Many years ago, I started several stories. Then life intruded, G889 faded into the background as Earth1 intruded far too far into my dreamtime and they fell by the wayside, neglected but never forgotten. More than a decade passed and those stories continued to haunt me, to ask that they be given their voice until, quite recently, I took up writing again, because the journey will always continue and it is as much a part of me as it is all of you....
MAP is one of those stories -- actually has eventually incorporated a few of those stories as it has evolved these past several months. I managed to find one file of it on a 3.5" disk, only able to be opened by an ancient computer with an obsolete program -- the spiral notebook full of otherwise unsaved scenes is long gone. I don't write linearly -- my writing is more of the piecemeal sort and then carefully woven together. Some of this story is 13 years old, much of it is brand new.
MAP was started when I needed to 'respond' to a number of trends in the fanfic of the time I found unsettling. Lia always said to write what you wish to read -- not to rely upon someone else and so it began. It is not for everyone -- the story has some very strongly implied violence early on which gives it its rating. For those of you who read it, I hope you enjoy it – it has helped bring some of the magic back to me...
Many thanks to my beta readers, DebW, JennT, MaryB, Beeg and CotS, who repeatedly suffered through the "icky" parts and gave me precious feedback -- I seriously considered every word and still occasionally find myself looking sideways at the story to see if maybe it could be done better. Thanks for the feedback, the friendship, the patience and allowing me to wear Alonzo's vest!
A special thanks to all the Earth2 fans who still dream terrian dreams...
*I don't own the characters, they own me.*
Missing and Presumed...
As a whine sounded through the shallow canyon, a lone zaizai alertly raised its head, its small ears scoping independent of each other, its eyes scanning the terrain while its nose analyzed the very air. Spying the source of the odd noise, it froze, its legs splayed, ready to move at a moment's notice, closely watching the strange creature's approach.
On a small rise where the canyon widened slightly near the watering hole, the intruder paused and raised its head high above the lush vegetation, apparently seeking. The zaizai crouched lower, mindful of this potential predator. Carried on the wind, a scent reached the small scavenger. A scent both curiously alien and threateningly familiar. Cautiously, the zaizai slunk further into the shadows, its dark fur providing camouflage from the unobservant.
The strange creature pulled its head back between its shoulders and moved closer, awkwardly weaving through the dense scrub. Watching intently, the zaizai's eyes occasionally darted elsewhere, seeking an avenue of escape.
At the sound of a soft nicker, a herd of abiqui raised their heads as one as the strange creature neared their grazing spot under a tree. The creature paused to watch their graceful, bounding retreat before slowly lumbering through the tall grass and then winding down towards the soft sand nearer the water's edge.
Standing in the shadows, the zaizai felt the familiar vibrations stir and begin to grow under its feet. The invading creature continued in its journey, unmindful of the danger. The small canid's eyes narrowed as the rumbling grew, the pressure built. The zaizai retreated parallel to the strange creature, waiting...
From the ATV, Alonzo Solace surveyed the surrounding area with a relaxed grin while he paused to breathe in the sweet summer air. A stream rushed from a nearby gorge which joined to widen the canyon, the stream feeding a small pond before rushing onward to a distant sea. The pilot was constantly amazed by the forces of nature. Even though Yale had explained it to his satisfaction, he still found himself wondering at how something as seemingly insubstantial as water could so carve and contour anything as mighty as The Mother.
Around the watering hole, plants grew in joyous abandon, filling the canyon with an incredible abundance of life. Alonzo impulsively reached for his gear, intending to call Julia, then paused with a secret smile as he spotted flowers growing closer to the small pond. Quickly checking his chronometer, he turned the small vehicle towards the water, rationalizing to himself he needed to analyze it for potability anyway.
The pilot wove the ATV through the lush vegetation and across an open plain which was pockmarked by curious craters and multicolored pools. A flock of birds started at his passing, taking to flight all around him. Alonzo looked up, following their dance against gravity with a heartfelt sense of yearning, feeling as one with them even as his thoughts slipped to Julia once more.
