady showed Irsa how to use it. She thanked him and climbed into the cabin behind THX. With much coaxing, Irsa convinced Becka to join her.

"Don't forget to keep your lights off until you're far enough away," Nike reminded the robot unnecessarily. THX confirmed his orders and sealed the cabin door. The aircar rose gently into the night sky and flew off toward the east.

Bailey returned to the bridge where he resumed watching the life forms detection monitor. Hephaestus continued bringing in the recycling. Arkady and Bud went into the kitchen and found the coffee Percy had left there. Bud read the container on the counter. "Hot Joe Now® - Powdered? Oh well. It's better than nothing." He nuked a cup of water and added the powdered coffee straight with no sweetener, just the way he liked it. Arkady added sugar to his. They each took some bread and dried meat and went into the entertainment room. On the Omega Box they found games, digital magazines and several thousand movie titles to choose from. Low and behold, Arkady found 'A Boy and his Dog'. Bud sat down beside him and browsed the selections while he ate his breakfast. He watched the film with Arkady and hoped the 'Fertility Mandate' from Earth would not be carried out in a similar fashion.

Percy arrived with a fresh cup of coffee from the galley. He sat down with Bud to watch an adaptation of the fifteenth book in the classic 'The Dark Tower' series by Stephen King (written from notes supposedly discovered years after his death). "This should be entertaining," he informed the rest of the crew as the opening credits scrawled, "but I bet it won't be nearly as fascinating as the old Captain Hickman Adventures in Dimension Eight!" His mouth froze and he blinked a few times. "Hey! I just remembered, I love the Dimension Eight books!"

Within minutes, Percy fell asleep in his chair. His lack of sleep had finally caught up with him. He was right on one count, anyway. The movie wasn't nearly fascinating enough (to keep him awake). Caffeinated coffee could only do so much for a body that hadn't ever slept, except for those few blissful minutes in the environmental control room that Amanda had once called home.

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