From the night side the colder and moist air traveled through valleys and across plains. Rivers meandered, or streamed down the mountains and hills, supplied by the condensing moisture of the constant draft, and the melting glaciers.

Dmitry Zalenkov looked across the valley, red shrubs and grasses as far as the eye went. The majority of the colony on PK-p222, mostly dubbed Eldorado by the crew of Dawn Horizon, concentrated on the northern hemisphere at the twilight border. He had set up a site on the southern hemisphere, away from the buzzing colony. Four years ago they had landed on the planet.

Tucked away from antimatter and technologies too volatile for human hands. Former Admiral Mulgrew had been right.

 

Although they arrived with antimatter propelled ships, new arrivals were constantly showing up on the doorstep of the colony. The over use of technologies was driving the people into the arms of the colony that was not using them.

Dmitry remembered the news about the other time line that spread through the QEN, while they were still on their way to PK-p222. The colonists felt validated in their conviction. Only after they had established the colony and made that known, did a constant stream of new arrivals start.

Previously it had been assumed that Dawn Horizon went to another planet, in the domain of the Harpies, a plan which they had abandoned.

 

It was said that the data about the technological advances of the other time line had been deleted. Dmitry doubted that. Most people did.

Advances in science and technology, were piling up, empowering mankind further and further. Were they mature enough for those advances?

Again massive doubts.

Again massive droves of people arriving at Eden.

Masses that drove Dmitry to leave the colony and seek his peace in solitude on the southern hemisphere.

 

High above the Eldorado colony Dawn Horizon hovered in geosynchronous orbit. A wild menagerie of ships was docked at its rings. Only for a short time had they been empty. As the first wave of emmigrants from Equatoria arrived with their antimatter powered ships became a problem.

One by one they docked in orbit, generating power for both Dawn Horizon, now little more than a space station, and the colony, without replenishing their supply of antimatter.

Alerted by a nagging proximity alarm, shift commander in charge, Alexandra Wenzel took her eyes from the pages of the book she was reading on her reader.

Almost weekly a ship either came by, Eden was an accepted colony and commerce partner of Equatoria, Mars and Ericsson now. Or it brought new arrivals, some of which were not carrying an implant any more, and had to remain in quarantine on the Horizon.

“What’s it this time?” She asked the tall former martian, Colonel Steven Kelly.

“No IFF, it’s not one of ours.” Interested Alexandra got up from her seat. There were no Harpy ships scheduled for arrival in the system. “Is it in range?”

“Positive.”

With an engaging nod of her head she told Steven to hail the craft. “It’s not responding.” Sensors told the two that the unidentified ship traveled too fast for dockimg, or even entering orbit. “Reading an energy signature, some sort of transponder I guess.” It was not necessary to mention that the ship was powered with antimatter, except for Dawn Horizon, and it’s local vessels, everything out there was powered that way.

Explorer and Destiny had long been dismantled, replaced by new ships. Even Phoenix was outdated technology. Only difference being that it had been turned, partially, into a museum above Mars.

“They are not slowing down. On the current trajectory it will pass between us and Eldorado.” Additionally to the known data new results of the continuous scans revealed only one life sign aboard.

“It reads human.” Steven looked up with a dreadful expression in his eyes. All color faded from Alexandra’s face. “Linker? After all these years?” As a precaution Alexandra hightened the security warning level, lasers were armed, a tactical officer called to the command centre. Until that officer arrived, Alexandra would man that position. “The program is still active, no worries.” Trying to smile Steven had checked the communication systems.

“I’m not afraid of them turning us into linkers, but them blowing us out of the sky. That thing is probably a scout, if they read Eldorado and Horizon, they might come in and destroy us.” For decades no one had so much as seen a linker ship, or a linker. Their base on the ES-p296 moon was busy and active as ever, but no one had bothered to go near.

According to the linkers themselves they would not interfere with humans, or other primitive species as they phrased it. Still, what if PK-p222 held resources the linkes needed or wanted so badly they would annihilate Eldorado?

“If you destroy this thing, they might see it as an act of aggression, and retaliate.” Pausing her fingers from opening fire Alexandra pondered on the words of Steven. He was right of course. What could or should she do?