A plume of steam shot high into the air at his side, drawing his wandering mind back to earth in a rush. Slowing the vehicle, Alonzo looked wildly around for the cause. Within the few minutes he had looked away, an eerie fog had crept onto the land to obscure the uneven terrain. Where the sunlight hit it, the fog sparkled, blanketing the earth in fantastic hues. A stiffening wind chased the vapor away only for it to be replenished by an invisible source.
Unable to see the mysterious pools of water, Alonzo uncertainly stopped the ATV to get his bearings. From beneath the layer of fog, a soft gurgling could be heard. Rising slowly to his feet, Alonzo squinted and waved his arms to clear the mist which now rose to his waist. He jumped in alarm when another plume of steam rose nearby. As yet another jet of super-heated water shot close behind, only deflected from striking him by the ATV's solar panels, Alonzo immediately sprang back into his seat and gunned the small vehicle forward toward the safety of the grass beyond.
As the vehicle leapt forward in response, Alonzo felt the ground give a slight heave while rumbling vibrations rose through the frame of the small ATV. Deep within the earth below, a muffled thud sounded ominously. Leaning forward to urge the vehicle onward, Alonzo fervently swore under his breath. Gritting his teeth, he banked the vehicle hard when a geyser erupted directly in front of him without warning.
As the hot column shot high into the air, the ATV spun, hit a small rise and flipped, throwing its passenger into darkness...
With a low moan Alonzo opened his eyes and attempted to raise his head with a grimace. With the smell of sulfur clogging his nose, his head swam and he quickly lowered it again as the glare of the sun reflecting off the nearby water only added to his growing nausea. He could feel the sand sticking to his forehead as he breathed in the loamy scent of damp, warm earth. Shifting his head to the side, Alonzo gasped for air even as an unrelenting pressure squeezed his torso against the ground. He panted shallowly through his mouth, mindfully taking stock of his situation. Gritting his teeth, Alonzo tested the ATV where it lay on top of him, pushing and pulling with all his strength without success. He tried to wriggle away, but found himself held fast with only the intensifying pain and decreasing lung capacity to account for his efforts.
With a sharp tug, Alonzo wrenched his right arm free from under the overturned ATV, crying out in agony as the motion brought other injuries to light. Struggling to maintain control against the encroaching darkness, Alonzo gingerly slid his trembling hand toward his head, feeling the tacky sore spot with a sinking feeling. Looking at his hand as he dragged it into view only confirmed his suspicions. Blood.
As he shifted slightly, Alonzo spied his gear lying nearby where it had been thrown in the accident. He strained to reach it, only to come up short. Sweat mingled with the blood on his forehead, making the laceration sting before seeping into his eyes to obscure his already limited vision. One-handed, the pilot groped blindly for anything to help him reach the communications device, mentally cursing his absent luck as his hand came into contact with a scalding puddle.
The sound of soft footfalls alerted the pilot to the approach of another. He squinted as he tried to look around his position, hoping against hope for a familiar face, either native or human. In the corner of his eye he finally saw it; a small shaggy scavenger crouched with its head low, sniffing in his direction. Alonzo limply tossed a handful of dirt at the animal and watched with satisfaction as it backed away only to moan in defeat as it tentatively returned, carefully skirting the steaming pools of water left by the geyser's eruption.
Emboldened by the human's continued immobility, the animal drew closer, ever ready to bolt at a moment's notice. Its sniffles and snorts blew sand into Alonzo's face, making the pilot wheeze as he fought for hard won air. They stared at each other for several agonizing minutes -- man and beast, prey and predator. Its ears alertly pricked forward, the zaizai furtively sized up its prize. Alonzo watched nervously as the canid slowly licked its lips in anticipation. Just as the pilot thought it would attack, the animal let loose a sudden yelp, spun in place and swiftly raced away.
