[identity profile] ice-tealc.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] remix_redux
Title: Frame of Mind (The Eye of the Storm Remix)
Author: [livejournal.com profile] kangeiko
Summary: After a dig at Syria Planum goes awry, IPX dispatches a team from its New Technologies division to investigate.
Fandom: Babylon 5
Characters: Mr Morden, Mary Kirkish, Anna Sheridan.
Rating: PG-13 for swearing and sexual situations.
Disclaimer: I don't own them.
Original story: Before Any Coming Storms by [livejournal.com profile] aris_writing.
A/N: This monster was betaed by a great many people, all of whom worked very hard to fix my mistakes. For this, I am very grateful indeed, and if any snaphus sneaked in there anyway, it's entirely my own fault.


Part 1


"Welcome to Mars Spaceport. Please have your landing cards and ID ready for inspection."

He arrived at some forsaken hour of the morning – five a.m., local time, near as he could figure – and tried to get his bearings. The immigration queue on his right was the first stop. He dallied over locating his cards, but the queue was significant, even at this hour, so he had plenty of time. Enough to start shifting from foot to foot at any rate, and pull out the prelim report for another look.

It's the same language, all right, but that makes no sense. Ikaara 7 is several jump-points away, and with a liveable atmosphere. It's plausible to have a civilization rise and fall in situ. Mars is a big ball of dust; why would they send anything over here? A probe, maybe? The scans sent through revealed something big deep beneath the Martian soil, 300 or so feet down, below solid rock, where the prelim teams couldn't get at it. They'd have to bring in explosives to blast the top layer off, and go in with the heavy diggers – did they even use heavy diggers on Mars? There was something about the gravity here that he couldn't quite recall; either it helped or hindered – and then with smaller teams. Doubtless Aspen would be sending them down there with shovels and a portable scanner if he thought he could get away with it.

His arm was tiring; he shifted his carryall onto his other arm. The prelim scans showed something of a lesser density than the surrounding rockface, but not by much. Whatever was down there was packed tight. He wished they'd run some higher-frequency scans of the area, but no big loss, they could do that later. There weren't any photos included of the carved stone monolith, though, which made no sense. Why would the prelim team send through close-ups of the glyphs, but not of the overall positioning? He hoped like hell that no-one had had the bright idea of moving the thing into a lab, as their tender mercies would doubtless destroy more evidence than he could manufacture in a lifetime.

He reached the head of queue at last, and tucked the pad back into his side pocket. The immigration officer was a dour-faced woman, short, dumpy, and living her life according to a rationing of facial expressions, if the blank look she gave him was anything to go by. "Enjoy your stay," she said, completely devoid of inflection.

"Thank you, I shall." Humming a little, he went past the barrier, stopped, and looked around. Now what? Maybe he should try calling Aspen? He found a quiet corner and sat down, unzipping his carryall and rummaging around.

"Mr Morden?" He looked up. A woman, slim, thirty-ish, with a shock of fading blonde hair. She wore a plain blue jumpsuit; likely she'd been out at the dig before hopping the shuttle to come meet him. Nice effect, though: straight to business, no frills. "I'm Mary Kirkish."

Kirkish, Aspen's biotech expert. Right. "Ah – hi, yes, sorry," his carryall threatened to spill across the concourse. "Damn. One second." He stuffed everything back in, zipped it up and put himself to rights. "Dr Kirkish." He offered her his hand. "I'm Morden."

Her grip was firm, even. "Pleased to meet you, Mr Morden."

He threw a sideways glance at her as he shouldered the carryall, laughing a little. "Just Morden, please. Mr Morden was my father."

"Not a fan of first names?" She hazarded.

"No," he said shortly. She threw him a look, and he relented. "Old school habit." She smiled back at that and he relaxed a little. It wasn't fair to take out his fatigue on Kirkish, after all. "Where to, Dr Kirkish?"

"I'll take you to your hotel first – let you drop your stuff off, get settled in. We need to finish up the paperwork, anyway."


"For immigration," she clarified. "They make it a pain on purpose, I think - the last thing they want is for you to set down roots and decide to stay!"

They reached the exit, where the crowded shuttles were ferrying people to hotels and major shopping centres in tin cans not much bigger than sardine tins. Not much chance of that, Morden thought.


The hotel room was plain, but serviceable. It included a bath as well as a shower unit, the bellhop had proudly informed him, as if this was a great luxury. Actually, thinking on the likely issues with water, it probably was. Closer inspection of the units revealed that there was only so much water allocated per person per day. You could 'save up' units throughout the week, or build up a water debt that you paid for when you checked out. What the hell, he'd been travelling all day; he turned on the shower and stepped under the spray.

After refreshing a little, he did the usual unpacking-I-forgot-my-toothbrush rigmarole. At least he only had a few things with him. Most of his stuff would follow in a few days with Denni and Sarah. It would be good to see them again, he hadn't really had a chance to stay at home for a while. Mars needed engineers, just like everywhere else; Denni had already had half a dozen job offers. She'd keep busy enough, so grabbing a few days with them when they arrived would be a welcome blessing.

He kipped a little, still jetlagged from the journey, then woke; checked the time. Still a little time before he was due to meet with Kirkish. He phoned down to reception, and a helpful female voice told him that Dr Kirkish had filled in all of his residency requirements, and he was now registered with the local police. Swell.

What now? He glanced over the prelim work again, but he'd already worked out some initial impressions and prepped as best he could, and working on it any more would just stress him. He flicked through the local channels on the screen: sports – the Yankees striking out – ten million kiddies channels with animated monsters – the adult channel with faux!Centauri dancers – he barely noticed when he dropped off again.

His alarm woke him with half an hour to spare. "Damn." At this rate, he'd be late to his own funeral. Cursing a little, he had reception call him a flier for the main lab, and hurriedly stuffed the flimsies back into a satchel.

As it turned out, he needn't have worried, because Martin traffic was nonexistent at that time of day. Either that or the cabbie didn't necessarily follow any particular rules of driving. No matter: he reached the building with five minutes to spare. He met Kirkish on the steps outside, and was taken up to a fifth-floor observation room. "The others will be along in a minute."

The others turned out to be Aspen, and the UA head, Holtz. Introductions and handshakes; the usual platitudes. Finally, they crowded around the three small monitors showing the initial report, and the continuing feed from the dig. On the screen was the site as it currently was: angry and red, scarred and blasted as an open wound. The only colour were the grey metal struts of the scaffolding, and the couple of metres of exposed black something.

