abode.htmlTEXTStMld@>mo Abode of Shadow

Abode of Shadow
Part Three of Pandora's Hope
by Jacynthe Demorae

Bren Stuart passed few people on the way to his duty station. The ranks of the healthy, the uninfected, thinned daily as more and more people succumbed to the Pandora Virus. And the sick needed caretakers, who in turn became sick themselves. The vicious cycle was eating the human race alive.

Buried deep in the heart of Arraxis Base, the scientists and engineers toiled over the secretive Deepwater Black project. Until he'd attended that meeting with the General, he had had little clue as to what was actually going on in the labs.

They're not even trying for a cure anymore, he thought, repressing a shiver.

From a military perspective, the decision made sense. Their resources --trained minds and hands that understood the nature of viruses and epidemics--were becoming fewer. Better to find a way to insure their species survival.

But cloning? He forced aside his gut-level revulsion. Jupiter Colony rejected cloning of sentients. The more devout spurned even cloning organs, citing the Creator's ban on creating artificial life.

And now he was a part of it.

It was an honor, of sorts. While genetic samples would be taken from as many as people as possible, only the crew of the Deepwater Black would be given memory implants. Only they would carry direct knowledge of this time and place into whatever vague future lay ahead for humanity.

Noting the quarantine warnings posted everywhere, he wondered if preserving memories of the dying days of humanity was such a great idea. 'History repeats itself, but the price goes up a little more every time' was one of the General's favorite sayings. But this was a plague, a freak accident of nature, carried into the stars. Despite Dr. Saunders' histrionics, there was no evidence this was an 'oops' from the military. If there was no-one to blame, no way to safeguard against a repeat occurrence, why would they need the memories?

He pushed the worrisome thoughts away. These were desperate times. It wasn't his place to question the decisions of his superiors. All he had to do was follow orders. Every thing he did to keep order would buy time for the team of scientists.

And if his memories were going to be passed on to another, he wanted to make damn sure that nothing he did during the last days would cause shame.

He showed his ID to a guard at the checkpoint. The young man examined it closely before handing it back with a nod. He looked barely old enough to vote, Bren noted. As Pandora burned through the populace of Earth and the colonies, the Corps was resorting to calling up cadets from the Academy. Desperate times... He clipped his ID badge back onto his uniform tunic and passed into the Q sector.

You are entering an infectious area screamed at him in bold black letters on bright yellow seals. No unauthorized entry. He made his way down the wide corridor, heading for the locker room. Once again, he presented his ID badge for examination, this time pressing it facedown on a sensor panel. Light bled around the laminated card's edges as the electronic eye swept over the code strip, reading his security clearance. With a loud electronic raspberry, the door unbolted and slid back.

He passed into the changing area. He stripped down to his skin, stowing his uniform and boots in a locker. There was no-one else in the room. Grabbing a clean pair of surgical scrubs, he pulled them on. They smelled strongly of disinfectant. He hated the cap the most--it had to be psychosomatic, but every time he put one of the damn things on, his scalp all but writhed with itches he couldn't scratch. Tying the drawstring of his pants, he padded barefoot into the next room.

He closed his eyes and faced the door. Distantly, he heard the whirr of machinery as the UV lamps came up. More psychosomatic influences, he thought he felt a whisper of heat against his skin as the beams swept over him, breaking up any viral agents that he might be carrying. A UV bath took a few minutes, and he took the time to order his thoughts. When it was finished, he walked forward.

He pulled open the door, felt the slight shift in the air currents as they swept past him, into the next room. Negative air pressure, one of the defenses against the hot agent.

Biosafety Level Two marched across the wall in foot-high black letters. He went through the shower area, with its shelf of soap and shampoo and its UV lamp. Outside of the shower stall, he selected a pair of clean socks from the stack and put them on.

The staging area lay just beyond. More black letters: Biosafety Level Three. He walked past the empty desk and its emergency comm unit, and pulled a pair of rubber gloves out of the box on the desk. A container of sealant gel sat beside it and he used it to seal his sleeves to his gloves. Once the seal took, he repeated the process on the cuffs of his pants, sealing them to his socks.

His hazard-suit hung on a rack beside some others. The design hadn't changed overmuch from the Chemturion suits used in the twentieth century. Tougher material, better seals, and its own air supply--but the suit was the same garish bright blue.

