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The Villain

Chapter Four

When Diana woke up, it was getting close to mid-morning. She was due to meet Yace in the afternoon. They were going to go racing again, like the night before. They had done if for almost half a year now, and somehow their parents were as unknowing as ever. Racing was illegal on Legacy. When the station was founded, racing had been deemed adjacent to one of the Corrupting Vices, like smoking, drinking (which both Yace and Diana were guilty of), gambling and prostitution. In the case of the latter, however, as long as the practitioner pertained to a House and had a valid working permit, it was accepted and allowed. Not necessarily encouraged, and especially disapproved of by the Church, who grew an even bigger entity after humanity expanded into the unknown space.  If anything, after the first people departed Earth, the quest for God became even more important in the life of so many.

Both Yace and Diana were perfectly aware that the reason why the authorities had not caught them yet was sheer luck. Luck which they enjoyed pushing a little bit more each time. The thoughts running through their mind were probably similar to those of any other rebellious teenager's: they felt that growing up on Legacy was being condemned to a grey, authoritarian existence that nobody really cared helping them get away from  because nobody really cared much about the whole station anyway. They were small, remote and unimportant, an annex of Earth, where people who weren't rich enough to afford an Earthly life were simply condemned to spend their days thinking about what could have been.

She felt hungry. She knew her mother was not home, as she was teaching today. She went into the kitchen, bare-footed and slightly aching. She nearly crashed the night before. Nearly. But she still won the race.

'I've got some time' she said to herself, taking the diary with her. 'I can give it a few minutes...' she added,  sitting down and picking up her reading from where she left off.

'12th November 2991

We will go into the jungle again tomorrow. Mission control has ordered us to do so. Dr. Macja wanted to look at those cocoons again, she has not slept all night. I found her in the mass going over the footage we took yesterday, trying to figure out what their nature was. She thinks they are organic. She said she could see them throb, as though they had a heartbeat. She is a geneticist, a scientist's curiosity fuels her passion. However outrageous the request might seem to the rest of us, she follows her intuition, even when it leads to going over my head, and speaking to Todheim without my approval. Her report, albeit suggestive and speculative, convinced the General. He ordered me to take us in again. I don't know why, but I have a bad feeling about this. I don't think that whatever those cocoons may hold will have been simply left behind and forgotten. We should not disturb them.'

'13th November 2991

The jungle was awfully quiet when we stepped out of the Nexus. There was no wind, the purple wing-shaped leaves of the trees bubbled us in and kept us in complete darkness. Sergent Okana and Dr. Marcja were the only ones I allowed on this mission. Chief Engineer Orwell was waiting for us in the Nexus, ready to burn the engines to their fullest if needed.

It was muddy and hard to navigate. At some point tiny and purple-lit iridescent bugs that reminded me of fireflies started flying about, camping on us and everywhere around us. I did not know what to think of it, if they were friendly or not. I thought there was little of this place we knew, and we had not yet encountered them anywhere else on the planet, so I kept my eyes wide open.

We found the opening again, where the cocoons were the day before. Some of them were now dry and grey, as opposed to the bulbous dark magenta tint they had previously. It seemed that they had hatched. However, this one specimen had been cracked open relatively recent, maybe in the last couple of hours, and it seemed fresh. If you looked past its outer wrapping, its inside had the texture of minced meat; it was pink and fleshy and pieces of it were hanging down, like it had been shredded from the inside. It was a terrifying view, as it forced us to question what kind of creature would have been able to do that, and what we might have truly been up against here.

I remember Sargeant Okana saying he was going to vomit in his helmet, which would have made me laugh had I not thought the same and how potentially life- threatening that would have been, on and by itself. But Dr. Macja found it fascinating and she took samples. She wanted to go deeper into the jungle and look for cocoons that were not 'ripe' yet. Me and Okana were guarding the perimeter, when these humanoid creatures with pearly-blue skin charged at us. They were like nothing I had seen before, their eyes had no irises, and the whites looked like pure electricity was going through them. They were incredibly strong with long and slim extremities. They were also twice the size of Okana, who, coming from a long line of Vikings, is not at all a feeble man. They put me to the ground, broke my rifle in two, like it was a mere stick. They smashed Okana against a tree, tried to claw through his armour. Dr. Macja opened fire, but bullets did them no harm. The creatures' bodies seemed to naturally produce this kind of energy field, like the one we have on the Nexus, that behaved like ammunition repellent, and our bullets simply ricocheted. Sound, however, scared them off. The sound of Dr. Macja's rifle made them scatter. They quickly dispersed, having left Okana badly beaten up and unconscious. I got away with only a broken arm and bruises.

We were scared and I was desperately calling for the Nexus. Orwell helped me carry Okana onto the ship, while Dr. Macja brought in her very special foundling, one of the cocoons. As it turned out, while the beasts were trying to kill me and Okana, she did manage to steal it. I was not pleased with this at all. 

We brought it back to the main ship and are holding it in Lab2, under sealed doors. Dr. Macja is monitoring its vitals remotely, but it looks like she might have been right. The cocoon seems to act like a womb, growing something inside of it. Most likely, one of those creatures. I trust my ship and I trust the team that built it. I trust nothing can escape Lab2. But I am worried, nonetheless. My Sergeant is in the medical bay, unresponsive, having sustained brain damage from having his head bashed against the tree repeatedly. This mission should have never happened. None of it, we should have never come to this god forsaken planet.'

'20th November 2991

I received an urgent call from Lab2, right in the middle of my report to Todheim. Dr. Macja had requested my immediate presence. She specifically instructed not to let anyone else know this was an emergency, but also not to stop anywhere else, and come straight over.

When I arrived, I saw what I could only describe as baffling. I could not understand at first, it felt like the messages my eyes were sending to my brain were short-circuited. The cocoon was open, liquid and flesh coming out if it. The fluid seemed gooey and colourless, a bit like plasma. No blood. Or nothing that I could recognise as blood. It did not mean pain was excluded from the equation. But the most terrifying and amazing thing was that Dr. Macja was holding something in her arms, wrapped up in towels. I could not believe my eyes when I saw it.

''It's a baby girl' she told me, unravelling the baby's tiny face from beneath the covers. I felt tears come to my eyes. I looked at Macja and I just did not know what to say or what to do. For a brief moment, all of it reminded me of my wife, of my late daughter, the emotion almost made me sick. Macja's eyes were glowing. I could tell she thought this was a miracle and a wonderful act of science, but I really could not see it as anything other than an abomination. The girl came out of a cocoon that grew in a tree in an alien jungle on an alien planet, far from human touch or interaction that we knew of. And yet, she looked as human as possible, with round and perfectly rosy cheeks, tiny nose and mouth, examining our faces and the world unveiling all around her.

Macja handed her to me. She started cooing, she frowned as though she knew what was going on, as though she sensed my nervousness and that I considered for a brief moment telling Macja to throw her out of the airlock.

''What is it, is it really human?'' I asked, profoundly shaken by doubt. Macja nodded softly, with a warm smile. She said she needed to study her more, but preliminary tests showed that she had human DNA. I took the girl in my arms, reluctantly. Somehow, I manged to wake her up, might have been my anxious breath roling over her small body, foreign and disruptive. She attempted a cry. I rocked her slowly back and forth and she settled quite quickly. She looked me in the eye, and I felt something I'd not felt since the birth of my own girl: silence. Everything turned quiet. Her big brown eyes looked like they held the beauty of the universe, and I felt pleasantly trapped. What a mesmerising creature. What a sweet and candid baby.'

'1st December 2991

Todheim ordered our return. He wants us quarantined, and the little one in a test lab. I can't say I don't see his point, it's unseen and unheard of for a human baby to be born out of a plant on a distant planet, in a distant galaxy where no human settlement has been discovered or created yet. But it happened. She is healthy, she is well, she appears to be quite a joyous child, all things considered. And now we are going to take her apart and look inside her and see what it is that makes her special.

It feels wrong. I can't explain why, but it feels like this stone should be left unturned. I'm looking at her sleeping as I'm writing these words, and I can recognise that I have grown very fond of her. We all have, really. We are all looking after her, taking turns in watching her, keeping her fed and warm and happy. We don't have milk, can't feed her that, but we have a formula developed to optimise our bodies in faster than light transportation, and it seems to do her good. We've combined it with some of Okana's banana flavoured protein powder, and she seems to have really taken to it.

It's strange how small the world and all its troubles seem when you look into a baby's eyes.'

'15th December 2991

Todheim has separated little Diana from us. They have her hooked to screens and machines of all kinds, they have prodded and probed her in all possible ways. We can't go home; nobody knows we've returned to the UN headquarters. We can't do anything but witness them treat a child like it's nothing but a lab experiment. This is all awful, and it feels like the physical separation from her is making us all quite unwell.

I have asked Todheim to allow one of us to at least go and settle her, she misses her blanket and the comfort of our arms. He said he'll take it into consideration and confer with the President of the UN. I think that's bullshit.'

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