"We think it's alien in origin," Holtz said. Heaven only knew why the councilman felt the need to be there, but he'd struck Morden as a sensible enough person on the holo, so obviously something was up. Although, well - Denni was always warning him that he was entirely too trusting, but - it wasn't his job to be suspicious, was it? He was here to read glyphs; let Aspen worry about the politics of it.

"No shit." He stared at the screen. Aspen elbowed him in the ribs. "What? Ah, sorry."

"That's quite all right," Holtz said, visibly amused. "You're the expert, after all."

Morden made a non-committal noise in the back of his throat and moved closer to the screen. "Those look like blast marks," he said, pointing to the hard, shiny edges of the rock. "Here, and here."

"Yeah – we blasted away at the top layer, then went in with the diggers. Only to reach a couple of metres of the thing, mind you. We weren't aiming to excavate the entirety of it."

"No matter what Psi Corps thinks," Kirkish muttered.

Morden raised an eyebrow at the vitriol in her voice.

"You'll have to forgive Mary - she's not a big fan of Psi Corps. They've been a bit skittish about us blowing stuff up so near to one of their domes," Holtz explained. He nodded at the screen. "Rocks aren't the only things that get sheared away by too-large an explosion, and they don't want any tectonic activity near their generators. Can't say that I blame them."

"We cushion the fall-out perfectly well, as Psi Corps know," Kirkish snapped. "They're just causing trouble."

He was still studying the screens. "This is a bit limited. Can I go down there?"

Aspen rolled his eyes. "This may surprise you, but the project hasn't been sitting around waiting for your arrival with baited breath. There's a reason the place is empty." Morden raised an expectant eyebrow. "Well – Derek, you want to take over?"

"Not much to tell, really. There was an accident, and a man died," Holtz said bluntly.

Morden shook his head. "That's unfortunate, but I don't see why an industrial accident would –"

"Not industrial," Kirkish interrupted. She pulled out the stack of flimsies he'd been looking at earlier, rifling through them with quick, efficient movements until she found the snapshot of the markings. "Here. You wanted to know why we didn't take scans of the message surface? We did." She pulled out another shot, a aerial shot of the dig. From above, the surface of the probe was the same hard, black opaqueness as the language surface. "Those markings weren't on a plinth or a convenient bit of rock. They're on that damned thing."

Morden looked at the image of the markings. He looked at the aerial view. He looked at the image on the screen. "That's not the same surface," he said, very reasonably.

Kirkish laughed, a faint note of hysteria in her voice. "Not anymore, no! The fragging thing changed, right before our eyes. One minute we were excavating, the next – that message flashed up." She gestured to the markings. "One of the dig's people was stupid enough to approach it." She stepped closer, while both Holtz and Aspen, it seemed, were looking anywhere but at them. "He touched it."

Christ. Morden looked back at the screen, at the hard, flat surface, black and greasy to the eye as an oil slick. There was something inherently repugnant about it, of the slickness of the surface and the arachnid shape. Evolutionary response, he thought, somewhat dizzy. The mere thought of touching the slick skin of the probe, fascinating through it was, was nausea-inducing. Desire and disgust warred within him; disgust won out, and his stomach clenched. He reached up in a casual touch to his chest; just a quick graze of his fingertips on the cool, smooth rock to centre himself. "He died?" He asked faintly.

"Eventually," Kirkish murmured. "First he went mad. Psi Corps wouldn't touch him, said he was a terminal case. They just – closed the area."

God. Telepaths and that, it set off every fear response in his brain.

Aspen cleared his throat. "We're going to open it up in a day or so," he said, brusque. "Full contamination gear, and a good two-metre safety zone around it." He looked over at Holtz. "If that's all right with you, Derek."

Holtz shrugged helplessly and laced his hands together. "We can hardly leave it sitting there. What if there are more of those things under the surface?"

That was not a particularly happy thought. Aspen looked like he'd swallowed a lemon.

"Well," Morden said, looking back down at the flimsies and the brief flash of markings. "We know one thing: whatever it is, and however many there are, this one, at least, was sent from the same place as the visitors to Ikaara 7."

Kirkish raised an eyebrow. "You're sure of that already? I thought that there was some variation in the, the –"she cast about for the word, "the structure of the language."

"Yes, there is, but no more so than there is between Latin and Cyrillic. Those are syntactical differences, not semantic ones." He pointed at the second row of curlicues, beginning and mid-way through. "The two follow the same semantic patterns. I'm not a diachronician, but that level of congruence definitely indicates a single point of origin."

Aspen laughed at Kirkish's expression. "Morden was the one who wrote the initial linguistic analysis of the Ikaara discovery. It was why I asked him to come here."

Some fuss, after that – logistics, planning, starting the excavation up again. Morden asked for, and was granted, space in the small base near the excavation site. They'd set up a small domed area for their fieldwork, and while ordinarily linguistics wouldn't be getting top dollar, given the boom of the Ikaara find, Aspen was willing to consider alternate routes. By which logic, Morden figured, Kirkish had refused to sacrifice any more of her people to trying to do hands-on research on the biotech. Well, so much the better. There was no use in prodding at the thing if they couldn't figure out what it did.

If they blew up the planet, someone was going to get it in the neck.



His first view of the alien probe was everything he had feared. In his mind, he had already settled on the ideal scenario: accompanied by the various techs re-opening the site, he'd settle down in front of a blank, black wall, and, in short order, the wall would start to flash messages at him. He'd record to his heart's content, then go off for a bit to analyse said recordings. A few days at the probe, a few days analysis: the fieldwork done and dusted in a mere few months, with ten years of further study required.

Of course, the 'fieldwork and a fully-staffed research lab' boast on the NewTech recruitment posters was a complete lie. You rarely got either one of these; both? Forget about it. For the Ikaaran dig he'd been stuck back on Earth, looking at bad holos and third-hand data. Here, it was likely that he'd have all the research resources he could ask for, but the probe itself wouldn't cooperate. Well, other than to respond to idiots like that grabby guard, he thought as he was led around the corner. He stopped. And stared.

"Here it is, Dr Morden."

Holy mother of God. His mouth wasn't hanging open, because he'd clenched it shut the moment his brain had started to process what his eyes were seeing.

It was - big.

Not big as in merely 'large', but immense, spanning his entire field of vision. That the vast majority was hidden beneath red rock wasn't relevant; he could see it stretch out into infinity; dark, mottled flesh, pulsing with life and a presence that made his understanding of sentience secondary. This wasn't a piece of alien biotech, he realised suddenly as his stomach roiled; grimly he made an effort and did not vomit. This was an alien.

"What the hell are you doing?!" A body slammed into him, hard, and tackled him to the floor.

He blinked, startled, and looked up into the enraged face of the dig's security chief. "What -?" he gasped out, shifting beneath the man's not-inconsiderable weight. "Get off me!"