He took it down and stepped into it. The suit made a heavy, slithery sound as he pulled it up and thrust his arms into the sleeves. The heavy rubber suit gauntlets turned his hands thick and clumsy, and he hated them the most. Before he sealed up, he checked his suit over one last time, safety procedures drilled into his head until he could recite them in his sleep. Would recite them, for his future-self. There was no such thing as too careful in Level Four.

Satisfied with his suit's condition, he pulled on the flexible bucket-shaped helmet and sealed up. Bren held his breath, counting off the seconds in his head. One, two, three, fo-- His suit inflated as his air system came online. He exhaled, the sound lost in the dull roar of the air circulating through his suit. Fixing his mind on his duty, he turned towards the airlock.

The screaming scarlet trefoil blazed out at him from the dull gray hatch. Biohazard. Do not enter without ventilated suit. Just beyond that hatch lay the gray zone, a place that was neither known to be infectious nor sterile. A place of shadows. Bren kept himself focused on the oath he'd sworn when he joined the Corps. The Sentinels were those who stood watch against the dark, and duty demanded he walk into that darkness. That he walk through that hatch. Besides, he was in a sealed base under a terraforming dome on Mars. Where exactly could he go if he bolted?

He opened the hatch and stepped into the airlock. The 'lock itself was cold, bare metal, nozzles of the decom shower pocking the walls. He crossed through the gray zone and into Level Four.

No bold words here, he reflected. No question as to what this place was. He pulled out a pair of rubber boots from another locked and slid them on over the haz-suit's soft booties. Lastly, he picked up his weapon.

The Sentry 3KD pulse rifle had been designed for use with haz-suits and environment suits. His glove-clumsy hands closed around the stock, checked its charge. Ready. He cradled the weapon loosely and began his patrol.

Beyond the airlock, the Level Four area broke up into sections. Yellow air hoses sprawled out from the walls and ceilings, as if some tentacled nightmare creature lived behind the base's walls. The attendants needed the hoses as they moved among the patients. Only military-class suits had independent air supplies. Arraxis wasn't a military base, didn't even have a bio-containment hospital. But they were trying to make up for that now.

Q-Ward 20 sprawled out before him in all its ghastly glory. It was divided into three sections, one for each stage of Pandora. First stage was the largest, and growing larger every day. Bren walked right past Section One and continued on past Section Two. He gave thanks that the dull roar of the air pumping into his suit drowned out the groans and cries of the suffering. By stage two, the Pandora virus formed blue lesions on the victim's body, making them all look as if they'd been severely beaten. The joint pain made some of them weep or scream. Section Three, his duty post for this shift, lay just ahead.

Section Three was the terminal ward, and the nosiest. People in stage three Pandora suffered from raging delusions, their dying bodies given strength by their madness. Most q-breaches happened here, when the walking dead overpowered their attendants and raged through the halls. That's why he, and the other Corpsmen on duty here were armed.

The orders were simple and brutal--anyone fleeing a q-zone who does not comply with an order to halt was to be shot. Exposure must be contained. The survival of the human race was at stake. They were all going to die, but humanity might survive, if they could just launch the ark ships.

He took up a position outside one of the glass walls, watching the doctors tend to the dying. People of every age and race twitched and writhed on the beds, their bodies swollen and discolored. In the beginning, it had made his heart bleed to see the children suffering. Now...he thought his heart might have died before the rest of him.

He said nothing to the other suited Corpsmen on duty, wouldn't have, even if the suits allowed it. Eyes fixed on the dying, there was really nothing to say. Bren stood watch as the dead were carried out and the dying carried in. Attendants washed down the rooms with chemicals, once every hour. Bodies were double-bagged and affixed with the red trefoil. Carry. Bag. Spray. Carry. Bag. Spray.

The human race is dying right in front of me and I can't do a damn thing to fight it. The thought made him grip the Sentry a little tighter, a helpless reflex in the face of impersonal death.

A ragged scream split through the air, jerking all of the Corpsmen to rigid attention. A ghastly-thin woman, her lank dark hair in snarls, fought up off the bed. She grabbed hold of the nearest attendant's suit. Somehow, her clawed fingers hooked into the material. Still shrieking, the woman ripped at the seams and seals, calling down curses and pleading for help in the same breath. Bren started forward, ready to seal the room.

One of Section Three's outer doors opened, and another suited attendant walked in, arms full of fresh bodybags. The attendant froze on the threshold, taking in the scene. Damn it, get out of there! Bren snarled, already taking the safety off of his Sentry.

