Friday, July 22, 2022

Emerald of Earth – EPISODE 27 Inamma and Daniel -- Flaming the Sugarcane

THE STORY SO FAR: Emerald Marcillon’s parents excavated artifacts in the Chicxilub Crater that point to a long-ago alien war that spilled over to Earth. Inamma, an alien AI survived the war and will kill to retrieve the artifacts. When assembled, the AI intends to create a weapon that will destroy all of Humanity – thinking we are descendants of its ancient enemies. It murders her parents, but Emerald escapes and is taken to the SOLAR EXPLORER. The crew, aware of the origin of the artifacts, plan to protect her from Inamma. Emerald who is a preteen who lives with autism. She holds the key to the artifacts and has made a few friends…and Inamma has also found her…

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After she got back to her room, slept, and started to drift into the routine of her ITT, Emerald worked for a week in the cane fields, usually with Izegbe, sometimes with Ayaka and sometimes with both. Usually they finished the day too tired to do anything but sleep.

Near the end of the week, Izegbe said, “How about you come home with me sometime?”

Emerald stopped, throwing her muddy boots into the concrete sink at the end of the girls’ locker room and spraying them down before she said, “I don’t know if I can.”

Izegbe shrugged. “Why not? I’m not an alien. My mom and dad aren’t any weirder than your parents...” she stopped abruptly, her hand covering her mouth and her dark brown eyes going wide. “Sorry!” she said through her fingers.

Emerald pounded the boots together and hung them up with the rest of the others. “Nothing to be sorry about. It’s done.”

There was a dead silence then Ayaka said, “Don’t you miss them?”

“Duh,” Emerald said. “But they’re not coming back and I’m starting to get used to the idea. Sometimes. Kinda.” She paused then continued, “That weird lady – Dr. Viahakis – keeps calling me and saying, ‘if you ever need to talk about your parents, just let me know’.”

Ayaka said, “See why everyone calls her Dr. Prymore?”

Emerald nodded and continued, “I don’t need to talk to anyone about my parents.” Besides, she was waiting for Dr. Viahakis to call and talk about the necklace and what was in the boxes. She wanted to know if there was a connection between them. Then she might be OK talking about her parents.

They fell silent as they cleaned themselves and their equipment. When they stepped out of the locker room, Daniel was waiting a ways off.

“Emerald, can I talk to you?”

Warily, Emerald nodded, grabbing the bottom of Izegbe’s shirt for an instant. The older girl stayed, crossing her arms over her chest. Ayaka stood nearby as well.

He said, “You don’t need your bodyguards. I’m not gonna do anything.”

“If it’s all the same to you, I’d like to have them hang around.”

“Whatever you want. Look, I just wanted to invite you to be an observer for the next cane burn. The cane’s thick enough and tall enough to burn it off two nights from now. I’m asking Søren Ouyang to help with the flaming, but I was wondering if you’d want to observe. Eventually you can participate.”

Emerald looked at Izegbe. Both the girls had relaxed. Izegbe laughed and said, “Scariest thing I ever did! You’re in a complete spacesuit – one that’s armor rated for heat and flame. Firefighters use them in either a real fire or a practice then pass them on to us so they know they’re safe. It’s completely the best two hours I’ve ever spent!”

“Creepiest thing I ever did, but I’d do it again in a second,” said Ayaka.

Daniel looked at her, a half-smile on his face. Emerald decided he looked rather nice when he wasn’t smirking or yelling at her.

Two days later, Daniel said, “Wearing a fully armored spacesuit isn’t like wearing ship clothes.” Emerald, Søren, and Daniel were alone on the deck at the moment. Colonel Berg, who’d been talking earnestly with a pale-faced Daniel when they arrived had glanced at them then set off into the cane fields.

The three of them were dressed in the brown, skin-tight long johns everyone wore under a spacesuit. A force screen shimmered over the boiling house and the shredding barn as well as the manure pit. All of the four-wheelers were parked under the screen, too.