"Christ, are you out of your mind? The last person who tried to touch that thing was carted out of here on a stretcher. Is that what you want?"

"I didn't," he started to deny hotly; then, "shit, shit -" because, yes he had. He'd been reaching out for it without realising it, hand outstretched to do - something. Something stupid evidently. It had not been gentle or gradual, as one might expect from biologicals overdosing on pheromones, but a sudden head-rush. He'd been hit with the abrupt stomach-clenching urge to touch it, embrace it - to join, somehow - that his mind had found fundamentally repugnant. Like human pheromones coming off a spider, maybe. He let his head fall back, his helmet hitting the floor with a 'thunk'. "OK. I get it. There's something odd about it, and I wasn't watching for it. It won't happen again."

The security chief looked at him suspiciously, his face as scrunched up as a bulldog's. "I don't have time to give you a full-time nanny. There are plenty of others here doing things just as stupid that need watching."

Huh. Interesting. Morden sighed. "I promise, OK? I'll be careful."

Moving slowly, the chief got off him, then slowly offered him a hand up. Morden let himself be pulled up, surprised at how easily the chief managed his weight. No; Martian gravity was lower than Earth's, that's right. That was why the chief had managed to get him on the floor so quickly. He took a deep breath and shook his head to clear it, toggling the 'record' switch on his pad. "All right. That was interesting. Has anything similar happened before?"

One by one, the rest of the team started to speak.


The sessions were turning out to be very productive indeed. His initial physiological response to the probe had faded a little to manageable levels; still not sure what it was doing to his brain chemistry, he made a note to keep an eye on it. With the increased productivity came longer hours; he got into the habit of heading back to the hotel a few hours after sundown, his body clock hopelessly awry. It seemed best to just ride with it, as the Martin day was a scant 37 minutes longer than an Earth one and they tended to add them on just after midnight – an extra half-hour of sleep. Well, who was he to argue?

A few days in, he'd settled well enough. It was almost nice to live out of just one duffel bag, as mornings involved climbing back into his freshly-laundered jumpsuit, catching a bit of the local news with a cup of coffee and something starchy, and then heading out to the dig. His little area in base camp consisted mostly of reference manuals, and all the work he'd been able to salvage from classification from the Ikaara studies. A cramped little desk, a filing cabinet with a busted lock, and a stupid little computer terminal. Bliss.

First order of business was to set up parameters and accurately document the recorded message. Well, that was simple enough – they had one useable shot, and one dead guy. He thought about maybe starting off with the Ikaara stuff, but he'd taken that as far as it would go. Besides which, the two languages weren't identical. There were some similarities, to be sure, but there was no point in drawing up the lexicostatistics and then finding out that the link was due to contact between two separate species, rather than stemming from a common proto-language. He didn't think so, but it was more a hunch than anything else. It didn't help that the mediums were so different: the Ikaaran work had been permanently etched into stone monoliths, with some sun and shadow imagery (there hadn't been enough verbs for him to work on the top-lines beyond that, but it had been enough for starters). This brief message had been transient, and seemed to contain mostly verbs. A doing-message, then, but doing what? He was also confused over the draw the probe had, in pulling people in so thoroughly. Mental or physiological? He put in a request for the deceased's autopsy report, particularly the brain chemistry analysis. Not that he had much of an understanding of neurochem, but that's why the good Lord invented exec summaries. Frankly, he didn't think that the pull necessarily had much to do with the message being flashed up - rather like body language versus spoken communication - but given that he didn't know what had been 'said', he didn't really have a starting point there either. He puzzled over that one for a while, then decided that he was going about it ass-backwards in trying to draw meanings before setting up the semantic net. And, anyway, it was time for dinner.

He caught the flier back to the hotel. The dig ran a shuttle there and back, but it went a little earlier than he was willing to make use of it and, besides, the flier wasn't that much more expensive. Something was nagging at him as he made his way up the stairs – something he'd forgotten – and it was annoying enough that he considered turning around and heading back to see if he'd locked everything away. Don't be paranoid, he decided finally. It's all done.

Which was fine, until he unlocked the room door was greeted by a shrieking infant and a very angry Denni.

"Oh," he said, realisation sinking in too late. "You're here."

Denni spun around from where she'd been glaring out of the window. She wore heavy travelling clothes to account for the chill on the shuttle over; they must have been a real pain when she'd been waiting for immigration. Plus, Sarah – still buckled into her travel-chair – and all the bags… they'd used a flier, of course, but it must have taken a while. "Yes," Denni hissed, eyes narrowed to slits. She had shadows under her eyes, and her make-up was streaky from the heat. Sarah had been stripped down to her underclothes, but there had been no such option for Denni, who had likely broiled in her travel garb. "We are. And were the fragging hell were you?" He winced and opened his mouth to reply but she went on, regardless. "Four hours at the spaceport! Four hours! The immigration officials rang through the entire hotel phonebook trying to get a hold of you – and where were you? Not reachable! I had to get them to ring Aspen's mobile to get my papers approved!"

He winced at that; Aspen wouldn't have been pleased, and would likely let him know it tomorrow. Plus, he was clearly in the wrong. "I'm sorry," he said finally, when she'd ran out of breath. "I completely forgot, and it was incredibly thoughtless of me. I'm sorry."

Denni glared, and snatched up the infant, deftly unbuckling her and placating her with what appeared to be an industrial-size pacifier. Sarah went quiet almost immediately, too surprised by the sudden loss of discomfort to scream about it. "Don't you dare ruin my rant by apologising!"

He hung his head in abject shame. "I'm sorry. You go on ahead."

She threw a cushion at his head.

Smiling – but just a little, because she was still pissed as all hell, and justifiably so – he ducked and quickly stepped forward, pulling her into a hug. "You go on and throw all the things you like, Den," he murmured into her hair. "I really am sorry. I don't know what the hell I was thinking. I was at the site, and -" he shrugged helplessly.

She twisted in his arms for a bit, but he was ultimately stronger and, besides, kicking him in the balls wouldn't make her any less tired or irritable. "You need a keeper, is what you need," she sighed finally, and burrowed her face into his shoulder. "You'd forget your head if it wasn't screwed on."

He kissed her hair in response, tightening his hold on her. It's strange, the human capacity to forget. You don't really realise how much you missed someone until they were standing in front of you, angry and sweaty and throwing things at your head. And then, all of a sudden, you're astonished at how you managed to get through the day without them. "I missed you," he said, and, "you smell good."

She wrinkled her nose up at him. "I've been sweating for four hours."

"Yeah, I know." He grinned. "Come on. I'll help you get clean."