On their screens the two watched the foreign object shoot by in between the Horizon and the planet. “Something detached right before passing, heading down to the planet!”

“Crap!” Trying to get a weapons lock on the small object that had detached from the presumed linker ship Alexandra was glad to hear the tactical officer enter the command centre.

Again an alarm beeped, energy levels in the ship that had passed them by increased dangerously.

A bright flash filled the screen, and then disappeared together with the signature of the vessel. “It blew up.” Dazzled Steven checked his instruments. “The pilot however is on his way to the surface.”

“Am I still needed?”

“Take the weapons.” Ordering Germaine Duprois, Alexandra returned to her console, tracking the descending capsule. Perhaps they still needed to shoot at it, if any suspicious signals should emerge. Otherwise a ground crew from Eldorado would need to be dispatched.

 

Cracking thunder caused Dmitry to look skywards. A streak of fire headed across the sky, but it slowed significantly. As it passed by him in some distance he could clearly see thrusters blasting to slow the craft down and maneuver it.

It flew past Dmitry’s position, after about fourhundred meters it had slowed to a halt from its near horizontal movement and dropped vertically into the nearby lake. Now they can’t even use the port or the damn Horizon station anymore. Still sensing some sort of urgency Dmitry hurried to the lakeshore. Hurriedly he took off his shirt, slipped out of his pants. Just as he was about to dive into the icy lake, fed by glaciers in the shadows of the mountains, he noticed the waves.

Someone, or something, was swimming towards his position.

Only a moment later a head bobbed out of the ice cold water. Dark brown, almost black hair, and skin the color of snow. Hesitantly he still waded out a few paces.

Shivering, her lips pale, almost blue she reluctantly accepted his aid.

Awkwardly she got up, towering above him, taller by a little more than one head. “Are you alright?” Stupid question, she just had crashed into a glacial lake! He reminded himself. “Are you hurt?” Revising his question brought the same result, no reply.

Shivering she sat down in the warming sunshine, her lips trembled as she reached to her garments, peeling herself out of the soaked and cold synthetics.

Beneath the clothing her skin was even paler than in her face or on her hands, that was if it wasn’t red and somewhat raw looking. “Can I help you somehow?” Hanging his dry, and by comparison warm, shirt around her shoulders he got the first reaction from the mystery woman. A flinch.

“Does it hurt?” Careful he retreated, but kept his hands close to her shoulders to take off the disturbing shirt if It hurt.

“No.” So she does speak after all.

“We can’t sense you.” Almost as if she had just realised his presence she looked at him, studied his face. “We?” He feared a moment to have a mad woman at his hands, but then something even more terrifying occured to him. “Are you a link, err, a DEHuman?”

As if trying to comprehend his words she paused before replying. “We are, but hope to seize being that.”

Was it uncommon? After the encounter of Horizon survivors with the linkers on the moon of ES-p296 there was no linker ever coming forward desiring to turn into an individual. So yes, it was uncommon as far as he was concerned.

“Did that bring you here?” Worried that her landing in the lake might have caused some psychological trauma in the already unstable defectee, Dmitry kneeled down to look at her more comfortably.

“We were with child,” her using the plural was annoying to Dmitry, but as far as he knew, that was the same with those linkers who returned with the survivors from the moon, “but are not anymore.” That lack of emotion in her voice! Was she distancing herself from what had happened, or was she a normal linker?

Startled by something in his shirt the woman threw off the garment. Dmitry too noticed the vibrating communicator. Once he had glasses, but when he moved out here he decided to take a communicator that resembled a cellphone, it was able to handle the harsh conditions better. Slowly in a non threatening way he took out the device.

“Dmitry Zalenkov, hello?”

“Greetings, sir. Shift commander, Alexandra Wenzel of Horizon speaking. Please excuse this intrusion on your privacy, but we have detected your signal close to the estimated,”

“If you’re calling because of the linker woman, she’s sitting in front of me. Perhaps you should come here.” Feeling rude for interrupting her Dmitry wanted to spare himself the lengthy explanation, when it was bloody obvious why they had contacted him.