His heart hammering in his chest, Alonzo sighed in relief. He tried to look around to see his savior, whoever or whatever it was, hopeful it was better than the previous stalker. Weakening rapidly, he rested his cheek on the ground, his universe progressively narrowing to his next breath. His eyesight rapidly fading, Alonzo barely registered the shadow as it blocked the sun from his eyes.
"Well. Just look at what someone left lying around..."
"He's quite a catch, that's for sure. Lemme take a closer look. Needs a little cleaning up."
"Yeah, I think we just might have a few uses for him. Here, help me with this."
The pain grew in intensity as the weight was lifted up and away. Alonzo frantically dug his fingers into the earth to hang onto it as it quickly tilted away from him and everything went dark...
"Yale?" Julia rushed to catch up with the elderly cyborg, who paused and turned to wait for the young doctor.
"What is it, Julia?"
"I was wondering if you've heard from Alonzo. I haven't heard from him and he's past his check-in time."
"No, I have not. But he is scouting quite far ahead of us and we have been having some difficulty with interference in these canyons."
As the doctor nodded resignedly, Devon spoke up from where she had fallen into step beside them on the other side of the cyborg. "When did he last check-in?"
"Four hours ago," Julia reported quietly. "The path was still clear and he was getting a strong water reading, so he decided to go a little further before turning back for the day."
Devon frowned. "He's an hour overdue and the wind has begun to pick up."
"It appears we might be in for a brief storm," Yale agreed.
Julia warily glanced up at the increasingly overcast sky, noting the subtle chill as the strengthening wind grew in proportion to the amount of warm sun the clouds blocked. She met Devon's eyes as she felt the woman lay a hand on her arm.
"Maybe he decided to stop for the night to sit out the storm. He has camping gear. He should be fine."
"It certainly won't be the first time Alonzo has stayed out on scout overnight. Yet, perhaps we're being premature. He could still be waiting for us nearby," Yale pointed out optimistically. "Nevertheless, we should start looking for a good campsite. I will notify the others."
"He's waking up!"
"Well, hold onto him tighter, I'm not done yet! He's gonna have to take it like a man."
Alonzo awoke to a searing pain slicing through his torso from behind. He grunted and desperately tried to pull away, only to find himself firmly pinned in place by a man on either side of the crude table he found himself on. With the pressure from above, Alonzo's face pressed into the coarse rug underneath, his forehead grinding into the rough fibers, reopening the abrasions on his brow as the waves of pain overtook him. From above, Alonzo could hear a third man grunt and strain as inside he felt the invading twist, push and pull and the sticky wetness as it slipped along his skin in thin rivulets.
As the pain increased, Alonzo gritted his teeth as he felt his body uncontrollably buck against the impalement, unintentionally intensifying the assault. He tried to kick away, but his legs lay immobilized underneath him. At a sudden violent thrust, the pilot reluctantly cried out, only to have a rag roughly wedged between his teeth. Alonzo panted through his nose, finding it difficult to not smother with his nose crushed down and the gag filling his mouth. Alonzo wriggled again when the third man paused in his exertions, momentarily relaxing his grip on the pilot's hip.
"Lie still, Pilot, you're just going to make it worse for yourself."
Alonzo's muscles involuntarily clenched around the rod as the man's weight caused it to shift inside him. He tried to turn his head, to see his captors. The men on either side grabbed his head by the hair and held it in place, forbidding any movement on his part.
"Hold him steady, I'll be done with him in a minute. Don't make too much noise, Pilot, the grendlers are around this time of day. Trust me, you don't want to attract them... Gilbert, you ready?"
"Almost. No rush. I'd like to give the iron a few more minutes in the fire, just to be sure. It should be all set by the time you're done."
"OK. Once I'm done with him, he's all yours. Just get it right the first time. I don't think our boy here would appreciate a second try."
Squeezing his eyes tight, Alonzo whimpered as the pain abruptly began anew and bright spots danced before his eyes.
The assault continued for what seemed like an eternity to the pilot, until finally, with a satisfied grunt from above, the invading presence froze and then deliberately withdrew from his body. A harsh pressure grew on Alonzo's back as the men switched positions with celebratory encouragement.
His mind rapidly numbing as the powerlessness combined with the excruciating trauma, Alonzo held himself perfectly still to try to listen past the blood roaring in his ears. He could hear the man, Gilbert, busily working nearby, the sounds of a fire being stoked and coals raked reaching the benumbed pilot's ears. After a sizzling sound, followed by a brief oath, the man approached.
When Gilbert limped past, Alonzo stole a peek out the corner of his eye to see the long rod in his hands, the metal white with the heat of the fire. The pressure on his back was relieved as the two men more securely pinned him in place and Gilbert positioned himself behind the pilot.
Alonzo braced himself against his restrainers. He could feel the heat as the iron was maneuvered into place over his skin. Alonzo gnawed on the gag in anticipation, choking back the scream as the smoking rod was suddenly plunged into him -- the searing pain mingling with the unmistakable odor of burning flesh. In the distance, Alonzo could hear a muffled bellow as his world flashed to a brilliant gray and then to black...
Too preoccupied to concentrate, Devon looked up from the maps she and Yale had been poring over to watch Julia where the doctor sat staring pensively into the rainy night. With a soft sigh, Devon decisively placed her stylus on the crate and, with a lingering pat on Yale's shoulder, wandered over to visit her friend.
"Yale says the storm should end about midnight," she began, drawing a startled glance from the doctor. "We should rendezvous with Alonzo's last known position by noon."
Nodding, Julia allowed her eyes to drift back to the torrential rain which fell in ribbons outside the geodesic arch to sluice down its sides and gather again in pools on the ground. "I'd feel better if he had managed to get a call in. This isn't like him."
"He's certainly been missing before when the terrians have unexpectedly needed him."
"..or when he's been in an accident," Julia amended, squarely meeting Devon's sympathetic gaze.
"Has he had any dreams recently?" Devon ventured cautiously.
"No." Julia paused to consider the question fully. "Nothing of note."
Cameron slogged under the shelter to approach Julia, a small clear container in his hands. "Julia, look what I found. We haven't cataloged one of these yet. A whole bunch of them were wallowing in a puddle. What do you think?"
Devon watched as Julia directed all of her attention to the small ten-legged creature in the bottle.
"No. We haven't. Interesting how its eyes are set..." Totally absorbed in her subject, Julia scanned the colonist's latest find.
A glance at the water-logged engineer earned Devon a conspiratorial wink. She smiled her appreciation in reply.
"What are we going to name this one? Are we running out of microbrews?"
The bearded colonist shrugged with a grin. "You can never run out of microbrews. Though, at this rate, I don't think we'll ever run out of bugs either. I figured maybe Blackwellia after 'Blackwell Stout'. It was named after a water dog."
"I think I'll leave the two of you with your bugs," Devon laughed as she headed for her tent.
..Adrift in a red-gray haze, he distantly felt himself being senselessly tossed and tumbled along the ever-changing eddies and currents...
..He was so tired. It was so easy to lie back and allow the tides their whims. So easy to submit to the fog which clouded his every thought. So easy to just stop fighting...
..A tiny voice rebelled inside him, urging him to resist the syrupy nothingness that buffeted him within the seductive oblivion, insistently driving him to the surface to burst into the light...
Alonzo's eyes suddenly flew open in alarm, snapping the pilot to full consciousness all at once. Feeling every agonizing pulse beat magnified in his nerve endings, he panted hard while he attempted to clear his mind. Alonzo found himself on a raised pallet in the middle of a large cavern, his head slightly higher than his feet. A fire crackled close to his left, the warmth caressing his cheek while the firelight flickering on the ceiling above was lazily traced by wisps of smoke. Trying to look around, the pilot's attention was immediately drawn to the rasp of coarse ropes which crisscrossed all around him, holding his head and body totally immobile. Alonzo struggled against his bonds, whimpering softly when a searing blade of pain blossomed through his torso.