She prodded his side, unerringly finding the ticklish spots, but was laughing her acquiescence even before his gasp of surprise.

Then, in the shower, with Sarah safely amazed into quietness by her pacifier, they said 'hello' properly.


"I was thinking of waiting a couple of weeks before starting work," Denni said, winding a towel around her wet hair.

Stretched out on the bed, Morden watched her body with considerable interest. "Hmmm?"

She swatted him. "I said, I'm going to wait a couple of weeks before working. I've got to work out the logistics of this place – child care, groceries, all the rest of it."

"IPX takes care of that," he said vaguely.

She rolled her eyes and finally gave in, wrapping a towel around her naked body. "OK, you can put your tongue back in now."

He grinned. "Well, I've been surrounded by algorithms and bits of rock for a week. You can't expect me to not notice a naked woman when she's right in front of me." He sobered. "Besides, you don't need to do all that. We're in a hotel, we can get most things sorted here. And IPX can sort out the childcare."

She sat beside him on the bed, nudging him out of the way. "Only an academic would let someone else decide their meals for them," she said, rolling her eyes. "There is such a thing as being too easy-going, you know? And, besides, I need to scope out where I'm going to be working and the rest of it. Maybe take Sarah out for a day-trip – I hear that one of the Tharsis domes has a zoo; might as well get the rest of the admin stuff done then. No point in delegating to someone at IPX who'll probably find an enormous nanny to live with us instead of a nice day-care centre."

"I don't think that Mars has live-in nannies," Morden said, sotto voce.

Denni harrumphed and set off on the search for underwear. "Tell me about the dig," she called back from the other room. "Is it anything like Aspen said?"

"It's better. It's – Christ, Den, it nearly blew the top of my head off. Remember how I was throwing fits over the Ikaara glyphs?"

"No verbs."

"Exactly. Well, here, best that I can figure it, I've been given nothing but verbs, all lumped together."

She stuck her head around the door. "It sounds Germanic."

He made a face. "I'm not even going to dignify that with a response."

She grinned, and went back to searching. "All right, you've got your verbs. Sounds good."

"It is. And we've got quite a bit of access – Biotech are heavily involved, of course, but linguistics is quite important, too. I've got a desk and everything."

"Stop it, you're making me jealous."

"Mock all you want, you horrible own-office-with-her-name-on-the-door person."

She emerged from the other room, dressed in a pair of simple black slacks and a deep blue sweater. "Hey, I can't help it if my skills are in demand." She patted his knee. "Poor academia-bound baby."

"Yeah, yeah."

Laughing, "all right, I won't mock. I'm glad that it's going well, honestly. I remember how frustrated you were about the Ikaara gig."

He frowned a little. "Yeah. And it really is. Only –"

"Only -?"

"Well, it's stupid. Psi Corps's got a facility somewhere near the dig – we're not exactly sure where, but it's within the blast radius of the site. And they've been throwing fits that we're using explosives to dig."

"I can see their point. One crack in the dome and they're all history."

Slowly, "well, that's just it. It's low-level stuff, the sort of things you can use inside a dome, almost. The Syria Planum UA rep is fine with us blasting away, and by the guidance Psi Corps gave us, we're closer to the SP dome than to the Psi Corps one." It didn't make any sense to kick up such a fuss over nothing, and Psi Corps was nothing if coldly rational. The lack of reason - a known reason, anyway - bugged him considerably.

Denni shrugged fluidly. "Maybe the Psi Corps dome isn't as robust as this one. Or maybe the maps were a bit exaggerated. It is a military facility, after all."


She frowned at his expression and poked him in the ribs. "Okay, that's enough worrying. Up, up, you're taking me to dinner."

Startled, "now?"

"Well, it is dinner time! And some of us have only had shuttle food for the entire day!"

That was fair enough. Besides, good food always made Denni more than a little bit sociable, and their earlier tryst had barely taken the edge off. He grinned. "What the hell."



A couple of days later, he had the suite to himself again, with Denni and Sarah off on their little trip. He decided to use up all of his week's water allowance in one extravagant go and take a bath. No point in not taking advantage of his non-residential status, after all, and it might help him think. Back on Earth, he'd used to sit in Denni's hot tub for hours on end, reading and rewriting de Saussure (his professors would have been horrified), and turning into a prune. Ah, student life, he thought with no small amount of irony.

The bathwater was somewhat murky, but he dumped a handful of Denni's bath salts into it, so at least it looked like welcoming murkiness. He threw his clothes into the laundry chute, wondered briefly if he'd left his cards in his back pocket and would have to run down to the basement to rescue them before the whole lot was cleaned, then discovered them in his bag and felt rather silly. Bath it was, then, to soak some of that frustration away. He'd been all over the place lately, and it had nothing to do with the dry heat. He'd acclimatised to the recycled air finally, and his body had decided that it was permissible to sleep through the night. Sarah didn't agree, though, and even when she'd tired herself out, he was too wired to drift off.

He fiddled with the clasp of the chain around his neck, annoyed that it couldn't cooperate, and then gave up. Well, a bath likely wouldn't destroy it, he reasoned, and left it on. He stretched; popping joints, and sank down into the tub. Eyes closed, head back: the typical 'I'm going to relax if it kills me' position.

The problem was, he wasn't looking at an inscription, or a parchment, or anything of the sort. The alien – he'd started thinking of it as alive, if not necessarily sentient – had flashed the message, and then fallen silent. It could have been Kirkish's damn fool fault for letting someone touch it, and it got spooked, or maybe hurt, somehow. The guard had been carted off kicking and screaming, and had died shortly after of a cerebral haemorrhage – what did that mean, then? Kirkish was going on about neural tech, but that was her area, so of course she would be. He was quite happy to let her get on with it, if only she could get the thing talking again. There's too small an area uncovered, he thought. It tried talking to us, and it got stung. Even if it's just a piece of biotech and is nothing more than a computerised probe, sticking a pin in its side's going to send up some sparks.

On a purely selfish level, his work was stalling. The probe could have been flashing a recipe for Cajun chicken or revealing the secrets of the universe, and he still wouldn't be able to tell the difference.

Strange that it'd flash a message at all, though. Most things tended towards inertia.

He dozed for a while, letting the ideas percolate. By the time the water ran cool, things had started to figure themselves out. I wouldn't flash a welcome message then zap whoever came in, he thought. But maybe they would. No, that makes no sense – no point in sending something lethal out there if you're aiming to make peaceful contact. And the thing's been buried for centuries, so its purpose may have been corrupted. This was getting him nowhere. He dried off slowly. Look at it another way: what makes logical sense? A message is sent, contact established, and a man is dead.