On the ground in front of each one of them was an upside-down spacesuit helmet attached to accordion-tube arms and a torso shell with an instrument box on the chest. Standing beside them like macabre darthmauls, were the legs of the spacesuits with a huge backpack rising up and facing away from them.

Daniel continued, “First put on the upper.” He demonstrated by leaning over as if he were diving, then standing up, his head popping up into the hard helmet. The clear visor was closed. His muffled voice came from the spacesuit’s waist. Søren glanced at Emerald, grinned sickly and dove in.

Emerald followed their lead. Suddenly Daniel’s voice said directly into her ears, “All right, now you’re hearing me over the suit radio. It’s monitored at all times by someone up on Bridge...”

An adult voice interrupted him, “This is SOLAREX Bridge Security officer Mahmoud. Do you all read me clearly, Team Twelve field burn unit?”

“Roger, Bridge. This is Daniel Clayton, over,” Daniel said automatically.

Søren chimed in, “Uh...roger, Bridge. This is Søren Ouyang, over.”

Emerald stammered, “Uh, Emerald Marcillon. Roger, Bridge.”

“Bridge acknowledges Daniel Clayton, Søren Ouyang and Emerald Marcillon. Proceed with extreme caution,” Mahmoud replied.

Daniel continued, “To get into the lower leg unit, you’ll have to turn and back in. Step fast or there’s a good chance you’ll fall over.” He backed up to the legs, stepped once, jamming the leg all the way to the foot, then quickly pulled his other leg in after him, then squatted. The two halves of the suit joined together and a waist bellows expanded as he stood up. “It’s way, way harder than it looks.”

Emerald eyed the suit, then looked at Daniel – who smirked; and Søren, who looked nervous. She said, “You’ve got to be...kidding me. If I try that, I’ll break my neck.”

Daniel’s smirk became a smile, then he said, “Try anyway.

Emerald’s suit was between the two boys. Søren got into his suit with no trouble. She got one foot in, then caught her toes on the edge of the legs and started falling forward. The boys caught her under the arms and steadied her until she got the top and bottom sealed.

Without comment, Daniel said, “All right. Check your systems. You’ve done this in virtual drills. Now it’s for real. Bridge will monitor but not say anything unless we’ve done something wrong.”

Emerald checked the suit and for the next twenty minutes, she, Daniel and Søren prepared for the cane burn. Finally, they were ready.

“Daniel Clayton here, Bridge; request permission to begin cane burn.”

There was a pause then Mahmoud said, “Bridge here, proceed with extreme caution. We are monitoring.”

Søren and Daniel reached over the shoulders of their spacesuits to pull out flamethrowers. Daniel said, “We’re going to hike along the corridor wall to the corner of the field then start the burns there, proceeding to the bolus gate under the force screen. The screen is programmed to allow us through as long as we aren’t surrounded by flames.”

Emerald gulped and added in a small voice, “What if we are surrounded by flames?”

Daniel sounded amused, but didn’t laugh outright as he said, “Any of us can trigger an air evacuation. Forty vents in the ceiling – one for each hectare – will open to a vacuum on High Deck, which is just under the asteroid’s skin. The atmosphere explosively leaves here and the fire goes out. They vents have mesh covers so we won’t be sucked out – but it’s not a recommended way to put out a fire. The person who calls it will always be suspended pending an investigation. I heard once that someone got sent back to Earth for doing it on a cornfield.”

Emerald gulped, nodded and stood as straight as she could. “Ready?” Daniel asked.

“Ready, Team Leader,” Søren snapped. Emerald was sure she could hear a smirk in his voice, too.

“Ready, Team Leader,” Emerald said with deadly seriousness.

“Let’s go,” he said and headed to the edge of the field, taking a trail that ran alongside the Level 10 transit corridor. It was a bit more than a kilometer to the far corner, so dressed in the armored spacesuits, it took nearly forty minutes for them to reach the point they were going to start the fires. Daniel stopped. He was panting as he said, “Em, you walk between Søren and me. Don’t get lost. Søren, flame the cane about once every ten meters, try and shoot over the plants, sweep back to forward even with yourself then stop...”

