Friday, August 19, 2022

Emerald of Earth – EPISODE 31: Murder at the Hot Pole

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. Emerald’s parents are dead, and she has escaped Earth to the SOLAR EXPLORER but finds that Inamma has followed her. The crew, aware of the origin of the artifacts, plan to protect her and hides her among the rest of the young people in the crew. Emerald lives with autism and making friends is difficult. She has a few good friends now, and while she holds the key to the artifacts, she has discovered the sport of pryzhok, and the odd hiding places the young players have hidden their clandestine pryzhok sphere. It appears that Inamma is on to them all…

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The rest of them ran up and stopped beside him, staring into the air. A blast of scorching air blew over them, stirring up a miniature sandstorm. All of them were panting now as they found they were two hundred meters from a silver, blunt spike thrust through the sand at the Hot Pole. A blimp hovered twenty meters overhead, a long cable tethering it to the spike.

A woman appeared in an open door in the gondola, added a zip-line trolley and leaped. Ayaka screamed as the woman raced down the cable then slowed before she reached the spike and dropped to the ground, bending over a pile of gray plastic shipping boxes.

She opened one, fiddled with something inside then looked up suddenly, directly at them. She squinted then smiled and waved. Glancing down, she reached back into the box and lifted out something.

Emerald squinted and shouted, “My necklace!” She sprinted forward.

The woman stood and called, “Hello, Emerald! Colonel Berg sends his compliments.” She flung it hard toward Emerald, like a throwing disc.

Emerald stopped abruptly, snagged the necklace from the air and said, “Rashida?”

“Wear it in good health,” Rashida called.

Emerald nodded slowly, automatically putting the wire ring of tektites back on around her neck. She said, “Why did you have it?”

Rashida shrugged, “Dr. Viahakis and the Colonel wanted a look, sent one of us after it. It’s pretty unremarkable, he decided.”

“Where did you get it from?”

“Dr. Viahakis gave it to me. She got the necklace from a boy named Zech.”

Emerald stalked up to her, “Zech? And how did he get it? The boxes were supposed to be print-locked to me.”

Rashida shrugged. “Maybe you dropped your necklace before you went into the shower room.”

Søren snorted and said, “Maybe he was in the girl’s shower room.” Shaking his head he said, “I should have a talk with him.

Emerald said, “That’s not important anymore.” To Rashida she said, “Why did Dr. Viahakis send you here?”

“She didn’t send me here, Colonel Berg did.”

“What’s he got to do with this?”

“He’s Chief of Security and he wanted me to give you the necklace.”

“This doesn’t make any sense!”

Suddenly a fountain of sand sprayed out of the ground to one side of the box. As the dust floated away, they saw a silver and red metal, spider-like robot. Before Emerald could warn anyone, it lunged at Rashida, stabbing her in the chest with a bladed leg. She grabbed the blade with both hand then fell backwards. The robot grabbed the box, leaped into the air and plunged back into the sand.

Ayaka, Søren, and Izegbe screamed. Emerald staggered backward and fell into Daniel. He grabbed for her, snagging the necklace, snarling, “Give me that!” The wire held, cutting into Emerald’s neck. Daniel lost his balance, flailed, smacking Izegbe and Søren, and they all tumbled in a heap as the robot leaped from the sand again, grabbed Rashida’s body and pulling it down the hole after itself like an ant lion dragging its prey. Ayaka, Izegbe, and Søren scrambled to their feet. Søren managed to breathe in a heavy whisper, “What was that thing?”

Emerald stood and said, “It’s what killed my parents. It murdered Rashida! It’s Inamma!” She ran for the hole. Izegbe and Ayaka tackled her. She struggled against them, kicking frantically.

“You can’t go there! That thing will take you too!” Ayaka cried.

Izegbe shouted, “It murdered her! It’ll murder you, too! Inamma will kill all of us!”

Søren helped drag Emerald away from the place where Inamma had dragged Rashida. He said, “It’s a NASA first generation Lemur IIa robot.”

“What?” Emerald said.

“My mom...” he said then stopped.

“It looks like your mom?”

“No!” he snapped angrily. “My mom is on the maintenance team that keeps the SOLAREX surface ‘bots working. That thing looks just like one of the repair ‘bots they put in space in the early 21st Century.”

“I told you!” Emerald exclaimed. “It’s real!”

Izegbe exclaimed. “You never told us anything about your parents.”

Emerald stared at her then burst into tears, sinking to the ground. Ayaka, Izegbe, Daniel and Søren gathered around her. Daniel led them to a huge boulder and into its shadow. They sat with their backs to it. Emerald started to talk, at first, just random stories from her life. But once she reached her parents’ “shattered spheres” tale, she calmed down. She told them what had brought them to the Chicxulub Crater and after some time, grew calmer. Her voice became deadpan as she told them everything that had happened since leaving their research base in the Yucatan, finally ending with the ride up the Beanstalk.

“But what was that thing?” Ayaka said, looking at Søren. He opened his mouth to answer.

Daniel and Emerald said in unison, “Inamma.”

Emerald shot him a look and whispered, “How do you know that?”

Daniel closed his eyes then tapped his forefinger to his temple and whispered back, “It’s here sometimes. I can feel the thing in my head.”


Daniel opened his eyes and shook his head, saying, “Neural connectivity? I use the ipik and earplugs all the time. I spend most of my free time connected.” He looked straight at Emerald. “Part of your Inamma the system, I think.”

Emerald shook her head, “It’s in the robot. It was down on Earth. It killed Mom and Dad and then followed the boxes of artifacts up here and now it has two of them.”

“What?” they all spoke together.

Daniel shrugged, saying, “I know everything you just said. I even know which boxes it has. That’s what was in my head.”

The blimp hovered silently overhead, occasionally puffing gas to hold itself in one spot against the spinning of SOLAREX.

“We have to report this,” said Søren.

Daniel patted Emerald’s shoulder awkwardly. “It’s gonna be OK.”

Emerald slapped his hand away and blurted, “How’s it gonna be OK? Who would believe us that an old robot from NASA murdered Rashida and dragged her down a hole?”

Daniel looked over at her then leaned back against the rock, saying, “The whole thing will be on the security scan. Plus she’ll be missing. How can Bridge not know?”

Emerald looked around then said, “Where’s Colonel Berg? If he knew there’d been a murder, wouldn’t he be here by now? Wouldn’t the desert be swarming with police or security or whatever they are? Where are they?” Her voice was shrill, panicked.

Daniel, Søren, Izegbe, and Ayaka looked around. Ayaka said, “Maybe we better get out of here.”

Søren and Izegbe nodded. Daniel looked dazed for a moment. Emerald said, “What’s wrong?”

He touched his head and frowned. “I’m...not sure.” He paused. “Every once in a while, I feel like I’m seeing things from outside of myself.”

“What kind of mumbo jumbo is that?” Izegbe exclaimed, “I mean literally – you sound like you’re talking about some weird little god that got into your head! What do you mean, ‘I’m seeing things from outside myself’?”

He looked at her, clearly confused. “I...sound totally unstable, don’t I?”

Izegbe jerked her chin toward the spike. “The lift system probably has a bolus in the base of the spike, probably a huge freight one. We can use that to go to Bridge and find out what’s going on.”

As they left the shadow of the boulder, a set of four gMod flyer disks swooped overhead, a person in black leather and wearing a helmet standing at attention on each one. They circled the blimp then landed near them. Colonel Berg was the first one to jump off and run to them.

Relieved, Emerald took a breath to thank him for coming.

But before she could ask him and turn it all over to security, he shouted, “What did you do to the surveillance system, you little brat?”

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 Want to read the rest all in one sitting? EMERALD OF EARTH should be available in paperback in October 2022! Come back here for more details as they become available!