He stilled. Fragging hell. He keyed the comm. unit – voice only, out of deference for propriety – and called up Aspen. "Richard?"

"Morden, I'm a bit busy right now –"

"Yeah, drop it all, this is important."

Indignation over the line. Aspen sure liked his little kingdoms. "What the hell are you talking about?"

"I'm talking about the probe, what else? I figured out why it tried to communicate – god, I'm an idiot, I can't believe it didn't register before!"

"All right, you're gonna make sense soon, yeah?"

He growled, impatient. "The first message was a warning: do not touch. We didn't listen, and we got zapped for our trouble. I'm not sure if that message was conscious. But - I think it was like – like a bee sting, you see? We buzzed, and got slapped down. Reflex - a hardwired response, not an actual attempt at communication."

Aspen's voice grew tinny with annoyance. "Are you trying to tell me that it's not going to talk again?"

"I don't think it was 'talking' the first time! More like - a hazard warning sign on automatic." He paused. Well, they wouldn't know unless they tried, right? "I think I can get it to talk. But I'm going to need to get its attention. We're gonna need to dig it out. All of it." Pure speculation - but it couldn't hurt. Besides which, he wanted it free, even if he wasn't entirely sure why.

There was another possibility, of course – that the probe was brain-dead, and that contact wasn't possible. Only, he didn't think that saying it would go over too well.

Silence. Laughing, then, "yeah, in a month of Sundays!"

Well, hell. "I think I can persuade the U.A. head to fund it."

"Holtz? I don't think that NewTech'll fund it, not with Psi Corps breathing down our necks, and you think that Holtz is going to go head to head with the rest of the councilmen to fund this excavation project?"

Morden thought this over, worrying the towel between his fingers. Nothing wrong with a bit of confidence, was there? At least, that's what Denni said. And he had one hell of an incentive to pull a rabbit out of the hat. "Yeah," he said finally. "Yeah, I do."

Aspen huffed at him for a while after that, but asking wouldn't hurt. And he surely knew that Morden would have a better chance – however miniscule it might have been – of getting that funding if the team were united. "Fine," he said. "Fine. Come to my office tomorrow. I'll ring Mary, we'll talk strategy."

Good. He gave a time, and rang off. And realised that he was freezing his ass off.

Clothes, then. And possibly sleep.


He was on a high cliff, looking down. It was red; he remembers this much. He could hear screaming from above, and thought that maybe it was the desert birds. No; that can't be right. He's not in Arizona anymore; this is Martian red, and when he looks down from the edge of the cliff, he sees people in EVA suits scurrying back and forth, like ants. The screams above him strengthen, circling above, high-pitched and full-throated until, at last, he yields and looks up, and wakes up.

He blinked disoriented. He wasn't sure what he'd been dreaming about, the dream scuttling back in the depths of his mind as he tried to reach for it. Judging by the state of his nightclothes, though, it had been a good dream - or on its way there, at any rate. He cursed a little and then rolled over, the pillow over his head.


The next morning, he slept in. No early start at the site meant luxuriating in bed for another half hour or so. It was still a little cold, though – the recyc was maybe working overtime? Or he'd become used to the heat underground. Anyway. He snagged an extra blanket and crept back under the covers for those few extra minutes.

Halfway through breakfast, Denni called.

"Hello, stranger." The connection was a little fuzzy.

"Hey, you! How's the dig?"

"Good, it's good." Briefly, he filled her in on what he'd decided.

Denni frowned at him. "That makes sense. From a human standpoint, anyway. I wouldn't know about an alien one."

"Neither would I!" And that was the problem. "How're you? How's Sarah?"

"Talking!" Denni grinned, showing teeth. "Sort of. She does love the zoo, though. I couldn't tear her away from the baby duckies. She demanded a picture."

He rolled his eyes. "Me a linguist and you an engineer, and we manage to produce a flighty arty type."

"Well, the milkman was always very creative," Denni assured him solemnly. She ruffled her hair, settling it back into a more natural position.

"Haircut?" He hazarded.

Ruefully, "is it that bad?"

"No, it's great. New." He hadn't noticed until she'd moved, but she'd lost a good three inches off the bottom. God. Focus! He'd managed to end up talking to himself the other day; completely oblivious that the systems tech had walked off. A minute or two was understandable, but she'd gone off a good half hour previous! It would have been funny, maybe, if it wasn't ever so slightly worrying. It was a wonder that Aspen wasn't having him committed, frankly. He changed the subject. "When are you back?"

"Five or so hours. We set off in a bit, but I'm building in the obligatory toilet trips."

"We shoulda kept her in nappies," he muttered.

Denni smiled back. "Be good. I'll call when we get into the dome. Love you."

"Love you too. Kiss Sarah for me."

He signed off; thought about maybe reading the paper. No, he was too wired up already. He'd been wired up a lot lately: something in the food, maybe? Or this dig was just too important to mess up, and his body knew it. Well, he'd have to think of a way to unwind, because this level of wakefulness was doing him no favours. He could catch the shuttle or a flier to the main lab, but he had a good free hour yet. So why not walk?

The route to the lab was a bit more complicated on foot than by flier. For one thing, he didn't fancy going across the local park - what was essentially a subterranean field, with lights above to fool the plants into photosynthesising – so he had to walk 'round. He picked up a coffee on the way though, and tried to structure his thoughts. Aspen might be on board in theory, but he wasn't too sure how much of his own personal stock he'd be willing to put on the line. Plan for doing it alone, and be glad of the extra help, rather than be let down mid-negotiation. Besides, Kirkish might be against the idea – it sure wouldn't make NewTech happy, and they were her meal ticket. Well, for all of them, sure, but Kirkish more than most.

He reached the lab in good time. He hadn't visited that much before, preferring a couple of pads and a quiet desk somewhere near the site rather than a central office, but it was a nice enough building. It had escaped the Martian obsession with sandstone, and was instead a handsome redbrick, more like a university than a government site. Inside, Morden was waved through somewhat lax security, and sat down in a perfectly ordinary office, complete with potted plant.

"I've had a hell of a time selling this pitch to the others, Morden," Aspen started, entering the room a couple of minutes later and trying to juggle a stack and several pads sat atop it. Kirkish was on his heels, still in her customary blue jumpsuit.

"We don't need the team's approval," Morden said mildly. "Just their acceptance."

Aspen gave him an odd look. "Yeah, and that would have gone over real well!" Aspen dumped the lot on his desk and took a seat, Kirkish by his side. "Well, you've got Mary convinced at any rate, so I suppose that it isn't a totally stupid idea."

That was unexpected. Biotechs liked their security, as a general rule. Maybe he wasn't the only one losing his head over this. "You'd back a civilian excavation?"

She grinned and ran a hand through her hair. "I'd back a Narn excavation if it'll get that thing loose. It's no use to us sitting under half a ton of rock, and EarthGov's dragging its heels. I don't see why we shouldn't take a little initiative."


Denni called a little while later to let him know that she'd arrived.

"Can't talk, am stressing."

She laughed. "All right. We're back safe. We'll see you later. Love you."

"Love you too."

And back to the proposal. The problem was, there wasn't a single reason on God's green earth that Holtz should agree to funding the excavation. He had Psi Corps breathing down his neck, EarthGov pinching the purse strings, and a residential build on hold. So where was the upside?

Well, he was getting nowhere staring at the computer screen. He got himself a coffee and caught the early shuttle back to the dome. Nothing like a spot of recycled air to get the old grey matter moving.


Holtz met him in a little office near the Grand Chamber he'd seen on the council recording. They didn't bother with the tour, as the Councillor didn't have the time, and evidently Morden wasn't worth impressing or intimidating. Instead, Holtz sat back in his plush leather chair, and gave the impression of a man much put-upon. Morden would have to start the conversation. Well, fine.

How to do it, thought? Make it their problem, his daddy had always said. Make it so you're doing them a favour. Well, it had worked on more than one administrator back on earth. And what's good enough for EarthGov bureaucrats… "You have a problem, Mr Holtz," he said.

Holtz raised an eyebrow. "Indeed? How so?"

"This dig is important. Every government department from here to Proxima 7 is salivating at getting a slice of what we're uncovering."

"I had noticed a certain amount of interest," Holtz admitted.

"That's precisely the problem. EarthGov doesn't want off-world fingers in what they see as their pie. So they'll stall, like they always do, until a few local crises spring up, and they can send in the black ops teams to mop up the area."

"I think you're exaggerating."

"Not at all," Morden said implacably. He smiled, and folded his hands cross one knee. "I have an interest in staying with this project, but I was reluctant to commit to it because of precisely this level of interference. I can always cut and run – move on to something a little less 'interesting'." He drawled the word out, working the syllables as though they made up something deeply unpleasant. "You don't have this luxury."

Holtz frowned. "So we'll wait it out," he said, but he sounded a little uncertain.

Morden smiled. "Of course you will. It shouldn't take more than a decade or two for the politics to be resolved –" his smile faded a little, as if something had just occurred to him. The initial discussion with the rest of the reps had said ten years, at most, not twenty. At twenty, Mars would be unliveable, given the current conditions. "You can hold on without expansion for a couple of decades, right?" he looked at Holtz innocently.

Holtz said nothing.

Morden's smile returned. "Look, Mr Holtz, I'm here because I want to help. I'm interested in this dig, and I don't want to have to find something too boring for EarthGov to notice."

"What precisely are you proposing, Mr Morden?"

His expression was the epitome of innocence. "I'm not proposing anything, Councilman! I'm simply here to offer my support. I can understand that EarthGov are difficult to deal with, but that's where IPX come in. The NewTech division is strong, and this team is the strongest of the lot. We should be able to smooth things over back on Earth, should you and your associates come up with an –" how to phrase it? "- unorthodox solution to this current problem." He spread his hands in a conciliatory gesture. "That's all."

Holtz glowered at him for a while, but remained silent. The man wasn't a fool. Morden knew that Holtz had more than an idea of what NewTech was asking, but couldn't come right out and say. Still, it was a good argument. He hadn't come out and threatened Mars with ruin, but he'd certainly made sure that the population issue was plain in Holtz's mind. If this didn't work... he could feel a thin trickle of sweat make its way down the small of his back as he waited, smile fixed.

Eventually, Holtz sighed. "I'll have to discuss it with the others. It's a big job. It'll take a bit of work to raise the funds – and that's not even considering Psi Corps's issues with it."

"NewTech can handle Psi Corps," Morden said confidently.

Holtz looked at him. "I'm sure. You can be a very persuasive man, Mr Morden."

That was the polite dismissal. "Part and parcel of the job spec," he said easily, and stood. "You'll let me know what you and your associates decide?"

"You'll be the first to know."


It wasn't until he was all the way outside that the last of the adrenaline hit, and his knees felt weak. Adrenaline overdose, he thought faintly, grabbing at the talisman around his neck and willing himself to calm down. Too much stress, all at once. He bought a bottle of orange juice and nervously gulped the lot down. Fragging hell. It had worked, though. Goddamn it, it had worked! He ducked into a public phone box and placed a quick call to the main lab.


"All done," he said brusquely.

Aspen hesitated, dubious and hopeful all at once. "You mean –"

"He'll talk to the others about the logistics, but he's on board."

Even someone as stolid as Aspen couldn't resist a whoop at that.


Still nervous and high from the rush, he walked back to the hotel, trying to work off some of the nervous energy. It worked a little better than expected – by the time he got back to the hotel, he was dead on his feet. Denni and Sarah were out, but it was still daylight outside, so it was none of his business. He thought about a shower, then nixed the idea. Tomorrow, maybe, when he wasn't ready to have a heart attack from nerves. He stripped, then crawled into bed naked.

He was almost asleep when the light went on; the sun must have set as he dozed, and he hadn't even noticed. "Ooops!" And off it went again.

He blinked fuzzily. "Den?"

"Sorry, love, didn't mean to wake you. Lemme put Sarah to bed."

He sat up at that. "No, wait, give her here for a bit."

Denni slid under the covers next to him fully clothed, only toeing off her boots along the way. Sarah crawled happily across the top of the duvet, heading unerringly for her daddy's outstretched arms. "It's like radar," Denni said, smiling.

He cuddled the little girl, kissing her hair and stroking her face. "I missed you lots. Did you miss daddy?"

She cooed up at him and wrapped her arms around his neck. "Daddy," she proclaimed with unending satisfaction. She only had a few words as yet, but those she knew she used clearly and with confidence.

He laughed. "That's right. Guess what daddy did today?"

"What did daddy do today?" Denni inquired, cuddling up to him.

He stretched out, so he could hug them both. "Daddy was very, very persuasive."

"Well, I've known that for years," Denni said coyly, and trailed a finger down his chest. "It's not like I said 'yes' for your looks, is it?"

Laughing, "get this little one off to bed, would you? I wanna tell you all about it."

"Bed," Sarah said with considerable conviction, and waved her little arms around.

Denni caught her and hoisted her up obligingly. "You stay right there, Mr Persuasion," she said, smiling. "I'll be right back."

By the time she was, he was mostly awake. "Wanna tell me all about your silver tongue?" She whispered, sliding out of her clothes and crawling under the bedcovers.