The screaming woman tore a handful of material out of the nearest attendant's suit. As he staggered back, grasping at the hole in his compromised suit, she leapt up from the bed. Arrowing past the other attendants, all distracted by the suit-breach, she dashed out the open door, knocking the bag-bearing attendant aside.

Bren took off after her, another Corpsman hot on his heels. Hazard-suits were not designed for running, and the woman had the strength and speed of the desperate. Bren brought his gun up but the woman turned the corner before he could fire.


He ran, half-sliding in the awkward boots. His breathing sounded raspy and hollow in his helmet. The faceplate fogged, the suit's systems unable to keep up with his exertions. Beyond this hallway was an access to a level three area. The negative pressure would keep things contained, but there was an entire staff of people in the Level Three area. The woman was dying as she ran, and if they couldn't stop her--

He heard screams. Cursing, he pushed himself faster. The access hatch--it should have been code-locked! What is wrong with these people?--stood open. She'd made it into Level Three, this whole section was now compromised.

He burst through the hatchway, the other Corpsman right behind him. The corridor was filled with people. Most of them had begun to scatter, pressing themselves against the wall as the alert klaxon began to sound. Still too many people. The escapee was dashing down the corridor. He skidded to a halt. As one, the Corpsmen raised their weapons and fired. The woman dropped like a stone.

They approached the fallen woman, weapons at the ready. She looked dead, but Bren had heard too many stories about presumed-dead Pandora victims lashing out in a last burst of dementia-induced fury and strength. It was as if Pandora had possessed them, using even the dying hosts to spread to another.

He bent over the crumpled form. Her face was slack, her body limp. Dead, no question. The other Corpsman shook out a body bag he must have grabbed from the attendant. They began to shift the body into the bag. Around them, people stirred uneasily, disturbed by the violence. We had no choice, Bren wanted to tell them. She was dying, she could have taken all of you with her.

The alarm cut off, followed by the two-tone sound that signaled an all-station announcement. A woman's voice came over the comm, sounding shaken.

"Everyone, we've just received confirmation. Earth is...orbital satellites are detecting no life signs. Vector Control is diverting all relief ships to the Terran colonies."

Bren closed his eyes. Gone...all of them? They'd known, of course, that things were bad on the homeworld, but...had Pandora actually wiped them all out? He shivered, suddenly feeling cold. He'd come to terms with his own death, he was a soldier. That he should still be alive, when the people he'd sworn to protect were dead seemed the cruelest of blows. He shook his head, feeling tears slide down his face. Earth was gone, and they were alone in the dark. And the monster was waiting for them.

The other Corpsman sealed the bag. Bren took hold off the handles at his end and they lifted the bodybag. He looked up the corridor--and met Dr. Saunder's gaze. She looked heartsick and soul-weary. She stared at the bodybag, at them, then turned away. He knew she couldn't see through the faceplate, didn't know it was him. All she would see was the Corps insignia and the bodybag. That would be enough.

"We're going to have decom this entire section," he told his partner. And the people...but its already too late.

"Let's get her back," his partner's unfamiliar voice came over the suit-comm. "The sooner we start, the sooner we're finished."

We're already finished. But he said nothing, just started back to Q Twenty. All he could do now was follow procedure--and report for memory recording. The Deepwater was truly their only hope, now.


Dr. Gret Saunders watched the still forms arranged in neat rows on the medical tables. It looks like a morgue, she thought. Except the dead weren't wired up to a mnemonic recorder. The machines took detailed brain scans of each patient. Coupled with the patient's own personal medical records, the recorder would encode a memory implant with the information needed, using whatever transmission method that worked best with the individual.

Most of the recording being done today was for base implants, basic knowledge sets designed for the future clones who would repopulate Earth. One of the people being recorded, however...

She glanced down at the file she held. Stuart, Bren, Commander (SC). The 'military presence.' She'd fought against his inclusion with all of the energy she had to spare. But, with the death rate climbing daily, the Project personnel numbers shrinking, what she had to spare just wasn't enough. Bren Stuart was in, given one of the precious six berths aboard the ark ship, one of those who would guide humanity's hope home.

At least I can put in some precautions, she thought.

She slid a small, shiny data disc out of the pocket in the file binding. Holding it cupped in her hand, she walked the rows, carefully examining the rows of screens. It wouldn't do to feed this data into the wrong implant. She found Stuart, halfway down, middle row. The patient on this table looked like all the others, dressed in blue scrubs, a recorder helmet snugged around his head, concealing his features.

Gret glanced around. There were other technicians, also making rounds, and one other doctor. No one was looking in her direction. Quickly, she entered the pause command through the keyboard next to the table. A yellow light on the recorder helmet began to blink. Another silent tap on the keyboard and the drive tray shot out. She fitted the disc in, and slid the tray back in. While she waited for it to load, she took another look around. Still no cause for alarm. There was so much work to be done, so few trained hands to do it.

A tiny window opened, just over the vitals display. Images and data sped by in a blur as the files were uploaded to the memory implant. She didn't need to see them. She'd picked them out herself.

The Sentinel Corps prided themselves on being humanity's defenders. But she knew the Corps jumped whenever their leash was tugged--and the power holding the leash was the same power that had shut down the pharmaceutical research into curing Pandora. The Deepwater project was humanity's last hope. She would not fail again.

Finding someone to serve as the focus for the Stuart-clone's imperative had been difficult. She had no worries the clone would keep to the mission--but soldiers overlooked the human element. It was that attitude that had doomed humanity. But only half of the berths for the Deepwater's crew had been filled, one of them for the Stuart-clone himself. The only female to date was a Martian Colonist named Yuna...but her personality profile made her an unlikely match. The other, the default leader...Reb Anderson. The engineer.

This special addition worked along similar lines to imprinting. She was not a psychologist...but tweaking a propensity towards homosexuality had been child's play for someone with her training. Genetic disposition, coupled with psychological manipulation. The subliminal commands now being recorded into the implant would whisper in the growing clone's mind as it gestated. People would give up their lives for their loved ones, fight all the more fiercely if they thought their one hope of happiness and love rested with one person. Reb Anderson would be the check on Stuart's military pragmatism.

Upload complete, flashed in the tiny window. Gret took the recorder off pause, and ejected the disc. A few more keystrokes, and she'd wiped away evidence of her tampering. An expert could uncover what she'd done...but no-one had time for that kind of close study now. She pocketed the disc and turned away, walking up through the silent rows, leaving Bren Stuart behind her.

Out in the corridor, a familiar voice hailed her. Gret turned around, her throat closing. Had she been spotted at Stuart's table? Dr. Wallace jogged up to her, his white coat wrinkled and no longer very white. He ran a hand through his unruly hair.

"I wanted to be the first to congratulate you, Gret."

She stared at him. "What do you mean?"

"You haven't been told?" Wallace glanced back the way she'd come. "Ah, overseeing recordings. I thought you'd gone in to make your own."

"There's no need," Gret said, feeling her nerves settle. She hadn't been caught. And even if she'd been discovered, it was too late now. "There are others who can supply skill sets I have."

"But not all of them in one package!" Wallace beamed. It occurred to her then how very long it had been since she'd seen an honest, happy smile.

"Congratulations, Gret. They've given you the fourth berth."

Gret felt her stomach wrench, as if the gravity had suddenly doubled, tripled. "What?" she whispered.

"Your clone will be crew, Gret. They've decided to include as many as possible from the team. Who better to oversee the gene bank but the woman who helped design them?"

Anderson designed them, she wanted to say. I only told him what we needed. "I--"

Wallace's pager sounded, and the expression of happiness vanished as quickly as it came.

"Damn." He frowned. "Pandora breakout in a clean sector."

He looked up at Gret, suddenly looking tired and old. "Bring us all back safely, Gret."

"I will," she whispered, but he'd already turned away, dashing back up the corridor.

Dear God.

Part of what concerned and relieved her about tampering with Stuart's memory implant was knowing she would never see the results. Now... her clone would be working alongside Stuart. She would be the one witness the end result of her work tonight. And it was too late to undo any of it.


Cascading data on weapons, tactics, security procedures. All things he knew, things that would be engraved on his future self's psyche. A literal born soldier.

~flash of a narrow-faced blonde man~

And every soldier had his duty.

~keep him alive~

Duty and honor, above all.

~without him the Mission will fail~

~the Mission must not fail~

A voice, looping in and out and around the data being fed into him.

~"Reb Anderson."~

Protect. Defend.

~pale skin, the kind you saw only on Earthers of certain geographical areas. Jupiter Colonists were swarthy and dark...this one looked as though he'd shine in the dark, like the face of one of the moons~

Fierce, white-hot hunger. To hear that voice, to know his heart still beat, he needed to know, needed to know he was safe.

~Reb Anderson~


Notes: I know the science isn't exact on this one...but it
wasn't exactly spot-on during the series, either. ;) I plead
artistic license.
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