Questions about jurisdiction made themselves known in the back of his mind, but whether Horizon, or Eldorado were responsible for handling the crashed linker woman and her ship, was beyond him, and he sure did not want to bother to ask.

“A ship will be dispatched. Using your signal as a homing beacon.” There was an audble smile in the voice of the shift commander.

 

After going back and forth with the governor of Eldorado, Alexandra had received confirmation that Horizon, and therefore she, had jurisdiction of the crashed capsule. It was an unmarked, unregistered vessel, as Horizon was the official first address to turn to when arriving at PK-p222, it fell to Horizon to deal with new arrivals.

“Send down a small craft, they need to pick her up.” Halting for a moment Alexandra pomdered a moment. “On second thought, ready the craft at port alpha 1218, send a security detail there. I’ll go down myself.”

Knowing which ship she was referring to Steven nodded with a smirk, sending the orders out, while the small ship powered up.

Capable of atmospheric flight, even gliding capabilities with its aerodynamic design, it was the ship in which Alexandra had arrived, together with her parents, when she was twelve. Even back then she had already picked up how to fly it. Later in life she pursued a career in Eldorado’s forces, some of her closer friends suspected it was to be close to the ship, her closest link to home.

The same applied for Steven, he had come to PK-p222 only a few years later, the ship he and his parents had come to Eldorado however was down on the surface, doubling as their home. Still, he had been impressed by the Horizon, its design and sturdy technology.

 

Shivers had stopped, slowly the linker woman had warmed up in the constant shine of the sun. Dmitry had run to his home, a former pod from Horizon, and brought her some dry clothes.

She had answered some of his questions, one had been whether he should put the one piece she had discarded, out to dry. It was a dry, but some what harsh no. Followed by the request to destroy it. When he touched it, he noticed that it already was bone dry.

The ensuing conversation revealed that it was more than just clothing. It doubled as an artificial skin, grafted onto her own epidermis. It withstood high pressure and even ballistic impacts to a certain degree, transferring nutrients from the surrounding atmosphere, through the skin into her body. She had taken it off, less because of it soaking with water, and more to get rid of a piece of her past.

It had been an hour since she had crawled out of the lake, and Dmitry looked to the sky. There was yet no sign of the ship that should get her. “Would you like to come to my home?”

An almost sentimental look appeared on her face. “We have spent our lives in an artificial environment. Although all of us shared in the experiemce and the memory of open spaces of our colonies, it is a new sensation for us.” Still having trouble following her when she talked in the plural form, Dmitry understood what she was trying to say.

“You mean, it is a new sensation for you, although you have seen what others saw.” She looked at him, slowly coming to terms with his words.

Only now did he see that her eyes had the strangest color. An arctic blue with silver metallic streaks in them. Where those contact lenses, or was it grown inside her eyes?

“We can go to your home, but we will remain in the open.” She rose to her feet, glancing down on him. Her height suggested that she had been living in low gravity, or at least grew up in low gravity.

Still unanswered was his question whether she had lost her child, or if it was born and remained with the other linkers. Dmitry did not want to push the issue, or any of the many question that had popped to mind.

He considered himself a simple man, after all, he wanted to start a Ghoti farm in that lake not far from his home. Whether his questions or actions could mentally harm or break the vulnerable mind of the linker woman was beyond him. Specialists should determine that, and take over any further questioning.

Once they arrived, that was.

The nameless woman sat down on a bench that he had built, from the bone like structures left behind when one of the tree like growths died and had decayed. The former pod sat on a clearing of an otherwise dense forest on the sunnyside of a small hill. In the distance the lake glistened in the sun, and the small stream of melting water that came down the mountains in the greater distance. Ice from the dark side of the planet accumulated on the nightside, the glaciers grew, flowed slowly to the ground, winding with the mountains, reaching the day side, melting.

Sooner or later the water evaporated, and the cycle began a new.

Dmitry liked that, and the taste of Ghoti. Hence his desire to start a Ghoti farm, it was a delicacy in Eldorado, out here, it was abundant, but if farmed, it would ensure a constant supply of quality Ghoti.

“Why did you land here?” He brought out some water, and a few slices of algae bread. Common food, but tasty, at least for his tongue. “We wanted to leave the common consciousness.”

“Let me rephrase that, why didn’t you land at Eldorado port or dock with Horizon? It would still be this planet.”

“It was our intention, but we were in a hurry, and had simply overshot it.”

A low hummimg noise became audible, startled the nameless woman jumped to er feet, dropping the glass of water she was holding. “Relax.” The cavalry has arrived.

A sleek ship, almost shaped like a stereotypical paperplane, hovered into view, its landing gear extended. A wave of relief visibly washed over the woman, she sat back down.

On the other side of the clearing the ship sat down, it was painted in a dark aquamarine, which once was a shiny finish, now it had dents in it. Judging by the state it was in, Dmitry guessed it had not only been once in use by the Equatorians, but also that it had sat docked to Horizon for quite some time. Micro asteroids and other impacts up there had left their traces on the hull.

After it had sat down a hatch opened, extending a small stair with three steps. Immediately four armed men and womem exited the vehicle, took up position around the exit. Only after they gave an ‘all clear’ did their commanding officer show up.

Alexandra walked down the steps of the craft, directly behind her a man with messy hair, and deep wrinkles in his face.

If Dmitry had to spot a shrink, that man was one. “Dmitry Zalenkov, I presume?” Alexandra greeted him, wearing a friendly, albeit fake, smile.

“Whom did you expect? Doctor Livingston?” The smile crumbled, what remained was at best an attempt at a smirk. Apparently she did not understand that reference.

Dmitry couldn’t blame her, it was rather historic. “Yes, none other.” He added, refreshing her friendly smile.

“Then this, I presume, is the crashed woman?” As if she wasn’t there Alexandra pointed at the nameless woman, some shaking had returned to her extremities and her lower lip. Not due to the cold winds from the night side, but anxiety.

“Yes, she is.” Dmitry felt the need to correct the officer, although a linker, the nameless woman was a person and deserved to be treated as such. Especially if she was to be integrated into society.

The man with the messy hair shoved himself between Alexandra and the two people sitting in front of the old pod. “My name is Doctor Antonius. Zachary Antonius.” Over pronounced and slow spoken he introduced himself, clearly addressing the woman.

“She is a linker. Not insane, nor slow of understanding.” Again Dmitry felt a need to correct what was said. Earning a punishing stare from the shrink, Dmitry got up, only to feel the nameless woman’s hand reaching for his arm.

“Please, don’t leave me.” Surprised by the first use of a singular concerning herself, Dmitry nodded, then turned his face back to the guests.

With a small gesture of his head he made the shrink understand that this had been a first. “I will not, you stay here, I need to talk with these people.”

 

“We can’t take her away now.” Doctor Antonius spoke to Alexandra, standing somewhat between her and Dmitry, who had his back to the woman. “For the first time in her life she had used the singular for herself now, that is a remarkable step in her development. She is beginning to realise her status as an individual.”

Nodding in agreement Dmitry said nothing, watched the eyes of Alexandra as they narrowed. Obviously she wanted to take the linker with her. As long as it was not determined safe, she posed a threat, both she, and the colony’s government wanted her in a controlled, safe environment.

“Why won’t you leave a guard and the shrink here with us? My pod is capable of accomodating four people. Once it is safe to bring her to Horizon, we will contact you.” Striking for a compromise Dmitry abandoned all hope to return to his endeavours of building his Ghoti farm any time soon. In a weird way he felt responsible for the crashed woman. “Alright. A guard, myself and the doctor.” Extinguishing any protest from Dmitry before he could voice it with an angry gaze, Alexandra turned away to inform the  guards.

 

“These people, they will stay here for a little while, just like you will.” Dmitry sat down pointing at the guards and Alexandra, the doctor stood at the edge of the forest talking with someone over his glasses, presumably he had to cancel a few appointments.

Slowly the woman nodded.

“Do you have a name?” Asking the most obvious question only now seemed a bit odd to Dmitry, but he knew that linkers had no names. However, it was possible that she had chosen one in the meantime. “No. Do I need,” she stopped mid sentence. Realising, or remembering from some dark corner of her once shared memory that in a non joined society of individuals everyone had a name. “No. Not yet.” Her attempt at a smile was weak, facial expressions were not necessary in a collective that was conjoined in the mind, operating as one consciousness.

“We’ll find one for you.” He showed her an honest smile, turning his attention back to the ship. The stairs were just lifted back up, Alexandra and a woman in uniform and armor walked away as the engines warmed up again.

“They will return in an hour to bring us supplies, we need a bit more than what you can provide.” Was she talking about fresh underwear? There was plenty of food and drinkable water. Just nodding Dmitry decided not to linger on that question.

 

Spending the day outside his home, being mostly unproductive in respect to his Ghoti farm, had left Dmitry filled with energy. Not that there was any transition between day or night, the sun always stood in the same position in the sky, as the planet rotated as fast as it was revolving around the sun.

Bit it became late concerning the time. Well past, what was once designated midnight he went back outside. After the ship had come and dropped off the ominous supplies, three bags, suggesting he was right when he assumed it was underwear and other garments, it got quiet. Doctor Antonius had tried speaking with the linker woman, starting off his therapeutic sessions with her, but ultimately had to give up as she did not respond.

“You’re still up?” Wondering at the name less woman’s unchanged position on the bench, Dmitry too sat down.

“We do not require as much sleep.” Her speech sounded sluggish. “We process information differently, our bodies need the rest every thirtytwo hours, then we slip into hemispheric sleep, resting our bodies but remaining mentally active.”

Making a brief sound of acknowledgement Dmitry reached for some water. “But you’re not connected anymore. Your ability of processing information is therfore impaired. You need sleep. Natural sleep.” He winked, taking a sip from his glass.

While sitting alone she apparently had practiced her expressions, as she flashed him an honest, albeit tired, smile. “There’s something I feel compelled to do.” She rose to her feet, awkwardly stumbling away from the bench, as exhaustion worked on her mind and body. She walked a few paces, turned into the wind.

Cool breezes from the night side of PK-p222 played with her hair, she spread her arms, opened her hands and spread the fingers, wiggling them.

Gone was the dull, passive expression of someome who had never had emotions, let alone knew how to express them. Replaced by a peaceful, calm and gentle smile.

In an instant it changed however. Dmitry could swear that he saw how a metaphorical dark cloud went over her face, twisting the peaceful gentle smile into a hard, agonised frown.

With that she fell to her knees, prompting Dmitry to run to her side. As he reached her she was sobbing uncontrollably, crying.

Gently he cradled her, triying to calm her, all the while wishing he knew what she had remembered, or thought of in that moment.

Woken by the sudden outburst of audible emotion Doctor Antonius came out the pod, stopping dead in his tracks.

“Our child,” she sobbed, “it has terminated. Within the boundaries of our womb we have driven it out!” Slowly her hands wrapped around her stomach, as if she could cradle the child she had lost.

Her agony driven sobs and cries drove Dmitry to tears as well. “Everything is well now. You are safe.” He assumed that it was not her who had killed the child, but the collective consciousness of the linkers. Too intertwined was her concept of a self with that of the collective to make that distinction, at least verbally.

 

“What drove you to come here?” After sobbing for a while she had grown more silent.

“We once had been lost to the others. A power failure had cut us off.” By the way she spoke Dmitry figured she was half asleep, or in the hemispheric sleep she had mentioned before. A feat mostly achieved by animals. “We formed anew, once we returned to the others we were not one again.” Had a disconnection from the collective mind caused her to defect?

She jerked for a moment, but remained in her semi conscious state. “Our new life, we wanted to bring it away, raise it without the haste, the rigid life. We realised the missing love, the missing fun.” A tear formed in the eye Dmitry could see, rolled out onto her nose, from where it fell to the ground. “But it was terminated by the others.” A clot formed in Dmitry’s throat.

So that was what drove her. To protect her child she wanted to leave, for which she got punished. In the most dire way.

Again she jerked, in the meanwhile Doctor Antonius had reached the two, with a few gestures he signalled Dmitry that she probably switched to the other hemisphere.

“They punished you for leaving the collective?” Gently caressing her Dmitry had to bite back the tears that wanted to flow from his eyes.

“No.” Her expression grew distant again, the logical part of the brain seemed to be the active one now. “It was terminated during decontamination after a mission, to ensure termination of foreign technology. We left to ensure any future life in our womb would not suffer the same fate.”

What technology could warrant that sort of decontamination? Although Dmitry thought it best to let her rest at ease he had to inquire.

“Unable to handle, we underestimated the foreign technology.” With a gasp she jerked back to life. For a moment she looked around in a bewildered manner.

“The sludge, it is not here?” A chill went down Dmitry’s spine, Antonius seemed t be taken aback. “No.” Stammering Dmitry put his hand on her shoulder to calm her. For her it must’ve seemed like a dream remembering the events that had cost her child its life. “There is no sludge here.”

Trying to move, her movements still were sluggish. “You are correct, Dmitry. I need to sleep.” There couldn’t have passed more than an hour since she broke down, yet she seemed not rested at all, obviously she needed to rest like a regular human being. “There’s a bed,” Dmitry was silenced by the nameless woman laying her head to rest in his lap.

“Outside will be my bed, please stay with me.” Suddenly she seemed afraid, as if she herself was a child, afraid of both the dark and of being alone in it.

It did not take long for her to fall asleep, exhaustion saw to that.

 

“What is the sludge? You seemed to know what she was talking about.” After a few minutes of her sleeping Doctor Antonius figured it was safe to talk in a hushed voice without waking her.

“I hope I am mistaken, but if my Harpy history is correct, we, or the linkers, or both, are in trouble.”

Now it clicked with the shrink, as he too grew pale. “Digitalys? That sludge?” Hissing sharply the Doctor inched back from the sleepimg woman and Dmitry, the latter softly stroking the woman’s head, to keep her calm in case she heard the hissing doctor.

“I hope I am mistaken, but I know of no other foreign technology that would warrant a fear of sludge.”

Retreating to the former pod Antonius reported to Alexandra what had transpired on the clearing. As was to be expected, she too became nervous, as soon as the woman would wake up she wanted more answers.

 

Unable to catch sleep himself, it was Dmitry’s turn to feel exhaustion weigh him down, as the nameless woman woke again.

“Good Morning.” He managed an honest smile and kind expression. Momentary confusion on her eyes, she clearly was unfamiliar with sleep. “Sadly, there are a few questions we’d like to have you answer us.” He had hoped to go easy on her, but the revelation on the sludge topic was sounding like urgent business.

Alexandra had prepared procedures to quarantine the entire area, to keep any potential threat from nanites at bay.

“You can ask anything.” Glancing suspiciously past the returned Doctor, to Alexandra and her guard, who were talking amongst themselves at the pod, her features hardened. “But they can not.”

“When you fell into hemispheric sleep, you revealed information on foreign technology and asked about the sludge. Can you elaborate?” The doctor asked, she turned to face Dmitry, who nodded gently.

Slightly bowing her head, as if about to apologise for bad behaviour, the nameless woman took a deep breath. “Approximately three weeks ago a ship was dispatched to investigate existing technology concerning further advances in nanotechnology, as our own vantages in that realm had turned to a dead end. The planet designated Digitalys by the Harpies was our destination. Four days in, the ship had gone silent, after retrieving some of the sludge, now covering the entire planet five kilometers deep, another vessel was dispatched.” She spoke without emotional intonation, almost invokimg the impression she read it off of some imaginary display.

“You were on that second ship?” Dmitry asked, trying to bring some emotion to her. Simply recalling the incident was not going to help her solve her emotional trauma with it, he needed not to be a psychiatrist to understand that.

“Negative. We were on the first ship.” Did her recalling those memories plunge her back into the plural view of herself as part of the collective? Dmitry feared that the little progress that had been achieved so far, was melting away. “After retrieving the sludge, we noticed signs of adaptation to our presence. At first the material attempted to consume all forms of containment, ultimately failing with our energy fields of containment, but turning all consumed materials into new nanites. The material began exhibiting signs of intelligence, by mimicking faces of the units involved in the study of it. On day four the material had found a way to breach the barrier, eating away at the controls designed to contain the material, thus setting all of it free.” Her eyes were empty, as if she was talking in her sleep, or under hypnosis.