He caught her and tumbled her beneath him. "Later," he murmured into her ear. "First, I wanna show you what else I can do with it."

And, giggling, she let him.

They both dozed, after, basking in the fading post-coital warmth. Denni had one dark arm thrown across Morden's chest, and her face buried in his neck. She'd tucked her feet against one of his calves for warmth, and the toes would periodically clench and unclench in her sleep, tickling him a little.

In his sleep, he saw the alien craft – not a probe, but something larger, something grander – and the writing across it. This time, it wasn't just confined to a small area, but all across the black, glossy surface, in characters as large as a man. They spooled across the ship's surface, curling around each other like swimmers underwater. He knew what the smaller, rock-carved glyphs said, and tried to find the familiar words in these pools of ink, but they would not stay still for long enough. Instead, they coiled and uncoiled; black nests of snakes filling his vision, twisting away as he tried to grab for them. Stay! he begged them. Stay! Talk to me! They laughed, and danced out of reach.

He woke to the sound of his heart racing, thunderous, blinking black spots from his vision, as though he had been staring at the light for too long.


One of Kirkish's techs called him a few days later to say that Biotech was going in that afternoon to see what the initial blasts would uncover; would he be interested? Hell, yes! He kissed Sarah's pointy little nose on his way out; Denni was interviewing sitters that day, so that would keep them both occupied for the duration.

He got there a little after three, and found Kirkish and the rest of them already suited up and about to go beneath ground. "Gimme a minute; I'll come down with you." He changed hurriedly, and after checking to make sure that his pad was recording everything, followed the Biotech team down the shaft.

"Initial scans are showing an increase in radiation," Kirkish's deputy said; Morden couldn't remember his name.

Kirkish frowned. "How high?"

"Nothing approaching dangerous, but it's still a three-fold increase from before the blasts."

That was interesting. Faint traces of radiation had indeed been picked up by the scans, and Morden - like the rest of them - had attributed it to the craft's long journey; maybe to some of the internal mechanisms still working away on the inside. They had anticipated that the radiation would increase as they excavated more of the craft - simple logic indicated that the rock had been blocking most of it from the scanners - but that it wouldn't reach dangerous levels. Kirkish had speculated that maybe this was what had killed the guard - that if it was not a result of interstellar irradiation, but was, rather, internally generated, then the craft's skin was possibly keeping most of it in. Touching the craft had thus funnelled a lethal dose into the hapless guard.

Morden thought it was a good theory, although he did think that something was missing from it. A lethal dose of radiation would indeed kill swiftly, but the guard hadn't shown any physiological signs of radiation poisoning, other than degradation in his neural pathways. He was in no way an expert in radiation therapy, but he rather thought that if radiation had caused the cerebral haemorrhage, it would have shown up elsewhere on the body as well. Holtz had finally sent through the autopsy results and there had been, quite simply, nothing physically wrong with Stephen Johnson, deceased.

"Keep an eye on it, and yell if there's any abrupt change," Kirkish advised, and palmed the safety on the final door. The first and most impregnable safety precaution that had been fitted had been the blast-proof door at the bottom of the shaft. It was far enough down to keep any underground blast contained, and far enough away from the craft that any dynamite-led excavation wouldn't damage its moorings.

Beyond the safety door was the catwalk: a thin-strutted, metal construction that wove, single-file, to an observation platform near the exposed face of the craft. There was just enough space for them all on the platform if they got real friendly. Kirkish was muttering notes into her recorder about having a secondary level built, now that a larger part of the craft was exposed; the rest of the biotechs were busy scanning for their lives. Morden was just - looking.

Well, now, he thought, and somehow couldn't think of anything else. Well. The exposed face of the craft stretched upwards, like an animal skin suspended for tanning. Deep beneath the Martian surface the red tint pervading the atmosphere was lacking, with the artificial lamps glowing a familiar white-gold, casting a greenish tint across the mottled curves. Oh, Morden thought helplessly. He felt the now-familiar tug pool hotly in his belly, stronger than before. Oh…


He was a little startled when Kirkish touched his arm a few moments later. "Time to go," she said brusquely, and turned to direct the securing of the site. He blinked. Time to go? But they'd only just arrived! Only - no, his chrono told him a good few hours had passed, and techs were giving him funny looks. Well, shit, if he'd zoned out in front of it, no wonder. He packed up, and was quick about it. Interesting, this - was it another manifestation of the probe's 'pull'? Meriting further study, in any case.

On his way back to the hotel, he passed the main clinic almost without seeing it; stopped and reconsidered. He'd always been a skittish, light sleeper and prone to nightmares (as his recent dreams had so urgently decided to remind him), and although he was not a real fan of chemicals in his system, there was no point in turning in a poor performance. Besides, Denni had thought ahead and registered all three of them at the local doctor's surgery. He was grateful for her practicality but, then, she was an engineer. He called in and got an appointment with a minimum wait.

"What can I do for you, Mr Morden?" The doctor said, much in the way of doctor's everywhere. She had the easy grace of native-born Martians: those having grown up with the slightly lighter gravity. Morden rather thought that the faint difference would iron itself out eventually, as it moved to the anatomical rather than motile level. A little bit of extra height, with thinner bones, and give them a few millennia, Martians would move much the same way as the Earth-born. They wouldn't look the same, of course, but that was beside the point. Who did?

He outlined his need to the doctor, not scrimping on the details. There was nothing worse than being medicated by someone without a complete medical history. She was a pleasant surprise to the usual level of bureaucracy he had found on Mars, assessing him as fit and healthy and prescribing him two lots of sleeping pills: "one to help you sleep, and one to combat your nightmares." He'd all but lunged at the second one, which had been a mistake. What had followed had been a twenty-minute lecture explaining the function of the dreamless sleep pills down to the most irrelevant minutiae. Doctor Valeris, however, evidently felt very strongly about their misuse. "I'm sure you're aware that one of the misues of these types of meds is as a torture device. In these doses, of course, they are perfectly harmless, but increasing the dosage without medical supervision is incredibly dangerous." She talked about REM sleep, and recharging your brain, and all the rest of it, until he couldn't hold it in anymore.

"Thank you, doctor, but I have taken these drugs before, I am aware of the risks, and of the experiments you cited. I'm not about to start dosing myself with lethal doses of REM-suppressant drugs. I just need the option for one-offs."

She nodded, and made a great many notes. Most patients weren't trusted with REM-suppressants, as they had been deemed a little too dangerous for casual use. Most patients, Morden surmised, were idiots: who didn't know what REM-deprivation did to the body - and, for that matter, to the mind? Even at his most desperate as a teenager, when passing his exams seemed the most important thing in his entire life, he had never once abused his dosage. Take five pills a month and have a few guaranteed nights of dreamless sleep; take more than five, and you'd become irritable. Take more than ten, and you'd become downright cranky. Take more than that - well. Paranoia, uncontrollable itching and liver failure would be the least of your problems.