"I wouldn't do that if I were you, Pilot. You're just going to hurt yourself. You're certainly not going anywhere any time soon."
His eyes darting around in search of the disembodied voice, Alonzo futilely twisted his hands in their bonds, grunting out loud as the movement heightened the torment and abraded his burnt wrist. His hand lightly brushed a stiff frame, which appeared to encircle his body and anchor the ropes. As he awkwardly tested his confinement a face swam into view; the palest blue eyes the pilot had ever seen peered through the shock of white hair which cascaded over the man's forehead to touch his beard.
Blinking furiously to remain conscious, Alonzo defiantly met the man's appraising gaze. "Who are you? What do you want?"
"You can call me Gilbert. What I want...you may have already given me. We'll see."
"If I already gave it, then let me go," the pilot reasoned, as he continued to squirm in his tightening restraints.
"I'm afraid I cannot do that. Be patient, my compatriots are out negotiating for your return right now."
"My return? To where? I don't know what you're talking about."
"Don't try to toy with me, Alonzo." Gilbert wryly noted the pilot's reaction to the use of his name. "We already know everything. Whether you realize it or not, you've been most cooperative." As Alonzo continued to test his bonds to no avail, Gilbert frowned. "It would be best if you didn't struggle; even if you were to get free, you wouldn't get far. I can assure you of that."
"Try me." Alonzo challenged through his teeth.
In answer, Gilbert rested his hand on Alonzo's shoulder, massaging gently before squeezing hard enough to pinch the pilot. The penal colonist raised his eyebrows when Alonzo defiantly tried to pull away. Gilbert slid his hand over the ropes to deliver another pinch to the pilot's chest. As he relentlessly continued to trace a painful trail, Gilbert maintained eye contact with the struggling pilot. When he crossed the bindings at the pilot's waist and went lower, Gilbert watched the fury in their brown depths turn to surprise and then capitulation. Satisfied his demonstration had been understood, Gilbert turned away.
Spent by the futility of his efforts, Alonzo fell silent, allowing his fetters to take his weight as Gilbert hobbled out of view. The pilot morosely turned the situation over and over in his head as he listened to the other man rustle around the cavern he found himself in. He absently watched the firelight dance across the ceiling, the flames casting curious shadows while they lulled his benumbed mind. Alonzo's heart skipped a beat as his vision suddenly went dark, closing his eyes in relief when it cleared again to reveal Gilbert standing over him once more.
"This should keep you a little warmer," the man explained as Alonzo felt the soft pelt drawn tight to his chin and realized he was shivering. "You're still in shock from last night. I'll try to make sure the boys go easy on you for a while."
Alonzo looked up at the man uncertainly before averting his eyes. "Thanks."
"Now drink this," Gilbert added, bringing a cup down to Alonzo's mouth and causing the pilot to gag as the liquid's foul aroma assaulted his nostrils.
"Drink it. It will help you sleep."
"I don't want to sleep!" Alonzo argued. He clamped his mouth shut tight when Gilbert started to force the cup upon him.
"You don't want to stay awake. Now drink this!"
As the first few drops dribbled past his teeth and came into contact with his tongue, Alonzo gagged against the taste, involuntarily opening his mouth in disgust. Taking advantage of the opportunity, Gilbert quickly poured the remainder of the cup into the helpless pilot's mouth, holding it shut and roughly stroking his throat as Alonzo choked against it.
Alonzo's eyesight faded as he frantically fought against the onslaught. He gagged some more as the noxious liquid found its way down into his trachea and ran freely over the sensitive tissues in his nose while he gulped the remainder down in self-defense. Once Gilbert released his mouth, Alonzo wheezed and gasped for air.
Totally drained, Alonzo watched submissively as Gilbert wiped his face and added yet another blanket on top of him. A comforting warmth filled the pilot's stomach, quickly climbing through his torso before radiating out to all of his extremities. Alonzo tried to follow Gilbert's movement with his eyes only to find they would no longer obey. Momentary panic filled the pilot before the alluring numbness reached his brain and he yielded to it.