Antonius was clearing his throat, he figured It best to snap the woman out of her trance like state, but he did not get to say anything as Alexandra put her hands on his shoulder, slowly shaking her head.

“When the second vessel arrived and retrieved all lives from the first ship, those units not affected, got exposed to radiation, strong EM pulses and contained within a stronger barrier of containment fields, until definite proof was evident of no further contamination.” Blinking a few times she turned her gaze back to Dmitry, her expression changing from absent to normal.

“What happened to the other ship?” Equally fascinated as horrified Dmitry could not help but ask the obvious.

“It was plunged into the planet’s atmosphere, where it burned up. Perhaps some technology, especially the sludge, survived reentry. Further studies of the technology is suspended until better ways of containment can be devised.”

Uncertain she glanced to Alexandra, who stared at the woman in a cold manner. “Doctor, Mister Zalenkov, I need to leave. Report to me as soon as she is ready for a full debriefing.”

“Wait just a minute!” Jumping to his feet with more agility than he himself had anticipated, Dmitry raised his voice. “She poses no threat to our safety, unlike many of the colonial new arrivals, she carries an implant eliminating disease, she has no technology that is in violation of our laws, and she has wronged no laws. On what basis do you want to interrogate her?”

“I’m a member of an enemy faction. It is standard procedure.” The nameless woman rose to her feet next to Dmitry. Seeing the knowing, yet still saddened, expression on the face of the woman Alexandra closed her eyes.

None of them had gotten much sleep last night, the new situation had caused a lot of tension and stress, was she really heartless? “Alright,” she flung open her eyelids, as if she could fling her worries away with that, “the guard will be replaced, an immigration officer will come here in a few days. Doctor, you’re staying too.” Squinting her eyes at the nameless woman she sighed, knowing she’d have to a few questions herself for those orders.

“You will have to report weekly, and your movements are going to be restricted.”

“I don’t want to move around. I don’t want to spend time in crowded environments. All our,” pausing for a second she bit her lip, “my life I was in a dense crowd. From the moment my brain formed in the womb, I was in a dense crowd of thoughts, disembodied voices in the mind, constantly there.” It was her time to close her eyes, a benign smile appeared on her lips. “Unlike here. It is quiet here, and yet, I do not have to be alone.” She looked to Dmitry.

Still somewhat distant Alexandra looked the strange woman up from head to toe. “You need a name. My transport will arrive in an hour, I expect a name by then.” She had to maintain an image of discipline, almost barking orders at them.

“Claire.” She blurted out, stepping closer to Alexandra who had turned to leave. “We, pardon, I want to be called Claire.”

Barely noticeable nodding from Alexandra followed that declaration. It was a step closer to individualism. An important one, she assumed, which would later be verified by the doctor. Giving herself a name, defining a self.

 

“I have a question of personal interest, Claire.” Alexandra stood at the opening of the pod, on the clearing the ship she had arrived in, had just landed minutes earlier. “Why did you discard your ship and ejected?”

A shiver of discomfort went through the pale woman. “The others, they tracked the ship with long range sensors, I am certain of it. Long range sensors have difficulty picking up an ejection, so I flew the vessel close to the planet and ejected, setting my vessel to self destruct by engine overload. To the long range scans it would seem as if I was unable to stop at my landing point.”

“Will they look for you?” An intense feeling of discomfort formed in Alexandra’s stomach.

“Not anymore. They would’ve tried to, just for defecting, which is seen as an act of malfunction, that needs to be investigated and resolved.” Claire explained from her seat in front of the pod. Claiming to understand, Alexandra found a few nice words for her good bye to Claire and Dmitry, flashing the good Doctor a look that told him to never miss a report, while a new guard replaced the other one.

Carrying that intel about the sludge to us, might be another reason for your kin to look out for you. Gazing out the cockpit window Alexandra watched the scenery shrink away during vertical ascend, and then pan around.

“Shift commander Alexandra Wenzel to Horizon, run all possible long range scanners, in all directions you can think of. There might be linkers out there.” Or worse.