He picked up his pills from the pharmacy, filling in ten million more forms indicating that he understood the correct usage of these drugs and wouldn't sue anyone if he managed to kill himself with them. Did he want to charge things to the main account? He hesitated on that, reluctant to go ten rounds with Denni over chemical dependency and the rest of it. She had very firm and increasingly outspoken views on that, and they didn't necessarily match up with his own beliefs. Well, frag it; he was a big boy now. He paid in cash and caught the flier back home. Denni was out, still, but he was shattered, and so he thought - well. They were there, weren't they?

He took a pill - one of the normal ones - had a cup of hot broth, and went to bed.


He slept poorly, torn between the need to stay asleep and the nightmare's insistence that he wake. When he did finally struggle to wakefulness at some point in the morning, it was to Denni's hand on his belly, making tiny circles. He couldn't remember his dreams, but they had evidently not been pleasant; the bedclothes were soaked with his sweat. Or maybe they were, because that wasn't the only fluid there. As he frowned, discomforted, Denni tugged a little impatiently on his waistband.

"Hey, you. Looks like you had a good sleep." Her mouth quirked into a smile. "Want to go into the shower and soap my back? I'll soap yours..." She tickled the soft skin of his belly, her smile low and inviting.

He would have. He really would. But - "I'm just - I've got a bit of a headache, Den. Can we raincheck?"

Without waiting for a response, he slid out of bed and headed for the shower. Alone.


Back at the dig, he thought that he'd probably been a bit brusque. Well, nothing I can fix now, he thought; then it occurred to him that, actually, there was. He sent Denni a text comm. direct to her phone: sorry about this am. make it up to u tonite? xx, m. Her reply was equally succinct - youd better! im buying maple syrup... d. So that was all right. Although it would cost them a week's water allowance afterwards... well, what the hell, the sonics took away the dirt and sweat, but he still couldn't convince himself that excessive usage didn't leave him smelling like a Pak'ma'ra.

He laughed a little - and stopped. He called in to Kirkish's office. "D'you have a minute?"

She was frowning over the latest radiation stats, but waved him in. "Sure. What can I do for you?"

"I had a thought." She wasn't paying attention. He flopped down in the armchair in front of her desk and leaned forward, hands on the wood. "Kirkish. I've had a thought about making contact with the ship -"

She gave him a pained look. "You're not still talking about it as if it's alive, are you?"

"Alive, yes, sentient - I have no idea. But you don't have to be sentient to be capable of communication; even ants communicate."

"Your point?"

"We're trying to communicate with it, and we've been working on the assumption that it doesn't want to communicate with us, or that it doesn't understand what we're saying. But there's a third option." He took a deep breath. "Before we came up with language, before we came up with signs and symbols and the rest of it, we still communicated through grunts and body language. But I think that this ship is one step beyond that. It's alien. We know that. But I don't think that we've considered how alien it is as yet - or, not that it doesn't want to communicate with us, but that it doesn't recognise what we're doing as communication!"

Kirkish frowned. "I - don't follow."

He stood up restlessly, pacing. "It suddenly occurred to me - I was thinking about the Pak'ma'ra and - well, did you read about First Contact?" She shook her head silently. "Anyway, it doesn't matter. The important bits are that we nearly ended up at war with the Pak'ma'ra, because all of the species we'd met until then primarily used sound and movement to communicate - speech, and body language. A few used telepathy, but even they opted for visual and aural representations of signs and concepts. The Pak'ma'ra, however, used sound and smell."

Her mouth hung open. "You're kidding me."

"Not at all. We knew that their smell was unpleasant, and we knew that it occasionally varied, but it wasn't until one of the other races - the Drazi, maybe, I forget exactly - intervened that we were able to figure out that we were only hearing half of what the Pak'ma'ra were 'saying'. And that they, conversely, had been 'listening' to cologne and perfume."

Kirkish made a face. "I'm not sure I buy it. Smell as communication -"

"Earth insects use it all the time," he countered instantly. "Anyway, I'm not here to talk about smell," especially when I'm right! "but about the, the semantic miscommunication there - the Pak'ma'ra thought they were communicating, but we had no idea that what we were receiving was communication."

Kirkish drummed her fingers on her desk. At least she had put her charts to one side and was giving him her undivided attention. "All right," she said slowly. "Let's assume you're right and there's something we're missing. You want that piece of junk to talk to you, and so do I. But why bring this to me?"

He tilted his face and aimed for innocence. "Because I need you on my side when I bring it to Aspen, of course."

"Bring what to Aspen?"

He was having a hard time keeping a straight face. "Why, bringing in a Psi Corps-certified telepath, of course."

To say that Kirkish hit the roof was a mild understatement. Evidently, Psi Corps were responsible for the subjugation of all humankind - or would be, if given half the chance - and were bossy, invariably British, and wore most displeasing uniforms. There were probably other things wrong with them as well, but Morden simply nodded through the tirade, waiting it out. Eventually, Kirkish sighed, defeated. "Oh, you know I have to agree," she bit out. "Go see Aspen. The sooner the fragging Corps rep is in here, the sooner we can kick his jack-booted ass right out again."


And things went exactly in that fashion, except for the part where the Psi Corps declined their request for a telepath.

"What do you mean, they said 'no'? Why?!" Morden demanded.

Aspen was inscrutable. "I guess they just don't like you, Morden. I can't imagine why." He sobered. "Look. They said that they don't want their people exposed to whatever is down there and, frankly, I don't blame them. Given how you and Kirkish have been acting, you'd think that you've been snorting caffeine in your spare time." Morden had no idea what he meant, and said so. Aspen rolled his eyes. "Come on - pushing the deadlines forward? That business with Holtz and the civilian dig? Promising that I can keep Psi Corps in line? It's not like you at all. And Kirkish appears to have set up a bed in base camp." He snorted. "You'd think that she doesn't have a place to stay in the dome." And so on and so forth, with Morden only half-listening. A bed at base camp wouldn't be a bad idea given the workload, he thought. He rang off as soon as was polite and retreated back to his desk at base camp, fuming.

Well, that settled one thing: telepathic communication was definitely the way forward. Or, well, whatever he'd be able to approximate. And no wonder that guard went mad, he thought; close on its heels came, I wonder what would happen if we made a telepath touch it...


end part 2 of 4


Part 3

Part 4



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We Invented the Remix...Redux V

May 2007

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