“I know! I know! This isn’t my first time flaming cane!”

Daniel grunted and said, “Go.”

The liquid from the flamethrowers arced out in brilliant orange and yellow fountains. The boys started moving forward with Emerald between them. They walked fast, heading diagonally across the field.

They were less than half way from the corner to the bolus, barn and boiling house when Søren said, “Daniel? Aren’t you flaming a bit much?”

Daniel didn’t reply. He had drifted from them and was standing, sweeping the flamethrower in a continuous, ever-widening arc.

Søren shouted, “Daniel!” The older boy’s flamethrower shut off and he came back to them. “What are you doing?”

His voice came over the radio woodenly, “Flaming the cane. What does it look like?”

“Like you’re trying to start a firestorm.”

“What’s a firestorm?” Emerald asked.

“When the fire gets out of control and so hot that the gases above the cane catch on fire. Fires that hot can damage the irrigation pipes and skylights. Maybe even overwhelm the force screen and wreck the buildings and equipment. It’s not a full strength forcefield like a hypersonic jet on Earth would have.”

“I wasn’t flaming too much,” Daniel muttered. They started walking again, falling into the right pattern.

As they neared the force-screened buildings, Daniel wandered away. This time even Emerald could tell he was spraying the flammable liquid too far and too long. Søren shouted, “Daniel! Stop it!”

The older boy ignored him. Søren leaned forward, touched Emerald’s helmet with his own and said, “Emerald, you try. Maybe he’ll hear your voice if you scream.”

She did, shrieking Daniel’s name at the top of her voice, rattling her own ears in the helmet. He stopped for a moment then ran forward into a wall of burning cane.

“Daniel!” Søren shouted. He holstered his flamethrower and ran after Daniel. He disappeared for an instant, then the flames parted and Emerald saw both boys.

Daniel spun around, his flamethrower blazing. Emerald screamed again. He stopped an instant before flaming Søren. Instead, Daniel flicked off the spray, whipped the hose and sprayer around Søren’s legs and jerked hard, knocking the younger boy over then jumping on him and battering his helmet with his fists.

Emerald ran at them, screaming, and jumped, knocking Daniel off Søren.

Around them, the cane field burned, the roaring crackle growing louder by the moment. Daniel and Søren lay on the ground for several minutes then finally lurched like inflexible zombies to their feet. Daniel stumbled for the bolus, sparks flying around him as he passed through the force screen. Søren helped Emerald to her feet and held her arm as they ran through the screen. Emerald felt electrical shocks all over her skin that stopped the instant they were through.

At least Daniel was waiting for them as they fell into the bolus and the door squelched shut on the fire. He flipped up his visor and stood over them, panting hard and gasped, “You can’t say anything about this.”

Søren levered himself by the wall and snapped, “You tried to start a firestorm in there, then you jumped me, then you left Emerald behind!” He stood up and shoved Daniel.

Daniel shoved back, “I did not! You tripped her when I gave the order to retreat!”

There was a stunned silence. Emerald and Søren stared at him in amazement. Søren blurted, “What? You didn’t give any orders to retreat! You tried to start a firestorm! I watched you! Emerald saw you! The security cameras saw you! You can’t lie your way out of this one, Dan!”

The older boy leaned back against the wall of the bolus, hands splayed against the pale surface of bone and skin. He wasn’t mad; he didn’t look belligerent nor like he was trying to lie. He looked terrified. His mouth opened and closed three times then unexpectedly, suddenly, he burst into tears, gloved hands going to helmeted face as he sank to his knees, his sobs pouring through the radio link like water from a burst dam.

Guy Stewart is a retired teacher and counselor, with science fiction for young people and adults published in ANALOG Science Fiction and Fact; podcast at CAST OF WONDERS; and in CRICKET the Magazine for Children. For links to his other online works, go to For an interview with me about EMERALD OF EARTH, try this: